Saturday, July 22, 2017


Did a Glowing Sea Creature Help Push the U.S. Into the Vietnam War?

News from the war front

Your Saturday dose of paranoia from Catallaxy, where "struth" is one of the most overwrought inmates:
The insanity that we are seeing now will only become worse as those repeated left wing lies are gradually believed (from stolen generations to white privilege, to there being more than two sexes) and then they build on those.
It won’t end until there is a bloody revolution.
Right now, the defenders of the west (men , and mostly white) are being set up as the enemy.
Blah, blah de blah.
We all get this.
We get that they are using a captured institution to do this, the education system.
There is nothing for it except to fight.
The right must realise that this is going to get much worse, and end up with violence and death poured upon us.
You will be pulled from your houses kicking and screaming and will not be heard from again.
This shit doesn’t take a century to occur.
It will be you.
Especially cat commenters.
He's great company at dinner parties, I bet.

6, 700 flights per day??

Science magazine has a short article this week on the geoengineering idea of spraying sulphur in the atmosphere to counter global warming.   But read this extract:

Gosh. Is that number of flights correct?

Friday, July 21, 2017

Floating power

This is an impressive photo, from a Time magazine story on China and renewables:

And how's this for the symbolism:
....the world’s largest floating solar farm on a lake formed on top of a collapsed and flooded coal mine just northwest of Anhui province’s Huainan city. A tapestry of 166,000 glistening panels bob and bask below an ochre sun, producing almost enough clean energy to power a large town, as fish break through the inky water all around.
Other photos in the story show that its construction is pretty low tech - the solar cells are on simple plastic floats.

I would have thought that this is a pretty good idea for water storage dams in Australia - I'm sure I've suggested this here years ago.  I don't think there is any substantial risk of polluting the water if some sink, is there?  Furthermore, in a hot area, the coverage might help reduce evaporation, I would have thought.

When am I going to see this on , say, the Wivenhoe dam near Brisbane?

Because sometimes, even stupid arguments have to be answered

It's one of the golden oldies by climate change denialists:  "The climate has always changed.   Nothing to see here - move on."

It has never made sense as an argument, and it can be taken as a reliable sign that any person promoting it has never tried to read about the issue seriously and it will be pointless arguing with them.  

But, just in case you know a denialist who is not beyond reason, and who you can forgive for not already realising how vapid the argument is,   Stefan at Real Climate has set out the detailed rebuttal.  

How women are murdered in America

Again from The Atlantic, some startling figures about women as murder victims in the US:
The CDC analyzed the murders of women in 18 states from 2003 to 2014, finding a total of 10,018 deaths. Of those, 55 percent were intimate partner violence-related, meaning they occurred at the hands of a former or current partner or the partner’s family or friends. In 93 percent of those cases, the culprit was a current or former romantic partner. The report also bucks the strangers-in-dark-alleys narrative common to televised crime dramas: Strangers perpetrated just 16 percent of all female homicides, fewer than acquaintances and just slightly more than parents.

About a third of the time, the couple had argued right before the homicide took place, and about 12 percent of the deaths were associated with jealousy. The majority of the victims were under the age of 40, and 15 percent were pregnant. About 54 percent were gun deaths.

Black women were most likely to die by homicide of any kind, at 4.4 deaths per 100,000 people, followed by Native American women, Hispanics, and finally whites and Asians. Data from earlier reports suggest a far smaller percentage of men—around 5 to 7 percent—were killed by intimate partners.
I'm pretty sure the way women become murder victims is not dissimilar in Australia.

Economics and babies (or lack thereof)

Quite a convincing argument put forward at The Atlantic that all of the "employment flexibility" beloved of the parts of the Right, and which has caused major changes to the way men (in particular) work in Japan, is behind that country's dramatic drop in marriage and making babies.

Update:  I think it's often fair enough to be cynical  of the way Australian unionists and Labor politicians talk about the importance of strongly enforced workplace laws so that workers can have a work/life balance, as well as penalty rates fairly compensating workers for time away from family on weekends, etc.   They can over-egg the argument.

On the other hand, if you look at a country where companies can get away with extraordinary pressure on workers, and implement policies that maximise profit, you can see the harm that removing all sense of employment fairness entails.  

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Police shootings in the US

It's common sense to just about all Australians who aren't libertarians that the large number of police shootings in the US is in substantial part due to police having to be always on edge there that they are dealing with an armed person, whether they be legally armed, or not.  But the international comparisons between US police shootings and that in other countries is even more surprising than I expected:
Police officers in the US shoot and kill nearly 1,000 people a year, according to the Washington Post’s database — far more than other developed countries like the UK, Australia, Japan, and Germany, where police officers might go an entire year without killing more than a dozen people or even anyone at all.

For example, an analysis by the Guardian found that “US police kill more in days than other countries do in years.” Between 1992 and 2011, Australian police shot and killed 94 people. In 2015, US police shot and killed 97 people just in March. These differences are not explained by population, since the US is about 14 times as populous as Australia but, based on the Guardian’s count, has hundreds of times the fatal police shootings.

Low carb not so important as Taubeians claim

For all those who are dedicated believers in Gary Taubes's diet ideas, where carbs are basically evil and you just can't get enough fat and protein in your diet if you want to be healthy, this article at Vox talks about a very rigorous study that indicates that his theory about how low carb diets are supposed to work doesn't really hold up.

I think it's pretty simple:  breads and a lot of other carbs are pretty delicious and part of human diet for so long it's a bit silly to think they are evil.   Just don't eat too much of them.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Blasphemy in the Gulf (again)

At Gulf News:
A businessman, who threatened his former partner and sent him blasphemous and offensive SMSes over a financial dispute, has been fined Dh500,000.
The 39-year-old Lebanese businessman was involved in a business partnership with the Emirati man before they had a financial dispute in October.
After the two men failed to reach an amicable settlement, the Lebanese man sent several SMSes in which he cursed God and threatened the Emirati man.
The 39-year-old sent to the Emirati’s mobile three SMSes in which he offended the latter, threatened to harm him and cursed God as well.
The fine equates to about $172,000 Australia dollars, I think.

Taking offence on campus, revisited

The current problem on (mainly*) American campuses regarding offensiveness is given a going over again at the Atlantic: Why It's a Bad Idea to Tell Students Words Are Violence,  and it puts up a very good argument.

The only misgiving I have about this issue is that I hate the way that the Wingnut Right takes a bad argument by the too-precious-for-reality Left as justification for complete incivility in debate, and for genuinely offensive claims to be made  - it's like the opposite of a virtuous circle. (Which I see Google says is a "vicious circle/cycle.")

* you could say that the recent silliness of the QUT case is an illustration of the same disease, but at least we rarely have riots here of the kind you see in the US over controversial speakers on campuses. 

Beachfront land as a long term investment

Nature reports that the reason for some sea level rise discrepancies in the satellite record has been identified, and indeed, the rate of sea level rise is accelerating:
“The rate of sea-level rise is increasing, and that increase is basically what we expected,” says Steven Nerem, a remote-sensing expert at the University of Colorado Boulder who is leading the reanalysis. He presented the as-yet-unpublished analysis on 13 July in New York City at a conference sponsored by the World Climate Research Programme and the International Oceanographic Commission, among others.

Nerem's team calculated that the rate of sea-level rise increased from around 1.8 millimetres per year in 1993 to roughly 3.9 millimetres per year today as a result of global warming. In addition to the satellite calibration error, his analysis also takes into account other factors that have influenced sea-level rise in the last several decades, such as the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines in 1991 and the recent El NiƱo weather pattern....

 If sea-level rise continues to accelerate at the current rate, Nerem says, the world’s oceans could rise by about 75 centimetres over the next century. That is in line with projections made by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2013.

Obamacare as a qualified success

I think Ezra Klein makes a lot of sense here - the only way you can make sense of consistent polling finding that Americans are not approving of Republican plans to replace Obamacare is because it basically works well enough in enough States to make it popular.    (Which is not to say that it is not without its problems.)

Now to an unpleasant subject

Antibiotic resistant gonorrhoea (gosh, it's hard to remember how to spell that word) has been in the news a lot lately, including in the top story on The Age's website (about the number of worrying cases in Australia.)   

As it happens, I also heard the Health Report on Monday evening, which a story about a trial of the use of mouthwash to reduce transmission.   I had heard about that before, but the most surprising thing was this discussion about transmission:
And then there was a second observation that led us towards this mouthwash issue, and that was we saw that gonorrhoea was really common in young gay men but not very common in older gay men. So there must be something different that young gay men were doing, so that led us to a separate study to try and work out what that was, and it was kissing. So young gay men kiss a lot more individuals and don't have sex with them. And when they have sex with them they seem to kiss more than older gay men. And so we thought perhaps it's the throat. And that led us to think, well, if gonorrhoea is being transmitted from throat to throat, perhaps there's something we could do to attack that. And that led us to do some laboratory work on mouthwash.

Denton Callander: So wait a second, are you saying that kissing can transmit gonorrhoea?

Christopher Fairley: It's very hard to work out exactly what act transmits gonorrhoea because they all tend to happen at the same time, but yes that's exactly right. So we can grow gonorrhoea in almost all individuals who've got it in their throat in saliva. So yes, we think that the transmission of saliva through kissing might well transmit gonorrhoea.

Denton Callander: So you're saying, and correct me if I'm wrong, the throat seems to be a key anatomical site when it comes to gonorrhoea.

Christopher Fairley: Absolutely right. And this is flying in the face of what everyone else has always thought. They've always thought that you transmit gonorrhoea principally involving the penis, putting it into the throat or the vagina or into the anus and that's how it is transmitted, but we think probably that's not the case with sex between men, that it's saliva in the throat that is the key driver of infection.
Bugs really are out to get people, aren't they?   And it would appear that, until now, no one thought that this particular bug was probably being spread in this "safe sex" endorsed way. 

Although the trial is not yet finished, I reckon buying shares in mouthwash producing companies is probably a good idea at the moment.

Why people should worry while Trump is President

I'll copy this Axios post in full, because of the way it illustrates how a dysfunctional White House under a gormless President works:
The Trump administration re-certified yesterday that Iran is in compliance with its nuclear deal, preventing Congress from having to decide whether to levy additional sanctions or scrap the deal in its entirety.
  • But it was only after a day-long drama featuring the president's advisers trying to get him to change his mind, I can independently confirm, as reported last night by Peter Baker at the New York Times and this morning by Eli Lake at Bloomberg View.
  • The vast majority of the principals — led by National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster — were in favor of the U.S. staying in the deal. But Trump hates the deal, and the decision goes against Trump's gut instincts.
  • Why it matters: It's not just the media that Trump keeps in suspense — he frequently keeps his top advisers guessing on consequential decisions until the last minute. Yesterday's decision shows he's willing to go against his gut instincts, but not without giving his team serious heartburn. Trump re-certified again, but his top advisers are far from confident he'll do it again the next time.
What a worry...

Update:  a lot more detail on why Trump more or less had to give in on this is in this article at Slate.
The campaign promises and claims are falling by the wayside at a pretty fast rate at the moment.  

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Sure has that feel about it

The man who crosses Tim Blair's mind every 5 minutes is right:

It's hard to work out what is going on with the Liberals and Coalition at the moment.

For example, Barnaby Joyce has definitely swung in behind Turnbull, as has (I think) former Abbott hard man Morrison.   Yet Barnaby's previous form with Malcolm was precarious, to say the least, as indicated in this extract from an interview that appeared in Fairfax yesterday:
Joyce has also gone toe-to-toe with Malcolm Turnbull which also almost came close to ending with an urgent dentist appointment.
"[We] had a huge blue in the past over the carbon tax. And...Oh, god. Furious argument. Absolutely furious. Shouting, screaming, the whole lot," Joyce said.

"Other people kept a cap on it by getting me out of the room. Bundling me out like I used to do folks [as a bouncer] at the Wicklow. So after that, it was raw but now we respect each other. We work well together. He completely trusts my confidence and I trust his."
My impression is that Turnbull already didn't need to do the Abbott hairy chest imitation with Defence and security to defeat the conservative forces in his party.  But he has anyway.

All a bit strange.... 

Revolutionary rubber

A bit of historical clickbait here at the NYT:

How German Condoms Funded the Russian Revolution

(Actually, the condoms don't feature much in the complicated story of Lenin bouncing around Europe and trying to get himself and funds back into Russia.)

Water music

A short account here at NPR about King George I and his barge trip on the Thames for which Handel wrote his Water Music.  (It's the 300th anniversary of the outing, hence the article.)

It's a wonder it hasn't been recreated for some movie or other.  Or has it?

[Instead of showmanship in front of the military, why doesn't Malcolm Turnbull try a similar exercise on Lake Burley Griffin?   He's got the spare change to pay a composer, too.]

Mark Latham - on board with Trump

I see that Mark Latham is getting rave reviews from the Catallaxy commenters for a column today in which he repeats so many of their favourite themes that  he could replace all of that mob using half a dozen aliases and no one would notice any difference.

It's all there - the Leftist "march through the institutions", cultural Marxism, the glorious Trumpian fight back as an outsider and populist who takes his message directly to the people, the complete disdain for civility in debate (because "they started it").   He even praises Trump for dumping the Paris Accord, when he (Latham) used to be adamant that politicians were foolish to reject climate change.

Getting caught up in the culture wars (which, in reality, has become a grand conspiracy theory believed in on the wingnut side) corrupts good sense and judgement, and Marks's a prime example.

No mention of the chronic lying and repetition of falsehood by Trump;  no mention of his political rise on the back of birtherism and climate change as a Chinese conspiracy;  no concern about repeat stories about how hard it is for anyone to give detailed explanations to him on complex issues; nothing about his less than useful contribution to health care reform; his simplistic understanding of tax, trade and economic policy; his dogwhistling to racism;  etc, etc.

Trump is personally obnoxious to opponents (which essentially means, anyone who criticises him) and on his side in the culture wars, and that's good enough for Mark.

What a loser.

Will see

Dunkirk is getting very good reviews, like this one, although I also keep reading reviewers warning that some audience members might not warm to it because it doesn't follow a straight narrative or spend much time on character.  I see it currently has a 97% rating on the (unreliable but I still need to check it) Rotten Tomatoes scale.

I am feeling keen to see it.

It won't wash, Malcolm

I have to admit, if it was Tony Abbott yesterday using the Defence Force in the most obvious "I'm a tough guy, look at my military behind me" way, I would have been condemning the tinpot dictator look immediately.

So I am a bit slow to join the criticism of Malcolm Turnbull for doing the same - but he really does deserve it.   And, to be honest, poor old Binskin (looking very unhappy behind the PM) should have said "no", and worn the fallout.

I think Malcolm may need to be told by someone that trying this tactic to appeal to conservatives isn't going to work:  if Catallaxy is any guide, it will do nothing to turn around their hatred of him, and instead their conspiracy prone minds are more likely to worry that he is signalling to use the military to put down the forces of righteous conservatism, or something.  (Yes, they are that nutty.)

And, of course, moderates and Lefties hate the use of the military as such an obvious power prop, too, so he ends up impressing no one.

So Malcolm, you really need to stop trying to impress the conservative wing. 

And speaking of Catallaxy, I see that one of the nuttier, most obnoxious grand-analyst-in-his-own mind of history (and also plagiarist) is back commenting in his fruity style, and this was part of his contribution yesterday:
The elites are stupid enough to think they can control everything. They are deluded.
The kumbaya rednecks of the left become real dead real fast when this happens, because they absolutely depend on high-trust societies which do NOT retaliate against their particular brand of destructive idiocy.
A thought experiment: How long would the Australian Greens last as a political group if a decent percentage of people whose elderly relatives died this winter due to Greens policies conducted retaliatory revenge and killed a couple of them for each death?
yet those same Greens are Gramscian socialists who cannot even conceive of the possibility of being held personally accountable, in blood, for the outcomes of their actions even when they result in deaths.
Even though that’s a near-guaranteed social outcome over time.
Studying this is not pleasant. I don’t like any of the trends we are seeing.
The blog is retirement/nursing home for ex military types who are always seeing conspiracy and warning of the coming crisis - this guy in particular used to thrill himself by reading wingnut fantasies from the US about armed militia making sure Obama won't get away with disarming the nation, or establishing hereditary rule, or some such nonsense.   Now he's having Roger Franklin style Lefties being shot for their policies fantasies.

(Of course, he would be completely dismissive of actual conspiracy, of the Trump team trying to get their hands on Putin sourced dirt for political advantage kind.)

There's another Catallaxy controversy going on at the moment, which I might post about later.  Too much stupid in one day might be too much. 

Monday, July 17, 2017

Practical athletics

I'm pleased enough to see that the Australian version of Ninja Warrior is rating very well.  (We used to watch the Japanese version when it was on SBS.)

I don't worry about watching it every night, but as a Sunday night, family friendly time filler, it's pretty good.

On last night's episode, the rock climbers were all ridiculously talented; and on the last week's Sunday night show, the Brisbane parkour twins were also scarily good.    (I noticed that their parents were not there - do they freak out about the routinely dangerous nature of parkour, I wonder?)

I think the show works because of the very practical nature of the athleticism on display, more so than watching a bunch of gymnasts flipping on rings, for example.

And finally - one thing I was noticing last night.   If they  get themselves into situations where they have to swing their legs to get momentum going, I kept on feeling like getting my legs moving in sympathy, too.    It was a funny sensation.

A discussion that can wait

I'm rather sick of reading about the supposedly soon to arrive brave new world of "sex robots".  Even Nature had an editorial about them!

I strongly suspect that it's going to be a very long time before they resemble anything other than a high quality sex doll, and having removable bits for men to rinse under the tap between uses is going to be a bit of a fantasy breaker, if you ask me.   Of course they'll be men who would use them, but as for the vast majority of people thinking of those guys as other than lonely weirdos who are willing to spend a fortune on an advanced sex toy - I think that is far, far away. 

There was one line in the Nature editorial that interested me, though:
And bonds will form, even though unrequited. (Soldiers have been shown to develop emotional attachments to bomb-disposal robots.)
Hadn't heard that before...

The Middle East mess, continued

There's a very interesting and lengthy report at the NYT about how Iran is now exerting great influence over Iraq. 

Not exactly the outcome the US was expecting.

A woman won't help; a man leaving might

I reckon Steven Moffat's departure from Dr Who is likely to be more important for changing (and possibly reviving) the show than having a female doctor.  But basically, I still say that the show has run out of decent ideas and needs to given a rest again for a decade or so.  

Yes, nefarious

Hot Air has some decent speculation on what might have happened at the Trump team meeting with some Russians.

There is also the matter of the mystery 8th person present, which will apparently soon be revealed.

And by the way, don't all of Team Trump's lawyers look like they have stepped out of a 1980's TV show - I'm thinking LA Law, perhaps.  They just all have something in their looks that seems not of the current style.   I find it rather odd.

Stephen Colbert's first monologue on the meeting was often very funny - I just caught up with it on the weekend.  Here it is:

In other science fiction news

*  I see that old Galaxy magazines are available to read on the internet now.   Might be stuff of  nostalgic interest in there, but reading quaintly out of date predictions of the future does seem an exercise not really worth devoting too much time to.

* There was an interview with author Neal Stephenson in Vanity Fair recently that I forgot to link to.  I've never read him, but he apparently is given much credit in Silicon Valley for predicting things:
In an interview, Stephenson told Vanity Fair that he was just “making shit up.” But the Metaverse isn’t the only element of Snow Crash that has earned him a reputation as a tech Nostradamus. He’s credited with predicting everything from our addiction to portable technology to the digitization of, well, everything, and you can thank him, not James Cameron, for bringing the Hindu concept of “avatar” into the everyday language. Google Earth designer Avi Bar-Zeev has said he was inspired by Stephenson’s ideas, and even tried to get the author to visit his office when he was working on Keyhole, an app suite that later served as a basis for Google’s mapping technology. “He wasn’t interested in visiting Keyhole, or didn’t have time. My best guess is that he was somewhat tired of hearing us engineering geeks rave about Snow Crash as a grand vision for the future. That may have something to do with Snow Crash being a dystopian vision.”
The interview is short, but of interest.

*  The Disney Star Wars additions to their theme parks do sound like they will be fun.  

*  One of the more intriguing sounding science fiction movies due out later this year is God Particle, written by JJ Abrams and (apparently) part of the Cloverfield franchise - even though the synopsis at Wikipedia makes it sound rather unrelated.   One of the most surprising things about it - Chris O'Dowd stars.  (As an astronaut, I presume.  Hard to imagine!)

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Don't Choose Life

Foolishly assuming that a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 68% meant that it was worth watching, we viewed the very recent science fiction movie Life last night.

In case you didn't see the trailer, which made the story very clear, it's like a mash up of Alien and Gravity, each of which were better movies by an order of magnitude.

Life is terrible on all sorts of levels, and I am at a loss to understand how it got any good reviews.  (By the way, this is again a case where Metacritic is a more reliable guide than Tomatoes, as it got a much more acceptable rating there of 54.  But even that, by my reckoning, is 5 times more generous than it should be.) 
My key complaints:

*  if you know anything about astronautics, the ISS, orbits and such like, and you felt you had to forgive Gravity for a fair few inaccuracies for the sake of the story, let me assure you that Life takes "dramatic licence" into the absolutely, 100%  unforgiveable "crimes against reality" range.   I would have thought, for example, that at least some critics might question using something resembling an improvised flame thrower not once, but several times, on board this futuristic version of the ISS might be a tactic that would throw everyone on board into a panic, but no - it's like the first line of defence in this movie, and no one screams to the astronaut in question "are you trying to kill us all?" 

*  the dialogue is life-less (ha, a pun), and no character feels real.   One line in particular is just outright embarrassing - even my son recognised it as such.  I don't understand how the actors didn't recognise the dubious writing, from a character point of view.  Or did it look better on the page, and just got stuffed up somehow in transition to the screen? We'll never know.

*  it's often not very clear what is going on, or why certain things are happening.  Yeah, there's some rushed and shouted attempts at exposition, I suppose - but honestly, a good movie can manage to make it clear enough even while battling monsters.

*  My son also guessed the ending, and the choice of the upbeat end credit song seemed just out of place.

Yes, a terrible movie all round.  And it's a bad sign for Jake Gyllenhaal - who I basically like - as it appears to confirm that he is in the category of "good actor, but puzzlingly terrible at picking screenplays." 

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Rubin speaks the truth

Some people in comments are criticising Rubin for her being (apparently) a former pretty strong Obama critic, but many others are praising her for stepping into the light. 

Her column "The GOP's moral rot is the problem, not Donald Trump Jr" is great, from the opening paragraph:
The key insight from a week of gobsmacking revelations is not that the Russia scandal may finally have an underlying crime but that, as David Brooks suggests, “over the past few generations the Trump family built an enveloping culture that is beyond good and evil.” (Remember when the media collectively oohed and ahhed that, “Say what you will about Donald Trump, but his kids are great!”? Add that to the heap of inane media narratives that helped normalize Trump to the voters.) We now see that, sure enough, the Trump legal team (the fastest-growing segment of the economy) has trouble restraining its clients, explaining away initial, false explanations and preventing self-incriminating statements. (The biggest trouble, of course, is that the president lied that this is all “fake news” and arguably committed obstruction of justice to hide his campaign team’s misdeeds.)

to the key section (my bold):
Let’s dispense with the “Democrats are just as bad” defense. First, I don’t much care; we collectively face a party in charge of virtually the entire federal government and the vast majority of statehouses and governorships. It’s that party’s inner moral rot that must concern us for now. Second, it’s simply not true, and saying so reveals the origin of the problem — a “woe is me” sense of victimhood that grossly exaggerates the opposition’s ills and in turn justifies its own egregious political judgments and rhetoric. If the GOP had not become unhinged about the Clintons, would it have rationalized Trump as the lesser of two evils? Only in the crazed bubble of right-wing hysteria does an ethically challenged, moderate Democrat become a threat to Western civilization and Trump the salvation of America.
and right to the end:
Out of its collective sense of victimhood came the GOP’s disdain for not just intellectuals but also intellectualism, science, Economics 101, history and constitutional fidelity. If the Trump children became slaves to money and to their father’s unbridled ego, then the GOP became slaves to its own demons and false narratives. A party that has to deny climate change and insist illegal immigrants are creating a crime wave — because that is what “conservatives” must believe, since liberals do not — is a party that will deny Trump’s complicity in gross misconduct. It’s a party as unfit to govern as Trump is unfit to occupy the White House. It’s not by accident that Trump chose to inhabit the party that has defined itself in opposition to reality and to any “external moral truth or ethical code.”

Friday, July 14, 2017

Lack of interest noted

I see that the latest Planet of the Apes movie is getting great reviews.

I can't really put my finger on why, but I just don't care about these films.  I saw a fair bit of the first one, and (of course) as a young teenager I saw the original series of movies on TV (and the so-so TV series) and enjoyed them in their somewhat gimmicky way.   But seeing these new ones - just don't care, in the same way I don't care about the Tolkien films.   Maybe it's my dislike of motion capture technique, which features heavily in both series (and with the same actor, too.)

Anyway, count me out.   

Poor Tony

It is with much amusement that I read of Fox-lite Sky News host Paul Murray getting a surprise:
That moment of truth emerged on Wednesday night when one of Mr Abbott’s most ardent supporters, Sky News’ late night host Paul Murray, asked a live audience in Townsville about the former PM.
The audience was made up of Paul Murray’s regular viewers, so it was representative of nothing more than the 50,000 or so people who tune in to Paul Murray Live each weeknight. To call this bunch right-wingers or conservatives would be an extreme act of understatement.

So Mr Murray was probably expecting a different answer when he polled the audience by a show of hands to indicate their views of Tony Abbott. It started out well, with much of the audience indicating support for Mr Abbott to stay in parliament. A smattering less than that thought the backbencher should “be promoted”.

But to Mr Murray’s demonstrable surprise, almost no-one in the room wanted Mr Abbott to be returned to the prime ministership.
So who are the anti Turnbull conservatives in the Liberals thinking they could turn to?  Charmless, he should have been an undertaker, Dutton? 

No wonder the nursing home of Catallaxy is so depressed and angry lately.   (Well, they've always been angry.)  No one to turn to in their time of "need".   I recommend anti-depressants and sedation.  And getting a clue.

Teaching and Confucius

Interesting article at Japan Times about the influence of Confucius in modern education:
Unlike religious traditions like Buddhism, Confucianism did not weather the transition to modernity very well. By the 14th and 15th centuries, classical Confucian texts had taken center stage in examination systems selecting officials to staff bureaucracies in China, Korea and Vietnam. Neo-Confucian academies educated samurai for bureaucratic jobs in early 19th-century feudal Japan, though recent research has shown that their examinations were less meritocratic, and less focused on Confucian texts.
Generations of Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese youth rote-learned the Confucian classics and endured a grueling regimen of provincial, regional and national examinations to qualify for bureaucratic office. Confucian values were also central to imperial court rituals. These Confucianized political, ritual and educational cultures were swept away by education reforms, political revolutions and colonization in the early 20th century.
However, Confucianism has survived in other forms. Today it’s making a popular comeback in China, and the Communist government has acquired a taste for Confucian slogans. But Confucian revivalism dates back to the late 19th century, when Japanese scholars such as Inoue Tetsujiro used their European philosophical training to revamp Confucianism as an academic philosophy, and as a constituent part of a national morality distinct from “Western individualism.”
Political leaders in late 19th-century Japan and in postwar Taiwan and South Korea were also keen on developing mass education systems to make their citizens literate, obedient and disciplined enough to fulfill national industrialization goals. These leaders — aided by scholars like Inoue — superficially preached Confucian values such as harmony, loyalty and filial piety to instill nationalist sentiment in schoolchildren and army conscripts.
At least some of the behavioral traits claimed for East Asian students, including strong deference to teachers and lack of critical thinking, likely have a shallow 20th-century heritage in the modernized mass education systems of Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and China. Still, it’s worth pointing out what’s wrong with suggesting that Confucianism provides the cultural programming behind such behavioral traits.

But, the writer then suggests that Confucianism is not, historically really rooted in conformity as much as people think:
Early Confucian texts record lively dialogues between students and their masters, and students were not afraid to speak up if they disagreed with their masters. Confucians disagreed with each other and they also came in for philosophically sophisticated criticism from rival thinkers such as the Mohists, Legalists and Daoists. Another early Confucian, Xunzi, recommended the study of persuasive speaking for princes eager to combat these “heretics.”

Even in later eras when Confucianism was reinvented as a state doctrine and rote-learned by students, there was room for dissent. So the 16th-century scholar Wang Yangming famously accused this scholastic Confucianism of being an obstacle to moral self-knowledge. As political philosopher and Confucian scholar Sungmoon Kim told me, “The entire history of Confucianism was propelled by critically minded thinkers.”

An American in Paris

A funny/tragic bit in Kaplan's piece on Trump in Paris:
Macron may have been amused when, during his opening statement, Trump said, “France is our oldest ally,” then—in an apparent departure from text—looked up and said, “A lot of people don’t know that.” Of course, everyone who knows the slightest thing about the American Revolution—or who has ever heard the soundtrack of Hamilton—knows that. When Trump says a lot of people don’t know something, it usually means that, until he read it in the speech before him, he didn’t know it.

The placebo diet?

An article at Slate talks about some rather surprising studies:
But as I said before, the best placebo studies involve a little trickery, and thank God a few scientists are willing to go there. The landmark study comes from Alia Crum at Stanford. As a grad student, Crum did an experiment where she found that just telling hotel workers how much exercise they were getting at work could have positive effects on their health. So in 2010, she took the next logical step. She passed out two types of milkshake—a 620-calorie version and a 140-calorie one, complete with labels that claimed they were either indulgent or diet—to two separate groups. As one might expect, the people’s gut chemistry behaved very differently depending on which shake they got, with their hunger hormones (which are also involved in metabolism) dropping much more with the fatty shake.
Except the thing is that she lied—both the shakes were 380 calories. In other words, their bellies responded not to what they were eating but to what they thought they were eating. The following year, a team at Purdue told patients they had invented special solid foods that turned to liquid once in the stomach as well as liquid foods that turn to solid. Some people got actual solids and liquids while others received the magical stomach-changing kinds. Of course, they were actually the exact same meals, and all had the same number of calories.
Naturally, people could feel the nonexisting transformations. The nontransforming-liquid drinkers were all quickly hungry, while the people drinking the “liquid-to-solid” said things like, “I could barely swallow the liquid it was so thick,” “I am so full I can barely finish the glass,” and my favorite, “It came out like a solid, too.”
Meanwhile the people eating the real solid could barely finish them all while those eating the “solid-to-liquid” said, “It hardly feels like I ate anything,” “It feels like I drank a bunch of liquid,” and “It immediately went away when the cubes turned to liquid in my stomach.”
Giggle all you want, but can you really be sure that given the same situation you wouldn’t feel exactly the same thing? The subjects in an experiment like this aren’t chosen because they are morons; they’re chosen because they are us.
But here’s the stranger bit: Their bodies’ physical chemistry responded accordingly, too. The people who thought they were eating liquids passed them through their systems like liquids. Their hunger hormones, insulin, and other metabolic hormones fell in line with what they expected, not what they ate.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Circular phobia

Never heard of this before:
Some people experience intense aversion and anxiety when they see clusters of roughly circular shapes, such as the bubbles in a cup of coffee or the holes in a sponge.
Now psychologists at the University of Kent have found that the condition -- known as trypophobia -- may be an exaggerated response linked to deep-seated anxiety about parasites and infectious disease.
Previous explanations for the condition include the suggestion that people are evolutionarily predisposed to respond to clusters of round shapes because these shapes are also found on poisonous animals, like some snakes and the blue-ringed octopus.
Now new research, led by Tom Kupfer of the University's School of Psychology, suggests that the condition may instead be related to an evolutionary history of infectious disease and parasitism that leads to an exaggerated sensitivity to round shapes.
Update:  I mentioned it to my kids, and my daughter said she has a friend who doesn't like sponges because of the holes.  How odd.

She's a lightweight

I've never trusted Deirdre McCloskey on economics:  for one thing, Sinclair Davidson and Steve Kates think she's pretty good, so there's a warning sign there.

But I reckon this piece in Reason, about how economists who have started to worry a lot about automation and unemployment are wrong, pretty much confirms she's a lightweight.  There's really no serious argument put forward, and she just falls back on her general theme about how free market capitalism and technological advance has been historically great, and (by implication) nothing's ever going to change.  Oh, and unionists are bad.

Count me as unconvinced.

When you try to be polite, and regret it

U.S. President Donald Trump is traveling to France Wednesday evening to meet new French President Emmanuel Macron and to celebrate Bastille Day. 
Apparently, Macron invited him during a phone call before the G20 summit.  I wonder if he's kicking himself because it was accepted.

It's hard to imagine two world leaders with greater difference in image, let alone policy:  one with that of French sophistication; one eats KFC because "you know what's in it".  

Douthat is about right

Douthat's pretty reasonable take on the Trump Jr meeting:
As the hapless Don Jr. — the Gob Bluth or Fredo Corleone of a family conspicuously short on Michaels — protested in his own defense, the Russian rendezvous we know about came before (though only slightly before) the WikiLeaks haul was announced. So the Trump team presumably assumed that it involved some other Hillary-related dirt — some of the missing Clinton server emails that Trump himself jokingly (“jokingly”?) urged Russian hackers to conjure and release, or direct evidence of Clinton Foundation corruption in its Russian relationships.

With that semi-exculpatory explanation in hand, you can grope your way to the current anti-anti-Trump talking point — that Don Jr. and company were just hoping to “gather oppo” to which a foreign government might happen to be privy, much as Democratic operatives looked to Ukraine for evidence of the Trump campaign’s shady ties.

But even if accepting oppo from a foreign government is technically legal — it probably is, but I leave that question to campaign finance lawyers to work out — this talking point takes you only so far. I am not a particularly fierce Russia hawk, but the Russians are still a more-hostile-than-not power these days, with stronger incentives to subvert American democracy than the average foreign government. So taking their oppo has a gravity that should have stopped a more upright and patriotic campaign short.

Second, if the Russians had been dangling some of Hillary’s missing 30,000 emails, those, too, would had to have been hacked — that is, stolen — to end up in Moscow’s hands. So Don Jr., Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner should have known going in that if the offer was genuine, the oppo useful, it might involve stolen goods.

But on the basis of the emails, the younger Trump went in not skeptically but eagerly (“if it’s what you say I love it”), ignoring or simply accepting the weird formulation about Russian support for Trump’s campaign.

Lies and consequences

Matthew Yglesias makes an obvious point:   one of the key problems with the Trump administration has been the willingness of many in it to lie about Russian contacts, when the Russians know they are lying, setting up potential blackmail material.

The only counter to that argument is that Trump is virtually un-blackmailable to his rusted on supporters - they're too stupid and uninterested in ethics to care about Putin.   Conservatives both in America and here think he's cool because he's down on Muslims and gays - he's a tough man who get things done -  they're not going to dump Trump even if they knew Trump personally had secret contact with Putin and was lying about it.   They would just say "Obama and Hillary did just as bad." 

As for Jason Soon's (hi there) cavalier attitude to Russia, Putin and (apparently) political murder - here's a couple of things for him to consider (apart from psychoanalysis to make sure there really is no subconscious Putin man-crush going on there)

*  a couple of articles, such as this one, have noted that for a few years now,  RT has developed a very friendly attitude to American libertarians.  Not hard to see the Kremlin's interest there, if libertarians are true to their American isolationist views.

*   Reason, on the other hand,  has a recent article "Russia's Global Anti-Libertarian Crusade" making the very reasonable argument that Putin's geo-political interests and philosophy are certainly against libertarian, liberal, principles on how governments should conduct themselves, and gives recent examples of Russian interference in the Balkans, etc.  

Here are two key paragraphs:
One of the surreal twists of the past year in American politics has been the rapid realignment in attitudes toward Russia. Democrats, many of whom believe that Russian interference was key to Donald Trump's unexpected victory last November, are now the ones sounding the alarm about the Russian threat. Meanwhile, quite a few Republicans—previously the keepers of the anti-Kremlin Cold War flame—have taken to praising President Vladimir Putin as a strong leader and Moscow as an ally against radical Islam. A CNN/ORC poll in late April found that 56 percent of Republicans see Russia as either "friendly" or "an ally," up from 14 percent in 2014. Over the same period, Putin's favorable rating from Republicans in the Economist/YouGov poll went from 10 percent to a startling 37 percent.
Nonetheless, there is a real Russian effort to counter American—plus NATO and E.U.—influence by supporting authoritarian nationalist movements and groups, such as Le Pen's National Front, Hungary's quasi-fascist Jobbik Party, and Greece's neo-Nazi Golden Dawn. Today's Russia is no longer just a moderately authoritarian corrupt regime trying to maintain its regional influence. Cloaked in the mantle of religious and nationalist values, the Kremlin positions itself as a defender of tradition and sovereignty against the godless progressivism and the migrant hordes overtaking the West. It has a global propaganda machine and a network of political operatives dedicated to cultivating far-right and sometimes far-left groups in Europe and elsewhere.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Assume the position

I presume the fallback position for the Trumpkins is going to be "No, no, there's still no proof the Trump campaign actually colluded with the Russian government.   They only tried to collude with the Russian government.  What's the big deal with that?"

Update:  Gee, aren't the Blair and Bolt blogs showing a lack of curiosity about this story?   Yeah, for Blair it's all "frightbats" and Lefty Turnbull is going down, and (any minute now) "Jonathan Green was wrong 10 years ago, ahahahaha".   With Bolt - Lefty Turnbull is going down; immigration, grrr; Muslims, and climate change, ha!

Update 2:  Over at the Catallaxy open thread:  "What story about 3 key members on Trump's campaign going to a meeting hoping to be fed damaging intelligence on Hillary Clinton from the Kremlin?  I must have missed that.  Oh look - someone is talking about a car tax.  Ahhhagggg, Turnbull is evil."

Update 3:  Vox notes that John Oliver got it right a few months ago:
On March 5, the host of the HBO comedy show Last Week Tonight started a segment called “Stupid Watergate,” which he described as “a scandal with all the potential ramifications of Watergate, but where everyone involved is stupid and bad at everything.” 
Update 4:  Yes, as expected, the Self Inflicted Culture War Blindness (incurable) has made an appearance at Catallaxy.

Sad what stupidity and hypocrisy being a Culture Warrior brings, hey?

Update 5:  And here's my sometimes visitor, apparently suggesting that if Trump responded like a third world dictator and organised a distracting show trial, it would all be Hillary's (or "the Left's") own fault.  What a weird comment:

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

A tasty medicine?

Strawberries!  They are now so cheap for so much of the year that I'm starting to worry how farmers can possibly be making money out of it without exploiting poor backpackers.

But a compound in them may be good for Alzheimers:
Salk scientists have found further evidence that a natural compound in strawberries reduces cognitive deficits and inflammation associated with aging in mice. The work, which appeared in the Journals of Gerontology Series A in June 2017, builds on the team's previous research into the antioxidant fisetin, finding it could help treat age-related mental decline and conditions like Alzheimer's or stroke.

The Salk team fed the 3-month-old prematurely aging mice a daily dose of fisetin with their food for 7 months. Another group of the prematurely aging mice was fed the same food without fisetin. During the study period, mice took various activity and memory tests. The team also examined levels of specific proteins in the mice related to brain function, responses to stress and inflammation.

"At 10 months, the differences between these two groups were striking," says Maher. Mice not treated with fisetin had difficulties with all the cognitive tests as well as elevated markers of stress and inflammation. Brain cells called astrocytes and microglia, which are normally anti-inflammatory, were now driving rampant inflammation. Mice treated with fisetin, on the other hand, were not noticeably different in behavior, cognitive ability or inflammatory markers at 10 months than a group of untreated 3-month-old mice with the same condition. Additionally, the team found no evidence of acute toxicity in the fisetin-treated mice, even at high doses of the compound.
Speaking of Alzheimers, last night's Four Corners was a sad case study of a few examples of people living with it in Australia.  It is a terrible disease, especially with the early onset variety.

The White House shambolic intrigue

Allahpundit at Hot Air goes through all the curious questions the latest Russian connection stories carry:  such as why some in the White House are going to the media to dob in Trump Jnr regarding his meeting with a Russian lawyer who was claiming to have dirt on Hilary.

In short - what more evidence of an absolutely shambolic state of affairs within the administration can people want?

But some will just shrug their shoulders, as if this isn't anything of concern.

Update:  Vox notes that Trump Jnr may have broken the law, and pretty much provided the evidence against himself.    Maybe helps explain explain why Jared or others would be going to the media to say "hey, it was all his idea"?

Vaccination in history

I didn't know about the controversy over smallpox vaccination in its earliest days in England.   Mind you, it sounds like the anti compulsory vaxxers had something to worry about, given the technique:
In 19th century Britain, the only vaccine widely available to the public was against smallpox. Vaccination involved making a series of deep cuts to the arm of the child into which the doctor would insert matter from the wound of a previously vaccinated child.
These open wounds left many children vulnerable to infections, blood poisoning and gangrene. Parents and anti-vaccination campaigners alike described the gruesome scenes that often accompanied the procedure, like this example from the Royal Cornwall Gazette from December 1886:
Some of these poor infants have been borne of pillows for weeks, decaying alive before death ended their sufferings.

Monday, July 10, 2017

That it's all a fake news fantasy is the fantasy

Hey Jason, I see that you're retweeting apologetics for Donald Trump again.   This is a worry.

It's a very stupid post, containing one element of truth (that at one time Trump could've been thought to be a wannabe Democrat, not Republican, candidate) but overwhelmingly, it's a very stupid argument made.  This part, in particular, saying that until relatively recently:
 No one would have doubted for a second that he was an American patriot, the least likely stooge for Russia or the USSR. I say all this to remind people that the image of Trump promulgated by the media and his other political enemies since he decided to run for President is entirely a creation of the last year or two.

If you consider yourself a smart person, a rational person, an evidence-driven person, you should reconsider whether 30+ years of reporting on Trump is more likely to be accurate (during this time he was a public figure, major celebrity, and tabloid fodder: subject to intense scrutiny), or 1-2 years of heavily motivated fake news.
Hsu even says "There were no accusations of racism", which is rather remarkable claim for a man who actually faced court for having racist policies in the business he ran for his Dad in the 1970's.

I'm not entirely sure of the intention of Hsu's argument here - surely he can't be suggesting that Trump didn't have much negative publicity over the years - he had plenty of that with his business and marriage failures.   Success as a reality TV host hardly wiped that away: some viewers may well have been watching to laugh at Trump's swaggering act, not admire it.

Or is it just that Hsu is taking offence at the idea that Trump could be a Russian stooge, and saying that this argument has only just arisen because of "fake news".  Well, might not the unprecedented (in modern times) refusal of a Presidential candidate to do a proper financial disclosure, and having a son making statements about how much funding his Dad got from Russia raise any question?   As well as Trump's frequently stated admiration for a Russian leader widely believed to have direct involvement in authorising political murders?   And people on his campaign (including, we know now, his son) having meetings with Russians offering dirt on Hilary.  Not to mention the actual intelligence agencies believing that the hacking was authorised from the top.

This is all meant to be "fake news"?   Yeah, sure.

As for the supposed outrageousness of the idea of Trump as Russian stooge - I strongly suspect that few people actually think Trump is an intentional Putin stooge, in the sense of actually planning to deliberately do Putin's direct bidding at the cost of America.  But since when has being a stooge required such intent?   Being dumb and able to be manipulated because you're an ill educated, vain  and psychologically needy man who has shown few business or relationship scruples and who seemingly only ran for the Presidency because it would be good for business, win or lose - perfect stooge material.

That anyone has to point that to someone like Hsu is pretty ridiculous.

Can't both be right

Well, isn't that funny.   Back in May, I questioned Jason Soon's verdict that French President Macron was someone libertarians should be happy with.  

Today, Andrew Bolt is criticising Malcolm Turnbull for calling Macron a "centrist", whereas Bolt knows he's an "old socialist".  (Culture warrior-ing prevents Bolt from seeing otherwise - because Macron is completely on board with climate change.)

Still, Macron truly seems to a be a case of people seeing what they want to see.

I'll stick with my cautious verdict in comments to my May post - he's a relatively mild economic liberal, especially coming off a quite Left base in economics in France, but his overall suite of policy ideas picks from both the Left and Right.  He therefore counts pretty much as a centrist, for lack of a better term, although perhaps one who chooses an unusually wide range of policy ideas.

The culture war means never having to say you were wrong

Tim Blair mocks the recent Lateline episode in which various young scientist types spoke about their fears for the future, including whether they should have children, and where they think they may need to retire to as temperatures rise.  (Tasmania is popular, but the degree to which rainfall pattern changes may affect it seems rather uncertain - which isn't great for a place so reliant on hydro-electric.)

I saw this on Lateline and knew it would get mocking from Right wing culture warriors who have dumbed themselves down sufficiently such that they have not a clue who to listen to on climate change.  Delingpole, with his arts degree, or whatever he has, is apparently a more reliable guide than thousands of scientists who have contributed to climate change research.

That said, I don't think it's a wise thing to talk about not having children for the sake of climate change.  Let's face it, the kids of scientists are quite likely to be smart and rich enough to arrange things for themselves (such as moving to a more temperate climate) so as not to be a direct victim of climate change, much more so than a kid from some poor country in Africa or the Indian subcontinent.   And really, we want smart people to have kids and (hopefully) bring them up to be able to contribute to solutions to the problems climate change may bring.

But as with all culture warriors, Blair's attack (which is all about how Islamic terrorism is a direct and immediate threat and why are stoopid scientists not panicking about that instead of climate change) makes two fundamental mistakes:

a.  it is possible to walk and chew gum at the same time - yes, I know, a hard concept for any culture warrior obsessed with the Islamic and migrant threat to get a grasp on.  (Am I being unfair to Blair here?  I'm not sure he carries on about African immigration or even Islamic immigration as much as Bolt does - they seem to have divided things between them so that Blair will deal with cranky feminism, Waleed Aly and Jonathan Green - man, does he obsess about Jonathan;  Bolt deals with immigration and aborigines; and they both obsess about the ABC generally.)

b.  he lives in a fantasy world where heat seems to never matter.  Take this:
Very well, then. If we’re calculating risk based on the number of dead bodies, let’s consider the toll so far due to climate change.
It’s literally zero.
A big call, given that heatwaves kill off quite a few Indians each year, not to mention floods.   A milder climate in a cool to cold country may well be better for the population's health, but in a country that's already warm to hot for most of the year? 

Of course, what he's relying on is an inability to precisely say which extreme weather event can be ascribed to climate change, given that some extreme weather events would happen even without it.

But that is such a shallow way of considering it, unless you're a culture warrior, which essentially means never having to make yourself better informed on a topic you just know is wrong.

Sunday, July 09, 2017

Dumbed down

Trump's speech in Poland did not get rave reviews from anyone other than his fellow culture warriors, who have developed a paranoia about the end of the West at the hands of Islamic extremism.

It was, patently, not a good speech and (at least in transcript) was delivered poorly, with several Trumpian moments where he made it all about him, again.  As for its key paragraph, Peter Beinart covers it well:
The most shocking sentence in Trump’s speech—perhaps the most shocking sentence in any presidential speech delivered on foreign soil in my lifetime—was his claim that “The fundamental question of our time is whether the West has the will to survive.” On its face, that’s absurd. Jihadist terrorists can kill people in the West, but unlike Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union, they cannot topple even the weakest European government. Jihadists control no great armies. Their ideologies have limited appeal even among the Muslims they target with their propaganda. ISIS has all but lost Mosul and could lose Raqqa later this year.

Trump’s sentence only makes sense as a statement of racial and religious paranoia. The “south” and “east” only threaten the West’s “survival” if you see non-white, non-Christian immigrants as invaders. They only threaten the West’s “survival” if by “West” you mean white, Christian hegemony. A direct line connects Trump’s assault on Barack Obama’s citizenship to his speech in Poland. In Trump and Bannon’s view, America is at its core Western: meaning white and Christian (or at least Judeo-Christian). The implication is that anyone in the United States who is not white and Christian may not truly be American but rather than an imposter and a threat.

Poland is largely ethnically homogeneous. So when a Polish president says that being Western is the essence of the nation’s identity, he’s mostly defining Poland in opposition to the nations to its east and south. America is racially, ethnically, and religious diverse. So when Trump says being Western is the essence of America’s identity, he’s in part defining America in opposition to some of its own people. He’s not speaking as the president of the entire United States. He’s speaking as the head of a tribe.
 Exactly.  Hence it was only members of his own, dumbed down, "tribe" who thought this was a monumental speech.

That Chris Kenny and Andrew Bolt could think this was a great speech just shows what inept and completely unreliable commentators they've become.  I actually find it hard to credit how they could even get so stupid.   I honestly did not previously think culture warrior-ing to be so capable of blinding and dumbing down people's judgement. 

As for Trump's performance at the G20, I have to give credit to Chris Uhlmann, who I don't trust generally for being too soft on the Coalition and unreliable on climate change.  His assessment of Trump, though, rang very true, for the most part.  (I only disagree when he said that there were "interesting" observations in the Poland speech about defending the values of the West.)  But this part, yes: is the unscripted Mr Trump that is real. A man who barks out bile in 140 characters, who wastes his precious days as President at war with the West's institutions — like the judiciary, independent government agencies and the free press.

He was an uneasy, awkward figure at this gathering and you got the strong sense some other leaders were trying to find the best way to work around him.

Mr Trump is a man who craves power because it burnishes his celebrity. To be constantly talking and talked about is all that really matters. And there is no value placed on the meaning of words. So what is said one day can be discarded the next.

So, what did we learn this week?

We learned Mr Trump has pressed fast forward on the decline of the US as a global leader. He managed to diminish his nation and to confuse and alienate his allies.

He will cede that power to China and Russia — two authoritarian states that will forge a very different set of rules for the 21st century.

Some will cheer the decline of America, but I think we'll miss it when it is gone.
And that is the biggest threat to the values of the West which he claims to hold so dear.

Marvel watched

Off we went to see Spider-Man: Homecoming this afternoon.

Yes, it's very good.  I have one quibble:  the climatic fight sequence was not as thrilling as the two other main set pieces in the film.  It was a tad silly, truth be told, even by Marvel's dubious physics standards.

Apart from that:  yes, it has plenty of laughs (key to my enjoyment of any superhero film), a very likeable actor as the lead,  a Ramones song featured prominently that make us older folk feel good about music from our youth, and a great plot twist which I don't think anyone in the audience saw coming.  Even the Stan Lee appearance was better than the one in Guardians 2, I thought.

The movie will make a lot of money, and I don't mind.

Saturday, July 08, 2017

Sounding very sensible

John Quiggin's article in The Guardian this week sounded very sensible to me, in a "big picture" kind of way.