Friday, June 22, 2018

Kates in a Deep State of panic

Look, it's hard to come up with new words to describe the inanity of Steven Kate's world view:  let's just settle on LOL ridiculous for this post today about the "Australian Deep State", inspired by an article written by Gareth Evans. 

Even though Evans (questionably, in my view) in the article gives credit to Trump for at least having the Singapore summit, Kates still finds reason to panic:

And what is his sage advice: to restructure our foreign policy so that it is, “as he has argued for some time”:
“Less America. More Asia. More Self Reliance.”
Moronus maximus duplicitus!!! What a sell-out to our enemies. And he finishes by telling us that there is about to be a meeting at the university that has self-declared itself unwilling to defend Western Civilisation, that there will be an “ANU Leadership Forum” involving the AFR, Business Council, academics and the public service – that is, a meeting of socialists and their crony-capitalist beneficiaries – to discuss our foreign policy future.

Or in other words, it is a meeting of the Australian Deep State, who should not be trusted by so much as an inch. You should, of course, be wary of the Libs, but you should be far far more wary of the ALP. It makes me sick to read such idiocies and fills me with fear as well.
Hey, Sinclair Davidson:  you do know you're hosting a blog for the mentally disturbed Right wing catastrophists of the land, who routinely report breaking contact with former friends and relatives due to whipping themselves into a frenzy of panic based on imagined conspiracies?  

Don't you feel just a little bit guilty hosting a place where they sit around reinforcing each other's increasingly nutty social isolation?  

Sort of a Hindmarsh Island in reverse?

This is one of those cases where groups associated with both sides of the political spectrum come out looking bad - Big Mining and aboriginal politics:

A north Queensland Indigenous organisation kept secret more than $2m in payments by the Adani mining company, federal court documents show.

Guardian Australia has obtained court documents that show the Kyburra Munda Yalga Aboriginal Corporation did not account for payments by Adani, then paid its own directors up to $1,000 a day cash-in-hand to conduct now-invalidated cultural heritage assessments for the Indian mining company.

The federal court last month delivered a ruling that may void the assessments, which are required to protect sacred sites from development.

It ruled that another Indigenous business, Juru Enterprises Limited, was the proper “nominated body” to represent traditional owners on a land-use agreement with Adani.

The impact of the decision could be wide-ranging. Traditional owners from near Bowen say they are “hugely worried” Adani has conducted work at its Abbot Point port based on improper or conflicted advice from the cultural assessment surveys.

Juru Enterprises could now demand Adani “redesign or reconfigure” any plans or works near sacred sites.

The court case has also exposed how Adani funding was central to alleged rorts conducted by Kyburra board members. Guardian Australia has seen letters, minutes of meetings, police reports, auditors reports and sworn affidavits that detail how Kyburra kept money paid by Adani off the books and then funnelled it to directors through “fees” and “loans”.

Kyburra declared only $50,000 total income in consecutive years: 2014/2015 and 2015/16. About $2m was paid to the organisation by Adani in 2014 and 2015, including an estimated $800,000 for cultural assessments. But none of it showed up in Kyburra’s annual financial statements.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

In today's appalling Trump and Trump supporter news

First, as David Roberts says:

Second, why isn't this story of the man baby bully making more appearances in the mainstream media?:
President Trump reportedly tossed Starburst candies to German Chancellor Angela Merkel during his tense meeting with Group of Seven (G-7) leaders weeks ago, Eurasia Group President Ian Bremmer said Wednesday.

While appearing on CBS News, Bremmer painted a grim picture of Trump and Merkel’s relationship amid heightened conflict between the president and other G-7 members over his steep steel and aluminum tariffs and suggestion that Russia be reinstated into the group.
  Bremmer went on to describe a bizarre incident toward the end of the summit, when Merkel and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau joined some of other the allies “to press Trump directly to sign the [group] communique that talked about the commitment to a rules-based international order.”

“Trump was sitting there with his arms crossed, clearly not liking the fact that they were ganging up on him,” Bremmer said to the news outlet. “He eventually agreed and said OK, he’ll sign it. And at that point, he stood up, put his hand in his pocket, his suit jacket pocket, and he took two Starburst candies out, threw them on the table and said to Merkel, ‘Here, Angela. Don’t say I never give you anything.’ ”

“The relationship is about as dysfunctional as we’ve seen between America and its major allies since the trans-Atlantic relationship really started after World War II,” Bremmer continued.
Third:   I find it weird how, for conservative pro-Life Catholics, the issue of abortion distorts their moral judgment completely.    Because the Left supports abortion rights, they (pro-Lifers)  act as if this makes all appalling treatment of the living by the any figure on the Right excusable as being relatively minor, in their eyes.    It's always a case of "but you can't complain about that, because you want to see babies killed!"

This dynamic has been clear at Catallaxy for many, many years, most routinely deployed by 1950's blow in CL.  But I see it turns up at Hot Air too:
His point about thinking twice before handing power to a party that would take kids away from their parents with no plan to reunite them and maybe with no ability to reunite them is well taken. His suggestion to replace them with a party that condones abortion on demand at any point during pregnancy — “the only party left in America that stands for what is right and decent,” Schmidt would have you believe — is not. 
What's weird about this is Popes themselves do not take this attitude.    All Popes talk of abortion as appalling evil that they want to see ended - but it never stops them issuing teachings on, and condemning, other immoral behaviour, whether it be about social justice in terms of economics, climate change, use of social media, whatever.  

And so I'll end with a David Roberts tweet on this very topic:

Update:  entirely predictable, but even after this current Pope condemns the child separation policy, those walking ugly advertisements of modern Conservative Catholics as inanely supportive of cruelty and entirely gullible from Catallaxy chime in:

DB sounds like a genuine Catholic proto-fascist these days:  uses "bugmen" all the time, which ties in with Trump's dehumanising terminology for undocumented immigrants.   It's extremely ugly, and dumb.  But that's his brand of modern conservatism for you.    

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

It can be hard to understand America

The media attention on Trump's children separation policy looks very, very bad:  as does Trump using the quasi Nazi terminology of how illegal migrants are "infesting" the country.

Look, along with the wannabe dictator cry of "lock her up", the other transparently appalling thing of the Trump candidacy was his vilification of undocumented immigrants as a class, Mexicans in particular.   Yet it seemed the media noted it, it was repeated, the media got tired of noting what appallingly dangerous vilification it was, and it became un-newsworthy.   It won't be forgotten by history, however, where this Presidency will clearly be held in contempt.   I mean, come on, when even the present Chief of Staff is saying this (apparently):
He has told at least one person close to him that he may as well let the president do what he wants, even if it leads to impeachment — at least this chapter of American history would come to a close.
..we already know the judgment of history.

So called conservatives who support the Trumpian policy of child separation fill me with disgust.

So called conservatives of Australia who shrug their shoulders about it (look how much time Andrew Bolt and Tim Blair have devoted to the topic on his blogs - precisely nil, I believe, while hyperventilating daily about really important things like what Jonathan Green said next or how much they hate the ABC) are pathetic, lightweight culture warriors who can't see immoral authoritarianism on open display.

Yet the American news reports Trump's popularity is not doing so bad.   Not great, but not in the single digits where in any reasonable country it would deserve to be.   I've said it before, but there seems something peculiar about Presidential popularity polling in that country - if you don't believe me, look at the collection of approval/disapproval graphs at FiveThirtyEight for past presidents.   There are some strange looking results there.

Still, the fact that some Republicans are coming out against the child separation policy is a sign they can tell there is a real problem with the electorate there.  

What's the bet that Trump won't take his own action, which he can at any time, without the need for legislation, until the Foxs News network gives him approval to do so?   He is that pathetic.

Hope they lose in a landside in the mid terms.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

And now for some sports commentary

I only do this about twice a year, so you're lucky to catch it.

I'm only half watching some World Cup soccer matches, but my distracted and uninformed opinion is that the style of play in the Japan and Columbia match on while I type this is faster and much better to watch than the turgid, too cautious play during at least the first 20 minutes of the Australia/France match.

So there.  I'm done with sports here for another six months.

Maths fail

At the end of Sinclair Davidson's latest post about how happy he is that he's causing the ABC "trouble" (the sort of trouble that is causing Turnbull and every other Coalition minister to grind their teeth at the vote losing potential of this issue), he notes:
So that is ($1,000,000,000/6000) $166,666,67 per job.
Should I go the full snark and end with something like "so that's the standard of RMIT economics teaching?", or just admit it's a typo of a comma that should be a full stop?  

Labor must be delighted at Davidson and Berg's almost single handed contribution (not counting Murdoch) to their next scare campaign. 

Speaking of cults (and with an Alexander Downer connection too!)

I hadn't noticed this story until now:  some weirdo cult leader is on trial in South Australia for various charges of unlawful sexual intercourse, and we're getting to hear some of the nutty detail of how the cult worked:
The court heard no decision was made without running it past Salerno and that on one occasion he had ordered all of the men to strip and wrestle naked in front of the group, before ordering all of the women to do the same.

In his opening address, prosecutor Patrick Hill told the court Salerno — also known as 'Taipan' — was always the leader of the group and the other 30 or so members were ranked by what the accused called the individual's "emotional quotient".

He said the group would hold daily meetings to discuss various ideas around the notion of the "ideal human environment" and that it was common for them to say "praise Taipan".

The court heard women in the group were responsible for looking after children, cooking and cleaning as well as tending to Salerno.

"This included caring for his hands and feet by these manicures and pedicures, running him a bath, towel drying him afterwards, brushing his hair, doing his laundry and also by giving him hand and leg massages," Mr Hill said.

The court heard girls as young as 13 were taught by older women in the group how to be a "personal server" to their leader, which included testing the temperature of his bath water with a thermometer to make sure it was to his liking.
And so on.

As for Alexander Downer's connection - the leader's family had bought a mansion in the Adelaide Hills from which to run the cult, and it was originally built by Alexander's Dad and was his (Alexander's) boyhood home.   Look at it:

Rather like an English country estate transplanted here.   No wonder he talks with a plum in his mouth!   

Brexit effects were obviously not understood

I think it is impossible to deny that Brexit proponents had no idea of the complications that it would involve, and that the country is now paying the price of populism encouraged by the ill conceived politics of Rupert Murdoch (and to be fair, some other British media owners whose motivations for being pro Brexit were not always clear.)    

Here's a list of Brexit problems I've been noticing lately:

Car industry in Britain could be in big trouble.

So could aviation.

Fisherman might be able to fish more, but most fish eaten in Britain are likely to get more expensive, and British fishermen might even earn less.

Universities could get less research funds.

Yes, the NHS is about to get more money, but from an increase in taxes, not from the claimed Brexit dividend.

What Putin wants

I watched Four Corners last night on the Russian influence on the American elections.  (I had missed the previous instalments.)   A few observations:

*  that Russian female lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya did not present well - her manner indicated someone who's a bit of an actor who is hiding something with her too emphatic "nothing to see here" claims;

*  James Clapper presented as sincere, calm and genuinely alarmed at Trump's attitude;

*  The timing of Trump's promise of new dirt on Clinton also makes it look extremely likely he knew about the upcoming Trump Tower meeting - and that would also explain why he had a hand in drafting the dishonest statement for his son;

*  I remain gobsmacked that there was not more condemnation from the media and the public over  the blatantly authoritarian atmosphere of the Republican convention with the "lock her up" chant led by an ex General (Flynn) - as well as others.   It genuinely was a low and scary point for American politics, and Trump supporters deserve condemnation for either joining in, or simply shrugging their shoulders.    To talk about jailing your political opponent when the investigators have already cleared her - there is simply no justification for it, short of wanting to become a tinpot dictatorship.

*  The conclusion, though, that Putin has got exactly what he wanted, in terms of a chaotic Presidency and administration weakening Western ties, as well as a President openly warm to him and Russian interests, is probably true, but should not have been stated as such by Sarah Ferguson as the host.   She should have left that for someone else to draw that conclusion.  Her stating it didn't sound journalistic enough. 


Not for sale

Mark Humphries is a very likeable comedy performer:

Monday, June 18, 2018

The New Testament revisited, again

Back in January I posted briefly about a new translation of the New Testament by Orthodox theologian David Bentley Hart.  Here's a review of it from Literary Review, and I'll extract a few paragraphs of paragraphs of particular interest:
No less radical, in Hart’s reading, is the young Jewish teacher, to whom he gives the title not of ‘Christ’ or ‘Messiah’ but of ‘Anointed’, whose antinomian ‘concern for the ptōchoi the abjectly destitute – is more or less exclusive of any other social class’. It has been suggested that this is a Marxist Jesus, for whom the rich are the ‘revilers of the divine name, who should howl in terror at the judgment that is coming upon them’, and it is here that Hart has attracted the most cavils and harrumphing. In this translation, Jesus’s teachings on material wealth are emphatically not advisory suggestions, counsels of good karma, but commands; far from the metaphors that we might wish them to be, they are clear injunctions urgently to rid ourselves of possessions, which keep our souls from the light.

This is stressed, in another departure from tradition, in the rendering of the word that we are accustomed to hear as ‘blessed’. For Hart, the Greek makarios conveys ‘a special intensity of delight and freedom from care that the more shopworn renderings no longer quite capture’. Thus in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:3) we hear, ‘How blissful the destitute, abject in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of the heavens.’ To lack, to be empty of possessions, is here to become a vessel imbued with bliss.
And this:
Hart is from the Orthodox tradition, which eschews the Augustinian notion of Original Sin and proposes, more congenially, that humans are born not already stained by sin but merely capable of sinning. This temperamental distinction gives rise to his most controversial translation (among Christian bigwigs), that of aiōn, aiōnios, which is generally given to us as ‘eternity, eternal’. According to Hart, there is an ambiguity in the Greek that means it has no English equivalent. Taking his cue from the Septuagint, the second century BC Greek translation of the Old Testament, he insists that it can equally mean an age, a lifetime or a temporal span. Consequently, in his version of the story of Jesus, the punishment meted out, for example, to the goats, who are notoriously divided from the sheep, is remedial rather than retributive, temporary rather than everlasting, which allows for an altogether kinder, more 21st-century-friendly outlook.

Another silly IPA inspired suggestion

Senator for the IPA James Patterson wants universities to be fined for not accepting money from the Ramsay Centre.   Because nothing says intellectual freedom like forcing a university to teach IPA approved courses.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Dutch teen happiness

The Guardian notes that Dutch teenagers are regularly at the top of teenage happiness analysis:
In report after report, the Netherlands tops OECD countries for high life satisfaction among its young people. Researchers compiling this year’s Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC) study, a four-yearly analysis on 48 countries, say Dutch children’s happiness scores are up again.
It contrasts starkly with the picture in countries like Britain, where depression and anxiety are on the rise among teenagers, and the US, where the number of young people taking their own lives has risen sharply.
So why is this flat, damp country of 17 million people with its history of Calvinism and colonialism so good at giving young people an optimistic outlook?
It is a great question, because the country is so famously liberal in many respects, yet the behaviour of the kids is more conservative than what you get in places like the Red State in the USA.  They are:
... in the bottom five for being overweight, having sex before 15, and feeling pressure from schoolwork. They were less likely than average to experience bullying and generally found it easy to talk to parents.

Despite the country’s reputation for cannabis smoking, the Trimbos Institute reports a downward trend for using alcohol and drugs and smoking in Dutch children aged 12 to 16. Such activities are described by HBSC experts as “risk behaviours” that impact happiness....

The rate of teenage pregnancies in the Netherlands is also the lowest in the EU.
The school system sounds to be behind a lot of it.  It sounds nice and flexible.  
The Dutch school system – almost entirely public –incorporates major exams at about the age of 12 and three levels of secondary education from practical to the most academic. But it is possible to progress from one to the other or repeat a year and, despite concerns about dropping standards and increasing segregation, such flexibility could make for less stress.

Yara Agterhof, 17, from Vlaardingen, has just changed her subject focus. “I was a year ahead, [taking] physics, chemistry and biology,” she says. “I figured it was too hard for me and made a decision to go back. Now I have a different profile with the things I do actually enjoy. I don’t feel like I’ve lost a year and I think my parents feel: ‘As long as you’re happy, we’re happy.’”
It's a very interesting country. 

Hard not to laugh

I rarely use the word "orgy" at this blog, but this clip from Stephen Colbert about a recent failed one at Las Vegas is pretty funny:

Owner of obnoxious clown rodeo still likes clown rodeos, apparently

So, Sinclair Davidson got his noggin on the most ridiculous and embarrassing advertisement for the state of Right wing politics in Australia - Outsiders on Sky News, headed by laughing mop head Dean Rowan and "I think Donald Trump may be the greatest man on Earth" Ross Cameron.   (Yes, something very close to those exact words was his assessment of the outcome of the Singapore meeting last week - I saw it on The Weekly.  Not to mention his various gay ridiculing comments made from time to time - a bit rich from a founding member of a parliamentary Christian fellowship who promptly lost his seat after his history of adultery was revealed.) 

He was talking up his and Chris Berg's plan on how to end the ABC as a government funded organisation, and I have to say, the details of the suggestion sound even sillier than I expected.   (Give shares in it for free it to current and ex ABC staff, who will pay capital gains tax when they sell them off if there is any profit in selling them off.   I have many questions, but honestly, am not very interested in the answers.)

What interests me more is that the hosts of the show gave a call out to Catallaxy, for which Sinclair was apparently appreciative.

The big question, which has bothered me for many years, is why isn't he embarrassed to be the owner/controller of the hate filled bile that passes for reader participation (and, increasingly, post content) at that blog?

He is, personally, socially liberal and was obviously at ease with gay marriage, supports high levels of immigration, appears open minded to Muslim immigration, and admits to being friendly with at least one Labor economist politician (Andrew Leigh).    He has always sounded cynical of Trump.

Of course, he is frequently flat out wrong or deeply eccentric in his views (I won't bother listing them again now, it gets tedious), but his libertarian social liberal bent would seem to indicate that he doesn't hate strongly.

But look at the blog!    It is brimming with Right wing conservatives who genuinely think that centre Left politics and economic views are literally evil and threatening the end of Western civilisation.   Many report how they have lost friends and take pride in their obnoxious arguing with people who do radical things like, you know, believe science on climate change.  Several have mentioned past bouts with depression - I judge that many, by the content of their contributions, have actual psychological personality defects for which they could well do with therapy.  Misogyny, ridicule of homosexual public figures and outbreaks of racism are just routine, extremely rarely moderated, and self-moderation amongst participants is rare too.

Steve Kates routinely posts his complete bewilderment of how anyone cannot see Trump as the saviour of the world, and repeats regularly the view that he is one of the few economists who understands it properly.   As for the Left culturally - just a couple of days ago he wrote  how "the scum on the left know no bounds to their vile subnormal behaviour."   And the other contributors, they are full of condescension and ridicule of the mainstream as well, whether it be on climate science, or anything really.   They don't just disagree, they invite no respect because of their complete rudeness and arrogance towards others economists or experts.   No one of a professional standing ever now appears in comments to dispute or correct a post - surely because they know it is a poisonous place in which respectful debate is impossible.

In short, the blog is full of genuine, nutty, irrational hatred, and works as a mutual support network for those obnoxiously ungenerous towards others.   It is in large part,  I have come to believe, the cry of despair of the cultural loser - but ironically, on their one unifying issue (not believing in the existence or seriousness of climate change) they continually think that they are on the verge of "winning".  

Why would he like being in control of such a clown rodeo?   He might think it gives voice to the frustrated - but they've always been able to go to other offensive unmoderated blogs to do that - Larry Pickering and  Michael Smith's come to mind.  Why would you want to hurt your own credibility by heading a blog that is the home of the bitter and nasty social conservative who doesn't even agree with his own socially liberal views?

It is a complete mystery to me.   

A good Krugman on the somewhat illusory benefits of corporate tax cuts

Again, I think Krugman has a talent for straight forward explanations of economic matters, and this one explaining that corporate tax cutting actually seems to be a lot more about profit-shifting, is a good example.  His final paragraph:
So, am I saying that the case for cutting corporate tax rates is unadulterated nonsense? No, it’s adulterated nonsense. There’s some reason to believe that lower tax rates will, other things equal, have some positive effect on capital formation. But the vision of a global market in which real capital moves a lot in response to tax rates is all wrong; most of what we see in response to tax rate differences is profit-shifting, not real investment. And there is no reason to believe that the kind of tax cut America just enacted will achieve much besides starving the government of revenue.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

A new idea: a spinning space catapult?

Don't think I have ever heard of this before, even as a vague idea:
On Thursday, a Silicon Valley startup called SpinLaunch Inc. will reveal the first details of its plans to build a machine meant to hurl rockets into space. To achieve that goal, SpinLaunch has secured $40 million from some top technology investors, said Jonathan Yaney, the founder.

The company remains tight-lipped about exactly how this contraption will work, although its name gives away the basic idea. Rather than using propellants like kerosene and liquid oxygen to ignite a fire under a rocket, SpinLaunch plans to get a rocket spinning in a circle at up to 5,000 miles per hour and then let it go—more or less throwing the rocket to the edge of space, at which point it can light up and deliver objects like satellites into orbit....

SpinLaunch’s so-called kinetic energy launch system would use electricity to accelerate a projectile and help do much of the dirty work fighting through gravity and the atmosphere. In theory, this means the company could build a simpler, less expensive rocket that’s more efficient at ferrying satellites. “Some people call it a non-rocket launch,” said Yaney. “It seems crazy. It seems fantastic. But we are actually using relatively low-tech industrial components to break this problem into manageable chunks.”
Well, spinning at that speed there won't be any smuggling of a person on board to get into space.  Nor would I assume anything very delicate in a satellite.  I am sceptical of the usefulness of the concept, actually.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Pointless fist waving continues

Ah, I hope that in retirement, like a reverse Jim Cairns, Sinclair Davidson and his best buddy Berg can be found sitting at a card table at some outdoor market selling their latest self published screed about how important it is that (in their case) the ABC sees its comeuppance

They may be admired by the more obnoxious, meat-headier parts of the Coalition and the wingnutty internet for their pointless campaigning on this, but it's a ridiculous campaign that has every chance of helping ABC loving Labor votes, rather than helping those who want to abolish it.

When Rupert dies and stops funding the IPA, perhaps the campaign will slow down anyway.

About that CO2 sucking machine

I've been waiting for some nuanced commentary on the recent report about extracting CO2 from the air for fuel production.   David Roberts does a pretty good job at that in his article at Vox:

Sucking carbon out of the air won’t solve climate change

I say again - send Jonathan Swan back to Murdochland, where he belongs

Typical Swan - look at his tweet giving support to the Trump FBI conspiracists on old news, when the report itself says it found no evidence that the political views expressed in texts affected investigation decisions.  Make sure to read the comment following the tweet too.

Swan is an idiot for thinking that anyone working in the FBI shouldn't have a private view that Trump is a dangerous idiot.   Because we all know he is.   Even a substantial proportion of his cult supporters really know it - they are just willing to encourage him anyway for culture war reasons, based on their absurd belief that Obama was the worst president ever.   Look at Hugh Hewitt's defence of Trump's quip that he'll probably never admit he was wrong about Kim, even if he is.   That's a good sign of "candor" in the perverse world of conservative politics now. 

Update:  to be clearer - of course, it is not a good look for an investigator to be texting that - and it is clearly right that he be taken off any role in the investigation when they were found.   So, yeah, the guy's been foolish.   But, ultimately, if there is no evidence of wrong doing from an investigative point of view, the view the investigator has of the suspect hardly matters.

How long can a cult last in the internet age?

There has been an upswing in people noting that the Republican Party, and about 30% of Americans, are acting like cultists when it comes to Trump.  

This is, of course, depressing in that cult members are not swayed by rational argument.   Or at least, they think they are being rational, when in fact they have lost all objectively.   Getting them out of a cult mindset usually takes a long time.

On the other hand, I was musing idly while in traffic this morning, cults, whether they be of religious or political nature, rarely last all that long, as far as the big picture of history goes.   The tensions, power plays and rivalry within them eventually cause a break up, with members finally giving up and looking for another key to life.   Think of the various Indian gurus gone bad, or your dictators with former public acclaim who end up on the end of a rope.  

What's unique about the current situation is the role of the internet and private media (principally, of course, Rupert Murdoch) in prolonging cult worship and the complete lack of objectivity that is key to a cult's existence.  

It would be more interesting if it weren't so worrying, this matter of how long modern communications and media can keep a political cult alive.    But I guess I remain somewhat optimistic that the dam wall will break, and the disgust with which history will view the enablers of the cult will be long lasting.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

The Right wing intellectual decline, continued

Niall Ferguson is copping a lot of criticism for his latest newspaper column, in which he mounts an argument that the chaotic, who-knows-what-he'll-do-or-say-next, style and instincts of Trump is just what the globe (or at least, America) needs.  This is the particularly offending part:
Yes, there is much to be said in principle for an international order based on explicit rules; and yes, those rules should favor free trade over protectionism. But if in practice your liberal international order has the consequence that China overtakes you, first economically and then strategically, there is probably something wrong with it.

The key to the Trump presidency is that it holds out probably the last opportunity the United States has to stop or at least slow China’s ascendancy. And, while it may not be intellectually very satisfying, Trump’s approach to the problem, which is to assert American power in unpredictable and disruptive ways, may in fact be the only viable option left.
As people are saying on twitter:

Yes, once upon a time, conservative intellectuals valued, well, intellectualism.  Now they're reduced to cheering the opposite because "that'll show them." 

And this:

And there are many other worthy Twitter comments as well, noting that wrecking Western alliances is playing exactly into Chinese (and Russian) hands.  

But the best analysis of how Ferguson has dumbed himself down is a Krugman thread, which you can read here.

Record rainfall watch - France this time

France soaked by record rainfall as deluge continues

Spider raccoon gets to climb another skyscraper

Well, this is a nice story.  
A daredevil raccoon that became an online sensation when it spent almost 20 nail-biting hours scaling a 25-storey office tower in Minnesota has been safely rescued and released back into the wild after making it to the top of the building unscathed.

The animal’s ascent on the outside of the UBS building in downtown St Paul city was watched across the world on social media on Tuesday, with updates on its progress posted regularly by the Minnesota Public Radio under the hashtag #MPRraccoon. Crowds also gathered at the scene to watch.

Seems about right

I've usually like William Saletan's commentary, and his take on Trump/Kim sounds nearly right to me.   (I think he gives too much credit to Trump though when he calls him a "skilled salesman".)  

Wednesday, June 13, 2018


There're millions of words being written about the Trump/Kim summit, and I'm finding it tiresome to choose which seems to me to sum it up best.   So I'll just show throw a few of my own thoughts down:

*  I think it likely that Trump's limited range of rhetorical and social skills means that he has no other way of sounding positive about a political leader without coming across as inappropriately gushing.  I mean, really - can you imagine the Republican reaction to Obama talking about a "special bond" with a "very talented" North Korean dictator who has internment camps and kills his political rivals and poorly performing generals?  It's quite absurd that conservatives (or at least, more conservatives - there are a couple) are not horrified - but then again, their childish, blind, tribalistic support of Trump is absurd at the best of times.   Ironically,  I think the regular media is actually being light on the criticism of Trump for such sycophantic language, perhaps because they have made the same judgement as me (that he just doesn't have the skill to do anything better)?

* The agreement as signed means nothing.   No one will know if anything productive has come out of the meeting for another 12 months at least, I would guess.

*  I have been a bit puzzled by South Korea being too lavish in its praise of Trump early on.  Now that he seems to be making decisions affecting them without being pre-warned (cancelling joint military exercises) I think they may be realising they're not exactly dealing with a reliable ally.    Sucked in, as teens of my era used to say.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

My best guess as to what Trump and Kim just signed ... that's a time share deal for some Trump resort, and an associated golf course membership. 

CRISPR and cancer

Techno optimists of the "let's genetically engineer humans to make them better" extreme might need to reduce their expectations of the use of CRISPR as a gene editing technique:

Editing cells’ genomes with CRISPR-Cas9 might increase the risk that the altered cells, intended to treat disease, will trigger cancer, two studies published on Monday warn — a potential game-changer for the companies developing CRISPR-based therapies.

In the studies, published in Nature Medicine, scientists found that cells whose genomes are successfully edited by CRISPR-Cas9 have the potential to seed tumors inside a patient. That could make some CRISPR’d cells ticking time bombs, according to researchers from Sweden’s Karolinska Institute and, separately, Novartis.

CRISPR has already dodged two potentially fatal bullets — a 2017 claim that it causes sky-high numbers of off-target effects was retracted in March, and a report of human immunity to Cas9 was largely shrugged off as solvable. But experts are taking the cancer-risk finding seriously.

Somewhat interesting post on GDP

Tax havens make GDP screwy

She's been told for years that uncertainty is not her friend, but still she goes on...

Both unsurprising and surprising

They ran tests on kitchen towels which had been used by families and not been washed for a month (!) and found lots of bacteria on them.   (Come on, surely families which aren't headed by someone hooked on ice or heroin wash or change tea towels more often than that?)

But even so, the bacteria found weren't the worst kind:
As for the bacteria found in the study "what's listed here doesn't initially raise concerns with me," Chapman said. The study didn't find any of the common culprits of foodborne illness, such as Salmonella, Campylobacter or pathogenic types of E. coli, such as E. coli O157:H7, he noted.
Although staph can indeed cause foodborne illness when it's found in food, the bacterium is also very common on skin. "The fact that it's [on] the towel isn't as concerning as [it being in] food," Chapman said.
That's surprising.

God looks a bit like..Jimmy Fallon with bigger hair?

Some psychologists seem to have too much time on their hands:
A team of psychologists at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have used a new technique to construct what a large sample of 511 American Christians think God looks like.

Participants in the study saw hundreds of randomly varying face-pairs and selected which face from each pair appeared more like how they imagined God to appear. By combining all the selected faces, the researchers could assemble a composite "face of God" that reflected how each person imagined God to appear.

Their results were both surprising and revealing. From Michelangelo to Monty Python, Illustrations of God have nearly always shown him as an old and august white-bearded Caucasian man. But the researchers found that many Christians saw God as younger, more feminine, and less Caucasian that popular culture suggests.
He's the uninspiring result:

Monday, June 11, 2018


I saw the reasonably well reviewed made for Netflix science fiction movie Annihilation on the weekend.

I'm puzzled that it got any good reviews.  None of the characters felt real;  the reason for and aim of the all female expedition was poorly explained; the science was vague and bogus;  and the alien thing causing all the problem was destroyed pathetically easily.  

Science fiction dealing with fast evolution and genetic changes is rarely good - I'm thinking of the not very funny Evolution, the rapidly growing alien thing on the space station in Life, and now this.  At least those movies got bad reviews.  This one should have too.

Trump cult watch

Of course Steve Kates and his not-very-merry band of Western Civilisation catastrophists at Catallaxy think the instant classic G7 photograph is great because (on their interpretation) it shows a resolute Trump resisting the pressure of Europeans who are the source of all that's wrong with the world: what with their social security safety nets, universal health care systems, higher taxation and acceptance of refugee immigrants from regions destabilised by the US. 

Here's one of their oh-so-funny quips (if you are living in 1950, if not earlier):

"Percy Popinjay" is quite the gentleman, apparently. 

Back in reality land, I liked Krugman's tweet take on Trump:

Etc.   (He goes on to complain about the inadvertent "pro Trump" bias that is given by journalists who don't want to just call out Trump, but try to "both side" the argument. He's right.)

When deplorables meet

Who knows what could come out of the Singapore summit?   Surely anything is possible when you put two vain, autocratic idiots in a room.  (Sure, Trump hasn't blown up any generals - although I have often wondered whether the stories of movie style show killings by Kim Jong-Un have been propaganda pieces.) 

I do wonder what might happen if, through some bit of espionage intrigue, Kim is struck down via poisoning or some other sophisticated assassination attempt while in Singapore.   Would the faithful generals back home try to launch a nuclear attack, or would they think that it was a great opportunity to get rid of his dynasty? As to who would try to take out Kim:   well, if the Putin plan is to bring disorder into the rest of the world so Russia can fill the vacuum, it seems to me that he may well think there could be advantage in it happening.

If I were looking after security in Singapore, I would be looking very carefully at any person with a Russian connection who happens to be in town. 

Update:   I didn't read this before I wrote this post, but I see that Hot Air has a post speculating on the security risk to Kim, too.   It says a Russian cargo jet followed Kim's jet to Singapore too, with an armoured vehicle and a private supply of food.   That would suggest it might be easier for Russians to cause him harm that I realised.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Catching up with TMBG

I used to follow They Might be Giants very closely, but as with all bands, I found some diminishing returns on a couple of CDs and drifted away.  Spotify has let me catch up with there albums of the last 8 or so years.

I have to say, I'm very keen on Glean from 2015.   And listening back on my favourite albums (Mink Car, and Factory Showroom), it's really incredible that a decade or two after those they were are still making songs that are so distinctly TMBG in quirky lyrics (often on dark or vaguely sinister themes) but counterpointed by enormously catchy, upbeat tunes.   The appeal of the band has always been the absurdist amusement of this contrast (right from their first song - Don't Let's Start) - and as I say, it's hard to believe they have been able to mine that successfully for so long. 

These clips are just graphic, but here are two songs I like, a lot.  (Erase a bit more so.)  If you can tell exactly what it's about, let me know.

Have I said this before on this blog - if ever there was a band that could have a musical play made based on their songs, this would be it.  Forget Queen - TMBG's output has been enormous, with a huge number of immediately likeable songs which could be thematically tied together.  Of course, it might have to involve obsessive boyfriends, and death, and a touch of mental illness - but Little Shop of Horrors managed fun with a supposedly dark theme.

Saturday, June 09, 2018

About Bourdain

Seems that Anthony Bourdain was way more popular than I had realised.   There's a really major outpouring of grief and upset at his death underway.

I didn't mind him, but wasn't his greatest fan.  I thought Kitchen Confidential was a bit over-rated, but it certainly did serve as a (perhaps inadvertent) warning (as was Ratatouille, now that I think of it) to any young adult interested in a career as a chef  that a good proportion of their fellow careerists will be crazy.   (It seems that before his book, there was no clear understanding in the public mind as to just how crazy the profession could be.)   And I do tend to worry about memoirs which talk too cheerfully about the dissolute days of youth spent under the effects of copious amounts of drugs - they can work as an inadvertent advertisement for experimentation, as well as miss the perspective of other people who had to put up with them at that time. 

His TV persona was generally likeable, and he did go to interesting places, even if the food there wasn't always appetizing.   But I still had my reservations (pun unintended):   perhaps he came across as a bit too cheerful and relentlessly convivial at times;  rather like some comedians, that can cause me to wonder whether some of it is a front. 

Still, yeah, it's sad.

Update:   Gee, in reaction to Bourdain's suicide, Zack Beauchamp at Vox has written one of the clearest and best optimistic takes on depression and overcoming it that I have ever read, based on his personal experience.    Maybe it should be prescribed reading for all teenagers....

Cynical about treaties

First the usual disclaimer:   like most white Australians, I don't have any detailed knowledge about aboriginal community management, particularly in the Northern Territory.   So anyone who does is welcome to call my comments ignorant and ill informed.

That said - I am completely cynical about the latest round of "but if only we can get the aboriginal communities involved in decision making process, then everything will start to get better" talk that has culminated in the Northern Territory starting a "treaty process":
On Friday the chief minister of the territory, Michael Gunner, arrived at Barunga festival to sign an agreement to undertake a treaty process that he called “an open slate. We will start with nothing on or off the table.”

Gunner’s message was also directed at his own side of the table. “Change of this order may be the hardest within government itself. We’re the biggest risk.

“So I’m saying to the departments, this is non-negotiable. The old way is finished.”
“At the pace communities are comfortable, the government is ceding decision-making power back to where it belongs – the communities.”

Gunner told the crowd he was proud to have signed the memorandum of understanding, calling it “the most significant Aboriginal affairs reform in the NT this generation”.

“It is right we lead this process because it is decent, because we are alive to Aboriginal culture like no other jurisdiction, but also because it is smart. Treaty – reconciliation, healing, empowerment – is fundamentally good for every Territorian.”
We seem to be in some sort of perpetual cycle of "government will cede more control to communities/elders/land councils and that will improve everything"  to "hey, wait: the way we've set this up just isn't working - maybe governments need to take more direct control here"  and back to "this time, when government cedes more control to the communities/elders/land councils it will improve everything."  The cycle period seems to be around 20 - 30 period.    We are currently in a period where the "ceding more control is the answer" is on the upswing again.

The immediate problem I see with this feel good talk from Gunner is that the communities aren't truly going to be able to control the source of their money - government revenue and budgeting - so telling them they're going to have real power to make all important decisions is pretty illusory.   I would bet my last dollar that it is still going to be a case of "well, of course it would be ideal if residents in this isolated community X didn't have to go to town Y to get service Z - but there's only so much money to go around.  Someone has to make the tough, financially constrained, decision."

And surely it's not as if Northern Territory departments over the last 40 years haven't tried consultative engagement with the representative community groups of the day.

I don't want to sound like a letter writer to The Australian on this issue, but there does seem to be an inordinate amount of fanciful thinking along the lines "if just we can get the way Aboriginal voices are reflected in decision making right, everything will be better."   And the problem is that all of the effort wasted on "getting the model right" must be wasteful of money and effort that could be put into more productive things.

Some things are pretty obvious:

*  isolated communities with no ties to economic activity (and which cannot sustain themselves with local farming and maintenance)  are never going to easily survive as healthy, good places to live or visit - regardless of the colour or race of the resident.  

*  aboriginal groups and representatives are never of unified voice and argue a lot amongst themselves.   No representative system is going to be perfect - find one that is modest in cost, not obviously capable of easy corruption, and stick with it - but don't ever imagine that it will keep everyone happy.

*  the alcohol, drug and social problems are typical of what you see in indigenous communities around the world  which suffer the culture shock of being suddenly hit by modernity.  Pride in maintaining at least elements of previous culture might help, but it's been tried everywhere and is certainly no cure all.  Obsessing too much about culture - going on about cultural appropriation and whinging if an aboriginal word is obscured on a magazine cover - is utterly unproductive and self -indulgent to the real problems.

*  pinning hopes on changes to representation in government decisions is just rearranging the deck chairs on a ship that, if not actually sinking, is always going to be barely seaworthy, springing leaks everywhere.

Friday, June 08, 2018

Western civilisation and universities

I'm not entirely sure why people, including Jason Soon, should be so concerned over ANU or Sydney University saying "no thanks" for funding for a degree in "Western Civilisation".

Brian Schmidt says it was due to it being clear that the funders wanted an "unprecedented" level of influence.  Given Tony Abbott's comments in Quadrant, I find that far from an implausible claim.  Can you imagine Tony taking it well if some academic or student on the course started writing articles cynical or critical of aspects of the civilisation that, apparently, hasn't been studied enough?

As for the complaint that if universities take funding from foreign governments for "research centres", why do they baulk at conservative's money?:   it probably does come down to whether it's a matter of soft influence, or hard influence.   Surely, foreign money is given in at least the hope of encouraging sympathetic treatment; but if it is given on a clear basis that all studies are expected to be positive, well, I can understand universities rejecting it.

And besides, isn't the money going to be accepted by some university or other (wasn't the Australian Catholic University saying "pick me", or what about Bond University?)   Or is it that the Ramsay Centre is wanting to deliberately annoy only universities with a Leftist reputation by buying their way inside?     

Talking up a need for somewhat old fashioned study of the glories of Western Civilisation has been a thing coming from the IPA and its fellow travellers for some time now.   Conservatives like the idea because they want to fight cultural relativism; libertarian/classical liberals tend to want it more so they can go on and on about how fantastic capitalism is, because that suits their own small government/low regulation/low tax agenda.  (You have to give capitalism free space to breath - how could you want to hurt something that has done so much for you?)   

I have some sympathy to the anti-relativism view, but I can't really see that this is likely to be a successful way to promote it.   And libertarians can always comfort themselves with already owing RMIT - where Davidson, Potts, Berg and even Trump's world champion suck up Kates make a living.

I don't really see the Ramsay plan being a good use of money... 

Counting bees

I suppose I am a little surprised about this, too:

Math Bee: Honeybees Seem To Understand The Notion Of Zero

The details:
Howard trained one group of bees to understand that sugar water would always be located under the card with the least number of symbols. "They could come and see two circles versus three circles, or four triangles versus one triangle, or something like that," she explains.
The bees quickly learned to fly to the card with the fewest symbols, an impressive feat.
But then they got another test: The researchers presented the bees with a card that had a single symbol — and a blank card that had nothing on it.
The bees seemed to understand that "zero" was less than one, because they flew toward the blank card more often than you'd expect if they were choosing at random — although they weren't that good at distinguishing between the two.
It got easier for them when they had to compare zero with a larger number. "When we showed them zero versus six, they did that at a much higher level than zero versus one," Howard says. "So what tells us is that they consider zero as an actual quantity along the number line. They're actually better at doing zero versus six because those two numbers are further apart."
The reaction:
"This is quite amazing, in my view, that bees can really do it," says Andreas Nieder, a scientist who studies how animals' process the idea of "nothing" and was not part of the research team.
He says zero was discovered relatively recently in human history, and was essential in the development of both mathematics and science. "It's a hard and very abstract concept," Nieder says. "It is a sort of eccentric uncle in the number family."
Previous experiments have shown that honeybees have some facility with numbers, because they were able to count landmarks as they foraged around for a sweet reward. But in these tests, the insects couldn't count very high — only to about four.

Update:   Now that I think about it...isn't a simpler explanation that the bees were just learning the rule "the less cluttered a card appears, the more likely a reward"?    If so, can you interpret this as understanding "zero"?   I mean, a blank card is less cluttered than anything with symbols on it, and the more symbols, the more obviously less cluttered is the blank card.  

Is this a case of over-interpretation of a result?

Culture war noted

Tim Blair's been busy ridiculing Jonathan Green (that's nothing new) over the Meanjin cover storm in a (not very important) tea cup, but this time he has a point.  He notes that Warren Mudine, who has drifted so far Right that he attended the Friedman libertarian/we-hate-taxes/climate-change?-meh   conference a couple of weeks ago, has joined in ridiculing the rush to apologise for a bit of magazine cover art that obscures an aboriginal word.   I don't trust the judgement of Mundine - I think he's auditioning for the role of aboriginal Mark Latham - but as with Blair, despite this, he has a point.

The aboriginal cultural grievance industry can get quite ridiculous.   And, as I noted in a post earlier this year, it seems that some aboriginal groups are increasingly  radicalised in terms of expectations of some sort of self governance within government, and the making of treaties that would mean some sort of land rights/compensation way beyond Mabo.   It isn't going to happen.

As I've said before, I would not care if Australia Day is moved, given that it's a poorly historically justified day for celebrating the start of a new nation.

Beyond that, there comes a point at which activists and their supporters need to be told they're denying the obvious - that cultures blend and change all the time;  the symbolism of the change of place names does extremely little for the well being of people;  cultural pride does not extend to being able to stop other people using parts of it creatively.   (I heard on some Radio National show earlier this week a familiar female aboriginal activist talking about the upset that tribal elders had years ago when they realised how many European people, including women, were using didgeridoos for busking and general entertainment, and they discussed it for years before finally realising that the cat was already out of the bag, and what can you do to stop people playing them anyway.  I could have told them that at the start.)   

To have sympathy to the genuine problems of aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders should not require that you have to lose sight of common sense and obvious facts about the nature of culture and unrealistic expectations as to control over it.   Yet that is what is a large part of aboriginal advocacy now insists upon, and the likes of Jonathan Green are too happy to go along with it.