Thursday, March 23, 2017

Yes, it is sinister

From The Guardian:
Donald Trump wants us to associate immigrants with criminality. That is the reason behind a weekly published list of immigrant crimes – the first of which was made public on Monday. Singling out the crimes of undocumented immigrants has one objective: to make people view them as deviant, dangerous and fundamentally undesirable.

The very idea is sinister.

Since the start of his presidential campaign, Trump characterized brown-skinned immigrants as criminals by painting Mexicans as rapists and Muslims as terrorists. This fear-mongering has continued into his administration, and has expressed itself in unprecedented policies.

Trump has gone so far as to create an office called Voice – Victims Of Immigration Crime Engagement Office. An expert on concentration camps has already pointed out that the weekly list of crimes bears deeply troubling resemblances to Nazi–era Germany, where Hitler published Jewish crimes...

Reading the report, one is struck by how the alarmist rhetoric of Trump and the Department of Homeland Security doesn’t quite fit the nature of many of the crimes that are listed. A high number of them are for non-violent offences such as drug possession, driving under the influence of liquor and traffic violations. 
No other Republican candidate was so brazen as to actually encourage xenophobia for political advantage, and it was pretty outrageous that they, and the media, didn't attack it more during the campaign.  (Or now.)

Stupidity runs in the family

Donald Trump Jr called 'a disgrace' for tweet goading London mayor 
The whole misleading tweet comes from The Independent running a somewhat misleading headline in 2016.   But it would seem someone in the Trumpworld dug this up and Donald Jnr ran with it.
Dumb, but lots of dimwitted Trump supporters will never bother going further than the tweet.

Update:  I see from Catallaxy (where CL is running with the story - of course, selective quoting and exaggeration is his rhetorical speciality) that the source of this is from Gateway Pundit.  

And in checking on what exactly Khan said in September 2016, it is clear that many English papers ran with "part and parcel" but without putting up the full sentence.   Even when you go to the Breitbart version of the story, they don't seem to have the full sentence, and their longest quote goes with the unremarkable:
“It is a reality I’m afraid that London, New York, other major cities around the world have got to be prepared for these sorts of things,” he said, the Evening Standard reports.
“That means being vigilant, having a police force that is in touch with communities, it means the security services being ready, but also it means exchanging ideas and best practice,” he added.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Ocean acidification continues apace, with hardly anyone noticing

From Nature Climate Change:

The uptake of anthropogenic CO2 by the ocean decreases seawater pH and carbonate mineral aragonite saturation state (Ωarag), a process known as Ocean Acidification (OA). This can be detrimental to marine organisms and ecosystems1, 2. The Arctic Ocean is particularly sensitive to climate change3 and aragonite is expected to become undersaturated (Ωarag < 1) there sooner than in other oceans4. However, the extent and expansion rate of OA in this region are still unknown. Here we show that, between the 1990s and 2010, low Ωarag waters have expanded northwards at least 5°, to 85° N, and deepened 100m, to 250m depth. Data from trans-western Arctic Ocean cruises show that Ωarag < 1 water has increased in the upper 250m from 5% to 31% of the total area north of 70° N. Tracer data and model simulations suggest that increased Pacific Winter Water transport, driven by an anomalous circulation pattern and sea-ice retreat, is primarily responsible for the expansion, although local carbon recycling and anthropogenic CO2 uptake have also contributed. These results indicate more rapid acidification is occurring in the Arctic Ocean than the Pacific and Atlantic oceans5, 6, 7, 8, with the western Arctic Ocean the first open-ocean region with large-scale expansion of ‘acidified water directly observed in the upper water column.

Do us a favour and kick him in the shins?

Someone who worked for years in the Climate Policy area of the IPA does not deserve a friendly welcome from anyone connected with the CSIRO.  (The IPA thinks it should be privatised, by the way.)

And he is short, isn't he?  (He wishes he wasn't, so feel free to mention it anytime...)

Different stars, even..

OK, so of course I knew the first bit, and have told my children about it (although I'm not entirely sure they remember), but I didn't know the second part (about the different stars):
A theoretical physicist, Krauss proclaimed in a recent talk: "Every atom in your body came from a star that exploded, and the atoms in your left hand probably came from a different star than your right hand. It really is the most poetic thing I know about physics: You are all stardust."

Wall Street Journal joins the "fake news" outlets

Even the WSJ is sick of Trump's "say anything" approach to the truth.

Their editorial starts with:
If President Trump announces that North Korea launched a missile that landed within 100 miles of Hawaii, would most Americans believe him? Would the rest of the world? We’re not sure, which speaks to the damage that Mr. Trump is doing to his Presidency with his seemingly endless stream of exaggerations, evidence-free accusations, implausible denials and other falsehoods.
and ends on this note:
Two months into his Presidency, Gallup has Mr. Trump’s approval rating at 39%. No doubt Mr. Trump considers that fake news, but if he doesn’t show more respect for the truth most Americans may conclude he’s a fake President.
Good to see.

Let him rest

I take it from my twitter feed that there are perhaps two articles with respect to the late Bill Leak in The Australian today?  One of them is by his son, defending his father against the charge of racism, and I suppose I don't begrudge him having an opportunity to address that.  But still - the column space that has been devoted to him by that paper is just completely over the top.   (And I still say that a non-racist can produce a cartoon that racists take support from - and editors and the cartoonist himself should be sensitive to that.)

The Australian has a tiny circulation and seems to be under the impression that its relentless campaigns are actually of vital interest to the population at large.  In fact, they only matter to their hard core Right readership, including a limited number of Coalition politicians.  

And really, if the Senate is not going to pass amendments to the Racial Discrimination Act, what is the value of Coalition spending so much time on this, apart from it representing Right wing virtue signalling?  

Hayek and morals

I really have little interest in Hayek - my assumption is that he is too much of a cult figure to be all that worthwhile studying.  (Cult figures are rarely worth the effort - it's a safe rule of thumb.  And no Jesus Christ jibes from you, thank you Jason.)

But I see there's an article that covers his attitude to morals, and it would appear that he was a proto Ayn Rand (maybe everyone already knows that, except me?):

To be sure, Hayek endorsed a wide range of laws that sustain public order, private property, honesty in business activities, making contracts and determining prices. No doubt, everyone would seem to benefit by adopting such standards, but they are minimal and beg for a more comprehensive approach. Instead, Hayek suggests that in the modern era a number of formerly esteemed virtues need to be abandoned. It seems that a Christian based moral outlook harbors several moral ‘instincts’ that are outmoded. Among those ‘instincts’ are solidarism (a concern for the overall welfare of a community) and altruism (a charitable and self-sacrificing attitude toward one’s neighbors). Writing in The Fatal Conceit, Hayek says, “It is these two instincts, deeply embedded in our purely instinctive or intuitive reactions, which remained the great obstacle to the development of the present market economy.” He contends that free trade and modern Capitalism emerged in the 18th century only after such virtues were superseded by self-interest. This explains, he says, why Capitalism is maligned by ill-informed people who wrongly insist that it’s vital for a well governed society to actively promote policies that insure fairness, equity, and social justice.

Most traditional thinkers are convinced that such moral virtues underlie the concept of a moral order and of the common good. Solidarism and altruism, both forms of charity, are often rendered by the Greek word ‘agape.’ The two virtues are central to the Gospels, the Ten Commandments and have always been a core component of a Judeo-Christian culture. Nonetheless, true liberty for Hayek requires replacing them with self-interest and individualism.  ...

In public policy, Hayek did favor retaining long established institutions and was a persuasive advocate for private initiatives. Aside from minimal help for the destitute, Hayek repeatedly warned that all public assistance, welfare or social insurance provided by the state had to be quickly and efficiently phased out. Such endeavors, he wrote, not only destroy liberty by imposing a particular moral viewpoint on everyone, they will shepherd us to national bankruptcy! This austere philosophy has attracted many sponsors.

Yeah, nah.   This is where  I'll take Catholic social teaching on economics and government, with its balance between the extremes of free market economics and excessive  government control, any day. 

Empathy in the news

There's a book out with the somewhat provocative title Against Empathy, and the author explains it at Vox, and lots of sites discuss his argument, such as at Psychology Today.

In a similar vein, you can read how Too Much Emotional Intelligence is a Bad Thing.

I should drink more

Tea, that is.

My hunch from articles that continually flow about the health benefits of certain drinks is that the healthy lifestyle might involve:   one strong cup of coffee per day; one cup of tea per day; one glass of red wine every second day.  And then I can stand on one of those silly looking vibrating boards instead of exercising, because, surprisingly, they might actually be good for you too.

In other movie news

Who can believe the US (and international) box office for Beauty and the Beast?  

Just goes to show, too, that the publicity about a gay "moment" in the film has caused no significant conservative backlash, at all.   (Anyway, I see that the "moment" is exceeding brief.)

Excuse me while I have a fanboy moment

Good to hear, but maybe this one shouldn't be at the start of the film: sounds like Mission: Impossible 6 is going to have a stunt so insane that Cruise has been training to do it for over a year. That’s according to Collider, which spoke with M:I 6 producer David Ellison about the film.
According to Ellison, this new stunt is going to be “the most impressive and unbelievable thing that Tom Cruise has done in a movie,” and he’s been preparing for it since “right after Rogue Nation came out.” He wouldn’t offer any specifics, but he explained that Cruise prefers doing real stunts like this because “the audience can tell when it’s you on a green screen or when you’re actually doing it live.”

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Take that, Thiel

Oh.  Isn't one of Peter Thiel's policy ideas that the drug market should be opened up so that people can try them out before they go through all of the expensive testing?

Well, here's a short argument at Nature that there are good economic (and social) reasons to insist that drug companies show efficacy before they release drugs.  Some extracts:

Knowledge of the history is important. The 1938 US Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act required only that drug safety be demonstrated. In 1962, new legislation demanded that marketed drugs also go through well-controlled studies to test for therapeutic benefit. More than 1,000 medical products were subsequently withdrawn after reviews found little or no evidence of efficacy1. The free market that existed before 1962 revealed no connection between a drug's ability to turn a profit and its clinical usefulness. The same is likely to be true of any future deregulated market....

An overly stringent system will err by withholding or delaying safe and effective 'good' drugs from patients. Critics of existing regulations often point to the case of a treatment for Hunter syndrome — a rare, inherited degenerative disease in which the absence of a crucial enzyme can be fatal. Trials of the enzyme-replacement drug Elaprase (idursulfase) meant that, for a year, a group of children received a placebo instead of the drug that was eventually shown to be effective2.

Conversely, a lax regulatory system will subject patients to 'bad' drugs that may be toxic. The iconic example is the more than 10,000 birth defects caused worldwide by the drug thalidomide, a late 1950s remedy for nausea during pregnancy. Even in the past dozen years, initially promising drugs, such as torcetrapib (for reducing cholesterol and heart-disease risk) and semagacestat (for improving cognition in people with Alzheimer's disease), were found to cause harm only after they had been tested in large, mandatory trials — effects that were not seen in the smaller trials3.

The most extreme proponents of deregulation argue that the market can serve as the sole arbiter of utility: if a medicine is selling well, it must be delivering value4. A more moderate view is that reliable information on efficacy can be collected after a drug goes on sale, through uncontrolled observational studies and other post hoc analyses.

There is a third type of error that these arguments neglect (see ‘The good, the bad and the useless’). Untested drugs can be reasonably safe but provide no benefit.
And here's the key point:
Arguments for deregulation fail to recognize that valuable information has a cost. Drug companies cannot afford to generate reliable evidence for efficacy unless their competitors are all held to the same high standards. Efficacy requirements level the playing field and ensure that the health sector receives the data needed to inform good therapeutic and economic decisions. The government, insurers, patients and others need to know whether medicines are likely to provide benefits. Patients and physicians must have access to reliable information to make educated and ethical choices.

Rigorous clinical studies are still the best way to learn whether a drug works, and regulation is essential to ensure that these studies are conducted. Pre-specified endpoints, controls, randomization and blinding cannot be discarded without sacrificing actionable clinical information5.

Once a drug is on the market, it is hard to gather solid efficacy data....

The FDA's gatekeeper role makes the medical marketplace function. The economic benefits of good research and a healthier population will be lost without incentives to find truly effective drugs.
Jason - that article is definitely tweet worthy, no?

Update:   I just Googled up an article at Vox from a couple of months ago that explained the pro FDA argument from a medical point of view.   A lot of this read like what John just said in comments:
Thiel, a libertarian iconoclast, has repeatedly made the case that the FDA gets in the way of drug innovation by making it too difficult for new medicines to get to the market. Some of the FDA candidates he’s identified — including Silicon Valley’s Jim O’Neill and Balaji Srinivasan — have similarly argued that the agency should dump its requirement that drugs be proven effective before reaching the market, and that we’d be better off if the FDA operated more like a “Yelp for drugs.” In other words, bringing the same speedy and disruptive approach to medical regulation that Silicon Valley brought to the taxi and hotel industries, for example, will unlock cures — fast. 

But Thiel and his pals miss a very important point about developing new drugs: Manipulating biology isn’t the same as manipulating computer code. It’s much, much harder. Speeding up medical innovation will take a lot more than just stripping down the FDA — it’ll take huge leaps forward in our understanding of biochemistry and the body. Health care is also different from taxis and hotels in another key way: Consumers can’t really judge the safety and quality of medical products by themselves....
...I asked a longtime pharmaceutical scientist (and conservative), Derek Lowe, for his views. In his 28 years in the lab, Lowe has seen hundreds of thousands of compounds tested on a huge variety of drug targets, and never, not once, has he brought a drug to market.
The reason? “We don’t know how to find drugs that work,” he said.
For every 5,000 compounds discovered at this "preclinical" phase of drug development, only about five are promising enough to be tried in humans. That’s a success rate of 0.1 percent.
Drug innovation comes from painstaking tinkering and a dash of luck. “It’s very tempting for someone who has come out of IT to say, ‘DNA is code, and cells are the hardware; go in and debug it’,” Lowe said. “But this is wrong.”
In Silicon Valley, humans have designed the hardware, software, and computer code they’re working with. In medical research, scientists do not have that advantage, Lowe said. “We have 3 billion years of spaghetti-tangled gibberish to deal with. And unless you’ve done [drug development], it’s very hard to get across how hard it is. I don’t know of anything that’s harder.” Biochemistry and cell biology are “like alien nanotechnology,” he added.
So the real hurdle researchers face when it comes to finding new drugs for people isn’t overcoming a stringent regulator; it’s grappling with that “alien nanotechnology” in the lab.
Update 2:  from another article, talking about the effect of having an FDA that insists on showing efficacy as well as safety:

Pharmaceutical executives complain about the drug approval process, but usually don’t want to go anywhere close to a safety-only path. In practice, what they want is for the FDA to return their calls, for bureaucratic delays to be reduced, and to find the fastest and least expensive way to prove safety and efficacy.

Many biotech entrepreneurs are actually fans of a tough FDA. Pharmaceutical billionaire Leonard Schleifer, the founder and chief executive of Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, said that he was against “making it really easy to get your drug approved” at the Forbes Healthcare Summit last week, before news of that O’Neill was under consideration leaked.

Schleifer said that he couldn’t compete with companies like Pfizer or Eli Lilly, which have 10 to 100 times as many salespeople as Regeneron. But he can compete to get approved first, or to have a better drug that has more uses that the FDA allows it to advertise based on science.

“Having a high bar is a good thing, in my opinion, because it allows innovators to compete,” Schleifer said.

Krugman on infallibility

Heh.  Krugman writes:
This administration operates under the doctrine of Trumpal infallibility: Nothing the president says is wrong, whether it’s his false claim that he won the popular vote or his assertion that the historically low murder rate is at a record high. No error is ever admitted. And there is never anything to apologize for.

O.K., at this point it’s not news that the commander in chief of the world’s most powerful military is a man you wouldn’t trust to park your car or feed your cat. Thanks, Comey. But Mr. Trump’s pathological inability to accept responsibility is just the culmination of a trend. American politics — at least on one side of the aisle — is suffering from an epidemic of infallibility, of powerful people who never, ever admit to making a mistake.
Quite true, and use of "infallibility" perhaps explains the psychological position of Trump's conservative Catholic vote:  they have already spent decades defending and being intellectually and emotionally invested in Papal infallibility - so it's a ready made mindset in which to move into arguments that, at heart, Trump is never wrong.   

Slow news day

Yeah, sure, the weird situation in Washington continues, with the investigation into Trump's campaign ties to Russia continuing, and confirmation that Trump prefers to make his baseless claims from what Breitbart and Fox News tells him, rather than his intelligence community. 

But all sensible people had already realised this, so it doesn't feel new.

Of course, what it means for foreign governments dealing with him is anyone's guess - they know they're dealing with a gullible, emotionally needy (jeez, how long is going to continue holding rallies just to cheer himself up?) idiot, so what hope do they have of negotiating in good faith with him, or his administration?   His behaviour with Merkel made him look like a misogynist who especially can't conduct serious negotiations with a woman he doesn't agree with.

We nervously await his first serious test from a foreign power.

Meanwhile, in Australia, the Coalition federally keeps fretting about a terribly minor issue as far as the big picture goes - s18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.  And coming up with semi populist ideas that don't make any good sense (release superannuation to buy a house as an answer to the ridiculous house prices in Sydney and Melbourne.)

It all has the feeling of a government fiddling around the edges, casting about for ideas, and not really knowing where to find them.   

What about the one, big, unexpected one that went over well in the media last week - Turnbull's Snowy Mountain expansion?   I am not inclined to get too excited until the feasibility study comes in.  The last were done in the 1980's, apparently, and since then, I thought there was an issue with decreased precipitation likely due to climate change.  That's the first hurdle with any hydro scheme - enough water.  

Oh, here's something to amuse me - watching the build up to the release of the next Samsung phone.  OK, maybe it's a tad more pathetic than amusing, watching how companies and their PR staff go about trying to create intrigue and excitement over a product which is, in truth, probably only a marginal improvement over the last high end phone.  But really, it has been interesting watching the ad campaigns deployed by Samsung to overcome the fear of their exploding batteries.   And beside, I still love my tablet and my Samsung TV - I want this company to do well.

Monday, March 20, 2017

A bug you don't want

There's a fair bit I didn't know about the nasty MRSA (Staphylococcus) bacteria explained in this article from NPR.  

Back to the definition issue

I would have guessed that there was little to be added to the whole argument about the invention of "homosexual" as a category of person, given that it has been well publicised in recent decades. 

But this article at the BBC talks of the invention of "heterosexuality", which is a somewhat different take on the matter.  I thought it interesting, despite my low expectation from the title...

Not just me (again)

I see that Crikey has been keeping count of the extraordinary number of words The Australian has devoted to Bill Leak.

I guessed, in my last post about this, that Leak had been eulogised 49 times.  I was actually pretty close - I think it must be up to 44 now.  (Crikey cites 43, but there might be another one today.)

Surely Leak himself would be finding this over the top...

Spooky Spanish

Hey, finally I found a movie on Stan that I consider above a B grade.

It's the 2007 Spanish haunted house movie The Orphanage.

I had vaguely remembered that it had good reviews when released, and I see now that it scored 87% on the semi reliable Rottentomatoes.

I agree with most of the review extracts I can see at Rottentomatoes - it's frequently suspenseful, surprising, and so well crafted.     It's hard to describe the ending without giving anything away - but it hits with quite an emotional punch.

I think it's pretty rare to find a scare movie that is emotionally resonant - although, I must say, I think that that was the reason that Poltergeist was so successful.  You really did feel the emotion between the parents and the daughter in that film, too.  [And, I will add, that there is one sequence in the film which some might say is very derivative of Poltergeist - but I found it entirely forgiveable. In fact, now that I think of it, thematically  the movies are perhaps a bit similar in a more general sense, too.]

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Identity disclosed

I was getting my daily dose of nonsense from looking at the Catallaxy open thread today, when I noticed that one of the regular thread presences, "memoryvault", mentioned having published 3 books, by title.

This made it easy to Google him, and it would appear that memoryvault is Peter Sawyer.  Maybe that's been disclosed there before* - it is not as if I read every single thread or comment, but this is new to me.

Now, there were hints previously (from the oddball commenter Fisk, I think) that  MV had been involved in nutty Right wing politics a few decades ago, and yes, I see that he is the subject of some material on the 'net.  I'm not sure of the author of this piece talking about far right politics in Australia in the 80's and 90's, but here's what he (or she) writes about Sawyer:
Soothsayers and false prophets made the message propagandistically immediate.  Peter Sawyer, a sacked Social Security employee, became an oracle.  Sawyer rose to fame upon insisting a conspiracy existed at the ‘Deakin Centre’ to use super-computer departmental linkages to re-formulate the ‘Australia Card’.[55]  In 1987 he predicted Aboriginal revolution:

The real weapons for the Great Black Revolution arrived quietly in WA some months ago.  7,000 AK47 Russian assault rifles, plus ammunition.  These were shipped in on false documents prepared by Fuller Firearm Group of … Sydney.  Transfer of funds was arranged through Mr. Laurie Connell’s Merchant Bank, Rothwells and they are currently …  stored … around various warehouses owned by Mr. Alan Bond.[56]

Panic was recorded in some rural centres.[57]  Sawyer drew large audiences in many Queensland towns[58] and was vociferously endorsed by Sydney radio personality Brian Wilshire, who subsequently authored ‘conspiratology’ books himself.[59]  Sawyer suggested black revolution was a plot of the United Nations to permit military intervention in Australia.

Sawyer’s wild tales utilized ex-CPA member Geoff McDonald, whose Red Over Black, described ‘Land Rights’ as a communist/United Nations conspiracy.[60]  ‘Pro-mining’ McDonald, who had been patronized by Bjelke-Petersen, Ruxton, the LOR and Liberal-National branches, travelled throughout Australia during 1979-85, predicting violence.[61]  Nonetheless, Sawyer’s star-gazing outdid  McDonald and even Eric Butler, who denounced him.[62]
Googling around further led me to a 2010 comment on an Andrew Bolt thread, where it would appear that Sawyer was doing a Trump - talking about himself without disclosing it:

 Memory vault

Yes, of course MV/Sawyer would have been an early climate change denier - in fact, denial of climate change is really the only thing that absolutely all threadsters on Catallaxy have in common now.   It is the one issue that they will never argue about, which shows what a sheltered home for the easily fooled it has become.

Anyway, I wonder how many of the old timers there are aware of the extraordinary wrong-ness of Sawyer's previous political warnings...

*  Update:  yes, it was disclosed before, by Sawyer on Catallaxy, back in 2015.  In fact, now that I read the disclosure in 2015, I think I had seen that before, but what I had never bothered doing was Googling his name to see what he was known for, politically.

Being a politician used to be a much tougher gig..

An article in this week's Science magazine starts:

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Don't worry, you're almost certainly real (and so is everything else)

I've never been really taken with the idea that the universe is just a computer simulation running on some advanced intelligence's computer.   I don't know - just always seemed a bit redundant to argue that instead of looking at reality at every single level from quarks to galaxy clusters, we're looking at someone's super computer simulation that's good enough to make every single level from quarks to galaxy clusters look, feel and behave real. 

And I see that I'm in good company - physicist Bee at Backreaction has a ranty post complaining about the whole idea, too.   Here are some of her key paragraphs:
If you try to build the universe from classical bits, you won’t get quantum effects, so forget about this – it doesn’t work. This might be somebody’s universe, maybe, but not ours. You either have to overthrow quantum mechanics (good luck), or you have to use qubits.

Even from qubits, however, nobody’s been able to recover the presently accepted fundamental theories – general relativity and the standard model of particle physics. The best attempt to date is that by Xiao-Gang Wen and collaborators, but they are still far away from getting back general relativity. It’s not easy.

Indeed, there are good reasons to believe it’s not possible. The idea that our universe is discretized clashes with observations because it runs into conflict with special relativity. The effects of violating the symmetries of special relativity aren’t necessarily small and have been looked for – and nothing’s been found.

For the purpose of this present post, the details don’t actually matter all that much. What’s more important is that these difficulties of getting the physics right are rarely even mentioned when it comes to the simulation hypothesis. Instead there’s some fog about how the programmer could prevent simulated brains from ever noticing contradictions, for example contradictions between discretization and special relativity....
And this section made me smile:
Stephen Wolfram (from Wolfram research) recently told John Horgan that:
    “[Maybe] down at the Planck scale we’d find a whole civilization that’s setting things up so our universe works the way it does.”
I cried a few tears over this.

The idea that the universe is self-similar and repeats on small scales – so that elementary particles are built of universes which again contain atoms and so on – seems to hold a great appeal for many. It’s another one of these nice ideas that work badly. Nobody’s ever been able to write down a consistent theory that achieves this – consistent both internally and with our observations. The best attempt I know of are limit cycles in theory space but to my knowledge that too doesn’t really work.

Again, however, the details don’t matter all that much – just take my word for it: It’s not easy to find a consistent theory for universes within atoms. What matters is the stunning display of ignorance – for not to mention arrogance –, demonstrated by the belief that for physics at the Planck scale anything goes. Hey, maybe there’s civilizations down there. Let’s make a TED talk about it next. For someone who, like me, actually works on Planck scale physics, this is pretty painful.

To be fair, in the interview, Wolfram also explains that he doesn’t believe in the simulation hypothesis, in the sense that there’s no programmer and no superior intelligence laughing at our attempts to pin down evidence for their existence. I get the impression he just likes the idea that the universe is a computer. (Note added: As a commenter points out, he likes the idea that the universe can be described as a computer.)
So put away your Matrix movie DVDs (I never really got past the first one anyway - it might have them that put me off the simulation idea.)  Go out and smell the (real) roses.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Rats -v- Mice

There are some charming descriptions of rats from medical researchers in this article explaining how they are becoming more popular as the preferred animal model (over mice) for certain research (autism is the one discussed in detail.)  For example:

In a shoebox-sized cage on their own floor in the Anderson Building at the Baylor College of Medicine, two little white mice with pink ears and skinny tails scurry over a bedding of corncob strips. They run from corner to corner, now and again standing on hind legs to press their paws against one of the cage’s clear plastic walls. Occasionally, they bump into each other and take a sniff. Mostly, they do their own thing.

On another floor of the same building, larger cages hold white rats that can’t seem to stay away from each other. They pounce, wrestle and roll. It’s impossible to avoid the comparison: They act like puppies.

“You can actually grab the rats and put them in your hand and treat them exactly how you would treat a puppy,” says Surabi Veeraragavan, a behavioral geneticist at Baylor in Houston, Texas. Regular handling, she says, helps rats get used to the scientists who study them. “You can put them on your shoulder, you can put them on your arms; they will go to sleep right away. You can pet them and play with them.”

Holding a rat can be like cradling a baby, adds Rodney Samaco, the molecular geneticist who leads the Baylor team. “They like to put their head in the crevice of your elbow,” he says. They practically purr. “You tickle their stomachs; they like that.”

“They love that!” says Veeraragavan.

The Baylor team also studies mice, which were there long before the rats and still outnumber them. But when Samaco and Veeraragavan talk about the lab’s mice, their words are less affectionate: The mice are less social, their behaviors simpler; they aren’t nearly as cute.

If you put a mouse on your arm, as you would a rat, it wouldn’t end well, says Samaco. “They would look very nervous,” he says. “Then, they would bite you.”
See - it's not just me who finds them cute...

Made me laugh

I was going to comment "surely Roxette are only 20 years old, tops." But no, formed in 1986 (!)

Comments on a Lady

My wife and I saw the Julie Andrews directed revival of My Fair Lady last night.

I had gone in with relatively low expectations - I said to my wife it was not really a favourite musical of mine - so I can say I enjoyed it more than I expected.    It is a pretty lavish looking production; all of the actors do very well; the orchestra seemed good, and has quite a lot of work (OK, maybe not as much as the poor musicians who have to do Les Mis); and while the lead actress does sound exactly like Julie Andrews, it didn't come across to me as a studied imitation.

That said, the first (very lengthy) half is more enjoyable than the angsty second half.

And the main issue anyone probably has with the show is one which is not really its fault - as with Pygmalion, its ending is not really satisfying, and it arrives rather abruptly.

If my memory of the play from high school is correct, Shaw added an explanation at the end that Eliza went on to marry dumb Freddy - but it is not part of the play.  Nor is it part of the musical.

Viewed through the modern eye, the ending has the feeling of a return to an abusive relationship - a problem I think we are more sensitised to now than when the play and musical were created.  Which had me thinking, how would a theatre playwright end this sort of story today?

Here's the best I could come up with, so far:  Henry Higgins turns out to be gay, and ends up marrying Colonial Pickering; perhaps with Eliza as the celebrant (her new found career.)    I mean, come on - this is hardly a stretch from all of the talk from Henry about great men are.  :)  And, in fact, thematically, it fits quite well into Shaw's point about morality having nothing to do with divinity, but is, rather, a mere social construct.

If Julie Andrews wants to create real waves with this production, she now knows how to do it.  (I have read that she is in fact in Brisbane, and I think will be at the official opening of the show on Sunday night.  Cool, we are blessed with royalty.)

Update:  interested readers might care to look at this article from The Telegraph, that discusses the issue of the ending of the play, and musical, in some detail.

Day 7, and The Australian's art department is ready for tomorrow's eulogy (number 49 in a series) on Bill Leak...


Thursday, March 16, 2017

Controversy about the Pope, again (and I missed a conservative Catholic disclosure)

Pope Francis Sneaks Leftovers To False God Moloch At Back Door Of St. Peter’s Basilica

VATICAN CITY—Quickly scanning the alley to make sure no one would see him with the scraps he had placed on a spare offering plate, Pope Francis reportedly stepped out the back door of St. Peter’s Basilica late Wednesday night and slipped leftovers to the false god Moloch. “I know I should be forsaking him, but what am I supposed to do, let the poor thing starve?” said the pontiff, cooing in Aramaic as he fed uneaten portions of chicken casserole to the bull-headed Canaanite god of child sacrifice. “Maybe it’s heretical of me, but just look at the guy—he’s nothing but skin and bones and horns. If I don’t take care of him, who will?” Reached for comment, the heathen idol Moloch expressed appreciation for the leftovers, but confirmed he could only be fully satiated by consuming the flesh of a living man-child set forth in offering upon a burning pyre.
 From The Onion, but they might have lifted it from Church Militant.

Hey, speaking of Church Militant - I haven't looked at what the man with the hair, Michael Voris, had been up to for quite a while, but I just went and had a look at a Wikipedia page about him.  Turns out that nearly a year ago,  he declared he had lived with  gay guys during his 30's - and slept with women too.  But he's celibate now (he's never married), and he's devoted his chastity to the Blessed Virgin or something, so he's free to condemn homosexuality. 

I wonder if that disclosure has affected his subscriptions...

Update:   I had forgotten how strongly I had criticised Voris and his ilk back in 2013.   I always thought his "never married" status was a bit suspect - especially for a man with a Robert Redford hairstyle, but I was too polite to mention it back then.  

Move to Brisbane

The problem with government getting too involved in trying to push people to where government thinks they should live is that it rarely seems to work.   Decentralisation of government departments just irritates people, for example, despite a fondness for the idea by both Whitlam and (now) Barnaby Joyce.

But with all the talk of the extraordinarily high housing prices in Sydney and Melbourne, and the impossibility of young adults to get into the real estate market there without family help, it does seem to me that governments, or someone, should be putting more effort into emphasising the very high affordability of housing and units within a 45 min commute of Brisbane.   (Such a commute being nothing in the larger cities.)

Here is a photo of Raby Bay marina, at Cleveland, which is on Moreton Bay:

It has a string of decent restaurants, a bar or two, and is at the end of the train line which, admittedly, does seem to take a long time (1 hour 25 min) to get into the city compared to the car commute which Google puts down as low as 40 min.

But look, you can buy a two bedroom, two bathroom, one car apartment in this block for $319,000.  (!)

Or in Cleveland (the suburb Raby Bay is really part of) for $595,000 (list price) a four bedroom, modern airconditioned house:

Over on the west side of the city, and now near a rail line as well, at Forest Lake for "offers over $439,000":

Commute time to city:  25 minutes (outside of peak hour) and 24 km away.  The train commute from the train station at nearby Richlands - 30 min.

I mean, really:  do people from Sydney know how cheaply they can buy in Brisbane compared to Sydney?

Maybe the Queensland government and Brisbane City Council should run advertisements down there:  "Sure, you might be lowering your expectations, but you'll also be lowering your mortgage by up to 500%."...

That tax return

John Cassidy at the New Yorker looks at the matter of the Trump tax return (partial) leak. 

It is a curious thing - the leak has largely worked in Trump's immediate favour, raising suspicion that he was in fact behind it.  It lets him claim that he has been a good tax paying citizen (once, 12 years ago, at least), and to huff and puff about illegal leaks used by the press.

But in the longer term, it raises questions about the sense of Republican policies to remove the very tax that led to Trump paying a realistic amount:
According to the return, which Johnston also posted on his Web site, Trump and his wife, Melania, had taxable income of about a hundred and fifty-three million dollars in 2005, and he paid about $36.5 million in federal income tax. That’s an effective tax rate of about 23.9 per cent, which is a long way from the zero per cent that many people, myself included, had speculated about last year.

Almost as noteworthy was the fact that most of the tax Trump paid was captured by the Alternative Minimum Tax, which is a backup tax designed to insure that people with a lot of deductions don’t entirely escape taxes. Because Trump took a write-down of more than a hundred million dollars in 2005, his initial tax liability was just $5.3 million. If not for the Alternative Minimum Tax, which he and other Republicans want to get rid of, his effective tax rate would have been about 3.5 per cent. Because he was liable to the A.M.T., he was forced to pay an additional thirty-one or so million dollars.
And, it also raises suspicions as to why only one return is leaked - do the rest of them since then look much, much worse for the Trump image? 

Ethics, Monsanto style

From NPR:
Two years ago, a U.N.-sponsored scientific agency declared that the popular weedkiller glyphosate probably causes cancer. That finding from the International Agency for Research on Cancer caused an international uproar. Monsanto, the company that invented glyphosate and still sells most of it, unleashed a fierce campaign to discredit the IARC's conclusions.

New details of the company's counterattack came to light this week. Internal company emails, released as part of a lawsuit against the company, show how Monsanto recruited outside scientists to co-author reports defending the safety of glyphosate, sold under the brand name Roundup. Monsanto executive William Heydens proposed that the company "ghost-write" one paper. In an email, Heydens wrote that "we would be keeping the cost down by us doing the writing and they would just edit & sign their names so to speak." Heydens wrote that this is how Monsanto had "handled" an earlier paper on glyphosate's safety....
The emails also offer hints of a friendly relationship between Monsanto and a senior regulator at the Environmental Protection Agency, Jess Rowland. The EPA was already doing its own assessment of glyphosate's health risks, but after the U.N. report appeared, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention apparently was considering launching its own study.

In late April, 2015, Rowland called a regulatory expert at Monsanto, Daniel Jenkins, to ask who at the CDC was working on the glyphosate study. Jenkins reported on the conversation in an email to his colleagues. He wrote that Rowland "told me no coordination is going on and he wanted to establish some saying 'If I can kill this I should get a medal."

Trouble in Steyn-land

Even if you only casually follow what Mark Steyn is up to now, you might be aware that he tried to make a mark in American Right wing cable TV, only to have his show ended very abruptly, with consequent litigation.

Given that every Right wing commentator in this wide brown land thinks he's terrific, they should be reading this vicious attack on his behaviour by those who had to work with him on the set.

If you think he's a complete jerk for his behaviour towards climate scientists, as I do, you'll find plenty to indicate that his jerk-like behaviour appears to extend well beyond climate science attacks: 
Steyn generally went out of his way to avoid dealing with the crew at all, they say. “We only one time had a meeting with the staff and Mark,” Kullman recalls. “There are many staff members who never even spoke to him.”
Crew members say Steyn often refused to rehearse segments, showed up at the studio minutes before filming was scheduled to begin, and occasionally declined to show up at all, leaving crew members, some of whom had commuted hours to the studio, in the lurch.
Kullman remembers driving two hours through blizzard conditions only to discover that Steyn had canceled the day’s shoot. In a sworn statement, another crew member recalled Steyn emailing employees late at night telling them to come to the studio the next morning for an unscheduled shoot. “When we showed up, Mark Steyn canceled the shoot.”
 Sounds rather like Kevin Rudd, no?   There's more:
“Mark Steyn was incredibly disorganized, often did not show up on scheduled production days, and snuck out of the studio so that nobody would know his whereabouts,” another declaration recalls. “Because of this conduct, it would take a week to shoot an episode instead of the designated day.”
The crew was never given a production schedule, they say. They often didn’t know what they would be shooting until the day of the shoot. Because Steyn would frequently show up last-minute, they were forced to figure out content on the fly. When the inevitable hiccups in production occurred, Steyn would berate crew members who say they simply did not know what he wanted.
On two occasions, those tirades ended with Steyn firing an employee on the spot, according to Kullman’s sworn statement. “Anyone at any moment felt like they could have been fired by him,” he added in his interview.
And this is the funniest part:
When cameras weren’t rolling, crew members say Steyn was almost entirely inaccessible. His offices were on the second floor of the studio facility, and they say Howes, who is Steyn’s publisher in addition to being his spokesperson and an executive on the show, instructed crew members not to approach him there—and, when he entered the studio, not to make eye contact.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Gas explainer

I thought this fairly lengthy explanation of what has happened with Australian gas (and why we don't seem to have enough here - or enough at a good price) was pretty good.  A key paragraph:
It seems that, in gas as in electricity, over-cooked forecasts for demand have justified excessive spending and therefore ensured higher prices. This is precisely what the gas cartel wants: the spectre of shortages whipping up prices. They have been doing it for years.

Culture wars noted

*  Talk about your over-compensation.   Days after his death, News Ltd folk are still singing the praises of  the outstanding work and character of Bill Leak, and how terrible it is that some Lefties have been calling him a racist and celebrating his death.   (True, some Lefties have been behaving badly:  but I still say that News Ltd rush to praise him in every respect smacks of a guilty conscience.  I find it hard to believe that Paul Kelly, for example, wasn't cringing at some of Leak's output in the last few years.)

Coopers Beer says sorry:   I still don't really understand the connection between the brewery and the Bible Society - but the company says it didn't approve (or know about?) the video which not only seemed to associate the company with the Society and conservative views on gay marriage, but with the Liberal Party.   One comment from a pub noted the Party connection in particular - and it is a peculiar thing for a brewer to find itself apparently being aligned with a political party.

But curiously, I had noticed even before Coopers was in the news that a current ad for Bundaberg Rum on TV seemed heavy on showing support for the gay community, and (I think) gay marriage.   Bundaberg Rum - from a Queensland farming town not too far from Queensland's Bible Belt (around Gympie), an area not exactly known for its progressive attitudes.  And rum I always thought of a blokey, man's man type drink - not a spirit that would be big in gay pubs.   But, not having ventured into a gay pub recently (not that I can ever recall being in one) perhaps I'm wrong about that?  Or is it just an advertising executive's idea of how to expand its base?   Anyway, I thought it odd.

Perhaps this will all balance itself out in the alcohol drinking community as a whole - some Bundy drinkers might be a bit put off buying a "gay" drink? 

Anyway,  don't these product boycotts have a way of not working, when the conservatives/Lefties go out of their way to buy the product to annoy the SJWs/conservatives?  I wouldn't sweat about it too much if I were Coopers.

And personally, I don't mind most Cooper's beers, and gay pubs refusing to stock it is hardly going to affect my attitude to drinking it.

All this will pass...

Update:  let's go to the threadsters of Catallaxy to note their reasonable and balanced approach to the Coopers storm in a stubbie.   First, DB, who lives in New York, happily (as far as I know), with a wife who he has said works in the fashion industry and therefore knows lot of gay folk:  facts all of which, one would have thought, may have made him realise that legal gay marriage does not cause the end of civilisation.    But, here he is, commenting on the (somewhat stilted) apology video put out by Coopers:
OMG. The Coopers hostage video is unbearable to watch. I could just imagine a cage and a can of Ronson just to the side, off-camera. The Waffen-SSM is just like the Terminator, it cannot be reasoned with, but unlike the Terminator, it is a creampuff, that can be smashed if you simply stand up against it. Which is why they opposed a plebiscite that would involve organised opposition against it and a free vote of the people. And they must be smashed.
 And CL, the other uber Catholic of Catallaxy:

Not sure if he's endorsing stoning or just jail...

But I'll end with the usual disclaimer:  I actually don't support gay marriage either; it's just that I'm not going to panic about it.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Pepsi endorsed

I really like the new Pepsi Max Vanilla.  

That is all...

Alien conjecture

A planet sized radio source to power a light sail is causing mysterious fast radio bursts? 

I'm finding that a bit of a stretch...

A quick Spielberg

I think this is good news:
Just last week, it was announced that 20th Century Fox and Amblin Entertainment were quickly rounding up talent for director Steven Spielberg’s The Post, a film about the Pentagon Papers controversy which will star two-time Oscar winner Tom Hanks (Forrest GumpCaptain Phillips) and three-time Oscar winner Meryl Streep (The Iron LadyFlorence Foster Jenkins). Now, Deadline is reporting that the timely film about the importance of a free press is being fast-tracked for a May start date in order to complete the picture for an Oscar-qualifying release, likely in late December of 2017.

The Post is clearly looking to capitalize on the story’s zeitgeist-tapping potential amid the current administration’s attacks on the press, and may even signal a whole wave of socially-relevant films from major studios. The May start date gives the film only eight months from cameras rolling to release, though the speedy Spielberg previously completed his 2005 Best Picture-nominee Munich in a mere six months. This also means that the director’s sci-fi flick Ready Player One will have the honor of being released three or four months AFTER The Post in March of 2018, despite having finished filming months ago. Spielberg will finish work on both films this year while also continuing his meticulous search for a child actor to star in The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara with Mark Rylance and Oscar Isaac. He also has the fifth Indiana Jones movie starring Harrison Ford for Disney, which has a July 19, 2019 release date.
At the rate Harrison Ford seems to get into accidents these days, I hope he makes it to the studio.

I also repeat my call for the perfect ending to the Indiana Jones films: an aging Indy is added as one of the astronauts taken on board the mother ship at the end of Close Encounters.

I will accept very modest reimbursement for the idea, as well as meeting Steven Spielberg at the Premiere.

Call me, Steven...

More on Catholic in-fighting

Is Pope Francis really facing a coup? Or just ‘fake news’?

The article leans more to the "fake news" view:
Several curial officials, who requested anonymity in order to speak freely, readily admitted they see what they described as “concern” among some in the Vatican, and perhaps more than the usual amount of bureaucratic resistance to the structural overhaul Francis is pursuing.

But as for serious, organized opposition, as one senior Vatican official put it, “I think it’s just wishful thinking by some people, to be honest.”

Even some Catholic conservatives are growing impatient with the narrative of unprecedented crisis that is swirling around.

“A lot of this is pure or impure speculation,” said Robert Royal, head of the Faith & Reason Institute in Washington and a regular visitor to the Vatican. Royal cautioned that “there is a lot of turbulence in Rome these days.”

But, he said, “some Catholic conservatives assume there is a coordinated network of liberals waiting to take over the church. I don’t, but I think (Francis) has given an awful lot of fuel to critics who want to see some bad things.”

Indeed, the claims are hard to ignore. Traditionalist websites and canon lawyers are openly debating whether the pope is a heretic - and what can be done if he is - while others wonder whether Francis is leading the church into schism, or if such a split has already happened.

Many of these conservative opponents have rallied around American Cardinal Raymond Burke, an outspoken critic of the pope who was a senior Vatican official until Francis moved him into a largely ceremonial role at the Rome-based charitable Order of Malta - where he recently was involved in another uproar over the ousting of a top leader there.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Could help explain something

Bill Leak obviously had a lot of friends, on the Left and Right, and but even so there has been a somewhat extraordinary amount of column space in the News Ltd press lauding him.

I see that Chris Mitchell, former editor from when the paper went full blown Tea Party lite, has written this about Leak's post accident period:
Bill knew that fall could have, should have, killed him. He was in a coma, had severe brain damage and a 15cm hole in his head as wide as his thumb.

He suffered debilitating headaches for the first few years back in the cartoonist’s chair. He struggled through the fog of heavy pain relief to get his thoughts together each morning for the day’s cartoon.

After starting back a couple of days a week, in time he came back to full- time work. 
Someone on line, in the last year or two, made the observation that the problem with post accident Leak was not just that he was being "controversial", but that his work had stopped being funny.

Mitchell provides evidence that the lingering effects of the head injury had a role in that.   (Although, it has to be said, that his moving house out of concern for radical Muslim death threats in 2015 could be good reason for loss of sense of humour, too.)

Mitchell claims that Leak didn't change politics, as people claimed - but looking back over some of his old work, as people have been posting since his death, I reckon that is rubbish.

Update:  another person writing in the Australian notes:
He rose most days at 5am, went downstairs to his office, and, ­fuelled by coffee and cigarettes, scanned the overnight news while waiting for his friends to wake up so he could engage them in vigorous, often ribald phone calls and email exchanges.
Sounds like quite a big tobacco habit.  As some others have noted, in response to the hysterical "the HRC hounded him to death!" claims from some on the Right, the smoking no doubt had a major  hand in causing Leak's death.  

Sinclair Davidson, in his semi-routinely hyperbolic way, went so far as to have his post on Leak's death entitled "The Australian Human Rights Commission has blood on its hands".    Yet, ironically, he spends much of his time deriding tobacco plain packaging; work which undoubtedly the tobacco industry is happy to see.   Say no more...

Update:   two more things about Leak I heard today:  I caught a bit of a replay of a Richard Fidler interview with him in 2009 (post accident) in which Leak spoke about now being off alcohol, giving the distinct impression he had been a very heavy drinker before.  Then Guy Rundle, in an obit which I presume will upset some, claims Leak had 30 plus years of high functioning alcoholism (and drug use - although he doesn't say illicit drug use.)   I don't even know if Rundle knew Leak, of course.  But still - it would seem that Leak had a very far from healthy lifestyle for much, or most, of his adult life.  

Developments in the afterlife

Peter Whiteford tweeted a link to a review of an interesting sounding book review in New Humanist (a journal I'm not in the habit of noting.)   Here's an extract, which I hope is not too long:

In his latest book, The Ransom of the Soul, Brown offers an exhilarating survey of attitudes towards death, mourning and the afterlife in late antiquity, and their connections to money, politics and social justice. He reminds us that the Christians of the third century were still an insurgent minority, inspired by what he calls a “countercultural longing for a religious community” – a form of community at loggerheads with the blatant inequalities of wealth and status that prevailed in the world around them. They also believed that Christ was going to return to earth in a matter of weeks or months or at most a few years, and that he would then preside over an earthly paradise in which the faithful dead would join the rest of his followers in endless celebrations of their victory over paganism, sin and death itself.

Two centuries later, Christian certainties were in disarray. Believers had to recognise that their messiah was taking far longer to return to earth than any of them had imagined. (If you are a socialist with a sense of history, you will know how they must have felt.) They could not carry on assuming that the dead were going to rise from their graves like sleepers waking from a nap: they realised that the bodies of the waiting dead were not in any condition to resume their former functions, and they also started to face up to the question of what activities the souls of the dead could engage in while waiting for their bodies to be resurrected.

To complicate matters further, the church was running into problems of worldly success. Christianity was on its way to encompassing Roman society as a whole, and its followers now included hundreds of thousands of ordinary people who were not “altogether good”, but not “altogether bad” either. Christians began to suppose that the souls of the departed spent their time trying to make amends for their sins, and they started to draw up graduated schemes of reward and punishment – systems of moral taxation, in effect, designed to account for different grades and qualities of guilt. Augustine tried to turn back the tide of speculation by arguing that the living could never understand the world of the dead; but he went along with the idea that the afterlife is fraught with dangers, and that the faithful here on earth should do everything in their power to support the souls of the deceased in their quest for salvation.

On top of that there were difficulties about the sort of existence that could be attributed to the soul. Paradise was starting to be seen as heavenly rather than earthly, and, as Brown puts it, “the distance between heaven and earth seemed to yawn more widely”. Augustine went so far as to ask his fellow Christians to give up their attachment to the earthly body, maintaining that the soul was a spiritual entity, completely distinct from matter. But that theory was closer to the pagan philosophy of the Greeks than to anything in the Bible or the gospels, and most Christians were unwilling to accept it: they could not see how a soul without a body could have an individual identity, or any real connection with a life that had been lived on earth.

Despite Augustine, therefore, they persisted in taking an unplatonic interest in the fate of dead bodies, and they aspired to have their corpses enclosed in stout coffins, inscribed with their names to prevent confusion, and buried in the vicinity of the mortal remains of saints, or at least in a sanctified building or consecrated ground.
Unfortunately these burial practices were in obvious conflict with the teachings of Jesus: instead of favouring the meek and the poor, they gave enormous spiritual advantages to rich grandees. To make matters worse, the recommended technique for interceding on behalf of the dead – repeated prayers asking God to have mercy on their souls – offered the rich further opportunities to jump the queue: they could pay for prayers on behalf of their friends and family, and endow colleges, chapels or religious houses on condition that they say prayers for their benefactors in perpetuity.

Augustine did his best to block the plutocratic path to salvation, telling the rich that if they wanted to be saved, they would have to give large sums to the church, not for their own sakes but to fund the relief of poverty together with prayers for the souls of the poor. This was a novel idea, and as Brown points out it involved a far-reaching revolution in “the social imagination”. Early Christianity, like Judaism, was a tribal religion, and social obligations were not seen as extending beyond the limits of the tribe. In the same way, the civilisations of Greece and Rome rested on loyalty to individual cities, and acts of civic generosity – gifts of public buildings or circuses, games or races – were designed not to assist the poor but to enhance the magnificence of the city, and no doubt the donor as well. But the new Christian doctrine of death and charity involved a move from what Brown calls a “closed” moral universe to an “open” one, throwing down an implicit challenge to the social assumptions of both Jerusalem and Rome. From now on, he says, the rich would be expected to spend their money not on themselves or their cities, but on the “faceless mass of the poor”. Some teachers advocated a total renunciation of wealth, but Augustine advised the rich to retain their capital so that they could carry on giving to the poor, year after year, world without end. Either way, they could be assured that they were making a sound investment, building up “treasure in heaven” by directing their generosity not to particular people or groups, but simply to the wretched of the earth.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Death and sorghum

There's a short transcript of (parts of) an interview up at NPR with an American comedian who I'm not aware of, but who has taken to talking about his grief process since his wife died. 

He made one comment that rings very true:
One thing that I've learned since what happened to me happened is: You don't know the kind of pain and loss other people may have gone through — even close friends and acquaintances. ... In really awful science fiction terms it is like putting on the sunglasses in They Live and then seeing the world for what it really is. Do you know what I mean? Obviously I knew there was loss and death and depression, but you can only sympathize so far until it directly happens to you.
And he ended with a bit which I thought was pretty funny (after earlier saying that he personally didn't buy the idea that getting physically fit was a help with grieving):
On whether he's disappointed people who expected him to be funny
Sorry for bumming you out. I'm very sorry. Go walk for half an hour; it will flood you with endorphins. ... What am I saying?! You're NPR listeners. You're used to being bummed out. Now let's cut to some sad jazz. Stay tuned: We're going to talk about things to do with sorghum. It's sorghum season!
Oddly, as it happens, only last weekend I was pointing to a crop in a field near Mulgowie and opining that it might be sorghum.

Also somewhat oddly - I have no memory at all as to how it is that I know what sorghum looks like.  Perhaps it was covered in primary school?   In fact, behind my primary school, there were several factory buildings, one of which used to be a place that dealt with different seeds/grains - I think truck loads of stuff would arrive there and perhaps be distributed out in smaller packaging.   The place had a distinctive, but not unpleasant, smell.  It's no longer there;  I was in the area about 6 months ago.

And for the uneducated, here is sorghum in the field:

Yes, I am sure that is what I was seeing out of the car window in the Lockyer Valley.

By the way, fresh corn from the Valley is particularly delicious at the moment....

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Scratching mice

Just a test, posting a page from Science magazine, about how scratching is "contagious" amongst mice, as with humans.

Oh, that works well...At least on my tablet.  Click on the image and I can read it easily.

Friday, March 10, 2017

About Bill Leak

There are sufficient numbers of people of Left inclination on Twitter saying that Bill Leak was smart and funny in real life to make me not doubt he was more likeable in person than his recent years' cartooning output would indicate.  And it is not a good look for anyone to be celebrating his death as the means of ending that output.      

What those people should wish for is that he were alive but that his work showed more thoughtful, subtle and diverse opinion than the narrow, bitter, and quite extreme Right wing, culture war politics that they routinely did in the last few years.

He had become a tribal hero of  those who you could say are the Australian equivalent of the Tea Party Right - a group who I am frankly pleased to see not get its daily endorsement that their views are widespread and reasonable.    I really did intensely dislike his recent output for that reason:  foolish people are not best served by public endorsement or incitement of their foolish views.   But do I wish it ended this way?  No. 

As some have noted on Twitter, too, one can surely resent the editorial guidance of The Australian for never pulling him back.   I doubt that even his tribal admirers could often describe his recent work as witty - I think they were more inclined to laugh in delight their views were being endorsed in an over the top way - and in a (little read) national paper!  Brilliant!  (/sarc).  That's not the same, in my books, as smart, witty cartooning.

It remains an open question as to whether his personality, judgement or political views were changed by the serious head injury he suffered some years ago - it seems his work was just politely dropped (by the likes of The Insiders) when it became more extreme, rather than anyone who knew him wanting to talk openly about why he had gone that way. Perhaps, in coming months, we might learn more about whether that incident really did seem to have personality changing effects...

Update:   I had forgotten that Leak had written in 2012 that he knew that critics were saying he had gone strongly Right wing after his head injury, and denied it.   I am curious as to what people who knew him well are prepared to say (apart from Right wing commentators, who clearly have no problem with his continual Muslim baiting, for example), but I guess it may be some time before we'll hear.

Furthermore, the Right wing meme is around that the stress of the HRC complaints (all dropped or dismissed in relatively short time, and nearly 3 months ago) caused his heart attack.  He clearly did complain about the stress of it all:
"It shows what a farcical process this is. I've got News Corp backing me legally. But if I was a private citizen, this would have cost me an absolute fortune," he told The Australian.
"She has put me through a month or so of incredible stress. She never met me, she doesn't have to justify anything she does. No one asked her any questions and it doesn't cost her a cent. As a consequence my life has been thrown into utter chaos. And at time when it just happens to suit her, she just decides this could turn into a bit of a hassle, so she can withdraw it."
Look, I just don't understand this - I have read elsewhere that he moved house once due to Muslim death threats - now that I can understand being stressful. 

But being stressed out by complaints lodged by distant complainants about an aboriginal themed cartoon when you have the full backing of your employer to legally fight said complaints?    No, I actually don't get that.

I'm sorry, but this reminds me too much of Andrew Bolt's martyrdom over his columns - in both cases, I think the complaints could have been resolved easily with good will (a "sorry if any offence caused, but it was not done with racist intent" style apology from Leak, and correction of errors in Bolt's case), and they could have been free to continue to complain about what they perceive as the HRC interfering with their work.   I also entirely understand Leak being unhappy with the HRC inviting complaints. 

But really, I find the stress complaints from deliberate provocateurs hard to sympathise with.

Sorry if that sounds like a criticism of Leak too soon - it's partly a statement of puzzlement.  But, to be honest, if we're all going to agree that Left wingers and their stupid "trigger warnings" idea is a matter of pandering to people's exaggerated sensitivities too much, I don't see why some on the Right should be free of the same criticism.

Update:  Richard Fidler talking on Radio National about his long friendship with Leak was interesting.   He says Leak was once one of the most Left wing guys he knew, and his politics did change, although Leak would claim they hadn't.   Nonetheless, Fidler was very sad about it, as are many Left leaning journalists.    There seems no doubt about his charm and wit as a friend, which in a way makes some of his work all the harder to understand....

Hey Jason...

I don't think Thiel sounds all that bright, really.   Not just because of climate change (although my  rule of thumb about that still applies), but the other quotes from him lately.

He just sounds rather vapid to me.

Krugman's take

Krugman has taken a very dispassionate tone on this column on the Republican health plan.  I presume he is correct.

Ryan's lost his lustre

Paul Krugman has complained bitterly for years that Paul Ryan's treatment by much of the media as the Republican's reasonable and moderate smart guy was completely unwarranted, and I would have to  guess that he is probably laughing wildly about how Ryan is, indeed, making himself look foolish in the fight over Obamacare.

The quote, which I heard this morning on Radio National, that the problem with Obamacare is that it's a case of the healthy young paying for treatment of older sick people (that's a pretty close paraphrase) just sounded like the silliest possible criticism of health insurance you could hear from a politician's mouth.

You can read about that line, and much twitter reaction to it, here.

OK, here's the actual quote:
“The fatal conceit of Obamacare is that we’re just going to make everybody buy our health insurance at the federal government level. Young and healthy people are going to go into the market and pay for the older, sicker people. So the young, healthy person is going to be made to buy healthcare, and they’re going to pay for the person, you know, who gets breast cancer in her 40s or who gets heart disease in his 50s,” Ryan said.