Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Things to be unhappy about

*  Economic malaise in Australia:   I'm sure some people voted for the Coalition out of concern that reforms by Labor would drive down confidence in at least the real estate market.   It seems pretty clear, however, that the Coalition win had hardly brought signs of improved confidence to any market.  I bet retail is still flat as a tack, and what worse nightmare could any Sydney real estate who specialises in high rise apartments endure than the dramatic cracking appearing in two buildings in under 6 months?    (In fact, it will be interesting to see how that affects all "off the plan" sales in every capital city.   I wonder if it even has an effect on the country's reputation for tertiary education - it's not exactly the best advertisement for engineering expertise.)  

I'm not entirely sure anyone really has a good grip on why there is, more or less, an air of impending doom on our economy.  Greg Jericho does a lot of graphing, but it doesn't explain why things seem stuck on "not getting any better". 

Does everyone sense we are in some sort of transition, and to what, no one knows?   The economy can only bear so many new burger chains and craft beer outlets, I guess, and maybe people are sensing that we're reaching saturation level with them.

* "Summer" movies.   Well, it's far from the first holiday movie season for everyone to be complaining about the number of unwarranted sequels - but this one seems to be full of underwhelming entries.   I was thinking of seeing Men in Black International, but if a trailer can't come up with much in the way of funny bits in what is meant to be a comedy, I am inclined to believe the lukewarm reviews are right.   

*  The Trump administration:  who has confidence that it won't stumble into/deliberately provoke an unnecessary and dangerous war with Iran?   Who (with a brain) thinks the trade war tactics are good for America, let alone the globe?   How's that government deficit going?   It's a slow moving policy disaster.

* Boris Johnson as PM of Britain:   the English equivalent of Trump in many ways, showing how terrible Right wing politics has become around much of the world.   And they have a uniquely bad example of Left wing politics in that country too.   That country, if not the whole globe, seems to be suffering some kind of bad alignment of the stars at the moment.   When will it pass?

A quantum argument against uploading your mind

I have only skimmed through this paper on arXiv, and don't have any idea about its plausibility, but it's interesting at least.  Here's the abstract:
Killing Science Fiction: Why Conscious States Cannot Be Copied or Repeated

Several philosophical problems arising from the physics of consciousness, including identity, duplication, teleportation, simulation, self-location, and the Boltzmann Brain problem, hinge on one of the most deeply held but unnecessary convictions of physicalism: the assumption that brain states and their corresponding conscious states can in principle be copied. In this paper I will argue against this assumption by attempting to prove the Unique History Theorem, which states, essentially, that conscious correlations to underlying quantum mechanical measurement events must increase with time and that every conscious state uniquely determines its history from an earlier conscious state. By assuming only that consciousness arises from an underlying physical state, I will argue that the physical evolution from a first physical state giving rise to a conscious state to a second physical state giving rise to a later conscious state is unique. Among the consequences of this theorem are that: consciousness is not algorithmic and a conscious state cannot be uploaded to or simulated by a digital computer; a conscious state cannot be copied by duplicating a brain or any other physical state; and a conscious state cannot be repeated or created de novo. These conclusions shed light on the physical nature of consciousness by rendering moot a variety of seemingly paradoxical philosophy and science fiction problems.

How's that Indian heatwave going?

Some rains have arrived, but the death toll (such that is known - again I have extreme doubts about accurate numbers on this) has risen.   What's more, it was a pretty bad scene in some areas, apparently:
Tens of thousands of people in drought-affected villages in north India have left their homes because they do not have any drinking water either for themselves or for their cattle.

Even in the state of Jammu and Kashmir in the Himalayas, where many Indians go to escape the summer heat, the temperature has reached 39C.

The rush to the higher ground resulted in huge traffic jams at the weekend that snaked around the mountains. People had to sleep in their cars because towns such as Shimla and Nainital – known as hill stations from the days of the British Raj – had no spare hotel rooms.

“It was unbelievable. The hills were alive and heaving with cars and SUVs and a journey that should take one hour took five,” said Sumith Verma, a Nainital resident.

About two-thirds of the country has been affected by the blistering heat, which looks set to become the longest heatwave the country has ever experienced.
But hey, Rowan Dean's wearing a funny tie; rich retirees travel the world and see shrinking glaciers (one of the clearest markers of global climate change) and say "natural variation";  and Al Gore made some incorrect predictions.   [Just my routine go at the incredible non-seriousness of everyone associated with Catallaxy.]

Tighter regulation

Is there a bit of a pushback against the way legalisation of marijuana is happening in the US? 

An opinion piece in the NYT argues it should not be sold to those under 25 on health grounds - a suggestion likely to not go over well in colleges across the nation.

The Washington Post reports that the high potency of marijuana products sold in Colorado is causing problems, as well as where it can be sold:
The critics also insist that more must be done to maintain tight regulation of the industry. That’s not been the case so far, they argue, with dispensaries opening near high schools in Seattle and with retail and medical pot shops in Denver outnumbering Starbucks and McDonald’s locations combined. 
Americans are rather naive, it seems to me, when it comes to the matter of  how regulation affects society.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Some Krugman techno optimism tweets of note

Nuts in the country

Nothing's creepier than stories of rural nuts who would exploit backpackers, sexually or otherwise, as per some of the stories told in this ABC article.

Maybe it's just the results of the recent Federal election annoying me, these stories are certainly helping feed my current biases against anyone who lives more than (let's say) 150 km from a capital city.

A strange story of Hollywood inspiration

According to a book reviewed at Nature, the 1998 movie Enemy of the State inspired research to implement new, powerful surveillance technology:
it was ..an inspiration, even a blueprint, for one of the most powerful surveillance technologies ever created. So contends technology writer and researcher Arthur Holland Michel in his compelling book Eyes in the Sky. He notes that a researcher (unnamed) at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California who saw the movie at its debut decided to “explore — theoretically, at first — how emerging digital-imaging technology could be affixed to a satellite” to craft something like Big Daddy, despite the “nightmare scenario” it unleashes in the film. Holland Michel repeatedly notes this contradiction between military scientists’ good intentions and a technology based on a dystopian Hollywood plot.

He traces the development of that technology, called wide-area motion imagery (WAMI, pronounced ‘whammy’), by the US military from 2001. A camera on steroids, WAMI can capture images of large areas, in some cases an entire city. The technology got its big break after 2003, in the chaotic period following the US-led invasion of Iraq, where home-made bombs — improvised explosive devices (IEDs) — became the leading killer of US and coalition troops. Defence officials began to call for a Manhattan Project to spot and tackle the devices.

In 2006, the cinematically inspired research was picked up by DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which is tasked with US military innovation (D. Kaiser Nature 543, 176–177; 2017). DARPA funded the building of an aircraft-mounted camera with a capacity of almost two billion pixels. The Air Force had dubbed the project Gorgon Stare, after the monsters of penetrating gaze from classical Greek mythology, whose horrifying appearance turned observers to stone. (DARPA called its programme Argus, after another mythical creature: a giant with 100 eyes.)

Some books use blockbuster action films to demonstrate — or exaggerate — a technology’s terrifying potential. Here, Enemy of the State shows up repeatedly because it is integral to the development of Gorgon Stare. Researchers play clips from it in their briefings; they compare their technology to Big Daddy (although their camera is so far only on aircraft, not a satellite). At one point, incredibly, they consult the company responsible for the movie’s aerial filming. (It set me wondering — which government lab out there is currently building the Death Star from Stars Wars?)

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Further to my fusion power scepticism

First, I have to admit that there is a degree of techno-optimism regarding fusion power, such that it has managed to get an extra-ordinary amount of money devoted to fusion research.   The long delayed ITER project being built in France being the prime example:
Take ITER, an enormous superconducting fusion reactor currently under construction in France. When the international collaboration began in 2005, it was billed as a $US5 billion ($7 billion), 10 year project. After years of setbacks, that price tag has risen to roughly $US40 billion ($55 billion) Optimistically, the facility will now be completed by 2030.
And some MIT associated folk have been making claims which are extremely hard to believe:
Bob Mumgaard, CEO of the private company Commonwealth Fusion Systems, which has attracted $50 million in support of this effort from the Italian energy company Eni, said: “The aspiration is to have a working power plant in time to combat climate change. We think we have the science, speed and scale to put carbon-free fusion power on the grid in 15 years.”
Notice that?  Private money being put into the project - of course there is every incentive to exaggerate how quickly progress can be made.  In the same link, a British scientist comments:
Prof Wilson was also cautious about the timeframe, saying that while the project was exciting he couldn’t see how it would achieve its goal of putting energy on the grid within 15 years.
However, achieving and magnetically containing a power generating plasma is one thing;  building it within something intended to be a long lived, safe, electricity generating facility is a different thing, and one of great complexity.  I think you only need to read the abstract of this article (from this year) to note that they are really just talking now about how they are going to try to address the various engineering problems in a timely enough fashion to allow the presumed breakthroughs to be turned into something useful.

In comments I made in a previous post, I noted that one retired plasma scientist had written articles sceptical that fusion would ever be a viable source for electricity generation.   His name is Daniel Jassby, and he had two articles in Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists on the topic.  (I strongly recommend people read the second of those, linked at "articles", about the ITER project.)  Of course, other scientists who have worked in the field dispute his pessimism, but even when doing so, they have to admit the nature of the problems:
Fusion neutrons will surely damage the internal components closest to the plasma. In the first fusion pilot plants, materials in the regions with the highest neutron flux would need to be replaced every 6-to-12 months of full-power operation. There are options for new nano-structured materials that are more neutron-resistant. These can be developed and qualified for fusion application using computer simulations and small-scale tests, as well as tests in the pilot plants themselves and in follow-on fusion power sources, as was done for fission. Fusion will have nuclear waste, but the lifetime of this waste will be measured in decades, not millennia. Fusion neutrons can in principle be used to breed fuel for weapons. But because no breeding materials should be present in a fusion power plant, this will be much more straightforward to detect and deter, as compared with fission reactors where the production of large quantities of weapons-usable material is intrinsic to the process. 
There was another retired atomic scientist, William Parkins, who appeared in Science magazine in 2006 expressing engineering scepticism about it ever being viable.  His views were immediately disputed by others in the field, notably in this Nature commentary, claiming that the issues raised by him had already been considered and dismissed in the 1990's. But the counterargument claims that the cost of replacing parts in fusion reactors has already been factored in, and this:
 Ward says that current estimates of the cost of fusion electricity are between 5 and 10 cents per kilowatt-hour. The US Department of Energy predicts that US electricity will average just under 10 cents per kilowatt-hour this year. "I think fusion could compete with coal today in Europe," says Ward, because of the economic costs produced by emissions regulations.
 Excuse me, but given the engineering problems yet to be solved for real fusion generation, I am extremely sceptical of forecasts from the 1990's of the possible cost of fusion power.

This is what's at the heart of my scepticism - put enough money into fusion and the scientific problems of how the plasma can be contained and power harnessed might be solved.  But from an engineering cost point of view, there is a lot of reason to doubt it will ever be a cost effective source of power.

Seems to me that anyone who has witnessed the huge underestimates of cost for other projects involving more in the way of new engineering than new science (like for each new fighter jet program in the US) should also be sceptical of the claims about the cost of fusion power.   And the difference is that defence projects develop their own momentum, with huge corporations having great political influence and able to sell upgrades in defence capability as essential.   The world of electricity generation doesn't have that same dynamic, so it is a bit harder to imagine them getting the unlimited government support in cost overruns that defence related corporations enjoy.

Crazy Rich Chinese Singaporeans

So, Crazy Rich Asians has unexpectedly turned up on Netflix and I have finally caught up with it.

I quite enjoyed it, finding it particularly fun recognising nearly all of the locations due to the recent trip to Singapore.   (Well, it is a small place, my wife observed.)   Sure, it seems almost like a co-production of a government tourist board, but everywhere in the film - interiors and exteriors - looks gorgeous.  I was wondering, though,  how they managed to get some filming done in outdoor locations before the actors started breaking out in sweat - it gives no sense of the crushing humidity.

The story is serviceable (if somewhat improbable) in a rom-com way, and the two leads are likeable.  In fact, it would have to be one of few successful rom-coms of the last 15 to 20 years:  everyone agrees that Hollywood has pretty much forgotten how to make them without throwing in a bit of raunch and not especially charming male leads.  On that last point, as quite a few noted when the movie came out, CRA is especially interested in rehabilitating the screen image of Asian men as not just sidekicks but handsome leads.  (It's too obvious about it, but I suppose there are decades of gratuitous shower scenes of female actors to balance up against.)

Anyway, Channel News Asia last Christmas had a lot of "year in review" talk about the success of the movie, and gave the impression that it went over very well there.   But Googling the topic, I see that some didn't care for the near invisibility of other races in the movie, given the melting pot that is the city state.   Vox ran a particularly serious complaint about how it "gets Singapore wrong", but it seems the "it's only a movie" crowd won the day, and fair enough I say.   

Two last points:  really, who thought the dress that the female lead (Rachel) wore to the wedding was a good look on her?  I mean, there is even a mean joke in the movie about her breast size, so why wear a dress that seemed to emphasise that?

Secondly, I see a line that I didn't get has an explanation in a review:
You also know that it is in fact Singapore on the screen when you hear “ku ku jiao” — the crude Singlish phrase for penis — being chanted repeatedly.
Presumably, I'm not the only one who didn't know that.

Update:  I just decided to check how much money it made.  It took $238,500,000 internationally, which seems not as much as I expected, given the publicity it got; but then again, I don't know what rom coms of the last decade have made.   Still, with a budget of $30 million, it was definitely a money maker.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

The poor Tokyo neighbourhood

An interesting article in The Guardian about a Tokyo neighbourhood long known for being one for itinerant male workers, many of whom are now ageing and still live there in cheap hostels.

Pezzullo discussed

That Mike Pezzullo was in the news earlier this week, for taking offence at what a couple of Senators had to say about his attitude towards scrutiny, and I have been curious to know more about him.   I think Bernard Keane doesn't like him much, or at all, but lots of people have been talking about the respect he has from both sides of politics (he has worked with both Labor and Liberal governments.)

Interestingly, I was just listening to Hamish Macdonald on Radio National having a lengthy discussion with John Blaxland from the ANU about Pezzullo.

Blaxland's background is exactly in the same areas as Pezzullo and one would assume they would know each other.  Blaxland seemed to me to bending over backwards to smother anything he said as even the mildest criticism for Pezzullo's behaviour this week with praise for Pezzullo's abilities, and even his personality.   I wonder if other ABC listeners have some cynicism about this.

I don't care how smart, well read, and how personable-in-person-but-intimidating-when-he-needs-to-be a top public servant may be:  if his area of responsibility has taken on a more secretive and authoritarian air (suiting the government in power, particularly under Abbott) he shouldn't be above criticism.

PS:  one thing I should give Pezzullo credit for, though, is that I think Blaxland said he believes in climate change as a coming important regional issue with security implications.   How does a public servant like that live with having numbskull climate change denier politicians as his boss then, I wonder.

Friday, June 14, 2019

RU OK, Jason?

Gee, Jason, you're sounding a little like a cross between Peter Thiel and Lyndon Larouche with tweets like this:

OK, you and Thiel are half right - there is a uselessness about a lot of new, internet based business ideas which are an extremely wasteful use of capital when there are serious problems - well, mainly one, big, long term, planet wide serious problem - to tackle.   Yeah, the problem that Thiel doesn't even think is really that big a deal. 

But space colonisation and fusion?   Both are so off in the outer limits of do-ability that the technological development to get them to a stage beyond mere experiment is a ridiculously big hurdle.  The only credible fast track path to Mars for decades yet is likely to be via one way death trips.  (Indeed, the trip itself may kill the astronauts, given the hardly resolved problem of adequate radiation shielding.)   Large scale space colonisation is going to have to be a low priority while energy and climate change are cranking up as serious challenges.   (And yeah, I doubt fusion is a useful avenue to pursue - it's the "flying car" of the energy world, with futurists and small start ups telling us for the last 50 or more years that it's always just around the corner of becoming practical.  I don't think anyone takes it seriously anymore as an energy solution.)

And what about this silly claim:

You're not even half right there - in that Isis and Al Qaeda were never plausible threats to Western civilisation.  

So panicking about "woke corporations" being a threat to western civilisation now are we?    I assume your concern is not too much to do with companies pushing around conservatives on gay or transgender rights in the US?   How's that a threat to civilisation, unless you think it has to be one in which toilets have to be strictly gendered and gays shouldn't marry?

So what is it?  That some groups are wanting to divest money from carbon based energy and mining?    What are you upset about with that?   That some people with capital are starting to believe scientists and take action when they governments that are not?    

Here's the thing:  I don't think you have never faced up to the fact that the biggest single movement behind preventing the largest economy in the world (and the Australia one too) from consistently  embracing a proper, capitalist friendly, response to climate change has been libertarianism/small government/small tax advocates.  If it weren't for them, fossil fuel divestment groups would have less to worry about.

To be fretting that "woke capital" is a threat to western civilisation is just silly wankery coming from reading too many conservative publications, and paying attention to eccentric IT billionaires.   

Or come here and justify it.

Only in India?

 I have posted about this topic before, but perhaps did not realise how high the number of deaths are from this peculiar problem:

At least 31 children have died in northern India in the past 10 days from a brain disease believed to be linked to a toxic substance found in lychee fruit, health officials have said.

The deaths were reported by two hospitals in Muzaffarpur in Bihar state, famed for it lush lychee orchards, officials said.

The children all showed symptoms of acute encephalitis syndrome (AES), senior health official Ashok Kumar Singh said, adding most had suffered a sudden loss of glucose in their blood.

The outbreaks of the disease have happened annually during summer months in Muzaffarpur and neighbouring districts since 1995, typically coinciding with the lychee season.

“The health department has already issued an advisory for people to take care of their children during the hot summer when day temperature is above 40 degrees,” Ashok Kumar Singh said.

Known locally as chamki bukhar, the disease claimed a record 150 lives in 2014.

In 2015, US researchers had said the brain disease could be linked to a toxic substance found in the exotic fruit.
 Given that we grow lots of lychees here up around the Bundaberg region, I am curious as to why this disease is apparently unknown of here, but only appears in India.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Where are the real eco-warriors when you need them?

It's still not clear that the Adani mine will actually go ahead, despite the last Queensland approval going through today; but if it does, how much trouble can one little blog writer get into by thinking out loud that lengthy rail lines through a sparsely populated region which are key to mine development probably make a pretty susceptible target for eco-terrorists?   Actually, "terrorism" is too strong - the aim would not be terrorising the public.  Just stopping an economic activity.   

I mean, silly radicals of the 60's and later used to have bogus ideas about communism or anarchy being a viable and desirable thing, and would act on it.  Now that today's younger folk have actually really good reason to be contemplating useful property destruction, of a kind that could easily be envisaged as being done without loss of life, they're probably all too pre-occupied in twitter fights, identity politics, and organising the next animal liberation farmer harassment instead of looking at rail maps and making more useful plans.

Young people of today.  I don't know....

East Asian gender wobbles

I've posted about this before, I think, but the NYT has another article on the popularity in China (in youth culture, at least), of de-masculinised males:
BEIJING — In late April, The Beijing News, a popular daily, ran a collection of profiles on Chinese millennials in celebration of the May Fourth youth holiday commemorating a 1919 student movement. Alongside a best-selling writer, an amateur architecture historian and a producer of popular science videos there was Cai Xukun, a 20-something male pop singer with such a huge following that a recent social media post of his was viewed more than 800 million times.

Mr. Cai belongs to the tribe of “little fresh meat,” a nickname, coined by fans, for young, delicate-featured, makeup-clad male entertainers. These well-groomed celebrities star in blockbuster movies, and advertise for cosmetic brands and top music charts. Their rise has been one of the biggest cultural trends of the past decade. Their image — antithetical to the patriarchal and stoic qualities traditionally associated with Chinese men — is changing the face of masculinity in China.

Innocent as they may seem, the little fresh meat have powerful critics. The state news agency Xinhua denounces what it calls “niangpao,” or “sissy pants,” culture as “pathological” and said in an editorial last September that its popularity is eroding social order. The Beijing newspaper’s decision to include Mr. Cai in its profiles apparently prompted the Communist Youth League to release its own list of young icons: patriotic athletes and scientists, whom it called the “true embodiment” of the spirit of Communist youth.
I find it somewhat amusing that in this respect, the ultra masculine world of the alt.right (not to mention that gender/sexuality worrying commenters at Catallaxy) has something in common with the Chinese Communist Youth League. 

I just find it odd, and peculiar how it has spread throughout East Asia, starting from Japan and Korea, but spreading into China.   Too much soy in the diet, or something.  :)

Safer scooters

I've been thinking about the number of injuries turning up everywhere from those electric hire scooters which I am tempted to try.  (See here, for example.)

Having watched people on them (and some videos of people going all wobbly on them - you can search Youtube yourself), I reckon that part of the problem is that they do seem to need more of a sense of balance than they should. 

Hence:   why not have a three wheel design?   They exist:

or this:

Surely these are better from a balance point of view?   Surely the additional cost of an extra wheel is worth a safety increase?

I'd be tempted to legislate this, if I were in charge.

He's so sorry

I watched Alan Jones on Anh Do's program last night, where he got to softest of receptions from the always affable Anh.  Jones revisited the Julia Gillard "her father died of shame" insult, and as this tweet notes:

It was a very non-apology apology.

What's worse was Jones giggling that he had encouraged Malcolm Fraser to run with one of the original scare campaign ads based not on the other's side actual policy, but an imaginary one which you want voters to fear might become their policy.  (And yes, everyone agrees that Labor used it in the case of "Mediscare" - but all sensible people thought these were ethically dubious at best, not something to giggle about.)

There was a discussion of him having had a heart attack in (as I now see via Googling) in 2017.  Honestly, why doesn't the guy give up his day job and travel more while he has the time?    He's politically obnoxious and full of himself and political discourse would only improve by his absence.

Americans get the health care they deserve?

Hey, it was only last week that I was speculating that Americans seem culturally inclined to want to avoid pain at all cost - hence opting for things like easy prescriptions to dangerous opioids, and epidurals for child birth over laughing gas.

Today I see that there's an article at The Atlantic that argues along similar lines - saying that maybe the American health system doesn't get the value for money that other nation's systems do because of American patients' expectations:
For years, the United States’ high health-care costs and poor outcomes have provoked hand-wringing, and rightly so: Every other high-income country in the world spends less than America does as a share of GDP, and surpasses us in most key health outcomes.

Recriminations tend to focus on how Americans pay for health care, and on our hospitals and physicians. Surely if we could just import Singapore’s or Switzerland’s health-care system to our nation, the logic goes, we’d get those countries’ lower costs and better results. Surely, some might add, a program like Medicare for All would help by discouraging high-cost, ineffective treatments.

But lost in these discussions is, well, us. We ought to consider the possibility that if we exported Americans to those other countries, their systems might end up with our costs and outcomes. That although Americans (rightly, in my opinion) love the idea of Medicare for All, they would rebel at its reality. In other words, we need to ask: Could the problem with the American health-care system lie not only with the American system but with American patients?
Another couple of paragraphs:
For example, one cost-reduction measure used around the world is to exclude an expensive treatment from health coverage if it hasn’t been solidly proved effective, or is only slightly more effective than cheaper alternatives. But when American insurance companies try this approach, they invariably run into a buzz saw of public outrage. “Any patient here would object to not getting the best possible treatment, even if the benefit is measured not in extra years of life but in months,” says Gilberto Lopes, the associate director for global oncology at the University of Miami’s cancer center. Lopes has also practiced in Singapore, where his very first patient shocked him by refusing the moderately expensive but effective treatment he prescribed for her cancer—a choice that turns out to be common among patients in Singapore, who like to pass the money in their government-mandated health-care savings accounts on to their children.

Most experts agree that American patients are frequently overtreated, especially with regard to expensive tests that aren’t strictly needed. The standard explanation for this is that doctors and hospitals promote these tests to keep their income high. This notion likely contains some truth. But another big factor is patient preference. A study out of Johns Hopkins’s medical school found doctors’ two most common explanations for overtreatment to be patient demand and fear of malpractice suits—another particularly American concern.
Go read the rest.

How's that heatwave going

Still hot in India in a very long pre-Monsoon heatwave:
Nearly two-thirds of India sizzled on Tuesday under a spell of a heatwave that is on course to becoming the longest ever as scalding temperatures killed four train passengers, drained water supplies, and drove thousands of tourists to hill stations already bursting at the seams.

Across large swathes of northern, central and peninsular India, the mercury breached the 45 degree mark, including in Jhansi in Uttar Pradesh, Churu and Bikaner in Rajasthan, Hisar and Bhiwani in Haryana, Patiala in Punjab, and Gwalior and Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh.

The Capital, which sweltered on its hottest June day in history on Monday (48 degrees Celsius) recorded as maximum temperature of 45.4 degrees Celcius at Palam in spite of a spell of light rain in the morning.
I see other news sites say that the death toll from the heatwave is 36:  but isn't it hard to believe that there are not more premature deaths than that in the poorest part of the community that has trouble accessing air conditioning?

Stay the course, Japan

An article at Japan Times argues that the country just has to get with the times, and stop discriminating against tattoos.   I didn't realise this aspect of how they came to be associated with criminality:
Why does Japan fear tattoos so much? According to “Modern Encyclopedia of the Yakuza” (2004), the government in 1720 decided to reduce the punishment on some criminal offenses. Criminals would no longer have their noses or ears removed. Instead, their crimes would be identified with tattoos on the skin, usually the arms.

So, it wasn't a voluntary thing, initially.

The article continues:
Tattoos were popular with gangsters before and after the war for a number of reasons. Symbolically speaking, however, the act of being tattooed once showed a resolve to sever ties with ordinary society and live in the underworld.

Still does, in my books!  OK, well, perhaps "live in the underworld" is a bit harsh, unless you mean the underworld where kitch rules.   (As usual, I make exceptions for genuine tribal tattooing for people genuinely from tribes.   And I don't mean the Bogan tribe.)   

Anyway, the argument is that modern Japanese crims aren't getting them anymore: 
According to a National Police Agency study in the early 1990s, 73 percent of all gang members had a tattoo. It’s likely this number has decreased since 1992, when the first anti-gang laws went into effect and gangsters began hiding their identities. Obviously, if you want to blend in and pass yourself off as an ordinary businessman, tattoos aren’t a plus.

The new generation of gang members doesn’t get tattoos. Criminals are increasingly declining to get tattoos, while the rest of the world is embracing them as body art. Does anyone think U.S. pop star Ariana Grande is a menace to society?
I've heard some of her music.  Yes.  Yes she is.  :)

A small but symbolic mass

From France 24:
The Notre-Dame cathedral will host its first mass this weekend since a fire ravaged the Paris landmark almost two months ago, the city’s diocese said Tuesday. 

The mass led by Archbishop of Paris Michel Aupetit will be celebrated on a very small scale late Saturday, the diocese said.

It will take place in a “side chapel with a restricted number of people, for obvious security reasons,” it said.

Just 20 people are expected to take part, including priests and canons from the cathedral.
The event will be broadcast live by a French television channel so that Christians from all over France can participate, the diocese added.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

They take their architecture seriously in Indonesia

A headline on the Jakarta Post:

Actually, it looks pretty nice to me:

No passport future?

I meant to post about this a month or so ago - the story about how face recognition and other biometric databases are expected to lead to "no passport" processing through airports in the future.
Your treasured and travel-weary passport may soon become, like your first mobile phone, a relic of the past, if border agencies from the UK to Singapore, the United Arab Emirates and our own have anything to do with it. 

The race is on to create a system whereby travellers will no longer need to present their documents to either a border official or passport kiosk.

For the Australian traveller, this could mean the days of standing in line at our international airports will end.
The article does note that this whole system does carry the risk of extremely long delays if there is a hitch in the IT system.

In related news, in the USA today, we get this:
Licence plate images and photos of individuals who travelled in and out of the United States were taken in a malicious hack impacting U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), according to a report in the Washington Post. The agency learned last month about the breach, which took place thanks to a hack of an unnamed subcontractor.

CBP, which blamed the subcontractor for failing to follow security and privacy rules by transferring the agency’s photos to its own network, operates a database of visa and passport photos as part of a face recognition system and database used widely at American airports despite criticism for privacy and accuracy failures. The agency processes over 1 million travellers per day and is building up to use the face recognition system in at least 20 airports thanks to a Trump executive order.
I wonder about the point of such a hack...

Geoengineering the oceans

Nature has an article (a comment piece) about the dearth of serious research into various suggestions made over the years to use the oceans to counter global warming.   Its seems a lot of ideas are briefly floated but hardly anyone thinks about them very carefully.  

The article does mention a lot of unintended possible consequences of some ideas:
A lack of funding is not the main reason for the research gaps. Although there have been few funding programmes targeted at marine-geoengineering experiments and modelling so far, many basic tests are cheap and can be done in the lab — for instance, assessing whether impurities in mineral powders are toxic to marine life. And a range of negative-emissions technologies, such as enhanced weathering of rocks to increase ocean alkalinity, are already being funded in targeted research programmes, including one in the United Kingdom. Other streams of research, such as modelling, are under way in Germany, and a call for research proposals has been made in Japan. Private money is being invested in some marine approaches, such as a proposed pilot study of the impacts of iron fertilization on fisheries off Chile. However, that project has stalled, largely because of a lack of support from scientists (see Nature 545, 393–394; 2017).

Another problem is that many geoengineering proposals and analyses are found on transient websites, not in peer-reviewed journals. For example, only half of the web links to ideas, plans and documents cited in a detailed 2009 synthesis study of marine-geoengineering approaches4 still worked when we examined them in 2018. By contrast, academic and intergovernmental documents from that era are easy to find.

Again, the reasons for this are unclear, but could include inadequate funding, privacy concerns about disclosing details of the methods, and maintenance of proprietary rights over technologies. Some scientists worry that even starting geoengineering research or reporting results could lead to deployment of inadequately studied approaches5.

Yet it is essential that investigations are solidly researched, openly discussed and made readily available, as demonstrated by the most-studied geoengineering approach, ocean iron fertilization. Much of the work drew from ocean biogeochemistry and has involved lab experiments, pilot studies in the Southern Ocean and modelling across ocean basins. All of this activity showed that the method will not work as anticipated6. Fertilizing 1,000 square kilometres of the upper ocean would increase the growth of phytoplankton but could have alarming side effects. For example, sinking algae could release methane, a greenhouse gas that is many times more potent than CO2
It's clear that there is no simple idea that is an obvious panacea.

Psycho on the streets

This week's Four Corners story on the background to the Bourke Street "murders by car" case was very good.  Here's an article about how the show was put together.    (It has a link to the show itself too.)

Again, the sort of investigative TV journalism that we only see on the public broadcaster. 

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

A Prime problem

It's annoying to note that subscribing to Prime to watch Good Omens has revealed a technical problem that seems to affect many people - there is a well publicised issue, going back a couple of years, that people with Samsung smart TVs in particular find that using the Prime App leads to an audio sync problem.   The audio comes out slightly ahead of the video - meaning lips do not quite match the sounds by a continually noticeable half second or so.

It was much worse when watching Episode 1 of The Man in the High Castle, where there seemed to more close ups of talking faces in serious discussion.

From what I can gather, many think that it's a case of Amazon and Samsung blaming each other and no one ever coming up with a solution. 

The way around it, I found last night, is to use a laptop that can cast to a Chromecast via Chrome.   Annoyingly, the Prime Android app does not have a "cast" button built in - because Amazon does not get on with Google, either.

Casting from my mobile phone turned out to be a bit complicated (Chrome on Android seems to either always, or sometimes, not have a "cast" function built in, so I had to do screen mirroring which seemed to lead to something like standard definition video quality on the TV, not high definition.)  

Anyway, it worked fine when casting from my son's laptop, at high definition.

But this really seems a (admittedly, very First World) problem that shouldn't exist.  

The count continued

I've posted a few times over the years regarding the question of the number of people who count as "not straight".   I took a guess (based on certain polls and studies) that it was probably about 4 to 5%, and seemingly had that vindicated (at least for America) by a Gallup poll last year which gave the figure of 4.5%.

I see that at The Conversation today, there's an article looking at various Australian survey evidence which might give an answer for here, but also usefully discussing the complexity of the matter. 

I think that, while the surveys quoted seem to come in at a little under 4% for gay or bisexual, there is sufficient rubberiness that a 4 to 5% figure here may still be pretty accurate:
Less is known about change over the time in the number and share of Australians who are non-heterosexual. This is because most data collections only began asking about sexual orientation in recent years.

Estimates based on the 2001/2002 and 2012/2013 instalments of the Australian Study of Health and Relationships (each canvassing about 20,000 men and women age 16-59), suggest an increase in the prevalence of non-heterosexuality across different measures.

The share of men identifying as homosexual or bisexual went up from 2.5% to 3.2%. The share of women identifying as lesbian or bisexual also rose, from 2.2% to 3.8%. While the share of men expressing some same-sex sexual attraction increased slightly (6.8% and 7.4%), this increased more markedly for women (12.9% and 16%). Similarly, the prevalence of lifetime same-sex sexual experience increased for both sexes, with the increment being more pronounced among women (8.5% to 14.7%) than men (6% to 6.6%).
Or perhaps Australians are slightly less "queer" than Americans?  That would be hard to believe.  

Libertarians deserve to live in a police state

I'm rather sick of libertarians complaining about the policing and security law situation under the Coalition governments which they support because (basically) "but Labor wants more tax!".

Jason Soon and Sinclair Davidson both complain about the Federal police raids of last week and point to an IPA media release doing the same.  Chris Berg on Twitter tried to do a "well this is a result of both sides of politics co-operating to increase powers" excuse, even though (I think) there has been commentary that recent investigations have not had to rely on recent changes.   Jason complained about the newly elected NSW Liberal government now deploying drug sniffer dogs to Central station, to generically harass everyone going through their daily routine, not just people who go to known drug use venues (like doof doof music festivals.)

I agree with all of the complaints, but they're the ones determined to keep supporting the incredible secret state operations of Liberal/Coalition governments because they don't like Labor economic policies.

Look at the freaking awful record of the Liberals going back to 2004:

*  the diplomatically and morally scandalous government ordered bugging of East Timor for commercial benefit.  It's an outrageous use of our spy service against a near neighbour, and the Liberals just shrug it off.   And its ultra-outrageous that there is a prosecution for disclosing it.

* the "operational matters" veil of secrecy that descended on what our Navy and paramilitary "Border Force" was doing to turn back boats - they could have been torpedoing boats for all the public knew and it would have depended on a sailor leaking the information for anyone to know. 

* the whole "Border Force" re-branding to make it look and act more like a State paramilitary.

* the convenience of the AFP giving up an investigation when it's a leak that has pro-government benefit.

*  the preparedness to leave wannabe boat arrivals in permanent land locked island detention centres with a shrug of the shoulders as to their health.

* now the Home Affairs Secretary Mike Pezzullo - who I think has been a key figure all through the rise of what I call authoritarian-friendly behaviour over the course of the Coalition government - having the hide to ring up a Senator directly to complain that he doesn't like the way he spoke about him on the media.   Blind Freddy can see how wildly inappropriate this is for a "normal" government.

What's more, Sinclair Davidson runs a blog that is brimming with praise of the clearly authoritarian sympathetic Donald Trump (even if he doesn't personally care for him); and Jason Soon devotes most tweets to "oh, look at this ridiculous example of identity politics gone mad again."

Stop your whining, libertarians - you've made the call that you getting a tax cut and not wanting stronger climate change policy is more important than living in a secrecy loving, virtual police State.

Own it. 

PS:  and no, don't wave your hands about an imaginary "well, it would probably be just as bad under a Labor government" defence.  As I say above, the Coalition has form going back too far now for that argument to be credible.

PPS:  I see that Jason is citing Adam Creighton as "one of his gateways to post-libertarianism".    What's the right term for you at the moment then, Jason?  Transitioning?  

Monday, June 10, 2019

Against the Dutch method

The Atlantic has a good article looking at the Dutch experience with euthanasia and it's most troubling aspect - allowing it for psychiatric illness:
Until about 2010, the controversial practice of psychiatric euthanasia was rare, despite being permitted since the mid-1990s. Most Dutch psychiatrists—like most other doctors and the Dutch public—disapprove of psychiatric euthanasia. Still, there has been a steady increase, with 83 cases in 2017; the per-capita equivalent in the United States would be about 1,600 cases a year. Unlike euthanasia in general, psychiatric euthanasia is predominantly given to women. Most of these cases involve the End of Life Clinic, a network of facilities affiliated with the largest Dutch euthanasia-advocacy organization. These clinics routinely handle euthanasia requests refused by other doctors. (Noa Pothoven sought euthanasia there but was refused.)

An obvious question arises: How can any physician be sure that any patient with a serious psychiatric disorder, much less an 18-year-old, meets the legal criteria for euthanasia? The short answer is that the law gives considerable weight to their professional judgment.

Compared with cases involving cancer or other terminal illnesses, the application of the eligibility criteria in psychiatric euthanasia depends much more on doctors’ opinions. Psychiatric diagnosis is not based on an objective laboratory or imaging test; generally, it is a more subjective assessment based on standard criteria agreed on by professionals in the field. Some doctors reach conclusions with which other doctors might reasonably disagree. Indeed, an otherwise healthy Dutch woman was euthanized 12 months after her husband’s death for “prolonged grief disorder”—a diagnosis listed in the International Classification of Diseases but not in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders used by psychiatrists and psychologists around the world.

Psychiatric disorders can indeed be chronic, but their prognosis is difficult to predict for a variety of reasons. There is a paucity of relevant, large longitudinal studies. Patients may get better or worse due to psychosocial factors beyond the control of mental-health providers. Also affecting prognoses is the varying quality and availability of mental-health care—which, even in wealthy countries, patients with significant symptoms may not receive. Noa Pothoven and her family had criticized the dearth of care options available in their country for patients like her. Indeed, more than one in five Dutch patients receiving psychiatric euthanasia have not previously been hospitalized; a significant minority with personality disorders did not receive psychotherapy, the staple of treatment for such conditions. When treatments are available, doctors in the Netherlands have the discretion to judge that there are “no alternatives” if patients refuse treatment.

It's very surprising that the Dutch people are not (as far as I know) agitating for a change to this practice.  

Sheridan and faith

I had missed that Greg Sheridan has been making a bit of a splash with his religious writings, until I read this article in The Catholic Herald.   Oddly:
Although a practising Catholic, Sheridan is married to Jasbir Kaur “Jessie” Sheridan, who practises the Sikh religion along with their three sons.

Even more odd is choosing this description for his political views:
A conservative, Sheridan describes himself as politically “bisexual” (or, if you prefer, ambidextrous). That is, he leans neither to the Labor nor the Liberal party. His position is summarised by former prime minister, John Howard, who has said: “Last time I checked, God voted neither Labor nor Liberal; he certainly didn’t vote Green.”
I'd like to know when the "bisexual" Sheridan last voted Labor!

But generally speaking, I have usually found him relatively un-offensive for someone who writes in The Australian.  

Saturday, June 08, 2019

Good Good Omens

I've signed up for a free one month on Amazon Prime just to watch the series based on the much loved book Good Omens.

I saw the first episode last night, and was not disappointed. I've only read the book once, so I had forgotten how clever the whole premise was - an angel and demon who have spent so much time on Earth they have both "gone native", and don't want to see it end with a "too soon" Apocalypse.

It's cheerful, clever and amusing, and looks like it had a generous production budget.  Let's hope the quality keeps up throughout the 6 episodes...

More on the current state of capitalism

Axios had an article a couple of days ago that seems to not have attracted as much attention as it deserves:
A truly bizarre trend is having an impact on the economy — wealthy people and corporations have so much money they literally don't know what to do with it.

Why it matters: At a time when growing income inequality is fueling voter discontent and underpinning an array of social movements, the top 1% of earners and big companies are holding record levels of unused cash.

The big picture: U.S. companies raked in a record $2.3 trillion in corporate profits last year, while the country's total wealth increased by $6 trillion to $98.2 trillion (40% of which went to those with wealth over $100,000).

So, where is all the money going? The IMF notes large companies around the world are overwhelmingly and uniformly choosing not to reinvest much of it into their businesses. They're hoarding it in cash and buying back stock.

"There are only 2 things that money can do — sit on a balance sheet unused, where it's just earned income earning an interest rate of zero," ICI chief economist Sean Collins points out. "Or it makes sense to release it to share buybacks or dividends."
  • Companies could pay their workers more, but "that would be terrible for the stock market," says Neil Shearing, chief economist at Capital Economics — half-jokingly.
  • Companies made a record $1.1 trillion in stock buybacks in 2018 and are on track to surpass that number this year. But they still have record cash holdings of close to $3 trillion.
 And more:
But even that hasn't been enough to account for all the new money. The top 1% of U.S. households are holding a record $303.9 billion of cash, a quantum leap from the under $15 billion they held just before the financial crisis.

How we got here:
  • The Fed's quantitative easing program pushed the cost of borrowing money to next to nothing for nearly a decade, allowing companies to splurge on debt for mergers and acquisitions and to boost revenue.
  • At the same time, globalization allowed them to reduce labor costs, meaning that gains effectively were returned as profit and used by public companies to boost stock prices.
Between the lines: These factors, combined with legislative policies that have consistently favored business owners over workers, eroded unions and reduced employees ability to demand higher wages.
Lots of people on Twitter are saying that if this is a surprise to anyone, they need to remember Marx.    Lots of GIFS of guillotines are involved too - rather unhelpfully allowing the wingnut right to get hysterical that "Socialists!" really want another run at violent Marxist revolution.   (Actually, they just want wingnuts to stop being idiots who count their money and hug their guns at night.)

But I am of  the view that libertarian (sorry, "classical liberal") economists have nothing useful to say about this situation at all.    They love the idea of accumulation of money so much that they never see any reason to stop or slow anyone or anything - no matter how rich - from accumulating more.   

Friday, June 07, 2019

The very convincing Stiglitz

Joseph Stiglitz has a very lengthy piece at the TLS, reviewing three books on capitalism but with a lot of his own commentary.

It's a great read.   Wasn't Judith Sloan sneeringly rude to him when he was out in Australia last?   When she can write as well and as convincingly as him, rather than being an overpaid free market shill for a billionaire's loss making vanity paper, I'll reconsider their respective merits.

Some extracts I liked:
By now it is clear that something is fundamentally wrong with modern capitalism. The 2008 global financial crisis showed that the system as currently constructed is neither efficient nor stable. If a slew of data hasn’t already convinced us that during forty years of slow economic growth in advanced economies the benefits overwhelmingly went to the top 1 per cent – or 0.1 per cent – the anti-establishment votes in the United States and United Kingdom certainly should. The mainstream economists, central bank governors and “centrist” Blairite and Clintonite politicians who set us on and maintained this dismal course and confidently pronounced that globalization and financial-market liberalization would bring sustained growth and financial benefits for all, have been soundly discredited.

Considering the devastation wrought by misguided financial policies over the past decade in particular, one might reasonably have expected a revolution in the economics profession akin to the Keynesian one in the aftermath of the Great Depression. But we tend to forget that, back in the 1930s, as the economy sank ever deeper into depression, many economists in the US and UK stuck to laissez-faire. Markets would correct themselves, they said; no need to meddle. And even after John Maynard Keynes brilliantly articulated what was wrong, and how government actions could set things right, a great number of economists did not want to follow his prescriptions, out of ideological fear of excessive government intervention. So it is no surprise, really, that the economics profession’s response to the 2008 crisis has been slow and halting.

And then this:
Our current economic system is often referred to as capitalism, a term – as Fred L. Block points out in Capitalism: The future of an illusion – that the left once used pejoratively and the right now champions as if it’s an unchanging and noble framework that delivers miraculous, never-ending growth from which everyone benefits, or would if only government didn’t interfere. But all the underlying premisses of this blanket term are wrong: no economy, and certainly no modern economy, has a private sector that functions in a vacuum. The government is right there alongside it, enacting rules and regulations, enforcing trading standards, backing up the banking system and stabilizing the market economy. Capitalism isn’t one, rigid system. It’s ever changing. And the promises made by its most reductive advocates – that deregulation, privatization and globalization will bring wellbeing to most citizens in all countries – have proven to be horribly wrong. (Globalization, to its credit, has contributed to the enormous decrease in global poverty: the successes in East Asia, in particular in China, where some 740 million have been moved out of poverty, wouldn’t have been possible without it. Still, mismanaged and inequitable globalization, with large agriculture subsidies for corporate farms in the advanced countries, has hurt the poorest of the poor: rural workers in the least developed countries.)

Two other crises accompany the crisis in our economy. The first is a crisis in our democracy, for the two are inseparable. It is through our political system that the rules of the economy are set, and when the outcomes of those rules are unacceptable – as in the 2008 crisis – the consequences must be addressed, and addressed through radical change. And those kinds of changes have to be made through the political system – otherwise, matters will only get worse, especially when a third interconnecting crisis is taken into consideration: the environment. Unfortunately, none of these books faces up to our system’s failure to address the existential question of the moment: climate change.
But read the whole thing...

Bunch of weirdos

No one seems to have too firm a grip on what may come of the George Pell appeal.   In one of the more unusual bits of media to come out of it, I saw Leigh Sales and David Marr on 7.30 last night discussing the matter of whether the Appeal Court covered in detail the issue of whether a fully vestment-ed Pell could plausibly get his penis out to commit the offence - and David Marr assured us that the judges had all agreed the vestments did not present a insurmountable restraint on such an act. 

That doesn't sound so great for the appeal prospects, but on the other hand, it seems the Crown's barrister didn't perform well on his submissions, perhaps because he was sick?   (He had to be asked to speak louder, more than one, apparently; and is reported to have stumbled in his answers to judges.)

But anyway, the bunch of ageing culture warrior Conservatives, when they are not comparing disastrous illnesses at Sinclair Davidson's cyber-home for the old and obnoxious, are dead keen on a Pell victory, and then a return to Rome to lead the church to some weird imaginary triumph.   Look at this comment:

Bunch of weirdos. 

A new (to me) crime reduction theory

Pretty interesting suggestion:
Lena Edlund, a Columbia University economist,  and Cecilia Machado, of the Getulio Vargas Foundation, lay out the data in a new National Bureau of Economic Research working paper. They estimate that the diffusion of phones could explain 19 to 29 percent of the decline in homicides seen from 1990 to 2000.

“The cellphones changed how drugs were dealt,” Edlund told me. In the ’80s, turf-based drug sales generated violence as gangs attacked and defended territory, and also allowed those who controlled the block to keep profits high.

The cellphone broke the link, the paper claims, between turf and selling drugs. “It’s not that people don’t sell or do drugs anymore,” Edlund explained to me, “but the relationship between that and violence is different.”
The rest of the article goes on to note how this is just one of many theories about the crime reduction in that period:
The University of New Haven criminologist Maria Tcherni-Buzzeo published a review of the contending theories in 2018 that found no fewer than 24 different explanations for why crime began a multi-decade decline in the early 1990s, through economic times good and bad, in different countries and cities, under draconian policing regimes and more progressive ones.
Go read the whole article, at The Atlantic.

David Roberts vents

David Roberts has an angry (but, I think, pretty accurate) twitter thread reaction to the apparent outbreak of hostilities between the Conservative religious culture warrior arm of the American Right and the libertarian-ish arm (now rebranded as "classical liberal", because they realised "libertarian" is too associated with nerds with such atrocious taste they can stomach Ayn Rand novels) which is not so keen on Donald Trump.

The hostilities are detailed in this article at Vox:  David French vs. Sohrab Ahmari and the battle dividing conservatives, explained

David's reaction culminates in this:

The topic of the inherent conflict between these two arms of the Right, and the ridiculous and harmful alliance they managed to forge on climate change science, is the defining story of the last 50 or so years of American politics.  

Thursday, June 06, 2019

Fake meat boom?

Axios reports that fake meat (or at least, fake burger meat) is proving to be so popular that the manufacturers are having trouble meeting demand:
The fake-meat boom is real, propelling startups to incredible heights while creating shortages of its own.
The big picture: The fake-meat market could be 10x its current size by 2029, Barclays analysts estimated in May.
  • "In fact, we believe that there is a bigger market opportunity for plant-based (and maybe even lab-based) protein than perhaps was argued for electric vehicles ten years ago."
Why it matters: The stock market in particular is treating Beyond Meat like a superstar, with its stock price up 4x from last month's IPO. But the companies must prove they can handle the demand.
  • "Last summer, locations of A&W Food Services of Canada Inc. were sold out of Beyond Meat’s burger for weeks," the WSJ notes.
  • "This spring, restaurants including American WildBurger locations around Chicago have run short of Impossible’s burgers. ... Craft & Crew Hospitality in Minneapolis hasn’t received scheduled shipments of Impossible burgers for weeks from a local distributor."
  • Both Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat have ramped up production to meet demand.

Not to my taste, part 2

The Guardian has a lengthy article with the headline:

Seems family connections don't count for much in South Korea, then.  
In the past five years Australia has exported 158 racehorses to South Korea, mostly two-year-olds purchased in the Magic Millions sales for the purpose of racing or breeding. Analysis of a single year, 2014, shows that of 58 horses exported, 12 were confirmed to have been slaughtered and a further 11 were also likely to have been used in the meat trade.
That sounds odd.  Were these horses found to be duds one way or another, or do South Koreans like paying big dollars for well bred horse meat?

Anyway, as much as I don't care for horses as an animal, I find something more gruesome in the imagination about their slaughter for meat than the slaughter of smaller animals.  Maybe it's the idea of how much blood would be involved, or something.  

I haven't ever (knowingly) eaten horse meat, but I would decline if offered.

Not to my taste

NPR notes that there is another series of Black Mirror coming out.

I've only watched two episodes, including the movie length Bandersnatch, and I find I can't really warm to its bleakness.  (Even my son, who has watched more, doesn't seem to hold it in very high regard.)  

I have enjoyed Twilight Zone in its couple of incarnations, as well as the old Outer Limits, neither of which could be described as full of cheery optimism, but I find Black Mirror's modern version of worrying about where we're going unappealing.   Not entirely sure why.  Maybe because I find concerns about AI and computer technology generally overblown?   (Except for the problem of social media and misinformation - which is greatly underestimated.)

Heat deaths noted

I noted earlier in the week the extremely high temperatures in parts of India.  It's still continuing.

Pakistan has had them too - and it's hard to imagine in these countries how the poorest people survive.

In some pretty tragic news, even being in a hospital in Pakistan might not save you:
Dubai: In an incident which shocked the nation, at least five infants died of heat and suffocation after the air-conditioning units broke down at the intensive care unit in a hospital in Sahiwal, Pakistan.


I seem to be having an unusually long stretch without any comment from anyone , even Homer, despite posts on various (what I think are) interesting topics.

What's wrong, my extremely small readership?

A milestone reached (with some unpleasant associated news)

Yesterday was our 20th wedding anniversary.   My wife and I will eat out at the weekend, but last night we ate big at home and drank French champagne (which again made me note how I don't get any more enjoyment from them compared to the much cheaper Australian version).  Anyway, it was very pleasant.   We both consider ourselves lucky to have had children, making a start at it late in life, and having a boy and girl, both basically healthy and without significant drama in their lives, is something to be thankful for.

In the related unpleasant news, on Monday I learned that the priest who married us is now facing a historic sex abuse charge.   That's sad, whether it turns into a conviction or not.

Wednesday, June 05, 2019

Good to know I don't have to...

...become a vegan for climate change, according to Michael Mann:
Though many of these actions are worth taking, and colleagues and friends of ours are focused on them in good faith, a fixation on voluntary action alone takes the pressure off of the push for governmental policies to hold corporate polluters accountable. In fact, one recent study suggests that the emphasis on smaller personal actions can actually undermine support for the substantive climate policies needed.

This new obsession with personal action, though promoted by many with the best of intentions, plays into the hands of polluting interests by distracting us from the systemic changes that are needed.

There is no way to avert the climate crisis without keeping most of our coal, oil and gas in the ground, plain and simple. Because much of the carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere for centuries, our choices in the next few years are crucial, and they will determine the lives our grandchildren and their grandchildren. We need corporate action, not virtue signaling. 

Massive changes to our national energy grid, a moratorium on new fossil fuel infrastructure and a carbon fee and dividend (that steeply ramps up) are just some examples of visionary policies that could make a difference. And right now, the "Green New Deal," support it or not, has encouraged a much needed, long overdue societal conversation about these and other options for averting climate catastrophe. 

But we need more than the left wing of the Democratic Party on board. We need a national plan of action that will include everyone.

Martin Wolf on China, Trump, trade

Interesting stuff at the Financial Times by Martin Wolf.  Highlights:
The disappearance of the Soviet Union left a big hole. The “war on terror” was an inadequate replacement. But China ticks all boxes. For the US, it can be the ideological, military and economic enemy many need. Here at last is a worthwhile opponent. That was the main conclusion I drew from this year’s Bilderberg meetings.

Across-the-board rivalry with China is becoming an organising principle of US economic, foreign and security policies. Whether it is Donald Trump’s organising principle is less important. The US president has the gut instincts of a nationalist and protectionist. Others provide both framework and details. The aim is US domination. The means is control over China, or separation from China.

Anybody who believes a rules-based multilateral order, our globalised economy, or even harmonious international relations, are likely to survive this conflict is deluded. The astonishing white paper on the trade conflict, published on Sunday by China, is proof. The — to me, depressing — fact is that on many points Chinese positions are right. The US focus on bilateral imbalances is economically illiterate. The view that theft of intellectual property has caused huge damage to the US is questionable. The proposition that China has grossly violated its commitments under its 2001 accession agreement to the World Trade Organization is hugely exaggerated.
And this:
This is the most important geopolitical development of our era. Not least, it will increasingly force everybody else to take sides or fight hard for neutrality. But it is not only important. It is dangerous. It risks turning a manageable, albeit vexed, relationship into all-embracing conflict, for no good reason.

China’s ideology is not a threat to liberal democracy in the way the Soviet Union’s was. Rightwing demagogues are far more dangerous. An effort to halt China’s economic and technological rise is almost certain to fail. Worse, it will foment deep hostility in the Chinese people. In the long run, the demands of an increasingly prosperous and well-educated people for control over their lives might still win out. But that is far less likely if China’s natural rise is threatened. Moreover, the rise of China is not an important cause of western malaise. That reflects far more the indifference and incompetence of domestic elites. What is seen as theft of intellectual property reflects, in large part, the inevitable attempt of a rising economy to master the technologies of the day. Above all, an attempt to preserve the domination of 4 per cent of humanity over the rest is illegitimate.