Monday, April 24, 2017

About that juicer

The Atlantic has a somewhat amusing report on the Juicero embarrassment.  I liked this paragraph in particular:
And what is the Press? The official description reads like something manufactured by NASA to drill asteroids for root vegetables. The website promises a “bead-blasted aluminum door” constructed with “aircraft-grade aluminum and precision-forged gearing components” to generate “4 tons [of] potential pressing force,” with a “suite of sensors scans” connected to the internet so that “you have the latest updates,” all optimized through “multiple iterations of miniaturization.” And all this for what? A thing that squeezes a bag?
I notice that on supermarket shelves "cold pressed" juice is all the rage.   Yet I would have thought the worst aspect of that Juicero system is that the bags to be squeezed only have an 8 day fridge life.  (Well, I think you keep them in the fridge.) 

The Obnoxious Right (cont.)

Gee, why does the National Review give space to Kevin Williamson, whose attack on Chelsea Clinton is ridiculously nasty, if you ask me.

But I see that he has previously been noted here as being stupidly hyperbolic - the last time it was about Obama.

Way to make a technology fan feel guilty

From the Catholic Herald:
Global demand for metallic ores used in mobile phones is thwarting efforts to end war and violence in Congo, an African priest has said.
Any person who possesses a mobile phone or other electronic device with components derived from such “conflict minerals” is benefiting from bloodshed, said Fr Richard Muembo, rector of a Congolese seminary firebombed earlier this year.
“Anyone who uses modern technology nowadays is in some way using the blood of the Congolese people,” he said in an interview with the United Kingdom branch of Aid to the Church in Need, a pontifical foundation helping persecuted Christians.
“Looters from all over the world come here to exploit the country,” the priest said in a statement by the charity yesterday.
Fighting in Congo is being perpetuated by a struggle over access to such ores as coltan, from which niobium and tantalum are extracted, he suggested. The ore is used in the production of batteries for smartphones, computers and GPS devices.

I suspect he's right this time...

Adam says "Better the dimwit than full employment, broadly available health care, and a President who has a clue about foreign affairs"

Adam Creighton has that typical problem of small government loving quasi libertarians:   he believes in a magic formula of lower taxes and small, low regulation government, and that's all that matters.

Because, any twit reading this who would go along with his line "I know Trump is not very likeable, but he's better than if Clinton had won" - answer me this:   what is the reason you think Clinton would have done anything dramatically different from the path Obama was following, and why was that path (with good overall employment figures, a budget coming under control, a good attempt at broadening affordable health care, environmental regulation that had a chance of modifying CO2 emissions, and a cautious approach to Syria and the Middle East) such a disaster if it had continued?

Sure, the country wasn't going perfect under Obama, but lower taxes and pointing to Right wing think tanks "freedom index" is not a magic cure all.  Furthermore, as Trump has already shown, he is no foreign policy isolationist (a fact already made clear in his campaign, if you had paid attention) and he is a dumb BS artist who has no idea who to listen to on a whole range of issues.   Sure, some better policy or other will happen while he is President - it is virtually impossible for government to do everything wrong under any President.   And companies may be rubbing their hands together in anticipation of more money flowing in soon.   But try thinking longer term and bigger picture, hey?

Update:  the other Creighton perennial is the repetition of the way, way oversimplified matter of the number of taxpayers not paying net tax.   It's like he has a permanent chip on his shoulder that his own tax rate is too high because not enough of the rest of you are paying tax at all. 

He is, basically, one of the shallowest of economics analysts, and just because he occasionally ends up at a slightly different position from his free marketeer mates doesn't change that.

That's a lot of submarines

Something I had missed in the discussion about North Korea and its ability to wage war, until I heard an expert on Radio National this morning, is that it has a really large conventional submarine fleet:
A substantial number of these sailors serve in the KPN’s submarine fleet, which is one of the world’s largest. In 2001, North Korea analyst Joseph Bermudez estimated that the KPN operated between fifty-two and sixty-seven diesel electric submarines. These consisted of four Whiskey-class submarines supplied by the Soviet Union and up to seventy-seven Romeo-class submarines provided by China. Seven Romeos were delivered assembled, while the rest were delivered in kit form. Each Romeo displaced 1,830 tons submerged, had a top speed of thirteen knots and was operated by a crew of fifty-four. The Romeo submarines were armed with eight standard-diameter 533-millimeter torpedo tubes, two facing aft. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was filmed touring and taking a short voyage on a Romeo-class submarine in 2014.
 Sure, the article argues, the models are considered obsolete, but they are still capable of sinking an American ship or two, or more.  As the article says:
North Korea’s reliance on submarines exposes a harsh reality for the country: U.S. and South Korean naval and air forces are now so overwhelmingly superior that the only viable way for Pyongyang’s navy to survive is to go underwater. While minimally capable versus the submarine fleets of other countries, North Korea does get a great deal of use out of them. Although old and obsolete, North Korea’s submarines have the advantage of numbers and, in peacetime, surprise. Pyongyang’s history of armed provocations means the world hasn’t seen the last of her submarine force.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Computer says "No. I can't explain"

Have a read of this article at MIT Technology Review:  The Dark Secret at the Heart of AI.

It's about "deep learning" in AI, which is explained this way:
Artificial intelligence hasn’t always been this way. From the outset, there were two schools of thought regarding how understandable, or explainable, AI ought to be. Many thought it made the most sense to build machines that reasoned according to rules and logic, making their inner workings transparent to anyone who cared to examine some code. Others felt that intelligence would more easily emerge if machines took inspiration from biology, and learned by observing and experiencing. This meant turning computer programming on its head. Instead of a programmer writing the commands to solve a problem, the program generates its own algorithm based on example data and a desired output. The machine-learning techniques that would later evolve into today’s most powerful AI systems followed the latter path: the machine essentially programs itself.
But the odd consequence of this is that it can be impossible (or next to impossible?)to tell how exactly a particular decision was reached by a computer system that has used this method to teach itself.

I was surprised to read (if the article is accurate) that is already being experienced with a medical program:
In 2015, a research group at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York was inspired to apply deep learning to the hospital’s vast database of patient records. This data set features hundreds of variables on patients, drawn from their test results, doctor visits, and so on. The resulting program, which the researchers named Deep Patient, was trained using data from about 700,000 individuals, and when tested on new records, it proved incredibly good at predicting disease. Without any expert instruction, Deep Patient had discovered patterns hidden in the hospital data that seemed to indicate when people were on the way to a wide range of ailments, including cancer of the liver. There are a lot of methods that are “pretty good” at predicting disease from a patient’s records, says Joel Dudley, who leads the Mount Sinai team. But, he adds, “this was just way better.”

At the same time, Deep Patient is a bit puzzling. It appears to anticipate the onset of psychiatric disorders like schizophrenia surprisingly well. But since schizophrenia is notoriously difficult for physicians to predict, Dudley wondered how this was possible. He still doesn’t know. The new tool offers no clue as to how it does this. If something like Deep Patient is actually going to help doctors, it will ideally give them the rationale for its prediction, to reassure them that it is accurate and to justify, say, a change in the drugs someone is being prescribed. “We can build these models,” Dudley says ruefully, “but we don’t know how they work.”
I don't know whether to be happy or scared if AI systems are developed with mysteriously good predictive abilities for something as troublesome as an illness of the mind.

On the other hand, perhaps this provides a basis on which a theist can avoid those tricky theodicy  issues (the matter of why a good God allows so much evil.)   Like this:  "Hey, we've got computers churning out correct answers and we don't understand how, and you expect a clear explanation as to what's going on in the Mind, or Plan, of God?  Huh." 

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Seriously, I can't believe it

X-Files is returning.

Can't they just end the show with both of them being alien abducted, and leave it at that?  

As someone at Vox writes:
The problem is that even though the 2016 miniseries had its moments, fully half of it was an absolute disaster, with three episodes that served as reminders of why the show eventually left the air in the first place.

What a country...

I see, via Japan Times, that there was another recent public beating to death of someone accused of blasphemy in Pakistan.   And where exactly?  At a university, of course!:
With the sudden fury of a flash storm, images of an angry mob lynching a young man to death at the Abdul Wali Khan University in Mardan, Pakistan, broke across the news cycle and social media platforms to chilling effect April 13. Mashal Khan, a 23-year-old journalism student at the institute, had been attacked after a series of accusations that he had posted blasphemous content online following an argument with a group of fellow students. Whether he had done so or not was irrelevant — the insinuation of wrongdoing was enough.

From the moment the allegations were made he was as good as dead. Everything that took place afterward was a brutal formality in a country long driven by a mindset that allows people to kill with impunity whenever they perceive their religious sentiments have been offended. And so it proved in this case also.

The savagery of the assault was captured in chaotic video footage taken on mobile phones, which showed the crowd shouting “Allahu Akbar” and stomping on Khan’s lifeless body — the final rites of a slaughter in which the victim was stripped naked, clubbed, beaten and shot....
Since then, it has emerged that there is no evidence Khan committed any blasphemy at all. According to some claims, anger against the student might have been whipped up by the university itself after his comments on a television interview about how the institute was being run. It could be that Khan’s only crime was to expose the failings of a few university officials rather than abuse the prophet of Islam.
The writer goes on to note that the problem is deeply embedded in the culture:
Debate on the subject is as good as dead, and those who might choose to enter this Sisyphean undertaking are at risk of being killed themselves. Unsurprisingly, no leading lawmakers or public figures dare comment for fear of the assassin’s bullet.

Moreover, for all the incalculable grief the blasphemy laws continue to cause, there is a great deal of support for the legislation among average Pakistanis, as if the loss of life is a reasonable price to pay to uphold the sacred.

Moves to revise the laws have been rebuffed by public outcry and street protests, forcing the hand of the administration. When Salman Taseer was murdered, his killer Mumtaz Qadri was hailed as a “ghazi,” a warrior, and over 100,000 people attended Qadri’s funeral after he was executed for the crime.
I think this would have to count as within the bottom few countries on the planet that I would chose to visit.   (Perhaps we can exclude certain virtually lawless Horn of Africa states - I'm not sure you can even treat them as serious tourist destinations - although, I see now, that a company will take you to Mogadishu.

Actually, if you want some mild amusement, you can read the Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation website, which looks stylistically like it was last updated around 2000.  And some of the information seems about as old.  For example, in customs information:
Tourists are allowed to bring in following items without duty;
Personal clothing, hand bags travel goods and toiletries;
medals trophies or prizes;
jewelry not exceeding Rs.1000/-;
01 watch and 01 travelling clock;
spectacles and physical aid;
01 cigarette lighter and 02 fountain pens;
01 pen-knife and similar items of personal use;
01 electric iron and 01 electric shaver for men or 01 hair dryer for female tourist;
01 still camera and 10 rolls of film;

01 sub-standard cinematography camera with projector and two rolls of films;
01 pair of binoculars;
01 portable musical instrument;
01 portable sound recording apparatus;
01 portable typewriter;
01 invalid chair in use;
Yes, you don't want the country flooded with illegal foundation pen imports, rolls of camera film, and your cinematography camera needs to be "sub-standard"?

Even Japan requires common sense

Japan is an incredibly safe feeling place to visit, but even so:
A self-employed man in his 40s was robbed of ¥40 million in cash during a daylight mugging in Tokyo’s busy Ginza district Friday afternoon.

According to the Metropolitan Police Department’s Tsukiji Police Station, the mugging, believed to involve three men, took place on Suzuran Street in Chuo Ward.

A man hit the victim in the back and kicked him in the stomach before grabbing his bag filled with ¥72 million in cash, police sources said. Some of the cash fell out during the attack.
 Proof, I suppose, that there is no where in the world where it is a good idea to walk down a street carrying $875,000 AUD in cash in a bag.

(Odd how the story does not address why the victim was carrying this money around.)

Friday, April 21, 2017

A dream with an obvious interpretation

I was watching 24 Hours in Emergency last night on SBS, due to a lack of anything else to watch.

As far as reality medical TV shows go, it seems reasonably well done, if (naturally), intrusive of privacy.  But I was interested mainly in the story of a guy who in hospital after falling 40 feet from a tree, onto concrete, but lived to tell the tale.

In talking about his life generally, he explained that his mother had died when he was young - I forget the age, but it might have been around  3-5, I think, because he indicated he didn't really understand what was going on when the police arrived and the rest of the family started crying.  She had been killed by a drunk driver when at a petrol station.  (He said she was standing in front of her own car, and the drunk driver's car rear ended the car and it ran her down.)

Anyway, the son (now in his 20's?) said that a year after his Mum died, he started having recurring nightmares in which a dump truck would unload on - or run over? - a flower, and he would wake up feeling really devastated.

That seems to me to be an unusually clear case of a dream which seems to validate either Freudian or Jungian dream analysis as meaningful.  

I don't mean that I am completely cynical of dream analysis as an exercise - but cases where the dream has such an obvious hidden meaning, and one where it would seem the mind is sort of protecting itself from a full imagining of what happened,  I would still think are a bit unusual.

A seems

Gee, the Samsung 8 is getting good reviews:
The Galaxy S8 and plus-sized S8+ are absolutely brilliant smartphones. They're not without their flaws, but in everything from industrial design to internal hardware to software refinement, Samsung has knocked this one out of the park.
Gimmicks aside this is the best android smartphone you can buy
From the moment I picked up the S8 – and its larger, 6.2-inch sibling the Galaxy S8+ – I realised it was even more special than I expected. This is a phone that feels innovative, a phone that I can’t help but recommend
I would be nervous about carrying around a $1200 device in my pocket continually - but I've never lost or broken a phone before.  Maybe in two years time, if they've dropped below $1,000...

Roots endorsed

I am eating a packet now.  Very nice, especially if you like parsnips (as all right thinking people do):

Currently 2 packets for $5 from Coles. 

(If only I was a paid "influencer"...)

Make them run in the countryside

A surprising finding when looking at the health effect of marathons (not on the silly participants, but others):
A study published Thursday in the New England Journal of Medicine finds that the death rate from heart attacks rises 15 percent on the day of marathons, largely because of delays caused by road closures.

The authors, led by Harvard Medical School’s Anupam Jena, analyzed the death rate for Medicare patients hospitalized for cardiac arrest and heart attacks on marathon days in 11 cities, compared to non-marathon days. For example, they looked at the Monday of the Boston marathon, compared with the death rate for the five previous and five following Mondays. Then, they compared it to the death rate in a nearby city that wasn’t affected by marathon-related road closures.

It turns out that for every 100 people who have a heart attack or cardiac arrest, an additional four people die if they happen to have it on the day of the marathon.

It took about four minutes longer to reach the hospital by ambulance on marathon days. But the study authors suspect the real reason for the heightened mortality is the delays patients encountered when they tried to drive themselves to the hospital—as about a quarter of them opted to do. In those cases, it can take 30-to-40 minutes longer to reach the hospital on a day with marathon road closures, Jena stimates.

Jena acknowledged that we don’t know, for a fact, that those people died because it took them too long to reach the hospital, but that explanation seems most likely.
The obvious solution is to ban city marathons.   Sure, run around in the countryside, if you must, but don't get in my way of the drive to hospital.

Against the "madman" theory

Trump’s ‘Madman Theory’ Isn’t Strategic Unpredictability. It’s Just Crazy.


Also, doesn't the Pence "glaring at the enemy with righteous resolve" tour of South Korea strike people as rather silly looking?  

Journalist catches up with me

Over at Vox, German Lopez writes at length about how the American opioid epidemic has changed his opinion on legalisation of drugs.   (He now thinks free market legalisation is a bad idea, basically because the opioid problem shows addiction to hard drugs is a problem that doesn't readily self regulate.  And it kills people, a lot.)

I was making pretty much the same observation back in 2014.

Better late than never, German.

She's back...

The rather odd Helen Dale is back in the paper, because she's publishing a second novel.

I note that, in the non judgemental piece by Latika Bourke  (who, by the way, seems to lead the most extraordinarily peripatetic existence for a journalist - I find it hard to believe her boss pays for so much travel, and wonder if she is independently wealthy)  Dale notes another short term venture of hers in the past:
Her second novel will appear under her real name and there will be no pretences about its origins. Kingdom of the Wicked came about while she was studying at Oxford funded by a scholarship won through the US-based Institute of Humane Studies. When Dale realised she had six months left and there would be no 100,000-word doctoral thesis in the pipeline, but rather a follow-up to her vexed literary debut, she returned the remaining funds.

"I made sure I wrote to them personally and apologised for what I'd done. They weren't hugely happy but I did at least give some money back," she said.
She does seem to have moved from job to job an unusually large number of times, if you ask me...

Update:  The Australian is running a lengthy, though apparently edited, extract from her introduction to the re-issue of her first book.  I must say, unless it's the editing that has done it, but I don't think it is well written at all.

I don't think she has any idea how she sounds when she talks about herself:  self aggrandisement seems always to be lurking so close to the surface.  Yet she has her followers on the libertarian Right - Sinclair Davidson seems especially smitten with her and her writing.  I find her tedious at the best of times...

Health spending charted

NPR has a short article up about international health spending per capita, and its relationship to good health outcomes.

In the chart at the link, you can hover over each dot to see the spending in each country.  Australia is in the grouping just to the right of Japan and the UK.   (I see that Singapore is in the same grouping, too, right beside Australia actually.)

Once again, it seems abundantly clear that the US system is a ridiculous outlier which wastes money for no great results to show for it.

Kind of encouraging

Experts excited by brain 'wonder-drug' 

No proper trials yet, but one of the drugs is already used for depression, meaning that trialling it for dementia can happen quickly.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Can I just say...

...I don't understand British politics.  The Conservatives didn't really want Brexit, did they? - or at least the PM didn't want it.   But when it narrowly lost, they tossed the towel in and are acting as if a not quite 2% majority decision (in a country with non compulsory voting) is an overwhelming clear endorsement of "leave".   Now with a new leader seemingly wanting to be styled Thatcher 2, it's off to an unnecessary election to (seemingly) just rub it into the face of Labour that they've got a useless leader at the moment.   (As to how and why he is so poorly regarded - I don't really know.)  And as for high profile Conservative Boris Johnson - I don't think he has risen above the poor expectations that most people had of him in the Foreign Secretary role. 

Amusingly, I see that one economist writing at The Conversation claims that the election is being held now out of concern for a worsening economic outlook for Britain, yet people in comments were quick to point out that he was only predicting 6 weeks ago that the Budget and economic outlook meant there would not be an early election. 

Anyway, the Wikipedia entry on it fills in a bit of detail - including the way the country has swung from one side to the other over the decades about whether it wanted to be in the EU, or not.

I find it hard to believe that all of the energy that needs to be devoted to replacing current arrangements is not going to be a waste of time and effort compared to simply staying in and trying to make bones of contention better. 

The American conservative brand has a bit of a PR problem

What with Bill O'Reilly and Roger Ailes gone from Fox News in circumstances which sound like, if you saw it in a movie, you would find hard to believe (and along those lines, let's not forget Sean Hannity pointing a gun at a co-host), and a President who cheated on a wife and thought barging into women's dressing rooms was fun, it does seem as if American conservatives have a real image problem.   But do they care?   Probably not - culture wars, you know, means you can excuse anything as long as it is not the other side.

Update:   Good grief - look at this story - O'Reilly's replacement couldn't be bothered apologising to a spokeswoman for an appallingly sexist attitude shown by his brother in an email accidentally sent to her.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Back to normal

I noted a rare moment of agreement with a position taken by one S Davidson the other day.

Of course it wouldn't last.  The Last Blog in the World You Would Want to Consult on Issues of Racism (or economics, or climate change, or renewable energy) has its owner, one Sinclair Davidson, and most of the commenters, making the completely hyperbolic claim that the ALP is racist for questioning whether a black Kenyan Senator was technically eligible to take the seat vacated by her party mate.

Does he (and his team of decrepit minions) have any evidence at all to back up race as a motivation?   Of course not.  It's just a silly game being hypocritically played by people who dislike it when Lefties call them homophobic for arguing against gay marriage, for example.   And by a economist with apparent  cluelessness about "ape" being able to be used as a racist taunt.


A bit of over-reach

I'm referring to the headline:

Mark Zuckerberg just signed the death warrant for the smartphone

Having read the article, put me in the "not convinced" column.

(For one thing, the "screen door effect" when you try on VR googles seems not the easiest thing to overcome.  Certainly, I expect it's going to be quite a while still before watching a TV show via a VR device is going to be as clear as watching it on, say,  a 60 inch Ultra High Definition TV a few meters in front of you.  Or, I could be completely wrong...)

Not a case of "Always look on the bright side.."

This BBC article How Western Civilisation Could Collapse is not bad, I think.

This section is of particular interest:
According to Joseph Tainter, a professor of environment and society at Utah State University and author of The Collapse of Complex Societies, one of the most important lessons from Rome’s fall is that complexity has a cost. As stated in the laws of thermodynamics, it takes energy to maintain any system in a complex, ordered state – and human society is no exception. By the 3rd Century, Rome was increasingly adding new things – an army double the size, a cavalry, subdivided provinces that each needed their own bureaucracies, courts and defences – just to maintain its status quo and keep from sliding backwards. Eventually, it could no longer afford to prop up those heightened complexities. It was fiscal weakness, not war, that did the Empire in.

So far, modern Western societies have largely been able to postpone similar precipitators of collapse through fossil fuels and industrial technologies – think hydraulic fracturing coming along in 2008, just in time to offset soaring oil prices. Tainter suspects this will not always be the case, however. “Imagine the costs if we have to build a seawall around Manhattan, just to protect against storms and rising tides,” he says. Eventually, investment in complexity as a problem-solving strategy reaches a point of diminishing returns, leading to fiscal weakness and vulnerability to collapse. That is, he says “unless we find a way to pay for the complexity, as our ancestors did when they increasingly ran societies on fossil fuels.”
Also paralleling Rome, Homer-Dixon predicts that Western societies’ collapse will be preceded by a retraction of people and resources back to their core homelands. As poorer nations continue to disintegrate amid conflicts and natural disasters, enormous waves of migrants will stream out of failing regions, seeking refuge in more stable states. Western societies will respond with restrictions and even bans on immigration; multi-billion dollar walls and border-patrolling drones and troops; heightened security on who and what gets in; and more authoritarian, populist styles of governing. “It’s almost an immunological attempt by countries to sustain a periphery and push pressure back,” Homer-Dixon says.

Meanwhile, a widening gap between rich and poor within those already vulnerable Western nations will push society toward further instability from the inside. “By 2050, the US and UK will have evolved into two-class societies where a small elite lives a good life and there is declining well-being for the majority,” Randers says. “What will collapse is equity.”

The black culture question

I see that a Slate column by Jamelle Bouie, criticising a recent bit of  conservative commentary by Andrew Sullivan in which he raised the the success of Asian Americans as a way of questioning the "social justice brigade's" take on why Black Americans are not so successful, is interesting and has attracted more than 4,000 comments.

The truth is, it's a topic I don't really know enough about to be confident of a strong opinion.  I mean, on the one hand, yes, sure, it does seem that Asian Americans reap the reward of hard work, close knit families and high emphasis on education; and it sure seems obvious that in a cultural sense, it's a lot better path than the single parenthood and drug and gangster culture that seems to have become such a norm in at least some American inner cities.  On the other hand, I guess self selection of Asian migrants already with a good education is a thing too; and do you remember that D'Souza clip that obnoxious Right wingers loved when he attacked the college student?  (My goodness, I saw even Nassim Taleb twitter linked to it recently - confirming he's a pretty obnoxious blowhard himself.)   Well, that college student raised a perfectly legitimate point - that blacks were facing clear governmental financial discrimination in the post World War 2 period, and shouldn't we expect that would have long on going consequences?  But then to swing around again - how long do you have to keep trying to compensate for the wrongs of the past before you should expect it to be having a clear effect?  And in any event, is our picture of American society really accurate?   After all, it seems its the struggling white Americans with low education who are killing themselves off now.  If the poorly educated rural white folk are getting desperate and depressed over the way the economy is treating them for the last 20 years, do we have much reason to argue that inner city black folk should just pull themselves up and get on with it despite a much, much lengthy history of being at the losing end of economic treatment? 

All a complicated issue, no doubt.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

A foolish column

I was just about to write that I thought Adam Creighton's column in The Australian yesterday, in which he claims that he would vote for Le Pen if he were French, was very foolish.  Then I discovered that even Sinclair Davidson would seem to agree with my assessment.  (!)

Creighton seems to be taking the Peter Thiel line that things need a gigantic shake up, and hey! may as well let the ethnic/race baiting, fact challenged contender do it because who cares about their actual policies?   (As someone else on the net has suggested, maybe this means he would be a Pauline Hanson voter in Australia, using the same logic.)

Creighton even seems to indicate he doesn't care for a lot of what Le Pen would do, or if he does agree, he devotes no time to the question of how many people would get hurt in the process of her blowing things up (figuratively).

I'm routinely not impressed by Adam, but when the stars are aligned such that even Sinclair Davidson doesn't agree with him on this,  I'll take that as a sign I must be right.


Monday, April 17, 2017

To Redcliffe

What a nice Easter Sunday. Brisbane has finally left the sweltering summer, nights are cooler and sunrise is at a more reasonable hour, along with days of 26 or 27 degrees.  Lovely.

Yesterday we also took advantage of favourable tides and headed to Redcliffe to fish and have a look around.   I was recently told that they had opened a fishing platform at the mouth of the Pine River, on the Redcliffe end of the now demolished Hornibrook Highway (a long, extremely lumpy, bridge that connected Sandgate/Brighton to the peninsula.)

What a good job they've done with it, too.  Lots of shade, seats, two tables for cleaning fish, a sizeable car park, and two robo toilets of the type that self clean, play music while inside, dispense toilet paper and hand soap, and open automatically after ten minutes.   I think the platform has been open for a couple of years now, but these hi tech toilets are in good condition.  Do people respect the effort robo toilets put in?

And then there was the fishing.  Lots of little  bream and other species meant lots of bites and lots of fish caught, but all released.  Other people there, though, had caught bigger fish, so it didn't feel a waste.  Good fun.

Then we drove around to the Redcliffe jetty and the shopping area that fronts it.   Yes, Redcliffe is starting to look upmarket.   Sure, I think the area still has its fair share of car hoons and very cheap housing away from the water, but there is no doubt the gentrification is proceeding at a faster pace than I had realised.

As a particular example, we went looking for an afternoon beer, and went into the very old Ambassador Hotel.  I see from the website that it calls its front bar "working class", which is actually code for "has not been upgraded for 50 years."  It's really unattractive, but what's worse is the old, old fashioned selection of beer on tap - your basic XXXX and Carlton beer, not even a token nod to the craft beer movement by way of a James Squire.   It was like a bar teleported from 1970.

So, we had noticed a fancier place (the understatement of the decade) a block up the road, and went there.   Here's what it looks like: 

They had live music, James Squires in several varieties, an outside area with views of the bay, and looked liked it belonged more in the middle of the Gold Coast (or Noosa) rather than old Redcliffe.  It seems to be an apartment hotel.  (I've since checked - it is.  Called Mon Komo, it's managed by the Oaks chain, although it looks like it's also part residential. I don't think it's long been open.   One suspects it will at least corner the higher end wedding reception market for anywhere close to Redcliffe.)    Remarkably pleasant.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Friday, good

I've always felt it's best to let Good Friday be one of quiet contemplation, and simple food, at home - going out and camping or having fun of some type just doesn't fit in with the theme of the day.

So I had a particularly quiet day yesterday, and found on the shelf a book I bought at a remainder  place a few years ago and never got around to reading - Murder at Golgotha, by Ian Wilson.

Wilson is a historian (originally from England, but living in Brisbane for a long time now) who has written many historical books on Christian topics - most notably, he remains a defender of the authenticity of the Turin Shroud (yes, despite the carbon dating results.)

You may think his position on that hurts his credibility greatly, but I really find he still has a disarming writing style the makes him quite persuasive.   (I'm a bit of a fence sitter on the Shroud, as it happens.  I think it more likely a forgery, but there are quite a few oddities about it that really make me wonder about the extraordinary care that was taken in its creation to reflect what a real crucified body would look like.)

Anyway, Murder at Golgotha is an easy to read account of the Easter story, in which Wilson picks out the Gospel details which he finds most convincing, and the reasons why.  (He feels John gives the most authentic version, actually.)  He also spends quite a bit of time discrediting Mel Gibson's The Passion of the The Christ, a movie which I have only seen a bit of, but it was enough to make me think it was rather ludicrous in its depiction of the violence.

I learnt a thing or two, and it actually made it very easy to visualise the events in a more or less authentic fashion, in contrast to movies and art.

I thereby had an entirely appropriate Good Friday.  Wilson hasn't written anything for a while, and he would be in his 70's now.  I think he may actually live on my side of town, and he is a Catholic.   Would be nice to see him in a Church and say "hi, enjoyed your work..."  

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Revolutionary fiction

Tariq Ali, who I hadn't heard of for quite a while, had an interesting piece in the Guardian recently, about the literature that influenced Lenin.

Apparently, it was a near unreadable utopian novel by one Chernyshevsky which influenced him most.  I guess its terrible reputation as literature is a reason I don't think it counts as a famous book these days.  Just goes to show the writing doesn't have to be good to be disastrously influential.   From the article:

The writer who had perhaps the strongest impact on Lenin – on, indeed, an entire generation of radicals and revolutionaries – was Nikolay Chernyshevsky. Chernyshevsky was the son of a priest, as well as a materialist philosopher and socialist. His utopian novel What Is to Be Done? was written in the Peter and Paul Fortress in St Petersburg, where he had been incarcerated because of his political beliefs. What Is to Be Done? became the bible of a new generation. The fact that it had been smuggled out of prison gave it an added aura. This was the book that radicalised Lenin, long before he encountered Marx (with whom Chernyshevsky had exchanged letters). As a homage to the old radical populist, Lenin titled his first major political work, written and published in 1902, What Is to Be Done?

The enormous success of Chernyshevsky’s novel greatly irritated the established novelists, Turgenev in particular, who attacked the book viciously. This bile was countered with a burning lash of nettles from the radical critics Dobrolyubov (regarded by students as “our Diderot”) and Pisarev. Turgenev was livid. Encountering Chernyshevsky at a public event, he shouted: “You’re a snake and that Dobrolyubov is a rattlesnake.”

What of the novel that was the subject of so much controversy? Over the last 50 years I have made three attempts to read every single page, and all three attempts have failed. It is not a classic of Russian literature. It was of its time and played a crucial role in the post-terrorist phase of the Russian intelligentsia. It is undoubtedly very radical on every front, especially gender equality and relations between men and women, but also on how to struggle, how to delineate the enemy and how to live by certain rules.

Vladimir Nabokov loathed Chernyshevsky but found it impossible to ignore him. In his last Russian novel, The Gift, he devoted 50 pages to belittling and mocking the writer and his circle, but admitted that there “was quite definitively a smack of class arrogance about the attitudes of contemporary well-born writers towards the plebeian Chernyshevsky” and, in private, that “Tolstoy and Turgenev called him the ‘bed-bug stinking gentleman’ … and jeered at him in all kinds of ways”.

Their jeers were partly born of jealousy, since the subject of their snobbery was extremely popular with the young, and born also, in the case of Turgenev, of a deep and ingrained political hostility to a writer who wanted a revolution to destroy the landed estates and distribute the land to the peasants.

Lenin used to get cross with young Bolsheviks visiting him in exile, during the inter-revolutionary years between 1905 and 1917, when they teased him about Chernyshevsky’s book and told him it was unreadable. They were too young to appreciate its depth and vision, he retorted. They should wait till they were 40. Then they would understand that Chernyshevsky’s philosophy was based on simple facts: we were descended from the apes and not Adam and Eve; life was a short-lived biological process, hence the need to bring happiness to every individual. This was not possible in a world dominated by greed, hatred, war, egoism and class. That was why a social revolution was necessary.
Well, I can't say that I had realised that a radical change in gender relations was so closely tied from the earliest days of  Russian revolutionary thought. I see the book is downloadable (all 488 pages of it!) in English translation here.   I've a quick scan - it does seem incredibly turgid, and to mainly be about relationships.   Amazing what people read before TV/movies/the internet....  

Mark it in your calendar

It seems the ageing Japanese Emperor would like to abdicate, and it looks like the government will let it happen, but not until December 2018:
The Japanese government is planning to hold a ceremony for Emperor Akihito’s envisioned abdication in December 2018, in what would be the nation’s first such ceremony in around 200 years, government sources said Wednesday.

The last time Japan held a ceremony for an emperor’s abdication was 1817, when Emperor Kokaku relinquished the Chrysanthemum throne. The government will consider how to materialize the plan by studying documents describing ceremonial manners for abdications in the past.

The abdication ceremony is planned to be held aside from a series of enthronement ceremonies for Crown Prince Naruhito. It may be treated as a state act that requires Diet approval for conducting, the sources said.
Mind you, I wonder whether one reason for the delay is the amount of time it would seem to take to prepare for the enthronement ceremony of his son.   The Wikipedia entry indicates there is a lot of perfection involved:
First, two special rice paddies are chosen and purified by elaborate Shinto purification rites. The families of the farmers who are to cultivate the rice in these paddies must be in perfect health. Once the rice is grown and harvested, it is stored in a special Shinto shrine as its goshintai (御神体), the embodiment of a kami or divine force. Each kernel must be whole and unbroken, and is individually polished before it is boiled. Some sake is also brewed from this rice.
Individually polished rice??

Wikipedia links to a NYT report on the enthronement of Akihito in 1990 (I really had forgotten that Hirohito had lived so long after WW2.)  It's interesting to see that some Left wingers in the country went as far as firebombing some Shinto shrines in protest that the ceremony seemed to be affirming the old idea that it made the Emperor a living Shinto god.  I wonder if the same controversy will happen again, or if Left wingers are less radical now than before.

And, of course, there is the fascinating question of whether the ceremony also implies some symbolic sexual congress with the Sun goddess:
Many articles, for instance, have put forth various theories of scholars about the function of a matted bed and coverlet in the inner sanctum. Some experts have suggested that the Emperor lies on the bed and transforms himself into a god or in some fashion communes, perhaps in a symbolically sexual way, with the spirit of the sun goddess.

In response to these theories, the ritualists of the Imperial Household Agency have said that the bed is used as a resting place for the sun goddess but that the Emperor never touches it.
Expect some similar coverage next year, then...

Increasing evidence the US did elect a 12 year old

Seriously, I keep saying that the way Trump speaks reminds me of a primary school kid, but it's also the content.  What adult goes into a diversion about how nice the cake was?  And as for the way this Fox News interviewer acts - she sounds like a high school journalist asking her bestie how that really important first date went.

The Quartz article headline has it right:
All the giggly, giddy weirdness of Trump and Fox Business News in one clip

As for what Xi Jinping really thinks of Trump - he's a tad concerned about Trump conducting foreign policy by Twitter, apparently.  As we all should be...

Update:  Furthermore, how do you square Trump's tweet about going it alone on North Korea if China doesn't help with what he said to the WSJ?:
Apparently, Trump came into his first meeting with the Chinese leader, in early April, convinced that China could simply eliminate the threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear program. Xi then patiently explained Chinese-Korean history to Trump — who then promptly changed his mind.

“After listening for 10 minutes, I realized it’s not so easy,” the president told the Journal. “I felt pretty strongly that they had a tremendous power [over] North Korea. ... But it’s not what you would think.”
It's like his incredible statement about  how "nobody knew health care could be so complicated."

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

A use for dragon blood

The BBC reports:
Komodo dragon blood contains an important compound which scientists think could offer a new treatment for infected wounds.

The reptile's saliva harbours many different types of bacteria, which somehow do not affect the dragon.

Scientists at George Mason University in the US created a synthetic compound based on a molecule in dragon blood that had antimicrobial activity.

They found it promoted the healing of infected wounds in mice.

Serial killers I had missed

I don't go out of my way to read of gruesome crimes, but I am a bit surprised that until yesterday, I don't recall reading about the "Bloody Benders", who bear the title "America's First Serial Killers".

A straight forward telling of their story, from 1870's Kansas, may be found here.  Wikipedia has a fairly detailed entry, too.  

What is particularly interesting, I think, is the link with Spiritualism, as well as the very "Sweeney Todd" aspect of victims being dumped into a cellar via a trap door in the floor.

As a medium, family member Kate was apparently giving out some rather unusual advice from the Spirit world.  From the book Psychological Consequences of the Civil War:

I have to say, if your medium is giving out advice like that, I don't think it's wise to accept an invitation to dinner at home.

Anyway, it seems to me that this would be great source material for a film - especially given that it is not clear as to what happened to the family.  Lots of room for speculation to be built into a screenplay "based on real events".

Is this why the American white working class is dying more?

From the New Yorker:
Case and Deaton published a second paper last month, in which they emphasized that the epidemic they had described was concentrated among white people without any college education. But they also searched for a source for what they had called despair. They wondered if a decline in income might explain the phenomenon, but that idea turned out not to fit the data so well. They noticed that another long-running pattern fit more precisely—a decline in what economists call returns to experience.

The return to experience is a way to describe what you get in return for aging. It describes the increase in wages that workers normally see throughout their careers. The return to experience tends to be higher for more skilled jobs: a doctor might expect the line between what she earns in her first year and what she earns in her fifties to rise in a satisfyingly steady upward trajectory; a coal miner might find it depressingly flat. But even workers with less education and skills grow more efficient the longer they hold a job, and so paying them more makes sense. Unions, in arguing for pay that rises with seniority, invoke a belief in the return to experience. It comes close to measuring what we might otherwise call wisdom.

“This decline in the return to experience closely matches the decline in attachment to the labor force,” Case and Deaton wrote. “Our data are consistent with a model in which the decline in real wages led to a reduction in labor force participation, with cascading effects on marriage, health, and mortality from deaths of despair.”

Runaway slaves

I think the Washington Post must have thought that this goes a bit with the Trump zeitgiest for hunting down illegal immigrants - but it is an interesting look at the advertisements that slave owners of America (including future presidents) would run in the papers offering rewards for returning runaway slaves.

[I think a satirist here could do a good one for Centrist Left looking for the recovery of Mark Latham.]

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

How boring

I meant to post last week about the incredibly bland and boring sounding menu at Trump's meeting with Xi Jinping:

Caesar Salad with homemade focaccia croutons, parmigiano-reggiano

Dinner options:

Pan-seared Dover Sole with champagne sauce
Herb-roasted new potatoes
Haricots verts, Thumbelina Carrots


Dry Aged Prime New York Strip Steak
Whipped Potatoes
Roasted Root Vegetables

Dessert options:

Chocolate cake with vanilla sauce and dark chocolate sorbet


Trio of Sorbet (Lemon, Mango, and Raspberry)

Wine options:

2014 Chalk Hill Chardonnay from the Sonoma Coast
2014 Girard Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley

Now look, I presume that the menu was given the "tick" by the Chinese embassy, as I'm sure even Trump wants to avoid something like anaphylactic shock causing an international crisis;  but even so, if this is meant to an example of what fine American dining can achieve (or a Trump high class joint), it's failed miserably.   Put a bit of effort in, can you, Donald?  (Mind you, some Trumpkin idiot has probably justified this as an example of Trump playing 4D chess  with Xi's mind.)

John Clarke

Yes, it was sad to read of John Clarke's sudden death yesterday.   I suppose I didn't really care for the comic persona of his younger days,  but it was impossible not to admire the cleverness and wit of his work with Bryan Dawe, as well as the sardonic acting in The Games.  In fact, I had only watched his last Dawe interview last week, and wondered why they were no longer highlighted as much by the ABC.  They were still pretty great together.

I heard an interview with him not so long ago on Radio National, and he sounded genuinely intelligent and thoughtful -  a fact which many people who knew him have confirmed.  I also think it fair to say that there was almost a type of gentleness to his humour, even though it was satire - which is no doubt why there will be virtually no ill will directed towards him.  (Although I see some Right wing commenters at Tim Blair's have leapt in to make it clear he was not funny because he was a "Leftist".  God help them if ever they try watching post Trump election Colbert.) 

Monday, April 10, 2017

Another, completely unskeptical, take on wannabe transgender children in the US press

I can't be the only person who would read this article and think that it shows zero skepticism regarding the complete swing in attitude towards this issue.   It is obviously a difficult issue for parents to deal with, but it is also obviously prone to great swings in medical fashion, too, as are all cases of how to respond to very unusual thoughts that can lodge in some people's heads. 

Update:  the latest post at 4th Wave Now notes the unintended consequence of puberty blocking for boys who want to be girls is that they don't grow enough, um, genital material in order for surgeons to later do the desired reconstruction of it into ersatz female genitalia.

True, even if satire

From the New Yorker:

Nation Desperately Hopes Real Reason for Bannon’s Exit Will Not Involve Sex Tape

The thing about Bannon is that, although people on the Left and libertarian-ish Right (hello, Jason) may agree that his anti-Globalist position is correct as far as short term military interventions are concerned (he was against the Syrian bombing last week, apparently), the way he is enamoured with a nutty book that seems to describe both global and national crisis in this present period actually indicates that his motivation for non intervention is founded in nonsense.   And that's not a good thing.   You do want appropriate US interventions, sometimes, rather than a view that some sort of global destruction is inevitable and will lead to the rise of a reinvigorated US.   See this article in the New York Times which is the basis for this comment.

And besides, his anti-Globalist views on economics and trade have extremely little support from economists or experts of any variety.

It would therefore be a mistake to regret his departure, just because he might have made an appropriate call for caution on the one issue.

Sunday, April 09, 2017

Keeps the single men off the street, I guess

The BBC notes:

China will become the snooker superpower within the next decade, according to the sport's supremo Barry Hearn.

World number five Shaun Murphy says Ding is the most highly recognised sports person in China "by a mile".
"He's bigger than Ronnie is back in the UK, than Davis was, than Stephen Hendry was, than Alex Higgins was; he's bigger than them all," Murphy said.
"The fans in China are fanatical about him. They camp out at hotel lobbies for him, he and his wife have to go out for meals in secret. He is an A-list celebrity in China."
China's supposed takeover of a sport so long dominated by the UK and Ireland has been predicted for years, but it is only recently that it is truly beginning to back up Ding's breakthrough.

I wonder if they're taking on darts and drinking warm beer, too?

Saturday, April 08, 2017

The obvious concern

Now, one has to admit that if Hillary were president, she would have authorised a similar attack on Syria (she said so herself.)  And several Democrats have said they think the attack was proportionate and OK.

So why should people who would have preferred her be criticising Trump?  Well, obviously:

1.  the massive, massive hypocrisy.   And the suspicion, which Republicans would have been pushing hard if the shoe had been on the other foot, that Assad may have been encouraged to use chemical weapons due the signalling from Tillerson and Trump only a day or two prior that they no longer had removing him as any part of their goal.

But, better late to do the right thing late than not to do it at all?   That's one argument, but it doesn't get around:

2.  the almost instantaneous change that some televised images, and some extremely rapid assessment of responsibility, brought in Trump.  Let's face it, despite the same (or stronger) support  Democrats may have given Hillary if it had been her attack, the history of US intelligence used to justify Middle East attacks does indicate grounds for caution, to put it mildly.  (Although, admittedly, thorough, quick and independent investigation of anything in that hell hole of a country is probably extremely difficult.)   In other words, if it had been Clinton's authorisation, in the same time frame, people should have had the same concern as well.

But by far, the worst and most dangerous concern in this is:

3.  Trump is getting swooning media praise for the attack, and we have never seen a President so obsessed  with media "reviews" of his performance. There is every reason to expect this will make Trump trigger happy in future, and it is somewhat dismaying that even mainstream American media does not recognize that before editorialising on the issue.

Of course, Fox News (and Mark Steyn) were busy giving him a tongue bath about it the morning after - that should be warning enough.  But there was praise on CNN and other outlets - who can doubt that he would be lapping it up?

Some commentary on American sites is expressing concern:

In Slate: Elites Are Giddy Over Trump’s Airstrike in Syria, and That’s Terrifying

Ezra Klein writes, with obvious truth:  Trump’s foreign policy is dangerously impulsive
This, above all else, is what is worrying about Trump on foreign policy: He is unpredictable and driven by whims. He is unmoored from any coherent philosophy of America’s role in the world, and no one — perhaps not even him — truly knows what he’ll do in the event of a crisis.
Obama’s policy on Syria was perpetually paralyzed by fear of escalation. Trump’s policy on Syria is volatile precisely because he doesn’t seem to have thought through questions of escalation. This is a foreign policy based on intuition and emotion, and there is danger in that.
(As for what constant and confusing contrarian Nassim Taleb thinks about it - I think he is indicating semi approval, as a "sending a message" to Assad, but also China and Russia!  I think that is nonsense, myself.  Russia did get a message: "Vlad, you'd better get your planes and pilots off that airfield, some cruise missiles will be there in an hour.  And don't tell Assad, promise?")

Finally, I warned before that it was silly to think that defence manufacturers were doing anything other than seeing their long term financial benefit on the rise when they were buttering up Trump by saying "yes, he's forced us to reconsider the cost of program X, and we'll do it cheaper for him."   They know that this gullible and easily manipulated President is like manna from heaven for them...