Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Krugman on why the Trump tax cuts have fizzled

I meant to link to this opinion piece by Krugman before, but it's interesting for his theory as to why the Trump tax cuts haven't achieved much.  The key section, I think, is this:
Now, proponents of the tax cut, including Trump’s own economists, made a big deal about how we now have a global capital market, in which money flows to wherever it gets the highest after-tax return. And they pointed to countries with low corporate taxes, like Ireland, which appear to attract lots of foreign investment.
The key word here is, however, “appear.” Corporations do have a strong incentive to cook their books — I’m sorry, manage their internal pricing — in such a way that reported profits pop up in low-tax jurisdictions, and this in turn leads on paper to large overseas investments.
But there’s much less to these investments than meets the eye. For example, the vast sums corporations have supposedly invested in Ireland have yielded remarkably few jobs and remarkably little income for the Irish themselves — because most of that huge investment in Ireland is nothing more than an accounting fiction.
Now you know why the money U.S. companies reported moving home after taxes were cut hasn’t shown up in jobs, wages and investment: Nothing really moved. Overseas subsidiaries transferred some assets back to their parent companies, but this was just an accounting maneuver, with almost no impact on anything real.
So the basic result of lower taxes on corporations is that corporations pay less in taxes — full stop. Which brings me to the problem with conservative economic doctrine.
That doctrine is all about the supposed need to give the already privileged incentives to do nice things for the rest of us. We must, the right says, cut taxes on the wealthy to induce them to work hard, and cut taxes on corporations to induce them to invest in America.
But this doctrine keeps failing in practice. President George W. Bush’s tax cuts didn’t produce a boom; President Barack Obama’s tax hike didn’t cause a depression. Tax cuts in Kansas didn’t jump-start the state’s economy; tax hikes in California didn’t slow growth.
And with the Trump tax cut, the doctrine has failed again. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to get politicians to understand something when their campaign contributions depend on their not understanding it.
I wonder if this is being challenged by anyone credible (ie, not a Laffer zombie).

We seem to do lettuce better than the US...

I know we have an occasional fresh vegetable/fruit contamination issue, but the US seems to have an awful lot of incidents like this:
Federal health officials are urging consumers to stop eating romaine lettuce and asking industry to halt all sales amid an extensive E. coli outbreak unfolding across the U.S. and Canada.
Even the Americans seem to acknowledge this happens way too often:
“CDC and FDA did the right thing and gave a very broad warning to consumers. Hopefully they will find the source of the contamination and the cause quickly,” said Sandra Eskin, director of food safety at the Pew Charitable Trusts.
“We have seen so many leafy green outbreaks over the last year — it is really undermining consumer confidence in the safety of these otherwise healthy products,” Eskin added.

Comparing disasters

The photos of destruction coming out after the terrible Californian fires are quite something.  

I was curious as to how it compared to the harm caused by the Victorian Black Saturday fires, which sort of set the modern Australian image of how bad our bushfires can be.

A quick Google would indicate that 2,029 homes were destroyed in our home-grown disaster (but apparently another 1,000 or so buildings too.)    Number of people killed: 173.

The Californian fire is being reported as having destroyed about 12,000 homes, and while the death toll is still currently below 100, there's another 700 missing.  (Which really seems an extraordinary number after this time.)

So yeah, at least in property destruction, the Californian fires are already on a much larger scale, and may well end up having killed many more people too.

Elver abuse

You can congratulate me later for the title to the post, after you've  read all about what's possibly the oddest criminal activity in the world:
Billions of euros worth of critically endangered eels are being trafficked each year from Europe, ending up on tables in China and Japan in what campaigners say is "the largest wildlife crime on Earth."
Stocks of European eel (anguilla anguilla) have plummeted 90 percent in three decades as mankind has developed the wetlands and dammed the rivers it needs to grow and feed in, and experts fear smuggling the lucrative are pushing it towards oblivion.

The problem, according to Michel Vignaud, head of fishing regulation at France's National Biodiversity Agency, is exploding Asian demand for a product viewed as both a delicacy and an aphrodisiac.

"We cannot legally export eels outside the EU, but the prices are different in Asia. There is a real Asian demand for eel," he told AFP.

The UN's Food and Agriculture Organization said that in 2016 China produced close to a quarter of a million tonnes of eel for consumption, far ahead of Japan—where eating eel is seen as bringing good luck and fertility—and the EU.

The bloc's law enforcement agency EUROPOL estimates as many as 100 tonnes of baby eels—known as glass eels for their translucent skin—are trafficked abroad each year: equivalent to around 350 million fish.
 PS:  if I have to explain - an elver is a young eel.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Nudism not gone quite as planned

The Sydney Morning Herald has a story about how residents at Byron Bay, which has a (not very easy to get to, by the sounds) official nudist beach, are pretty sick of the creepy men engaging in offensive and harassing behaviour of a sexual nature.

I had also noticed, perhaps a year ago?, that an unofficial nudist beach at Noosa had attracted police attention and resulted in arrests and convictions.   

I find it interesting that public attitudes to the practice of nudism, in at least the English speaking West, have not really gone as someone in the 1960's might have expected.    Robert Heinlein, who I think was himself a nudist (and apparently sexually adventurous before it was quite the thing), used to write books in which appearing nude in public was not such a big deal in the future;  and given the hippy free love movement and nude mud baths happening at festivals in the 60's, it would have seemed a fair prediction at the time.

As society morphed on from there, you would get claims from time to time about how nudist tourism was booming, which seems a journalist trope that just never goes away.   Yet, it seems clear that, by and large, the nudist movement in America, England and Australia has gone backwards, both in terms of clubs and even use of nudist beaches.   

Why is it that, at a time of (relative) sexual liberation and less panic about nudity on television and media, actual nudity in public in the West has declined?   And why do nude beaches attract an increasing number of creepy men?    One would have thought the internet and porn would give them more reason to stay indoors.   Is there a line being crossed between internet porn being a diversion from acting out in public, and it working as encouragement to get out to commit offensive and worrying behaviour?

I mean, I guess nudism's connection with sexuality was never going to go away (despite high minded insistence by naturists that there is no essential connection), but I still didn't really expect its public practice to go backwards.   

Update:  Here's a theory:   while the internet means a lot more people see a lot more nude bodies than ever before, there is pretty good evidence from the rise in plastic surgery for breasts and labia that it has made (at least some) women more anxious and self conscious about perceived imperfections in their normally unexposed areas.   That, of course, is not the sort of attitude which makes public beach nudity appealing.   (And the rise of pubic hair removal has exacerbated this concern for women too.)   


Roubini on digital currency

Nouriel Roubini - probably cryptocurrency's and blockchain's biggest critic - discusses what the future of digital currency might be.   

Interesting.

I haven't noticed Chris Berg or Sinclair Davidson giving one of their vapourware quality chats on the potential of blockchain for a while.  I suspect that the topic has been mined for all its worth (ha, a bit of a crypto pun there) and it's time for them to move on.   

Monday, November 19, 2018

A not-as-late-as-usual movie review

A Quiet Place:   In summary:  nasty (and kinda generic looking in a modern-movie, big-toothed, weird-headed, way) aliens spend all their time running around the countryside slashing humans (or racoons) who are too loud.  A family holes up in their farm trying to get by, very quietly, in such a world.

On the upside:   there are quite a few scares, but to be honest, they are mostly the relatively cheap jump-scare variety.   Acting is pretty good.

On the downside:  [lots of spoilers ahead] a lot does not bear too much thinking about.   For one thing:  I was puzzled as to how the corn fields got planted, since the time line indicated that they must have been planted well after the aliens arrived.   [OK, I'll be generous here, and allow that maybe the aliens were busy devastating the towns and cities before they headed into the countryside.  But even then, would seem a tad odd that the farmers just got on with planting as if there were no alien invasion going on.]

For a second thing:  these aliens don't look too smart, and don't seem to eat their human and animal victims:  just slash them open and run.  That's sort of odd behaviour, even for an alien, isn't it?   What is the motivation for killing all noisy humans?*

A third thing:  corn in silos is like quicksand?   I suspected not, and the comments by several (apparent) farmers on this Reddit thread indicate that my scepticism was justified.

There are many other points I found myself doubting:  sure, being a new mother can be tiring, but sleeping through a basement flood that big?  Especially as she would presumably have become used to sleeping in total silence for a year or more.

The film overall reminded me too much of the woeful (and even sillier) Signs with Mel Gibson:   it also had a lot of corn and aliens, a Christian family, and aliens weirdly unprepared for human resistance by use of something pretty foreseeable.   (Actually, blindingly obvious, in the case of Signs.)   OK, again, being generous, maybe these latest aliens are just like the equivalent of hungry pet wolves let loose on the planet by their smart owners we never see.   (Again, why is the obvious question.)

I don't regret watching it, and I can see how it was pitched successfully as a high concept alien invasion story:   but it didn't deserve the very strong critical reception.   It pushed the plausibility boundaries way too often for that.



*  I have just now read an article that says it's clear by the end that the aliens are killing because they just need a silent planet on which to live.   If they are that sensitive to any and all sound - how do they put up with rain?   Did they cross light years to get here without inventing earplugs or noise reducing headphones?   I mean, they have huge ear holes, to be sure, but this still seems a bit silly.

Learning languages

Quite a helpful article here discussing the pros and cons (mainly the cons) of using the popular "learn a foreign language" app Duolingo. 

I've been tempted to try it, but never have.

In praise of spaghetti carbonara

I hadn't made my own spaghetti carbonara for a long time 'til last Saturday, but I thought this recipe worked pretty well and was similar to the last I had used from an old cookbook.   (Cookbook publishers must be hating the internet and its effect on sourcing recipes.)

I tend to like to a drier carbonara - some people prefer a wetter version.  It does seem to me that people can get very snooty about the right way to do this dish, a bit like those people who insist that country X's food here is nothing like the real thing when you actually go there.   (I usually find this is a greatly exaggerated claim.)

In any event, isn't it the case that Italians don't eat pasta as a main meal in quite the way we do?  I wouldn't mind betting that this may have changed in recent years too.

I like the way you can be non-trad with the recipe - adding some fresh asparagus and small sized bits of broccoli worked well on Saturday, and using just bacon was fine.   Many people like to add mushrooms too, it seems, and I would have if there were any in the refrigerator.

Left over reheats surprisingly well in the microwave too.

So yeah, I should make it more often.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

William Goldman

Famous screenwriter/novelist William Goldman has died.   You know, I don't recall knowing what he looked like until now, despite having read a few of his books.

I had forgotten that he wrote Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid - a film which, incidently, I felt was vastly over-rated when I saw it as a child.  (My mother was a big Robert Redford fan - I think I was tagging along with her when I saw it.  Not sure if my father was there too.)   I wonder if I would feel differently about it as an adult?   I still have this gut feeling that it was very lightweight and trivial. 

Anyway, Goldman interested me more for his books about the industry, and I suspect that he might have become slightly dismayed that, despite "nobody knowing anything" in Hollywood, studios have become pretty good at knowing what franchise material will make a killing in the first week or two, regardless of critical reception.   (Although, I guess, that Solo movie's failure almost certainly came as a surprise.)

Thursday, November 15, 2018

As spotted on Twitter



A fair few anti Taleb comments follow the tweet, too.

Death by social media

The BBC has been trying to tally up how many people in India have died as a result of social media spreading false rumours.  And one appalling story is told in detail:
Across India mob attacks are on the rise, fuelled by false rumours on WhatsApp and social media. According to the BBC's analysis of incidents between February 2014 and July 2018, at least 31 people have been killed and dozens more injured. These are the incidents the BBC was able to verify, many more have been reported.

Many of the false rumours warn people that there are child abductors in their towns, driving locals to target innocent men who are not known to the community. A total of 25 men, 4 women, and two people of unknown gender have died. Here is a timeline of those incidents the BBC has verified.

In one striking example, a video clip shared on WhatsApp went viral in India in June 2018, with tragic consequences. In the clip, a man on a motorbike appears to be kidnapping a child from the street. The messages that accompanied the video as it was shared from phone to phone alleged that the incident had occurred in Bangalore and warned the community to be on the lookout for “potential child-lifters”. Vigilante mobs formed and killed an estimated 10 people.

But the outrage overshadowed the true story.

The clip was in fact part of a safety video produced by a child welfare group in Pakistan. At the end of the original video, the supposed “kidnapper” returns the child to his friends and holds up a sign that reads “It takes only a moment to kidnap a child from the streets of Karachi.” This was edited out in the viral version.

Another bad, high profile, Netflix movie?

The Guardian reviewer really dislikes a new Netflix movie with some big star power in it.  [Sandra Bullock, John Malkovich, Jacki Weaver (!)]

Seems to me that, for a company that plans on being such a major player in movie content, they have to do something about quality control, fast.

Dutch tradition considered

I didn't know about the Dutch "Black Pete" controversy.  An interesting article at The Guardian.

Freud, Jung, sex

Quite a nice summary in this Aeon essay about how Jung and Freud's professional and personal relationship started and broke up.

Jung is deservedly the more interesting character and theorist.  And yeah, it's true:  Freud went off the rails over sex. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Washington intrigue

So, articles are being written about Trump's foul mood on the trip to Europe (he was very aggro with poor old Theresa May on the phone before he even landed - and it would seem that the only person he was really happy to see was Putin).   Only the most foolish cult followers could think that the trip was a success for Trump in any respect.   Hello, Steve Kates?

The other big issue is his chronic staff in-fighting, with Politico noting that, apart from the Homeland Security Secretary about to get the chop for not being rabid enough, economic and trade advisers  Kudlow and Navarro are fighting:
And earlier in the day, Trump’s chief economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, lashed out at White House trade adviser Peter Navarro after Navarro, a trade protectionist, took aim at Wall Street and corporate influencers pushing a less aggressive stance against China. Navarro did Trump a “great disservice,” Kudlow told CNBC.
...not to mention the oddity of Melania choosing to go public in order to ensure someone is sacked. 

As Politico says:
“It’s like an episode of ‘Maury,’” one former Trump aide observed to POLITICO as the spectacle unfolded. “The only thing that’s missing is a paternity test.”
Ha. 

I think I overlooked mentioning before that it had been noticed, but not widely reported, last week that Rupert Murdoch had a meeting Mitch McConnell:
SPOTTED BY NYT’S NICK FANDOS (@npfandos): “An empty Capitol, but Mitch McConnell is receiving visitors. Rupert Murdoch in this case.” A photo of Murdoch walking into McConnell’s Capitol office … Also in the shot: Robert Thomson, the CEO of News Corp. (h/t Bill Grueskin)
Given that Murdoch appeared in Australia just before Turnbull was dumped, it's easy to read this a possible message being delivered to the GOP that Rupert was not going to let his companies (or at least, all of them) promote or protect Trump any more.  (And as I noted last weekend, the WSJ did run an important anti-Trump article - I think after the McConnell meeting?) 

Perhaps there is a connection between the Murdoch meeting and Trump's foul weekend mood?   Did he get word of Murdoch telling his editors it's time to put pressure on Trump to go?   I hope so!

It's a wonder that the Murdoch visit didn't attract more speculation in the press along those lines - sure there were people on Twitter wondering out loud, like me,  but I'm not sure the mainstream media has touched it.

Only in Japan...No, wait - Taiwan

Taiwan grandpa catches 'em all playing Pokemon Go on 15 cell phones
A photo of him and his set up:


I wonder what eccentric interest I might indulge in after retirement.   Suggestions welcome...

Why on Earth would Morrison think being mini-Trump is a good idea?

In case you hadn't noticed, flaky PM Scott Morrison spent last week on a high profile, campaign style tour of Queensland, wore a lot of caps, tried to look as "blokey" as possible, and sounded off about Muslim community and terrorism.  All very mini-Trump in appearance (although, actually, probably putting more effort to mix with the public than Trump - who just flies into a rally and flies out again.)

And his Newpoll numbers are just getting worse - on Monday, had blown out to 55/45 TPP.

Why would Morrison think that appearing or sounding like Trump is a good idea?   He seems to have no sense of what goes over well in the Australian public.  

Social media paradox

A study in which some young folk were required to limit social media (and others weren't) showed that those that were in the "limit" group were feeling less lonely and depressed:
Each of 143 participants completed a survey to determine mood and well-being at the study's start, plus shared shots of their iPhone battery screens to offer a week's worth of baseline social-media data. Participants were then randomly assigned to a control group, which had users maintain their typical social-media behavior, or an experimental group that limited time on Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram to 10 minutes per platform per day.
For the next three weeks, participants shared iPhone battery screenshots to give the researchers weekly tallies for each individual. With those data in hand, Hunt then looked at seven outcome measures including fear of missing out, anxiety, depression, and loneliness.
"Here's the bottom line," she says. "Using less social media than you normally would leads to significant decreases in both depression and loneliness. These effects are particularly pronounced for folks who were more depressed when they came into the study."
Hunt stresses that the findings do not suggest that 18- to 22-year-olds should stop using social media altogether. In fact, she built the study as she did to stay away from what she considers an unrealistic goal. The work does, however, speak to the idea that limiting screen time on these apps couldn't hurt.
"It is a little ironic that reducing your use of social media actually makes you feel less lonely," she says. But when she digs a little deeper, the findings make sense. "Some of the existing literature on social media suggests there's an enormous amount of social comparison that happens. When you look at other people's lives, particularly on Instagram, it's easy to conclude that everyone else's life is cooler or better than yours."
It's not a huge study, and given the state of psychology at the moment, I half expect no one else will be able to replicate it!   But, I want it to be true.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Ooh...pilot sighted UFOs

I'm pretty sure it will turn out to be a misperception of a breaking up meteor or space junk, but I could be wrong...
The Irish Aviation Authority is investigating reports of bright lights and UFOs off the south-west coast of Ireland.

It began at 06:47 local time on Friday 9 November when a British Airways pilot contacted Shannon air traffic control.

She wanted to know if there were military exercises in the area because there was something "moving so fast".

The air traffic controller said there were no such exercises.

The pilot, flying from the Canadian city of Montreal to Heathrow, said there was a "very bright light" and the object had come up along the left side of the aircraft before it "rapidly veered to the north"....
The pilot said he saw "two bright lights" over to the right which climbed away at speed.

Fox News propaganda

Amazing story at WAPO:
A father of a Parkland school shooting victim appeared on “Fox & Friends” over the weekend and suggested, without evidence, that Democrats registered the accused shooter to vote from jail as part of an effort to steal Florida’s election.

“It just shows you how despicable these Democrats are that they’ll stoop that low to go into the prison, the jail, and register these criminals,” said Andrew Pollack, whose daughter Meadow was one of 17 people Nikolas Cruz allegedly shot and killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in February. “It’s never been done in 20 years.”

Citing a “tip from deputies at the jail,” Pollack said the plan failed because Broward County — which is now involved in a recount battle that could swing Florida’s Senate and gubernatorial elections — failed to send the inmates their ballots in time to vote.

“They probably shouldn’t be voting anyway,” Fox’s Katie Pavlich remarked after listening to Pollack’s accusations, which neither she nor her two co-hosts challenged at any point, although they contradicted all public evidence.

There was a kernel of truth at the heart of the segment and the spiraling social media outrage that accompanied it: Nikolas Jacob Cruz really did register to vote in July, listing his home address as the county jail where he awaits trial after police say he confessed to the mass shooting.

He registered as a Republican, which “Fox & Friends” didn’t mention.

There is nothing suspicious or mysterious about what Cruz did from his cell. In general, jail inmates are constitutionally entitled to register and vote before their trials, assuming no prior convictions or legal disqualifications. Broward County records show that in 2016 and previous elections, several inmates did exactly that from the same jail where Cruz now sits.


Funny..sort of

The Weekly Standard released the recording at the center of an article describing King’s comments after a Twitter fight with the newly reelected Iowa Republican, who had accused the magazine of lying and fabricating the story.

A poor excuse

A pretty searing take down of Trump's performance in France over the weekend by Fred Kaplan at Slate.   Interesting to see that some simply do not believe the excuse about the presidential helicopter not being able to handle flying in a moderate amount of rain.   I mean, isn't this supposed to be the way the President escapes out of Washington just before an asteroid/nuclear strike/alien attack occurs?  If it's drizzling, he has to stay in the White House bunker instead? 

Update:  Allahpundit at Hot Air also notes Trump bunked out of visiting Arlington on his return, when it was the Veterans Day holiday.   Something seems wrong...

Update 2 Jennifer Rubin lists all of the ways things are suddenly going wrong for Trump, and speculates that he's "cracking".    (I think it is obvious that the Paris trip was a PR disaster, which even his supporters recognize.)

Authoritarianism and Trump

This is a pretty good, lengthy thread from Twitter looking at explanations of why authoritarianism is appealing to some, and how it is reflected in the Trumpian politics of the US at the moment.

Update:  I am constantly amazed, when reading Catallaxy threads, at how support for Trump is tied up with over-the-top, apocalyptic pessimism about the end of the glorious rein of the West and all that is good and proper in it.    It's all about retreat (see Brexit too) into a hermetically sealed cultural, philosophical and even economic world, in which the Righteous will look after each other and - maybe - save the world from itself.    Very backwards looking, in the worst ways (they are, essentially, impervious to evidence) and even though they continually obsess about "winning" and "destroying" their perceived enemies, it's more like the cry of the vanquished that is having trouble coming to terms with reality.

Sorry, I have said this all before - perhaps I just enjoy trying to find pithier ways of putting it.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Odd bits from the end of the War

I was listening to a good radio documentary on the ABC about World War 1 and its effect on Australia.   Some things that got a brief mention that I don't recall seeing depicted in TV, movies or fiction books before:

*  the food riots in Melbourne caused by great cost of living increases during the war (and affecting food in particular).  Here's a bit I found elsewhere about that:
The cost of living issue and the associated food riots caused two months
of turmoil in Melbourne during September and October 1917. Recent work
by John Lack adds to our understanding of the significance of these riots by
tracing the reasons particular commercial establishments and places of work
were targeted and demonstrating the deep-seated, class-based resentments
about economic injustice that preceded the war and were aggravated by it.161
This embedded anger underpinned the extensive involvement of Melbourne
workers in the Great Strike of 1917, which, as a number of historians have
argued, was driven by ordinary workers, especially the unskilled at the grass
roots of the labour movement, rather than their leaders.162 While the strike
about the introduction of the Taylorist timecard system began and remained
centred in New South Wales, by early September more than 20,000 workers
in Melbourne were also affected – a third to a half of them actually on strike
or locked out and the rest stood down or on short time. The wharf labourers
were already out over the cost of bread, but now added a refusal to handle
black goods (goods handled by non-union labour) to their cause. As the
mainstay of the Victorian strike – first out and last back – they comprised
over a quarter of the state’s strikers. 
*  the impossibility of a fast return of soldiers to not only Australia, but all Allied nations.  (They said there just were not enough ships in the world to get soldiers back home within a year.)   On that topic, I see this today:
Despite the war being over, and Australian troops not constituting part of the Allied occupying force in Germany, it was to be a long time before many Australians would return home. The day after the armistice, Private A. Golding wrote:
They told us we would be another 12 months in France.
Repatriation to Australia was organised by Lieutenant General Sir John Monash, on a first come, first go basis.
While awaiting transport, some men took advantage of the opportunity to travel around France and Britain- one of the incentives for enlisting in the first place. A few hundred Australian servicemen went on to serve in Russia as part of a British force fighting Bolshevik forces. Some light horse units also helped with suppressing an Egyptian nationalist revolt in early 1919.
Had I heard about Diggers fighting Bolshevik's before?  Maybe.   Surely there would be some good material for a story there.

* that some returning soldiers jumped overboard from their ships, probably (in come cases) from the stress of the thought of having to explain to wives or family that they had contracted a venereal disease.   On that topic, I also note an article today about a book written all about the Australia experience with VD during that war:

Two of Australia's Victoria Cross recipients had been sent home with VD and at least six men on board The Wiltshire – that ship of shame – ended up being highly decorated. Initially, army regulations made it difficult for men who had committed acts of misconduct, including contracting VD, to be awarded medals but this was later retracted: around 15 per cent of the entire AIF contracted VD.
How this fits with the overall statistics amongst allied soldiers depends on who you ask. Dunbar says: "Some people like to think that Australian soldiers caught more VD than those in other combatant countries and other people say they caught less. I think it depends on the extent to which the person you are talking to upholds the myth of the heroic digger."
It would be a challenge for any writer to make an entire book on sexually transmitted diseases appeal to a wide audience, but Dunbar's sensitive probing of the human psychology and social mores involved transcends the First World War experience and is a timely reminder of the damaging effects of glossing over our human flaws.

Another late, late movie review

The Pianist, the Roman Polanski directed World War 2 movie is on Netflix, and now I've seen it.

It's a fine movie, based on the true story which Wikipedia makes it easy to compare with the screenplay.   (You know I always like looking up where such movies diverge from the real story.)

It would seem that the movie is quite close to the book, with relatively few embellishments.  

I am curious as to why the movie underplays Szpilman's suicidal thoughts while living in permanent hiding for a couple of years.   Indeed, the movie certainly offers no internal thoughts of the main character at all - which makes for a kind of realism but does make it very emotionally cool in most  respects.   Don't get me wrong - the depiction of casual cruelty by Nazis to Jews is just about as effective as that in Schindler's List - but I guess I still feel it's a pity there was no way devised to give us any of Szpilman's internal dialogue.   

The comparison with Spielberg's film is inevitable.   Of course, List is often criticised for its made up ending (in which Schindler has an emotional breakdown), and I have always felt this was fair enough (the criticism).  But even without that, it is a more emotional (and devastating) film.  Its most famous scene (the lost little red-dressed girl) was highly emotional but, importantly,  made sense of Schindler's motivation.   I presume it was an invention too, but one that worked completely convincingly, unlike the final scene with him.

So it's interesting - both films have an "issue" with emotion - just from the opposite direction.

But both are very good.  (I don't think Schindler's List will ever be beaten as the definitive film of the Holocaust, despite the issue discussed herein.)

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Melbourne and violence

Melbourne seems to be having a particularly bad run with immigrant related violence over the past few years.   It would seem that yesterday's inner city attack by a radicalised Muslim could have been much worse if explosions from gas bottles had occurred.   But then again, why was the vehicle burning like that in the first place?   Were some gas bottles opened?   In any case, when I saw the video of people filming the scene, I though to myself that there is no way I would have hung around that close to the vehicle in case there was an explosion.   Must have been worrying the police trying to catch the guy, too. 

I half-watched the Four Corners show this week on the issue of African youth gang violence, and the degree to which it is or isn't being blown out of proportion.   I feel a bit of a fence sitter on the issue:  the show was good in that it didn't shy away from personalising the story both from the perspective of victims, and of young black guys unfairly caught up in the backlash.   It's one of those cases where  you can say both that it's silly to pretend it isn't a problem but still dislike the way the Murdoch media treats it as a problem.

Anyway, I've long been curious as to why this seems to centre on Melbourne.  Some Brisbane suburbs are known for the African immigrants but as far as I know there is no significant issue with youth gangs here.   And now that I check, Sydney had nearly as many Sudanese migrants as Melbourne, at least in 2011. 

Melbourne is a great place for eating and for people with ridiculous obsession with sports;  it's now just so-so for cultural pursuits, I reckon.   But all of those things are indoors (I'm counting sitting in a stadium as indoors) and I assume of marginal interest to current African youth.   If you aren't involved in those three things during the long, grey winters of that city, I think it probably is a pretty boring place.   Sydney and Brisbane don't have the same winter grey doldrums that Melbourne has.

So yeah, I'm going out on a limb and blaming gang violence on crappy weather.  But as time goes on and younger family members get absorbed in that Melbourne Borg of the footy and cricket (God help them), it will reduce. 

Hey, it's a theory.

As I suspected...

The view that it really was a Blue wave midterm election has become more popular, as late counts increase the number of House seats going to Democrats, and likely recounts in the Senate might even reduce GOP wins.

I was also interested in the question of what the popular vote would indicate if repeated in the 2020 Presidential election, and I see that Nate Silver has done that guesstimate, with the result being a solid Democrat win.

I'm also surprised that it was the Wall Street Journal which ran with the story overnight about Trump being highly involved in arranging the payments to silence two women he had affairs with.  It's not usually the paper to do investigative stuff to harm a Republican.   Is Murdoch turning on Trump? 

Friday, November 09, 2018

The Trump personality

While the fake reason for banning the somewhat annoying Jim Acosta from the White House was nauseating (seriously, all women who defend Trump to the death make me queasy, but Sarah Huckabee Sanders deserves ignominy til the end of time), I was bit more interested in the earlier clips of a raccoon faced* Trump gloating over Republicans who didn't support him and lost.  Jimmy Kimmel ran it last night and made the correct call - "he is an absolute child, he really is".




* Isn't it telling that no one has the guts to say to him, "Seriously, Donald, the white eyed look is really noticeable today.  A more natural face looks better on TV."

Friday science

Have you noticed the lengthy New York Times magazine article on the always fascinating topic of the placebo effect?   It's really good, and I particularly liked the explanation of how it was more or less discovered as a thing when Benjamin Franklin was involved in French ordered investigations as to how Mesmerism seemed to be effective, for some.

I will extract some of that:
In a way, the placebo effect owes its poor reputation to the same man who cast aspersions on going to bed late and sleeping in. Benjamin Franklin was, in 1784, the ambassador of the fledgling United States to King Louis XVI’s court. Also in Paris at the time was a Viennese physician named Franz Anton Mesmer. Mesmer fled Vienna a few years earlier when the local medical establishment determined that his claim to have cured a young woman’s blindness by putting her into a trance was false, and that, even worse, there was something unseemly about his relationship with her. By the time he arrived in Paris and hung out his shingle, Mesmer had acquired what he lacked in Vienna: a theory to account for his ability to use trance states to heal people. There was, he claimed, a force pervading the universe called animal magnetism that could cause illness when perturbed. Conveniently enough for Mesmer, the magnetism could be perceived and de-perturbed only by him and people he had trained.
Mesmer’s method was strange, even in a day when doctors routinely prescribed bloodletting and poison to cure the common cold. A group of people complaining of maladies like fatigue, numbness, paralysis and chronic pain would gather in his office, take seats around an oak cask filled with water and grab on to metal rods immersed in the water. Mesmer would alternately chant, play a glass harmonium and wave his hands at the afflicted patients, who would twitch and cry out and sometimes even lose consciousness, whereupon they would be carried to a recovery room. Enough people reported good results that patients were continually lined up at Mesmer’s door waiting for the next session.
It was the kind of success likely to arouse envy among doctors, but more was at stake than professional turf. Mesmer’s claim that a force existed that could only be perceived and manipulated by the elect few was a direct challenge to an idea central to the Enlightenment: that the truth could be determined by anyone with senses informed by skepticism, that Scripture could be supplanted by facts and priests by a democracy of people who possessed them. So, when the complaints about Mesmer came to Louis, it was to the scientists that the king — at pains to show himself an enlightened man — turned. He appointed, among others, Lavoisier the chemist, Bailly the astronomer and Guillotin the physician to investigate Mesmer’s claims, and he installed Franklin at the head of their commission.
To the Franklin commission, the question wasn’t whether Mesmer was a fraud and his patients were dupes. Everyone could be acting in good faith, but belief alone did not prove that the magnetism was at work. To settle this question, they designed a series of trials that ruled out possible causes of the observed effects other than animal magnetism. The most likely confounding variable, they thought, was some faculty of mind that made people behave as they did under Mesmer’s ministrations. To rule this out, the panel settled upon a simple method: a blindfold. Over a period of a few months, they ran a series of experiments that tested whether people experienced the effects of animal magnetism even when they couldn’t see.
Go read it all, as it goes onto to talk about recent research indicating a molecular reason why placebos seem to work so well on some people, at least.   

Malcolm Turnbull continues to disappoint, even as an ex PM

I had something of a hope that Malcolm Turnbull would use his exit from politics to try to blow up the Liberals by stating the obvious:   there is no working with those in the party who deny climate change.   The party needs to split, as there is within it too large a rump of Right wing, American style "conservatives" who are more obsessed with trying to win back an already lost culture war, and it poisons their judgement against good and necessary policy on climate, economics, and even humanitarian issues.  (The first two because evidence is ignored in favour of conspiracy and ideology; the latter because fighting a culture war means being obsessed with strength and never admitting you have gone too far - hence punishing wannabe refugees can continue forever as far as they are concerned.)

But Malcolm on his Q&A session last night gave no hint of understanding his party that way.  Sure, he makes a good point that the electoral evidence from 3 former safe Liberal seats (now with independents) is that people are wanting Liberals to be centrist, small "l" liberals; but he just does not still seem to appreciate that the conservative wing who dumped him will continue to make it impossible to market the party as the one that he wants it to be.

"Broad church" fails when it tries to accommodate those who won't even acknowledge that a key and urgent issue such as climate change, with its broad impact on energy and economics policy, really exists.

Even Andrew Bolt seems to understand this better than Malcolm, since he has muttered about a split recently. 

So, bring on an election, and let the Liberals have their crisis in Opposition where they can do less harm.



Thursday, November 08, 2018

Election talk

Gee, it's hard to find a list of historic popular vote results for US midterm elections.   But I finally turned up this graph, which shows the popular vote swing back to the Democrats is very significant:


The other vote analysis coming out all seems to be showing the old story of the Republican's demographic problems - the party is wildly unpopular with young voters, blacks, Latino/Hispanic and Asians:
When you pile these patterns in the white vote on top of the now-familiar racial divides — CNN’s exit poll shows Democrats winning 90 percent of black voters, 69 percent of Latino voters, and 77 percent of Asian voters — you get a clear sense of what lead to last night’s results: Democrats winning big with minorities and educated whites.   
The party remains strongest with under-educated older white guys.  Way to go, Republicans...

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Triumph's return

Triumph the Insult Comic Dog is reliability funny, especially on politics:



I see that the US midterms have gone pretty much in accordance with polling - Democrats have taken the House by what looks like a pretty substantial number (even though there seems to have been considerable reservation in US media early in the count to call it a "blue wave"), but the Republicans keep the Senate.

Ted Cruz seems to have been returned by the skin of his teeth, but as someone at Nate Silver's place says, it means Beto O'Rourke might have a better run this way to go for the Presidential nomination. 

I have not seen his media performance at all, but I assume he must have some pretty strong charisma.

Watching other people fish

Somehow, on the weekend, I stumbled across a Youtube channel of Jon B, a young American guy who seems big in the world of spectator fishing.   He also recently had a trip to Australia to meet up with some local, somewhat bogan-ish, guys who do the same thing.   Amusingly (I thought) Jon flew into Sydney, then up to the Gold Coast, only to find his Australian hosts had decided to take him fishing on islands off Airlie Beach (!) a 13 hour drive away.   I have no idea why they didn't suggest he fly up there instead of having to endure the long drive on not very great Queensland highways.

I have to admit, I do find Jon B's videos enjoyable.  He's very positive, doesn't swear to any significant extent, and has an amusing line in American youth slang.   And, of course, video cameras have become so cheap, and editing so easy, that amateur Youtube travel/fishing content now looks more like David Lean or Spielberg than the Leyland Brothers.    I find his videos sort of relaxing, too.

I see that he is all of 22 years old.  He seems to have travelled widely.  I am not sure whether he manages to live off Youtube income, or just comes from a rich family.   I haven't found much biographical detail about him yet.

Anyway, good luck to him, I reckon. 

Brisbane weather

I've been meaning to talk about the local weather for, oh, 6 months or so.

The 2018 winter in Brisbane was, I think, colder than recent ones, certainly at night anyway.  It was also very dry, even though winters here usually are.   One odd result:   a distinct lack of winter weeds.  In previous years when we have had a serious bindi problem in the backyard in (if I recall correctly) early spring, we have nothing this year.   There was no mowing needed for a long, long time too.

Then, with a recent burst of rain, grass everywhere grew suddenly.

This week, as I think often occurs in November, felt like a flip of the switch into summer.   It's been hot (about 34 or 35 degrees) in Western Brisbane for about 4 days now, and humid.   No big storm activity, yet, though.

Toads have suddenly come out of hiding and into the yard at night.   Our dog's hunt for them during the day has resumed.  She has a good memory of where she saw one the night before, and as soon as she is let outside of a morning, she goes and has a good sniff around the area, acting for all the world like a bloodhound.  If she finds one, she bites or mouths it, drops it, and continues harassing it.   This can lead to frothing mouth and the risk of poisoning, but I think the theory that some dogs like the "high" that toad poison gives them has a lot going for it.

You may now resume your regular reading.


Tuesday, November 06, 2018

Run properly or else

Another horse has died at the Melbourne Cup meeting? 

Look, I think it clear that they're just not trying hard enough to be careful where they put their feet.

You can't expect a horse to understand the consequences of carelessness without a demonstration.

Therefore, I suggest that before the start of each race, when they are all at the barrier, a bit of theatre needs to be performed:  a two person pantomime horse races onto the track, feet all over the place, and stumbles and falls.   A guy in an overcoat rushes out and pulls out a fake rifle and shoots the stupid panto horse, shouting loudly all the time, like Basil Faulty attacking his car with a stick.   If that's not enough, someone can fake chainsaw the "horse" in two, and other assistants drag away the two halves by the feet.

Race track cleared, the event can begin.

You know it makes sense.

[Now that I think of it, I fear that Roy and HG may have already proposed this, many years ago.  My apologies if that's the case.]

Lee Kuan Yew's immodest proposal

Well, the South China Morning Post knows how to write an attention getting headline.   This is mentioned right at the top, but you have to get to the bottom of the article (interesting if you are into Singaporean modern political history, I guess) to find it mentioned in scant detail:
As an aside, Lee Kuan Yew was more liberal than we think. Or more practical. When the tourism sector was down, he floated the idea of allowing a nudist colony on Sentosa or an offshore island to bring them in! The younger ministers vetoed him.
I'm not sure who would want to be naked in the sweltering sun of the equator, but I guess he was open to new ventures.

Floating solar is suddenly "hot"

Hey, I started saying the stuff in this article months ago:

Floating solar is more than panels on a platform—it’s hydroelectric’s symbiont

For example:
Solar panels prevent algae growth in dammed areas, and they inhibit evaporation from occurring in hotter climates. (According to Yale's School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, major lakes in the southwestern US like Lake Mead and Lake Powell can lose more than 800,000 acre-feet of water to evaporation per year, and the adorably-described "floatovoltaics" could prevent up to 90 percent of that evaporation.") Additionally, floating solar avoids taking up space on land that is priced at a premium.
I still say it should be incorporated into the Snowy Mountains 2 project to actually power the pumps that make the scheme work like a giant battery.

Get me the Prime Minister's phone number?    Oh, he's touring the country in Trump like caps.  He's a dill.

Sordid, rubbery history

I think I knew that the vulcanization of rubber had led to cheap condoms.  I didn't realise it had another sex related product boom:
When I was teaching nineteenth-century literature and social history, I told my students to remember at least one significant date: 1844, the vulcanization of rubber. Charles Goodyear’s invention of that process went on to bring effective contraception to Britain and the United States. But I didn’t know that it was also the origin of the rubber dildo. One of the many fascinating asides in Amy Werbel’s study of Anthony Comstock, the tireless crusader against pornography in late nineteenth-century New York, is an account of the modernization of this ancient sex toy. The first rubber condoms, diaphragms and cervical caps came on the market in 1869, quickly followed by dildos in many colours and shapes; one company sold twelve versions.

Comstock – who was, on paper, a Postal Inspector like any other, charged with catching “crimes that may adversely affect or fraudulently use the US mail” – was astounded to find these “articles for self-pollution” widely advertised, as he described in his indignant and baffled report to Congress in 1872: “One concern was engaged almost wholly in this manufacture. Who were its customers?” Certainly not prostitutes or the married or the poor, he concluded; indeed the “white rubber Dildoe [sic]” was being sold for $6, a steep price in 1870, roughly equivalent to $116 today. The Grand Fancy Bijou Catalogue of the Sporting Man’s Emporium, which carried dozens of advertisements, called it a “happy and harmless” penis substitute for “reserved females”. By 1874, through his allies in the New York Police Department and the Post Office, Comstock had confiscated and destroyed thousands of dildos in a round-up of 60,300 “articles made of rubber for immoral purposes”. But, predictably, an ingenious sex industry made and marketed the products faster than he could condemn them, and writers and photographers quickly exploited their erotic, instructive and commercial possibilities.
Well, count me as surprised at the apparent number being sold.  

I've always been a bit surprised that anyone would buy one, too.  How has C20th understanding of sex changed this, I wonder?   Did they used to be around from ancient times because it was assumed the male appendage in some form was essential for female pleasure?   Has the sexual revolution meant that they are bought less now, even if more widely available?

Someone else can Google that for me, and let me know.

Monday, November 05, 2018

Lulz Cameron

It's very hard not to be amused by the sacking of Ross Cameron at Sky for using "slant eyes" in the course of a rambling defence of the Chinese.   And sacked by Paul Whittaker, who has come over from running the appallingly tabloid Daily Telegraph.   What fun.

"But the context! He was being ironic"  say some of his defenders at Catallaxy, some of whom are  are busy cancelling subscriptions to Fox.       

The trouble is, of course, that a history of buffoonery is its own worst enemy against that defence.  If you are making a show that frequently attacks political correctness, how are viewers supposed to know when they are being ironically racist. 

Someone at Catallaxy says they know that Cameron gets up early to run a business in the day, then does (or did) his Sky News garbage dump at 11pm.   They do their pathetic attempt at political entertainment live at 11 pm?   The guy's been getting by on 4 or 5 hours sleep, perhaps?   Getting sacked was probably a blessing in disguise.

Hilariously, the guy at Catallaxy who knows Cameron is trying to cast it as some sort of scary "they're coming for us" bit of thought policing:
Just remember, first they came for the SkyNews after dark commentators.
Um, yeah, sure.  Might be a tad more credible if it weren't a long time Murdoch flunky doing the sacking. 

Andrew Bolt is talking about some change or other too - dropping his show, perhaps?

I'm pretty pleased that the Fox News-ification of Sky News at night has such a terrible reputation and low ratings.   The Australian political landscape is much saner than the American due to this.

A personal ban on Netflix original movies

Google the topic "why are Netflix original movies so bad/mediocre" and you'll find much discussion along those lines.

On Saturday, despite getting a bit overdosed on Netflix haunting material lately, we watched the lengthily titled "I am the Pretty Thing that Lives in the House": a very minimalist and peculiar ghost story that doesn't just flag where it's going, but draws a diagram within the first 5 minutes and doesn't divert from it.  As a result, there is nothing of surprise (save for one bit of sudden violence), even though I expected it must have a twist ending which never came.

The movie, surprisingly, was considered very good by some reviewers:  it seemed to me (and my son) more like a complete waste of 90 minutes.  I thought it had the feel of a student project, really.   Certainly, it should have been cheap to make.   Could the lead character have any less charisma, I wonder?

Given this poor experience, I'm very inclined to not try any more Netflix original material.

Update:   speaking of hauntings, we have started to watch The Haunting of Hill House series on Netflix.  

I have not seen the original movie that it is based on,  and I gather that this series is a very divergent  modern updating of the themes in the original, rather than re-playing the story.   (Now that I think of it, rather like how the re-invented Lost in Space goes all into family drama as a major them.)

I think I will continue watching it, but I have to say, I am getting tired of certain haunted house tropes:

a.  if you wake up very scared by a sound at night, the first thing normal people do is turn on a light.    People in haunted houses would rather stare out into the dark, it seems.

b.  On the occasions they do turn on the light, it becomes clear that they have no idea about wattage strength for their light bulbs.   (Always buying ones that are about a third as bright as they would be in a normal house.) 

c.  People who are renovating haunted houses are much more interested in money than the psychological health of their children.


Taleb being ridiculed

For entertainment, you could do worse than read the perpetually angry and arrogant Nassim Taleb attracting many attacks on twitter for an initial mistake which he then doubled down on, convincing no one in the process.

As I have said before, there is something seriously wrong at a personality level with him.

Great minds going astray

I very much enjoyed this article in The Atlantic:  My Grandfather Thought He Solved a Cosmic Mystery.

The problem was, no one could understand what he was trying to explain. 


Saturday, November 03, 2018

Very satisfying

Um, it might just be that I know the young woman playing this lead last night pretty well.   She practised this a lot, and (especially when mic-ed up as she was at her school music gala last night), it sounds (I think) pretty damn impressive:


[And, as I have written before, getting drawn into the world of young musicianship - even for a musical dunce like me - makes it hard to feel pessimistic about the future not being left in good hands.   People should seek out their communities' local youth orchestras and see how optimistic their individual and joint effort can make them feel.]

Update:  In the interests of even handedness, I might also know the young man who does a sax solo during this Big Band opening last night: