Sunday, May 01, 2016

MIT needs a new writer

The Curious Link Between the Fly-By Anomaly and the “Impossible” EmDrive Thruster

What's this?  MIT Technology Review appears to have a  writer who is completely on board with the EmDrive being a real, new physics thing.

I remain deeply skeptical.  And someone in comments claims (not sure if it is right, though), that the EmDrive, if true and configured right, could generate its own power and zip around forever.  So you could build your own UFOs powered by perpetual motion, I guess.  Would be rather cool, but come on, how likely is that? 


Friday, April 29, 2016

I'll take it up when they can get it down to 45 seconds

The Case for the 1-Minute Workout Is Getting Stronger | TIME: In the latest study, published in PLOS One, exercise scientists led by Martin Gibala, chair of kinesiology at McMaster University, who has spent the last several years documenting the health benefits of interval training, found that as little as one minute of intensive exercise could have the same health benefits for the heart, respiratory fitness and muscles as 45 minutes of more typical continuous exercise over three months.

Granted, those 60 seconds have to be at a sprint-like pace, as if you’re being chased down by a tiger and fueled by adrenaline. But it’s just 60 seconds. “I think there is good evidence that shows you can see comparable benefits despite the fact that intervals require less total exercise and reduced time commitment,” says Gibala.

Stiglitz on economists

Joseph Stiglitz Talks About Inequality and the Economy - The Atlantic

Stiglitz: The prevalent ideology—when I say prevalent it’s not all economists— held that markets were basically efficient, that they were stable. You had people like Greenspan and Bernanke saying things like “markets don't generate bubbles.” They had precise models that were precisely wrong and gave them confidence in theories that led to the policies that were responsible for the crisis, and responsible for the growth in inequality. Alternative theories would have led to very different policies. For instance, the tax cut in 2001 and 2003 under President Bush. Economists that are very widely respected were cutting taxes at the top, increasing inequality in our society when what we needed was just the opposite. Most of the models used by economists ignored inequality. They pretended that macroeconomy was unaffected by inequality. I think that was totally wrong. The strange thing about the economics profession over the last 35 year is that there has been two strands: One very strongly focusing on the limitations of the market, and then another saying how wonderful markets were. Unfortunately too much attention was being paid to that second strand.

What can we do about it? We've had this very strong strand that is focused on the limitations and market imperfections. A very large fraction of the younger people, this is what they want to work on. It's very hard to persuade a young person who has seen the Great Recession, who has seen all the problems with inequality, to tell them inequality is not important and that markets are always efficient. They'd think you're crazy.

Gut microbiome research, continued

Lifestyle has a strong impact on intestinal bacteria

This study of some healthy Dutch people still concludes that having a higher diversity bunch of bugs in your gut is healthier.  Not exactly an intuitive result, compared to what people probably would have thought until recently:
This DNA analysis made it possible to examine which factors impact the diversity of the microbiome (the intestinal bacterial community unique to each of us). And that appears to be many. Wijmenga says, "You see, for example, the effect of diet in the gut." People who regularly
consume yogurt or buttermilk have a greater diversity of . Coffee and wine can increase the diversity as well, while whole milk or a high-calorie diet can decrease it.


"In total we found 60 dietary factors that influence the diversity. What these mean exactly is still hard to say," explains UMCG researcher Alexandra Zhernakova, the first author of the Science article. "But there is a good correlation between diversity and health: greater diversity is better."

Clear writing on negative gearing

How negative gearing replaced the great Australian dream and distorted the economy | Greg Jericho | Business | The Guardian

An excellent, clear bit of explanation from Greg Jericho on the investment distorting effect of our current negative gearing/CGT system in Australia.

It's pretty appalling, really, that once again, political games prevents politicians (I'm looking at you, Malcolm Turnbull) speaking honestly about an economic issue.  (It's going to do the same to him on climate change policy, too.)  This is why people become cynical about politics.  

Disturbing food

The BBC has an article up about food photographers, and it includes this example:


I'm pretty sure that I wouldn't be the only person who would be feel a tad queasy if served that dish in a restaurant.   Oh, sure, everyone with a phone would probably want to photograph it (although I personally have never done that in public), but that's not the point.

A pretty convincing analysis

The truth about gun ownership after Port Arthur - The Drum (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

One thing that interested me in this is the explanation that the increase in gun numbers in Australia in the last decade or so has not been into more households - proportionally, about the same number of households have guns.  As the author notes, this is a similar phenomena as has occurred in America.

In America, I take it as pretty convincing evidence of the paranoid streak that runs in its right wing politics (especially in the last decade or two), and reading the gun nutters who comment at Catallaxy, I find it hard to deny there is a similar strain in Australia.

Those in Australia who buy one (or want to buy one) for self protection ignore the risk to themselves and their family that having a gun in the household creates.  (Nor the fact that there's a good chance the crim's gun they are worried about had a good chance of having originally come from a legal owner.)   But then again, scratch a gun obsessed nut, and you'll have a much better than even chance of finding a climate change denier, too.   They just aren't good at understanding the big picture.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

The seriously immature Senator

Wicked Campers critics 'authoritarians disguised as hippies or feminists': Senator

Yes, it's Leyonhjelm, who says of the seriously sexist and routinely offensive Wicked Campers slogans:
"You need to be a particularly wowserish type of person to not find them funny."
Actually, Senator, you need to have a sense of humour of the kind found in immature 14 year boys, as you do, to find any of them funny.

Hot in Asia

Punishing Heat Wave Sets Records Across Asia

You really have to feel sorry for the poor people in these regions who do not have airconditioning.  This really sounds like heat that will kill:

And just how hot is it?

Titlagarh in the Indian state of Odisha sizzled at 48.5°C on April 24
— the highest reliably measured temperature for the country in any
April. Schools in Odisha were unexpectedly let out for the summer on
Tuesday. Classes will remain suspended until, at least, the third week
of July.

Cambodia saw a national all-time record high of 42.6°C set in Preah
Vihea province on April 15. That was two days after its neighbor to the
north, Laos, set its own national all-time high temperature of 42.3°C at
Seno.

Dozens of Thai weather stations have broken or tied their all-time record maximum temperatures this month.

The thermometer has been reaching 46.0°C in several towns in Myanmar,
still shy of the national record high of 47.2°C at Myinmu observed on
May 14, 2010.

A greener Earth with local droughts

Global Droughts: A Bad Year – Significant Figures by Peter Gleick

Peter Gleick lists the areas which have recently (over the past couple of years) had drought problems.

This seems to me a good thing to keep in mind when reading about the Earth becoming greener.  Not much benefit to be had if its greener (and slightly wetter) where no one's living.

Rudd chat

I haven't seen all that many episodes of The Weekly this year (I'm a bit embarrassed to admit that I have MKR to blame), but I watched it last night, and was annoyed with the clearly increased amount of swearing on it.

Look, honestly, the writing is (generally) smart, it's only on at 8.30 pm (not like 11pm or later with the routinely sweary equivalent shows - such as John Oliver's - in the US), and the use of 4 or 5 "f...s" in a half hour really doesn't make it any funnier.   Get your act together, ABC, and resist the intrusion of language we don't really want to normalise amongst your teen viewers.  (As I tell my kids, swearing is partly wrong because it's boring when people develop it as a routine tic.  And so many people do.)

Anyhow, I post here mainly to note the "Hard Chat" interview with Kevin Rudd, which was pretty funny.   But I thought Rudd looked puffy faced, tired and not very well.  I really do suspect his health may not be up to any high powered job, and why on Earth do people like him keep trying to get into positions of power when they can easily retire early and develop other interests and hobbies.  (Or do charitable works, or whatever.)

As some dimwits used to say about Hitler...(Well, they did)

I hate Donald Trump's views. But his tenacity inspires me | Michael Arceneaux | Opinion | The Guardian

Eating in the news

It's seems it's either too much or too little:

*  The BBC reports about some amazing changes in obesity rates in China:
Researchers found 17% of boys and 9% of girls under the age of 19 were obese in 2014, up from 1% for each in 1985.
The 29-year study, published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, involved nearly 28,000 students in Shandong province.
The study used a stricter cut-off of the Body Mass Index (BMI) than the World Health Organization standard.
"It is the worst explosion of childhood and adolescent obesity that I have ever seen," Joep Perk from the European Society of Cardiology told AFP news agency.
The study said China's rapid socioeconomic and nutritional transition had led to an increase in energy intake and a decrease in physical activity.
*  In Japan, in the meantime, they apparently don't so well at dealing with anorexia and eating disorders.  Culturally, I'm not sure they generally handle mental health issues all that well, but I think they are improving.  Slowly.

*  In other eating disorder news, I was surprised to read about the search for the genetic role in anorexia nervosa.  (I just hadn't really thought of genes playing much of a role in it.) 

Given that the disease (often/always?) involves people developing a persistent ill founded reaction to their own body image (merely imagining that they are overweight), and transexualism can involve a not dissimilar distress at the look of their body, I wonder if anyone has looked for a genetic component to that?

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

In praise of an add-on

I use Firefox as my preferred Windows browser.  (It's not bad in Android too, but just a little bit slower than Chrome.)

But I just have an odd urge to praise its add-on Lightshot, a screenshot addition that I use frequently in blogging, but also quite often at work.   It is just one of the handiest things to have at hand, and I really appreciate its simplicity, reliability and utility.  Thank you, its creators.

And now back to your regular programming...

Much, much bigger on the inside

It's hard not to think of the Tardis when reading a paper like this one:  On the volume inside old black holes.   It talks about the mind boggling concept of the insides of evaporating black holes being much larger than the exterior surface indicates.  The abstract reads:
Black holes that have nearly evaporated are often thought of as small objects, due to their tiny exterior area. However, the horizon bounds large spacelike hypersurfaces. A compelling geometric perspective on the evolution of the interior geometry was recently shown to be provided by a generally covariant definition of the volume inside a black hole using maximal surfaces. In this article, we expand on previous results and show that finding the maximal surfaces in an arbitrary spherically symmetric spacetime is equivalent to a 1+1 geodesic problem. We then study the effect of Hawking radiation on the volume by computing the volume of maximal surfaces inside the apparent horizon of an evaporating black hole as a function of time at infinity: while the area is shrinking, the volume of these surfaces grows monotonically with advanced time, up to when the horizon has reached Planckian dimensions. The physical relevance of these results for the information paradox and the remnant scenarios are discussed. 
And then, from within the paper itself:
A few numbers
Before closing this section, let us put the above in perspective: when a solar mass (1030 kg) black hole becomes Planckian (it needs 1055 times the actual age of the universe), it will contain volumes equivalent to 105 times our observable universe, hidden behind a Planckian area (1070 m2).


Perhaps more pertinent is to consider small primordial black holes with mass less than 1012 kg. Their initial horizon radius and volume are of the
order of the proton charge radius (1015m) and volume (1045m3) respectively. They would be in the final stages of evaporation now, hiding volumes of about one litre (109m3).
 Impressive, to put it mildly.

And as we approach the solemn occasion of the 5th anniversary of the "stagflation" warning...

The ABC reports:
Consumer prices have fallen for the first time since December 2008, with deflation of 0.2 per cent in the March quarter.
The Bureau of Statistics data show inflation was just 1.3 per cent over the past year.
Economists surveyed by Bloomberg has expected inflation for the quarter to come in at 0.2 per cent and 1.7 per cent over the year.
(One) of my earlier posts on the 2011 warning (which has proved to be about as wrong as it could possibly be) by Sinclair Davidson here

Update:   I see today that Sinclair was to be on Andrew Bolt's show on Sky News  last night.   I don't get cable TV, so I wonder whether Andrew asked him what happened to the stagflation warning that he talked about on the Bolt Report nearly 5 years ago.  

Another good question

Why So Many Smart People Aren’t Happy - The Atlantic

Here's a key paragraph from the interview:
Raghunathan: That's the plight of most people in the world, I would say. There are expectations that if you achieve some given thing, you're going to be happy. But it turns out
that's not true. And a large part of that is due to adaptation, but a large part of it also is that you see this mountain in front of you and you want to climb over it. And when you do, it turns out there are more mountains to climb.
The one thing that has really really helped me in this regard is a concept that I call “the dispassionate pursuit of passion” in the book, and basically the concept boils down to
not tethering your happiness to the achievement of outcomes. The reason why it's important to not tie happiness to outcomes is that outcomes by themselves don't really have an unambiguously positive or negative effect on your happiness. Yes, there are some outcomes—you get a terminal disease, or your child dies—that are pretty extreme, but let's
leave those out. But if you think about it, the breakup that you had with your childhood girlfriend, or you broke an arm and were in a hospital bed for two months, when they occurred, you might have felt, “Oh my goodness, this is the end of the world! I'm never going to
recover from it.” But it turns out we're very good at recovering from those, and not just that, but those very events that we thought were really extremely negative were in fact pivotal in making us grow and learn.
Everybody's got some kind of a belief about whether good things are going to happen or bad things are going to happen. There's no way to scientifically prove that one of these beliefs
is more accurate than another. But if you believe life is benign, you're going to see lots of evidence for it. If you think life is malign, you're going to see lots of evidence for it. It's kind of like a placebo effect. Given that all of these beliefs are all equally valid, why not adopt the belief that is going to be more useful to you in your life as you go along?

Ice on the way out

Citizen scientists collected rare ice data, confirm warming since industrial revolution

Interesting use of old ice formation records from two parts of the world explained here.

My Kitchen Rules wrap up

Things I learnt from watching MKR this year:

*  pasta seems to be extraordinarily "in", again.   It seemed that only a couple of episodes (and there were many, many episodes) didn't feature at least one of the team making their own pasta, using the tortuous pasta machinery that 99% of Australian households cannot be bothered with, given the range of fresh and dried pasta available everywhere.

*  smearing stuff on plates still seems to be "in", despite my hearing a restaurant food critic in Brisbane on the radio earlier this year say that it was definitely "out".  But, I guess, given that the same critic said that fine dining was generally "out" too, in favour of more casual, relaxed (and cheaper!) eating, who would know.

*  not enough people understand the magic of serving food on wood platters.  These made a disappointingly small number of appearances on the show (actually only once that I can recall now - I notice because I do tend to loudly assure whoever is watching with me that the food must be good because of that.)   What is it?   Because MacDonalds use them on their "create your own" burgers they are now too downmarket?

*  cauliflower is way "in".   One of my least favourite veges tastes pretty good as a quasi chip, apparently.  I would never have worked that one out myself.  A recent article in The Guardian also confirmed the cauli's rise.

*  never try making your own gnocchi on a food competition show.  It only ever seems to work right about half of the time.

*  no one in the universe thinks a meal of one giant meatball on pasta is a good idea:  except for that (normally more sensible and somewhat funny)  woman on MKR.

*  chefs (or at least wannabe chefs) really touch the food you're about to eat an awful lot.   I'm not sure I'd even be comfortable within my family as to the amount of direct food massaging on the plate that seemed to go on this year, but from these strangers?   I hope professional kitchens use plastic gloves more than that.

That's all I can think of for now.   Ben Pobjie's final comedy review about the show perhaps wasn't one of his strongest (like the judges, he does start to run out of steam by the end of the season), but I liked the opening paragraph:
And so it has come to this. Who would have thought, when this season of My Kitchen Rules began, that it would one day end? And yet, after sixty-eight months of intense culinary competition, laughter, tears, success, failure, drama, failure, suspense, failure, heartbreak and some more failure, we come to the 2016 MKR Grand Final, the night of nights for people whose friends once told them they were good at cooking.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

An Army too far

I was surprised recently at the cinema to see the trailer for a movie version of Dad's Army.  It certainly inspired no enthusiasm to see it: if you can't make a good trailer out of 100 minutes of material it's generally a warning about the quality of the full length version.  And it seemed very strange that they assumed audience knowledge of the characters and situation - whereas you have to be pretty much over 50, surely, to be in that category.  How many movies aiming for that demographic succeed commercially?   (Although, it is true, there does seem to be a minor industry in twee British films featuring aging characters made for an aging audience.)

In any case, reading the comments in the Guardian following Peter Bradshaw's lukewarm review lead me to this interesting aspect of the original series.  I may have read about this many years ago, but had forgotten:
The main difference of course is that many of the actors in the original series were real WW2 veterans themselves.
Most interestingly, Arnold Ridley, who played the gentle pacifist, Private Godfrey, was actually a very badly injured and highly decorated veteran of WW1 and WW2.
In WW1, as a volunteer with the Artists Rifles, he was gassed, shot, injured by shrapnel, and suffered bayonet wounds to the extent he was invalided out of the army in 1916.
In 1939, he was recalled to the colours and received a Commission, although as an officer looking after supplies in France. But circumstances thrust him into action again, and he found himself commanding one of the rear-guard elements protecting the evacuation of Boulogne. His command fought to the final minute and just made onto the last RN Destroyer in Boulogne Harbour. They sailed out under continuous by attack German dive bombers, where once again Lt Ridley was badly wounded by machine gun-fire.
He was once again invalided out of the forces, but as soon as he had recovered sufficiently, volunteered for the Home Guard, the real "Dads Army"!
John Le Mesurier, (Sergeant Wilson) commanded a Tank Squadron through North Africa and Western Europe, while other members of the cast had similar backgrounds.
 Maybe that's what Hollywood is lacking these days - ex military who are now actors.

Speaking of which, there is a long list at IMDB of actors who served in the US military.  Some are well known (Jimmy Stewart, for example), but others are new to me:   Jamie Farr (Klinger on MASH) actually did serve in Korea?  But so did Alan Alda.  Didn't know that...

And Rock Hudson served in The Philippines as a Navy aircraft mechanic?   Huh.  And for true action heroes:  Paul Newman flew as a turret gunner on torpedo bombers in the Pacific, and Don Adams was a marine who served in the Battle of Guadalcanal

Makes our modern crop of under 50 actors seem like self indulgent wimps.   



The Whitening (and the Wrinkling)

The coming Republican demographic disaster, in 1 stunning chart - The Washington Post

The demographics for the Republicans do look really bad.

A politician being a politician - but it's still annoying

Federal election 2016: Malcolm Turnbull out on a limb over negative gearing

Peter Martin illustrates well that Turnbull is being an opportunistic politician of the typical kind in his willingness to now run a scare campaign on changing negative gearing, when he used to criticise its economic effects.

Suicide in Greenland

Greenland Has The World's Highest Suicide Rate, And Teenage Boys Are Especially Vulnerable : Goats and Soda : NPR

What a great, if somewhat depressing, bit of journalism here - a lengthy consideration of the high rate of suicide in Greenland.  And even if you don't read it all, have a look at the stunning photos of a very bleak looking part of the world.

For an Australian, the similarities between the problem in that country and that in remote aboriginal communities are obvious.  Despite smaller communities supposedly having the benefits of  social connections, it seems a combination of being caught between two cultures, and the lack of opportunity that physical isolation brings, makes for a high suicide rate.

NPR investigates

How Much Money Do Uber Drivers Really Make? Send Us Your Screenshots : All Tech Considered : NPR

I'll be interested to see what they come up with.

NPR really does some good work - I must get around to adding them to my blogroll.

Missing from any Anzac Day march I've ever seen

...is anyone dressed like this:


....although I suppose if they were allowed in the march, they'd be slipping over anything resembling a banana skin on the road. 

Yes, I guess these chaps (real soldiers from World War 1 - you can read about their entertainment troupe at the Australian War Memorial blog) could give a whole new meaning to "Company clown".  

I'm tempted to try to make some pun or other about how they died - many times, on stage - but that would be inappropriate.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Lurking around

I have my doubts I should have been there, but the creaky old stairway that looked not very safe was no longer blocked off (probably due to some work being done on the weekday, by the looks), and there was no one around.   So I had a look in this roof space area that I'm not sure has ever been open to the public.  (Maybe it was when it used to be used for something else.   And I do have childhood memories of its former use.  But now that I think of it, the handrail you can see in one photo looks fancy enough that it used to be for public access.   And why put a nice big stained glass window in if it couldn't be seen by the public?  So yes, I think it probably was formerly open, but hasn't been for a long time.)

The very observant reader of this blog may know which Brisbane building I refer to.







Friday, April 22, 2016

Good Lord - Donald Trump sounding not unreasonable

Donald Trump was asked about anti-transgender bathroom bills. His answer was … correct. - Vox

No, this is not the start of any turn around in his credibility.

It's just that it's near impossible for any person to be completely wrong on every single political/cultural issue.

Not grokked

Prince Defied Conventional Notions of Race and Gender - The New York Times

He did?

Not meaning to sound mean spirited; and not meaning to detract from the sadness felt by his fans; and perhaps showing my musical and cultural ignorance to an embarrassing degree:  but I "grokked" Prince to an even lesser degree than Bowie.

Bowie in interviews could come across as a knowing performance artist who was witty and pretty normal beneath it all:  I'm not sure that Prince ever seemed to be more than an embodied performance.  (Not that there is anything necessarily wrong with that, people.  You could say that about quite a few eccentric but talented artists. And, of course, it is not as if I - or many people, it seems - knows what he was like in private.)

I should stop writing now, as it's generally not wise to be going against the popular flow so soon after an artist's death.

Good to know

Need to remember something? Better draw it, study finds

Researchers at the University of Waterloo have found that drawing pictures of information that needs to be remembered is a strong and reliable strategy to enhance memory.

We pitted against a number of other known encoding strategies, but drawing always
came out on top," said the study's lead author, Jeffrey Wammes, PhD candidate in the Department of Psychology. "We believe that the benefit arises because drawing helps to create a more cohesive trace that better integrates visual, motor and semantic information."

Extraordinary video

China dust devil lifts boy into air - BBC News

(Note:  boy not seen lifted into the air in video, but seeing the effect on the ground, the picture showing him in the air is entirely plausible.)

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Canned fish, re-visited

Last year, I wrote of my search for the nicest canned sardines (and referred readers to a much more extensive taste guide than I could manage.)  (By the way, I recently found that, oddly, the deli style shop sitting in the middle of the spanking new Pacific Fair extension on the Gold Coast had a really extensive range - including my favoured Portuguese brand - at very cheap prices.   Haven't tried the Croatian ones yet - not sure if I should.)

Since I'm trying to shed a few kg again (I now know I definitely have to do what Michael Mosley said he does - move from a 2/5 diet to a 1/7 diet if I want any hope of maintaining my lower weight,)  I'm back on the sardines for lunch kick, but I've also been trying the range of canned herring which seems to have become popular.

And I must say, I am enjoying them.  King Oscar's are fine, and even the attractively packaged Brunswick brand (which I quite disliked for sardines) has a  canned kipper in water which was quite acceptable.  I haven't tried the Aldi brand yet - I think they are from Poland, but in a can which is a bit inconveniently too much for one person.

The canned fish I never care for is the "flavoured" tuna (or salmon).   They're never terribly nice, and it just seems a way to minimise the amount of tuna in the can with cheaper filling.  But a good quality tuna in olive oil is always nice:  and it forms the basis of my daughter's favourite meal - salad nicoise, as prepared by me.  (It is one of the few dishes - very few dishes - which my children acknowledge as being better when made by their father instead of their mother.  I did win the Great Chicken Cook off last Christmas too, with my Italian baked chicken versus teriyaki baked chicken, even though my wife did not realise it was a competition.  But I digress...)

Although I haven't had it for a while, there are some cans of broiled fish in soy sauce sold in Asian supermarkets which make for a nice enough light meal on rice.  Just as with the old cans of braised steak and onions, you can heat it up by boiling the can before you open it, and just tip onto a bowl of rice.  Here it is, this brand:

Next up:  it's about time I put pen to paper about my observations of precipitation (and shovels) when I visited Yorkshire.  :)


Speaking of people who annoy me...

...I'm so glad that we now have the IPA view on Britain exiting the European Union getting an airing in our Senate via its conservative fop James Paterson.

Next up:  I expect a decent lecture on the righteous adventures of Milton Friedman in Chile. 

[All /sarc, of course.]

Irritation noted

Beyondblue anxiety mental health campaign worthless: Helen Razer

I've recently noted how annoying I find Razer's whole writing oeuvre,  which I find difficult to describe clearly.  "Tendentious anti-tendentiousness" seems to summarise this column which I don't recommend.  She has something of the quality of perpetual irritant Brendan O'Neill: writes a 100 words when 20 would do, always seems to be wanting to find something to complain about.

Little reported drought

India drought: '330 million people affected' - BBC News

Some more detail on the fairly dire sounding conditions in India at the moment to be found at this report in the Times of India.

The long term issue, is, of course, what effect climate change will have on the variability of monsoon seasons.   What's pretty certain is that India would have to be one of the most sensitive countries to climate change, and building coal powered electricity plants is not going to much help them deal with drought or floods.

Update:  here's a story about the continuing drought in parts of Africa, too.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Have the anti-circ obsessives responded yet?

Circumcision Does Not Reduce Penile Sensitivity Or Affect Sexual Pleasure Later In Life

I presume they have, but a quick Google hasn't shown up where.

Update:  haven't located the outrage yet, but I'm not looking very hard.  In the meantime, I see that Village Voice ran a story late last year on the "wacky world" (their words, but I agree with them) of foreskin restoration. 

Good question...

How on God’s Green Earth Is the B-52 Still in Service? | WIRED

From the article:
Even with the modernization, the currently flying B-52s are all about 55 years old, about the age humans start getting calls from the AARP. This is where the over-engineering comes in. “The airframe itself remains structurally sound and has many useful flying years ahead of it,” the directorate official says. “Most of the B-52 airframes are original and their longevity is a testimony to the original design engineers.” In other words, they did a killer job making a durable airplane. 
Even the flight controls—the yokes in the cockpit, the seats, the control surfaces on the wings and tail assembly, the cable linkages between them—are largely the same as they were when they were built in 1960 and 1961. Of course, inspections are frequent, and the airplanes undergo heavy maintenance inspections every 4 years, during which mechanical and structural elements may be replaced as needed, along with possible replacements of any of each sample’s eight Pratt & Whitney jet engines. But for the most part, the crews in charge today have got their hands on the same BUFFs that crews touched decades ago. In some cases, recent crew members have been sons and grandsons of previous-generation B-52 crew members.
Yep, that's the biggest surprise:  that the airframes are still good.  I presume though that they don't pull G, and I would guess that is pretty much the reason you can't expect a fighter airframe to last anything like that age.  (AFAIK).

For those who haven't experienced it

What does depression feel like? Trust me – you really don’t want to know | Tim Lott | Opinion | The Guardian

I feel that this is an important thing for people who haven't suffered very deep depression (like me) to understand.

Speaking of people with depression, or at least the serious blues:  it seems to me as someone who follows Bernard Keane's twitter feed that he's not been in a great way for some months now.  He mentioned around Valentines Day that he was single at this time  for the first time in years, so I am assuming a marriage/relationship break up? (or, I suppose, a death of a partner?); he's complained frequently about insomnia; and a tweet today sounds something like depression.  Are people who know him personally talking to him about this?   It really tends to read like a public cry for help, in many respects, so I hope someone is answering it...

Battery news

Seemingly good news on the fuel cell/battery research front:

urine powered fuel cells seem to be moving ahead.  One day, people may have a better reason to take their smart phone into the toilet with them (heh):
The research team from the University's Department of Chemical Engineering, Department of Chemistry and the Centre for Sustainable Chemical Technologies (CSCT), have worked with Queen Mary University of London and the Bristol Bioenergy Centre, to devise this new kind of microbial fuel cell that is smaller, more powerful and cheaper than other similar devices.
This novel fuel cell developed by the researchers, measures one inch squared in size and uses a carbon catalyst at the cathode which is derived from glucose and ovalbumin, a protein found in egg white. This biomass-derived catalyst is a renewable and much cheaper alternative to platinum, commonly used in other microbial fuel cells.
The researchers worked on the cell's design to maximize the power that could be generated. By increasing the cell's electrodes from 4mm to 8mm, the power output was increased tenfold. Furthermore, by stacking multiple units together, the power was proportionally increased.
Currently, a single microbial fuel cell can generate 2 Watts per cubic metre, enough to power a device such as a mobile phone. Whilst this value is not comparable with other alternative technologies such as hydrogen or solar fuel cells and other methods of bioenergy digesters, the significant advantage of this technology is its extremely cheap production cost and its use of waste as a fuel, a fuel that will never run out and does not produce harmful gasses.
The research team is now looking at ways of improving the power output of the microbial fuel cell and is confident that by optimising the design of the cell, they will be able to increase the cell's performance.
 Mind you, this type of story always seems to end up with "more research and improvements are expected", but we rarely hear of such innovative products coming onto the market.

*   New, cheap but better chemical batteries may be on the way too:
An unexpected discovery has led to a rechargeable battery that's as inexpensive as conventional car batteries, but has a much higher energy density. The new battery could become a cost-effective, environmentally friendly alternative for storing renewable energy and supporting the power grid.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Don't put your child in the pool, Mrs Worthington

What with poor old Grant Hackett being a goose again, it's really hard to imagine why parents would encourage their children to get into the world of competitive swimming, given all the turmoil that Australian ex-swimmers seem to get themselves into.  Terrible hours for the parents, too.

Road transport safety, and other complaints

OK, I'll accept that the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal's ruling about minimum rates of pay for contractor drivers may have been flawed, given that even Labor was arguing for a delay in its implementation.

However, did the Liberals really have to deny a connection between remuneration and road safety?   As this report notes, the report they relied upon was dubious at best.

The other thing that irks me about this:  libertarian, free market types who hate the idea of government imposed minimum standards on contractors' remuneration are supposed to be big on privacy and dubious of government surveillance.   Yet when it comes to ensuring contractors don't have to drive ridiculous hours because of the low charges big customers can extract from them, the only alternative they have to offer (presumably) is complete technological recording (and someone checking) the details of every single trip.   It reminds me of their attitude to street violence and alcohol:  they'd prefer to have police standing on every street corner to catch every single bit of bad public behaviour, instead of winding back licencing hours as the indirect method of achieving the same result.    They have a distinct tendency to prefer quasi authoritarian oversight of behaviour rather than a more"meta" interference with the way a business can trade.   Because:  business; we love business. 

They also tend to love the "sharing economy" apps like Uber and Airbnb.   Yet, there is concern that Uber results in drivers getting screwed, too.  And Airbnb can be a nightmare for residents in apartment blocks that have suddenly become more like apartment hotels, but without the reception area and staff to police behaviour.   And the regulatory response seems slow and inadequate.

But, hey, Business.  Money.  

Update:  clearly, I'm in a Lefty mood today, so I'll post part of First Dog on the Moon's funny cartoon today about the strange surge of Marxism panic that is appearing in the Australian Right:

Arachnophobes: do not click on the link

Hidden housemates: Australia's huge and hairy huntsman spiders

I'm no big fan of large spiders, so sorry, I'm not about to try to catch a huntman spider and put it outside as the writer suggests.  (Besides, how hard would that be?)

She also seems to have selected photos for this article which are especially guaranteed to freak out any arachnophobe who clicks on the link.

The gay fascist architect

Famed Architect Philip Johnson’s Hidden Nazi Past | Vanity Fair

It's a little hard these days imaging a gay rich American of the 1930's getting enamoured of Hitlerian fascism via Nietzsche, but as this rather fascinating article explains, it did indeed happen.  (I suppose a similar thing can be said of upper class gay English academics and communism.)  

Can't say I knew anything of the anti-Semitic conspiracy mongering of one Father Charles Edward Coughlin before I read this article, either.

This delivery of religion via media pop star has been a big thing in a America for a long time, hasn't it?  (I wrote about it in my discussion of "Anything Goes", too.)

Worrying diseases

Deadly animal prion disease appears in Europe : Nature News & Comment

So, there's been a prion disease (similar to "Mad Cow" disease) floating around part of the world's deer, elk and moose population, and now it has spread (via unknown route) to Norway.

The most worrying thing I find about the report is that the disease is spread between animals via prions in saliva, urine and faeces.  It also seems possible that the disease can arise spontaneously.

If ever a human variant got going, and it was so easily spread, it would be a truly dire problem to deal with.  Especially if prions could be spread through treated sewerage into drinking water. 

Monday, April 18, 2016

I'm going with "daughter of Luke Skywalker"

J.J. Abrams Says Rey's Parents Not In Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Then Clarifies Comments | E! Online

Re-watching Force Awakens this weekend, I'm more convinced than ever that Rey is Luke's daughter.   I would think it likely that Luke inadvertently put mother and child in danger; perhaps the mother was killed, and he decided the only way to protect his daughter was to hide.  I presume he left her in someone's care, but they got killed too?  I have to re-watch the "flashback" scene of Rey again, though...

Free advice to Malcolm

There's much talk about the polling drop in popularity of Malcolm Turnbull and the Coalition, and it seems people are suspecting that Labor might scrape in with a hung parliament.  (That seems to be as optimistic as people allow themselves to be when it's a matter of whether a first term Federal parliament can lose outright.)

It seems it's far too late for Malcolm to be able to do any of this, but here's my take on matters which clearly could have helped him, if only he would listen to me:

a.  the gay marriage plebiscite:  polling has shown that a substantial majority favour gay marriage, but quite a majority like the idea of a plebiscite too.   And I understand that - regardless of what the young and hip say,  it is a big cultural and social change, and those on the "pro" side are being panic merchants about how divisive and worrying campaign material on the "no" side could be.   The truth is, the more over-the-top any advertising against it is, the more it is likely to be counterproductive.   And the win the "pro" side is likely to get is likely to be emphatic and end any doubt about the wisdom of the government's acting on it.  The only stupid thing (and it is stupid) that Malcolm has done is talk about it being a separate plebiscite from an election.  He should just have announced it would be at the next election, whenever that would be.   Too late now, I guess. 

b. polling indicates a banking royal commission would also be popular.   It's a peculiar thing, isn't it, that the Coalition gave us two enquiries that I think didn't go over all that well with the public, because they were too obviously politically motivated.  Now the one people would accept, and they don't want to give it.   It's not likely to happen, but Malcolm would be wise to agree to a banking enquiry of somewhat limited scope.

c.  what is going on with tertiary education policy?  The disastrous surprise of the 2014 budget is going to hang over your head during an election campaign, and would have to be neutralised early.

d.  bite the bullet, Malcolm.  A modest carbon tax should be sell-able in the context of  record global warmth and climate change skepticism on its last legs, and raise revenue too.  Impossible, I know, 'til you clean out the skeptic rubbish in the party; but oddly, for unrelated reasons, it seems the skeptics (Jensen, Bronwyn) are getting the dump anyway.   Oh that's right, but countering that you have got the IPA infiltration continuing apace.  You need to attack them, to make a positive headway with the public...

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Guardian cannabis comments frenzy

Cannabis: scientists call for action amid mental health concerns | Society | The Guardian

Perhaps I was wrong the other day when I noted that The Guardian readership would be torn up in a "perfect storm" of confused allegiances when it comes to Germaine Greer and her (now) politically incorrect comments on transexualism.  Because if any article is going to drive its readers nuts, it's one like this one at the link - a  long article where experts talk about potential adverse effects of increased use of cannabis.

The comments fury does raise one interesting point, though - quite a few cannabis using readers of some age do come out in strong agreement that increased use of  "skunk" is a bad idea; lamenting that it "does their head in" with its high THC content, compared to the relatively weak levels of the cannabis they smoked in their youth.  And this is an important point that is made in the article:

The reasons for the upward trend [for teenagers getting clinical help for cannabis use] are unclear. As hard drugs fall in popularity, clinical services may simply pull in more cannabis users. But the rise in young people in treatment may be linked to skunk, a potent form of cannabis that has taken over the market and edged out the traditional, weaker resins.

Skunk and other strong forms of cannabis now dominate the illicit drugs markets in many countries. From 1999-2008, the cannabis market in England transformed from 15%-81% skunk. In 2008, skunk confiscated from the street contained on average 15% of the high-inducing substance THC (delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol), three times the level found in resin seized that year. The Home Office has not recorded cannabis potency since.

“There is no doubt that high-potency cannabis, such as skunk, causes more problems than traditional cannabis, or hash,” Murray told the Guardian. “This is the case for dependence, but especially for psychosis.”

Ian Hamilton, a mental health lecturer at the University of York, said more detailed monitoring of cannabis use is crucial to ensure that information given out is credible and useful. Most research on cannabis, particularly the major studies that have informed policy, are based on
older low-potency cannabis resin, he points out. “In effect, we have a mass population experiment going on where people are exposed to higher potency forms of cannabis, but we don’t fully understand what the short- or long-term risks are,” he said.
In Australia, it would seem we might be a bit behind the increase in THC trend, but we're close:

In Australia, a 2013 study found nearly half of the cannabis confiscated on the streets contained more than 15% THC. Prof Wayne Hall, director of the Centre for Youth Substance Abuse
Research at the University of Queensland, said that while most people can use cannabis without putting themselves at risk of psychosis, there is still a need for public education. 
 Of course, some people argue that the answer would be a legalised product, but with lower THC content.


Which raises the question: what did Colorado do about THC strength?  Not much, really.  A recent report from a pro-cannabis website notes:

A proposed ballot initiative and an amendment to a bill in the state House would cap the THC potency of recreational cannabis and marijuana products at a percentage below most of those
products’ current averages.

The initiative would limit the potency of “marijuana and marijuana products” to 15 percent or 16 percent THC.


The average potency of Colorado pot products is already higher — 17.1 percent for cannabis flower and 62.1 percent for marijuana extracts, according to a state study.
But part of the problem is that a lot of the legal cannabis market is not in leaf, but in infused products, and candy and such like.  Perhaps it was a mistake to ever allow that as part of the legal range allowed?  At least Oregon is taking that issue seriously:

Oregon public health officials are moving ahead with rules that would cap THC in marijuana edibles at half of Washington and Colorado limits, saying such a restriction is key to protecting novice consumers and children.A rules advisory committee of the Oregon Health Authority met for the last time Thursday to discuss the proposed rules, which call for limits of 5 milligrams of THC in a single serving of an edible, such as a cookie or chocolate. A package of marijuana-infused edibles may contain no more than 50 milligrams.

Anyway, it's certainly surprising to read that the legalisation process seems to have paid scant regard to this:

“All the studies that have been done on THC levels have  been done on THC levels between 2 and 8 percent,” said Conti, whose  district encompasses parts of Greenwood Village and Littleton. “Most of  the marijuana coming in now, the flowers are being rated at a THC count
of about 17 percent on average, so this is dramatically over, and we  really don’t know that we’ve gotten the true feel on the health risks  associated with that marijuana.”
All good information for other countries contemplating a legalisation path, I reckon.

Even though my preference is simply not to do it. 

Friday, April 15, 2016

I don't mean to be rude, but you're making this up as you go along

A 10-point guide to not offending transgender people - ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

Look, deliberate rudeness to transgender people is nothing to endorse or encourage, and I had a post recently criticising conservative "panic" about transgender men going into women's toilets.  (Change rooms for pre-op men - well, that's a different issue.)

But this guide to "not offending" transgender people has a few points which shows just how, um, arbitrary some of the political correctness on this issue is.

 For example:
"The best way to ask [a trans person what pronoun they use] is to say
something like, 'I'd really like to be respectful and clarify which
pronouns you use'.

"Don't say 'preferred' pronoun because then it almost sounds like a choice."
Well, if you're asking a 50 year old father of 5 who has just decided he needs to live as a woman, he has made a "choice" - to do it now.
"It's important to remember that a trans person realising or coming to
terms with their gender identity can happen at any age, at any time, in
any place," Fink says. 
 Uh huh.  The "trans community" are, I assume, big fans of transhumanism.  Their ideal world of the future will involve transferring their mind (downloaded onto a USB)  into whatever gender body suits them for any period.  They can just keep two robot bodies in the cupboard.  Or, what about the future as Arthur C Clarke saw it in one of his novels, with male and females looking similar "downstairs", as genetic modification will relocate neatly inside all the male bits which are currently too exposed for safety?


But I digress.
A common expression used in stories about trans and gender diverse people is that they were born in the wrong body.

But this is a stereotype that should be avoided, says Goldner, because not all trans people relate to that experience.

"It's not really accurate and puts an emphasis on the body when gender is
about a sense of innate self, and about a soul," Goldner says. "Unless
someone says they feel OK with [that expression], don't use it."

Grrr.  This is really testing the limits of "why should I even be polite to people who are so precious about everyone agreeing that they are the ones who set the limits as to what you can say to them."


This is starting to get a bit ridiculous, if you ask me.

Bopp and the future

[1604.04231] Time Symmetric Quantum Mechanics and Causal Classical Physics

Fritz Bopp, who I have never heard of,  from a university in a city or town I don't know, has nonetheless got a paper on arXiv that seems to have some interesting ideas (about causal structure and quantum physics); but I don't full understand them...

Update:  seems he is a physics professor, and Siegen is in Germany. (He is the son of Fritz Bopp, who also worked on quantum physics, but died in 1987.  I assume that father and son had some complicated discussions over dinner.)

Probably click bait, but still

Texting in movie theaters? Bring it on | Amber Jamieson | Opinion | The Guardian

Only last weekend, I was telling my kids as we waited for Zootopia to start that, apart from the perennial problem of people who manage to make 15 seconds of loud plastic crinkling to reach just one bit of candy (and take an hour to eat one bag thereof), my latest noticed cinema going anti-social obscenity is the person who decides to light up their mobile screen and text in the middle of a film.

And many readers of the Guardian agree.  Some funny/sarcastic responses to this column:
I hope the theaters who allow/encourage phone/other gizmo use during
film showings are confiscating all weapons at the door, cause this kind
of thing is really going to bring out that kind of thing.
and
Great idea!
Also I miss the drive in experience, so can I bring my truck into the theater as well? Oh, and I never want to see a movie without my howler monkey(s), who love to sit in the back of the pick up and "sing" during a film - people love it!
Amber you are so smart and revolutionary!

Adam has a dream

Land tax: now that really would be reform worthy of the name

A peculiar column by Adam Creighton - he has a dream, a mighty dream - that land tax reform could replace a huge slab of income tax.   Then he ends up by noting that it would be impossible to sell this to land owners.

Give up, Adam.  There are equity arguments for and against it, as with all taxes, but it just isn't going to happen.  (Well, not on the scale you want.)   And I reckon some of your predictions as to the long term effects are really just guesswork.

I can imagine him in retirement like a later day Jim Cairns, sitting in a street market corner selling his esoteric book about how everything will be fixed, if only we could have land tax replace income taxes.

Greenland's record

Scientists: Greenland ice sheet is melting freakishly early

When an April high temperature record is broken this early in the month, by this amount, (even in Fahrenheit), it is remarkable:
Greenland's capital, Nuuk, reached 62 degrees (16.6 degrees Celsius) on Monday, smashing the April record high temperature by 6.5 degrees. Inland at Kangerlussuaq, it was 64 degrees (17.8 degrees Celsius), warmer than St. Louis and San Francisco.

Langen and other scientists said this is part of a natural , but man-made climate change has worsened this. Tom Mote of the University of Georgia said had this natural event happened 20 or 30 years ago it wouldn't have been as bad as it is now because the air is
warmer overall and carries more rain that melts the ice faster.

"Things are getting more extreme and they're getting more common," said NASA ice scientist Walt Meier. "We're seeing that with Greenland and this is an indication of that."

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Caravaggio considered

Not sure that I would have put it in the attic,  but it surely would be hard to find the right spot in the house to hang the gruesome work that everyone's talking about.  I mean, look how big it is:



Perhaps in the guest's bedroom, when you really don't enjoy having guests stay over?

Anyhoo, as they say in the classics, I can't remember much about the artist, so went on a quick Google, only to find that the matter of whether he was gay or not has been a popular topic of debate since, well, since he was painting naked or semi naked youth of the male variety.  As an article at The Guardian notes:
A key figure in resurrecting Caravaggio from oblivion was the Italian art historian Roberto Longhi, whose university students included none other than the gay Marxist writer and filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini. The curly hair and lingering eyes of Caravaggio's painted youths haunt Pasolini's cinema – a beautiful angel in his film The Gospel According to Saint Matthew seems to have stepped straight out of a Caravaggio painting. His films helped to establish Caravaggio as a modern gay icon, a process completed in the 1980s by Derek Jarman's biopic Caravaggio and the Caravaggio-quoting photographs of Robert Mapplethorpe.

Recently there has been a backlash. The critic Andrew Graham-Dixon argues in his biography, Caravaggio: A Life Sacred and Profane, that no real evidence exists to prove Caravaggio was homosexual and that his apparently sensual paintings of young men are, in reality, religious allegories. For instance, Caravaggio's painting Boy with a Basket of Fruit, from which a youth looks at us woozily, his shirt artfully fallen to reveal a muscular shoulder, offering a luscious array of fruits for us to taste, is interpreted as an image of Christ's love whose apparent eroticism refers to the sacred love expressed by the Song of Solomon.
A lengthier article from 1998 goes into the debate in more academic detail, noting that these paintings are taken as evidence of his homoerotic interests:


(Actually, I'm no Robert Hughes, but is that even a good painting when it comes to the neck and shoulder area?  Doesn't seem quite right, that bone and musculature.  The fruit, on the other hand, yeah they look good.)

OK, apparently one critic takes this one as clinching the deal:


The title is Boy Bitten by a Lizard, and, I have to say, it's a pretty odd bit of art.  Apart from the bare shoulder (again), I get a bit of an unfortunate feminised Rowan Atkinson-ish vibe from that face.  The article I last linked to noted one Donald Posner wrote this:
In this painting, homosexuality is pointed to by the fact that the boy's "hands do not tense with masculine vigor in response to the attack; they remain limp in a languid show of helplessness. His facial expression suggests a womanish whimper rather than a virile shout."
Gee.  I might have just gone with the flower in the girl-ish hair.

What about his Love Conquers All, though, which modesty prevents me posting here?   Well, yes, through modern eyes, that would be one that I would think gave his inclinations away.  Yet Wikipedia urges caution:
Inevitably, much scholarly and non-scholarly ink has been spilled over the alleged eroticism of the painting. Yet the homoerotic content was perhaps not so apparent to Giustiniani’s generation as it has become today. Naked boys could be seen on any riverbank or seashore, and the eroticisation of children is very much a cultural artefact of the present-day rather than Caravaggio's. Certainly neither Giustiniani, who was not a homosexual, nor his visitors, appear to have been concerned by the question of modesty – or to have even raised it – and the story that the Marchese kept Amor hidden behind a curtain relates to his reported wish that it should be kept as a final pièce de résistance for visitors, to be seen only when the rest of the collection had been viewed – in other words, the curtain was to reveal the painting, not to hide it. (According to the historian Joachim von Sandrart, who catalogued the Giustiniani collection in the 1630s, the curtain was only installed at his urging at that time). The challenge is to see the Amor Vincit through 17th century eyes. 
Yes, I guess so.  But one has one's suspicions...

   

Hardly a priority

Can an $100 Million Investment Launch Laser-Based Space Travel?

Oh, it's all very fun, I suppose, doing research into pie in the sky stuff that has a rather useless goal.  (I haven't seen the explanation as to how a bunch of micro chip ships getting to Alpha Centuri are supposed to send back useful information, anyway.)

But really, isn't there a whole bunch of more useful local space activities as a goal?   An off planet repository for Earth life on the nearby Moon, for example?  Working out once and for all if there is useful underground water anywhere there?   A space based swarm of micro satellites that could work as an adjustable shield for global warming?   Lunar based manufacturing and launch via innovative methods (lunar elevator, mass driver?)

(I have my doubts space based solar being beamed to Earth is ever going to be practical on a large scale, so pass on that one.)

But year, why not research space stuff that's more directly useful?

An observation

It's been quite a while (4 or 5 years?) since there's been any news of interesting research results in parapsychology studies done by proper researchers.  It would seem the field has diminished in effort over the last decade or so, and regrettably, it probably suffers reputational damage from the crappy and unwatchable "ghost investigators" shows made for American cable TV.

But someone, somewhere, is still doing useful work on it, I trust? 

The cost of rapid economic growth

Counting the cost of China’s left-behind children - BBC News

Here's a problem that doesn't get much publicity - the huge number of Chinese kids who are growing up without one or both parents due to work.  

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Warming on the plateau

From the abstract of an article looking at the changing climate on the Tibetan Plateau (TP):
The TP is overall getting warmer and wetter during the past decades. Temperature is significantly increased, especially since the 1980s. The overall warming rate ranges from 0.16 to 0.67 °C decade–1 since the 1950s during different periods. The TP shows a uniform warming trend with the most significant warming in the northern part.
Sure sounds like a rapid warming rate for some parts of Tibet, then...

The Handel (sort of) scandal

Inspired by a radio announcer (ABC, of course) informing me today that it is the 275th (I think) anniversary of the first performance of Handel's "Messiah" in Dublin, I decided to Google "Handel scandal" and see what popped up.

Indeed there was a bit of associated scandal around this production.  A short summary is given in this NYT review in 2000 of a (apparently, not very good) play about the oratorio:
In 1741, Handel, then 56, was in debt and in crisis. His royal patron and ardent admirer, Queen Caroline, the wife of King George II of the House of Hanover, had died in 1737. His Italian operas were losing popularity. He was suffering from the aftermath of a partial stroke. In the summer of 1741, Charles Jennens, a wealthy squire and music connoisseur, who had written the libretto for Handel's oratorio ''Saul,'' sent him a new script. It had no characters; it simply told the story of the Messiah using biblical scripture compiled by Jennens. At first Handel was baffled by it. But when a performance opportunity arose in Dublin, he composed a score in three weeks.
All the characters in Mr. Slover's play are based on historical people, and they are quite a gallery. Susannah Cibber (performed by Mary Miller), was a singer and actress who had married the co-manager of the Drury Lane Theater to assist the flagging career of her brother, the composer Thomas Arne. She was ruined by her part in an adultery scandal, the salacious details of which were circulated in a best-selling book at the time, the Starr report of its day, as Mr. Slover has called it. The play includes quotes from the book and the trial transcript. The Dublin and London premieres of the ''Messiah'' were Cibber's comeback.
Wait a minute: three weeks?    He composed it in 3 weeks?  They don't make composers like they used to.  Let's look more into that (at Wikipedia):
The music for Messiah was completed in 24 days of swift composition. Having received Jennens's text some time after 10 July 1741, Handel began work on it on 22 August. His records show that he had completed Part I in outline by 28 August, Part II by 6 September and Part III by 12 September, followed by two days of "filling up" to produce the finished work on 14 September. The autograph score's 259 pages show some signs of haste such as blots, scratchings-out, unfilled bars and other uncorrected errors, but according to the music scholar Richard Luckett the number of errors is remarkably small in a document of this length.[26] The original manuscript for Messiah is now one of the chief highlights from the British Library's music collection.

At the end of his manuscript Handel wrote the letters "SDG"—Soli Deo Gloria, "To God alone the glory". This inscription, taken with the speed of composition, has encouraged belief in the apocryphal story that Handel wrote the music in a fervour of divine inspiration in which, as he wrote the "Hallelujah" chorus, "he saw all heaven before him".[26] Burrows points out that many of Handel's operas, of comparable length and structure to Messiah, were composed within similar timescales between theatrical seasons. The effort of writing so much music in so short a time was not unusual for Handel and his contemporaries; Handel commenced his next oratorio, Samson, within a week of finishing Messiah, and completed his draft of this new work in a month.
 I really like The Messiah, but have never read much about Handel.  There's a short but entertaining account of him and, the music scene in London in which he worked, to be found at Smithsonian.com.   Here are some of my favourite parts:
Increasingly elaborate opera productions led to rising costs due, in part, to hiring musicians and singers from Italy. "It was generally agreed Italian singers were better trained and more talented than local products," notes Christopher Hogwood, a Handel biographer and founder of the Academy of Ancient Music, the London period-instrument orchestra he directs. But beautiful voices were often accompanied by mercurial temperaments. At a 1727 opera performance, Handel's leading sopranos, Francesca Cuzzoni and Faustina Bordoni, actually came to blows onstage, with their partisans cheering them on. "Shame that two such well-bred ladies should call [each other] Bitch and Whore, should scold and fight," John Arbuthnot (1667-1735), the mathematician and satirist, wrote in a pamphlet describing the increasing hysteria of London's opera world.
As for Handel himself, it sounds like he was a mix of physical greed and generosity:
Despite his fame, Handel's inner life remains enigmatic. "We know far more about the environment in which he lived and the sort of people he knew than about his private life," Keates adds. Part of the explanation lies in the dearth of personal letters. We must rely on contradictory descriptions of Handel by admirers and detractors, whose opinions were colored by the musical rivalries of 1700s London.

Although he neither married nor was known to have had a long-lasting romantic relationship, Handel was pursued by various young women and a leading Italian soprano, Vittoria Tarquini, according to accounts by his contemporaries. Intensely loyal to friends and colleagues, he was capable of appalling temper outbursts. Because of a dispute over seating in an orchestra pit, he fought a near-fatal duel with a fellow composer and musician, Johann Mattheson, whose sword thrust was blunted by a metal button on Handel's coat. Yet the two remained close friends for years afterward. During rehearsals at a London opera house with Francesca Cuzzoni, Handel grew so infuriated by her refusal to follow his every instruction that he grabbed her by the waist and threatened to hurl her out an open window. "I know well that you are a real she-devil, but I will have you know that I am Beelzebub!" he screamed at the terrified soprano.
Handel, who grew increasingly obese over the years, certainly had an intimidating physique. "He paid more attention to [food] than is becoming to any man," wrote Handel's earliest biographer, John Mainwaring, in 1760. Artist Joseph Goupy, who designed scenery for Handel operas, complained that he was served a meager dinner at the composer's home in 1745; only afterward did he discover his host in the next room, secretly gorging on "claret and French dishes." The irate Goupy produced a caricature of Handel at an organ keyboard, his face contorted into a pig snout, surrounded by fowl, wine bottles and oysters strewn at his feet.
"He may have been mean with food, but not with money," says Keates. Amassing a fortune through his music and shrewd investments in London's burgeoning stock market, Handel donated munificently to orphans, retired musicians and the ill. (He gave his portion of his Messiah debut proceeds to a debtors' prison and hospital in Dublin.)
The picture painted of the turbulent world of opera at the time sounds like it would make a good movie or play.  Pity the one attempt the NYTimes reviewed was not good...

Someone else who only likes superhero comedies

‘Deadpool’ Isn’t the Only Solution. But ‘Batman v Superman’ Is the Problem. - The New York Times

This take on the matter of superhero movies sounds pretty right to me - except that I assume I would dislike the violence and poor language in Deadpool.

Because you weren't?

I didn’t I know I was transgender.

Reading this article of a former butch lesbian who has decided she is transgender after all does little to encourage sympathy; but that may just be me (and my new best friend Germaine - ha).

I think what really grates with me is the use of medical effort to endorse something which (in this woman's case) sounds more like a curious exercise in what it will feel like to be more manly in appearance than she already is.