Thursday, August 16, 2018

It was the 60's, man [see the last paragraph, if nothing else]

Back in 2014 I put up a post about an important physicist of the 20th century who I felt I should have known about:  Leo Szilard.   (He's credited with coming up with the idea of a nuclear reactor, as well as writing the letter that Einstein gave to Roosevelt to get the Manhattan Project going.)

I can now update that post with some amusing material about how eccentric he was:
Leo’s plan was to study engineering at the prestigious Friedrich Wilhelm University in Berlin, but engineering proved boring—“the routine application of established knowledge,” in his appraisal. At Willhelm, he attended lectures by Nobel physicist Max Planck, who sparked his interest in theoretical physics, and befriended Albert Einstein by walking him home from school. But even with Einstein’s guidance, Leo struggled to secure a job in his chosen discipline: undoubtedly brilliant, he was also, in the words of his friend Eugene Wigner, “an ass in some respects,” bored by teaching and lab work, distracted by his own quixotic ideas. Tellingly, he put the word “job” in scare quotes. By the end of the decade, he was broke, and Berlin was in crisis. On January 30th, 1933, Hitler was named Chancellor of Germany. A few months later, once Einstein secured him a last-ditch fellowship, Leo moved to London.

It was in London, on a street corner in Imperial Park, that Leo had an epiphany, motivated, characteristically, by irritation. He had just read an editorial by Ernest Rutherford declaring the Wellsian dream of atomic power a theoretical impossibility. It occurred to Leo that a nuclear chain reaction could be precipitated by the neutrons, then a recent discovery, in a “critical mass” of uranium. Vindicated, Leo filed his first patent. Five years later, he fled Nazi-occupied Europe for the United States.

In 1942, under the auspices of Roosevelt, Leo began work as Chief Physicist at the University of Chicago’s Metallurgical Lab, where the Manhattan Project was first conceived. He collaborated with Enrico Fermi to create Chicago-1, the world’s first nuclear reactor, partially devised from Leo’s 1934 patent.  Unsurprisingly, Leo was a frustrating colleague from the very beginning—a “peculiar man,” in the words of Fermi, with too many ideas and too few social graces, who “seemed to enjoy startling people.” Chiefly, he enjoyed startling “brass hats,” or the bureaucrats and government officials with whom he would be in conflict for most of his adult life.

As the Manhattan Project continued, the Met Lab came under the control of Lieutenant General Leslie R. Groves, the director of the Army Corps of Engineers and Leo’s eventual nemesis in life and death. Groves was a career soldier with a puny mustache, a pugilistic face, and a hearty American distrust of intellectuals; Leo was a Hungarian with a heavy accent, a jocular contempt for military authority, and an ecstatic, evangelizing confidence in his own ideas. The two were instant enemies, bound by a beautifully counterpoised hatred. 
You can read the article further for the conflict between Graves and Leo, but I'll skip to this paragraph about his rather unsettled life:
During the war, Leo never described himself as socialist or, for that matter, as a Jew. Instead, in a famous quip, he described himself as a Martian. Alien or not, he had always been a moony annoyance, bidden by odd, insistent habits. He didn’t marry until 1951, when he was fifty-three years old, and courted his wife, Trude, by mail over a period of decades—aware, perhaps, that he charmed in prose but chafed in person. Mostly left to his own devices, he seldom bothered with anything so terrestrial as labwork, or laundry, or living in houses. He felt most at home in hotel rooms, roosting anywhere with room service. Leo lived precariously, portably, with everything he owned—clothes, books, papers, patents—slopped into suitcases. His first real permanent address in America was in La Jolla, where he retired and where, in 1964, he died.
But here's the real reason I felt compelled to post further about him.  The article I'm quoting from deals with a book of science fiction stories Szilard wrote in the early 1960's.   Remembering that he had tried to persuade the US government to delay using the atomic bomb, the title story from his book is described thus:
...“The Voice of the Dolphins” takes place in the near future, and follows a cabal of messianic dolphins who take over the Vatican. Possessed of a frighteningly superior intelligence, the dolphins also demonstrate a preternatural understanding of nuclear warheads. To everyone’s relief, they crave only peace. They start a radio show, on which they predict the U.S.-Soviet nuclear crisis of the 1980s. They also resolve it, through a series of byzantine policy proposals. Then, under mysterious circumstances, they die, evoking either a political assassination or the death of Christ. 
 !!
 

The stupid use of "socialism"

What Paul Krugman says in this twitter thread makes perfect sense:   Republicans have been referring to the "social safety net" of other (typically European) countries as "socialism" for years.   [He doesn't go this far back, but what about that old Ronald Reagan ad from 1961 in which he was paid to warn about "socialised medicine" as the beginning of a slippery slope:  "pretty soon your son won't decide when he's in school, where he will go or what he will do for a living. He will wait for the government to tell him."]

The thing is, of course, that for a lot of Americans, the conditions in many European countries actually do look really good compared to the problems of life at home.  As Paul says (he's just returned from Denmark):


Yes:  the ridiculous hand wringing from the Right over some Americans saying that "socialism" doesn't look bad at all is pretty much all due to the ridiculously exaggerated use of the word by Republicans themselves over many decades.  

Save the oyster

I don't eat that many oysters anymore - the general cost of most wild caught seafood has escalated so much that the good quality fish shops where I used to buy them have closed in the shopping malls of my part of Brisbane, and the supermarket fish counters don't routinely have them.   But I do prefer the Sydney rock oyster over the Pacific if I have a choice. 

Anyway, some bad news in The Guardian about ocean acidification (both from soil run off and the ocean's general increasing acidification) is apparently making Sydney Rock oysters smaller (they were already small enough) and fewer.  

I have posted before about oysters being affected by ocean acidification, including in 2014 in which I noted that research that indicated that the variety could adapt to increasing acidification.   I expressed a bit of skepticism about that at the time, and it looks like that may have been well justified.

Something to worry about

An opinion piece at the New York Times:

Worried About Turkey’s Economic Problems? China’s Could Be Worse 

Back to Nazis as Leftists

My dedicated reader Homer pointed out to my other dedicated reader Jason in comments recently an anonymous economics blogger pseudoerasmus who had some lengthy posts a couple of years back about how the Nazis are not appropriately, retrospectively, classified as Leftists.  

I've read the posts now - they are pretty good.

First one is here.   Follow up one is here.

The thing is, this "Nazis were really Leftists" argument was never tried until US conservative political thought started going off the rails over the last couple of decades and turned into the basket case it is now.   That alone should cause hesitation. 

A serious, underestimated, problem with climate change

From the Washington Post:

How climate change is making ‘red tide’ algal blooms even worse 

Once again I ask:  how did economists trying to model the economic effects of climate change factor this into their calculations?  

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Energy storage by batteries - or compressed air?

I've been thinking about renewable energy storage using compressed air.  As you do.

I started looking at the topic because of a recent article in the normally techno optimist MIT Technology Review which talks about the limited role, due to expense, that massive lithium ion battery banks can play in providing large scale grid storage.   Sure, they have their place in providing short term power when needed - as in the South Australian Tesla battery case - and the article doesn't argue against their effectiveness in that role.  But it argues that for very large scale storage as you increase renewable energy generation, they are just going to be too expensive.

(It doesn't talk about the benefits of household lithium ion batteries, but that is a different issue, even if important in its own right.)

Bill Gates and many others are looking into alternative forms of grid batteries, and we hear of potential new flow batteries and such like, but it seems that there is some way to go in terms of cost.

Which made me think - how is the idea of compressed air storage holding up?

There seem to be various companies promoting their ideas for compressed air energy storage, but the fundamental issue appears to be - where to store the air?   Many companies are suggesting underground storage, perhaps in salt caverns or former natural gas wells.   But this seems a pretty limiting idea as far as siting is concerned.

However, one idea from Canada by a company called Hydrostor has caught my eye as a clever proposal:  store compressed air in deep enough water in bladders that take advantage of the surrounding water pressure:
The concept is simple enough: When the energy bag is anchored underwater—at least 25 meters deep and ideally 100 meters or more—the weight of the water naturally pressurizes the air, allowing more air, and thus energy, to be stored in a given volume. (The pressure increases roughly 1 atmosphere, or about 100,000 pascals, every 10 meters.) At depths greater than 500 meters, says Garvey, “the cost of the containment becomes negligible compared with the costs of the power-conversion machinery.”

In the Toronto system, the bags (or “flexible accumulators,” as Hydrostor calls them) will be deployed at a depth of 80 meters, and they should be able to supply about a megawatt of electricity for 3 hours or so. The company will also be testing fixed-wall accumulators, in which the compressed air will displace water inside the vessel. “This is the smallest size we would contemplate,” says VanWalleghem. A more typical capacity, he says, would be 20 to 30 megawatts that can be discharged over 10 to 20 hours. Eventually, the company will aim for an efficiency of about 60 to 70 percent. The technology easily scales up, he adds. “We just make the air cavity bigger, so there really is no upper limit.” By year’s end, the company plans to build a bigger and deeper underwater energy storage facility in Aruba.
In an interview, the President of the company goes into more detail about the depth at which this should work best (my bold):
Cameron Lewis: We have an interesting twist on it because we do underwater CAES. For the roundtrip that we do, we’ll take electricity and run it through a specialised compressor, and we capture and store the heat generated out of that compression. We’ll add that back in later and increase our efficiency. So we store the heat and then the air is sent underwater to depths of 80m, 100m, 200m and put into flexible accumulators. You could say that they look an awful lot like a hot air balloon – the balloon will expand and hold the air there. So just like traditional underground fixed-wall caverns do, we store the air at pressure, but the pressure is a result of the depth. Now, when we reverse the flow, the accumulator will collapse and it will push the air back to the surface at pressure, and we will then add back in the heat that we’ve stored. We then run it back through a generator and put the power back into the grid. We get about a 70% roundtrip efficiency on this, but without needing to use natural gas and with several benefits. You’re dealing with an underwater environment so it can be a bit tricky at depths like that, but the advantage is that you get a very low cost cavern in which to store the air. The other advantage is that unlike a fixed-wall cavern, you get out every drop of energy that you put in, because it’s not a ramp up power curve.

Matthew Wright: So is the material for the accumulator – a buoyant bag, or whatever – something special that needs to be able to handle pressure or is it just the water pressure that’s holding all the air in?

Cameron Lewis: It’s the water that’s doing it. When we pump the air down, it’s at the same pressure that you would find hydrostatically that you’re at. When you look at the fabric that the accumulator is made of, it doesn’t hold much pressure at all – maybe one or two psi.

Matthew Wright: I noted that on your website you’re talking about an example that’s at a depth of around 80m, I think that’s about 1 atm per 10 m. What is the minimum depth at which you can operate? Some of the bays around cities in Australia are not that deep.

Cameron Lewis: The minimum is about 60m, but the range is roughly between 60-500m in depth. In this case, what depth really affects is the cost. The deeper you go, the cheaper it becomes. The reason is that you hold more power per cubic meter at a higher pressure at a greater depth than you do at a lower depth. At a lower depth, you’ll need many more cubic meters to hold the same amount of energy as you do at a greater depth.
Well, there's a problem - how far off, say, Brisbane or Sydney do you need to go to get to water more than 60 m deep?   Let me Google that for you.  The images below from this website show depth contours of 20, 40, and 100 m:



It would seem that for both of these cities, there are points of land where it would be under 10 km to get to 100 m depth (and of course it would be less if working at 80 m).

I wonder - does having a compressed air pipe 10 km long possibly work, or introduce its own inefficiencies?   I don't know the answer to that, but it is the only way it would work unless you get wind turbines out to sea at such distance - which then has the issue of getting the power back to land across 10 km.  :(    (Incidentally, I see there is talk of using floating wind turbines that don't need to sunk into the sea bed, and could work out to sea scores of km from land.  But to use the benefit of compressed air storage, you need a regular turbine too.)

Anyway, apart from getting your spare renewable energy from wind turbines, there is always solar, as long as it is coastal.

It's not as simple as I would like, but still,  the idea of using water pressure to do a lot of the work is clever.  We just need deeper water nearby...


Took too long

The ABC will not renew the terrible, terrible Tonightly with Tom Ballard

Not a moment too soon.   It was awful in all respects, from the host to the very concept that they could produce quality, news based comedy material 4 or 5 nights a week without a big team of writers.  

And besides, I can't stand Tom Ballard.   Did I mention that? 

Blair & Bolt call for Jihad - on Malcolm Turnbull

Gee, Tim Blair is upset that Malcolm Turnbull looks like getting his way on an energy plan which no one (including me) seems to understand anyway - and for which the matrix of support makes it very hard to know who's right.  

I mean - Blair and Bolt hate it, and their nonsense climate change denialism would indicate that it's probably therefore a worthwhile plan;  but Bernard Keane and John Quiggin seem to think it entrenches a pretty carbon emissions friendly scheme that should be opposed - and seeing big emissions companies like BlueScope  are supporting it, that makes me suspect the K & Q view is right.

So maybe it is a bad plan for the opposite reasons that Blair and Bolt maintain.  Although, I thought this morning on Radio National that Keane seemed less uptight about it than he does no Twitter - calling it a plan which doesn't achieve much.  And then I have to work out what Bill Shorten and Labor really think about it - is their support just for cynical "clear this issue off the decks so it's not a liability for us at the election" reasons, or do they think there is scope to fiddle with the details to achieve a good outcome.

It is all very unclear...

Anyway, Blair makes the big rallying call:
This is idiotic. Australians are already paying insane power bills in a nation rich with coal and other electricity-generating resources. Signing into law a 26 per cent cut on 2005 emissions levels by 2030 would only be achievable by erasing more than a quarter of our economy.

Shrieking about “the future of the planet” and complaining that “the people that are opposing me within the party do not believe in climate change at all”, Turnbull was turfed by enormous numbers of Liberal voters who contacted their local Liberal branches and representatives.

An identical situation now demands an identical response.
 Yeah, sure.   Back to Abbott, is it?   Surely even they have their reservations about that.

Who, in the scintillating firmament of climate change denying Coalition politicians do they think has any credibility and popular appeal?   Tell me, dimwits.  

The sinking city

I saw on TV last Christmas a report about the terrible problems with the potable water supply of Jakarta, but it didn't mention another water related problem for the city:   it has a massive subsidence problem.  From the BBC:
It sits on swampy land, the Java Sea lapping against it, and 13 rivers running through it. So it shouldn't be a surprise that flooding is frequent in Jakarta and, according to experts, it is getting worse. But it's not just about freak floods, this massive city is literally disappearing into the ground. 

"The potential for Jakarta to be submerged isn't a laughing matter," says Heri Andreas, who has studied Jakarta's land subsidence for the past 20 years at the Bandung Institute of Technology.

"If we look at our models, by 2050 about 95% of North Jakarta will be submerged."

It's already happening - North Jakarta has sunk 2.5m in 10 years and is continuing to sink by as much as 25cm a year in some parts, which is more than double the global average for coastal megacities.
Jakarta is sinking by an average of 1-15cm a year and almost half the city now sits below sea level.
Gosh.

Monday, August 13, 2018

My 12 Rules

I was very amused by Kitty Flanagan's own version of "12 Rules for Life" as appeared on The Weekly last week:



In fact, I had been thinking of trying to compile my own list of 12 Rules, but I keep stumbling after "Always carry a clean, ironed handkerchief in your pocket.  Always". 

Oh alright - I have thought of another one:  "Never buy into timeshare.  Never."

But beyond that?   Well, there are potentially controversial ones to do with sex and relationships, but they are a bit serious and not in the tone of this post.  Some other time. 

A completely normal presidency

She may be a nut herself, but this story from Manigault has an air of "this is too weird to be an invention" about it:

Trump Chewed—and Swallowed—a Piece of Paper

Manigault Newman claims she took Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen, into the Oval Office in early 2017 and saw the president eating a piece of paper. “I saw him put a note in his mouth,” she writes. “Since Trump was ever the germaphobe, I was shocked he appeared to be chewing and swallowing the paper. It must have been something very, very sensitive.”
 Axios explains, hilariously, that she did very little in the job, but had everyone running scared of her:
What they're saying:
  • "I'm scared shitless of her... She's a physically intimidating presence," a male former colleague of Omarosa's told me. (He wouldn't let me use a more precise description of his former White House role because he admitted he's still scared of retribution from Omarosa. Other senior officials have admitted the same to me.)
  • "I never said no to her," the source added. "Anything she wanted, 'Yes, brilliant.' I'm afraid of her. I'm afraid of getting my ass kicked."
  • Three other former officials shared that sentiment: “One hundred percent, everyone was scared of her,” said another former official.
The big picture: Trump has nobody to blame but himself for Omarosa's raucous book tour, in which she calls him a racist and a misogynist, and says he's in mental decline. Trump brought her into the White House at the senior-most level with the top salary.In many ways, two former senior administration officials pointed out, what Omarosa is doing now is pure Trump.

A thorough Dinesh D'Souza takedown

Gee, David Frum gives a good history of D'Souza's decline in this piece at The Atlantic.    He includes a link to historian Kevin Kruse, who uses his twitter feed to set out very detailed corrections to D'Souza's ridiculously inaccurate historical claims.

It would seem that D'Souza is largely behind one of the most successful wingnut memes (at least, in the minds of bubble world wingnuts) about the Nazi Party being really Left wing and a forerunner to today's Democrats.    I find the popularity of that one particularly hard to credit, but as Greg Jericho said last weekend,  denial of climate change has become a "crossing the Rubicon"  for wingnut conservatives into the world where anything is believable, as long as it is told to them by a member of their own tribe.  (The tribe that gaslite themselves, using the modern technology that was meant to open people's minds, but has had the opposite effect for so many.)

I liked this part of Frum's article in particular:
There is obviously much for a conservative to criticize in the Obama record at home and abroad. Unlike Bill Clinton, who in many ways ratified the legacy of Ronald Reagan, Obama repudiated it. Yet an annoying thing for those who disliked Obama’s politics: He is at the same time a genuinely high-quality personality—intelligent, considerate, dignified, and self-disciplined. Those who hated him were deprived of any rational basis to despise him. Lacking a rational basis, they reverted to irrationality instead.

Which is how the Dinesh D’Souza who in 1995 proclaimed “the end of racism” in America could react to a humorous 2015 photograph of Obama playing with a selfie stick: “YOU CAN TAKE THE BOY OUT OF THE GHETTO … Watch this vulgar man show his stuff, while America cowers in embarrassment.”   

Even as D’Souza published books attributing all American racism to “the Democrats,” his own writing seemed gripped by an ever less controlled and concealed racial animus.



Pants

If I ruled the world, there are certain things about the design of business trousers I would legislate for:

a.  having decided on a certain cut, the manufacturer must maintain it for a minimum of 3 years.  If I decide a pair of trousers are nice and comfortable, and they seem long wearing, I don't want to go back and try buying the same trousers in the same size 6 months later and find they do not fit so well.   Especially if I have actually lost a bit of weight since I bought the first pair.  :(

b.  no matter the width of the leg below the knee, the cut above the knee must allow for the insertion of a wallet in one pocket, and keys in the other, without causing undue tightness in the leg and an obvious outline of said wallet and keys to appear and disrupt the look;

c.  pocket material must be particularly strong to resist the wear of keys within them.  There is nothing worse than having a perfectly fine pair of trousers develop a hole in a pocket that makes you have to reverse the customary sides you keep your wallet and keys in;

d.  must be machine washable.  None of this "dry clean only" malarkey;

e.  some natural fibres must be incorporated.   No one should wear purely synthetic fibres - I'm pretty sure God was trying to pass that message on in Old Testament but it got a bit muddled up when the audience didn't follow what "synthetic" meant;

f.  coin pockets on the right hand side are still required, for now.  They can be abandoned in another 5 years;

Authoritarians used to fuss about clothes (Hitler, Mao - I think);  what's the use of modern day ones like Trump if he can't deal with these fashion problems?


Sunday, August 12, 2018

Back to the Apocalypse

I saw Apocalypse Now back in the cinema in 1979, and felt a bit so-so about it.  Last night, I re-watched it for the first time, but this version (on Netflix) is Apocalypse Now Redux - essentially an extended director's cut version that I didn't remember had come out in 2001.  It runs for an extra 49 minutes (!)   Wikipedia talks about it here.

I can give myself a pat on the back for having identified while watching it the key additional sequences even though it's been nearly 30 40 (!) years since viewing the original.   But what did I think of it overall?:

*  Of the additional material, I think only bit one really works - the surfboard theft. 

*  There seems to be much more pondering by Willard (Martin Sheen) on the boat about Kurtz's career, and that's OK, except it all seems a bit wasted by the time Kurtz turns up, as I don't think the problematic final section of the film has much added to it.  (See more below.) 

*  The French plantation sequence is absolutely awful:  it kills the momentum stone cold, and has a cheesy romantic interlude accompanied by awful music and no emotion.   It's incredible to think that that Coppola  even thought it played well on paper - but then again, the movie was driving him nuts, so his judgement was probably way out at the time.   Even so, why put it back in now?   I suppose it's interesting, to see what makes the cut and what doesn't in a final release, but it's a curious thing to throw in additional parts which I feel pretty sure the vast majority of people will say were always best left on the cutting room floor.

*  As for the other extended sequence - involving the boatcrew finding the Playmates who had been in the surreal concert in the jungle in a marooned camp (and having their way with them - sort of) feels very wrong for other reasons.   As my son (now 18) said "it's a bit rape-y", and indeed it feels that way;  but what's more, Willard setting it up doesn't seem to make sense with the rest of his character in the movie.   That the Playmates appear to have gone nuts plays into the whole "madness increasing the further up-river we go" theme of the film, but it still feels very ill conceived and inappropriate. 

*  In hindsight, the early helicopter attack scenes play more impressively than ever, for their no-CGI realism  - my son noted that too.  I kept thinking about how dangerous so much of it looked, with helicopters continually landing so close to actors, and with Vic Morrow's death via Hollywood chopper in 1982 now in mind too.

*  But overall, nothing changed my opinion about the movie's ultimate failure:  the lack of insight into Kurtz's mind once Willard finally locates him.   Where there should be more clarity about his madness - or ironic lack thereof - and what he thinks he's now doing, there's just mumbo jumbo in the dark, and a bit of shock value and a faux attempt at depth involving a poor cow.  The film's most obvious possible interpretation, that Kurtz is really no madder than the insanity of the war, or other military leaders in it, has never felt satisfactory to me in the absence of an explanation of what's going on with all of the killing within his jungle hideout.     

Reading about the original version on Wikipedia, I see that it seems to have increased in critical reputation since it was released.   But, even ignoring the new sequences, I don't retract my original opinion that it's  about 3/4 of a great movie that threw it all away in the last act.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Let me bore you with another dream jumble

One of those dream jumbles seemed particularly lengthy last night, and I could work out the inspiration for the part about my involvement in an artificial flood in an area around the Vatican which had something to do with recovering something in a house that was part of a deceased estate.  [I won't bother explaining here.]

What I had a lot more trouble figuring out was why in another part of the same dream sequence, I was outside loading an old 303 style bolt action, single shot rifle with Nespresso coffee pods instead of bullets, and trying to shoot rabbits that way.   [The gun still went "bang", but, unsurprisingly in retrospect, was very ineffective at killing the targetted rabbits.  I did finally realise this during the dream.]   Someone behind me then suggested that it was Tim Blair's gun, and it was a bit dangerous (ie, bad for the gun) to be using coffee pods as ammunition.  I realized I had used nearly all the pods in the box, and thought I had better buy some more so that Blair wouldn't realise I had been doing this with his gun.

Now I do see Nespresso coffee pods every day at work, and check Blair's blog to annoy myself regularly.    But the bolt action rifle and rabbit shooting?

Wait - I did see a rabbit briefly on a Youtube video yesterday.

I'm down to tracking down the bolt action rifle, I suppose...

Update:   could the bolt action gun be somehow connected to my daily dismay at reading Andrew Bolt!  Heh.

Rich and thick (Part 2)

When I search back over some of my past posts on Peter Thiel, I see that my opinion of him has steadily grown worse.  

Now, Jason Soon has linked to a "fascinating" interview with him from German publication (the date is not clear.)   I'll say it's fascinating - for once again showing that being rich involves no necessary alignment with wisdom and good judgement.   It provides plenty of ammunition for further downgrading my  opinion of him.  Take this:
My support for Donald Trump was, on some level, the least contrarian thing I have ever done. If it is half the country, it cannot be that contrarian. And yet, in the Silicon Valley context it has felt extraordinarily contrarian.
What it is contrary to is good common sense.   But look, he seems to have been caught up in the whole "we're on a path to national dis-ast-er!" utter bullshit wingnut assessment of the state of the US under Obama:
At some point, you described that the last presidential election felt like an apocalyptic battle. What exactly did you feel was at stake?
There are these essays by a person called Michael Anton. They are all written pseudonymously because he felt it was too dangerous to write names. One of them was titled “The Flight 93 Election”. Flight 93 was one of the four flights that was hijacked after 9/11 but it was the one where the passengers took over, they charged the cockpit – plane still crashed. And it was like that it felt that the country had been taken over and it was on a catastrophic trajectory, that people were going to try to charge the cockpit. It didn’t mean that they would be able to ride the plane or the ship or whatever the metaphor is, but “we’re gonna try”. So I do think that “The Flight 93 Election” is a powerful metaphor and, emotionally, that certainly resonated with me.
Well, that's nice.  Sees himself as one of the plucky, concerned public who felt compelled to seize control of a government of malevolent forces determined to take everyone down with them?   (And failed anyway.)   Look, this is genuinely moronic fantasy land stuff. 

He expands upon it further (my bold):
What is the explanatory power of this metaphor?
It is this very deep sense that the United States – the western world as a whole – are not progressing in the direction they should. We have a center-left establishment in both Western Europe and the US that mainly glosses over all the short- and long-term problems in our societies. And if something is not done, at some point it becomes too late to fix things. And the hour was very late.
 This is freaking ludicrous in light of Trump and the Wingnut Right absolutely denying the more world threatening and disruptive global issue of the 21st century - climate change!

I have noted in an earlier post that Thiel seems not overly perturbed about it as an issue (he said he didn't think he was an extreme skeptic, but left open the extend of his skepticism) - even though he apparently is spending some of his fortune on some clean energy research.  He may have grounds for arguing that the Left gives the issue more lip service than effective policy - but you cannot in any way conceive that the Trump led wingnut Right is addressing the issue at all.   They are denying it against science and the evidence in front of their noses.

As for what he thinks is good about Trump:
You were on Donald Trump’s transition team. In which respect is he different than everybody else you’ve met before?
I think it is his extraordinary ability to understand people.
Oh please.   Trump's narcissism means he "understands" and praises everyone who praises him.  Otherwise, it's all ridiculing former POWs for not being brave, mocking a journalist with a disability, making up childish nicknames for opponents, and vilifying immigrants.   And Thiel is in Trump's good books for being a rich tech person who doesn't find him creepy and dumb.    Of course Thiel will think he'd great at "understanding people".

As for his views on tariffs and Trump, I'm not sure that this bit really makes sense:
Another issue that is debated very controversially is Trump’s trade policy. People are shocked by his imposition of tariffs.
At the center of this is the question with China. The US exports something like 100 bn a year to China, we import 475 bn. What’s extraordinary, is that if we had a globalizing world, we would actually expect the reverse to hold: you would expect the US to have trade surpluses with China and current account surpluses because we would expect that there is a higher return in China because it is a faster growing country than the US. This is what it looked, let’s say, in 1900, when Great Britain had a trade surplus of 2 percent and a current account surplus of 4 percent of GDP. And the extra capital was invested in Argentinean railroads or Russian bonds.
He then goes to make other great observations, such as:
If you didn’t have a welfare state and someone wants to stay at home and play video games all day, maybe we should not make judgements about that. But if you have a big welfare state and people do that, maybe you have to do something to correct that. We live in a world where there is too much welfare and where work is undervalued. 
 Gotta treat people mean to keep them keen, hey billionaire Pete?   This is just a tabloid wingnut vision of welfare. 

I see that he's spoken about Asperger's not being a bad thing in business, but has he said he thinks he's on the scale himself?   Because I seriously doubt his emotional (and rational) judgement.

So that's what social modernisation looks like in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia Rejects Human-Rights Criticism, Then Crucifies Someone

(It's not exactly the same as Biblical crucifixion, but possibly more gruesome for the onlooker.) 

What is going on in Rupert's decrepit head?

While people who have worked with him say that Rupert Murdoch isn't so blatant as to ring up his media underlings and tell them outright what editorial line he wants them to run, it also seems clear that  in more subtle ways he gives the nod to certain positions being taken.  Otherwise, we wouldn't have the spectacle of Fox, Sky News and the Australian print media all suddenly running with "immigration and multiculturalism will be the death of us!" as per Pauline Hanson, 1996.

The latest example from Fox is being much tweeted about:
“In some parts of the country it does seem like the America we know and love doesn’t exist anymore. Massive demographic changes have been foisted upon the American people. And they’re changes that none of us ever voted for and most of us don’t like,” Laura Ingraham said Wednesday night on her Fox News show. “From Virginia to California, we see stark examples of how radically, in some ways, the country has changed. In some ways, much of this is related to illegal, and in some cases, legal immigration that progressives love.”
I had the impression that Murdoch was generally supposed to be "classic liberal" and tend towards a libertarian approach to matters such as immigration.    As such, I've complained for years that it must massive, money making cynicism which justified his backing of obnoxious Trumpism on Fox News - he's not a redneck but he's happy to pander to their prejudices and gullibility and take their money.

And he's decided that this can extend to a fake immigration and culture panic?  I can only presume so.

How long is his influence going to go on?   I mean, we were recently greeted in the press with this photo, indicating that the body (not to mention the mind) is not doing so great:


Which, I have to say, reminded me of this:


But seriously, where's the humanity in his judgement in what he's letting go on in his media?

I predict that watching his empire mourn his passing, as well as the IPA circle who worship money above all else, will be very nauseating. 

Thursday, August 09, 2018

The Entertainer, part whatever

This is the sort of paranoia that Andrew Bolt and the Murdoch media has recently decided, for whatever reason, to play up to.  Oh, and congratulations to Sinclair Davidson too for hosting a blog where Hansonite levels of racial and cultural insult are always welcome:


A lucky escape

I see that there was flash flooding in Toronto yesterday.   Not sure if it was a storm with rainfall of record intensity.  (I see that reports say 72mm fell in two hours, but the record daily rainfall is more like 97mm;  so it depends on how quickly the 97mm fell, I suppose.)

Anyway, two guys in the city had a very lucky escape from a situation you wouldn't think should happen in a modern building:
The Black Creek had certainly risen before, and the basement parking lot at 501 Alliance Ave., which backs onto the winding waterway, could flood.

Late Tuesday night, as Toronto saw a massive, rapid dump of rain, those left working at the eco-friendly commercial building were warned to check on their parked vehicles....

Freire, 34, and Gabriel Otrin, 27, an industrial designer working with Freire, decided to check on the Honda. They hopped into one of two elevators and rode down the top of the four-floor, loft-style building to the underground lot.

The elevator did not come to its usual stop. Rather, it splash landed, with a “whoosh.” And then began to fill with murky water....

There was a ceiling escape hatch that was apparently sealed shut. One mobile phone, with next to no service. An emergency alarm and intercom that proved useless, particularly once the water rose to that level. And two Toronto police officers, first to arrive, who plunged into water and managed to pry open the elevator doors, while the two trapped men stood on handrails and sucked air from about 30 centimetres of air between the elevator ceiling and their necks.
 

More greatest hits from Sinclair Davidson

The child abuse enquiry:

 The banking royal commission:

But an enquiry into Union governance, well that's all quite exciting isn't it, and here, everyone should watch:


Need I state the obvious:  the first two royal commissions have produced remarkable evidence of wrongdoing of great public interest and policy importance.  It would be hard to find any commentator in the land who thinks they have been a waste of time.   The last one - produced a string of failed prosecutions and is widely considered a dud.

He knows how to pick them.  [Sarcasm, of course.]

More reason to be highly dubious of climate change geoengineering

It's taken a long time for someone to think of this issue:  what effect would long term spraying of sulphate aerosols into the atmosphere as a climate moderating geoengineering attempt have on crops?

Looking at the examples of two volcanos, some scientists say that the decrease in sunlight hurts crop yields significantly, and in fact likely off setting the temperature moderating effects:  
Specifically, the research team examined what happened to maize, soy, rice, and wheat yields in the wake of the Mount Pinatubo and El Chichón eruptions in the years following their eruptions until the volcanic aerosols dissipated. They chose these plants because they are highly sensitive to light and temperature, so eruptions can have a big impact on their yields. The crops are also staples for billions of people — important if you want to estimate the potential societal consequences of geoengineering.

They found that the eruptions reduced the amount of direct sunlight hitting the earth but increased the amount of diffuse light. This led to a decline in edible yields from the crops they studied. Global average maize yields declined by 9.3 percent and the harvests of soy, rice, and wheat fell by 4.8 percent after the Mount Pinatubo eruption. Making a similar estimate of the consequences of the El Chichón eruption proved to be more difficult because the data wasn’t as robust. 

The researchers then simulated what would happen to crops if humanity tried to mimic the sulfur injection into the atmosphere by Mount Pinatubo. They looked at a moderate climate change scenario that projects global emissions will peak around 2040 and then decline.

The results showed that geoengineering using sulfate aerosols to manage sunlight would indeed increase crop yields by mitigating some of the losses due to rising temperatures. However, the changes in sunlight exposure would offset these gains, as less light means the plants produce less food.

The research team did not expect that the gains and losses from geoengineering would almost completely offset each other. And so “we were surprised by our own results in what seems like the simplest of relationships,” said co-author Solomon Hsiang, who leads the Global Policy Laboratory at UC Berkeley.

The overall effect is that solar radiation management would do little to reduce crop losses stemming from climate change.
In summary:
Though geoengineering can sometimes seem like an easy, tempting solution to a complicated problem, the results show that it could introduce its own complexities into the climate system. And creating an intervention that influences the whole planet is still a difficult and expensive proposition. 

Getting the requisite 20 million tons of sulfur compounds into the atmosphere would require a vast logistical network to send dozens of aircraft flights across the sky to spray these aerosols. The researchers estimated that keeping global average temperatures from rising more than 2°C via solar radiation management would require the equivalent of a Mount Pinatubo eruption every year....

The study’s authors say there could still be other benefits from geoengineering — for instance, saving lives from extreme heat — that could outweigh the costs. But that requires further investigation. 

“We want to make it very clear and explicit that we’re not pro- or anti-geoengineering in any way,” Hsiang said. “We think that geoengineering in this case highlighted a potential side effect.”



Inequality discussed

Further to my previous post today about productivity and wage growth in the US, I see that missed this article at The Conversation from last month about the Australian situation:  How rising inequality is stalling economies by crippling demand.

Seems to make quite a lot of sense.  

Poor building decisions

The Washington Post has an article about the increasing cost of hail damage in the US.  

I don't think it argues that hail storms are increasing per se, but puts the blame in the rise in damage to expansion of cities prone to hail storms, larger houses, and (to my surprise) this:
Around the time that homes began to grow in size, vinyl siding was also invented. It has become increasingly popular over the past 50 years because of its lower cost, and it is now the most popular exterior for new homes. Unfortunately, vinyl siding is also notorious for being shredded by hail as small as quarter. This means even lower-level hail from severe storms could leave a home looking something like Swiss cheese.
Am I mistaken, or is vinyl siding virtually unknown as an exterior house finish in Australia?   I thought from TV that house construction in the US looked very similar to ours, but perhaps I am wrong.

[As an aside, the other country where a difference in common house construction methods is evident to the casual visitor is Japan.]

About hothouse Earth

Here's a worthwhile thread on Twitter about the "hothouse Earth" paper that has had a fair amount of media attention.

There's been a lot of back and forth on Twitter between climate interested scientists and journalists about whether it's a good or bad thing to highlight the paper - the downside being the risk that people perceive preventing disastrous climate change as a lost cause.  

But surely the point of the paper is that it encourages serious action to prevent a long term hothouse Earth.   The problem is more likely with some of the reporting rather than the content.


Better get Piketty onto this

Seems to me that Piketty might have something useful to say about this surprising graph from the US that turned up at Axios.   Because it would seem that productivity increases have become more or less uncoupled from wage increases - and that's not the story economists normally tell us, surely...



Wednesday, August 08, 2018

As anyone who reads Catallaxy knows...

Angry People Think They’re Smarter Than They Are

Don't tell the alkaline water nutters

Johns Hopkins Medicine scientists say they have found new evidence in lab-grown mouse brain cells, called astrocytes, that one root of Alzheimer's disease may be a simple imbalance in acid-alkaline -- or pH -- chemistry inside endosomes, the nutrient and chemical cargo shuttles in cells.
Astrocytes work to clear so-called amyloid beta proteins from the spaces between neurons, but decades of evidence has shown that if the clearing process goes awry, amyloid proteins pile up around neurons, leading to the characteristic amyloid plaques and nerve cell degeneration that are the hallmarks of memory-destroying Alzheimer's disease.
The new study, described online June 26 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, also reports that the scientists gave drugs called histone deacetylase (HDAC) inhibitors to pH-imbalanced mice cells engineered with a common Alzheimer's gene variant. The experiment successfully reversed the pH problem and improved the capacity for amyloid beta clearance.
Link.

This Canada Saudi Arabia thing is very strange

It's hard to fathom the over-reaction of Saudi Arabia's hip new leader in waiting to what Canada did.  As an opinion piece at WAPO explains:
In the past 48 hours, Saudi Arabia seems to have mistaken Canada, a member of the Group of Seven and NATO, and a distinguished ally of many European nations, for the small Middle Eastern nation of Qatar, which Riyadh blockaded last June.

Last week’s arrest of Samar Badawi, the sister of imprisoned blogger Raif Badawi, led Canada’s Foreign Ministry to issue a statement in Arabic on its Twitter account that urged “the Saudi authorities to immediately release” her, along with fellow activist Nassima al-Sadah. It was this tweet that sparked the ire of Saudi authorities and propelled them into taking action. Saudi Arabia responded by recalling its ambassador in Ottawa, freezing trade relations, withdrawing Saudi students from Canadian schools and even canceling flights between Saudi Arabia and Toronto.

When Canada’s embassy in Riyadh tweeted its government’s statement in Arabic, Saudi officials saw it as a challenge to national sovereignty on domestic social media, which has increasingly become the battleground to control national public opinion and promote hyper-nationalism. Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, known by his initials, MBS, is signaling that any open opposition to Saudi domestic policies, even ones as egregious as the punitive arrests of reform-seeking Saudi women, is intolerable.

The Turnbull disappointment

I've been thinking about all the ways Malcolm, who still strikes me as having a likeable personality, has nonetheless disappointed as a Prime Minister:

1.  Has failed to react to the revival of Hansonite racist panicking over immigration and culture;

2.  Has failed to directly confront climate change skeptics in his Party and the media - the true source of disunity and dysfunction within the Coalition for many years now;

3.  Has failed to show any real interest in reform of important tax matters such as negative gearing;

4.  Has ignored serious behavioural issues within his government, such as Deputy PM being (by his own confession now) a renowned adulterer, including with his own staff;

5.  Has devised a policy on energy that convinces no one, on the Left or Right, that it is worthwhile or meaningful (again, all as a diversion from the fact that he has failed to defeat climate change skeptics in his own party);

6.  Has presided over the appalling administration and treatment of people being punished by permanent confinement on Nauru and Manus Island;

7.  Has given away half a billion dollars to a small conservation foundation in an utterly non-transparent manner which, by rights, should be a bigger scandal than it currently is.  (Why - probably in the hope of walking the impossible tightrope of appearing environmentally friendly while doing nothing positive about renewable energy);

8.  Has used personality based attacks on Shorten in a manner which didn't impress me when Paul Keating did it, and doesn't impress me now.


He became Prime Minister perhaps about 7 years too early, before the climate change skeptics have been fully routed.   This Northern Hemisphere summer seems to be going a long way to achieving that goal.

Malcolm shows that personality isn't everything in successful national leadership (unless, of course, it is at an extreme such as with Trump).   

It is time for him and his party to be replaced in government, and it is a bit concerning to me that the Federal polling is currently so close.  There should, by rights, be at least 5 percent between the parties in TPP, so let's hope it drifts back to that soon.

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

Let them eat cake

A funny/serious sort of article about the effects of a bad Brexit:  How Brexit will kill the sandwich.

I like the name of this association:
“I don’t think consumers understand how complex and global our industry is,” said Jim Winship, director of the British Sandwich Association. “If we crash out of Europe, we’d have problems even if only at border control because our industry works on a fresh basis and our products have a low shelf life. Ingredients could rot in the docks before getting to us.”

Turns out that about the only thing the British are self sufficient in when it comes to a ham, cheese and salad sandwich is the bread.  Although, even then, they don't look at the question of where their flour comes from.  Here, I'll do it for you:
About 80-85% of the wheat used by UK flour millers is home-grown, although the precise proportion depends on the quality of the UK harvest. The main sources of imported wheat within the European Union are Germany and France, whilst Canada and the US are the main sources for the rest of the world. Canadian wheat is generally imported for bread-making purposes, because it has excellent characteristics and gluten strength which work well in a blend with UK wheats. French wheat is generally used in the manufacture of French style products where softer flours are required. German wheat usage fluctuates according to the quality of the British crop.

Yet more syphilis

Hey, I got to the end of the first season of The Frankenstein Chronicles, and I can summarise the final episode with the observation "well, that's one way to cure syphilis".    Netflix here doesn't have the second season, which I assume is full of characters who answer their front door and then start screaming.  (You will have to watch the show to understand.)

Anyway, I keep accidentally finding articles that reference syphilis, including this one from the TLS about the eugenics movement, particularly in the US.  Apparently, in the early 20th century, there was a remarkable push against women merely suspected of being promiscuous, all in the name of defeating syphilis:

A second book, The Trials of Nina McCall: Sex, surveillance, and the decades-long government plan to imprison “promiscuous” women by Scott W. Stern, looks at the same set of laws during more or less the same time frame, but through the particular experience of Nina McCall, one of many white working-class teenagers swept up by the state of Michigan’s over-zealous morality police, and whose life was upended by the ensuing nightmare. Suspected of having venereal disease seemingly for no reason other than her having been observed unaccompanied on a trip to the Post Office, McCall was, in 1918, detained for months without any semblance of due process. She lost her job and her reputation and became estranged from her family. Her vagina was probed endlessly and her body injected with mercury and arsenic, all in the name of “cure”. The relentless prodding of “suspected” young women was not accompanied by anything like scientific rigour, consistency of observation, accuracy of record-keeping, or coherence of diagnosis.

McCall, once forcibly tested, was arrested based on a supposed diagnosis of syphilis, but ended up being given anti-gonorrhoeal medications. What makes McCall unusual among the many tens of thousands of American girls also targeted is that she sued the state. It took two years for her to be partially vindicated by the Michigan Supreme Court, which recognized her right to a trial, and even so her small victory did not slow the ideological diffusion of the American Plan for moral purge. (Tellingly, the court only ruled that McCall’s detainment was unlawful because the grounds for suspecting her of infection were a little too weak.) McCall’s story is captivating as pure biography, but it is all the more remarkable documentarily: it stands as one of the few formal challenges to these laws, and one of the very few whose heart-wrenching traces were captured in a trial record.

More generally:

The American Plan (not to be confused with the anti-union movement of the same name) was a programme designed to control sexually transmitted disease. It was different from the earlier French Plan instituted by Napoleon, which sought to confine prostitution by semi-legalizing it. Known as “regulationism”, the French system required sex workers to register, submit to regular genital inspections, and confine their activities to particular (red light) districts. In contrast, the American Plan never completely bought the idea of prostitution as something that could or ought to be regulated; true to its more Puritan legacy, the US set about trying to eliminate “immorality” by outlawing it. Unsurprisingly, therefore, public governance tended to treat prostitution not merely as a moral failure but as a criminal act. “Waywardness” in a woman was deemed not only a product of socialization, but reflective of innate mental deficits associated with “imbecility” or “feeblemindedness”. Anti-corruption squads composed of police, sheriffs, social workers and religious leaders, combed the streets of cities and small towns, detaining women and girls en masse and conducting crude genital probes. And it did not necessarily matter whether these “tests” resulted in diagnosis of any sort, for the conduct of these righteous teams was itself often corrupted by greed, reputational gossip, and stereotype: black and immigrant women were presumed to be looser in their conduct. Poor women could be labelled promiscuous if they merely seemed so to a detention officer. A neighbour with a grudge could call the vice squad. In addition, police received bonuses in line with the number of arrests and detentions, and policies could be touted as “successful” based on volume alone. Although the Reagan revolution is remembered for its racialized nomination of “welfare queens” and “the undeserving poor”, these too are concepts that date back to the Progressive Era.

The mosque clip

I'm not sure if this extract from that Who is America trollfest of a show is going to stay up for long, but it's worth watching.

I'm not the biggest fan of Sacha Baron Cohen - he gets too immaturely crude in a lot of his material if you ask me - but I have to admit, the way he escalates the torment of this group is very funny:


Bugs and diet

As has probably been suspected for a long time, it seems gut bacteria can make a big difference to successful weight loss.  The way it works is pretty interesting, though.  NPR writes:

"We found that people who lost at least 5 percent of their body weight had a different gut bacteria as compared to those who did not lose 5 percent of their body weight," Kashyap explains. Their findings are published in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

The successful dieters had an increased abundance of a bacteria called Phascolarctobacterium, whereas another bacteria, Dialister, was associated with a failure to lose the weight. And, Kashyap says it's likely that there are other types of bacteria that might influence dieting as well.

So, how might bacteria influence weight loss? It turns out we can get a significant number of calories from our microbes.

Here's how it works: Consider what happens when you eat an apple. You digest most of it.
"But there's a certain part of the apple we can't absorb," explains Martin Blaser, a professor in the Department of Microbiology at NYU Langone Medical Center. "We don't have the right enzymes to digest every bit of [the apple], but our bacteria can."

Think of it this way: The bacteria eat what we can't.

And, in the process, they produce byproducts that we can digest. So these byproducts become another source of calories for us.

The new study suggests that certain bacteria — or mix of bacteria — may be more efficient at creating "extra" calories for us to digest.

"Somewhere between 5 to 15 percent of all our calories come from that kind of digestion, where the microbes are providing energy for us, that we couldn't [otherwise] get," Blaser explains.

This calorie boost could be beneficial if food were scarce. "If times were bad, if we were starving, we'd really welcome it," Blaser says.

But at a time when many people want to lose weight, these extra calories may be an unwanted gift.

Should not be surprised he can't get his facts straight

Robert Manne writes a good response to Bolt's appalling immigration column, noting how he got some numbers wrong.

I see that Bolt was complaining about Bernard Keane's take that his talking about the numbers of Jewish folk in Caulfield was anti-Semitic.   Manne says (reasonably) that Bolt was not trying to be anti-Semitic (given Bolt's anti Muslim attitudes, you can't credibly believe he was intending to suddenly take offence against Jews).  But you still have to wonder - what on Earth did Bolt think he was achieving in pointing out the number of Jews living in a suburb?   He may well like Jews (or at least, those who support their current Right wing government), but pointing to any group and implicitly complaining about how they like to cluster together still points to bigotry against a class - immigrants of any kind!

Monday, August 06, 2018

Mission Impossible 6

Saw it on the weekend.

I liked it, and it kept coming back to my mind on Sunday.   (That's generally a good sign of a movie getting under your skin a bit.)  I do have some minor criticism about it, though.

A number of times, I thought the cinematography looked a little murky, for some reason.  I read today it was shot on 35 film, not video.   I wonder why.   I thought the digital editing required to remove safety ropes was much easier on video?   Does this account for it not looking as sharp as I expect from movies now?  Was it just less than ideal projection in the cinema I saw it in?

As for the set pieces:  I'm starting to think that the series best visceral thrill sequence may always be Tom swinging on a rope on the Burj Khalifa in Ghost Protocol.  I still think it's just great movie making every time I see it, and it plays extremely well with everyone's sense of vertigo.  MI:6 is more about chase and action, and while the climatic set piece was, of course, impressive in its way, I think as a sequence (particularly with the cutting back and forth to the situation on the ground) it wasn't quite as well constructed as it could have been. 

Interestingly, despite its references to events in the prior movies, the story also did not really feel like it was designed as the end for the series.   Which is good, because my dream would be that Spielberg signs on to director for the last one.  

As I say, gone completely stupid...

Andrew Bolt this morning:


I like the way he (or someone) takes the opportunity to re-publish the "foreigners are here to devour our country" cartoon that would not be out of place in a pro White Australia newspaper from 100 years ago.

Speaking of inane, unjustifiable posts, I see that Sinclair Davidson thinks "luvvies" are being hysterical when they complain about Trump's "enemy of the people" repeat line about the Press.  Note how he does not repeat the line:
The luvvies are outraged – how dare President Trump criticise the press? Our democracy is at risk! Although to be fair, their democracy might be at risk; however the democracy where people turn up on election day and vote for a representative is doing just fine.
Who knows what that third sentence qualifier means - lack of clarity is something I find he often specialises in.

Anyway, he then goes on to claim press "hypocrisy" because the media (and "luvvies" generally) didn't get up in arms a few years back when Bob Green was complaining about the "hate media" (being the Murdoch press) were running a constant campaign against a carbon tax, as they still, undoubtedly, would.

The clip of Bob Green shows a man who calmly complains about the Murdoch press, yet never calls it (like Stalin and Hitler did) the "enemy of the people".   There is nil comparison with the repeated rallying call of Trump, to which his dumb ass, heavily armed, cult followers respond with applause.    It's a false equivalency, a case of the Right's "whataboutism" which fails the test of history and common sense.

And speaking of Right wing politics generally, I liked Greg Jericho's column on the weekend:

A virus of odious ignorance has infected conservative thinking – and politics
But sigh, no. Conservatives have been rendered so bereft by climate change that anything carrying even the slightest taint of an environmental impact is viewed with distrust. And so the plastic bag ban quickly became a new focus of the culture wars.

It’s all rather odd, but fits perfectly within a strain of thought that has decided the way forward is to ignore evidence and instead pursue an ideology of wilful ignorance.

It has led to the point where there are barely any conservative commentators worth reading or listening to. It’s not that there are no intelligent conservative thinkers, but the lunacy of climate change denial and distrust of expertise has so infected the conservative media that prominence is now almost exclusively given to those for whom a worldwide conspiracy is more believable than reports by multiple universities and public agencies.

What’s more, their realisation that they can spout their views free of supportable evidence on this issue has also led to an unlocking of all manner of views they once kept hidden, but which now come forth with great delight. 
Exactly.

Saturday, August 04, 2018

For people who like deadpan NZ comedy

I see that with little fanfare, SBS has started showing Wellington Paranormal, a TV series made in the same style as What We Do in the Shadows.

If you liked the movie, and a lot of people did, you will find this pretty hilarious too.  Here's the opening scene from episode 1 that someone has put on line.  It gives you a good idea of the style of humour:



I see some people are putting full episodes on Youtube.  I watched it on SBS on Demand.

The Iran street

I think it very, very unlikely that the Trump/Bolton tactic on increasing pressure on Iran is going to lead to a good outcome.  I would say disaster is much more likely.  But, to be honest, in that part of the world, it never pays to be too certain. 

But have a read of this cautiously written article at the (now very depleted) Christian Science Monitor.


A strange outing

I have rarely seen gay "celebrity" Todd McKenny on TV - I'm not one for such kitchy shows as Dancing with the Stars, or Boy for Oz, whatever else he has been on.   But I always thought there was something dislikeable about him (not the sexuality per se - he's just one of those people, gay or straight, that has an air of something that makes me not trust them.   I've always put Eddie Maguire in that category, too.)

Anyway, he's in the news this week for a very strange outing.

Back in the 1980's, I remember Simon Gallaher being the subject of one of the old fashioned "gay marriage" rumours with Mike Walsh.  (It was a sister in law who swore someone she knew was at "the wedding".)   I always thought this type of rumour was odd, and they do seem to be very much of that period - I think there a similar rumour around Jim Nabours?  Yes, I know he was gay, but the point is more that it seemed that people wanted to believe the profane unnaturalness of homosexuality by insisting that gay men were having secret mock marriages, in the same way a devil worshipper's black mass was supposed to mock the real thing, I guess.*

Anyway, I had little interest in the topic, other than categorising it as likely urban myth (it was always a friend of a friend who had seen the real thing), but felt a little sorry for Gallaher.  Later, when I read that Gallaher was married and had children, I assumed that my suspicion had been confirmed.

But now McKenny, who seems not to get on with his sister much, decided, with no forewarning, to tell the world that he had been in a gay relationship with Gallaher for 5 years, before he married his sister.

The SMH says that Gallaher and his wife are far from happy:
Simon Gallaher called McKenney a "headline whore"; his wife, Lisa, called her brother a "douche bag".  Simon declined to say more when PS made contact this week, except that it was "time to move on". His wife told friends: "We all have to just duck the fallout now.
It seems unclear, from that article, whether Galaher's sons knew of his relationship with their uncle.

It's an odd story that presumably rarely happens - but it does give some justification for my dislike of Todd.


*  Actually, I should tread carefully on this topic, since I do feel that gay marriages which stylistically imitate straight marriage - such as two women who wear classic wedding dresses - do look weird because of the imitation aspect.  Should come up with something novel for what is, after all, a completely historically novel invention.    

Friday, August 03, 2018

Now that's funny

Also from Colbert, using Manafort trial sketches:


Why would Paul do it?

He's a good sport, I suppose, but he really looked as if he might be wanting to throw up at the end:


I try to be polite, but really...

Sinclair Davidson turned up in comments here recently:  whether that means he reads this blog regularly, semi-regularly or only when he gets a mention, I don't know.   (Actually, he gets a mention here pretty often, so the last two categories are pretty close.)

Now, this may not be quite on a par with the gobsmacking, how-could-he-possibly-ask-that-question, reputational harm of asking why calling an aboriginal man an ape was (or even, could be) racist; but for a person obsessed with free speech, it comes very close.

I'm talking about his post today in which he pretty much defends Trump repeatedly calling the media "the enemy of the people".   OK, let's be generous to Trump and note that after his daughter said they weren't, he tweeted that he didn't mean all,  just a "large percentage" of the media that spreads "fake news".

Davidson notes in comments to his post that this is what he understood Trump to mean - "just CNN and some others."

Some others, hey?

Cue his mate Andrew Bolt - who will soon be dying his hair red so as to feel ever closer to the very soul of  Pauline Hanson after his "I hate the way immigrants cluster together - it makes me feel yucky and uncomfortable and I don't like it" column yesterday - has attempted a similar, pathetic defence of Trump as not condemning all media as "enemy of the people" - just the media that criticises him.

I mean, honestly, Bolt's post itself notes that Trump has specifically cited and attacked as "fake news purveyors" the New York Times, NBC, CBS, ABC, CNN, the Washington Post, Associated Press, MSNBC, "and so on".   That's all three of the big broadcast media networks in the US!   We all know what Trump means - any media which has criticised him and his administration, and in particular, reported on Russian collusion, is peddling "fake news", is not to be believed, and is "the enemy of the people".

 It's a serious joke that Davidson cannot see, or excuses, the authoritarianism inherent in any President labelling the professional establishment media (we're not talking some internet bozo like Alex Jones or Jim Hoft) as "an enemy of the people" -  and I would say that regardless of the size of the media element that is so labelled.   In Trump's case, it's virtually all of  the media save for Fox News, Breitbart and the Washington Times - all of which, while privately owned, are so close in allegiance to Trump that they are effectively the same output as State media.

You thought a man who hails from South Africa might have a better idea about racism than he did, and a better nose for authoritarian rhetoric?

You thought a frequent defender of free speech might have qualms about a President who wants his followers to completely ignore, and worse - consider their enemy, all media free speech which has reporting and opinion said President doesn't like?

Well you would be wrong.

But illustrating again the embarrassing intellectual and moral joke that the Right, whether conservative or libertarian, has become in Australia?   You would be right.

PS:   it's clear what this is about - it's in the extracted commentary in Sinclair's post explaining that CNN has to realise that the rage of the Trumpkins is just them finally having their chance to let the media finally hear their frustration with their product.    

Yes, it's the media's own fault for not respecting enough the views of the Right - or the Trump right, or whatever.   It's the "but you don't take me seriously enough" cry of the people who believe that climate change is a massive conspiracy, Obama was a Muslim born in Africa and the Worst President in History, that Hillary is a murderous harpy, etc, etc.

In Sinclair's case, I think he may be having trouble coping with not getting enough respect from the media, even though he campaigned for years in his own way against climate change,  made a big and wrong warning on Keynesian spending after the GFC leading to stagflation in Australia, and completely voluntarily opened himself to ridicule on the matter of the use of "ape" in a racist context.

Maybe if he owned up to errors instead of blustering past them,  he might get more media respect and be less inclined to want defend dangerous authoritarian sentiment?   Just a suggestion.

Update:  for those who seem to need educating, or reminding:  in the Guardian this morning:   'Enemy of the people': Trump's phrase and its echoes of totalitarianism

Another medical study to believe in

Both long term abstinence and heavy drinking may increase dementia risk 
People who abstain from alcohol or consume more than 14 units a week during middle age (midlife) are at increased risk of developing dementia, finds a study in The BMJ today.
Good to know I am hitting a happy medium.

David Murray, goose

It seems to me from reading this article in the AFR, regarding AMP wannabe saviour David Murray, that he typifies the rule of thumb I've been pointing out for years: if someone, no matter what success they may have achieved in life thus far, does not believe the science of climate change, then their judgement about everything (even their claimed area of expertise) is not to be trusted.  

I'm sorry:  that's just the way it is.

So much for nuclear power being the saviour for climate change

Quite surprising, this:
Shut reactor: Ringhals, Sweden. Reuters reports that the water is too warm for reactor cooling in the sea off Sweden and Finland, and the River Rhone is too warm in France.

“Utility Vattenfall, which operates seven reactors in Sweden, shut a 900 megawatt (MW) PWR unit – one of the four located at its Ringhals plant – this week as water temperatures exceeded 25 degrees Celsius.”

“France, like much of Europe, is experiencing scorching weather in its southern regions, and forecasts show temperatures hitting 40 degrees Celsius (104°F) in the Rhone valley area. EDF’s nuclear plants along the Rhone use the river’s waters to regulate the temperature of their reactors, discharging warm water back into the waterway.”

National trends to avoid

*  The BBC says that South Korea is having a spy cam porn epidemic.  Sorry to say it, but wouldn't most people have guessed that Japan might be more prone to that?  Maybe politeness wins out there.

*  I hesitate to post this, and mean no disrespect to Indians generally, but it's not every day that you read about a social media outcry related to the gang rape of a pregnant goat.

*  Claims from Japan that a university dealt with the "problem" of gender balance amongst doctors by marking down entrance exam results from females

*  Back to India, and I don't think I have posted before about the reports that fake rumour spreading on WhatsApp in particular is being blamed for stupid lynchings and riots:
For several days, messages warning about child-lifters on the prowl had pinged on smartphones in Rainpada, a tribal hamlet in Dhule district, 400 km northwest of Mumbai. Then, on July 1, the villagers saw a group of seven tribal nomads from the Davri Gosavi community speaking to a child. A group of around 20 locals, certain these were the child-lifters the WhatsApp video had warned of, pounced on them and began beating them before locking them up in the local gram panchayat office. Two men managed to flee.

Soon after, a mob numbering in the hundreds- most had converged on Rainpada from adjacent villages for the weekly market- broke into the office and beat up Bharat Bhosale, Dadarao Bhosale, Bharat Malve, Appa Ingole and Raju Bhosale using whatever they could find- rods, sticks, stones and logs of wood. Two police officers who arrived on the scene and tried to intervene were also attacked. Bharat, Raju and Dadarao died on the spot. Malve and Appa succumbed to their injuries en route to the hospital.

The Dhule incident was only the latest in the series of WhatsApp-transmitted lynchings across the country this year leading to the deaths of 30 people. If technology is a double-edged sword, India felt its sharp edge, the high-speed network's ability to misinform and inflame. Sixteen such cases have been reported since May 10, from Maharashtra to Tripura.

Netflix news

*  Finished Lost in Space a few weeks ago.   I didn't mind the last episode, which moved faster than some in the series, and I would say that the show has just enough going for it for me to look at the second series, whenever it comes out.   I have a fear that the science is only going to get worse, but I'll give it a try.

*  Finished Babylon Berlin last night.   What a satisfying, high class potboiler of a show that has been.   Some characters did seem ridiculously hard to kill,  and the close call of one of them in the second last episode was upsetting.   I'm betting on the nephew becoming an enthusiastic member of Nazi Youth, by the way.    It really deserves all the praise it has received.   A third series is on the way, apparently, and I hope it can keep up the standards, with more Nazis this time.

*  Tried Dark, another German series, for a couple of episodes, but it seemed a bit too Stranger Things except with time travel.  My son and I both felt it wasn't really worth continuing with.

*  Will finish the first and only (on Netflix) series of Frankenstein Chronicles soon.   Quite enjoyable and a clever idea behind the series, I think.  Like I said before, good to see syphilis finally get a prime role in a TV series, given how many people it did affect in real life.   And one thing I was always noticing:  how cold it seemed for the actors throughout the series.   Even in indoor scenes, there were so many times they characters were puffing steam as they spoke.  I would have assumed that film lighting would have heated the place up, but maybe they were doing it with less lights than normal, and during a really cold winter.

*  Need more recommendations for series.   The Alienist, perhaps? 

Update:  I see that The Alienist has less than enthusiastic reviews.  The oddly named Peaky Blinders, (could they have possibly picked a name - and images - more likely to obscure what the series is about?)  though, seems very well reviewed.   I think it has been on ABC but I've never watched it.   Seems that should be the next thing to try.