Monday, January 16, 2017

Ancient waters

This factoid turned up somewhere I was browsing recently, although I see it first got publicity back in 2014.  Not sure, but I think I missed it then.  Here it is:


Which has the odd implication, I suppose, that truly ancient urine is created every day by everybody. It's the sort of science thought that might impress Donald Trump, perhaps?

Another movie review you don't need

Watched 2013's Now You See Me on free to air TV last Friday.   Some observations:

*  talk about your "high concept" movie with a simple pitch:  rogue magicians do bank heists live - while performing in front of an audience!  Cool!  
*  talk about your "high concept" movie that fails to convince:  all flashy, swirling camera movement;  but wildly improbable and complicated plotting with really terrible characters .  Does any character in this movie reach any level of likeability?  Barely.
*  Woody Harrelson in particular - an actor who has evolved from "likeable doofus" to "smartass with a face that's just begging to be smacked".   OK, so his character was meant to be annoying, I think.  But unfortunately, his face and manner just fits that role too well.
* how did it get a sequel??

Prepare ye the way of the ....

That's interesting.  (The astute reader might consider this redundant - I pretty rarely post items that are not of interest to me.) 

I didn't know that it's now believed that exposure to semen prepares a woman's body immunologically for pregnancy:
Seminal fluid contains small molecules that act as biological signals. Once deposited in the vagina and the cervix of a woman, these persuade the woman’s immune system to adopt a profile that tolerates (that is, recognises and accepts) sperm proteins known as “transplantation antigens”.

The tolerant profile matters if fertilisation takes place. Immune cells recognise the same transplantation antigens on the developing baby, and so support the process through which the embryo implants into the wall of the uterus and forms a healthy placenta and fetus.

So over time, repeated contact with the same male partner acts to stimulate and strengthen a tolerant immune response to his transplantation antigens. The immune system of a woman responds to her partner’s seminal fluid to progressively build the chances of creating a healthy pregnancy over at least several months of regular sex.
And here's some strong sounding evidence to back this up:
Preeclampsia is more common when there has been limited sexual contact with the father before pregnancy is conceived, and is associated with insufficient establishment of immune tolerance in the mother.

The length of time a couple have had a sexual relationship seems more important than the frequency of intercourse. In a study of first pregnancies in 2507 Australian women, around 5% developed preeclampsia. Affected women were more than twice as likely to have had a short sexual relationship (less than six months) compared to the women who had healthy pregnancies.

Women with less than three months sexual activity with the conceiving partner had a 13% chance of preeclampsia, more than double the average occurrence. Among the few women who conceived on the first sexual contact with the father, the chance of preeclampsia was 22%, three times higher than the average. Low birth weight babies were also more common in this group.
 Although its frequency seems not so important for preeclampsia, the article notes that sex around the time of using IVF does help:

Combined data from more than 2000 patients across seven studies showed the occurrence of a detectable pregnancy increased by 24% after vaginal contact with seminal fluid near the time of egg collection or embryo transfer. A study of Australian and Spanish couples showed intercourse in the days just before or just after embryo transfer boosted pregnancy rates by 50%.
I guess this suggests that couples who want children in the future may be better off in the long run to not rely on barrier methods only as a contraception.   Good news for men, at least...

The Rogue and the detective

I finally caught up with Rogue One yesterday.

I think it's very competent, and very watchable, perhaps without being particularly memorable.   But I want to comment on a few things:

*  I felt there was still a clear bit of the "uncanny valley" going on with Peter Cushing's reanimated face.  Actors must be breathing a sigh of relief that the process of even attempting their replacement via computer  is still complex, expensive and not completely convincing if it lasts more than a very brief period.

*  the creation of very realistic looking alien landscapes in this and The Force Awakens, on the other hand, is so much noticeably better than it was in the 3 prequels, where everything looked fake in a Lord of the Rings way.

*  the rehabilitation of the Force as a spiritual thing, rather than Lucas's stupid suggestion that it was just biology, continues apace, and that is a good thing for the series.

*  the android K-2SO's design reminded me a lot of the robots in Miyazaki's Laputa, and (of course) I'm not the first person on the internet to notice that.

Then last night we watched the second episode of Sherlock's latest (and last?) series.

I thought it was terrific, especially after the pretty woeful first episode.  (My son even indicated he had sort of lost interest in the series after that one!)   Seems to me to some sort of redemption for Moffat's writing abilities, too, of which I had become very skeptical.

OK, there was one plot element that was kind of silly and contrived, but I see that many commenters at The Guardian said it was a clever update on the original Conan Doyle story, so perhaps the memory wiping drug was key to that, too.

But it was fantastically directed, well acted, full of funny surprises, and set up the show for many potentially big reveals in the last episode.   I hope that lives up to the high expectations everyone will now have.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

If you ask me...

...there is really surprisingly little media commentary given to the fact that Trump blond dupe Kellyanne Conway seems to constantly be trying to run lines with the press which are either subsequently contradicted by her boss, and/or shown to be wrong.  (OK, there has been some media commentary on Conway contradicting herself - but it goes much further than that.)

The only I thing I can put this down to is that the Trump transition is so shambolic, the press just can't spend time on every weird contradiction or event - there are just too many to cover.  And they all know Trump just denies inconsistencies and thinks that's all he has to do.

Spielberg considered (again)

There's a new book out on Steven Spielberg that's been getting favourable reviews, partly because it's by a Jewish feminist, so her background brings something a bit novel to the exercise.

For a bit of a non-review that nonetheless gives a decent run down of Spielberg's life, this New Yorker article is not bad.  The New York Times book review is, however, more a review.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Updates on Trump in Russia you may want to read

Three things:

* Did you wonder how Pravda reported on Trump's adventures in Russia?  As it happens, they did it running a dismissive, let's all laugh at how ridiculous Americans are, column headed "The Adventures of Donald Trump at Moscow's Ritz Hotel".   And here's the oddest section: 
Generally speaking, American policy makers have a serious obsession about natural bodily functions. Last year, for example, it was reported that an unidentified individual, presumably a Russian intelligence officer, defecated on the carpet in an apartment of an American diplomat. Of course, no evidence was presented whatsoever.
Furthermore, continuing the "I think they protest-eth too much" line, it concludes:
The story has once again clearly shown the mental abilities of Hillary Clinton's supporters. The Democratic Party experiences a deep-rooted crisis indeed. In general, the story about the adventures of Donald Trump in Moscow's Ritz Hotel has already been recognized as one huge epic fake news both in Russia and in the United States.
Gee.  They write exactly how Trump talks.  Spooky.

* No 2's:   I see via Twitter that someone has turned up audio of Trump on a Howard Stern show from 2001 in which the other guest (who, apparently, had a girlfriend who Trump had "stolen" from him - ugghhh) said this:
After Trump bragged that he “took” Benza’s girlfriend, this happened:
Trump: I assume A.J.’s clean. I hope he’s clean.
Benza: Meanwhile, he bangs Russian people…
Stern: Russian people?
Trump: Who are you talking about, Russian people, A.J.? I don’t know anything.
Benza: He used to call me when I was a columnist and say, “I was just in Russia, the girls have no morals, you gotta get out there.” [Trump’s] out of his mind.
Trump did not deny making the statement.
 The site has the audio of the interview up, and to be honest, it's not clear that Trump heard what Benza was saying about what he [Trump] had said about Russia "girls".

But it certainly helps reinforce the (unsurprising, of itself) likelihood that Trump has had slept with Russia women, if not prostitutes, on (more than likely) more than one occasion.

The question is - was it recorded by Russians and, even then, is the content enough for it to be bribe capable?

*  The use of sex tapes for political purposes in Russia was in the news only last year.  In a story that I certainly don't recall noticing at the time, Putin was accused by a political activist:
Natalia Pelevina, a Russian political activist at the heart of a shocking sex scandal, has no doubts about who is responsible for revealing her affair with a former Russian prime minister.
A secret video of her and Mikhail Kasyanov showing intimate bedroom sex scenes and frank private conversations was baldly exposed last Friday on national television.
Pelevina is convinced the Russian security services planted the recording devices to entrap the couple at the behest of the president.
"It had to be Putin. I have no doubt about that," Pelevina told CBC during an exclusive interview in Moscow this week.
She hadn't spoken publicly about the sex scandal since it broke last week. Kasyanov is chairman of PARNAS, a liberal opposition party in Russia. Pelevina is his political assistant and was, until this week, a member of the party executive.
Russian broadcaster NTV aired a 40-minute special program liberally laced with scenes from the secretly taped video of the two.
But as for Putin's direct dirty hands in the use of sex tapes,  we go back to 1999:
Out of nowhere, a shocking video appeared on a Russian TV news program late one evening in March 1999. A surveillance tape showed a naked, middle-aged man who resembled Russia's top prosecutor, Yuri Skuratov, cavorting with two unclothed young women. Neither was his wife.
The ensuing scandal included a press conference by the head of Russia's FSB security service at the time, Vladimir Putin, who made clear it was Skuratov in the video.
Skuratov soon lost his job, not to mention his dignity.
President Boris Yeltsin was apparently impressed with Putin's handling of this episode. Yeltsin wanted to get rid of Skuratov, who was believed to be looking into Kremlin corruption. Several months after the video surfaced, Yeltsin named Putin to be prime minister, and a few months after that, Putin took over as president.
It is therefore completely plausible that, if he knew it was potential useful, Putin would give the nod to taping  Trump if he was silly enough to be engaged in any form of sex (without his wife) in Moscow in  2013.

As I don't doubt he is silly enough, the main question is likely - did they?



A Great Moment in Science


As this interesting post from Discover explains, it was not until 1 January 1925 that it was really "official" that Hubble had confirmed that the Andromeda and other spiral "nebulae" were really galaxies a very long way away.

It's extraordinary to think we not quite 100 years into a proper understanding of the size and nature of the universe.   (And barely 150 years into Darwinian evolution.)

No wonder humanity is, in a sense, still adjusting to all this.   


To my sometime twitter troll

*  I didn't even know what Pseud's Corner was: had to Google it.

*  I generally eschew comment on MMA:  I assume I would be appalled if I looked into it in too much detail, so I don't bother.  Instead, I get my daily fill of "appalling" by checking Catallaxy.

Weird judgement on display, again

I might have guessed.  Despite being no pro-Trumper in the lead up to the election, Sinclair Davidson can't seem to stop himself getting a vicarious thrill whenever a politician (or at least one vaguely on the Right) behaves belligerently to the media or a political opponent.  Remember - he was one of the very, very few people in the land who  thought Bronwyn Bishop's aggro, hopelessly partisan time as Speaker was actually praiseworthy.

Psychoanalysis via blog posts may not be a reliable exercise, but I continually get the feeling that SD is frustrated that he personally doesn't get the chance to be as rude to people to their face as he would like to be.   Or a frustrated wannabe tough cop (or soldier) on a loose leash to clean up a bad part of town - that kind of thing.  

The title of his post on Trump and CNN is particularly confusing: CNN has been caught out.

"Caught out" doing what, exactly?   Correctly reporting that briefings about serious claims about Trump being compromised by the Russians - or his team co-operating with them for election intel - had been made?  

I think the theory that Trump didn't even realise the distinction between what CNN reported, and what Buzzfeed did, has plausibility.  

Tillerson & China

A reasonable sounding bit of commentary from The Interpreter about Tillerson sounding gung-ho about China in the South China Sea. 

Not sure of the value of this..

Nature has a story with the science fiction friendly title: 


Now, while I don't want to come across as a PETA softy, but the details of this experiment make me doubt somewhat whether its scientific benefits make the treatment of the mice worth it.  (I say that, though, very unaware of the treatment of lab mammals, generally.  There are probably far worse examples.)   

My feelings about animal experimentation are still influenced somewhat by the anti-vivisectionist sentiment and argument of CS Lewis.  You can read about that here. 

Friday Trump dump

Vox talks to 3 experts who outline the defence Buzzfeed would have to any defamation action by Trump.  Sounds pretty convincing to me that we aren't going to see Trump try.

*  I was reminded this week by Tim Blair's linking back to a post of mine in 2006 that I used to defend the Bush administration from Leftie panic merchants worrying that he was a Christian fundamentalist who thought the US was inevitably going to have to nuke the evil out of the world.   I still take that view:  George W never struck me as that kind of Christian, and, of course, nor did his neocon advisers.  (Does anyone dispute that they were motivated by misplaced, mistaken and self-interested idealism about the ease with which Western-friendly democracy would organically arise in the Middle East if you only knocked over a dictator or two?)

That said, it has slipped under the radar somewhat that Trump is installing as CIA head someone who really does hold the ideas that both secularists and sensible Christians fear.  From Slate:
In June 2015, Rep. Mike Pompeo, a Kansas congressman, headlined a “God and Country Rally” at Wichita’s Summit Church. “To worship our lord and celebrate our nation at the same place is not only our right, it is our duty,” he began. Pompeo’s speech was a mishmash of domestic culture war callouts and dark warnings about the danger of radical Islam. He cited an inflammatory prayer that a pastor named the Rev. Joe Wright once delivered before the Kansas State Legislature: “America had worshipped other Gods and called it multiculturalism. We’d endorsed perversion and called it an alternative lifestyle.” He lamented government efforts to “rip faith from our schools” and then segued immediately into a discussion of the jihadi threat: “This evil is all around us.” Pompeo concluded by describing politics as “a never-ending struggle … until the rapture.”

Donald Trump has appointed Pompeo to head the CIA; his confirmation hearings begin on Thursday. If a normal Republican president had nominated a figure like this to head the country’s major foreign intelligence agency, there likely would have been a lot of attention paid to his apocalyptic religiosity and Manichaean worldview. Amid the fire hose of lunacy that is the Trump transition, however, Pompeo’s extremism has been overlooked. It’s worth pausing to appreciate the fact that America’s CIA will shortly be run by a man who appears to view American foreign policy as a vehicle for holy war.
Great.

Fake news spread by the hit team of stupid and dishonest gay right wingers - Gateway Pundit and Drudge.    And no, Trumpkin dimwits, what they did is not the equivalent of Buzzfeed - which published a document noting its content was unverified and contained some mistakes and should be taken with a great deal of caution.  Remember, fake news is the deliberate dissemination of disinformation that asserts its truth, or knowingly doesn't care about its truth.  Like Drudge running the story of Bill Clinton's black son during this election campaign, and not mentioning that Drudge himself had years ago run the stories showing the medical evidence that this couldn't be true.

Now, I must post something other than Trump stuff....

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Not just one source

Gee.   Why shouldn't Democrats be upset that, while Trump was able to make maximum political use of the FBI looking at what Clinton did with her email server, six government agencies were secretly investigating Trump's team getting money from Russia? The BBC alleges now (thanks fellas, but it's a bit late):
Last April, the CIA director was shown intelligence that worried him. It was - allegedly - a tape recording of a conversation about money from the Kremlin going into the US presidential campaign.
It was passed to the US by an intelligence agency of one of the Baltic States. The CIA cannot act domestically against American citizens so a joint counter-intelligence taskforce was created.
The taskforce included six agencies or departments of government. Dealing with the domestic, US, side of the inquiry, were the FBI, the Department of the Treasury, and the Department of Justice. For the foreign and intelligence aspects of the investigation, there were another three agencies: the CIA, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the National Security Agency, responsible for electronic spying.
As for the Russians having the dirt on Trump's bedroom antics, again the same reporter tells us that it's believed by many to be true:
And the former MI6 agent is not the only source for the claim about Russian kompromat on the president-elect. Back in August, a retired spy told me he had been informed of its existence by "the head of an East European intelligence agency".

Later, I used an intermediary to pass some questions to active duty CIA officers dealing with the case file - they would not speak to me directly. I got a message back that there was "more than one tape", "audio and video", on "more than one date", in "more than one place" - in the Ritz-Carlton in Moscow and also in St Petersburg - and that the material was "of a sexual nature".
Seems to me that things have gone awry somewhere when you had even the liberal media blowing up the significance of every damn internal Democrat email, and the widely misunderstood and exaggerated significance of how Hillary used her email server, and yet there was no proper reporting of actually explosive matters until now.

How to stack a press conference

It had all the signs of authoritarian showmanship:   the 10 flag backdrop for one, but also this:
As Mr Trump likened the leaks to the kind of things that happened in Nazi Germany and detailed his plans for his corporate empire, a coterie of Trump business loyalists gathered by the elevator bank in the tower lobby to urge him on.

The Trump employees laughed at his jokes and shouted out supportive answers to his rhetorical questions. One even took it upon himself to look over a reporter’s shoulder and ask if he intended to publish the words written on his notepad. When Mr Trump was finished, his acolytes pronounced his performance a resounding success.
And a thug for a soon to be press secretary:
SEAN SPICER: So, what happened was after the exchange that you just noted, he did it again towards the end, he continued to harass the president-elect. After the president-elect had ended the press conference and been removed from the area, I went up to Mr. Acosta and I said his behavior was rude, inappropriate, and disrespectful of the president-elect. He told me that he thought that had a right to ask a question, even though CNN had been granted a question to one of their other correspondents. I informed him that I thought no one should be treated that way and treated that disrespectfully, and that if he did it again in the future, I would have him removed. 
It also appears from a "related story" on that page that Spicer's first reaction had been to deny it...

Good reporting/bad reporting

Journalism is pretty odd, hey?

A bunch of mainstream outlets are saying they would not print the full dossier as it was all unsubstantiated;  yet they know that it was an election in which absolute fake news and social media promotion of it played a really key role, and that American agencies were concerned enough to be seeking warrants about the dossier.    

Putting out allegations, saying they don't know if they are true, and leaving it up to the people mentioned to rebut it, is not the normal way you would want media to operate;  but the role of rumour and false claims against Clinton in the election campaign, combined with a candidate who just routinely lies through his teeth, really puts us in an exceptional position.

I'm with many of the commenters in the WAPO who think the media is being a little precious in their reaction.  For example, in response to Erik Wemple's criticism of Buzzfeed:
 Okay, Erik, let's talk about reporting of unsubstantiated claims.

Mr. Trump came to rely on the 24/7 unedited reporting of every muddy, salacious rumor about Secretary Clinton. "I'm hearing people say that..." "My sources are telling me that..." "There's a lot of talk about..."
Those unsubstantiated claims from Mr. Trump have been splashed all over the news media since he first hoisted the "Birthergate" standard.

For some reason, you appear to think we - the media's audience - could be trusted to draw our own conclusions when such unsubstantiated claims were lobbed, because, for some reason, if they were uttered by Mr. Trump, they were newsworthy.

You can't have it both ways. If we are able to draw our own conclusions about reports that Secretary Clinton was involved in a child sex ring run out of a pizza parlor, are we not also able to draw our own conclusions from reporting of material deemed sufficiently important by the US Intelligence community to merit briefings about their substance to the POTUS, PEOTUS and Gang of Eight?

My grandmother would have referred to your opinion piece by saying "He's buttering both sides of his bread."
And CNN is absolutely correct that it was fair to report that Obama and Trump had been briefed on the allegations, without running the allegations themselves.   It is exactly the same as reporting that the FBI was looking into the Clinton email matter again, days prior to the election.  If that was fair, what CNN did was fair too.

The stupidity of Trump supporters prevents them seeing that.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Trump the Compromised

A few thoughts after reading about the Trump dossier and assorted commentary today:

*  history teaches us that it's a pretty safe rule of thumb to assume that any male politician will have had an affair or ten, either with paid or unpaid partners, over the course of his career.   The reasons are similar as for Hollywood celebrities:  they're often away from home; they work in a hot house environment beside people who passionately believe in the same causes, and/or are simply shallow groupies attracted to power; and failing that they can always afford to pay for carnal services.     But with Trump - well, has there ever been a businessman/politician more likely in the public mind to have slept with a prostitute (or co-worker) while travelling?   I doubt it.   And as such, the mere revelation that he has done so would not harm him, unless there was an extraordinary amount of kink involved.  It's actually not entirely clear from the dossier what the alleged Trump related kink involved - not that I want to know the details, to be honest!

But where it becomes a problem, of course, is if any time with prostitutes was done in such a way that Russia thinks they can bribe him with that revelation.

And given Trumps' routine denials that everyone knows are demonstrably wrong (even about his own previous statements on tape),  it is no surprise that a mere claim that it is "all fake news" is not going to be convincing to anyone other than the stupidest of the the stupid who voted for him.

That said, the specifics of what is said to have happened in the Ritz-Carlton do sound improbable.  To my mind, it has more of the ring of a "friend of a friend" story:  "yeah, her best friend worked as a cleaner at the hotel at the time, and you know what they found when they cleaned Trump's suite?..."etc

* The more important issue, though, as most analysis is saying, is the matter of Trump team contacts with Russians regarding helpful information for his campaign.  And the fact that the FBI took it seriously enough to ask for warrants - assuming that the Guardian is right about that - it's really extraordinary, isn't it?   That the FBI is concerned enough to be checking into a President-elect's advisers direct involvement with Russian hacking of an American political party?    It really casts a terrible pall over the legitimacy of the entire Trump team.

* The sexual element of the allegations is not big enough to distract the public mind from this more important part.  Thus Caroline Overington at The Australian is very silly to be claiming otherwise:
But do you know what really works for Trump? The fact that the sex tape gets a mention in the dossier means that every other piece of information in it – the alleged links between Russia and his campaign, for example – gets swamped.  
 Rubbish.

It is hard to imagine a President-elect coming to an inauguration with less credibility that what is happening now.

The Bannon influence

I think this David Brooks column on Steve Bannon and the different ideologies fighting for Trump's tiny attention span sounds as if it is accurate.  But he ends by saying that he thinks even as Bannon fails with Trump, he may have more influence on the next generation.

I have my doubts about that.  For one thing,  Bannon is a remarkably unhealthy looking 63 year old - the puffy face and general tired look just doesn't suggest to me someone whose health is going to hold up long.  And besides, isn't he just a bit of an opportunist who has floated from career to career?  I think he'll fall out with Trump - assuming Trump makes it to the inauguration - soon enough and we won't hear much of him again.

Tax and the rich

To be honest, I'm in no position to judge the modelling work in the paper, and "common sense" is a tricky thing when it comes to economics, but this certainly sounds worth looking at:

We Need To Tax The Rich But Instead We'll Do The Opposite

What’s the scale of the problem? The paper notes that in the U.S., “the share of overall wealth held by the top 1% has increased from around 25% in 1980 to over 40% today; for the top 0.1% it has increased from less than 10% to over 20% over the same time period.” Economic mobility has severely declined during the same time period as well, which means that our country today is far more unequal and offers far less opportunity than it did a generation ago. When the very wealthy double their share of the pie at the same time when it is harder than ever to achieve a better living standard than your own parents, people will naturally get frustrated, even if they can’t put their finger on who or what is thwarting their dreams.

The new study uses an economic model to examine several possible drivers of inequality in the past 35 years, including the decline of progressive taxation (meaning that the rich are being asked to give less of what they earn back to the public), increases in wage inequality (the growing gap between how much high and low earners are paid), and the rise of the capital share of income (how much of our national income comes from capital, rather than from wages for labor). Their findings: It’s the taxes, stupid.
 

Warming oceans and toxic shellfish

From NPR:
A new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has found a link between warming ocean conditions and a dangerous neurotoxin that builds up in sea life: domoic acid.
Seafood lovers got a glimpse of that threat in 2015, when record high ocean temperatures and lingering toxic algae blooms raised the domoic acid in shellfish to unsafe levels, shutting down the West Coast Dungeness crab fishery from Alaska to Southern California for several months. Though less dramatic, the problem emerged again this season, when harvesting was again delayed for portions of the coasts.
Domoic acid is a toxin produced by Pseudo-nitzschia, a micro algae which can accumulate in species like Dungeness crab, clams, mussels and anchovy. It can be harmful to both humans and wildlife, including sea lions and birds....
Although we're starting to hear about domoic acid more often, it's been on the radar of public health officials since a Canadian outbreak in 1987 killed three and sickened over 100. In mild cases, it can cause vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal cramps. Severe cases can cause trouble breathing, memory loss, and even coma or death.
And, of course, the AGW link:
And a future with more frequent domoic acid events seems likely, says says Bill Peterson, a NOAA senior scientist and co-author of the study. "We're having more and more of these warm ocean events and we're going to have more domoic acid blooms each year. It might become a chronic problem," he says.

The Trump problem

If true, it just confirms the gigantic problem with Trump - he's a shallow intellect who doesn't have a clue as to who to take advice from:
President-elect Donald Trump met Tuesday with Robert F. Kennedy Jr. to discuss “vaccines and immunizations,” and after the meeting Kennedy announced that Trump had selected him to lead a commission looking into “vaccine safety.” This should worry just about anyone who believes in science, public health, and dispelling myths about vaccines:
 

What a guy

The latest allegations against Bill O'Reilly, combined with a reading of the some lowlights of his personal life at Wikipedia, are really amazing.     How gullible would the average Fox viewer have to be to not believe there is at some disgraceful behaviour behind all of this? 

It's pretty extraordinary that he manages to maintain his career at Fox at all.  

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

An alcohol flavour I didn't know existed

From NPR:
Though the great outdoors becomes more inhospitable when winter winds rise and temperatures drop, there's nothing like wandering through an evergreen forest as snow squeaks underfoot. And once people have trudged stiffly back inside, they can keep those forests with them by imbibing one of the world's many pine liqueurs.

These liqueurs have been a longtime fixture in European hotels and ski lodges. Under the umbrella of "schnapps" (essentially any strong, clear alcoholic drink with little resemblance to the sweetened stuff marketed as schnapps in the United States), Austrians have been brewing their own pine-flavored varieties for generations. Yet it wasn't until the early 2000s that these evergreen spirits finally made their way to America — 2005, in particular, seems to be the magic year. Call it good market research or just good timing, but at least three major pine spirits made their U.S. debut that year.

A possible concern re virtual reality

I missed the original Atlantic article which Michael Prescott posts about, but he quotes a lot from it anyway.

Does sound a bit like good VR gaming in the future might create a lot of teenage depressed zombies.   As if sitting around the house all day watching Youtubes or Netflix all day isn't bad enough.  (I just got back from lunch at which I urged my local teenagers to do something else - build a model, read a book, anything other than staring at the screen.   I was ignored.)

A licence to print money

I see that Rogue One (still unseen by yours truly) has already made $914,000,000 globally - in less than a month.  (And it made $22 million last weekend in the US - so the total is soon going to hit a billion.)

An amazing licence to print money, this franchise. 

About champagne

A good summary of how it's made, and its history, is up at the TLS.   Here's some esoteric history for your next dinner party:
No single person can be credited with the invention of champagne, but the English can take some of the credit. In 1657, a book by Ralph Austen, a cider manufacturer from Oxford, described adding a “walnut” of sugar to cider bottles to make the drink sparkle. In December 1662, the physician and scientist Dr Christopher Merrett gave a lecture to the Royal Society which described how to make wines “brisk” by the addition of molasses. In France, champagne had always been enjoyed as a still wine; the occasional sparkling bottle was considered flawed. But the taste caught on, from Britain to France, and such research made it possible to replicate the effects in the production process itself. In the meantime, the famous courtier and adventurer Sir Kenelm Digby had been experimenting with making bottles strong enough to withstand the additional pressure brought about by fermentation.

Digby’s experiments showed foresight. The main problem facing the Champenois in the early nineteenth century was the casse – broken bottles. Without a proper understanding of how much sugar was needed to create an adequate sparkle, or mousse, and without proper temperature control in the cellar, bottles would explode under the pressure of excessive carbon dioxide. In 1828, for example – a year known as la grande casse – eight out of ten of all champagne bottles were smashed.

The problem was definitively solved in 1837 by André François, a pharmacist from Châlons-en-Marne, whose work had an incalculable effect on the history of champagne. François worked out the precise formula needed to ensure that enough sugar was added to create the mousse, but not enough to create excessive fermentation. As the official “notes on the history of champagne” presented at the 1899 Exposition Universelle proudly stated: “Since M. François’ important discovery, the sparkling wine trade has considerably expanded”.

Brisbane River sharks, revisited

Last week there was a report of a large hammerhead shark being caught near the mouth of the Brisbane River.  But from what I saw, how close was a bit of a mystery.

Now, however, I see that the bull sharks, which are known to swim all the way up to Ipswich, are also in the news:
A young rower had her scull attacked at the weekend while training near the Kurilpa Bridge in the CBD.
Coach Peter Toon said teeth marks were left on the rower's craft after the attack.
"She saw the fin and it went around and gave it a big snap on the stern of the boat," he said.
"It put some big gouges into it and it upset her quite a bit as you could imagine."
Mr Toon said despite the scary incident, the rower had been back on the water this week.
"I've been coaching for over 25 years and I've never heard of an incident where a bull shark has attacked a rower."
Yikes.  There's a photo at the link if you want to see the damage to the boat.

I wrote a lengthy post about bull sharks in the river in 2010.  

And wrote science fiction in his spare time...

I never took much interest in the story of Casanova, so it's handy to have a review of a new biography about him to fill in some gaps in my knowledge:
Casanova moved with ease in all strata of society. As well as hordes of nobility, he met Benjamin Franklin, Bonnie Prince Charlie, Frederick the Great, Catherine the Great, Pope Clement XIII, Rousseau, Voltaire and Mozart. He mixed with financiers, ambassadors, Freemasons, magicians and government ministers, in addition to an awful lot of gamblers, rakes, actors, dancers, courtesans and common prostitutes.

Perhaps his most famous exploit was his escape, after 15 months of miserable incarceration, from one of Venice’s state prisons, known as I Piombi, to which he was confined in 1755 at the age of 30, ostensibly for irreligion. This was the story he was most often asked to tell, and the account of it he published in 1788 was one of the few literary successes of his lifetime. He also wrote poems, a translation of Homer into ottava rima, librettos, some pamphlets on mathematics, historical studies on Poland and Venice and — among other things — a five-volume work of science fiction set in the Earth’s interior. He envied the literary fame of Goethe and Voltaire, and could not quite understand why they were more highly regarded than he was.

The desire for renown as a man of letters came early for Casanova, as most things did. By his account, it arrived around the age of 11, when he stunned the diners at his tutor’s house with a risqué Latin witticism. At about the same time, the tutor’s younger sister gave him his first taste of sex. The other achievements of his adolescence included a doctorate of law awarded at the age of 16, expulsion from a monastery, a spell as a trainee priest, a love affair with a putative castrato (whom Casanova correctly believed to be a girl in disguise), a stint in the army, various other affairs and the start of his mostly unsuccessful gambling career.
We'll leave the story before we get to the incest; maybe readers already know about that?

He took her advice...


Kellyanne Conway wants people to look into Donald Trump’s “heart,” not “what’s come out of his mouth”

News from Tanzania

Sometimes, when I am at a loss for something novel to post about, I pick a random country's news website to see what's happening there.

Today, therefore, I can inform you that the hot news in Tanzania (which, incidentally, seems to be hosting several Chinese government officials - I think China is going to own that continent soon enough) includes the following:


THE Prime Minister, Mr Kassim Majaliwa, yesterday ordered the arrest of four officials, including two from the Masasi-Mtwara Cooperative Union Limited (MAMCU), following the loss of over 2,000 tonnes of cashewnuts.

The company deals with reserving the crops in warehouses. The four are accused of laxity, which has led to 2,138 tonnes of cashewnuts to go missing.

Mr Majaliwa gave the order during a meeting he had convened in Songea that brought together officials from MAMCU, owners of BUCO storehouse and a group of six farmers from Agricultural Marketing Cooperative Societies (AMCOS) in Mtwara and Masasi.
In other news, capital works are badly needed for one village:
ABOUT 29,000 residents of Majimoto village at Mamba Division in Mlele District, Katavi Region are in severe shortage of water to the extent of buying a bucket of the liquid at 1,000/-.
Report from the area shared with the ‘Daily News’ showed that water that is commonly fetched in the village is drawn from Majimoto hot spring, but is unsuitable for human consumption because it has a lot of volcanic ashes, besides having unpleasant taste and smell.
According to Majimoto Ward Councillor, Mr Nyangoso Serengeti, who is also Mpimbwe Council Chairman, the residents of the area have been suffering for so many years without any alternative to provide them with safe and clean water. He said that the residents as a result are forced to walk a distance of seven kilometers to the neighbouring Mamba village to draw water especially women and children. “Majimoto hot water spring is the only source of water we have at Majimoto village for all sorts of domestic purposes including washing clothes, utensils and cooking.
But it is not safe for drinking,” he pointed out. He said that the situation has forced cyclists fetching the liquid from the neighbouring village to sell it locally to other villagers at 1,000/- a bucket. But for the poor, he said that they are forced to drink it since affording 1,000/- per bucket for an ordinary household is expensive.
 And finally, if you can make any head or tail of this columnist's column, please explain it to me...  

Telephoning the dead

A nice post here about Japanese taking comfort from telephoning the departed.  

Seems to me to be the making of a good movie in there, somewhere...

Monday, January 09, 2017

What if tornadoes increased anyway?

Back in 2011, Roy Spencer wrote disparagingly of the suggestion that global warming was likely to increase the number of tornadoes in the US.  Wrong, said Spencer: if anything, global warming suggests fewer tornadoes.

I assumed he might be right on that; but then again, it seems Nature may not have got the message:
The frequency of large-scale tornado outbreaks is increasing in the United States, particularly when it comes to the most extreme events, according to research recently published in Science.

The study by researchers including Joel E. Cohen, a visiting scholar at the University of Chicago, finds the increase in does not appear to be the result of a warming climate as earlier models suggested. Instead, their findings tie the growth in frequency to trends in the vertical wind shear found in certain supercells—a change not so far associated with a warmer climate."What's pushing this rise in extreme outbreaks, during which the vast majority of tornado-related fatalities occur, is far from obvious in the present state of climate science," said Cohen, the Abby Rockefeller Mauzé Professor at Rockefeller University and Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Columbia University, who conducted the research while a visiting scholar in UChicago's Department of Statistics.
It reminds me of the not entirely unforeseen, but not as widely expected as it might have been, phenomena of the AGW-primed wandering polar vortex sucking cold air further South in NH winters, while the Arctic has exceptionally warmer Christmases.  In other words, a case of a bit of a topsy-turvy effect of AGW.  Just the potential for the Atlantic currents to slow and make England and Northern Europe colder in winter, too.  (See a few posts back, if you missed it.)

Climate change is perhaps a bit, um, lumpier than some may have expected. 

Or, it may be a case of Spencer being wrong, but for the right reason?  Which makes a break from his general AGW line of being wrong for the wrong reason.

Missing the point, somewhat

I see that China is making an effort to improve its toilets, which don't have the best reputation amongst tourists.  (I have never been there, but yes, I have read of this problem, I'm sure.)

Here's the photo of the best in the land, apparently:


Now that is a pretty fancy male toilet, and although I appreciate their effort toward the inter-urinal privacy screen (something of which I have long been a proponent, and lament the frequent failure of new public toilets in Australia to incorporate), making the screens transparent seems to be missing the point, a bit...

Long memory

Wow, Tim Blair has a long memory.  I see that he has linked to a post here from 2006 in which I did something I haven't done for a very long time - defend Mark Steyn.

For some, this will no doubt raise the question of how much my political colours have changed since I started the blog.   It has certainly long irked Catallaxy commenters that I maintain "conservative" in the title of this place, despite my support of the Gillard government, disdain for Tea Party and "conservative" politics of America, dismay at the election of Trump, and full support of climate change action (ideally, by a carbon price - but I remain skeptical of emissions trading schemes).

Now I have been through this exercise before, but it doesn't hurt to re-state it:

People should remember that  I was completely unimpressed by Kevin Rudd from the start, and was calling out his apparent personality issues long before their true extent became clear;  I have never resiled from basic support of the Howard government; I still think much of the criticism of George W Bush was overblown even though the Iraqi intervention turned out to be something of a disaster; I would much prefer that gay relationships were recognised as civil unions rather than marriage; I'm pretty skeptical of the way many now think of transexualism, too;  I'm leery of IVF and certainly against the mooted "brave new world" of things such as three parent babies; I think much of pro-decriminalisation of drugs argument is ill founded and continually oversimplifies the issue, and I would be perfectly happy if we could maintain the one legal drug of alcohol, with appropriate constraints;  I've been as dismayed as anyone about the rise of ISIS and the ongoing fallout the world is suffering from an internal Islamic dispute stemming back more than 1,000 years.   I've posted quite a few times about the seemingly peculiar susceptibility of Islamic societies to conspiracy and rumour; although since the rise of the importance of fake news to the Trump voter, clearly I can now be called out as being a bit unfair in singling out the Islamic societies in that regard.

Here's the thing:  it's the American Right (and its Australian followers) that has moved since the start of this blog from a position of "reasonable" conservatism to one of unreasonable, ideologically based positions that are no longer pragmatic, but in fact aggressively dismissive of evidence.

The prime bell-ringer of this change is global warming, of course, where Mark Steyn and his ilk have basically been conned by a mere handful of contrarian scientists and a much larger body of amateur self-aggrandising wannabe scientists and propagandists (Monckton, Watts, Inhofe, etc).   It's the climate change denialists who have moved from mere skepticism about the exaggeration of some forecasts of the imminent effects of climate change  into the world of dishonest or disingenuous cherry picking of graphs and quotes, and conspiracy belief about how science works, and thus unwisely decided to double down rather than admit they were wrong.  Steyn in particular fully deserves to be sued for defamation by Mann, who I hope succeeds in his action.   Andrew Bolt is similarly impervious to evidence.

The same thing can be said of economics, too:   the American Right can't get over belief in Laffernomics, despite recent and older examples of its failure.   In a sense, though, their gullibility on this is more explicable than it is on climate change - as I noted recently, there is so much going on in societies that economics presents a wealth of opportunity to come up with multiple explanations for current economic success or failure.  I don't think that climate change science allows even half way plausible alternatives.

And then there is the issue of Islam.  It is a serious problem, of course, whenever a group of immigrants seek to bring illiberal attitudes, violence or crime into a society that is prepared to given them a home.   But the likes of Steyn have, I think, lost historical perspective on the matter, and are now prone to exaggeration on the risk of terrorism.   Furthermore, it seems to me that anyone on the Right who supported the Iraq invasion has some gall if they try to shift the blame for the humanitarian crises we see subsequently from the Islamic Middle East onto a Left which never supported the de-stabilising effort in the first place.

I think Andrew Bolt is particularly offensive with his "who let them in?" dog whistles whenever there is migrant crime in Australia.   There is no doubt humanitarian immigration is something worthy; there is also no doubt that sometimes it comes with  gang related problems, for a time.  And there is also no doubt there is no magic detector for working out which migrant families may harbour future gang members.

Other examples of the ways in which the American Right has come to dismay me:  the barely disguised racism underpining much of the Right wing populist attack on Obama, and their non common-sensical approach to gun control which would consider Ronald Reagan to be a Lefty on the issue.

So there you have it - it's so called American Right wing conservatism which has walked away from the reasonable, under the influence of  a variety of self serving interests;  not me.   And Mark Steyn is a prime example of someone who has followed this sad path.   

Update:  the blips on my hit map alert me to the fact that Mark Steyn has picked up on Tim Blair's post, and in doing so has linked to my old post too (and referred to this blog by name.)   Obviously, Mark is not a regular reader here...and nor will many of his referrals if they look around the modern incarnation of the blog!

Russia, Putin and how we got here

Tom Switzer (a bit to my surprise) has a go at Putin/Russian apologetics in Fairfax today.   They're not so bad, he argues, just making sure their borders are well protected by things like, well, being prepared to annex neighbours on the other side of the border.  (I think that's how the argument goes.)  Colour me skeptical of the effort.

For a bigger picture of what Putin wants Russia to be, in future geo-political terms, the end of year article at The Interpreter has some good links, several arguing he wants a kind of return to the past.  The pre-revolution past. 

But the best thing I have read is this lengthy article at Foreign Policy by someone well on the inside of the Obama approach to Russia, who argues how things went well for a while, but fell apart, with a fair bit of Russian paranoia being the cause.  A very convincing read, it seems to me...

I've been thinking...

...about free will, determinism, etc, as you do when you want a good intellectual headache. 

One thing that occurred to me is that, if your allegiance is with the libertarian strand of politics, and as such left wing identity politics gets up your nose, (I'm looking at you, J Soon), you don't really have much to complain about if you're also happy with "there is no such thing as free will" arguments being run by your scientist atheist pals (who, incidentally, are quite likely very liberal politically) all the time.  Because it sure seems you're endorsing the key thought behind most of it, namely the immutability of "identity".

Secondly, I see that there is a (former?) astronomer (Bob Doyle) who has spent years pondering the question, and created a very extensive website that seems well worth reading - The Information Philosopher.   He's also published a book about it (although I think self published, which is not usually a good sign.)  I suppose he counts as a very enthusiastic amateur philosopher, but doesn't present as a nutty one.  I like some of his historical perspective on the whole question, too.  Jerry Coyne doesn't like Doyle's solution to the issue, but Coyne reads as a bit of a jerk to me, so I'm not sure I should worry.

I see that a professional philosopher last year published a book  How Physics Makes Us Free, which is a good title.   A guy at Forbes reckons it's the science book of the year, and a very detailed (and largely positive) review appears here.

I think the author may be onto something...

Saturday, January 07, 2017

It's physics/philosophy time!

*  A fairly lengthy essay by Steven Weinberg is at the New York Review of Books, with the alluring title "The Trouble with Quantum Mechanics".   Not bad.

*  I see, via Jason Soon, that there is a long collection of short science pieces by various science-y people, many famous, at Edge.org.   A couple of them bring up some topics long of interest:  David Christian writes about the Noosphere (a great word, and concept, I think);  and the old "is he is crazy, or not?"  Omega Point physicist  Frank Tipler (who supports Trump and is a climate change skeptic, so the "crazy" verdict is starting to look pretty convincing) gets to write again about parallel universes of the Everett interpretation of quantum mechanics and free will.  Here's the argument:
The free will question arises because the equations of physics are deterministic. Everything that you do today was determined by the initial state of all the universes at the beginning of time. But the equations of quantum mechanics say that although the future behavior of all the universes are determined exactly, it is also determined that in the various universes, the identical yous will make different choices at each instant, and thus the universes will differentiate over time. Say you are in an ice cream shop, trying to choose between vanilla and strawberry. What is determined is that in one world you will choose vanilla and in another you will choose strawberry. But before the two yous make the choice, you two are exactly identical. The laws of physics assert it makes no sense to say which one of you will choose vanilla and which strawberry. So before the choice is made, which universe you will be in after the choice is unknowable in the sense that it is meaningless to ask.
To me, this analysis shows that we indeed have free will, even though the evolution of the universe is totally deterministic. Even if you think my analysis has been too facile—entire books can and have been written on the free will problem—nevertheless, my simple analysis shows that these books are themselves too facile, because they never consider the implications of the existence of the parallel universes for the free will question.
He's less sure what the Everett scenario of ever branching universes means for the problem of evil, but he does say:
No analysis of why evil exists can be considered reasonable unless it takes into account the existence of the parallel universes of quantum mechanics. 
 I also liked Jim Holt's short entry on the mistake Einstein made in not calling his theory of relativity "invariant theory" instead.

OK, seeing Tipler brought up free will, I also can't go past commenting on the problem with  Jerry Coyne's article asserting that there is no free will (and which physicist Bee endorses without reservation).  The consequence, he says, is (my bold):
Now this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t punish criminals. We should—in order to remove them from society when they’re dangerous, reform them so they can rejoin us, and deter others from apeing bad behavior. But we shouldn’t imprison people as retribution—for making a “bad choice.” 
Um, in what sense can their be "reform" of criminals if it is not involving the idea of them using free will to not re-offend?  Lobotomy?  Operant conditioning?  

See, if you don't believe in free will being behind personal responsibility, it logically opens the way for the State to seek to exert control over criminals/dissents via direct biological methods - the Clockwork Orange scenario - because that's the way the universe operates.   You can't rely on logic and persuasion to work - indeed, if think they do work, aren't you re-opening the very question of free will that you deny?  

CS Lewis wrote an essay about this back in (I think) the 1950's, and I still fail to see how the "no free will" atheists seriously address the issue.   The essay contains a line which many conservative/libertarians love to quote (and rather irk me when they do so) - this one:
Of all tyrannies a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive.
The problem is, they cite it for trivial matters - a complaint about restrictive smoking laws, for example;  they use it as if there is no valid Christian interest in governments making laws for the common good.

But despite that gripe of mine, it makes the argument against treating punishment as only being about reform or deterrence as relevantly today as it did when it was written.

Friday, January 06, 2017

Some optimism for Friday

*  From the CSM:
Gigafactory begins battery production: Start of something big for Tesla?...

Tesla has said the Gigafactory, said to cost $5 billion and expected to be one of the largest buildings in the world once it is complete, will significantly lower the cost of its products. The start of production there, then, marks progress for the ambitious goals of the company and its chief executive, Elon Musk, to revolutionize energy use....

The Gigafactory is currently operating at 30 percent, but is forecast to eventually transform battery production on a global scale. When it is expected to reach peak production capacity in 2018, the Gigifactory plans to produce 35 gigawatt hours per year of lithium-ion battery cells, nearly as much as the rest of the entire world’s battery production combined, the company notes. Put in other terms, this scale of production could power New York City for about three years, Tesla has previously said.
 *  At least some newspapers are bucking the trend?:
The Washington Post expects to hire more than 60 journalists in the coming months — a sign of remarkable growth for a newspaper in the digital age.
After a year of record traffic and digital advertising revenue, the Post newsroom will grow by more than 8 percent, to more than 750 people. The extent of the newsroom expansion was first reported by Politico. The Post will add a "rapid-response" investigative team, expand its video journalism and breaking news staff, and make additional investments in podcasts and photography.
Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos bought the Post in October 2013 and reportedly invested $50 million in the company last year. That investment is paying off, according to a memo from publisher Fred Ryan that said the Post is now "a profitable and growing company." Ryan said the Post's online traffic had increased by nearly 50 percent in the past year, and new subscriptions have grown by 75 percent, more than doubling digital subscription revenue.
Meanwhile, subscriptions at The New York Times have also surged. Times CEO Mark Thompson said on CNBC that the paper added 132,000 new subscribers in the 18 days after the election, a tenfold increase over the same period a year ago. The Los Angeles Times and The Wall Street Journal also reported record growth in subscriptions.
*  Cancer death rates (in the US, but I'm sure in most Western countries) are way down:

Cancer death rate has dropped 25 percent since 1991 peak
The drop is the result of steady reductions in smoking and advances in early detection and treatment, and is driven by decreasing death rates for the four major cancer sites: lung (- 43% between 1990 and 2014 among males and -17% between 2002 and 2014 among females), breast (-38% from 1989 to 2014), prostate (-51% from 1993 to 2014), and colorectal (-51% from 1976 to 2014).
 *  Bizarrely, my long time preferred priority for a space program - a lunar base - may end up getting traction under a Trump presidency.   (He'll still be a disaster, though.)

Thursday, January 05, 2017

An underestimate of an important effect of climate change?

Oh my.  Until relatively recently, it seemed that there wasn't that much concern in the climate change science community about increased temperatures and glacial melt causing (at least any time soon) a major slowdown in the Atlantic overturning currents that help keep England and Northern Europe relatively warm.  But last year, it was noted that the current is already slowing down, which did raise some eyebrows as to whether it was part of a temporary cycle, or a sign of something worse.

Now, from Real Climate, looks like some detailed analysis shows the risk of a major shutdown has been underestimated.

What's not explained is how serious for parts of Europe the cooling (in winter?) may be. 

A chemical problem I hadn't heard of...

Quite a fascinating article appeared at the Atlantic recently, explaining the dire health effects of carbon disulphide, an important chemical in some industrial processes, but which I had never heard of.

As usual, the poor workers of 19th century factories which first started using it (in rubber manufacture) were the ones worst hit.  In 1887, for example:
Peterson had heard of carbon-disulfide insanity in Europe, so he alerted his colleagues in The Boston Medical and Surgical Journal (now known as The New England Journal of Medicine) that the problem had come to America. In England, the new term “gassed” had arisen, defined in the Liverpool Daily Post as “the term used in the India rubber business, and it meant dazed.” The British physician Thomas Oliver had recalled watching as people working in rubber factories left after their shifts and “simply staggered home,” apart from themselves. The effect could be deadly. “Some of them have become the victims of acute insanity,” Oliver wrote, “and in their frenzy have precipitated themselves from the top rooms of the factory to the ground.”
Obviously, occupational health and safety wasn't a thing that travelled fast in the 19th century, since the  dangers of the chemical had been known about in Europe for over 20 years:
Evidence piled on in 1856, when a professor of medicine at the University of Paris named Auguste Delpech reported several cases of carbon disulfide poisoning to the French Academy of Medicine. The symptoms ranged from disturbing dreams to compromised memory to mania. The cases were so fascinating that he turned the focus of his career to carbon disulfide. In a medical newspaper, he told of a 27-year-old who, after just three months of working with carbon disulfide in the rubber industry, appeared prematurely aged and whose “sexual desire and erections were abolished.”

By 1863, Delpech had accrued enough case studies to write a 100-plus-page paper on the dangers of carbon disulfide, particularly among workers in balloon and condom factories. He observed two distinct phases of intoxication: a period of mental disturbance followed by disruptions of the distal nerves, causing weakness and numbness in the extremities. Hypersexuality gave way to impotence, bypassing the middle ground. Chronicling these effects put Delpech at the front of the emerging discipline of the science of the mind.

Mitochondria replacement risks

No, it's not just conservative reservations about fiddling with genetics that makes me annoyed that this line of work is being pushed by some scientists.

Plenty of scientists worry that it is risky to the potential child.

I can't for the life of me understand why people don't see the problem with this:   when did the interests of  adults who know they have a inheritable major health problem to nonetheless have a child with their own genes start over-riding the obvious moral problem of experimenting in a way that runs a serious risk of creating a child with serious health problems as a result of the experiment? 

The moral thing to do, surely, is for that very small part of the population to not insist on propagating their own (or, particularly, the mother's) genes:  adopt or use egg donation.   With the latter, the mother still gets all the experience of pregnancy, even. 


 

More bad jellyfish news

We're up to 10 Fraser Island area irukandji stings (all requiring hospitalisation, I think) this summer holiday.

As I said a few posts back, if this keeps spreading south, it's a real worry for summer tourism.

If I were the State government, I would be putting plenty of money into research on the matter. As the Guardian's report on the 9th sting indicated, it is difficult to be 100% certain that it is irukandji or a jellyfish in the same family.  More needs to be known before any hit further south and the really busy beach areas.

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Another underwhelming dystopia

For some reason (he must have read somewhere that it was good, but I don't know where) my son has been pestering me to rent the 2006 dystopia movie Children of Men.   I vaguely recalled that it had been well reviewed, even if a box office dud, so despite my general dislike of the dystopia genre, we watched it last night.

It is, by my reckoning, a deeply unpleasant film with nothing to recommend it.  Well made, sure, but with no character to particularly care about, a pretty silly premise (it's 18 years since the last baby was born, and the world still doesn't have a clue as to what's going on?   Come on - give science some credit.   It's a scenario that could readily have a scientific explanation - after all, they have been working on the idea of genetically engineering viruses to make pest mammals infertile for some time.  But apparently the director doesn't like  movies that explain too much - hence virtually nothing in this film is explained properly.)

It did, though, confirm in my mind why it is that I can't take to the dystopia genre - with 1984 being my prime precedent.   It's because they routinely fail to make how the world got there in any way plausible. 

Sure, small individual countries with the breakdown of government and a reversion to tribalism (but armed with modern weaponry), or fanciful social experiment, can fall into dystopia for a time.  But global dystopias where everything has collapsed, and/or all government has become authoritarian, and/or all happiness has been sucked out of the world, on an apparently permanent basis - now that takes some explaining.  There's no true historical precedent, and, so often, these scenarios just show too many humans acting with no humanity.   Dystopia novels or movies never get me over that plausibility line.

A fan of the genre could argue, I suppose, that plausibility is not their main point:  it's the warnings they give about human nature, or the nature of power, or some such.   But sorry, for me, that just doesn't cut it.  Set your lesson in some example of a real temporary dystopia, if you will (I'm thinking The Last King of Scotland, for example), but why create a fake, implausible world?

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Unimportant news

I did not care for the season opener for Sherlock.  And, from reading the lengthy comments at The Guardian, it seems many other people agree with my assessment that the episode was an underwhelming mess, with busy-ness substituting for quality.   It did have some of the the worrying hallmarks of the fate of post-Tennant Dr Who, which became unwatchable.

Also, as with many at The Guardian, I had no concern over the fate of a certain character, whose "secret life" subplot had never been convincing.  

Monday, January 02, 2017

Saturday, December 31, 2016

This is really bad news...

From The Guardian:
Swimmers are being urged to take extra care in waters off Queensland amid warnings the deadly irukandji jellyfish is moving further south.
Four people have been taken to hospital since Wednesday after suffering suspected irukandji stings off Queensland’s Fraser coast.
The irukandji – the world’s smallest and most venomous box jellyfish – is usually found in waters north of Mackay, about 700km further up the coast.
The James Cook University associate professor Jamie Seymour said it was clear the species was following warming sea temperatures south.
“We’ve got good data now that shows quite nicely that irukandji has been spreading down the east coast of Australia, moving slowly but surely southwards,” he told ABC radio.
“It’s only a matter of time before they get to the southern end of Fraser Island down to the Sunny coast.”
If irukandji become an annual problem at my favourite Australian beach area - beautiful Noosa - I suspect it could mean a big hit to its tourism industry.

As for the number of people stung around the Fraser Island area - I see that a few years ago, there were 6 people hospitalised for it, so the numbers are staying pretty constant recently.

I've only ever had one decent bluebottle sting in my life, on my forearm, and the welts and pain from that were pretty excruciating.  I hate to imagine how painful and distressing a sting from a jelly fish that routinely puts people in hospital must be.  And, according to that last link, the sting effects can be somewhat delayed:
...the irukandji can take days before its effects are fully felt.

The initial sting is typically mild, followed by vomiting, profuse sweating, headache, agitation, rapid heart rate and high blood pressure. 

The increase in blood pressure may be life-threatening and can be associated with abnormal heart beat and heart failure.
Actually, according to Wikipedia, it is more commonly only about 30 minutes before the pain and distress hits in.  And note the unusual psychological effect it seems to have:
 Because the jellyfish is very small, and the venom is only injected through the tips of the nematocysts (the cnidocysts) rather than the entire lengths, the sting may barely be noticed at first. It has been described as feeling like little more than a mosquito bite. The symptoms, however, gradually become apparent and then more and more intense in the subsequent five to 120 minutes (30 minutes on average). Irukandji syndrome includes an array of systemic symptoms, including severe headache, backache, muscle pains, chest and abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting, sweating, anxiety, hypertension, tachycardia and pulmonary edema.[4][11][12] One unusual symptom associated with the syndrome is a feeling of "impending doom".[13] Patients have been reported as being so certain they are going to die, they beg their doctors to kill them to get it over with.[14] Symptoms generally abate in four to 30 hours, but may take up to two weeks to resolve completely.[6]
A creature best avoided, that's for sure.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

A few movies noted

We still haven't been to the cinema since Christmas, but I've watched at home:

*  the 2016 Ghostbusters.    Pretty harmless, pretty dumb, comedy;  in other words, pretty much like the first one.  I think the climatic fight in this one was better, actually.  Being surprised by the number of cameos from the original cast was fun, too.  Still, nothing to get excited about either way, just like the first one.  As was entirely to be expected, the alt.right, 4chan twerps were getting their testicles in a twist for no good reason.

The Secret Life of Pets.   Going by the credits, much of the animation for Illumination is still done by the French, and they really have an impressive Pixar/Disney quality look about their product now.  The story is very charming and cute, especially if you like dogs.  Enjoyable.  (Also, it's the first rental I've done using the Google Play app on the smart TV.  It worked a treat, with high definition looking great.)

Moon.  Found on Google Play, I've been wanting to watch this 2009 film by Duncan Jones (famously, son of David Bowie) for quite a while, given its mostly good reviews.  (Also, I had been very impressed with Jones' second feature, Source Code, which I commented on in 2012.)  Well, sad to say, I was pretty underwhelmed.

Complete spoiler!  Avoid if you don't want to know      Unlike Source Code, the basic explanation of what is going on is just stretches credibility too far, and in a broad sense, the concept had been much more interestingly dealt with in Bladerunner.    (It doesn't hurt that visually, if not narratively, Bladerunner looks like it is happening in a much more distant future, when the improbable technology behind both films seems more vaguely plausible.    The other film with which it invites comparison, Oblivion, also had the advantage of it being aliens who had the "clones with implanted memories" technology available.  Again, it was a much more enjoyable film.)  

It just doesn't pass my sniff test to think that it would ever be worthwhile to use this type of technology to caretake a moon mine, when Earth is so close by and rocket technology is clearly meant to be very advanced.