Friday, March 16, 2018

Well, duh

Time magazine has a profile of Fox News's Shepard Smith, the who sticks out at the network like a sore thumb for his sometimes effective criticism and debunking of Trump.   (He's also gay, in a place renowned for straight men behaving badly.)  But how's this for the biggest understatement of this century (my bold):
Despite being the cable-news ratings leader, Fox News’ audience is also old. The median Fox News viewer in 2017 was 65 overall, the same as MSNBC, and 66 in primetime, the highest of all cable news networks. “I think that our audience skews conservative. We learn about our audience through research and data,” says Smith. A 2014 study by Pew Research Center indicated Fox News was the most-trusted news source for “consistently conservative” viewers, edging out the Wall Street Journal, Breitbart, and the Drudge Report.

How to annoy Russia

Someone at New Statesman, talking about how Britain should react to Russian assassinations on British soil, concludes:   If we really want to annoy Russia, we should cancel Brexit.   Makes some amusing sense:
So: economic sanctions are hard, war is bloody stupid, and we probably don’t want to get into the habit of trying to knock people off in Moscow restaurants. What we really need is a non-violent action that will definitely undermine Russian interests, doesn’t require US leadership and, ideally, doesn’t cost any money.

Over on Twitter, Jonnie Marbles, who you may recall from his sterling work in the field of hitting Rupert Murdoch with pies, has come up with the perfect idea: cancel Brexit. It’ll make us less dependent on the whims of Donald Trump. It will, if anything, strengthen the economy. And we all know that steps towards European unity annoy the hell out of Putin.

What’s more, the response to the events in Salisbury that's come from Brussels has been far, far warmer than the one that’s come from Washington. Earlier today, the European Parliament’s Brexit supremo Guy Verhofstadt tweeted that, “An attack against one EU & NATO country is an attack on all of us.” It’s like we’ve been beaten up, and the only one who gives a shit is the ex we just dumped in the most humiliating possible way. 

Bowling ball theory

It seems to have taken a surprisingly long time to work it out, but it does sound very likely that Politifact has correctly identified how Trump mangled a legitimate safety test into a "bowling ball" test, misunderstanding and misrepresenting its point completely in the process. 

How did he even know about this, though?   It must have been rumbling around somewhere on a wingnutty site as unfair to American cars, surely?

Of course I negotiate in bad faith - funny hey!

Even the cultist idiots, the wingnut defenders of Trump, aren't putting much effort into defending his open admission that he negotiates in bad faith - just making up claims when he had no idea if they are true or not.

Isn't it incredible that Trump admits this?  Did he do so because he thinks his guess was later vindicated?  I found that part of the quote in the initial report hard to follow.

Clarification can be found at Hot Air, which remains about the only conservative site worth visiting, explaining as follows:
Is that true, that we “lose” $17 billion a year to Canada? It is, just like you “lose” every time you go to the grocery store and hand over cash for food. But if you look more closely at the numbers, you’ll see that Trump is cherry-picking: We “lose” only if you’re comparing exports and imports of goods. If you look at the total trade balance between U.S. and Canada, which includes goods and services, we “win.” In 2016, our trade deficit with Canada in terms of goods was $12.1 billion but our trade surplus in terms of services was $24.6 billion, with exports of $54.2 billion versus imports of $26.9 billion. Even by Trump’s own strange metric of trade “winners” and “losers,” America comes out ahead overall in the relationship by about $12.5 billion.

But even if it was Canada that ended up with the surplus, the volume of trade between the two countries is so enormous that it’d be bananas to risk the relationship over a rounding error like $12.5 billion. Total trade between the U.S. and Canada in 2016 was $627.8 billion, with exports supporting more than a million American jobs. Last year, the $282 billion in goods that the U.S. sent north across the border was the largest amount of exports to any single nation on Earth. Even using Trump’s own math, the trade deficit in goods is a measly three percent of total U.S./Canada trade, which probably explains why Trudeau was insisting “we have no trade deficit.” Effectively, we don’t. And as I say, when you include services, there’s *really* no deficit. It’s a surplus for the U.S.
Slate puts it more bluntly (my bold):
Judging America’s trade performance based on goods alone would not make any sense, mind you; exports are exports, whether you’re talking about cars or financial services. But perhaps Trump heard that number, and mistakenly took it to mean that the U.S. has an overall trade deficit with Canada.

If that’s the case, it would still be a cause for concern. Trump is trying to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, and being misinformed about basic trade statistics makes it even less likely that he will make rational decisions about the future of the pact. 

It’s also possible that Trump is surrounded by yes-men, one of whom fed him a misleading statistic in order to confirm his own mistaken assumption. That would also obviously be cause for concern. 

But in the end, this is all just a reminder a broader problem: Our president lives in a solipsistic fantasy world, where facts mostly exist to confirm his own intuitions, and his staff either aren’t capable of correcting him or don’t want to. When it comes to legislation, that ignorance limits him to making nonsensical demands of Congress, because he simply doesn’t understand the issues. But when it comes to issues like trade, where he can unilaterally change U.S. policy with the stroke of a pen, his ignorance is an immediate menace. 

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Changing a policy that never made sense

A couple of comments on Labor's proposed policy change on tax credits being able to be converted to cash for people who never paid tax anyway:

1.   How did the policy ever make any sense anyway???    It really doesn't make sense as a tax policy.   As John Kehoe writes (with my bold):
My self-funded retiree father complained during a phone conversation this week about Labor's "tax grab" on refundable dividend imputation credits.

I shot back asking why asset-rich retirees should get away with paying negative tax rates for owning shares, when younger workers like me front up at the office each day and lose 30-50 per cent in tax?

2.   Is this why it hasn't (as far as I know) yet been condemned by any of the economists who hang around the IPA and Catallaxy?

3.  It is pretty hilarious some of the examples appearing in the Murdoch press as to how it will affect people:

Update:   Davidson and the IPA were slow off the mark, but of course as the policy leaves more money in the hands of government,  they are against it.  Got to strangle tax so as to be able strangle size of government, after all.   I think there will be other economists willing to put the boot into the way Sinclair tries to spin this:
Labor’s problem is that they are being too clever by half. They want to increase taxes without clearly saying so. That is profoundly dishonest. Receiving a tax refund is not welfare. In the same way receiving your change from the supermarket isn’t corporate charity – it is a return of your own money. Millions of Australians overpay their tax liabilities each and every year and receive a refund from the government. Labor proposes to stop paying refunds to older Australians – both now and in the future....

Permanently wrong

Wow.  Look at all the examples Jonathan Chait has quickly provided about the wrong predictions of Larry Kudlow.   The article opens:
A dozen years ago, I wrote a book about the unshakable grip of supply-side economics upon the Republican Party. Supply-side economics is not merely a generalized preference for small government with low taxes, but a commitment to the cause of low taxes, particularly for high earners, that borders on theological. In the time that has passed since then, that grip has not weakened at all. The appointment of Lawrence Kudlow as head of the National Economic Council indicates how firmly supply-siders control Republican economic policy, and how little impact years of failed analysis have had upon their place of power.

The Republican stance on taxes, like its position on climate change (fake) and national health insurance (against it), is unique among right-of-center parties in the industrialized world. Republicans oppose higher taxes everywhere and always, at every level of government. In 2012, every Republican presidential candidate, including moderate Jon Huntsman, indicated they would oppose accepting even a dollar of higher taxes in return for $10 dollars of spending cuts. They likewise believe tax cuts are the necessary tonic for every economic circumstance.

The purest supply-siders, like Kudlow, go further and deeper in their commitment. Kudlow attributes every positive economic indicator to lower taxes, and every piece of negative news to higher taxes. While that sounds absurd, it is the consistent theme he has maintained throughout his career as a prognosticator. It’s not even a complex form of kookery, if you recognize the pattern. It’s a very simple and blunt kind of kookery.
 Yes, it is a faith, and one in which incorrect predictions are never, ever cause for revising the belief.   (The reason being, as I only realised relatively recently, that there is always so much going on in the world that can contribute to economic outcomes, there's a permanently moving feast of  information that can be twisted to make some kind of excuse for failed prediction.   Thus it's never the theory that's at fault.   And yet, ironically, it's typically the same supply side believers who claim - completely without merit - that climate change is a case of "unfalsifiable" science.)   

I see that Krugman has re-tweeted DeLong's take:
Larry Kudlow has not been an economist in at least a generation. Rather, he plays an economist on TV. Whatever ability he once had to make or analyze or present coherent and data-based economic arguments is long gone—with a number of his old friends blaming long-term consequences of severe and prolonged drug addiction.

The right way to view this appointment is, I think, as if Donald Trump were to name William Shatner to command the Navy's 7th Fleet.

That said, probably little damage will be done. The major day-to-day job of the NEC Chair is to coordinate the presentation of economic policy options to the President, and to try to keep the agencies and departments on the same page as they implement policy. Kudlow has negative talents in either organizing and presenting alternative points of view or in controlling bureaucracies. Therefore the agencies will each continue marching to its different drummer, and there will be no coherent presentation of policy options to the President. But that will not be new.
And yet JC from Catallaxy, who doesn't seem to bother making snark comments here much anymore, thinks he's a great choice.    Yeah, sure.   

On Hawking

As I hoped she would, Sabine Hossenfelder has a post up looking at the scientific legacy of Stephen Hawking, and it's larger than I would have guessed.    Roger Penrose's great obituary in The Guardian is the other essential read.

As it happens, I was going to post last week about the last bit of media attention he was getting::
Hawking's answer to the question "What was there before there was anything?" relies on a theory known as the "no-boundary proposal."...

According to TechTimes, Hawking says during the show that before the Big Bang, time was bent — "It was always reaching closer to nothing but didn't become nothing," according to the article. Essentially, "there was never a Big Bang that produced something from nothing. It just seemed that way from mankind's point of perspective."

In in a lecture on the no-boundary proposal, Hawking wrote: "Events before the Big Bang are simply not defined, because there's no way one could measure what happened at them. Since events before the Big Bang have no observational consequences, one may as well cut them out of the theory, and say that time began at the Big Bang."

This isn't the first time Hawking has discussed this theory. He previously delivered lectures on the topic and starred in a free documentary about it, available on YouTube.
I think it's worth noting that Hawking himself didn't really believe his own PR, or perhaps to be more kind, the PR sometimes foisted upon him.  I posted a link in 2014 to this article - Hawking: Is he all he is cracked up to be?  and it still seems a fair take.   I suppose one may question why he was happy to insert himself into popular TV shows that pandered to an inflated view of his scientific importance, but I would presume it was well intentioned to help give science itself a high and "cool" cultural profile.  And probably fun for him too, and it would seem churlish to complain about what a person with such disability should do for a bit of amusement. 

Finally, I just stumbled across this talk his gave on his website:  Godel and the End of Physics.
It's aimed at a general audience, and was delivered in 2002, but I don't recall reading it before.  It's pretty good, although I don't know if he subsequently modified his views later. Certainly, Peter Woit, while not dissing him, regrets that Hawking did start promoting a multiverse view which Woit has spent years arguing is not really scientific.

Update:   I don't really want this to be the "final word" on the post, but I just can't help illustrating again the spectacular way in which a middle aged, conservative Catholic former blogger doesn't know what he doesn't know:

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

In search of Ancient India (and the elephant man)

Reuters has an article up about this:
The government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has appointed a committee of scholars to prove that Hindus are descended from India's first inhabitants. Members of the country's Muslim minority worry the government wants to make them second-class citizens.
Of particular interest to me is the part which is strikingly similar to what Creationist Christians like to do:
Culture Minister Sharma told Reuters he wants to establish that Hindu scriptures are factual accounts. Speaking of the Ramayana, the epic that follows the journey of a Hindu deity in human form, Sharma said: “I worship Ramayana and I think it is a historical document. People who think it is fiction are absolutely wrong.”  The epic tells how the god Rama rescues his wife from a demon king. It still informs many Indians’ sense of gender roles and duty.

Sharma said it was a priority to prove through archaeological research the existence of a mystical river, the Saraswati, that is mentioned in another ancient scripture, the Vedas. Other projects include examining artifacts from locations in scriptures, mapping the dates of astrological events mentioned in these texts and excavating the sites of battles in another epic, the Mahabharata, according to Sharma and minutes of the committee’s meeting.

In much the same way that some Christians point to evidence of an ancient flood substantiating the Biblical tale of Noah and his ark, if the settings and features of the ancient scriptures in India can be verified, the thinking goes, then the stories are true. “If the Koran and Bible are considered as part of history, then what is the problem in accepting our Hindu religious texts as the history of India?” said Sharma.
It gets even more extraordinary:
 During the 2014 inauguration of a hospital in Mumbai, Modi pointed to the scientific achievements documented by ancient religious texts and spoke of Ganesha, a Hindu deity with an elephant’s head: “We worship Lord Ganesha, and maybe there was a plastic surgeon at that time who kept the head of an elephant on the torso of a human. There are many areas where our ancestors made large contributions.” Modi did not respond to a request from Reuters that he expand on this remark.
Gosh.   But apparently, it's not hard to find scholars who think Indian culture pretty much pre-dates humans.  It's reminiscent of Creationists with their men riding on dinosaurs:
Nine of 12 history committee members interviewed by Reuters said they have been tasked with matching archaeological and other evidence with ancient Indian scriptures, or establishing that Indian civilization is much older than is widely known. The others confirmed their membership but declined to discuss the group’s activities. The committee includes a geologist, archaeologists, scholars of the ancient Sanskrit language and two bureaucrats.

One of the Sanskrit scholars, Santosh Kumar Shukla, a professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, told Reuters he believes India’s Hindu culture is millions of years old.


Frum's right

I reckon David Frum, writing in The Atlantic, is right in his interpretation of Trump's reluctance to point the finger at Russia:
“As soon as we get the facts straight, if we agree with them, we will condemn Russia or whoever it may be.”
That is not support for Britain. It is the direct opposite.

Britain and the United States share intelligence information fully, freely, and seamlessly. It’s inconceivable that the U.S. government has not already seen all the information that Theresa May saw before she rose in the House of Commons to accuse Russia.

If the U.S. government had a serious concern about the reliability of that information, it would have expressed that concern directly and privately to the U.K. government before May spoke. But the U.S. had no such concern—that’s why the now-fired secretary of state and the U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom both endorsed May’s words. When Trump raises doubts about the facts, about American agreement with its British ally, about the accuracy of the British accusation against Russia, Trump is not expressing good-faith uncertainty about imperfect information. Trump is rejecting the consensus view of the U.K. and U.S. intelligence communities about an act of Russian aggression—and, if his past behavior is any indication, preparing the way for his own determination to do nothing.

It echoes the approach he took toward Russian intervention in the U.S. election to help elect him in 2016: Feign uncertainty about what is not uncertain in order to justify inaction.

The U.S.-U.K. response to the Russian nerve gas attack should have been coordinated in advance. It was not. The U.S. statement of support for Britain should have arrived on the day that the prime minister delivered her accusation. It did not. The retaliation—if any—should also already be agreed upon. It plainly has not been.

The United Kingdom does not find itself deprived of U.S. support because of some British mistake or rush to judgment. Most of the U.S. government shares the British assessment of what happened—as attested by Tillerson’s statement in support of Britain, which would have relied on U.S. intelligence agency reports. Only Trump stands apart, vetoing any condemnation of Russia and perhaps punishing his secretary of state for breaking ranks on the president’s no-criticizing-Putin policy.
Other support for not blaming Russia for Russian double agents (and British civilians) being killed/seriously endangered by nerve gas invented by Russia:   "strong man" fan CL:

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Pondering Xi and Putin, and their nations

With Xi getting China's top job for as long as he likes, there's a lot of commentary around about how much the rest of the world should be concerned about it.  Chris Uhlmann, who makes a side living in professional China fretting, wants Australia to "challenge" the country.  Yeah, right.   (I also assume that he's not planning on holidaying there any time soon, given some of the more inflammatory parts of that commentary.)

But how much of a worry is China compared to Russia?    Jason Soon will probably roll his eyes, but to my mind, there is something so personal about the tracking down of ex double agents for assassination by Russian authorities that the ruthlessness of Putin's Russia puts me at more unease than the actual potential global economic domination of  Xi's China.  Sure, China might soon be wanting to shoot at ships or planes testing their stupid mid-ocean territorial claims, but that feels more like regular military business, by comparison.

Let me expand on this.    No doubt I am far from well informed, but every show I see lately about life in Russia fills me with pessimism about the Russian character and the future of the country.   For example, despite the occasional bit of protest, it still appears that Putin is ridiculously popular with your average young Russian.  The Washington Post reports:
According to a December survey by independent polling firm Levada Center, 81 percent of adults approve of Putin as president — including 86 percent of Russians 18 to 24 years old. Among the age group, 67 percent told Levada they believed the country was going in the right direction, compared to 56 percent of the general public.

The most internationally connected generation in Russian history, with access to more information than any of their predecessors, is now helping Putin solidify his authoritarianism.
  Rather than dwell on Putin’s crackdown on his opponents, young Russians draw a sense of personal liberty from those freedoms they do enjoy — a mostly open Internet, an open job market and open borders. Many of them reject state TV as propaganda but nevertheless repeat its central tenet — that Russia needs Putin to stand up to U.S. aggression. And perhaps most important, these Russians seem shaped by a collective history they never knew — by fear of a return of the crisis-stricken 1990s or the stifling Soviet era.
Potentially, it would seem, there is a bigger chance of democracy changing things in that country compared to China, but it seems culturally to be very much like a Trumpocracy - as if the wingnuts of America had been  transplanted to an empty land where they get to continually re-affirm via a quasi democracy the power of the "strong man" who they think will re-instate their nation's former greatness.    It's a very backwards looking sentiment; blind to the actual problems, and always putting more emphasis on perceived slights and propaganda than facts.  (The only difference in Right wing propaganda being that Rupert Murdoch makes it for profit in the US; in Russian the poor government has to pay for its own.)  Even how they treat themselves has similarities - Russian perpetual dissatisfaction leads to early death by alcohol in huge numbers;  in Trumpkins, it's opioids.   

So, it's easy to see Russia as playing the role of belligerently dangerous loser in the future of global geo-politics, lashing out with resentment at their lack of success and always wanting to blame other nations for their shortcomings.    A bad psychology for a nuclear power to hold.

Now, while I feel I have no detailed knowledge of Chinese run propaganda, I currently find it hard to be as pessimistic about the psychology of the Chinese.   Sure, nationalism is riding high (although perhaps not quite as high as it sometimes seems), and the level of technologically aided State surveillance is getting to be mind-blowingly powerful, but here's my current perception broad brush perception of the Chinese:

On the downside:   too many people too concerned with making money,  leading to a remarkable level of potential corruption and public hazards, such as the food contamination and environmental degradation of recent years, and at the cost of family life (with economic internal migration like nothing we've seen in the West.)   On top of this, of course, lies a State which has exercised fascistic control over the most intimate details of life and death, such as the one child policy, and using prisoners as a smorgasbord for organ supply to those who could pay.   Not to mention my great dislike for Chinese willingness to cast a swathe through wildlife to feed the fantasy belief system that is traditional Chinese medicine.  They seem, by culture, to be about  the least environmentally conscious people on the planet. 

On the upside:   well, to take those last few points in reverse order -

*  the dire industrial pollution near major cities has perhaps reached a tipping point, whereby the government is recognizing that they just can't keep poisoning the air to the extent they have allowed thus far.  When it comes to global warming, it's bizarre to find that a Communist nation actually acknowledges scientific reality while the science idiocy of the current American administration does not.  

* it's reported that younger Chinese are developing a conscience of Western style when it comes to wanting to preserve wildlife internationally (and even regarding the love of domestic animals);

*  the one child policy and use of prisoners for organs - which would surely have to count as the ultimate examples of State interference in free lives (short of actual genocide, I suppose) - have been wound back.   Hopefully, this means the State is recognizing some limits, or at least, some unintended consequences (such as the massive gender imbalance) to such control.

There is also the prospect that materialism is being somewhat modified by the growth of religion (Christianity) and philosophy (Confucianism), although I see that there is good reason to view the government endorsing the latter with cynicism.  

Even with their current activities in ingratiating themselves with African and other third world nations, obviously with self interest in access to resources and global control as motivation, I find it hard to take too much offence at this revival of economic colonialism.   I mean, it (for now) feels less exploitative than the West's colonialism of the 19th and 20th century, and given the way many post-colonial nations have struggled, I am tempted to view Chinese investment as a case of soft exploitation that a lot of these nations need. 

And besides, let's face it - they have become fantastically good at making stuff the rest of the world wants.   I mean, even the most pro-Russian Western communist much have struggled with enthusiasm for driving a Lada, but everyone genuinely loves the wonders of high tech equipment coming out of this other communist regime.

Am I being swayed too much in my (guarded) optimism for how China will develop because I really love my smartphone?  Maybe.   But the country is devoting a lot of enthusiasm for research and development of all kinds, and is getting close to the same GDP spend on this as the US and other Western nations.    For techno-optimists, it's easy to suspect that some huge breakthroughs might come out of China; whereas the ridiculous anti-environmental science of the Trump administrative  gives me cause for pessimism. 

So, have I made out at least a plausible case for why I feel vaguely optimistic about China?   I think so.   And Putin deserves a date with some of his own nerve gas.

The appendectomy in history (subtitle: now is a pretty good time to be alive)

Via Dr Beachcombing's site, this link discusses briefly the history of the appendectomy:
In 1735, Dr. Claudius Amyand performed the world’s first successful appendectomy, at St. George’s Hospital in London. The patient was an 11-year old boy whose appendix had become perforated by a pin he had swallowed. The first successful operation to treat acute appendicitis was performed soon after, in 1759 in Bordeaux.  General anesthesia was not available until 1846, so these operations required many assistants to restrain patients during what were undoubtedly very painful procedures.

Surgical treatment for appendicitis began in earnest during the 1880s. Although doctors struggled to decide who should undergo the knife – some patients would recover on their own without surgery – surgical technique and anesthesia had improved outcomes to such an extent that surgery would rapidly became the gold standard approach. By the end of the 20th century, laparoscopic surgery replaced open surgery in most cases, and laparoscopic appendectomy is now considered one of the safest, lowest-complication surgical procedures performed today.
I didn't know that it could often be successfully treated with antibiotics:
More recently, researchers are revisiting the question of whether antibiotics are just as effective as surgery for treatment for acute appendicitis. In the 1940s and 1950s, doctors in England began treating patients with antibiotics – with excellent results. During the Cold War, men on submarines received antibiotics instead of an appendectomy, as the submarines could not surface for six months or more, and patients reportedly did well with this approach.  And five recent European studies reported findings consistent with those anecdotes: 70% of patients recovered using antibiotics rather than surgery in these studies. In light of this evidence, a new study in California will attempt to verify whether antibiotics may be as good as surgery and offer a less invasive approach to the treatment of appendicitis.


Psychopaths considered

A somewhat interesting piece by Ed Yong on some recent research on psychopaths.  (The suggestion being that they can see things from other people's perspectives, if they try, but they don't do it automatically like your normal person.)

The details of the study described, though, does give another idea of the very airy fairy, "open to interpretation" nature of a lot of psychological testing.  (As I was complaining about recently when it comes to violence in gaming studies.)

A likely hit?

Spielberg's Ready Player One - a movie about which I have no particular expectations, given that I was never a gaming nerd - seems to have largely gone over well at its first nerd screening.  (Some  nerds, being nerds, weren't happy, but that was probably always on the cards.)

The PC problem that isn't that big a problem?

Matthew Yglesias argues, using survey results mainly, that the debate over US campus "PC versus free speech" issue is not exactly the crisis that conservatives and libertarians like to claim it is.

Good to see this position being put, as I suspect there is an element of truth to it.   (Even though, yes, it does seem stupid PC based on identity politics is having a significant revival, after quietening down for a while.)

And so it goes

The never ending back and forth about social disadvantage in remote aboriginal communities continues, with Warren Mundine, who now seems constantly in a state of flux between supporting relatively conservative views and relatively progressive views, writing that they do need economic involvement, not closure, and maintaining some sort of vague hope that economic activity can be created in them.

This seems rather pie in the sky to me.   Surely there have been previous attempts to get some communities to do their own maintenance, for example?   

There was another bit of political commentary by Noel Pearson last weekend, which seemed pretty balanced to me, and I must go find it and extract parts here...

Monday, March 12, 2018

Well, they do take their football seriously..

Look at what Russian media is suggesting about possible motives as to why Britain (yes, Britain) poisoned their Russian double agent in public:

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Living high has its down side

High altitude living - even at pretty modest altitude - seems associated with more suicide:

High-altitude areas--particularly the US intermountain states--have increased rates of suicide and depression, suggests a review of research evidence in the Harvard Review of Psychiatry.

The increased suicide rates might be explained by blood oxygen levels due to low atmospheric pressure, according to the article by Brent Michael Kious, MD, PhD, of University of Utah, Salt Lake City, and colleagues. Pending further research, the evidence may point to possible treatments to reduce the effects of low blood oxygen on mood and suicidal thoughts....
They analyzed 12 studies, most performed in the United States, including population-based data on the relationship between suicide or depression and altitude. While the studies used varying methods, most reported that higher-altitude areas had increased rates of depression and suicide. In general, the correlation was stronger for suicide than for depression.

The highest suicide rates were clustered in the intermountain states: Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming. (Alaska and Virginia also had high suicide rates.) In a 2014 study, the percentage of adults with "serious thoughts of suicide" ranged from 3.3 percent in Connecticut (average altitude 490 feet) to 4.9 percent in Utah (average altitude 6,100 feet).

Other key findings from previous research on altitude and suicide included:
  • Populations living at higher altitudes had increased suicide rates despite having decreased rates of death from all causes. Rather than a steady increase, the studies suggested a "threshold effect": suicide rates increased dramatically at altitudes between about 2,000 and 3,000 feet.
  • Suicide rates were more strongly associated with altitude than with firearm ownership. Other factors linked to suicide rate included increased poverty rate, lower income, and smaller population ratios of white and divorced women. However, the studies could not account for all factors potentially affecting variations in suicide, such as substance abuse rates and cultural differences.
  • While more than 80 percent of US suicides occur in low-altitude areas, that's because most of the population lives near sea level. Adjusted for population distribution, suicide rates per 100,000 population were 17.7 at high altitude, 11.9 at middle altitude, and 4.8 at low altitude. Studies from some other countries, but not all, also reported increased suicide rates at higher altitudes.
 I find this quite surprising.

More UFO talk at the Washington Post

Surprisingly, the Washington Post has another opinion piece by the guy who sounds to have come from a credible background, but who is now associated with what sounds like a dubiously motivated, money raising project:
Christopher Mellon served as deputy assistant secretary of defense for intelligence in the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations. He is a private equity investor and an adviser to the To the Stars Academy for Arts and Science.
Interestingly, though, the piece contains (what I think is) a new video of what looks like a small, fact moving UFO over the ocean being tracked from an aircraft.  The pilots sounds excited, but don't seem to be making comments that indicate they are worried by what they see.

Mellon claims that different parts of the military have different bits of UFO evidence, but there's not overarching attempt to work out if they are seeing new, earth based technology, or something extraterrestrial in origin: 
I served as deputy assistant secretary of defense for intelligence for the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations and as staff director for the Senate Intelligence Committee, and I know from numerous discussions with Pentagon officials over the past two years that military departments and agencies treat such incidents as isolated events rather than as part of a pattern requiring serious attention and investigation. A colleague of mine at To the Stars Academy, Luis Elizondo, used to run a Pentagon intelligence program that examined evidence of “anomalous” aircraft, but he resigned last fall to protest government inattention to the growing body of empirical data.

Meanwhile, reports from different services and agencies remain largely ignored and unevaluated inside their respective bureaucratic stovepipes. There is no Pentagon process for synthesizing all the observations the military is making. The current approach is equivalent to having the Army conduct a submarine search without the Navy. It is also reminiscent of the counterterrorism efforts of the CIA and the FBI before Sept. 11, 2001, when each had information on the hijackers that they kept to themselves. In this instance, the truth may ultimately prove benign, but why leave it to chance?
It seems to me, from the audio on these recently released videos, that the pilots are assuming something high tech from Earth, but I could be wrong.

Mellon links to an interview done with that "Academy" with the retired Navy pilot who appeared on some media recently.   I don't like the way there are occasional edits, but he certainly sounds sincere, and his description of what happened is very hard to explain as a mis-identification:

Mellon also makes mention of Putin's recent surprising claims of Russian developments which might be relevent: 
Putin’s speech, less than three weeks before the Russian presidential election, represented an escalated level of martial rhetoric even by his pugnacious standards. For the first time, Putin claimed that Russia had successfully tested nuclear-propulsion engines that would allow nuclear-tipped cruise missiles and underwater drones to travel for virtually unlimited distances and evade traditional defenses.
 I find it hard to believe that Russia could keep such propulsion technology a secret for so long;  but then again, they are good at ensuring that potential spies know they'll be targeted no mater where they might try to live.

It's all very puzzling...

Saturday, March 10, 2018

The socialist capitalism of Singapore

Found via a Peter Whiteford re-tweet:   an article explaining another way (the first, which I have noted before, is their health system) in which Singapore is hardly the shining example of a free market capitalist dream state that some American, "less government is always best", Right wing think tanks seem to think it is:
 In the Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedom, Singapore ranks as the second most “economically free” country in the world just behind Hong Kong. Since many use this index as a shorthand for “most capitalist” countries, a lot of prominent people end up saying some really weird things about Singapore. For instance, in his Liberty Con remarks, Bryan Caplan claimed Singapore was one of the closest countries to the capitalist ideal.

It is true of course that Singapore has a market economy. But it’s also true that, in Singapore, the state owns a huge amount of the means of production. In fact, depending on how you count it, the Singaporean government probably owns more capital than any other developed country in the world after Norway.

The Singaporean state owns 90 percent of the country’s land. Remarkably, this level of ownership was not present from the beginning. In 1949, the state owned just 31 percent of the country’s land. It got up to 90 percent land ownership through decades of forced sales, or what people in the US call eminent domain.

The Singaporean state does not merely own the land. They directly develop it, especially for residential purposes. Over 80 percent of Singapore’s population lives in housing constructed by the country’s public housing agency HDB. The Singaporean government claims that around 90 percent of people living in HDB units “own” their home. But the way it really works is that, when a new HDB unit is built, the government sells a transferable 99-year lease for it. The value of that lease slowly declines as it approaches the 99-year mark, after which point the lease expires and possession of the HDB unit reverts back to the state. Thus, Singapore is a land where almost everyone is a long-term public housing tenant.

There are more paragraphs at the link that provide more details, then this point:
Call me old-fashioned, but I don’t generally associate state ownership of the means of production with capitalism. One way to see whether libertarians or conservatives actually think Singapore’s system is uber-capitalistic is to imagine how they would respond to someone who ran a campaign in the US aimed at bringing the country up to the Singaporean ideal.
What is it, exactly, that causes people like Caplan not to be able to acknowledge that the country has been very successful under a wildly different system from what they think is the best for the US and every other country under the sun?   

The culture war Right in search of a hero

This whole Jordan Peterson thing - it's one of those odd situations where I have the feeling that I should be more sympathetic to his philosophical approach to life, having shared some of his general Jungian interest in what mythology, religion and philosophy has been trying to get at over millennia, but I just can't muster the enthusiasm, and suspect there is less to him than meets the eye.

You can read here (out from behind The Australian's paywall) what fan girl Caroline Overington  says about his talk this week in Melbourne.   (Yes, a rare occasion where that blog's threads serve a useful purpose.)  There are certainly signs of crank eccentricity in there regarding diet, which I hadn't heard about before.  As for his long term bouts with depression - it raises some concern about his judgement, although if it is well managed, I know it shouldn't.

He certainly got lucky with that ridiculous BBC interviewer.   It seems to have doubled or tripled his fame overnight. A good profile of his sometimes rather murky or semi contradictory beliefs is in  this recent New Yorker review of his "rules for life" book, although it doesn't add that much to a previous profile of him I had read, which I can't find again at the moment.     

Perhaps I would feel less cynical about it were it not for the disproportionate enthusiasm disgruntled conservatives and Right wing culture warrior types have for him.   It seems to me that they are looking for a hero, and not finding one in the current somewhat charred reputation of the major Churches (which are either too dogmatic or too "social justice" for them, and caught in their own slow moving crisis of understanding the modern world), they have latched onto Peterson as a de facto leader.  I don't really want to use the meme in response, but I have to:  "Sad!"

Friday, March 09, 2018

Signs of decline

Seriously, these statements of Paul Keating about Trump and foreign policy make no sense whatsoever:
Mr Keating on Friday said he had not expected Mr Trump to have "such a pragmatic" foreign policy on China and Russia, and he urged the President to continue down the path he was on.
Um, can Keating tell us what path Trump is on?   Especially when Keating goes on to say:
Mr Keating argued the US should be a "balancing power" in Asia and learn to relinquish some control of the region.Mr Trump's strategy of using partnership diplomacy with China was a better approach than what Democrat Hillary Clinton would have adopted if elected, he added.
What the heck gives Keating the impression that this is the path that Trump is trying with China??

My old rule of thumb - it's unfortunate but true:  virtually everyone reaches an age by which their analytical judgement can start to safely be ignored.   Seems that 74 is about that for Paul.   (Bit younger than average, but it's in the ball park.)

Useless violence studies

I made mention in a recent post how people who defend high level, realistic looking violence in video games having no skepticism at all of psychological studies that claim "no connection with violent behaviour".

Here's a good example:  a website reporting on Trump meeting with video game industry people says:
A recent York University study backs up the ESA’s claim, finding no evidence of a link between violent video games and violent behavior.
When you go to the linked report on the study, this is what they did:
The dominant model of learning in games is built on the idea that exposing players to concepts, such as violence in a game, makes those concepts easier to use in 'real life'.

This is known as 'priming', and is thought to lead to changes in behaviour. Previous experiments on this effect, however, have so far provided mixed conclusions.

Researchers at the University of York expanded the number of participants in experiments, compared to studies that had gone before it, and compared different types of gaming realism to explore whether more conclusive evidence could be found.

In one study, participants played a game where they had to either be a car avoiding collisions with trucks or a mouse avoiding being caught by a cat. Following the game, the players were shown various images, such as a bus or a dog, and asked to label them as either a vehicle or an animal.

Dr David Zendle, from the University's Department of Computer Science, said: "If players are 'primed' through immersing themselves in the concepts of the game, they should be able to categorise the objects associated with this game more quickly in the real world once the game had concluded.
Um, yeah.  Tells me a lot about freaking realistic gun violence in video games.

OK, maybe another study did more:
In a separate, but connected study, the team investigated whether realism influenced the aggression of game players. Research in the past has suggested that the greater the realism of the game the more primed players are by violent concepts, leading to antisocial effects in the real world.

Dr Zendle said: "There are several experiments looking at graphic realism in video games, but they have returned mixed results. There are, however, other ways that violent games can be realistic, besides looking like the 'real world', such as the way characters behave for example.

"Our experiment looked at the use of 'ragdoll physics' in game design, which creates characters that move and react in the same way that they would in real life. Human characters are modelled on the movement of the human skeleton and how that skeleton would fall if it was injured."

The experiment compared player reactions to two combat games, one that used 'ragdoll physics' to create realistic character behaviour and one that did not, in an animated world that nevertheless looked real.

Following the game the players were asked to complete word puzzles called 'word fragment completion tasks', where researchers expected more violent word associations would be chosen for those who played the game that employed more realistic behaviours.
Oh come on.

Look, common sense tells us that this is going to be hard to study.  Not many people in the world are of a mind set, or have the weaponry available, to replicate in real life an ultra violent scenario in a video game.    (I suppose they could ask to do studies with criminals already in prison for violent crimes - has anyone actually done that?)

Common sense also tells me that these sort of studies as described above are highly unlikely to tell us anything about the worst possible influence with these games.  Because no, I am not worried that they turn a relatively normal person into a willing mass murderer.  But that's not what I'm interested in. 

So how about some skepticism about what these airy fairy studies about "priming" can actually tell us?

Here's what annoys me - video games can be made to be exciting without the highly realistic and bloody depiction of killing people (or for that matter, aliens or animals.)    To my mind, repeated depictions of sadistic and graphic violence is just obviously morally dubious - sadism should not be not something for which people should be encouraged to get a participatory thrill.   I don't need a freaking psychological study to tell me that - just as I don't need a psychological study to tell me that a porn video of some guy having sex with an underage girl (even if with her full consent) is wrong.  Or put it this way - it should not be made, regardless of whether you can prove that, on balance, it might mean less pre-teen sex by adults because they masturbated over the video, rather than encourage men to seek out underage sex.   (And I would say the same even if it was a question of a computer generated video of underage sex.)

If game makers were moral, and serious, they could still make exciting games that do not raise legitimate concerns over the deadening effect on some deadbeat's qualms about actually doing a mass shoot up, of the kind he has probably rehearsed on a video game scores of times.

But they don't.  Because they can show gross and graphic head explosions with bullets, they do it - looking for violent novelty all the time.

This is not a good thing.  It is, in fact, a bad thing.

The Entertainer, part 4 (or 5, whatever)

Look, I'm not going to bother copying any of this rather unhinged comment by my "favourite" nutcase in need of medication at Catallaxy, but if you enjoy theories of how the forces of global socialism are encouraging free porn on the internet and thereby low sperm counts by too much masturbation, all as part of the plan to kill off the righteous "Western male," knock yourself out...

Nunberg explained

Yes, the Stephen Colbert explanation of Sam Nunberg's wild (drunk? drug affected?) afternoon of media appearances was pretty funny:

They like tough men so much, they enjoy being bullied

The way the Trump tariff process has been announced sounds to me very much like behaviour that in schools or the workplace would be called bullying.

"Look, I like some of you, and I might exempt you from my new policy of delivering 25% of your lunch money to me everyday, as long as you to come to me and offer me something in return and/or tell me how great I am."

Yet what's the bet that the wingnutty world in Australia (hello, Kates and followers) will call it a brilliant bit of negotiation?   Almost guaranteed.   Because they like what they think is "alpha" tough guys so much they actually enjoy being bullied by them.

Update:  this article in the Washington Post earlier this week referred to Trump's tactics as bullying, and made the point that he's going completely the wrong way if the intention is to get at China.  As for Gorka's claims - yes, they are ridiculous.

But Trump's base is so dumb, they just have to hear a Trump lackey say "our opponents disagree with us because they are socialists" and they swallow it as true.   That's how basing all your ideas on a belief in a fundamental culture war works.  Any Republican - and there are many in this sordid bunch - who continually calls a different policy to theirs "socialism" is an idiot hurting America.

Update 2:  this was written prior to the actual announcement, but is still valid:

Trump’s tweets put the governments of Canada and Mexico in an awkward position. Before tariffs were an issue, all three countries could at least pretend they were trying to negotiate some sort of win-win compromise. Now, if our neighbors make consolations on NAFTA, it will look as if they are caving to Washington’s bullying tactics, which will almost certainly play poorly with voters back home. Maybe that’s Trump’s intention; perhaps he is trying to throw yet another wrench into the NAFTA-bargaining process in order to finally kill the pact. Or perhaps he’s thinking just the opposite; it’s possible he’s worried that the tariffs aren’t playing well enough with the public and hopes that tying them to an inevitable deal with Canada and Mexico will give him an excuse to drop the whole ill-conceived lark while still claiming victory. You can only guess with Trump. But by ostensibly resorting to blackmail, the president may be making it politically harder, not easier, to strike an accord. 

The president’s loose thumbs aren’t doing the administration any legal favors, either. Trump plans to impose the new tariffs under a law—Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act—that gives him broad powers over trade specifically in order to protect national security. As part of that process, the Commerce Department has produced two elaborate reports arguing that the steel and aluminum industries need to be protected for the sake of American safety and well-being. But by telling Canada that it might be able to get rid of the tariffs by letting U.S. dairy farmers sell more milk in Toronto, Trump is making a mockery of that carefully wrought legal fiction. After all, if the health of the steel and aluminum industries were actually essential to U.S. security interests, the president probably wouldn’t be willing to barter them for butter sales.

A confession

When I first read the headlines yesterday about McDonalds in the US flipping its symbol upside down for International Women's Day, I thought "What?  To make it look like a pair of breasts?  Kinda controversial, no?"    Only today did I realise it was to make it into a "W" for women.

True, if embarrassing...

Thursday, March 08, 2018

A culinary observation

Duck fried rice is particularly delicious.   The greater depth of flavour of duck meat makes it considerably tastier and satisfying than chicken fried rice.

You may return to your duties...

More history: railway surgeons

The article is a couple of years old, but Beachcomber recently linked to it.   I didn't know that the advent of the railways, and the injuries railway workers suffered, led to the speciality of the railway surgeon:
For rail workers and passengers of the 19th and early 20th centuries, train travel — while miraculous for the speed with which it carried people across vast distances — presented ghastly dangers. Brakemen commonly lost hands and fingers in the hazardous coupling of cars. Exploding boilers released high-pressure steam that scalded stokers. Passengers were maimed or crushed when trains jumped the tracks, or telescoped into tangles of wreckage. And in the hours they spent aboard, travelers and workers suffered heart attacks, strokes, seizures, all the health hazards of daily life, but far from their family doctor — or sometimes any doctor. One in every 28 railroad employees was injured on the job in 1900 — and 1 in 399 died.

These grim statistics helped spark the development of a new medical specialty during the Victorian Era: railway surgery. Physicians in this field focused on the injuries and maladies specific to workers and passengers. Eventually, railroad companies would open hospitals close to the tracks in remote locales otherwise without medical facilities. Professional organizations arose that furthered railway-related medical knowledge and investigated new avenues of preventive medicine. And within a century, railway surgery met its own untimely end — but its influence continues today....

... at their peak, about 35 railway hospitals had opened in the U.S. These included the Southern Pacific’s 450-bed hospital in San Francisco, the second medical facility in the country to operate an intensive care unit — a specialized approach to treatment much needed by maimed railroaders. Other rail systems contributed to existing hospitals on their routes, or set up mutual benefit associations for workers that covered the treatment of injuries. This was long before other industries considered providing health care services to employees.

So expansive were these railway medical systems that in 1896, just one railroad, the Missouri Pacific, treated more than 29,000 patients in its medical system and clinics, comparable to major metropolitan hospitals. “The direct descendants are employer-based insurance and employer-based health care,” says Stanton. “A lot of the larger corporations still do that. They have a medical center and a medical staff inside the factory that does the initial evaluation before getting patients out to the emergency room or hospital. What’s come out of railway surgery is our current employee-based occupational health system.”

Lawrence's problem

The allegations of sexual creepiness against Lawrence Krauss seem to be having some bite:

More Organizations Cut Ties With Physicist Lawrence Krauss

I have to say, I have never been enamoured of the manner of Krauss in his television appearances.  And to be perfectly honest, there is something about his face and head that has always struck me as remarkably unattractive or unappealing.   (Yes, he can't help that, but it does make it all the more remarkable if he thinks he's in with a chance with women.) 

I find his physical unattractiveness so obvious that I sometimes try to pin down what it is exactly about his features that is so off putting:  pretty much in the same, but opposite, way you sometimes read about scientists analysing what makes certain faces very appealing to other people.

Yeah, sorry Lawrence: God still loves you, anyway...

In other Netflix news

Oh - a new version (with a pretty decent budget, by the looks) of Lost In Space is coming in April.

Seems it will be worth checking out.

Depravity noted

As if you couldn't be more appalled at what the Holocaust entailed:
It was noon in early 1942 as Johann Grüner approached the ‘German House’ in the Polish town of Nowy Targ for lunch. As a mid-level Nazi bureaucrat in occupied Poland, he enjoyed the privileges of power and the opportunity for career advancement that came with duty in the East. The German House, a mix of cultural centre, restaurant and pub, was one of the privileges enjoyed by the occupiers. As he entered the building, he could hear a boisterous celebration within. At the front door, a clearly inebriated Gestapo official passed by, a beer coaster with the number 1,000 written in red pinned to his blouse. Addressing Grüner, the policeman drunkenly bragged: ‘Man, today I am celebrating my 1,000th execution!’

At first glance, the incident at the German House might appear to be a grotesque aberration involving a single depraved Nazi killer. However, such ‘celebrations’ were widespread in the occupied Eastern territories as members of the notorious Schutzstaffel (SS) and the German police routinely engaged in celebratory rituals after mass killings. In fact, among the perpetrators of genocide, heavy drinking was common at the killing sites, in pubs and on bases throughout Poland and the Soviet Union. In another horrific example, a group of policemen charged with the cremation of some 800 Jewish corpses used the occasion to tap a keg. In this case, one of the men, named Müller, had the ‘honour’ of setting fire to ‘his Jews’ as he and his colleagues sat around the fire drinking beer. In a similar case, a Jewish woman recalled the aftermath of a killing operation at Przemyśl in Poland: ‘I smelled the odour of burning bodies and saw a group of Gestapo men who sat by the fire, singing and drinking.’ For these Gestapo men, ‘victory celebrations’ proved to be the order of the day, and followed every killing action or ‘liberation from the Jews’.

The role of alcohol in the Nazi genocide of European Jews deserves greater attention. While numerous studies from the social sciences have demonstrated the link between drinking and acts of homicide and sexual violence, the connection between mass murder and alcohol is under-researched. Among the Nazi perpetrators, alcohol served several roles: it incentivised and rewarded murder, promoted disinhibition to facilitate killing, and acted as a coping mechanism.
 Read the whole essay, at Aeon, for other eyewitness accounts of drunken celebrations that were part and parcel of massacres.

No love lost

Further to the remarkably successful fiscal turnaround in California under remarkably Blue Governor Jerry Brown, which I posted about yesterday, it's fun to read of the outright war between him and the Trump administration on immigration:

SACRAMENTO — California and the Trump administration have locked horns from the very first hours of Donald J. Trump’s presidency. But a visit by Attorney General Jeff Sessions to the California capital, Sacramento, on Wednesday produced an unfiltered shouting match that was remarkable even for the long-embattled antagonists, and seemed to be a culmination of fraying relations between the conservative administration and the country’s deepest blue state.

Mr. Sessions told a crowd of more than 200 law enforcement officials in a hotel ballroom that he would not stand for the insubordination of California lawmakers and what he called the dangerous obstruction of federal immigration laws.

A 10-minute walk away, in a briefing room of the State Capitol, Gov. Jerry Brown unleashed a tirade against Mr. Sessions and the Trump administration. He said that the administration was “full of liars” and that Mr. Sessions was “basically going to war against the state of California.”

It was highly unusual for an attorney general “to come out here and engage in a political stunt, make wild accusations, many of which are based on outright lies,” Mr. Brown added, “particularly a fellow coming from Alabama talking to us about secession and protecting human and civil rights.”

Speaking of Tehran... I was a few posts back, it certainly makes me feel like deserves a supervolcano eruption when it starts doing stuff like this:
An Iranian woman who publicly removed her veil in protest against Iran’s compulsory headscarf law has been sentenced to two years in prison, the judiciary said on Wednesday.
Tehran’s chief prosecutor, Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi, who announced the sentence, did not give the woman’s identity but said she intended to appeal against the verdict, the judiciary’s Mizan Online news agency reported.
Dolatabadi said the unidentified woman took off her headscarf in Tehran’s Enghelab Street to “encourage corruption through the removal of the hijab in public”.
The woman will be eligible for parole after three months, but Dolatabadi criticised what he said was a “light” sentence and said he would push for the full two-year penalty.

Speaking of comedy...

....I think Shaun Micallef's Mad as Hell has been hitting some pretty high notes this season.

Tim - I saw somewhere on the net that you've cooled on him.   Hope you have been watching this current season, before I find it hard to imagine you don't find it amusing.

I think the thing that makes the show really work is the great team of support actors he has with him.  I reckon they're really talented.

Micallef himself is performing fine, too, but I have noticed he seems to have aged suddenly in the last year or so.   Hope he doesn't have any health problems...

Get your Moone on Netflix

Finding stuff to watch on Netflix is not always easy, but I was happy to find recently that the very pleasing Irish comedy Moone Boy (of which I had only ever seen the first season on Australian TV) is currently on Netflix - but only until 30 March!

So, I have 12 episodes (the total of Seasons 2 and 3) to watch in quick succession.

I'm not a binge watcher, though, and don't quite understand that practice.   This may sound odd, but I just have the feeling that watching many episodes of anything in one sitting feels like its not really honouring the effort put into making the show.   It just feels a bit wrong to consume so quickly something that took a long time to create.    Anyway, I like to protract enjoyment.   Why, when you find something you like, would you want to get all of the enjoyment done in a day, instead of stretching it over at least a few weeks?

Dinesh dumbs down further

If you enjoy seeing Dinesh D'Souza making an even greater fool of himself, you should read his tweet on tariffs and Milton Friedman, and the responses.

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

That's one way to end Middle East conflict...

I see in this article at Nature that vulcanologists don't think we're planning enough for the next massive volcanic eruption - one that would hit VEI-7 on the scale that I knew nothing much about until now.   [See the brief Wikipedia article - it involves blowing 100 cubic kilometres of stuff into the air.  VEI-8 gets really serious - 1,000 cubic km.!]

So, where do they think are possible sites for the next VEI-7?:
The researchers already have a long list of candidate volcanoes that might be capable of a VEI-7 blast. They include Taupo in New Zealand, site of the world’s last VEI-8 eruption — 26,500 years ago — and Iran’s Mount Damavand, which lies just 50 kilometres from Tehran.
Well, we Australians don't want Taupo blowing:  it's last eruption was a VEI-7 around 200AD, but fortunately Maori folk hadn't reached the islands at that time.  [Is there nothing in aboriginal folklore that has been theorised as being sourced from that event?   Let me Google it -  nope, nothing comes up in my first attempt.]

But Mount Damavand?   Just 50km from Tehran?  Let's see where that is on a map:

Look, it's a bit of a dramatic solution, but a big sprinkling of ash in a 1,000 radius would give the locals something else to think about for a good few years.

Who'd have thought?

Yes, this is remarkable.  The Wall Street Journal notes, with no criticism to speak of, that a Governor who I'm pretty sure wingnuts have longed derided as about as Left wing as Castro has brought California into a very healthy budget position without killing the economy.   How?  By taxing the rich:
Buoyed by tax increases passed under his administration and a strong economy, Mr. Brown said Wednesday that the state is projecting a $6.1 billion surplus for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.

The governor proposed socking most of the money away in a rainy-day fund whose creation he pushed for in 2014. Nearly 70% of the state’s projected revenue of about $135 billion next fiscal year is derived from personal income taxes, according to the governor’s office.
As the tweet says:

Update:  I thought "should I be skeptical of the claim that the taxes really were on the rich?  Did the whole population suffer?   So, Googling the topic, I see it was pretty well targetted to the rich:
The measure creates three new personal income tax brackets for rich residents and adds a quarter-cent to the sales tax. The higher tax rates, which hit single filers making $250,000 and up and married taxpayers earning at least $500,000, last for seven years, and push the top tax rate to 12.3% for filers earning $500,000 and above, or $1 million per couple. It is effective starting with the 2012 tax year.
The sales tax hike, which brings that levy to 7.5%, starts Jan. 1 and lasts for four years.

The wealthiest 1% of Californians -- those with annual incomes of $533,000 or more -- will shoulder nearly 79% of the tax increase, according to the California Budget Project, a research group that endorsed the proposition. They will see their taxes rise by 1.1% of their income, while the bottom four-fifths of the state's residents will see an increase of between 0.1% and 0.2% of their incomes.

Conspiracy minded idiots

I see the wingnutty right continues with its pathetic "kill the messenger, who cares about the message" reality avoidance technique (just as they do with climate change), with the latest nut meme being that Downer was an untrustworthy Clinton agent because when he was foreign minister, the Australian government donated to the Clinton Foundation's anti-HIV initiative.

This is ridiculous - Downer passed on that Papadopoulos had told him that the Russians were shopping dirt on Clinton.  Normal people might think that normal Americans would have an interest in blatant but underhanded attempts to interfere in the election coming from Russia.   But no - for wingnuts it's all grand conspiracy thinking that no one should ever have acted on this because - you know - Clinton and anyone who ever had anything to do with her was in every and any way always corrupt and it's a case of conspiring against the Right.

Steve Kates (of course) passes on the meme today, and such influential wingnut bloggers like the high functioning but gormless idiot Ace of Spades thinks it's really big too.

Monty - again, I say to you - the wingnutty Right is just too stupid to argue with these days.   Just too stupid...

Bad news

If Bolton has any influence, everyone seems to think there'll be a much, much higher chance of American nukes flying off during a Trump presidency:

And I see that anti-tariff economics adviser Gary Cohn is said to be resigning.

Things getting much grimmer in the White House...

Update:   speaking of ranting men, you'd think Nassim Taleb might find time to occasionally make a critical comment on Trump's economics, but on his Twitter feed, he very, very rarely makes any comment on him at all.

A worthy Krugman

Been a while since I recommended a Krugman column, but this one "A Ranting Old Guy With Nukes" is pretty good.   (And Mother Jones notes an attempt to nitpick it by Kevin Williamson, which fails.)

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Forgotten subway

In an article that explains that American governments are getting too carried away with the unproved technology of hyperloop, I found this bit:
There is reason to think high-speed vacuum-tube transportation can work, at least on paper. (A pneumatic subway briefly opened beneath Manhattan in 1870.) 
 Wikipedia has an entry about that short lived, short length, pneumatic subway, and it also notes that a similar novelty subway was built before that at the Crystal Palace in London.

The things you learn...

Prophetting in Africa

Seems I have missed the rise of "Prophet" Shepherd Bushiri in Africa:
On a regular Sunday, about 40,000 people will gather to hear the Prophet preach, and potentially pick up some of the specially designed merchandise on sale at stalls dotted around the large church complex - anything from "miracle oil", calendars and wrist bands, to branded towels, T-shirts and caps, all emblazoned with his face. 

Now I have to go look at the video which shows him walking on air.   [Done - and I don't think I will bother sharing it.  I see he has been a thing for a few years now, and been the subject of skepticism within Africa too.  Good.]

Blockchain skepticism in detail

When it comes to reading the stuff being put out by Berg, Davidson and Potts (key line - don't get too distracted by Bitcoin, the real revolution coming is glorious blockchain) I've never got over the feeling that it was pretty vacuous waffle that didn't make much sense.

Hence it gives me pleasure to read this great piece of blockchain skepticism by Roubini and Byrne in The Guardian today.   They make clear much of what I always thought was obvious, yet seems to never be addressed (or at least, in a way I can understand) in the RMIT conference machine material.

Monday, March 05, 2018

Strange choices

Have the Oscars become unimportant because the Academy has become more and more peculiar in its choices?   It would seem that the big winner (so far, I was just watching some of it during my lunch) is The Shape of Water, the "adult fairy tale" featuring a sexy love story between a woman and what looks like a slightly more human Creature from the Black Lagoon.

Being underwhelmed by the director's Pan's Labyrinth, and given the nature of the story, I am in no hurry to watch this movie at all.   As, I suspect, is most of the public.  I see now that it had a December release in the USA, and has made a relatively paltry $57 million.   (I'm surprised it made that much.)

I am particularly miffed that Shape took the award for best score, when I had predicted that Dunkirk should definitely get it.

Update: yes, it won best picture.   Ugh.

At some point, hopefully if it is free on a streaming service, I will watch it hoping to confirm my anticipatory dislike.

Update 2:  I hadn't really bothered to read reviews of it before, but I see that Rex Reed wrote one  with the pleasing title ‘The Shape of Water’ Is a Loopy, Lunkheaded Load of Drivel.'

Hero revisionism

Reading this story gives a good picture of how terrifying being involved in a US school shoot up must be for both students and teachers.

In brief - at least a couple of Florida students are saying that a teacher formerly called a hero in the media didn't seem very heroic to them when they were caught in the corridor and he (perhaps following procedure technically correctly?)  refused to let them back in the classroom.

I'm not sure who's right or wrong, to be honest, but you can imagine that causing some disruption in the school for some time afterwards.

Opioids can cause extra pain - huh

I didn't know this.  From the start of an article at NPR:
When patients arrive in the emergency room, nearly all but those with the most minor complaints get an IV.

To draw blood, give medications or administer fluids, the IV is the way doctors and nurses gain access to the body. Putting one in is quick and simple, and it's no more painful than a mild bee sting.

Yet for some patients, this routine procedure becomes excruciating. On my shifts as an emergency physician, I began to notice a strange pattern. These hypersensitive patients often had a history of using opioids.

Shouldn't these patients be less susceptible to pain, instead of more so?

As I looked into it, I found that I was far from the first to notice the paradox of heightened pain sensitivity with opioid use. An English physician in 1870 reported on morphine's tendency to "encourage the very pain it pretends to relieve." In 1880, a German doctor named Rossbach described a similar hypersensitivity to pain with opioid dependence.

A century passed before the phenomenon received serious scientific attention. 

Turns out it is still not well understood.  Read the whole thing.

Sunday, March 04, 2018

Disliking Stephen King

My son wanted to watch the recent movie version of Stephen King's It. 

Now, as I may have mentioned before, I have found one - just one - adaptation of Stephen King material which I liked:  The Shining.   And I like that a lot.  But from what I have read, it's almost in spite of the novel that it turned out to be a great movie.  (King himself doesn't like it!)   But every other King inspired mini series or movie I've seen has not impressed.  I didn't even care for Stand by Me, his (only?) non horror work, when I saw it at the cinema decades ago.  (Too much overwrought acting, and characters that I don't recall being all that sympathetic.)

So, would this reasonably well received movie change my mind - especially since I had not watched the earlier adaptation of it, and was therefore coming to it without preconceptions.  

No.   A hundred times no.  

Look, I know you have to make allowances for certain conventions in ghost or horror stories - the most obvious being nervous people walking into darkened rooms/haunted houses/sewer systems that look more appropriate for New York than a country town, when every normal person would run away or at least go in prepared - but it can be pushed so far that it just becomes ridiculous, and so it is, repeatedly, in this movie.

Apart from that, was King himself bullied at school and dislike his parents, because now that I think of it, meanness of kids to other kids, and incompetent or nasty parents, seems to be a feature of a lot of his stories.  The kid on kid meanness is a very big component in this movie, but it doesn't seem to have any context.  It's just there.

The movie reminded me at times of the two other King movies mentioned above - but the use of gushing blood in this one was (sorry to use the word again) ridiculous, as to opposed to malevolent, as it was in The Shining.

Overall, I found it an unpleasant, silly and non-scary story - so very conventional in the way the scary music would start, and even managing jump scares which didn't scare.   

And it convinces more than ever that King is a puzzlingly over-rated creative force.