Saturday, July 23, 2016

The Thiel speech

I suppose one would not expect Gawker to give a glowing review of Peter Thiel's speech yesterday, but yes, they were underwhelmed.  (Something I noticed was that the Convention floor barely seemed to be paying attention for the first 2 or 3 minutes of a 6 minute speech.  He also is pretty terrible at teleprompter delivery.)

The Gawker article notes that Thiel makes for a peculiar libertarian, in that he longs for the days of some ultra big government projects such as Apollo.  But I see today that  he has said before that he's not ideological on the matter of size of government.  I suppose that should make me think he's at least an independent thinker, but actually it makes me think more that he's just a purely opportunistic, self interested one - he's a fan of space exploration generally, but because he has that odd idea that space colonies will, of course, establish a techno based libertarian utopia.  It probably comes from taking Heinlein too seriously, and I think it was a theme in Kim Stanley Robertson's Mars trilogy too?  (I only read the first book, though - I don't think he's that entertaining as a writer.)

Anyway, I just can't take Thiel seriously in light of his 2009 essay at Cato Unbound, where he dissed democracy, and regretted women got the vote because they're generally too pragmatic to be libertarian. (Well, you tell me what he meant if you think I'm being unfair.)  And in his postscript to that article, he wrote this, the first three sentences of which makes a joke of his support of a candidate who (with the one exception of not caring much about LGBT issues) is as intensely and deliberately divisive as possible:
I believe that politics is way too intense. That’s why I’m a libertarian. Politics gets people angry, destroys relationships, and polarizes peoples’ vision: the world is us versus them; good people versus the other. Politics is about interfering with other people’s lives without their consent. That’s probably why, in the past, libertarians have made little progress in the political sphere. Thus, I advocate focusing energy elsewhere, onto peaceful projects that some consider utopian.
He's also a fence sitter on climate change, although because nuclear power is all Gee Whiz technology, he still advocates for its massive expansion anyway.

I see that The Atlantic has a good article explaining his nonsensical positions, especially his Trump support.  Perhaps I should have just linked to that...

Friday, July 22, 2016

Sounds about right

The Republicans waged a 3-decade war on government. They got Trump. - Vox

Paul Krugman noted this article, but points out that he called it much earlier on the Republicans, and cites the start of their intellectual downfall as being with the adoption of supply side economics.  

She writes well

I’m With The Banned — Welcome to the Scream Room — Medium

I don't know of Laurie Penny, and as a "queer feminist" I am I certain I would disagree with many of her views.

But this description of her meeting with Milo and assorted Republican hangers-on at the convention is very wittily written, and I strongly suspect explains him correctly.

Dream analysis not required

I certainly hope that dreams don't actually often mean that much, because last night I seemed to have a long one which involved getting a small tattoo from Pauline Hanson (!)   (It was actually to convert a large birthmark on my side - which does not exist in real life, btw - into a volcano.  But I did stop her after a short time, deciding it was a bad idea after all, and she wasn't very competent at it.  And please be assured, there was no erotic aspect - at all.)

And you thought an old white guy arguing with an empty chair was an embarrassing look for the Republicans...

Of course, there were many delusional Right wingers who thought Clint Eastwood's performance was a brilliant bit of biting Obama takedown, instead of the peculiar embarrassment that it was.  I wonder how many of that group think that this election's Republican convention is a success?   Surely even that group (with the catchy motto "United by Hate we Stand") has some within it that can see that this convention looks like a never ending disaster?

For goodness sake, even Charles Krauthammer thought the Christie led chants of "burn the witch" "lock her up" was a bad look.

As for Cruz:  one might almost say his position was principled, except no one seems sure whether it involved him lying about what he would say; and besides, it seems he genuinely is despised by about  95% of people who have had to work with him, which would suggest that his call that people should vote according to conscience means they would be right not to vote for him either.

Rich libertarian weirdo/eccentric* Thiel hasn't spoken yet, but I heard it speculated on the radio that he was going to call for the Party to get on board with gay rights?   I'm curious to see how that goes over...

Anyway, the Party is in the worst intellectual and moral position it has ever been, I reckon.  (Have a look at these bits of misogyny noted at Slate, as well as their story about the trainwreck that Trump is on foreign policy).  The Party blowing itself up like this might be a good thing, eventually...

*  aren't they all? - rich libertarians - or even just "libertarians", I mean

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Okunoshima - my part in its downfall (not really)

Just after I finish my posts about Okunoshima, I see that someone has done a study of some kind arguing that the rabbits are being loved to death.  Population explosion!  No vegetation left!  Bloating them with cabbage!
“There are now about 1,000 rabbits on this two-mile island,” DeMello said. “They’ve destroyed the ecosystem.” As a result of the lack of vegetation and the inappropriate food that tourists provide for the animals, the rabbits suffer from a variety of health problems and now have a life expectancy of just two years, DeMello and her fellow researchers found.
The findings were presented on Wednesday at the World Lagomorph Conference in Turlock, California.
Well, I didn't know the word "lagomorph" before - so that's something useful.

Look, not that I can claim expertise on rabbit health, but my recent day and night on the island just makes me skeptical of these claims:
On Rabbit Island, DeMello and her fellow researchers found that the rabbits are fighting over even the least nutritious food provided by tourists. “Of the 728 rabbits that we counted on the island, 28 percent had visible injuries or illnesses,” she reported. The percentage grew to 50 percent in the areas of the island closest to humans. “The more humans interfered, the sicker and more injured the rabbits appeared to be,” she said.
In fact, I had been prepared to see a fair few rabbits with obvious illnesses - some other blogging visitors sometimes commented on seeing sick looking ones - but as I noted here, I was actually pleasantly surprised by the generally healthy appearance of the great majority of the furry inhabitants.  Compared to what we occasionally see jumping across the road in Australia, the Okunoshima ones seemed particularly fine examples of rabbit-hood.

As for "destroying the ecosystem" - another pleasant surprise was to see that the island looks so well vegetated despite supporting hundreds of rabbits.  Perhaps it's because in Australia wild rabbits have such a environment destroying reputation that I would not have been too surprised if the island featured baron sections chock full of holes, with mangy, starving rabbits lolling about desperate for a feed.   Well, OK, sometimes they are very keen on a feed, but while there are a rabbit divots on the lawn in front of the hotel, it's not the scene of rabbit devastation an Australian might expect, at all.

And did I kill any by feeding them cabbage?:
The tourists, she said, often come bearing cabbage, one of the cheapest vegetables in Japan and a big part of the Japanese diet. Cabbage is a bad food choice for rabbits, as it causes dangerous and potentially deadly bloat. It is also low in fiber, something rabbits require for what DeMello called their “very particular digestive system.”
Hmm.  It's odd, then that there seem to be a few million websites on Google - including from vets - saying that pet rabbits can be fed cabbage, some (but not all) mentioning that some rabbits might get bloat and be a bit cautious in introducing it.

There may well be an element of truth in this report - I wouldn't be surprised if increased tourists numbers has led to a slight population increase - but even then, I know that on a weekday in July, the island was hardly teaming with humans.  (Access being available only by a ferry, there will always be a natural limit on the number of people there each day.) 

Overall, this report just smacks too much of environmental doomsaying from a well intentioned, but exaggerating, animal welfare advocate.  A bit like the American pro-koala advocate years ago who I heard (or read) saying that Australians were hearing the wailing of treeless, dying koalas at night.

The situation for the rabbits and the island may not be ideal, but it doesn't look to me to be as bad as these people claim.

Update:  I see from this website that most wild rabbits actually live less than a year (!), although pet ones can last 8 to 10.   If the Okunoshima ones live for 2, they're doing better than average, although I would have guessed they would get closer to the pet rabbit age.   There's lots of interesting wild rabbit facts on that website, incidentally.

Good riddance

Milo Yiannopoulos: Twitter banning one man won’t undo his poisonous legacy | Technology | The Guardian

To be perfectly honest, I didn't even know who Yiannopoulos was until his recent appearance on Andrew Bolt's show.  But reading that he took the "gamers" side on Gamergate (about which I had read enough to have a view), worked for Breitbart, and seemed to primarily be about vacuous self promotion in the "culture war", I soon enough had his measure.  (Why is it that Right wing gay men - such as him, Jim Hoft and - I think no one doubts it - Matt Drudge - seem to be amongst the nastiest and dumbest Right wing culture warriors around?  I find that odd.)

The linked article is not bad in explaining his poison, although I think she's unduly pessimistic about the benefits of his Twitter banning.

Update:  the Vox explainer on the background to his banning is pretty good.  Of course, that Bolt would have him on his show just re-confirms my re-categorisation of him  - "Gone Completely Stupid and Offensive".

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

My election vote justified

Matthew Canavan says there is 'uncertainty' around impact of climate change | Australia news | The Guardian

I actually don't know how Malcolm Turnbull justifies the political compromises he has had to make to keep the PM job.  It's not as if The Lodge is that nice a house to live in.

I live for the day when a Liberal PM will say to his [update - I would normally say "or her" - but this is the Liberal Party we're talking about] party room - "That's it, climate change deniers and lukewarmer 'we can wait another 30 years before we decide what to do' advocates.  You're wrong, you've been wrong since the start, and you're too stupid or ideological to see or admit it.   Not only that, you've set up the world for irreparable harm for many, many generations.  You'll have no influence on policy and get out and sit on the cross benches if you don't like it."

Somewhat amusing

I am usually surprised at how likeable "The Feed" on SBS 2 is when I watch it - it plugs away with a tiny audience, and yet people like me continually forget to watch.   Anyway, 7.30 was dull last night, so I switched over, and was somewhat amused by this:

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Movie critic noted

I should stop scanning Catallaxy, the blog for aging and generically angry sad sacks white men (plus the odd - and I mean odd - women who like that type).  But the occasional comment catches my eye, such as from long time Australian blogging identity CL, aka "The Only Man From the 1950's Who Was Born in the 70's."  Here's his comment on the new Ghostbusters:

I thought the clip was quite funny, as it happens.

Sounds to me like he'd fit right in at 4Chan...

Incidentally, the misogynistic outrage at remaking the movie with females was just the silliest controversy.  Apart from the loser dork-dom that fretting about women re-doing a film in their gender illustrates, as if it was worth dying on the barricades for the original movie in the first place.  It was just a mildly diverting, mildly entertaining movie, after all. 

Some people never change..

Gee. I reckon you can really see Sam the adult in Sam the boy...

The Okunoshima Post - Part 3

If I had paid more attention to what people said about Okunoshima (apart from "Rabbits!! - look at the rabbits!"), I would have realised before I got there that it is in a very scenic area, at the edge of the group of islands in what's called the Seto Inland Sea.  You'll start noticing how pretty the area is on the train (or bus) trip from Mihara to Tadanoumi, as it follows the coast line with lots of water and island views.  You can see this very large looking island spanning bridge in the distance, too:

[I see now that it is the Tatara Bridge, with towers 220 m high (!)]

So, I was pleasantly surprised by scenery such as this (all photos taken from the island):

It was foggy the next morning (in fact, it delayed the first ferry), but it made for a nice photo or two:

I think this is an old timer, enjoying the view too:

I read now that the larger islands in this area, being connected via bridges, are popular for cycling tourists.  Have a look at the photos from the bike path at this CNN Travel site.  I think this definitely looks like an enticing part of Japan to explore in more detail.

As for the hotel, here's a panorama pic of it on the foggy morning (if you click and enlarge it, you can try to count the rabbits, too):

The facilities are fine but certainly not top class.  In particular, the grounds had a "we're not ready for holiday season yet" feel, even though it was the start of July.  There is a pool, for example, which was closed and an odd shade of green; and although there are several tennis courts around the back, most looked shabby.   The grounds in front of the hotel are obviously a challenge to keep neat when there is strong competition for grass from 700 or so rabbits every day, but it didn't look like there was much attempt to tidy them up, either.

On the other hand, one of the cheaper ways to stay on the island is to camp on the quite tidy looking nearby camping ground with sea views, but still take your meals in the hotel.  The tent can either be your own, or even one supplied (and, I think, according to one internet account) erected for you by the resort staff.   I didn't see the amenities block, though. 

Not that it worries me, but I think nearly all rooms are Japanese style, which means sleeping on futons and a toilet in the room but no shower or bath, so it's off to the communal onsen style baths to get clean of an evening.

Did I mention before that the food in the buffet dining room is really pretty good?  Octopus is the local speciality, so expect it to turn up in various forms.

As for the other island's attractions:

* the small poison gas museum is worth seeing:  it takes the same "let this never happen again" polemic style of Hiroshima atomic bomb museum, not that there's anything wrong with that, of course.  Still, you'll only need about 20 minutes or so to read all of the english information available;

* the ruins around the island.  There are various bits of decaying infrastructure from the old poison gas days. 

They're a good reason to go on a bike ride. Put me in mind of the island being a suitable hideout for a small scale Bond villain.   It might be hard to keep up the evil aura while being followed by rabbits, however.

*  the nature education centre:  looks pretty new and is neat, but not much info in English.

But at the end of the day, it's hard to resist just wanting to be with the inhabitants:

A final note:  if the hotel sells rabbit food, I never saw a sign for it.  But I think the cafe might sell pellets?  In any event, they don't sell veges for rabbits, so buy some on the mainland before you get there, as per my previous post.

It seemed it was not only tourists who are besotted with the furry inhabitants (whose natural enemies, by the way, appear to be limited to crows.  My son and daughter, while bike riding, saw a crow threatening a baby  bunny, who escaped under a bush.)  There was an elderly Japanese (I think) couple who came over to the island with a huge bag and box of leafy vegetables.  I saw him perching them on a bicycle and heading off around the island to distribute his bounty.  I could happily imagine a retirement doing that, too..

Monday, July 18, 2016

The Okunoshima post - Part 2

First impressions on seeing the island are slightly marred by the huge power transmission towers that stand on it, but they're not so noticeable once you're there:

Nearly setting foot on the island now:

And finally, the welcoming committee:

The waiting bus takes you on the short-ish but slow (to avoid road rabbits - watching them a bit too casually getting out of the way causes anxiety to the newly arrived rabbit fans) drive to the hotel, where there's every chance more will be on the stairs near the entrance:

Now, of course I have scores of photos of happy rabbits being fed by my happy family, but privacy concerns prevent me putting them up; and besides, you can see heaps of similar photos elsewhere on the net so I won't bother - wait - who am I kidding, how can I resist?

Walk out in front of the hotel (they don't want you feeding them right at the entrance), shake your bag of pellets, and you'll be the centre of attention very quickly:

The websites say the origin of the rabbits is not known with certainty, but I do doubt the version that they are from the island's poison gas days.  They just look more like what I imagine they should from being from pet rabbit stock; and are, by and large, healthy looking and well behaved around people.  Signs indicate you shouldn't touch (or at least hold) them; but they are gentle and most are happy to be petted softly, as guests continuously do:

Hire a bicycle from the hotel and ride around the island (it's a pleasant, mostly flat, ride) and they're everywhere, often approaching if you stop. (Photo cropped for family privacy reasons):

This little guy, on the second day as it was getting hotter, lopped over to me even though I had no food, and promptly laid down between my feet for (I think) some useful shade:

How charming is that?

I didn't even see what rabbits are famous for doing to generate baby rabbits.  Maybe they leave that for the burrows?

If you have food, you'll easily get rabbits on your lap, if you want them there:

But - you do have to be sensible about not getting fingers too close to a hungry eating rabbit's mouth - my son somehow got bitten deep enough to bleed.   My daughter had a bite too, but not a bleeding one. Later I saw video from her phone where she was putting her fingers right up to a rabbit's mouth, it was like she was inviting it to have a bite.  They, rightly, did not blame the rabbits. 

As I say, they are generally well behaved, curious and lovely creatures.  The occasional bit of rabbit on rabbit fighting can be spotted, but by and large, it seems rabbit society is pretty orderly.

In the next part, I'll talk more about the island and hotel.

The movie review you weren't waiting for

Saw Spielberg's "The BFG" yesterday.

Positives:  looks terrific; the female lead is charming, as is Mark Rylance as the BFG;  well directed with all of Spielberg's talent with framing gorgeous shots and terrific (but not jarring) camera movement; makes allusions in various ways to his previous films, which keeps someone like me happy.

Negative:  it does lack narrative "push" in the middle section.  I read some reviewer saying the first 20 minutes were not that good - in fact, I would say they are great, but it slows down after that.  It then gains momentum and becomes pleasingly silly again in the last section when the Queen gets involved.

Overall I found it pretty charming, and felt it quite true to Roald Dahl (even though I haven't read the book).   But I do understand why it hasn't been a big commercial success - it is too long for the real young kids (although, it must be said, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was narratively languid in the same way and still seen as a success), and too kid fantasy-centric for broad success with teenagers and young adults.  (My own teenagers did see it with me, and grumbled afterwards about various aspects; but I don't doubt they were engaged and enjoyed much of it - it is a film of some depth that gives you much to talk about afterwards.  They just won't admit at school today that they saw it.  Especially my son...)

Speaking of CCBB - perhaps that is how the movie could have been improved - as the 1960's taught us, the addition of a handful of pleasing songs can help a long movie. 

I should add - although I don't consider it a complete success for the reason I explained, I did find it actually more interesting that the overly simplistic "Bridge of Spies".   I still say that while there was nothing really wrong with that movie, its narrative needed more complexity to be a great movie.   

Sunday, July 17, 2016

The Okunoshima ("Rabbit Island") post - Part 1 - getting there

One of the highlights (OK, probably the highlight) of the recent Japan holiday was an overnight stay at Okunoshima, the island somewhat famous for being full of friendly, wild, rabbits.  (I say "somewhat", because it  still not unusual to find Japanese people, even on Honshu, who have not heard of it.  Which is a bit surprising, given the number of Japanese TV shows showing hosts visiting parts of the country, although that is usually to eat the local delicacy and say "oishii!")

Some websites say it can be done as a day trip from Kyoto or Hiroshima, but really, I think the average human will find the place so charming that only a few hours on the island will be a matter of regret.  A day trip from Kyoto in particular would likely take about 7 or so hours of travel, so it would be a long day out!)

We made the trip from Kyoto.  Here's a map (from the rather useful JR Rail pass map) with my arrows showing the big picture from Kyoto to Mihara:

This looks like a very simple trip on the one Shinkansen line, but actually, we had to change at Fukuyama as the train we took out of Kyoto (heading to Hiroshima) did not stop at Mihara.  (On the way back  from Mihara, as we had to get all the way back to Tokyo, we had to change Okayama.)   A map to show Fukuyama:

Also, bear in mind that the JR Rail Pass, which many visitors use, is not valid for Nozomi class trains on that particular Sanyo Shinkansen line.  This, together with the matter of which trains stop where, makes the trip a bit more complicated than it appears from the map alone.  But from Kyoto to Mihara, even with the change, was supposed to take about 3 hours 20 min, although actually, due to power outages on the system, it took a bit longer.)

Anyhow, once you get to Mihara, here's the more detailed map showing the local Kure line to get to the ferry terminal town of Tadanoumi:

(The Kure line train was not running on our visit, again due to the power system problems - caused by recent bad weather - and there was a bus put on from the train station instead.)

Because I want to make the life of the traveller to Okunoshima as simple as possible, here's a marked up map showing you how to walk from the train station at Tadanoumi to the ferry terminal.   (I was expecting this to more explicitly signed for the foreign visitor, but it didn't seem to be.  Maybe there is a map inside the station somewhere, but I missed it because we got delivered there by bus?):

I do recommend going first to the next door Family Mart and buying the rabbit food packs they sell - you can get cabbage leaves, pellet food and carrot sticks - and you should buy plenty. (The carrot sticks get eaten really quickly though - cabbage is more easily stretched out.)  The ferry terminal sells tickets to the island, and also pellet food for the rabbits.

A recent copy of the ferry timetable is at this site (but whether it is still current, don't ask me), but as you can it does run pretty frequently during the day.   The trip over only takes15 minutes at most, and then you in the land of rabbits.  Oh, and the ruins of a poison gas manufacturing plant.  More in part 2.

Friday, July 15, 2016

He doesn't make a very convincing case

Why You Should Believe in the Digital Afterlife - The Atlantic

At least he details the complexity of doing adequate brain scans to be able to replicate its state in order to create a digital upload of one's consciousness.   This is always the vaguest part in science fiction scenarios, and you can see why...

Islam - again (and Japan, too)

Oh no.  News of yet another terrible radical Islamic inspired attack in France.

While in Japan recently, I kept thinking what a security nightmare that country could be if Islamic terrorism was a serious issue there.   There are now specific announcements on their train system that security has been upgraded, but whether that is due to a terrorism concern, or just worry about crime generally, I'm not sure.   But seriously, that country has been trusting its own people for so long, they have practices in place that would just make a terrorist attack so easy and they are slow to change.

For example, luggage lockers are extremely common around train stations and (I think) even at Narita airport;  I presume they're not much available in Britain or the US any more?   Maybe they aren't such a good spot for a terrorist to think about causing maximum danger, given that the locker itself would have effect on the blast, and there are not usually that many people milling around them, but still...

The most obvious issue is on Shinkansen, which are terrific but do not provide adequate space for large baggage.  The few people with large luggage (usually foreigners, as most Japanese use their incredibly efficient internal luggage or parcel delivery services)  often do have to leave them in the space behind the last row of seats and the wall in each carriage.   (It's a pretty big gap, and can you fit a few large suitcases/backpacks in there.  I doubt it's intentionally there for luggage, but in practice, that's what it gets used for.)  This means you are often sitting far from your luggage, sometimes mixed up with other people's.

The announcements say that you should tell staff if luggage not with you is yours, and there are conductors often moving through the train, seemingly only tallying up the number of occupied seats and bowing as they enter and exit the carriage; but I know from direct observation that they just don't worry about the luggage sitting at the end of the carriage spot.  (I never bothered trying to tell them; but I saw some other foreigners doing so, to a conductor who just smiled and nodded and moved on.) 

It is, in other words, the perfect spot for a terrorist bomb; and one which does not even involve suicide tactics, given that you can move freely between carriages.

Should I be making this observation out loud?   I don't know, but I'm sure I can't be the only foreigner who has thought about this...

Anyhow, I see from the Japan Times, which I don't normally expect to have much about Islamic terrorism concerns, that the Japanese do not waste time fretting too much about privacy rights when it comes to monitoring Muslims.  In fact, it's pretty extraordinary:
Qureshi, like almost all of Japan’s roughly 100,000 Muslim residents, is no stranger to police surveillance. However, the true extent of the systematic profiling and surveillance of Japan’s Muslim community only came to light in 2010, when over 100 internal Metropolitan Police Department documents were leaked online.
The leak revealed that the police had compiled detailed profiles on 72,000 Muslims, including personal information such as bank account statements, passport details and records of their movements. The leak also showed that police had at times planted cameras inside mosques and used undercover agents to infiltrate Islamic nonprofit organizations and halal grocers and restaurants.
The leaked documents, which were made available unredacted online and included the personal profiles of dozens of Muslims, were downloaded more than 10,000 times in the first few weeks.
A detailed breakdown of Qureshi’s life was among the documents, but he says he wasn’t surprised. He had known he was being followed for a long time.
There are some judicial limits, but the basic idea is still OK:
After the 2010 leak, 17 of the Muslims named in the documents sued the government and police in a bid to have the widespread spying ruled illegal. In 2014, the Tokyo District Court agreed that the leak had violated the plaintiffs’ right to privacy and awarded them ¥90 million in compensation, but it also ruled that the intelligence-gathering was “necessary and inevitable.”
The court sidestepped the issue of blanket profiling by religion, as did the Tokyo High Court in an appeal the following year.
Earlier this year, the group asked the Supreme Court to rule on the constitutionality of the lower court’s decision.
The leaked documents refer to all those profiled as “suspects.” Their lawyers argued that spying solely on the basis of faith, rather than any suspicious activity, breached their plaintiffs’ rights to privacy, equality and freedom of religion. The Supreme Court dismissed the case on May 31.
In another Japan Times article of recent interest, a writer looks at the historic reasons why Muslims often don't trust other Muslims.  It starts with an issue I did not even realise existed (well, apart from the fact that Sunnis and Shiites may well want to kill each other):
The mistrust that pervades Middle Eastern societies is hard to miss. As controlled experiments confirm, Arabs have substantially less trust in strangers, foreign or domestic, than, say, Europeans. This hampers progress on many fronts, from business development to government reforms.
Low-trust societies participate disproportionately less in international commerce, and attract less investment. And, indeed, according to the World Values Survey and related research, trust among individuals in the Middle East is low enough to limit commercial transactions to people who know one another either personally or through mutual acquaintances. Because of their lack of trust, Arabs will often pass up potentially lucrative opportunities to gain through exchange....
One potentially important clue lies in the difference between perceptions of Muslims and Christians. To be sure, there are no official data quantifying the deficit; in most parts of the Middle East, too few Christians are left to make meaningful statistical comparisons. But casual evidence suggests that the region’s shoppers, merchants, and investors generally consider local Christians to be more trustworthy than local Muslims.
 This historical source of this, according to the writer, go back some way:
My work with the economic historian Jared Rubin exploring Istanbul’s 17th- and 18th-century Islamic court records may offer insights into why.
At that time, Istanbul was a cosmopolitan city; around 35 percent of its local residents were Christian, and 6 percent were Jewish. According to Islamic law (Shariah), Muslims had to do business according to Islamic rules, and if they wanted to adjudicate a conflict, they had to use an Islamic court. For their part, Christians and Jews could do business under their own rules, though they were free also to follow Islamic rules and to use Islamic courts, if they so desired. But, of course, if they were involved in a case against a Muslim, that had to be handled in an Islamic court.
When a Muslim and a non-Muslim faced each other in a trial, the Muslim enjoyed significant advantages. First, the judges’ training predisposed them to give the benefit of any doubt to a fellow Muslim. Second, the court staff was entirely Muslim, which meant that testimony was viewed solely from a Muslim perspective. Third, whereas Muslims could testify against anyone, Christians and Jews could testify only against another non-Muslim.
But these advantages had a downside. Because the legal system made it easier for Muslims to breach contracts with impunity, they were more often tempted to default on their debts and to renege on their obligations as business partners and sellers.
Meanwhile, non-Muslims, whose obligations were enforced more vigorously, gained a reputation for trustworthiness. To reflect differences in perceived risk, lenders, who were predominantly Muslim, charged about two percentage points less for credit to Christian and Jewish borrowers than to Muslims (15 percent annually, as opposed to 17 percent).
So it seems that perceptions of trustworthiness in the Arab world are rooted, at least partly, in the uneven enforcement of commitments under Islamic law. The sectarian differences in legal enforcement did not last. In the mid-19th century, Islamic courts gave way to what were essentially secular courts, at least with respect to commerce and finance. The enforcement of commitments then became more balanced.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Pre-post announcement

About apartments

Rent report: Units play catch up to houses in housing-short Sydney, Domain says |

Not sure if it's entirely reliable, but this article indicates Sydney is not oversupplied with residential units, but Brisbane very soon will be.

The picture was different in Brisbane, where decade-low levels of
migration into southeast Queensland and the recent state budget boost
for first home buyers were weakening the rental market. Rents of units
fell to $375 from March's record $380 and houses slipped to $400 from
$410. While prices are still up, or equal to, their level of a year ago,
vacancy rates for both dwelling types have increased, suggesting rents
will fall further - especially given the large numbers of new apartments
due to settle in the Queensland capital, Dr Wilson said.

"The signs are all there for more supply than demand," he said. "It means downward pressure on rents in Brisbane."
One thing I have been meaning to say for a long time, based on my getting to see quite a lot of unit plans in my line of work, is that I am struck by the largely unimaginative design of apartments in Australia.  Now I know there is only so much you can do with a rectangular floor area, but it just seems to me that there is rarely anything particularly distinctive about Australian apartments.   Why do we so rarely see, for example, units with two internal levels (I always like the sleeping area on a different level from the living area, and I did recently see one unit, about 20 years old I would guess, that did do that.)  For units for single people, we rarely see built in space saving designs that are so common in Japan, or (for that matter) that you may see in an Ikea store.  

There is certainly a tendency in Brisbane for very large unit balconies now, at the cost of decreased interior size.  I know we have the weather for a lot of outdoor eating, or partying, but I still feel that trend has actually gone a bit too far in this city.  (Maybe I feel that way because I can feel slightly nervous being on balconies that are more than about 4 or 5 few stories about ground level, anyway.)     

And I have already blogged about the fashion for modern high rise units here to have floor to ceiling glass as the exterior walls, whether it be for bedrooms or living areas.  This can't be energy efficient, surely; and I just don't like the insubstantial feeling it gives a building.

Maybe everyone thinks they're an architect, but I do like to imagine that if someone paid me lots of money, gave me a year and told me to come up with something really innovative and interesting (but not over the top expensive, either) for Australian unit design, I could do it....

IS prepares for the end (of holding territory)

Islamic State readies for fall of 'caliphate'

It's pretty much gone as I expected.   They'll be dangerous for some time yet, of course, due to "off shore" terrorism.  (And within Iraq, of course.  Can you imagine the nightmare of policing a re-captured IS controlled city with a huge underground resistance?)   But a couple of other observations:

a.  the ABC has recently run a story with interviews of captured IS fighters in northern Iraq (all de-bearded and not looking like crazed killers at the moment) in which they complain that they were (and remain) motivated by their bad former treatment at the hands of the Iraqi Shiite controlled army.  This makes it all the more plain that with the overthrow of Saddam and the major revival within Iraq of the old internal Islamic sectarian conflict, the ultimate effects of the war were not containable within Iraq.  A reasonable sounding summary of the effect of the war appears today at Gulf News, actually:
Likewise, before they started the war, many policymakers believed that democracy would emerge quickly once Saddam was gone. Ensuring that such fundamental and consequential assumptions are tested by “red teams” — those not supporting the associated policy — should be standard operating procedure.

There is also the reality that removing governments, as difficult as that can be, is not nearly as difficult as creating the security that a new government needs to consolidate its authority and earn legitimacy in the eyes of the public. Creating anything like a democracy in a society lacking many of its most basic prerequisites is a task of decades, not months.

The report said little about the legacy of the Iraq War, but it is important to consider. First and foremost, the war disrupted the regional balance of power. No longer in a position to distract and balance Iran, Iraq instead came under Iranian influence. Iran was free not just to develop a
meaningful nuclear programme, but also to intervene directly and via proxies in several countries. Sectarian fighting poisoned relations between Sunnis and Shiites throughout the region. The alienation felt by soldiers and officers of Saddam’s disbanded army fuelled Sunni
insurgency and, ultimately, led to the rise of Daesh (the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant).

b.  How's the cyberwar against IS on line propaganda going?   Both the US military and private hacker  groups said they would be fighting them in cyberspace, but we hear very little about how that's gone.

Flicking the switch to vaudeville

Oh my.  The state of British politics seems to have become a comedy script instead of something serious, with David Cameron starting a jolly jape that backfired on him, and ultimately resulting in a clown becoming Foreign Secretary.   If such comedy themes continue to spread globally, he'll have another clown in the White House in November with whom he can exchange hair styling tips.

However, I half expect he'll have resigned for impregnating some young European foreign office staffer before then; and Trump: it's not going to happen.

Update:  has there been any support from any media outlet for the appointment of Johnson?   Can't say I've seen any anywhere:  the reaction seems to be universal disbelief.  

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The religious (sexual) imagination and radical Islam

The most remarkable thing about the chilling Four Corners' episode "Soldiers of Allah" on Monday night, in which a French Muslim undercover reporter secretly filmed conversations with radicalised Islamic wannabe terrorists and IS soldiers, was how much the young men were inspired by a specific, and very carnal, vision of the rewards of Heaven for a young male martyr.   Yes, we're talking about the expectation of scores of beautiful houris, the young virginal women of Islamic fame, living in a grand palace, waiting to attend to all the needs (nudge nudge, wink wink) of a recently arrived martyr, not to mention the winged horse which will be the expected mode of heavenly transport.

It was weird listening to the conversation in which a guy in his mid twenties was painting this picture to  his youngest recruit, a mere 16 year old, who seemed to be revelling in the promises with an almost masturbatory intensity.

Which made me think:   one of the great practical advantages of Christianity is surely the Biblical lack of a clear and detailed explanation of the experience of Heaven.  God knows, over-certainty of His* intentions has caused problem enough in the history of the religion, but I don't know that anyone can accuse it of causing horny young men to kill in the expectation that the sex they've missed out on on Earth will be on tap in the afterlife.   If anything, I've always considered the message of both Jesus and Paul (whichever you might consider the "true" creator of Christianity) to be along the lines of "yes, Heaven is definitely there and is the just reward of the deserving, and it'll be great; but exactly how it works? - trust me, you don't need to understand the details and I'm not going to try to explain."

It's a peculiar thing, that I've surely noted before, but holding too much certainly on the nature of both this life, and the afterlife, can be a terribly, terribly dangerous thing.  Even from the non-theistic point of view, the firm belief that you're just a meat robot acting out on decisions made subconsciously and without your real control is hardly conducive to moral behaviour.   And at the other extreme, of course, is thinking that Heaven is about a fantastic sex life, at least if you are a martyr.

It's odd how the lesson seems to be "it's best for all concerned to be somewhat uncertain about the metaphysics of life".

*  I don't really consider God is gendered, but I'm comfortable sticking with the male imagery.   


It's gained so much publicity so quickly, I feel I should have an opinion on the curious matter of Pokemon Go, the adult uptake of it, and the financial resurgence of a Japanese company on its back.

I dunno, just seems like innocent fun to me, actually.  Perhaps it's just that I am still under the influence of recent time in Japan, where the line between kids' iconography and adult use of it is non-existent,  but I find it hard to feel any indignation or annoyance at adult uptake of a somewhat silly kid's competitive game which does incorporate player co-operation and (gosh) outdoor physical activity.

Compared to some other things adults get interested in (violent video games, cage fighting, degrading porn, beheading infidels) how can I regret this?

More curious images from Japan

This is now a common sign on Japanese train stations.   People must have longer selfie sticks than I realised:

And one day, near a train station, we noticed this novelty in a kids' vending machine:

It appears to be underwear (dare I say "panties"?) for drinks bottles.  My daughter was tempted to buy one the next day, but the vending machines had been reconfigured, and they were gone.   I pointed out that if it weren't for the photo, this is something that, 20 years later, you might be uncertain whether it was real or part of a dream....

Update:   I see that "panties for drink bottles" were noted on the internet last year.   I now understand the condensation catching utility of them, and regret not having purchased one.  Strictly the plaid design for me, though:  I do have some boxers in similar colour.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Election comments

*  As I'm pretty sure I suggested a few months ago, the problem with a narrow win by the Coalition is that no one within it (or the broader public) will be entirely sure of the reason why, enabling both conservatives and the, um, not conservatives to blame each other.  This is particularly the case given the wildly divergent swings across different seats, which seems to be the odd characteristic of this election.

*  It seems that Queensland was much more "in play" for Labor than polling or punditry had predicted.  But by voting in large numbers for Pauline Hanson, the embarrassing low level of serious political thought in the State was, unfortunately, once again on display.   (By the way, who can doubt that her regular lightweight media exposure on Sunrise - as it was with Kevin Rudd - was largely responsible for her political re-emergence.   The producers of that show have a lot to answer for, come the revolution!)

*  I really wasn't paying that much close attention to interviews and such in this campaign, given I was trying to get enough work off my desk to go on a holiday.   But yeah, it did seem Turnbull was underwhelming as a campaigner.  Shorten was better than expected.

*  As for the "Mediscare" campaign:  I think it counted as an election campaign exaggeration, not a lie as such, and it is ridiculous for the Coalition to carry on as if they are above such tactics.   (Joyce and his $100 lamb leg roasts of campaigns past, to note one oft repeated example.)   The Coalition's "Labor's War on Business" was a pretty good example of silly campaign exaggeration from the other direction, too.

*  Speaking of scare campaigns, why on earth was no one in Labor running legitimate ads about "Remember the surprise the Coalition sprung on you about Tertiary fees after the last election?"   Especially given that no one knows what the ultimate policy on tertiary fees from the Coalition will be this term.  Maybe they decided no one under 25 was going to vote Coalition, anyway?

*  I think the Coalition's policy platform is disappointing, for the following reasons:

a.  the soundest economic view seems to be that the distortions in investment caused by negative gearing on residential property does indeed need to be addressed for the long term health of the economy, and the Labor approach to that was responsible and reasonable.   That the Coalition should reject any changes to it shows them to still be the captives of the modern equivalent of the "white shoe brigade", with the construction industry eventually paying the price for short term gain.   There is already plenty of concern being expressed about a large oversupply in unit construction in the 3 major cities, and there deserves to be a serious winding back on that.

b. As often happens, I know someone who voted against self interest, in that he works in the financial/retirement advice business and was bemoaning that the Coalition's superannuation changes were unfair and bad for his clients, and he even admitted that Labor's approach to reforming it was simpler and better in principle.  He still would not vote Labor, though, because - Labor.  Again, Labor, I think, had a better policy on something important for the long term.

c. Labor, of course, I can criticise for refusing to contemplate even a small increase in the GST as being "regressive", when I think it is an obvious helpful and fast contribution to budgetary issues.

*  Despite that last point, overall, I think Labor did act pretty responsibly and transparently in detailing its economic policy and plans, and I was satisfied that the scheme (short term slightly higher deficits pulled in  by the ongoing effect of its longer term policy changes) was plausible.   Of course, it might have got blown out of the water by a second global financial crisis within the next couple of years of some similar magnitude to the last; but then again, it's not as if the Liberals are going to be substantially better off responding under their policies.

*  It's also disappointing that climate change was a "no go" area for both major parties in this campaign.  With the Nationals feeling good after their performance, who knows what this will mean?   They worry about coal mines for the "wrong" reason, but at least they still worry about coal mines.   And then you have Katter, the Mad Hatter who seems all over the shop on climate change (in that he has been known to fret about the barrier reef and acidification) apparently trying to get government help for coal mining rail in Queensland.  The best we can hope for is that a Clinton win in the US, and possible aggressive climate change policies by her, will re-focus attention on what we're actually not doing fast enough.

So yeah, I voted Labor and am happy to explain why.  I think it's an entirely justifiable thing to do for a centrist voter at the moment, as its policy instincts are, on the whole, still sounder than that being displayed within the fractious Coalition.

Japanese products you didn't know you needed

When catching the Shinkansen in Japan, you should always check the seat pocket in front of you for the rail shopping catalogue that's likely to be there.   It's a bit reminiscent of the old Sharper Image catalogues from the US (younger readers may not even know about them, I guess); perhaps less techy, but with added Japanese idiosyncrasy:

Here are three products, for example:

For the 28 year old man who can't wait to get to 68, there's Silver Ash instant grey hair goop.  The ladies love the older, distinguished Japanese Steve Martin look, apparently.

Here's one for a problem I sometimes find, especially if I have lost a couple of kilos on a diet and can't decide which notch my pants belt should now go to.  Yes, that can make it tricky to keep your shirt tucked in neatly.  What I never realised was that I could solve that with another belt, this one just for my shirt:

At current exchange rates, that comes in at about $75, though.   Neatness comes at a price.  

And what about that long held regret that you can't see inside your own ear hole?   Well, do I have the probe for you:

She seems either surprised, amazed, or happy.   Not entirely sure what my reaction would be...

Monday, July 11, 2016

Andrew Bolt crosses the line

I'm sure it's not just me.   I'm sure that Andrew Bolt has become way, way less sensible as he has aged.  Is this what happens when you become a multi-media right wing "star" and need to pump up the output to justify (what I assume is) a very substantial income?

These days, I find him positively offensive when it comes to his taunting dog-whistles about refugees and any crime they may be involved in.   He takes one semi-valid point (that the media can be overly politically correct about protecting racial identity when it comes to talking about crimes committed by recent immigrants) but continually headlines posts with "Who let them in?"  Why he doesn't just outright call for a renewed White Australia policy, I don't know.

This is lazy, bigoted commentary that is up there with the intellectual gravitas of Pauline Hanson.  Is he saying that there are no deserving African or Islamic refugees?   Is he suggesting that Immigration screening can plausibly include a foolproof method for predicting whether refugees (or their teenage children) will get involved in gang related, or other, crime?  Does he forget Vietnamese involvement in drug crime in the 1980's that caused consternation at the time but is something that (as far as I know) has passed with increased societal integration?

Because he clearly can't credibly argue these points, he avoids the specifics.  Just as he avoids the matter of the Iraq invasion being ultimately behind the current massive problem of Islamic refugee movement into Europe.    As I have said before, surely someone like him should feel at least a bit sheepish and accept that his former positions have not had great outcomes and that the West is paying for it now? 

I don't call for him or John Howard to recant and apologise on Iraq - given that I also thought at the time that the invasion was justifiable and might have had good outcomes.  And we can never know what would have happened in an alternative history scenario.  But I'm not going to do what Bolt does and act as if the Right is always right and look for someone else to blame.   He now just follows the tropes of the nutty Fox News and other Right wing commentary in the US, where everything is Obama's fault.

His latest racially tinged bit of nonsense is his completely over the top reaction to the Dallas shootings - that this was the "first skirmish" in a full blown "race war" that had just ignited.  

He subsequently spends time on figures noting comparative figures of black on white and white on black crime - while not noting (not that I have seen) how Trump in the US had tweeted 8 months ago a  completely wrong figure  about white victim-hood that was out by a factor of at least 5.  (And I have seen that figure repeated in a recent thread at Breitbart.  Trump followers will never get that dangerously wrong figure out their heads.)    Having said that, bizarrely, Trump's short response to the Dallas shootings was, compared to Bolt, full of restraint.   And even some conservative commentators in America have been starting to note concern about American policing.

Instead, Bolt goes with "End this racist war on whites"(!!) 

The best response to this panicky commentary of Bolt's type was by Ross Douthat's column "Are We Unravelling", in which he echoes Obama's point that despite the current problems, the current American situation is really no where near as bad in terms of social and political upheaval as it was in the 1960's.  But this doesn't suit the "it's always the Left's fault" meme of Fox News, Breitbart and Andrew Bolt.   So historical perspective matters nothing to them.

Clearly, Bolt has been unreliable and swayed by all the wrong people on many, many issues for a long time now:  climate change, of course, where amateur backyard and eccentric scientists have always been more convincing to him than scientific professional bodies;  his help in publicising the disgraceful 20 year old rumour campaign run by the thoroughly discredited Michael Smith and Larry Pickering against Julia Gillard;  the self pitying martyrdom (encouraged by the IPA and, I would guess, Murdoch's Australian minions for PR purposes) of his defence of s.18C action bought against him instead of just correcting errors about individuals and apologising;  his endorsement of the gormless Tony Abbott and utter loathing of Turnbull;   his acting as if ugly internet comments are solely the purview of the Left, while ignoring the blatant ugly misogyny and racist undercurrent in many Right wing commentary threads since Obama took office, such as at Breitbart, Fox and Catallaxy.  

I have thought him foolish and annoying in the extreme in his advocacy on those issues, but his race and immigration commentary is now just so silly, and offensive, that it completely crosses the line of what I find  acceptable (or forgiveable?) in political punditry.

He's become a caricature of sensible political and cultural analysis, thoroughly devoid of any common sense he once had.

No one should read anything into the fact he is on my blogroll - if he stays on it, perhaps I should just list him under a new category "Gone Stupid and Offensive"?

The complicated world of Abenomics

Here's a few posts about the difficult matter of the Japanese economy:

Follow the Money:  Meanwhile, in Japan, Household Consumption Continues to Fall

(Indicating that adjusting the tax burden away from companies and more onto consumers is not always a good idea.)

Halfway Around The World, Brexit Hits Japan's Already Soft Economy

Thanks, Cameron!

And is the whole world "Turning Japanese"?

I really think so...

As an aside:  I was a bit surprised to hear from someone with a bit of local knowledge that one part of Japan I'm somewhat familiar with (the North East Iwate prefecture) is doing better than it used to, due to some businesses relocating factories to the area which was formerly known as a relative poor part of Japan due to it having little industry.   And it's true, the capital of the prefecture, Morioka, seemed more youthful and busier to me that it had when I first visited it 18 years ago.   For a country with a demographic problem, the shopping centre seemed full of kids on a Sunday.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Some somewhat amusing Japanese material

I think Clive James, with his clips of silly Japanese "challenge" game shows when he was at his height of TV popularity back in the 1980's and 90's, gave people a  misleading impression of the country's supposedly "wild and crazy",  if not cruel, sense of humour.  (I am told those shows were more or less just a passing fad - so it would be a bit like the Japanese thinking they understood Australians by watching re-runs of "It's a Knockout".)

Having said that, it's OK to find amusement at some Japanese images which are, well, unusual from a Western perspective.

For example, I took from the Japan Times:

This sums up the odd juxtapositions in Japan so well - the formality of the traditionally dressed and classically pretty "Miss Sake" at one end (in Australia, I think we would only end up with a somewhat tattooed "Miss Beer" wearing ugg boots and tracky pants), and at the other end of the line, after the serious officials, a really silly looking mascot - despite the Japanese Sake Fair presumably not really needing any attempt at "kawaii" to attract attendees.   (Although it's true, I suppose you could make the same argument about mascot superfluousness of the Olympics.)

Anyway, I just love the photo.

Later, in a book shop, I found this in the kid's section:

Yes, I do believe I stumbled across a relatively recent Japanese children's character, the "Bum Detective".

Now again, I know we've had our very own series of silly "bum" inspired novels for kids (The Day My Bum Went Psycho, for one), but I doubt they were illustrated, and I find the Japanese concept amusingly peculiar in its own right, as per this explanation:
The Bum Detective behaves like a perfect English gentleman, except that his face looks like a butt, and he blows farts from his face! He is very kind to ladies and likes tea and sweet-potato cakes. He often says, “I smell trouble,” and solves it. In this first title of the series, the Bum Detective tries to find a thief who stole all of the sweets at a shop. Young readers can enjoy labyrinths and quizzes as well as the story, which has them trying to figure out the truth together with the Bum Detective.

That's all I have time for, right now...

Friday, July 08, 2016

An armed society's a polite society, hey? (And see update below)

Actually, it's one where the police fear of anyone carrying a pistol, especially if they're black, makes them ridiculously trigger happy; and protests can turn into revenge shoot ups which "good guys with guns" have  not a chance in hell of stopping.

(And if it turns out this is actually IS inspired terrorism - it will scarcely make a difference to my points.  It's legal to walk around carrying rifles in Texas - how much of an easier run can you give to a wannabe sniper?) 

Updates:  you can read the same points, made at greater length, and more eloquence, in a piece by Adam Gopnik at the New Yorker, entitled "The Horrific, Predictable Results of an Armed Citizenry".

Also, it's hard to comprehend how "open carry" advocates cannot understand (or will deny the obvious) that their turning up at demonstrations in an urban environment creates a obvious problem.  As explained in a Dallas paper:
He said Friday that about 20 people in "ammo gear and protective equipment and rifles slung over their shoulder" participated in the Black Lives Matter rally downtown on Thursday night.
"When the shooting started, at different angles, they started running," he said. "We started catching."
Then police interviewed them.
Rawlings said open carry brings confusion to a shooting scene.
"What I would do is look for the people with guns," he said.
Max Geron, a Dallas police major, talked about the confusion during the shooting in a post on a law enforcement website.
"There was also the challenge of sorting out witnesses from potential suspects," Geron said. "Texas is an open carry state, and there were a number of armed demonstrators taking part. There was confusion on the radio about the description of the suspects and whether or not one or more was in custody."
 Earlier in the report, it says:
It was not immediately clear Saturday whether any of those who were legally armed delayed or hampered the police response to the shooter, Micah Xavier Johnson, 25, of Mesquite. Dallas police did not respond to questions. 

As if it couldn't cause enormous diversionary confusion. 

And how's this for a pathetic and "dumb as" response from an Open Carry advocate in the same article:
But C.J. Grisham, president of Open Carry Texas, said police should be able to separate the good guys from the bad guys in such a scenario because "the bad guys are the ones shooting."
"If you can't identify a threat, you shouldn't be wearing a uniform," he said.
Grisham said some in law enforcement look at law-abiding gun owners as a threat.
"It's not that difficult to tell the difference between a bad actor and a good actor," he said. "The good guys are going to obey commands, the bad guys are not."
According to all reports, the Dallas police force has a good reputation in the country, a black chief, and it sounds as if there was never any prospect it would do anything to aggravate a peaceful demonstration.   In a saner country, civilians turning up to it with long rifles would be told by police to get out of there; there is no good cause to be carrying a rifle in an inner city.  

We can at least be thankful that similar gun fetishists in Australia do not wield significant political power.

The aging American priest

Revealing the 'taboo' of retirement for Catholic priests; declining population, burnout

The figures are pretty dire:
In 1965, there were 58,632 priests in the U.S. with 94 percent of them
in active ministry; in 2014, there were 38,275 priests with only 68
percent in active ministry. In 2009, the average age of a priest was 63,
whereas the average age in 1970 was 35. By 2019, half of all active
priests will be at the minimum age of 70.
(By the way, odd that this story was found in the medical section of!)

Anti-Semitism and climate change denialism

Hey Jason - I think it's a very silly suggestion in your tweet that Clive Hamilton "comes close" to tarring all climate change denialists with anti-Semitism when in his article he specifically details how Bolt openly repudiated  Robert's Jewish banker conspiracy mongering.   (Sure, Hamilton doesn't "give credit" to Bolt for that, for reasons he explains, but Bolt's stance is still a large part of the article.)

You may not like Hamilton, but an article reminding us of the conspiracy nuttiness of a new Senator (and that of prominent denialists Jonova and her husband) is a good public service, if you ask me.

Climate sensitivity estimates back where they were

Is it time to freak out about the climate sensitivity estimates from energy budget models?

As was half expected at the time they came out, the lower climate sensitivity estimates based on energy budget models look to be biased low.   The IPCC's lowering of the bottom end for the range of possible sensitivity was probably premature.

Japan in summer

Have you noticed the weather in Tokyo this week?   Last Sunday (my last day there), it was 35 degrees; yesterday - 36!

This is the first time I have spent much time in Japan in summer, and yes, it can indeed be very humid and hot.   I also suspect that sprawling Tokyo would have one of the hottest "urban heat island" effects around, and I wonder how much of that is reflected in the temperatures.

Googling the topic:  hey, my hunch that there is a huge UHI effect in that city is right:
Over the past 100 years, Tokyo's average temperature has increased by about three degrees Celsius, and that of Osaka has increased by two degrees Celsius (C). Since it is said that global warming has raised the Japan's average temperature by about one degree C, the temperature increase due to the UHI effect is probably about two degrees in Tokyo and about one degree in Osaka.
Along with the UHI effect, an increasing number of patients suffering from heat stroke and other heat disorders have recently been admitted to emergency rooms. In Tokyo, the number of such patients brought to hospitals by ambulances increased to 1,300 persons in 2007 from 200 in 1996. Some studies show a correlation between deaths from heat stroke and the heat experienced during extremely hot days and sweltering summer nights.
(There are lots more articles about UHI in Japan if you care to Google it.)

The good news:  I was surprised at how well airconditioned the Tokyo metro trains and stations were.   I'm not sure whether the above ground parts of Toyko Station are as good, though:  certainly, on one previous day we were there, when it wasn't as hot as later in the week, it seemed there was inadequate airconditioning in large sections, and it was quite unpleasant.  But perhaps it was just that day?

Outside of Tokyo, the humid heat (in the high 20's and low 30's quite a few days) was still fairly unpleasant for the on-foot tourist.   But we did only have one day with some interference from rain, so perhaps we were lucky in that regard.

As for dressing for the hot weather:  you will read that shorts are mainly for the younger male in Japan, but I think it fair to say that the willingness of  middle aged Japanese men to wear them must have increased in recent years.  (There were certainly many on sale at Uniqlo, too.)   I regretted that I had only brought one pair with me. 

And as for long, slim legged trousers:  given that I have only recently acquired some relatively slim leg chinos myself (look, they may have been in fashion for 5 to 10 years already, but cotton chinos can last nearly a decade if you can control your weight - OK?) I had not realised until this trip how they make for such hot and sweaty legs in hot and humid weather.

Honestly, men (and women) who wear them outdoors in summer are fashion victims, if you ask me. 

In any event, if you have a choice, I would say it is obvious that the height of summer is not the preferred time to be in Japan.   Autumn and (especially) spring would have to be the pick of the seasons.

Flying to Japan - via Jetstar Dreamliner

One great thing about living in Brisbane is the frequent cheap airfares on sale for Japan (assuming you want to holiday there - and you should)  via Jetstar from the Gold Coast.  

This recent trip, the first one I've been on for 6 years was on a new-ish plane - the Boeing 787 Dreamliner.  

First observation:  I had forgotten about how this plane was made with really flexible carbon fibre wings, so I was surprised to see how high they flex upwards just in normal cruising, level flight:

OK, so it's hard to give the correct impression from photographing it, but that is a "level" shot out of the window, and believe me, the tip of that wing is riding high.  

As for the interior:   I thought the seats were nice (we're talking economy, by the way), with the flexible headrest part (with "wings" you can tilt up to form a bit of a cradle while trying to sleep) a particularly nice feature.  Even the legroom seems quite adequate to me, and overhead lockers were large.  The "mood lighting", which I remember reading about when it was being built, is nice enough, but not all that noticeable.   The windows with the electronic frosting were large and good for someone (like me) who likes to spend a lot of time peering outside. 

But on the downside, and it is quite a downside:  who on earth designed the toilets?  Is the lid which will not sit back properly a deliberate thing to stop attempts at squatting on the toilet seat (there was a "no squatting"  diagram on the wall, so I assume this can be an issue).   Why is how to flush the toilet not made more obvious?    Why did the toilet on the trip over flush unexpectedly all the time?   Has any other airliner every had twin toilets with such a lightweight wall between the two stalls?    

The stalls themselves are really noticeably small, and on the daytime flight over, I also doubted the aircraft had been designed with enough of them.  (Yes, I know, line up for toilets can be common on all long haul flights on any aircraft, but these ones were really overused.)   The overnight flight back was much better in that regard, though.

As for Jetstar service:  well, they are a pretty "no nonsense" sort of airline, so you don't expect to get a lot of attention from cabin staff.   I thought they were OK overall.   (They could afford to get a bit of a better look with their uniforms, though, surely - especially with the men wearing pretty much just a polo shirt.)  

So the Dreamliner:   a good aircraft, marred (at least in Jetstar's case) by terrible toilet arrangements.

Thursday, July 07, 2016

Two Brexit views

First, I see from James Annan's blog that it had an immediate bad effect on academics in England, whose working life was, it seems, already uncertain enough.

But today in The Guardian, a bit of a surprising defence of Brexit from Simon Jenkins, although I do find his analogy here somewhat amusing:
Brexit is starting to deliver. British politics was constipated and has now overdosed on laxative. It is experiencing a great evacuation. It has got rid of a prime minister and is about to get rid of a leader of the opposition. It will soon be rid of a chancellor of the exchequer and a lord chancellor. It is also rid of two, if not four, Tory heirs apparent. Across the spectrum the left is on the brink of upheaval and perhaps historic realignment, if only the Liberal Democrats have the guts to engineer it. The Greens and Ukip have both lost their leaders. An entire political class is on the way out. As Oscar Wilde said of the death of Little Nell, it would take a heart of stone not to laugh.
It seems to me that Jenkins' welcoming attitude, even though he voted to stay, is from a Left wing perspective.   But he paints such a positive picture of its good effects, you have to question his voting judgement in the first place.

A Krugman review

Money: The Brave New Uncertainty of Mervyn King by Paul Krugman | The New York Review of Books

Here's another readable and intelligent review by Paul Krugman of a significant economics book.