Friday, September 04, 2015

I never thought much of him from the start

Alex Gibney's 'The Man in the Machine': Is it Time to Rethink Steve Jobs? - The Atlantic

This may sound silly, but I resist buying into the world of Apple for two reasons:  the way they retain complete control of what's going on under the hood, so to speak; and the disdain with which I view Steve Jobs.

Happy Father's Day (ha!)

Wealthy sperm donor fears contact from more than two dozen offspring

Degree of sympathy I have for this man - approaching zero.

Yet more about "What? Our base are nuts?"

The GOP's Problem Is Not Donald Trump | Mother Jones

It's very hard to feel sorry for those Republicans (and Right wing journalists) who are shocked at the continuing popularity of Trump, when they did nothing for years to tell their nutty base that they are nuts.

As David Corn says, it's not as if the evidence for the nuttiness has been hidden:
Republicans are pissed off. (In polls, they express far more dissatisfaction with the nation's present course than Democrats.) And they believe the nation has been hijacked by President Barack Obama, whose legitimacy most Rs still reject. A recent Bloomberg/Des Moines Register poll of likely Iowa caucus participants found that 35 percent of Republicans
believe Obama was not born in the United States. A quarter said they were not sure. (Nine out of ten Democrats said the president was born in the United States.) So nearly 60 percent of Rs believe there is cause to suspect Obama has hornswoggled the nation. Meanwhile, according to
another poll, 54 percent of Republican voters say Obama is a Muslim. A third were not
sure. Only 14 percent identified the president as a Christian.

These findings—which echo a long string of surveys conducted during the Obama years—would seem to indicate that at least half of the GOP is unhinged and living in its own fact-free and perhaps Fox-fed reality. To top it off, many Republican voters have expected the GOPers in control of Congress to kill Obamacare, shut down the government and slash the
budget, prevent Obama from issuing executive orders, and impeach the pretender who inhabits the White House. Oh, and there's this: Benghazi! So they are mighty ticked off and seriously disappointed. The Bloomberg/Des Moines Register poll found that half of GOP caucus-goers said they were unsatisfied with the US government and 38 percent were "mad as hell" at it. Slightly more than half were unsatisfied with Republicans in Congress; a fifth were mad as hell at them.


More black hole speculation

New law implies thermodynamic time runs backwards inside black holes

Maybe all black holes feed back into the big bang?  That's just my speculation: not sure if this article supports it. But it's an idea that appeals, no?

The blog of fools continues...

Steve Kates, who is in perpetual competition with Judith Sloan in the category of "most startlingly ignorant yet arrogant contributor to Catallaxy on climate change", now complains incessantly that the media is useless because they refuse to challenge politicians who believe what scientists say.

But his post yesterday that Obama was "Ignorant and stupid" for talking about projected temperature increases in Alaska if CO2 keeps rising reached some sort of new height for dumb and utter lack of self awareness, even for him.

Obama's comments, if taken to be in Fahrenheit (and why wouldn't they, given the country he leads) are entirely within the range in the National Climate Assessment issued by the US in 2014.

I see that Bolt has seemingly read Kates, and does a Steyn, calling it fraud.

Right wing politics will not be fully respectable again until these fools are called out by Right wing politicians as utter fools on this topic.

One party drug helps another?

Alcohol sales get higher after weed legalization contrary to industry fears | US news | The Guardian

"Weed" is a bit quaint in the headline, but still it's interesting that in Colorado, legal cannabis has not hurt alcohol sales at all.  In fact, they've increased.

So much for drug reform advocates who like to argue that cannabis is a much less harmful drug than alcohol, if it turns out legal cannabis increases alcohol consumption anyway...*

* mind you, given my post about how drug use varies extremely widely from one place to the next, I wouldn't be surprised if this turned out to be a purely local effect.

Thursday, September 03, 2015

The unhappy Kant

I'm sure I've read before that he was considered good dinner table company, but according to this interesting article, Kant did suffer from depression:
That Kant suffered from depression may come as a surprise, especially given the ambition of his philosophical books and the enthusiasm of his wide-ranging intellectual interests (his lecture courses cover everything from philosophical logic to anthropology to chemistry to predictions about the end of the world). But in 1798, in a letter to a colleague on the topic of “the art of prolonging human life,” Kant commented on his own struggle with depression. The comments are rare for Kant, both in the sense of being personal and in the way they serve as a confession of weakness. In typical fashion, Kant first defines depression as “the weakness of abandoning oneself despondently to general morbid feelings that have no definite object (and so making no attempt to master them by reason).” A thought without an object is a troubling thing in Kant’s philosophy; it can lead to endless train of fickle thoughts without any ground, similar to the speculative debates in Kant’s time over the existence of God, the origin of the universe, or the existence of a soul. Reason becomes employed for no reason – or at least, for no good reason. At issue for Kant is not just the employment of reason over faith or imagination, but the instrumental use of reason – reason mastering itself, including its own limitations. This was as much the case for everyday thought as it was for philosophical thinking: “The opposite of the mind’s self-mastery… is fainthearted brooding about the ills that could befall one, and that one would not be able to withstand if they should come.”
And as for my nearly forgotten plan to write a movie in which the apparently virginal, intellectual, reserved deep thinker was actually a proto James Bond by night:  well, I may have to be careful with casting:
A little later on, Kant offers this strange confession: “I myself have a natural disposition to hypochrondria because of my flat and narrow chest, which leaves little room for the movement of the heart and lungs; and in my earlier years this disposition made me almost weary of life.”

A trilogy without a face

I hadn't heard before that Iran was making a serious movie trilogy about Mohammad.  

Sounds like the first one is finished*, but don't expect it to look like a Hollywood "Jesus" movie:
The movie focuses on Prophet Mohammad’s childhood. His face is not shown on screen, and the camera shows the boy actor playing him only from behind, or only his shadow.
Seems that a lot of Sunnis from other countries still think it should be banned:
Raza Academy’s joint secretary Mohammad Arif Rizvi said that the movie hurts the “sentiments of Indian Muslims” by showing a person playing the Prophet.
Perhaps use a robot, or puppet, then?

Given that Saudi Arabia barely has movie screenings at all, there's little risk it can cause much public outrage there.

But it would be a odd bit of history if Sunni/Shite fighting escalated over a film that doesn't even show the face of Mo.

* it is, and here's a recent, actually positive, review from The Guardian.

Don't try to point score on such a mess

I'm finding it very distasteful, the way Andrew Bolt is acting as if the humanitarian immigration crisis in Europe is somehow the fault of the Left being soft.   I would have thought that anyone on the Right should be  reticent to make any political mileage out of it, given that it's:

a.  hardly a long bow to draw between instability in Iraq post invasion with the eventual rise of ISIS; and

b.  an appalling multinational problem for which no side of politics could possibly claim to have simple solutions.

Glum about the candidates

The Joe Biden Delusion - The New York Times

I see that Frank Bruni is also glum about the lack of Democrat choice for the candidates for the Presidential election.   Of course, it's not as dire as the Republican situation, but still...

Sounds about right...

Economics Has a Math Problem - Bloomberg View

Noah Smith writes:

Personally, I think that what’s odd about econ isn’t that it uses lots of math -- it’s the way
it uses math. In most applied math disciplines -- computational biology, fluid dynamics, quantitative finance -- mathematical theories are always tied to the evidence. If a theory hasn’t been tested, it’s treated as pure conjecture.

Not so in econ. Traditionally, economists have put the facts in a subordinate role and theory in the driver’s seat. Plausible-sounding theories are believed to be true unless proven false, while empirical facts are often dismissed if they don’t make sense in the context of leading theories. This isn’t a problem with math -- it was just as true back when economics theories were written out in long literary volumes. Econ developed as a form of philosophy and then added math later, becoming basically a form of mathematical philosophy.
I also recently mentioned this problem in economics - there is always "something else going on":
 Basically, Athey and Imbens look at the problem of how to identify treatment effects. A treatment effect is the difference between what would happen if you administer some “treatment” -- say, raising the minimum wage -- and what would happen without the treatment. This can be very complicated, because there are lots of other factors that affect the outcome, besides just the treatment. It is also complicated by the fact that the treatment may work differently on different people at different times and places. A final problem is that the data economists have to answer the question is usually very limited -- a big impediment for traditional econometrics, which generally assumes that the amount of data is comfortably large. Athey and Imbens deal with these issues by importing a method from data science, called a regression tree. Statistically literate readers can peruse their slides here
 So my previous guess, that it's the "there's always something else going on" aspect that lets the ideologically motivated economist get away with never having to revise their prescriptions, even when they haven't worked*, seems about right.

* See Laffer and Kansas;  as well as Noah Smith's other recent column Growth Fantasy of Tax Cuts and Small Government.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Future oceans a worry

Climate Change Plus Irreversible Evolution Will Force Key Ocean Bacteria into Overdrive – Greg Laden's Blog

Read about this paper, showing the great uncertainty (and great potential problem) that increasing ocean acidification represents to the ecology of the future oceans.

Decent money for good quality

One man's poop is another's medicine -

Amusing to read that poo donors in the US make can make some decent money (well, decent pocket money, I guess):
To donate, Eric had to pass a 109-point clinical assessment. There is a laundry list of factors that would disqualify a donor: obesity, illicit drug use, antibiotic use, travel to regions with high risk of contracting diseases, even recent tattoos. His stools and blood also had to clear a battery of laboratory screenings to make sure he didn't have any infections.
After all that screening, only 3% of prospective donors are healthy enough to give. "I had no idea," he says about his poop. "It turns out that it's fairly close to perfect."
And that, unlike most people's poop, makes Eric's worth money. OpenBiome pays its 22 active donors $40 per sample. They're encouraged to donate often, every day if they can. Eric has earned about $1,000.

More "What? Our base are idiots?"

The Coming Conservative Crackup? | The Daily Caller

As I wrote last month, the shock caused by Trump to many of those on the American Right is the realisation that many of their "base" must be idiots.

More along that line can be read at the above link, which concludes that if Trump really succeeds, it could be the end of the "reasonable" Republicans :

Over at The Federalist, Ben Domenech penned a terrific post the other week, asking “Are Republicans For Freedom Or White Identity Politics?” When I asked him how this might personally impact us, he responded: “Sometimes parties die. Not there yet.”

Maybe not — but it’s probably not too soon to have our exit strategy mapped out. Will we be forced to make a binary choice between belonging to a political philosophy on the Right that is openly nationalistic and xenophobic — or one on the Left that supports (among other evils)

It’s been a trope forever, but we could really have a “stupid” party and an “evil” party on our hands.
Last night's Foreign Correspondent on the Trump campaign was good viewing, too.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Music observations

*  I was playing parental chauffeur all weekend, it seemed (though, thankfully, not to anything sporting - that would be beyond the pale) and after tiring of channel surfing FM Radio, deliberately tried 4KQ, the "anything except from the last 25 years" classic hits AM station for Brisbane.   Which led me to hearing "Bus Stop" by the Hollies for the first time in (probably) several decades. 

Has there been a song with a greater disparity between melancholic melody and happy lyric?   It's a "love found" song that sounds exactly like a "love lost" song.   Or did I miss something before the end where she leaves him for a man with a raincoat instead?   Then again, perhaps I'm the only person in the world who finds the melody depressing?  Weird. 

* I heard Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance March No 1 for the first time in a while on Saturday night, too.  (Not on 4KQ, but at my daughter's concert.)   The way it has two very disparate bits merged into one made me think of Talking Heads' Once in a Lifetime.  Probably someone else somewhere has compared these two bits of music.  Or maybe this is a first. 

*  The choral version of Let the River Run by Carly Simon (the theme from Working Girl) is very good.  (Heard this at son's concert.)   In fact, I think I should compile a list of songs that work better in choral version than the original.   On it so far:  that song from Wicked "For Good";  "Every Step you Take" is great sung by a choir too, but the original remains terribly catchy;  I also have a bit of a soft spot for the kid's version of Flame Trees, but I haven't heard it for a while.

As you were....

Movie biz talk

'Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation' Should Gross Massive $250 Million In China - Forbes

I was curious as to how MI5 has been doing at the box office.  $479 million I see (total world wide).  Good but not fantastic.  (Four years ago, MI4 made nearly $700 million in total.)

Then I checked whether it had opened in China.  It hasn't yet.  But this article shows how important the Chinese movie market has become. 

Krugman on "tech types"

Fear of Asymmetry - The New York Times

Sounds about right to me,  although perhaps he should have mentioned that nerdy types are sometimes unduly attracted to libertarianism, too, and that can be poison to good public policy.

The hard to understand world of quantum computing

Quantum computer that 'computes without running' sets efficiency record

Of course, everyone loves the idea of a computer that works without turning it on.  (It would make some good science fiction comedy in a Douglas Adams novel, one assumes.)  But it's not that easy to follow the theory.

Monday, August 31, 2015


Judith Sloan being profoundly dumb to her favourite audience of the wilfully ignorant*, again, all because her local winter was colder than recent ones.  Not even record breakingly cold; just a bit colder.
You'd think she sharpen up on the fence sitting skills, just in case, you know, people who she would like to influence notice that on climate she's the equivalent of an anti-vaxxer - impervious to facts, ideologically committed to an extreme minority view, and a nuisance to good public policy.

And economics is bit math-y and a bit science-y (sort of), so you'd like to think she has a clue on those subjects.

But no, because she has a self selecting audience of the dumb-as-she-is on climate, she flaunts it for all to see.

* Not Q&A, it's just that this was the best photo in which to make her sing.

Heydon explains...

Update:  many amusing tweets to be seen about the Commissioner's techno fail.  Such as this:

Update 2:

It all puts me in mind of this Not the Nine O'Clock News sketch, too:

McDonalds and the Power of the Wood Platter

I had been making the observation to my family for about 8 months now:   this idea of serving food on wood platters actually works by making everything taste better.  I don't know how - it seems like some form of culinary Deep Magic - but it works at home as well as at eating establishments.  (We bought a large one for those Saturday nights where we make a meal of a large antipasto style platter.  I swear they taste better since we stopped using the ceramic platter.)

So I have been interested to test this out at McDonalds, where even half alert viewers of commercial television may have realised that they are serving their "Your Creation" burgers on wooden platters - brought right to your table, no less.

I was cynical about this idea - suddenly the joint known for compiling a burger in about 12 seconds flat is going to carefully produce a particularly tasty and attractive one?   Would people go for the extra price (which remains very unclear in all advertising)?

Well, I'm happy to report that yesterday I had my first creation, and it was delicious.   (Cost $10.55 for the burger alone - I stole the kids' chips to make it more economical.)  

The ingredients, for those who are still reading:  brioche bun, one beef patty, swiss cheese, crispy bacon, grilled mushrooms,  caramelised onion, tomato, lettuce, chipotle mayo.    What's more, it was fairly late at night, and I could see the guy compiling my burger.  He really did seem to take care.

During the meal, I mentioned the power of the wood platter several times, as well as the fact that it now simplifies where to eat out for wedding anniversaries. 

I do hope this works out for the company....


New kid in town

You know, once you reach your mid fifties, there's a really good way to depress yourself about your advancing years:  work out how old you'll be if the new pup you've just brought home lives as long as the previous dog you had since a pup who died a few months ago. 

Anyway, here she is:

Friday, August 28, 2015

Neat. Fits right in with the "proto-fascist government" meme I've been using...

Border Force to check people's visas on Melbourne's streets this weekend - ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

How can anyone think this is going to look like a "positive" to the public?

And why did Lefties over-use "fascist" as an insult to the Howard government, but have under-used it (til now, I'm guessing) against the actual proto-fascist actions of the Abbott government?


Tony Abbott joins with Border Force, being helpful in Melbourne:

Update 2:  this is, quite possibly, the most spectacularly inept and amusing PR disaster ever orchestrated by a government body.  (The summary misses the instantaneous street protests in Melbourne, but still):


Bruni's right... is disconcerting that the American evangelicals are liking Trump:
Let me get this straight. If I want the admiration and blessings of the most flamboyant, judgmental Christians in America, I should marry three times, do a queasy-making amount of sexual boasting, verbally degrade women, talk trash about pretty much everyone else while I’m at it, encourage gamblers to hemorrhage their savings in casinos bearing my name and crow incessantly about how much money I’ve amassed?
Seems to work for Donald Trump.
Polls show him to be the preferred candidate among not just all Republican voters but also the party’s vocal evangelical subset.
He’s more beloved than Mike Huckabee, a former evangelical pastor, or Ted Cruz, an evangelical pastor’s son, or Scott Walker, who said during the recent Republican debate: “It’s only by the blood of Jesus Christ that I’ve been redeemed.”
When Trump mentions blood, it’s less biblical, as Megyn Kelly can well attest.
No matter. The holy rollers are smiling upon the high roller. And they’re proving, yet again, how selective and incoherent the religiosity of many in the party’s God squad is.

Not sure if this is just a little bit scary...

How a Computer Predicts Schizophrenia and Psychosis - The Atlantic

Most of the time, people don’t actively track the way one thought
flows into the next. But in psychiatry, much attention is paid to such
intricacies of thinking. For instance, disorganized thought, evidenced
by disjointed patterns in speech, is considered a hallmark
characteristic of schizophrenia. Several studies of at-risk youths have
found that doctors are able to guess with impressive accuracy—the best
predictive models hover around 79 percent—whether a person will develop
psychosis based on tracking that person’s speech patterns in interviews.

A computer, it seems, can do better.

 That’s according to a study published Wednesday
by researchers at Columbia University, the New York State Psychiatric
Institute, and the IBM T. J. Watson Research Center in the Nature
Publishing Group journal Schizophrenia. They used an automated
speech-analysis program to correctly differentiate—with 100-percent
accuracy—between at-risk young people who developed psychosis over a
two-and-a-half year period and those who did not. The computer model
also outperformed other advanced screening technologies, like biomarkers
from neuroimaging and EEG recordings of brain activity.

Actually, having recently re-watched the first part of it, this also puts me in mind of the interview technique with the replicants in Blade Runner.

Quantum spookiness confirmed, again?

Spotted in Sabine Hossenfelder's tweets, an article about a new, loophole closing (so it seems) test of quantum spookiness.

Sabine also has a lengthy go at explaining what the physicists are getting at when they talk about the universe being hologram.  I haven't read it carefully, yet, but it seems more-or-less comprehensible.

Checking in on Dyson

Thursday, August 27, 2015

At least a metre by end of the century?

Nuts, guns and race

This black nutter killing a couple of white people is going to send the American nutty Right completely over the edge in nonsense and offensive claims.  (I see that it seems they have no hesitation in posting the video, too.)   Let's face it, as countless threads on American Right wing sites attest,  a significant part of those on that side of politics have never gotten over having a black President.

In fact, even Andrew Bolt - not the greatest Australian exemplar for reasonable analysis of race relations, to put it mildly - seems to be endorsing some utterly nonsensical gut reaction from John Hinderaker.

As for gun control, it does seem to me that this is the type of killing that most upsets people:  the senseless type by a person who, while not insane for criminal liability purposes,  clearly has mental issues and nutty obsessions and uses a legally obtained gun.   The less legal guns in circulation in a country, the less of this type of killing happens, no?  Seems a formula pretty clear to most of the world, except Americans.   (OK, unfair - some Americans get it.) 

Somewhere in Sydney, crucial decisions are being made...

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Ice mountain?

NASA's latest Ceres photo shows a strange, conical mountain

The sides look like ice.  Or glass. And on the right hand side, looks like a cliff.  Odd.

Physics conference report from a physicist

Backreaction: Hawking proposes new idea for how information might escape from black holes

This provides a "live" insight into the reports of Stephen Hawking thinking they've solved the black hole information problem.

More in the series "Deep Thoughts while Wandering Sydney"

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Dyson has a message

PS:  Labor still leading 54/46 in Newspoll?   Shorten improves in net satisfaction?

I think it's official: the Royal Commission is a politically backfiring blunderbuss. 

Monday, August 24, 2015

Fundamentalist idiots with explosives

Palmyra's Baalshamin temple 'blown up by IS' - BBC News

Some background as to why they do this can be found in this article.   Here's a crucial section:

Saudi authorities destroyed this mausoleum, part of the al-Baqi cemetery in Medina, in early 1926, shortly after taking power in the city in the prior year. In fact, they flattened the entire site, which dated back to the seventh century and is thought to have contained the bodies of some of the prophet Mohammed's early compatriots.

The act "shocked the international Muslim community," Dr. James Noyes, author of The Politics of Iconoclasm, told me.

The Saudis didn't just do this on a whim. They were, and still are, aligned with a religious faction called the Wahhabis — a group of Sunni fundamentalists who, like some Christian denominations, reject any form of worship through religious shrines and icons.

"The attacks on shrines and tombs are a rejection of 'shirk' (the worship of God through shrines)," Noyes explained.

Theologically, Wahhabis and other Islamists trace this back to the story of the golden calf that appears in the Koran and the Bible, in which the Israelites build and pray to an idol, sparking God’s fury. A number of Muslims see the story as a blanket prohibition against the worship of images and shrines altogether.

As the Wahhabis and Saudis consolidated control over what's now Saudi Arabia, they destroyed anything that even hinted at idol worship. "The Arabian peninsula used to have Jewish communities, pagan pre-Islamic tribes, shrines favoured by Shiite and Sufi pilgrims on the Hajj to Mecca and Medina, Ottoman and Egyptian influences, and the Hashemite kingdom," Noyes wrote via email.  "All of that is gone."

Perhaps more than you needed to know about Gore Vidal

Life out loud | The Economist

This review of a biography of Vidal notes this:
“NEVER lose an opportunity to have sex or be on television” is a
familiar Gore Vidal quip—and, as Jay Parini notes in a marvellous new
biography, Vidal enthusiastically followed his own advice. The sex was
almost always homosexual; invariably “on top”; and usually in the
afternoon, to allow for disciplined writing in the morning and
extravagant socialising in the evening. For Vidal, television meant a
show of eloquent punditry projected on both sides of the Atlantic, but
most memorably—as any trawl through YouTube will confirm—in the form of
confrontations on American chat shows with William Buckley, editor of
the conservative National Review, and with a pugnacious fellow writer, Norman Mailer. ...
Vidal, knowing everyone who was anyone (from Princess Margaret to
Rudolf Nureyev), was certainly a snob. He was also delighted to be rich,
having as a young man not known “where the next bottle of champagne
might come from,” Mr Parini writes. It mattered immensely to Vidal that
he could live well, whether in huge homes in America and Italy or in
comfortable suites at the best hotels in London, Paris and Bangkok.
Yet Mr Parini’s Gore Vidal is a man hiding his shyness with a mask of
suave sophistication and with viper-like scorn for his enemies (he
called Buckley a “crypto-Nazi” in one TV clash, and said Truman Capote’s
death was “a wise career move”). Though Vidal accused Buckley of being a
“closet queen”, this was not the retort of a militant homosexual:
Vidal, a “pansexual”, always saw “homosexual” and “heterosexual” as
adjectives, not nouns.
Update:  some far more extreme details of the Gore-ian sex life may be found in this article.   Mind you, I'm mildly dubious about some of the actors he claimed to have slept with.    Gives the impression it was hard to find an actor in the 50's who was not bisexual.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Drugs and harm

FactCheck: is ice more dangerous and addictive than any other illegal drug?

I made a complaint recently that there is a lot of dubious rhetoric floating around when it comes to drug reform advocates talking about comparative risk for drugs.

This article does provide some useful figures, some of which are surprising:
 Fewer people use ice than alcohol, tobacco, cannabis, ecstasy and pharmaceuticals
for non-medical purposes; 2.1% of Australians are methamphetamine users
(1% use ice), while 80% are alcohol users and 10% are cannabis users.
That's fewer meth users than media attention to the problem might suggest, but as the article goes to note, the "ice" phenomena is about the growth of it as the preferred type of methamphetamine, and its increase in frequency of use:
The same data show that about half of methamphetamine users prefer
ice over other forms. The proportion of users who use ice as their main
form of methamphetamine has doubled since 2010 - from 22% of users to
50% of users. This suggests that regular users are switching from speed
to ice.
In addition, these data show that existing users are using more
frequently, with a larger percentage of users reporting using weekly or
daily, but a lower quantity. As a result of these changes, we have seen
an increase in harms associated with methamphetamine use.
The part that surprised me more, however, is the one about the number of ambulance attendances for cannabis use.  Don't hear that bandied about much in drug reform circles:
 In Victoria, there are an average of 4.7 methaphetamine-related ambulance attendances
a day (3.4 of those for ice) and about 87% of those cases are transported to hospital. This is less than alcohol (34 attendances per day), benzodiazepines (8.3 attendances per day) and heroin (5.1attendances per day). And it is similar to cannabis, with 4.4 attendances a day and around 86% transported to hospital.
Perhaps the article doesn't contain enough accurate information to be sure, but if alcohol is used by 80% of people versus 10% cannabis, it would seem the ambulance attendance figures for alcohol compared to cannabis are about the same.    Very interesting...

As for a valid comparison between the "danger" of different drugs, the article goes squishy at the end:
 While we certainly need to address the harms associated with methamphetamine use, we should keep in mind that our most widely used drug – alcohol - still results in more harms to individuals and the community, and other illicit drugs are also associated with more harms.
Of course alcohol causes more harms "to individual in the community" - it's used by 80 times more people.

And the article does link to a 2007 study by former UK drug policy adviser David Nutt. But as another article shows, the exercise Nutt went through with drug experts to rank drugs in terms of their danger is fraught with difficulties:
Nutt's analysis measures two different issues related to drug use in the UK: the risk to an individual, and the damage to society as a whole.

The individual scores account for a host of variables, including mortality, dependence, drug-related family adversities, environmental damage, and effect on crime.

Even if two drugs score similarly in Nutt's analysis, the underlying variables behind the scores can be completely different. For instance, heroin and crack cocaine are fairly close in the rankings. But heroin scores much higher for mortality risk, while crack poses a much bigger risk for mental impairment.

There's also some divergence within the specific categories of harm. Alcohol and heroin both score high for crime. But alcohol's crime risk is due to its tendency to make people more aggressive (and more prone to committing crime), while heroin's crime risk is based on the massive criminal trafficking network behind it.

The analysis doesn't fully account for a drug's legality or accessibility. If heroin and crack were legal and more accessible, they would very likely rank higher than alcohol. The harm score for marijuana would also likely rise after legalization, but probably not too much since pot use is already widespread....
"You can always create some composite, but composites are fraught with problems," Caulkins said. "I think it's more misleading than useful."

The blunt measures of drug harms present similar issues. Alcohol, tobacco, and prescription painkillers are likely deadlier than other drugs because they are legal, so comparing their aggregate effects to illegal drugs is difficult. Some drugs are very harmful to individuals, but they're so rarely used that they may not be a major public health threat. A few drugs are enormously dangerous in the short-term but not the long-term (heroin), or vice versa (tobacco). And looking at deaths or other harms caused by certain drugs doesn't always account for substances, such as prescription medications, that are often mixed with others, making them more deadly or harmful than they would be alone.
Excellent.  Backs up the skepticism I've had about comparative "drugs harms" claims for years.


Saturday, August 22, 2015

More "something about the eyes"

Staring into someone’s eyes for 10 minutes induces an altered state of consciousness - ScienceAlert

It was a bit odd this week to read about an experiment indicating that staring into someone's eyes can induce hallucinations, when earlier in the year the big story was how staring into your partner's eyes could be a key part of falling in love, if you do it right.

As I wrote at the time "what is it about the eyes?".   Since then, I have wondered if it is to do with bonding with babies.  Seems as good an explanation as any.

Anyhow, the link at the top notes that the same Italian psychologist who did this recent experiment also wrote back in 2010 about how staring at your own face in the mirror in a dimly lit room is a good way for a lot of people to have some weird, face changing, hallucinations.   This discussed in detail at the time at the Mind Hacks blog, and the very long thread that follows indicates that anyone with a susceptibility to mental illness is well advised not to try it.

Given my brain's dogged reluctance to experience weirdness, even though I find the paranormal and unusual perceptions very interesting topics, I pretty much expect my face would not morph a bit if I tried it.  Perhaps I should give it a go and report back.  (If the blog ends abruptly, someone send around the men in white coats, please.)

Friday, August 21, 2015

Secret thoughts of a Royal Commissioner

For a while now, everytime I see Dyson Heydon's picture, I've been thinking "Gawd, he's got a high forehead."   I associate high foreheads with large brains, and large brains remind me of brains the size of a planet (that is, Marvin the glum, paranoid android), and Dyson does look sort of glum to me all the time too.  Hence, the following:

Even if he's right, he's wrong

It's funny how Sinclair Davidson's posts at Catallaxy about poring over government figures to try to work out if "tobacco clearances" really went up or down after plain packing laws attract so little attention in comments at the site.   Maybe the meta message he's not getting is this - people are over it.  And the true sign of the success of the policy was never going to be instantaneous anyway.

But while I can't judge whether his claim in the post above is accurate or not (it's a complicated argument in which we're invited to never believe the bona fides of the Treasury, but to trust the analysis of a member of a think tank that has done the policy PR of big tobacco for years)  even if he's right, he then goes on to obvious wrong over-reach in his next barely read tobacco post.  Here:
 The fact is we now know the plain packaging policy is based on fabricated evidence.
This links back to his own post, the one I linked to first, in which he disputes that tobacco clearances went down in the first 12 months after the introduction of the policy.

Given that he was talking about trying to judge the effectiveness of the policy by evidence collated after it's introduction, how can he claim that the policy is "based on fabricated evidence"?   (His entire post is also about looking at one 12 month period - the one with confounding factors involved - and ignores the tobacco clearance rates for subsequent periods.  It's a desperate, nitpicky argument that refuses to look at the big picture, just like he did with the "climategate" emails and  statistic significance of the global temperature record.)

The policy was and is based on it's anticipated long term effect on helping continue the downward trend of tobacco consumption.  It certainly was not introduced based on "fabricated evidence" that didn't exist at the time.  And tobacco clearances are not the only evidence, in any case.

As with stagflation, and climate change, he's on a long term losing argument here, and the longer we go the sillier he'll look.   Neat.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

The giant cannabis experiment

There's a lengthy, cautious and sensible sounding article over at Nature News about the giant experiment in public health that cannabis legalisation is going to represent.  

There are so many complicating factors when trying to judge what may happen (or even in working out which other countries' present experience make for a good comparison) that prediction seems little more than guesswork.

Still, I lean towards the "it'll all end in tears" side, as you may expect.

Update:   as I have noted before, it's actually pretty astoundingly weird how drug problems differ from country to country.    Russia has virtually always been off its face on alcohol; China has had its opium and now meth and heroin problems on quite a vast scale;  I'm not sure for how long Japan has been drinking heavily, yet they barely touch anything else (apart from tobacco);  apparently some small Pacific Islands are actually way at the top of the table of heavy marijuana users (beating the Caribbean, surprisingly); Sweden, while famously relaxed about sex, is an outstanding drug free country, although their controlled use of alcohol is no doubt partly due to a system (a State monopoly on the sale of any above 3.5%) which would horrify a  libertarian; and who would have thought 20 years ago that ice would become a chronic problem in rural Australia, more so than in the inner cities, it seems?   (As it happens, I was today talking to someone from Western Queensland whose family had been devastated by it.) 

My point being - given the curious lack of any clear pattern about which country develops overuse problems with which drugs, it wouldn't be surprising if full legalisation of cannabis in one nation did not lead to any great problem, while in another place it sent the country into a sort of stoner lead economic decline. 

It may sound like I'm just giving myself an "out" if, in 10 years time, everyone declares cannabis legalisation in the States a great success.   But honestly, I think I am making a valid point.

So, Trump apologists now, hey?

Wow.  The American Right is flaying around not knowing what to do until Trump crashes and burns.  "What if he doesn't?" is their concern.

Now, true, some are not giving up the attack, particularly after his announced immigration policy which had huge slabs of the patently absurd:
Mr. Trump wants to remove all illegal aliens from the United States. This is, of course, impossible and, even if it were possible, an outrageous waste of tens or hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars. When asked by Chuck Todd on NBC’s Meet the Press if he would split up families in which one or more of the parents is an illegal alien but their children are U.S. citizens, Trump said no, clarifying in one of the most reprehensible statements I have ever heard from an American candidate for public office, “We’re going to keep the families together, but they have to go.” Yes, Trump would try to deport American citizens. Did I mention how ignorant of history Donald Trump sounds to this Jewish columnist?

What amazes me most is not that Trump would say such a thing, proposing something obviously both immoral and illegal, but that so many Americans still support a man bursting with hatred and idiocy. Donald Trump is to politicians what P.T. Barnum was to entertainers, knowing that you can reach great success by pandering to the many suckers out there. (Actually, the attribution of “there’s a sucker born every minute” to Mr. Barnum is probably both erroneous and unfair, but it remains a powerful piece of American lore.)
By contrast, look at the heading for this editorial at National Review:

Trumps' Immigration Plan is a Good Start - for all GOP Candidates. 


It is sensible in its basic outline and better in many respects than the ideas presented by his rivals.
Sure, the column goes on to note that key parts of the policy are "obviously illegal" and never going to withstand the Supreme Court, even if they could be enacted, but you know, it's like they want to write "he has his heart in the right place."  
I find it impossible to read that piece without getting a distinct whiff of some 1920's apologists for Hitler.  "Sure, he seems a bit of a hot head, but who can doubt his basic good intentions for his country?"

Glass apartments

Something you would have noticed if you watched the ABC report on Tianjin linked in my last post (not seen it? - well go back and do so now) was how many apartment tower blocks in the area lost every window in the blast.

I have been noticing in my wanderings around Brisbane lately that quite a lot of the new high rise apartments are being build with full length glass walls to the street, at least in some of the rooms.   Blinds provide privacy as needed.

I don't care for this trend.  Apart from glass being problematic from a heat regulation point of view (well, sometimes it works well if you want to warm a room in winter, but let's face it, for most of the year in Brisbane you are trying to keep a room cool), it just makes for what looks to me like a structurally insubstantial building.    I like bricks and concrete to provide shelter to me from the outside elements, and don't other people feel this way too?   (As well as not particularly wanting to feel like their block look like one of those kid's ant farms from the outside?) 

And, of course, you never really know when your building might be subject to a destructive air blast of human or celestial cause, and having your entire bedroom or living room wall blown over you is not an optimal outcome.

No, give me apartments with some external solid concrete walls, any day.

The ABC earning its keep, again

After Tianjin explosions, angry families return to toxic wasteland - 19/08/2015

The single best report I've seen on the Tianjin disaster was on the ABC last night by its resident foreign correspondent Stephen McDonell.

Excellent work which you just don't see from commercial networks.   

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Dirty work

I would assume that someone, somewhere, is presently doing a word search through this enormous file for Australian parliamentarians' names.