Thursday, November 26, 2015

Sounds horrible

I used to make fun of SoulCycle. Now I'm an addict. - Vox

I guess we'll be seeing this in Australia soon enough, if it's not already here.

Speaking of exercise in groups (a concept I've always had trouble with), at the local Council swimming pool last weekend I noticed that the free aqua zumba class is terribly popular, but with about 95% of the participants being distinctly unfit looking middle aged women, 3% younger fitter women, and about 2% men.   Although it is only the start of summer, and it may be that they will be all svelte beauties by the end of the season, I think the more likely assumption is that it gives them the sensation of being useful exercise, when it really isn't.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Yet more Spectre talk

A few things I wanted to add:

*  one of the "retro" aspects of the film was some very clear product placement, of the kind that I do not recall from the previous Craig outings, but which used to feature prominently in Bond films  (particularly in the Roger Moore era, I seem to recall.)   The (very unsubtle) Omega watch, for one thing; but I also see (mainly from posters around town, as well a cinema ad before the film) the Sony Experia Z5 smartphone, and a brand of vodka that I can't even recall now.

The Sony and vodka product placement seem particularly pointless to me, given that while the phone might have been on screen several times,  I don't think you could ever tell that it was an Experia at all.  Let's face it, lots of smart phones look pretty similar, and maybe it is just be my lack of observation skills, but it seems odd that you have to have seen the pre-movie (or TV?) ad to recognise the product on screen.

I think the vodka came out even worse.  Or maybe it wasn't even in the movie at all:  but the ad before the film indicated it would be.   All rather odd.

*  I have to admit, the movie did come very close to crossing my "that is such plainly ridiculous science, I cannot forgive it" line that (for example) Goldeneye hurtled over.   (I won't repeat the problem in that movie - I mention it about every 12 months here - but it was unforgiveably stupid.)   The Spectre issue - Q's laptop which (I think) was meant to incorporate an instantaneous DNA analysing scanner.   Now, the movie survives this sequence because it was dealt with so quickly - I'm not 100% sure that this is what it was doing - but even allowing for the impossibility of testing for DNA via some scan, my readers would recall that I posted recently about the incredible unreliability of "touch" DNA analysis, and this was a ring being scanned, about the touchiest thing of all!  In other words, even if the laptop could do it, it would not be hopelessly unreliable.  It is a pity that this survived in the screenplay.

*  At a more general level, seriously, why can't studios pay someone sensible (pick me!) to tell them when their plot-crucial sciency-technology bit of ridiculousness is just too ridiculous to stay?   You don't need a scientist to do that job:  just someone who reads enough science magazines and has a good nose for what is just stupid given current technology, allowing for some extrapolation of what might be possible.

Another Spielberg award

Medal of Freedom Awarded to ‘a Class Act’ Group of 17 - The New York Times

WASHINGTON — President Obama awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Tuesday to an eclectic mix of Americans from the sciences, arts, sports, politics and human
rights, some of them household names and others who he indicated should be.
Among those honored were such iconic figures as Willie Mays, Barbra Streisand, Itzhak Perlman, James Taylor, Gloria and Emilio Estefan, Stephen Sondheim and Steven Spielberg.
There was also the widow of a general who helped other survivors, and a space scientist who was a pioneer in diversity as well as the cosmos.
When a telephone rang during his description of Mr. Spielberg’s many movies, the president joked: “Somebody is calling to see if they can book him for a deal right now. They want to make a pitch.”
And then he made one of his own: “So there’s this really good-looking president,” he started.

Nate Silver is almost certainly right this time...

Dear Media, Stop Freaking Out About Donald Trump’s Polls | FiveThirtyEight

Not much publicity in Australia to this report

The Statesman: 90% disasters are weather-related: UN report
In the past 20 years, 90 percent of major disasters were caused by nearly 6,500 recorded floods, storms, heatwaves, droughts and other weather-related events, UN spokesman has

A new UN-backed report, entitled The Human Cost of Weather Related Disasters, found that since 1995, over 600,000 people died as a result of weather-related disasters and 4.1 billion people were injured, left homeless or in need of emergency assistance, Xinhua quoted UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric as saying on Monay.

The five countries hit by the highest number of disasters were the US, China, India, Philippines and Indonesia, said Dujarric.

The report issued by the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction  (UNISDR) notes data gaps, saying that only 35 percent of records include information about economic losses.
Libertarian Senator responds:   "But what about bicycle helmets, not being able to get a drink after 3 am, and the amount of tax I'm paying?"

Message to Senator Leyonhjelm

This "look at me, look at me!" tactic of yours in the Senate is unseemly in a grown man.   Also - it doesn't pay off when the response of the great majority of the public is "yeah, look at the *!@%#$*&". 

A burst of "we can do it!" in time for Paris

Researchers suggest airlines could halve emissions by 2050 by making cost-effective adjustments

US could cut per capita greenhouse emissions 90% by 2050, says report

Transportation Emissions Could Be Cut in Half by 2050

Just about the most improbable climate change connection, ever

What Can Nietzsche Tell Us About the Paris Conference?

I guess it's really just click bait, but still.

I'm pretty sure one of the handiest things Nietzsche could advise regarding the conference is "don't catch an STD while in Paris - use a condom!"

Update:  here's a contender for an more dubious, apparently serious, contribution from 2012.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Unreliable advice from the country

Red-bellied black snake bites Mirani woman, cat comes to the rescue - ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

A 66 year old woman in Queensland was bitten on her hand by a venomous snake for the 5 4th(!) time, and offers this quaint but dubious advice:
"I'm a bit of a pro at this snake business," she said.

"My mum always said it'll be a snake that kills me, so yeah, I'm not really planning on one [a fifth experience], but who knows.

"Just be careful, and wear your glasses when you go outside, that helps."

Ms Thynne said her experience had taught her that if you were bitten by a snake you should "definitely not panic".

"If it's a real deadly looking one, sit under a tree with a cigarette, with a cup of tea and pray, but yeah wrap it up and hope."

What summer camp used to be like

There Were American Nazi Summer Camps Across the US in the 1930s

Crazy times

I find it actually quite disturbing, what is going on in the US at the moment regarding truth and politics.

As the US media notes, both Trump and Carson can fantasise about Muslims celebrating terrorism in New Jersey, and there is no doubt tens of thousands of their followers will believe it happened.

A Republican Congressman can allege, with no evidence at all beyond what goes on at climate change denying blogs by foolish armchair commentators, that there is a grand conspiracy in NOAA to fraudulently change temperature records.  And we know scores of Republican voters will believe it.

Has regard for truth and good will in politics in the US ever been at a lower ebb?

Monday, November 23, 2015

Every explanation except "self indulgent decadence is not good"

I note from The Guardian that there has been some controversy in England around something they call over there a "chemsex" subculture amongst gay men.   This article talks about a documentary on the topic, but the NHS has complained that it is a public health issue given the amount of HIV and other problems it is causing.

Reading the comments that follow the article, there is some well deserved skepticism expressed of the view that gay men get into this because when they were younger and not "out", they didn't really learn about intimacy in the way most people do.    But I have yet to see a comment that uses the word "decadence" in the way someone would have if discussing this years ago.

Whatever happened to politicians and doctors making the rather obvious argument that, if you need or desire a chemical enhancement to make sex more enjoyable than it routinely is while sober and in full control of your facilities, you're putting self indulgent pursuit of physical pleasure on a corrupting and harmful pedestal.    It's a wonder that this has to be said at all, but obviously it does. 

Maybe time to bring back teaching Aristotle to the schools? 

Not entirely useful

I'm not sure what makes Henry Ergas write columns on Islamic integration in Europe and Australia.  He does put up some interesting figures in today's attempt,  but is it really a useful thing to address the matter of immigrants feeling they're discriminated against by telling them in a national paper that they're a bunch of whiners who don't know how good they have it?

Even less useful is the fact that Ergas apparently has no regrets about posting at Catallaxy, a blog which has become a "free speech"  attractant to extreme anti-Muslim sentiment that even Sinclair Davidson has taken to calling "ugly"*.  Perhaps Ergas should read the comments threads, where something like this appeared on the weekend:

and then think about the role his mates might just have in encouraging Muslim belief in discrimination.

*  He won't delete the comments, though.  Or tell his mate Steve Kates that he's a hysterical ratbag when he starts posting about how we are in World War 3 already.   He seems to think it best for festering dung in his own back yard to be left on the ground attracting more flies, rather than disposing of it wisely.   

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Talking Spectre

Caught up with Spectre today.

OK. let's get the reservations out of the way.  Having re-watched most of Skyfall a couple of weeks ago, I can agree that Spectre is not as good a film.  The script of the former was particularly sharp and concise; the movie looked consistently gorgeous;  and it sat well with the sort of story arc that the Daniel Craig Bond had been on.   In this one, by comparison, the script has its moments, but the villain is far too talky and not as convincing;  and the story tries a bit too hard to put some cohesive whole on even pre-Craig elements of Bond.  The look of the film is distinctive - the cinematography seems to have dusty sepia everywhere - and while some of it must be a deliberate link with the theme of Bond living in the shadows, I did miss the clear and often glowing look of Skyfall.   Oh - and that bland and forgettable theme song.  It's funny, but critical reception of a Bond film really does seem to have an awful lot hanging on how memorable that is...

But nonetheless:  this is still an impressive and entertaining film that stands up well as part of the incredible re-invigoration of an out-dated character under Craig.  (I see he is even a producer of the films now - good luck to him.)

I mean, seriously, who would have thought before he took the role that people would view Bond and take seriously its human drama elements?   Sure, I was upset as a 9 year old when Mrs Bond was gunned down immediately after her marriage to that Australian imposter (quite a downer of an ending); but apart from that, there was never any sense of real humanity or loss in any of the Bonds. I also like the way each of these films have fed straight into the next.  As with Pirates of the Caribbean, I can imagine watching them all in quick succession on DVD would be rewarding, because the recurring elements will be fresh in the mind and the unfolding, somewhat complicated story make clearer sense.

The things I liked about Spectre in particular:  Sam Mendes's return as a director - I guess the lesson is that if you want to take Bond seriously as a character, you use a serious drama director.  But the action is also handled so spectacularly well.   The opening sequence in Mexico City is just superb, in particular; but all of the locations scrub up well in this movie.  

SORT OF  SPOILER WARNING:   And despite my reservations about the script, I did like the moral seriousness of the ending, and the note of optimism that Bond is ready to "settle down" and find something more fulfilling in life.  This really is a big turnaround for the character's arc as played by Craig, and in that sense, it really would be a fitting way for him to depart the series.

But if he does, it will be virtually impossible to believe the series will ever repeat the success of this present era.

And PS:  remember, I don't even dismiss Quantum of Solace.  Perhaps that tells you a lot about how much I have liked the Craig reign.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Saturday morning physics

Quantum nonlocality has been getting a good run on the web lately (and here) due to some recent papers confirming its reality. 

Nature has had a feature up discussing in some detail the promising idea (to many physicists, apparently) that quantum entanglement is actually at the heart of space-time:
All that’s needed, he asserted, is ‘entanglement’: the phenomenon that many physicists believe to be the ultimate in quantum weirdness. Entanglement lets the measurement of one particle instantaneously determine the state of a partner particle, no matter how far away it may be — even on the other side of the Milky Way.

Einstein loathed the idea of entanglement, and famously derided it as “spooky action at a distance”. But it is central to quantum theory. And Van Raamsdonk, drawing on work by like-minded physicists going back more than a decade, argued for the ultimate irony — that, despite Einstein’s objections, entanglement might be the basis of geometry, and thus of Einstein’s geometric theory of gravity. “Space-time,” he says, “is just a geometrical picture of how stuff in the quantum system is entangled.”
The story includes some graphics which help, a little bit, but here is perhaps the key one:

Anyhow, the article explains more.

I've also noticed an interesting paper on arXiv by someone from the University of Bristol, of all places.   I think it's fair to summarise his proposal as being that quantum non locality derives from a geometry you can get by fiddling with the "time" part of space-time.   Here's his introduction:
An elementary discrepancy between quantum theory and relativity is that quantum theory is inherently nonlocal, whereas spacetime has the structure of a manifold, and is thus local by construction. The discrepancy is resolved on the level of information, since the intrinsic randomness in the measurement of a quantum state prevents instantaneous signaling (by the no-communication theorem [10, II.E]). This resolution is satisfactory if information is considered to be fundamental [10, III.C].  However, if one considers geometry to be fundamental, then the discrepancy remains.

Here we pursue a possible resolution from the perspective that geometry is fundamental, with the aim that it may shed light on the nature of quantum gravity.1 Just as simultaneity has no universal meaning in special relativity, we propose that a ‘moment of time’ has no universal meaning, and different observers will in general disagree about the ‘duration’ of a single moment of time. In particular, even clocks in the same inertial frame may  disagree. The paper is organized as follows. We first propose a new operational definition of time using the identity of  indiscernibles: we postulate that time passes if and only if a system undergoes a transformation which is not local and invertible. We then show that this postulate is compatible with the thermodynamic arrow of time in a generic example. Furthermore, the postulate results in a spacetime with positive dimensional events, thus giving rise to Bell nonlocality without requiring  retrocausality.

Finally, we examine the ontology of the wavefunction in this framework. In particular, we show that if spacetime events are topologically closed, then the wavefunction is epistemic. Moreover, we find that the preparation assumption of the PBR theorem does not hold using the worldlines of 4-photon entanglement swapping.
 Of course I don't understand all of that, but its sounds rather interesting.

And as for gravity and the detection of gravity waves:   it's good to see via a post at Sabine H's  Backreaction blog that the Parkes Radio Telescope (which I forced my family to visit last Christmas) has been doing valuable work on trying to detect gravity waves via careful pulsar watching.

The sort of sad result, though, is that they haven't found them; which, as Bee says, is "the birth of a new mystery in physics".   Not sure is that is "cool" or not....

Friday, November 20, 2015

A huge year in gaming

My son is more a wannabe gamer than an actual one - we don't own a gaming console, and are refusing to upgrade the desktop so that he can spend even longer in front of it playing the latest hyped games than he does playing games that are 3 or 4 years old, but still good.

But I have to admit - the games companies have done an outstanding job at generating interest this year in two enormous releases - Fallout 4, and Star Wars Battlefront.

The Fallout 4 campaign strikes me as a extremely clever, if not devious, in using whimsical cartoon characters virtually unrelated to the actual gameplay, presumably to calm any concerns of adults that their 10 or 12 year old is going to be sucked into a world of some pretty bloody killing which is inappropriate for their age.

But the Star Wars games have always avoided the exploding blood bag killing style of other games, for which they are to be commended.   And this ad, which I noticed on twitter, is really the most appealing one I have ever seen:

Notice the age group that it is clearly aimed at - more the 20 or 30 year old than the teenager.

And it references the key line in the original Star Wars that always seemed to be one that Christians would most respond to - the reference to letting yourself be struck down as a means to ultimate victory is clearly close to what could be said happened with the sacrifice of Christ.  (Sure, Lucas has famously said that he's from California, where they are all Buddhists, and maybe he didn't even realise the Christ-like implications of the line, but it's there.)

You could even argue that the apparent disappearance of Obi Wan (instead of his body falling to the ground) is a bit like the ascension of Christ, or the (somewhat peculiar) Catholic belief that Mary was bodily taken into heaven.

Anyhow, I think it's a great ad, and there are probably tens of thousands of middle aged men around the world contemplating upgrading their PC just for this game. 

More ISIS stories

I didn't realise that the Middle East had a problem with use of a particular amphetamine drug, and that it is likely helping fuel many of the IS.   And I guess that this is what happens when you ban alcohol:
Captagon has been around in the West since the 1960s, when it was given to people suffering from hyperactivity, narcolepsy and depression, according to the Reuters report. By the 1980s, the drug's addictive power led most countries to ban its use.
The United State classified fenethylline ("commonly known by the trademark name Captagon") as a Schedule I drug under the federal Controlled Substances Act in 1981, according to the National Criminal Justice Reference Service
Still, the drug didn't exactly disappear.
VOA notes that while Westerners have speculated that the drug is being used by Islamic State fighters, the biggest consumer has for years been Saudi Arabia. In 2010, a third of the world's supply — about 6.3 tonnes — ended up in Saudi Arabia, according to Reuters. VOA estimated that as many as 40,000 to 50,000 Saudis go through drug treatment each year.
"My theory is that Captagon still retains the veneer of medical respectability," Justin Thomas, an assistant professor of psychology and psychotherapy at the UAE's Zayed University and author of Psychological Well-Being in the Gulf States, told VOA in 2010. "It may not be viewed as a drug or narcotic because it is not associated with smoking or injecting."
I would say, though, that if IS troops only get through the day by popping amphetamines, this is not the way to keep a successful army going.   I'll claim it as further evidence that IS is weak as a long term prospect.
In other news, there's an interesting article at Bloomberg - Why ISIS Has All the Money it Needs - about the lack of success in shutting down the IS oil trade.   Not sure that I would necessarily believe everything coming out of the Rand Corporation, but still it's worth reading.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Let's be precise about what "weak" means - and does the Right never learn?

I think there is a bit of a silly debate going on around the matter of whether IS, or whatever you call it, is "weak" or not.

This guy seems to know a lot about the extremely complicated ethnic and religious groupings around Syria, and he says they aren't "weak".   And other Right wing commentators - man, have you seen Andrew Bolt, Steve Kates and the  commenters at Catallaxy bouncing off the walls since last Friday? - are calling it a Lefty (hello Waleed Aly) claim to argue they are weak.

But surely this is just a definition thing:  I reckon that most people using "weak"  just mean that IS doesn't have long term prospects as a viable State, as they claim is their aim.   Sure, they are dangerous, both locally and in the encouragement of international terrorism:  but it's at heart an apocalypse inspired movement - and how long do they ever last when their Prophet or Messiah does not appear in the sky as predicted?

I don't even think that acknowledging that ground troops will be needed to remove them totally from captured cities means that they are "strong".  Give any group enough guns and explosives and they are capable of creating major violence and digging in for a long time.  But they are ideologically weak if they think their indiscriminate violence against civilians won't hasten their downfall.

And as for the matter of the need for ground troops - I find it hard to credit that those on the Right could think that it should be Western ground troops in large numbers who need to do the job.   The matter of identifying the "good guys" from the "bad guys" will be incredibly difficult for Western forces, even more so than it was in the original invasion of Iraq;  and have they forgotten the insider attacks on Western military bases trying to train up Afghani soldiers? 

Besides that, the whole conflict is tied up with a centuries old fight between the two main branches of Islam - it's not up to the West to try to sort that one out militarily.   (Although involvement in political negotiations is another matter.)

Are they also not paying attention to the detailed reporting that most IS dimwits believe they are about to have the End Times war with the forces of the Infidel who are going to come to the Middle East for the fight?  This has been explained in parts of the press for many months now, but here is the condensed version, repeated again in the Washington Post a couple of days ago:
According to the group’s extremist ideology, the caliphate will eventually triumph in a great war against infidel forces, culminating in a final end-of-days battle in Dabiq, an obscure Syrian town near the northern city of Aleppo.
The group’s online propaganda magazine is titled “Dabiq.” Each edition features the same prophetic quote about how the conflict will unfold: “The spark has been lit here in Iraq, and its heat will continue to intensify — by Allah’s permission — until it burns the crusader armies in Dabiq.”
How much sense does it make to encourage them that this confrontation is indeed about to happen?  ("None at all" is the correct answer.)

As I have made clear before, I don't have a problem with air operations, especially if targetted to isolating IS economically, or even directly on the battlefield when the targets are clearly IS.   And I still don't even feel overly critical of the West's initial decision to invade Iraq, even though it now looks like a (very) bad idea in  hindsight.  (No one can know with full confidence what may have happened if Saddam stayed on - I doubt he was above letting guest terrorists hide out and plan further attacks on the West from  the deserts of Iraq.)

But seriously,  I can't believe that neo-cons or nutty conservatives think that another large scale Western ground invasion in that part of the world is a good idea.

As with climate change, they just seem incredibly resistant to evidence, or lessons, or common sense.

Slightly depressing news

You Won't Live to See the Final Star Wars Movie | WIRED

According to this story, Disney plans on having a new Star Wars universe movie out every year (for as long as people are buying tickets.)

There's worse news in the world, but as with their relentless use of Marvel stories, this is all a bit too much, surely.

Einstein's helpers

History: Einstein was no lone genius : Nature News & Comment

The description here of the maths and ideas that Einstein was working on is pretty dense, and it's interesting  to think that even a 100 years later, very few people in any society ever get close to a mathematical understanding of relativity.   We mostly just understand it via popularised picture or story form.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The screening issue

Early Prostate Cancer Cases Fall Along With Screening - The New York Times

I kind of suspect that the doctor in the article who says the anti-screening policy was a bit of an over-correction might be right.  But that's just a hunch.

What a surprise...

Latinos disagree with Republicans on Trump — and a lot of other things - The Washington Post

Polling shows 80% of Hispanics have an "unfavourable" view of Trump.  Way to win back their vote, Republicans.

Capital flows problem

Interesting post from the Lowy Institute blog about some push back against academic economics on capital flows:
The traditional conventional view among policy and academic economists was that capital flows were unambiguously a Good Thing, a beneficial element of globalisation. The policy prescription which followed was that emerging economies should open the capital markets to foreign flows. The promise was that, provided they let their exchange rates float, things would work out well.
The experience of the past two decades has been less benign. The sloshing backwards and forwards of foreign capital has typically been driven by the abnormal circumstances in advanced economies, rather than by macro-policy mistakes in the emerging economies. A policy framework that presumes these flows to be beneficial is irrelevant to the policy challenge the emerging economies face.
Over the past decade, the policy debate has been inching forward to incorporate the inconvenient reality that the flows may be disruptive. Olivier Blanchard, recently retired as the IMF chief economist, has co-authored two papers from his new base in the Peterson Institute. As he did at the IMF, Blanchard continues to strive to bring the consensus policy framework closer to the real world.
One paper argues that capital inflows can push up asset prices in the recipient country, over-stimulating domestic demand in the process. This might seem like an obvious-enough insight, but is the opposite of the conventional academic model on which much policy prescription had been based.
The second paper argues that foreign exchange intervention can be effective in stabilising the exchange rate in the face of excessive capital flows. Again, this contradicts most academic models, which see intervention as futile or distortionary.
I think I posted once about Krugman musing about the value of a more "hands on" approach to capital flows, too. 

Permanent 400ppm probably reached

The final days of sub-400 ppm carbon dioxide - Mountain Beltway - AGU Blogosphere

From the link:
...this week is probably the last time you or me or anyone now alive on planet Earth will ever see concentrations of CO2 lower than 400 ppm. Ralph Keeling published a short piece about it, here.  Unless something fundamentally changes in our relationship with the atmosphere (such as developing and deploying effective artificial carbon sequestration), the gas’s long-term accumulation will keep rising, and the planet will keep hanging on to a little more heat than it used to the year before. Though “400” is simply a round number with no inherent particular significance in and of itself, passing it for good seems a valid enough reason to pause for a moment and reflect on this massive thing we’re doing to our planet. Every additional increment of CO2 is likely to be a moderately long lived addition to our atmosphere. Its heat-trapping capacity is a major force driving our climate system into new, uncharted terrain for a long time to come. We depend on our climate. People we will never meet on the other side of the world do, too. Our children will depend on it. Grasshoppers and bluebirds and rattlesnakes and whales depend on it. Fungi depend on it. Grasses depend on it. Coccolithophores depend on it. And though this should be obvious, I’ll go ahead and say it explicitly: to a greater or lesser extent, we depend on them. Everything’s interdependent. We all live downstream – and we’re polluting that stream.

More ISIS commentary I agree with

From Ezra Klein at Vox:
ISIS isn't strong. It's weak. That doesn't mean it's not dangerous, or that it can't hurt us. But we shouldn't pretend these are invincible superterrorists. They're murderers fighting a war that they will lose and we will win. Part of how they recruit young fighters is by pretending that's not true — pretending they have a chance in this fight, that they are strong, that they have the West on its heels. We shouldn't indulge their fantasies. We can mourn their victims without believing their propaganda.
The thing you need to remember about ISIS, says Gartenstein-Ross, is it is not just weak in the West, it's also loathed across the Middle East: "America is unpopular in the Middle East, but if we had ISIS's approval rating, we would see that as a very, very serious strategic problem. They have a terrible brand. So part of what we need to do is simply avoid making mistakes that will let them present themselves as a defender of Muslims. We need to make sure Muslims continue to overwhelmingly reject ISIS."

Rich kid problems

The Atlantic has a lengthy, somewhat interesting, story about student suicide in the rich, high tech town of Palo Alto.

I found this interesting:
In training, they’d learned that one key to heading off copycats was not romanticizing the death, so they struggled to hit just the right tone. They had to avoid turning Cameron into a hero or a martyr without insulting his memory or his devastated family. They had to make a space for the kids to grieve without letting wreath-and-teddy-bear memorials take over the campus. In 2009, to commemorate Jean-Paul “J.P.” Blanchard, the first kid in that cluster to die on the tracks, students had spread rose petals all over the school. Tarn Wilson recalls them as beautiful and haunting but also morbid, and exactly the kind of prop that a depressed teenager might imagine as a backdrop to his own future tragedy.

And this, especially:
In the late 1990s, when she was an assistant professor in Yale’s psychiatry department, Suniya Luthar was doing research at an inner-city school in Connecticut. She wanted to know whether misbehavior correlated more with poverty or with a stage of adolescence. She needed a second school to use as a comparison. An undergraduate student she worked with had connections at a school in a Connecticut suburb that was more upscale, and Luthar got permission to distribute her surveys there. The results were not what she expected. In the inner-city school, 86 percent of students received free or reduced-price lunches; in the suburban school, 1 percent did. Yet in the richer school, the proportion of kids who smoked, drank, or used hard drugs was significantly higher—as was the rate of serious anxiety and depression. This anomaly started Luthar down a career-long track studying the vulnerabilities of students within what she calls “a culture of affluence.”  ....

Convincing people that rich kids are at high risk isn’t easy, she said. But she has amassed the most thorough data set we have on that group, from schools scattered across the country. Luthar’s data come from school districts where families have median incomes of more than $200,000, and private schools where tuition is close to $30,000 a year. Her research suggests a U‑shaped curve in pathologies among children, by class. At each extreme—poor and rich—kids are showing unusually high rates of dysfunction. On the surface, the rich kids seem to be thriving. They have cars, nice clothes, good grades, easy access to health care, and, on paper, excellent prospects. But many of them are not navigating adolescence successfully.

The rich middle- and high-school kids Luthar and her collaborators have studied show higher rates of alcohol and drug abuse on average than poor kids, and much higher rates than the national norm. They report clinically significant depression or anxiety or delinquent behaviors at a rate two to three times the national average. Starting in seventh grade, the rich cohort includes just as many kids who display troubling levels of delinquency as the poor cohort, although the rule-breaking takes different forms. The poor kids, for example, fight and carry weapons more frequently, which Luthar explains as possibly self-protective. The rich kids, meanwhile, report higher levels of lying, cheating, and theft.
 I think the lesson is that it's good to be middle class.

Wah wah wah!

So, David Leyonhjelm finds the NRA awesome.   The NRA youtube which he was happy to participate in features many gun owners still torn up emotionally because they had to give up some guns (with compensation) nearly 20 years ago! As well as complete total paranoid bullshizer about what a scary, scary place Australia is because they can't have a gun for self defence.

What a disgraceful bit of propaganda from a Senator who should pack up and live in Texas.

Update:  I should have guessed. The Australian's report on the NRA "documentary" that features Leyonhjelm's interview days it is just a repackaged one from many, many years ago.   So the people whining about their beloved gun losses might by now have gotten over it.  Or not, as Leyonhjelm never has.  The Australian says the video is deceptive in many ways, and even the Bald One is backing away from it to some extent.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

A near perfect Krugman column

Fearing Fear Itself - The New York Times

A great bit of commentary here on the Paris terrorist attack by Paul Krugman. 

Dimwits, indeed

On Sunday evening I called ISIS "violent dimwits", so I was pleased to have find some backing for the "dimwit" bit from someone who apparently was their captive:
They present themselves to the public as superheroes, but away from the camera are a bit pathetic in many ways: street kids drunk on ideology and power. In France we have a saying – stupid and evil. I found them more stupid than evil. That is not to understate the murderous potential of stupidity.

All of those beheaded last year were my cellmates, and my jailers would play childish games with us – mental torture – saying one day that we would be released and then two weeks later observing blithely, “Tomorrow we will kill one of you.” The first couple of times we believed them but after that we came to realise that for the most part they were bullshitters having fun with us.

They would play mock executions. Once they used chloroform with me. Another time it was a beheading scene. A bunch of French-speaking jihadis were shouting, “We’re going to cut your head off and put it on to your arse and upload it to YouTube.” They had a sword from an antique shop.

They were laughing and I played the game by screaming, but they just wanted fun. As soon as they left I turned to another of the French hostages and just laughed. It was so ridiculous.

As for their apocalyptic views:
They are totally indoctrinated, clinging to all manner of conspiracy theories, never acknowledging the contradictions.

Everything convinces them that they are on the right path and, specifically, that there is a kind of apocalyptic process under way that will lead to a confrontation between an army of Muslims from all over the world and others, the crusaders, the Romans. They see everything as moving us down that road. Consequently, everything is a blessing from Allah.

With their news and social media interest, they will be noting everything that follows their murderous assault on Paris, and my guess is that right now the chant among them will be “We are winning”. They will be heartened by every sign of overreaction, of division, of fear, of racism, of xenophobia; they will be drawn to any examples of ugliness on social media.
The writer, a Frenchman, then goes on to argue that France ought to back away from increased bombing, saying that it will only make matters worse.

And, indeed,  it would seem Tom Switzer feels the same way.  

But that's where I would disagree.   I have long suspected that Islamic State simply can't have a future as a successful economic state.  As Switzer writes:
It controls mainly desert in north-west Iraq and south-east Syria. Its gross domestic product is roughly the equivalent of Barbados or Eritrea. It has no navy, air force or ballistic missiles. Its army amounts to about 40,000 soldiers. It is not, contrary to what Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop said, more menacing than Soviet communism during the Cold War. Underestimating terrorism is a mistake, but so too is endowing jihadists with far more capability than they have.
If bombing campaigns can be directed especially towards harming their ability to sell oil or trade in any way, I can only see that helping.   
And sorry, libertarians, but Switzer is also right when he concludes that a response to terrorism does involve "anti-terror laws that allow electronic surveillance to track terrorists at home and abroad."
In other articles that are a decent counter to the dimwit Right view (hello, Tony Abbott, most Republicans and Rupert Murdoch)  that it's the Greatest Crisis to Western Civilization Ever, I thought this one by Peter Beinart in The Atlantic was good.   Sure, we can expect terrorism to be attempted (or succeed) in the US and Australia because of our (limited) involvement in the Iraqi/Syrian problem.   While I certainly do not want an escalation of that, I can't find it in me to wish that all Western military involvement towards ending the territorial success of IS stop now.   

And finally, The Guardian linked to John Oliver's profane, funny, but accurate  explanation of why IS is doomed to fail.  It may be hard for the French to laugh yet, but mocking IS certainly seems an approach that they won't like.

(Oh, and good luck to the hackers who say they will up their cyberattacks on IS propaganda.  Why has it taken this long?   My only complaint, though is that IS dimwits act like they are in a movie, and I don't care for Anonymous hackers doing the same.)

Monday, November 16, 2015

Maybe not mindless, but still doomed to fail

Mindless terrorists? The truth about Isis is much worse | Scott Atran | Comment is free | The Guardian

There's parts of this column which are interesting, such as this:
There is a recruitment framework. The Grey Zone, a 10-page editorial in Isis’s online magazine Dabiq in early 2015, describes the twilight area occupied by most Muslims between good and evil, the caliphate and the infidel, which the “blessed operations of September 11” brought into relief. Quoting Bin Laden it said: “The world today is divided. Bush spoke the truth when he said, ‘Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists’, with the actual ‘terrorist’ being the western crusaders.” Now, it said, “the time had come for another event to … bring division to the world and destroy the grey zone”. The attacks in Paris were the latest instalment of this
strategy, targeting Europe, as did the recent attacks in Turkey. There will be more, much more, to come.
And this sounds about right, when it comes to explaining the appeal of ISIS to disenchanted young men:
As I testified to the US Senate armed service committee and before the United Nations security council: what inspires the most uncompromisingly lethal actors in the world today is not so much the Qur’an or religious teachings. It’s a thrilling cause that promises glory and esteem. Jihad is an egalitarian, equal-opportunity employer: fraternal, fast-breaking, glorious, cool – and persuasive.
But overall, I think he's too pessimistic about how long it can last as a successful, on the ground, movement.

Inappropriate responses

Let's start with the soft Left:   of course some of them make soft headed, inappropriate, or nasty tweets after Islamic terrorism attacks.

But there's something deeply ironic about the likes of Sinclair Davidson and the increasingly dotty Rafe Champion (who has a recent post at Catallaxy with the catchy title: "Naming the enemy: The progressive left as a religion of hatred and division") getting outraged over a Lefty no body wishing Tim Wilson had been a victim in Paris, when their blog threads pretty routinely have comments after any terrorism attack recommending that Mecca be "nuked" as a means of solving all Islamic sourced problems.  Wishing the death of hundreds of thousands of anonymous residents of a city is not worthy of condemnation, apparently.  Being nasty towards a mate:  well, that's different.

Back to the Left again - talking about the situation in Libya and climate change is seen as some silly, opportunistic connection-making by many on the Right.  But as this Vox article makes clear in a very nuanced argument - it may be opportunist, and is capable of overstatement, but it's not wrong to see a likely climate change influenced drought and the subsequent massive displacement of its rural population as one factor that led to the Syrian civil war.  Nor is it silly to be concerned about climate change making the (already barely livable, it seems to me) Middle East an even worse tinderbox for trouble.  As Roberts notes in the article, the Pentagon has been workshopping that for years, already.

And so back to the Right - this time, of the libertarian bent.  I wondered whether wingnuts from America would be quickly having fantasies about how, only if there were people like carrying pistols everywhere in Paris, one of their fellow gun lovers could have done a John McClane and stopped it all.   And yes, of course they were.

Who within Australia would be joining in?   You might have guessed, but yes, David Leyonhjelm, who has form on this, was busy re-tweeting with approval pathetic things like this:

Not only a fantasy prone fixation on guns and how terrorism happens, but hard not to see it as involving an offensive bit of "blame the victim" political gamemanship.   A true jerk.

Update:  Henry Ergas is great at running around and shouting "Radical Islam! - Something must be done!" (see his column in The Australian today), but not so good at explaining what, exactly.  

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Ultimately pointless terrorism

The "meta" tragedy of Paris is that it is part of a fight with a bunch of violent dimwits who are too stupid to realise their apocalyptic dreams of global Caliphate don't have a chance in hell of working in the long run.

As the New York Times wrote:
Al Qaeda, the Islamic State’s principal forebear, built its identity around spectacular terrorist attacks because its leaders saw themselves as insurgents seeking to overturn Arab governments that they deemed apostates. Al Qaeda wanted to bait the West into military actions that would destabilize Arab states. The Islamic State, in contrast, has increasingly styled itself a state and, in many ways, behaved like one.

The ideology and motivation behind the change may be opaque for years. Analysts suggest that the messianic and apocalyptic side of its jihadist ideology may have gotten the better of the pragmatic impulse that had previously appeared to guide the group’s expansion. Or, experts say, the Islamic State may be seeking to use large terrorist attacks the way a more conventional power might use an air force as a tool of its defense policy, to retaliate against enemy attacks and seek to deter them.

But, if so, its tactics may be shortsighted, causing redoubled Western attempts to crush the militant organization — even as the spreading Islamic State structure makes those efforts more challenging.
As for the question "why France?" right now, The Guardian noted that country's leading role recently in air attacks on IS that are of the type that may well make a long term difference:
The Isis claim of responsibility for Friday’s Paris attacks referred directly to French aircraft “striking Muslims in the lands of the caliphate”.
Earlier this week, French warplanes attacked oil and gas installations in the Deir ez-Zor area, describing this as part of an effort to destroy Isis infrastructure and undermine its financial resources. President Fran├žois Hollande also announced the deployment to the Gulf of France’s only aircraft carrier, the Charles de Gaulle, to support operations against Isis in Syria and Iraq. French warplanes struck their first targets in Syria in late September.
On 8 October, France attacked an Isis training camp in Raqqa, capital of the group’s self-proclaimed caliphate in north-eastern Syria. It was believed to house foreign fighters, including French nationals, but Hollande denied they were targeting a specific individual.
Le Monde reported that the target was Benghalem Salim, 35, responsible for the reception of French and francophones into Isis. Hollande repeated that about 600 French nationals were currently fighting in Syria and Iraq.

In all, France has carried out about 1,300 sorties in Iraq, with 271 airstrikes destroying more than 450 terrorist targets. Only a few strikes have been carried out in Syria. It is using six Rafale multi-role fighter jets stationed in the United Arab Emirates and six Mirage 2000 fighters deployed in Jordan.
Well, the immediate motivation for the attack is not as unclear as I initially thought.

But get real, IS.   Your arcane and violent medievalist world view has no hope of sustained success against the West, and your apocalyptic fantasies will come to nought, as have hundreds of previous examples of the religious who thought they were acting out the End Times.

If you didn't force millions of the more sensible to flee into Europe,  kill the innocent on the streets of Paris, or insist that the your centuries old feud with another branch of Islam still had to resolved with violence, you might have had a chance of running a desperately poor bit of desert in whatever stupidly repressive way you wanted.  But you've blown that chance.

Friday, November 13, 2015

More spooky action proof

NIST team proves 'spooky action at a distance' is really real

Just get on with it

Machine Being Built to Receive Messages from the Future : Discovery News

I don't know what prompted this recent short story on Ronald Mallett's long standing idea that he could build a machine to receive messages from the future for only $250,000.   Mallett has been talking about this for years.  I'm not exactly sure on what the hold up might be for such a project.   Some rich tech guy should surely be prepared to fund it. Or perhaps, as his Wiki entry explains, the criticisms of Mallett's idea are entirely valid.

Always look on the dark side

Why we shouldn’t be fooled by the fall in unemployment figure | The Australian

Adam Creighton is certainly looking on the dark side today.

I find him a confusing fellow.  He has the usual small government/libertarian fetish against the government paying for things to be done, and hence unless a government is busy downsizing continually and reducing taxes he assumes they are a failure.  On the other hand, in some column or other before, he seemed surprisingly sympathetic to Piketty's take on increasing inequality as being real and of concern.

Overall, I still don't think he is to be trusted.

More filtered flowers

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Cool club

Australian life expectancy jumps to new highs | Australia news | The Guardian

Australians born now are expected to live longer than ever before.
Life expectancy for females at birth rose from 84.3 in 2013 to 84.4 last
year, while for males it jumped from 80.1 to 80.3, according to new
figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

There are only six other countries in the world where both men and
women have a life expectancy over 80 years, Beidar Cho from the ABS said
in a statement on Thursday.

Those countries are Japan, Italy, Switzerland, Iceland, Israel and Sweden.

“Australia has a higher life expectancy, at both the male and female
level, than many similar countries to ours such as New Zealand, the UK
and the US,” she said.

An alert

Although they have attractive packaging, and are from Canada, which I like to think has clean waters and nice fish, I do not care for Brunswick brand sardines at all.  (Too large, too smelly, needs salt.) 

That is all....


Update:  no reader has asked, but I tell you anyway:  created by putting a photo of a flower I had taken through some kaleidoscopic filter on an Android app, the name of which I currently forget.   I think the result is pleasingly psychedelic.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Still nuts

The fourth Republican presidential debate, explained - Vox

Amongst the other criticisms of this woeful bunch of Republican wannabe Presidents is this:
Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, and Donald Trump have thus far all released
tax plans that are detailed enough to be assessed in terms of their
impact on Americans of different income levels. The plans all differ
slightly from one another, but they all have the same basic shape — huge
gains for the top one percent that dwarf what anyone else will get.

But the debate revealed that these are actually the
responsible, sober-minded plans in the field. Ben Carson continues to
insist that the government could be funded with a 15 percent flat tax — a
number that would yield a laughably inadequate level of revenue. Ted
Cruz and Rand Paul are all pitching plans centered around the
introduction of a Value Added Tax, a move that would likely raise
taxes for lower-income Americans (especially retirees) in order to
finance staggeringly large tax cuts for the wealthy. Carly Fiorina,
meanwhile, keeps insisting that she can deliver a three-page tax code
but can't quite seem to say what will be on the pages.
And Cruz wants to return to the gold standard.

Julia and the Old Gray Lady

Being Dishonest About Ugliness - The New York Times

How did Julia Baird get a gig doing opinion pieces for the New York Times?  At the risk of sounding bitchy, on the Drum she always seemed a pleasant enough person, but really rather dull as a host.  And this piece in the paper shares those qualities. 

The real lesson

...from this incident is probably more "it's likely to be counterproductive to use a public figure pretty widely regarded as a ****head (and a pretty aggro one at that especially when it comes to people he disagrees with on guns*) as your support person at an employer's disciplinary hearing."

Having said that, I would say it's a near certainty that the employee will win at the Fair Work Commission (which, incidentally, I didn't think libertarians had a lot of time for.)

*  Yes, we have a Senator who has said he agreed with the sentiment that John Howard "deserved to be shot" for his gun laws.

The Carson explanation

She's hardly my favourite writer, but I reckon Amanda Marcotte is right about Ben Carson:
His exaggerated tales of sin and redemption sound bizarre to most Americans, but they are par for the course in the evangelical circles that Carson is trying to win over...

Hammering messy real world experiences into trite fables about sin and redemption is standard operating procedure in conservative Christian circles. So is the exaggeration. Tales of your behavior before you were saved are embellished for maximum drama. What’s important is not the literal truth, but reinforcing fundamentalist notions that the world outside of the Jesus bubble is a depraved hellhole.

Take, for instance, Christine O’Donnell, the 2010 Republican candidate for Senate from Delaware. During her campaign, tape surfaced of her claiming she had been to a “Satanic altar” with “blood” on it during her days when she supposedly “dabbled into witchcraft”. The story was obvious nonsense and she tried to downplay its significance without coming right out and admitting what was likely true, which is that she had taken some silly incident from her youth and reformed it into a tale of Satanism and depravity with which to impress her fellow Christians.

Carson’s claim that he was a violent youth who renounced his sinful ways after praying has to be understood in this light. In Christian circles, the literal truth of such stories doesn’t matter nearly as much as their usefulness in spreading the word that Jesus is the cure for all your problems. A story about Jesus’s ability to save you from murder is just more memorable than, say, a tale of renouncing your habit of shoplifting.

A quote from a Gruen

I thought Nicholas' comment at his blog (arising out of that somewhat controversial paper about poor white Americans dying faster) was good:
Education is good, looking after those at the bottom of the ladder is good. Of course the left’s tendency to valorise ‘victims’ can go too far. I think it does and it’s a growing problem (#TriggerAlert you may not agree and this may trigger anxiety, depression and flashbacks to traumatic events in your childhood when you discovered you weren’t the only person in the world). But ethically it seems like so much less a crime than the right’s demonisation of those at the bottom and their valorisation of those at the top. Perhaps it’s also a practical mistake.
Yes, that last bit is about the ugly, poisonous influence of libertarian thought on the American Right that you see frequently at the Australian Tea Party blog Catallaxy.   I don't think the Right in America and Australia used to be like that.

More on the Lomborg deception

And Then There's Physics has his take on the Lomborg deceptive counsel of despair. 

I repeat my formula for Bill and Labor

I think it would be a trap for Labor to oppose any increase in the GST.   It also seems doubtful that they can do enough to increase revenue quickly enough (yes, Australia needs to both increase revenue and be more careful in spending) via superannuation tax concessions and welfare related changes (welfare restrictions not being Labor's strong point, exactly.)

I therefore repeat my common sense call:   compromise with a GST increase to 12.5% - it's sounds much better than 15% - and look at increasing its scope modestly.  Don't go overboard in compensation for the poor.   Also make changes to superannuation concessions.  Make changes to the negative gearing rules that ease in over a few years, don't try to do it in one big bang.

You might even get away with a modest carbon tax replacing Direct Action, but that is riskier, 'cos folks are too, too easily confused on this.  On the other hand, Labor has plenty of ammunition from Turnbull's own mouth as to how Direct Action can't work in the long run, and it is a hit to the budget bottom line.   (The problem is, of course, that just as Labor is too easily motivated to make a scare campaign of any GST increase, the Coalition is too easily motivated to do the same for any carbon pricing scheme.)