Thursday, January 23, 2020

Tide turning, at last

It's about time, but it appears America is starting to finally move  back from the nutty airline pet free-for-all that is "emotional support animals" on planes.   Service animals are still allowed though, including for psychiatric issues, but at least they are proposing it be limited to dogs.   (Even though dogs have caused some of the biggest issues.)

If the comments to the article are anything to go by, Americans are well and truly sick of the ridiculous situations passengers there have had to deal with.  For example:

After Christmas I was waiting to board a flight after the people had deplaned.  While they were coming into the terminal, two dogs from two different owners got into a fight.  The owners got control of them, but not before the entire terminal was suddenly filled with the sound of various barking dogs.  The man next to me said:  "This is insanity."

Then, as we were boarding a young, strong man boarded first with a huge black German shepherd.  Neither the man nor the dog looked as though they needed emotional support, but the dog was pretty intimidating....

 I sat by a woman with Bernese Mountain dog support animal on a flight. He was almost as big as a small pony but very well behaved thankfully ....

I flew last year from DC to Chicago and ended up next to a woman with an "emotional support" dog. She let it out of the carrier and it was sitting next to her feet when I reached into my bag which was under the seat in front of me.  The dog yelped, snapped at me, and tried to bite me in the face. The woman corralled it, but it was terrifying. I asked the flight attendant for another seat and she said they could only accommodate me on a later flight. I asked about putting the dog back in the carrier and the woman yelled at me and the dog started growling. I needed to get to Chicago, so I squeezed up to the window and tried not to move for the two hour flight. It upsets me just to think about it now.

So whose "emotions" are we supporting here, anyway? ...

Yes it's totally free, that's the point. To take a pet on the plane is usually $125, but, if you have a letter that claims that it is "an emotional support animal," fees are waived. I have seen many people bragging on social media that it costs less to buy a bogus "emotional support animal" letter than the fee for one flight....

Most of these animals are "certified" by coughing up $50 on some therapists website who emails you a signed ESA letter. It is 100% a scam that makes it harder for people with real disabilities. Should fine these people, and if you show up with an animal certified by a blacklisted "therapist" your ESA iguana/pig/rabbit/parrot/whatever doesn't get to fly in the cabin....

In my neck of the woods, it only costs $25.  You're being overcharged for a phony certificate.  $25 should do it.

Another complete embarassment

Mark Latham follows Pauline Hanson into the depths of clueless Right wing alternative reality:

Andrew Bolt misses the White Australia policy, apparently

Of course I don't subscribe to any Murdoch rag that Andrew Bolt appears in, so I just get to see the start of a post on his "blog", which I will not link to:
I've said immigration is now more like colonisation. From last week: "More people from Nepal settled in Australia last year than from the United Kingdom...  Tara Gaire ... said he felt very at home in Melbourne’s multicultural environment. 'We catch up with community members, we go to the temple, it doesn’t feel like we’re overseas.'"  
What an appalling hypocrite:  
Bolt was born in Adelaide, his parents being newly-arrived Dutch migrants. 
His parents were the right colour though, hey?

I mean, he doesn't even have fear of Muslim terrorism from Nepal as a basis for his snide insult:
According to the 2011 census, 81.3% of the Nepalese population is Hindu, 9.0% are Buddhist, 4.4% are Muslim, 3.0% are Kiratist (indigenous ethnic religion), 1.4% are Christian, 0.1% are Sikhs, 0.1% are Jains and 0.7% follow other religions 
And, he's an agnostic himself, so he can hardly be concerned that Christianity is being displaced - what does it matter to him if it is?

It comes down to a creepy Pauline Hanson line - "they're different and I don't it."

He has become appalling stupid and a deep embarrassment to the Right side of politics.

I'll believe it when I see successful, commercial products

NPR reports on a "cell-based meat" start up that is building a pilot production facility.

It notes the big issue:
But Memphis Meats and its competitors face quite a few hurdles in bringing cell-based meats to market. For starters, the cost of production needs to come down. Back in 2018, Wired reported that a pound of Memphis Meats takes $2,400 to produce, in part because of the expensive growth mediums — or feed — needed to culture cells.

"Our costs have continued to come down significantly over the last three years," Valeti told us in an email Wednesday. "We have a clear path to bringing a cost competitive product to market as we scale our production and that's part of what our latest funding round will help us to unlock," Valeti said. He said the company will continue to work on developing low-cost feed for the cells, which is one significant piece of the puzzle.

And also notes the second issue - the one of texture:
I got the chance to sample Memphis Meats' chicken, which was pan-sautéed with some oil and served with greens. It tasted pretty close to chicken breast produced the traditional way — but without as much textural variation among bits of muscle, fat and connective tissue.
I think we can all agree that vegetable protein imitation chicken (or beef) also has the soft texture issue;  but in terms of copying flavour, they are also getting pretty close.   (I have taken to eating Rebel Whoppers from Hungry Jacks as my default fast food burger.  I had one last night in fact.  I am quite satisfied with it.)  But the difference is, of course, it's massively cheaper and quicker to make than growing cells in an expensive medium. 

So if both ways of making imitation meat leads to a soft-ish product that has similar flavour of real meat, why use the incredibly expensive and complicated way of making such a product??

The fact that billionaires are encouraging this product just indicates to me that billionaires can make wrong calls on things outside of their expertise, just like any of us can.

The future in fake meat is going to be in better vegetable protein imitation meats, and (eventually, I suspect) in microbial sourced protein as the base for imitation meats.

Disinformation warning

Just read this good opinion piece by a former US Ambassador to Russia that was in the Washington Post last week:

Be prepared to fight a dangerous new wave of disinformation during the Senate trial

I liked his summary of Russian disinformation tactics:
Russian President Vladimir Putin and his proxies deploy several methods of disinformation to strengthen their power and influence. The first is to deny facts. For instance, Putin initially denied that Russian soldiers had seized control of Crimea in February 2014, denies Russian involvement in the shoot-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in July 2014, and denies any Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

A second tactic is to deflect attention from the facts, also known as “whataboutism.” When criticized about Crimean annexing Crimea, Putin’s media shoot back, what about Kosovo? Or New Mexico? When criticized about civilian casualties from Russian military intervention in Syria, Kremlin defenders retort, what about Iraq, Vietnam or Hiroshima? When confronted with evidence of Russian meddling in U.S. elections, the Russian standard refrain is, you do it all the time.

A third practice is the dissemination of lies. Russian state media once asserted that President Barack Obama and former Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi embraced the same ideology. I may be more sensitive than most about this tactic, because when I was serving as U.S. ambassador to Russia, Kremlin media outlets accused me of fomenting revolution against Putin’s regime; perhaps most disgustingly of all, a video was circulated suggesting I was a pedophile. When Putin met with President Trump in July 2018 in Helsinki, the Russian president again lied about me, claiming I had broken Russian law while working in the White House.

A cumulative effect of all these tactics is nihilistic debasement of the very concept of truth. Putin is not trying to win the argument; instead, his propaganda machine aims to convince that there is no truth, no right and wrong, or no data or evidence, only relativism, point of view and biased opinion.
His summary of what Joe Biden did in Ukraine is also a good, succinct summary, one which my reality challenged reader from Catallaxy, JC, has never got through his thick head:
Former vice president Joe Biden was not freelancing on behalf of his son when implementing U.S. government policy — supported by the International Monetary Fund, the European Union, Republican senators, and the Ukrainian anti-corruption nongovernmental-organization community — to seek the ouster of corrupt Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin.

Indeed, because Shokin was not prosecuting corruption in Ukraine, his removal produced greater scrutiny, not less, of the now-infamous Burisma Holdings energy company on which Hunter Biden used to serve as a board member. As Shokin’s deputy, Vitaliy Kasko, reported, “There was no pressure from anyone from the U.S. to close cases against Zlochevsky [Burisma’s owner]. … It was shelved by Ukrainian prosecutors in 2014 and through 2015.” Trump’s own political appointee, former special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker, confirmed, “The allegations against Vice President Biden are self-serving and non-credible.”

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

And you thought the Royal Commission into Aged Care disclosed bad treatment of old folk...

A story at the BBC (basically about the economics of looking after old people) starts with some extreme examples:
"I customarily killed old women. They all died, there by the big river. I didn't used to wait until they were completely dead to bury them. The women were afraid of me."

No wonder. That's the account of a man from the Aché, an indigenous tribe in eastern Paraguay, as told to anthropologists Kim Hill and Magdalena Hurtado.

He explained grandmothers helped with chores and babysitting but when they got too old to be useful, you couldn't be sentimental.

Brutally, the usual method was an axe to the head. For the old men, Aché custom dictated a different fate. They were sent away - and told never to return.  ....

As another anthropologist, Jared Diamond, points out, the Aché are hardly outliers. Among the Kualong, in Papua New Guinea, when a woman's husband died, it was her son's solemn duty to strangle her.
Update:  I see via Wikipedia that the practice is called "senicide", and it seems an entry that could have a lot more examples added to it, if the above story is anything to go by.  Most of their examples are from pretty ancient history, such as this one, notable again for its gruesomeness: 
The Heruli were a Germanic tribe during the Migration Period (about 400 to 800 CE). Procopius states in his work The Wars, that the Heruli placed the sick and elderly on a tall stack of wood and stabbed them to death before setting the pyre alight.[7]
 Oh look, allegedly (there is no citation!) in Sardinia, the women got to be the "terminators":
An alleged custom was to throw incapable or ill elders off certain cliffs, a confirmed practice was the performing of euthanasia on ill, senile or suffering elders carried out by selected women named accabbadoras (lit. 'terminator' or 'ender') that after a blessing of the soon to be deceased would proceed to kill them through suffocation or blunt force to the back of the head by wooden mallet. 

Simon on nuclear in Australia

I thought Simon's tweet thread response to the column (which I am sure Jason Soon would be endorsing) by Parnell McGuiness was very reasonable:

Still terrible

Over at The Guardian:
Netflix said in a letter to shareholders its new show The Witcher is “tracking to be our biggest season one TV series ever”.
Seriously?  I reluctantly tried, at the prompting of my son, to watch the second episode a few days ago, and (although I have to confess to moving in and out of light sleep for much of it) thought it was terribly dull and worse than the first episode.  Told my son he can watch it by himself from now on.   I agree with this summary:
In the interest of professional obligation, Darren, I did sit through the second episode, which was notable for a few reasons. (Spoiler: None of those reasons include, “Because it was good.”) Henry Cavill gets far less screen time in the second hour — and he has to share his few scenes with a very, very annoying traveling bard (I would name the actor who plays him, but I’m fairly certain the writers didn’t even bother to name the character?). Anyhow, this very annoying traveling singer makes up tunes about abortion and says things like, “There I go again, just delivering exposition.”

Most of the second episode is devoted to the travails of a deformed young woman named Yennefer (Anya Chalotra), whose jerk of a father sells her off to a haughty witch named Tissaia de Vries (MyAnna Buring). It turns out Yennefer has some untapped magical abilities, and she finds herself enrolled in Tissaia’s School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, or whatever she calls it. So now this show is The Magicians featuring special guest star Henry Cavill, I guess?

The Witcher is also packed with confusing conflicts and long-held rivalries that require a lot of explanation but still manage to make no sense.  he premiere sets up a princess-wizard showdown that is related to a curse (I think), while episode 2 introduces a budding war between Elves and humans. Apparently the Elves taught the humans how to turn something called “chaos” into magic, and then the humans unleashed a genocide on them. “I was once Filavandrel of the Silver Towers,” notes a majestic Elf (Tom Canton). “Now I’m Filavandrel of the edge of the world.” So yeah, this is some high-school level Dungeons & Dragons role play with a multi-million-dollar budget. Netflix canceled the far cheaper, far more entertaining The Good Cop for this?

3 degrees noted in WSJ

The WSJ has an article that starts:
Assessing the likely impact of climate change has grown as a concern for big companies making strategic decisions about future capital allocation and strategy. But the challenge of forecasting temperatures far out has made such assessments tough.

In recent months, estimates among climate scientists of how temperatures are likely to rise over the course of the century have narrowed somewhat. The most catastrophic predicted warming looks less likely, but milder impacts also are looking less probable. The current broad consensus is that the world could warm by roughly three degrees Celsius by 2100.
Zeke (whose recent paper is discussed in the report) notes:

 How much outright denialism does the WSJ run these days?  I don't subscribe...

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Nigella's eggs

I am watching the annoying "my life is perfect, everyone loves me, it never rains in London and I can eat 5,000 cal a day and not put on weight" Nigella Lawson's latest cooking show, and am finding myself continously bothered not just by her too cheerful persona but also by the intense orange colour of the egg yolks.  It looks unnatural.  Are all British eggs like that?

At least she's not suggestively licking her fingers now, like she used to.  It was very obvious.

Update:  am I being too harsh on Nigella?  It'll probably turn out that she spends half her life running some decent charity, or something.  I have always thought her salacious style, which always seemed aimed towards titillating older men, was amusingly transparent.   But now that she's toned that down,  I just find myself more annoyed by the too intense cheerfulness, and the attempts at "I'm just like you, really" stuff (like looking into her messy cupboard) coming across as a bit fake.   It's not that I like really cranky cooks - I can't watch Gordon Ramsay, for example - but this British cooking show thing where it always ends with friends over eating the food and not getting into arguments over anything I find bothersome.

The case of the missing stars

I think I forgot to blog in December about this unusual story:
An international research group led by Beatriz Villarroel from the Nordic Institute for Theoretical Physics in Sweden and the Institute for Astrophysics on the Canary Islands reports something strange in the current issue of The Astronomical Journal. They compared star maps from the 1950s with recent surveys, and discovered that 100 previously catalogued stars cannot be found anymore.
Sign of Dyson spheres or other advanced technological societies doing something to their stars?  Probably not, but you never know:
Perhaps the missing objects are signs of an advanced civilization. But they’re probably not Dyson spheres. First, it would be hard to explain why and how such a giant construction project, completely shading out the light of the host star, could be done within the short period of less than a century. But more importantly, Brooks Harrop and I showed nearly 10 years ago that “traditional” Dyson spheres are not gravitationally stable. Even if one could be built near a star like our Sun, it would require more total mass than is available in all our Solar System’s planets, moons, and asteroids.

But there are other interesting possibilities:
So what are the missing stars? A few might be explained as flaring stars whose brightness dropped below the detection limit, or stars that collapsed directly into a black hole. A large portion, however, might represent new stages in the life cycle of certain stars or new stellar phenomena that have not yet been seen. That by itself would be an exciting topic to investigate.

Another intriguing question: Where are the missing stars? Are they at the same location, just not emitting light anymore? Or perhaps they’ve moved to some other location. If the latter, could some of these represent huge starships, the size of moons or planets, that moved outside the field of view? This, of course, is a highly speculative suggestion. But it would address the hotly discussed Fermi Paradox, and would, in principle, be testable. If these “missing” light sources represent giant starships, some should appear in new star surveys in some other part of the sky. In an ideal case, we might even be able to track their trajectories through time. It would be challenging, no doubt, to pick out such motions against other background movements in space, like those of stars spinning around the center of their galaxy. Nevertheless, my suggestion to the authors is to focus their future work on light sources that suddenly appear in new star surveys, and see whether they can be correlated to the stars that vanished.

Odd food chains

I just noticed in Coles that I can buy a Coles branded foil pouch of cooked brown rice (150g worth)  that you re-heat in the microwave, for $1.50.  It was made in India from Spanish rice, and ended up in Brisbane.

That pathway to get here seems kinda wasteful, if you ask me.   And don't get me on the topic of fish processing in Thailand...


Sounds ambitious:

Subaru Corp set a target on Monday for all the vehicles it sells worldwide to be electric by the first half of the 2030s, in a move toward its long-term goal of a carbon-free society.

The news comes as Subaru has strengthened capital ties with Toyota Motor Corp, in a trend of global automakers joining forces to slash development and manufacturing costs of new technology.

"Subaru's strong commitment and dedication toward car-manufacturing that we have cultivated throughout our history remain unchanged," President Tomomi Nakamura said in a statement.

By 2030, the Japanese automaker added, at least 40% of all of its cars sold worldwide would comprise all-battery electric vehicles or hybrid vehicles.

When will climate change deniers realise they have been lied to?

Noted on Twitter today, from Matt Ridley's shonky outfit:

With the correction following:

Also notices on Twitter recently:

Monday, January 20, 2020

Depressive realism and climate change

In a somewhat interesting essay at AEON which talks about depression as perceived by philosophy and psychotherapy, I read this (my bold):
Despite its turn toward positivity, psychological theory includes one branch with a focus on the pessimistic philosophical tradition embraced by Freud himself. Called ‘depressive realism’, it was initially suggested by the US psychologists Lauren Alloy and Lyn Yvonne Abramson in a paper subtitled ‘Sadder but Wiser?’ (1979). The authors held that reality is always more transparent through a depressed person’s lens.

Alloy, of Temple University in Pennsylvania, and Abramson, of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, tested the hypothesis by measuring the illusion of control. After interviews with a set of undergraduates, they divided the students into depressed and nondepressed groups. Each student had a choice of either pressing or not pressing a button, and received one of two outcomes: a green light or no green light. Experimental settings presented the students with various degrees of control over the button, from 0 to 100 per cent. Upon completing the tests, they were asked to analyse the degree of control their responses exerted over outcome – that is, how many times the green light came on as a result of their actions. It turned out that, the sadder but wiser students were more accurate in judging the degree of control they exerted. Alloy and Abramson concluded that depressed students were less prone to illusions of control, and therefore showed greater realism. The nondepressed students, on the other hand, overestimated the degree of their control, and therefore were engaged in self-deception in favour of enhancing self-esteem.

The ‘depressive realism’ hypothesis remains controversial because it calls into question the tenets of CBT, which assert that the depressed individual has more thought biases and hence has to be healed in order to become more realistic. But subsequent studies have bolstered the idea. For instance, the Australian social psychologist Joseph Forgas and colleagues showed that sadness reinforces critical thinking: it helps people reduce judgmental bias, improve attention, increase perseverance, and generally promotes a more skeptical, detailed and attentive thinking style. On the other hand, positive moods can lead to a less effortful and systematic thinking style. Happy people are more prone to stereotypical thinking and rely on simple cliché. They are more likely to ‘go with the flow’ and are prone to making more social misjudgments on account of their biases.
This tied in with something that I've meaning to say for a while now:   while I don't think it is fair to say that those who accept climate change is a serious problem are all depressed characters (even though it has become increasingly popular for young people to claim things like the situation is so bad they will not have children), it does seem a particularly annoying feature of climate change deniers that they hold their attitude with glee - they are like silly "good time Charlies" who positively laugh in the face of the scientific evidence staring them in the face.

Think of characters like Tim Blair, James Morrow, Rowan Dean, smugmaster Andrew Bolt, and James Delingpole in the UK - a very large part of their shtick is that they are make fun of the most serious human created environmental issue the planet has ever seen, and deride those who believe the scientific warnings (and the Left generally) of having no sense of humour.   You find a very similar attitude amongst most of the denying dopes at Catallaxy.  

This AEON article provides a possible explanation - maybe they are not just trolling the scientists and those who accept the consensus;  it might be that they suffer from too much positivity in their moods such that they can't see the danger in front of them.

But this is a pretty generous theory;  it is also possible they are just offensively trolling twits too stupid to do what's right for their children and all of our descendants.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Lomborg - disingenuous poser

It's been hard to take Bjorn Lomborg seriously ever since this effort:

but for a guy who presumably wants to be taken seriously, he's still busy confirming that one of his largest priorities is getting his misleading takes noticed and endorsed by fake sceptics and lukewarmers.

I mean, with his Tweet today, about the Australian fires, he starts with this graph and a complaint that this fire season extent is being "exploited", as it is not extreme:

But the tweet links to a his Facebook post in which he immediately makes a major concession:
The fires were definitely different in that they have mostly happened in the states of New South Wales (home of Sydney) and Victoria (Melbourne). Here, the fires this year are much larger than they have been in the previous few decades.

Indeed, New South Wales may be a record at 4.9 million hectares burnt, although it has seen almost similar sized fires in 1951-52 (more than 4 million hectares) and 1974-75 (4.5 million hectares).

Victoria at 1.2 million hectares is also a record for the last decades, but it is vastly smaller than the 1851 Black Thursday fire, which in one day burnt a quarter of Victoria or 5 million hectares.
So, one could say,  on Facebook he explicitly acknowledges the importance of where the fires have occurred, but is happy to still happy to run with the argument that this fire season wasn't anything special.

One of the comparisons he makes should make anyone suspicious - how confident could anyone be about area estimates of fire damage in Victoria in 1851, given that the place was still being colonised?  Oh look, here's the answer, given at the Moyhu blog in 2017 - you can't have any confidence in that figure at all.

In fact, on 10 January, the Moyhu blog had already given some key information relevant to Lomborg's entire Facebook argument - he warned of the trap of putting areas of savanna burnt in Australia into "total area burned" statistics:
I looked up more references on savanna regions. This paper gives some general averages:

StateAnnual average area burnt M ha savanna

And there is the dilemma. These numbers would dwarf most years of temperate forest burning. But that is what we want to know about, so they must be separated. This is not being done systematically. In particular, there is the random inclusion of savanna data for 1974/5 in the Wiki list.
So Lomborg acknowledges - when you read beyond his tweeted graph - that the current fire season is remarkable for the area of temperate forest burned, but his graph nonetheless only does a half hearted attempt at indicating what that area is (by removing NT area burnt.)  Moyhu's post indicates that the same area again of savanna is burnt in Qld and WA. 
In any event, Australia is huge and but a moment's thought should make anyone realise that talking about Australia wide figures for anything tells us nothing useful about the effect of regional changes under climate change.    To take an obvious example:  in the case of rainfall - if the top of Australia gets more rain on average under climate change, and that leads to less savanna burning, that hardly compensates if at the same time the southern and much more heavily populated and utilised regions are drying out and start burning more regularly.    Going by memory, that type of change in rainfall patterns is actually what the CSIRO thinks may happen under climate change.   But by ignoring the regional changes, and looking at rainfall continent wide, you can pretend that it isn't a problem.

You see shallow propagandists like Andrew Bolt doing this all the time - throw up a graph of national rainfall figures and saying "see, it's not getting dryer overall". 

So Lomborg is, again, engaging in cheap and misleading analysis, designed to maintain his status as a "contrarian", but it's clear that he is more interested in endorsements by denialists and lukewarmers than making a genuine contribution to seeing serious political action on climate change.    Very much like Judith Curry, I would say.  There is no other explanation.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Interesting medical news

*  OK, so I am a bit late to this one, but it's still interesting - humans have apparently been getting cooler:

the researchers dug through the medical records of nearly 24,000 Union Army veterans following the US Civil War to work out just how hot we ran around a century ago.

These numbers were then compared to around 15,000 records from an early 1970s national health survey and 150,000 records from a Stanford clinical data platform representing the early 2000s. In total, the team had details on more than half a million individual temperature measurements.

Sure enough, there was a clear, significant difference over time. Temperatures among those living at the end of the 19th century were slightly warmer. Men born in the 2000s, for example, were 0.59 degrees Celsius cooler than those born in the early 1800s, representing a steady decline of 0.03 degrees Celsius per decade.
The drop was similar for women, with a drop of 0.32 degrees Celsius since the 1890s.
 The likely explanation:
  Improvements in health and nutrition could be a fruitful place to search for an explanation. Our increasing body masses would push metabolisms into warmer categories, but inflammation is linked closely with variations in body temperature, and a decline in chronic infections just might explain why we're a little less feverish.
*  Beware of blood infections:

One in five deaths around the world is caused by sepsis, also known as blood poisoning, shows the most comprehensive analysis of the condition.

The report estimates 11 million people a year are dying from sepsis - more than are killed by cancer.
 *  I wonder if this will turn out be dubious research - some studies are pointing the finger at soybean oil as being rather bad for mice, and possibly humans.   
Specifically, the scientists found pronounced effects of the oil on the hypothalamus, where a number of critical processes take place.

"The hypothalamus regulates via your metabolism, maintains body temperature, is critical for reproduction and physical growth as well as your response to stress," said Margarita Curras-Collazo, a UCR associate professor of neuroscience and lead author on the study.
The team determined a number of genes in mice fed soybean oil were not functioning correctly. One such gene produces the "love" hormone, oxytocin. In soybean oil-fed mice, levels of oxytocin in the hypothalamus went down.

The research team discovered roughly 100 other genes also affected by the soybean oil diet. They believe this discovery could have ramifications not just for energy metabolism, but also for proper brain function and diseases such as autism or Parkinson's disease. However, it is important to note there is no proof the oil causes these diseases.
  The article also says that soybean oil is (by far) the most widely consumed edible oil in America:

I would never have guessed that.   My hunch would be that Australians consume heaps more canola oil - and it seems my hunch is right:

How come peanut oil doesn't make the list?  I thought it would be in there too.

Anyway, it's surprising how little olive oil still gets consumed, as a proportion of all oils.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Some musings on the intrinsic worth of humans

M Tobis found somehow a twitter thread by someone musing about "humanism", and I also find myself agreeing with part of it.  I won't try to copy all of it, but it starts:

And the bit I am most interested in:

I tend to find comparative religion interesting for the way in which they can construct a motivation for choosing the "pre-rational" belief of human life having intrinsic value.

In many, of course, the idea of an after-life reward is an obvious motivation. 

But going back to this week's topic of Buddhism, I always have had a problem with understanding how it reconciles its teaching about the illusory "non-Self" nature of self and its ethical teaching about that you should treat other "non-Selves" well.   Some pro-Buddhist advocates sell its view of the self as entirely consistent with modern, scientific materialist's views;  but if so, it seems to mean that Buddhism loses the benefit that I see in other religions of providing a "pre-rational" motivation for treating all humans as having value. 

If recall correctly, in Frank Tipler's The Physics of Immortality,  he argued that games theory provides a basis for ethical behaviour being entirely rational (and therefore having no conflict with science) but his views are pretty eccentric, and I am not sure that there is any widely accepted view games theory means the "pre-rational" belief of intrinsic human value is in fact rational (or, perhaps, a necessary conclusion of rationality.)

I have been thinking about this for a long time.   The distinction between "pre-rational" and rational arguments was basically behind a university essay (or was it during an exam?) on Rawls and his A Theory of Justice.  I thought it a very fine effort at providing a rational argument towards what you might call a universal theory of ethics;  but I remained unconvinced that it showed why alternative uses of rationality with harsher conclusions towards fellow humans were not just as valid.   I was still feeling that it didn't really work to show why the "pre-rational" judgement of the value of humans was something that must be adopted.  

I suppose you can take two attitudes towards this - argue that rationality can never resolve the matter, or (like Tipler, or Kant) argue that rationality can lead you to the "right" conclusion about human value.   I am inclined to be on the side of the latter.            

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Things suddenly looking much, much worse for Republicans

Lots of tweeting going on about an interview Rachel Maddow has done with Parnas - one of the key figures in the Ukraine scandal - in which he is dumping on absolutely everyone from Trump down.  He reckons Bolton will back all of this up.   As Corn says:

How could the Republicans in the Senate possibly justify not calling him and Bolton as witnesses?

I was a bit sceptical when Jennifer Rubin ran the line in WAPO this morning that they had to call witnesses or they would loss all credibility, but after this interview, I think she is right.

So, this is what "no AGW" looks like

From Real Climate.

Here's what Sinclair Davidson was saying in 2011:
I would like to draw your attention - and your readers - to the work of Professor Terrence Mills of Loughborough University. He has literally written the book on time-series econometrics. He has also written, at least, 3 papers on temperature time-series data. One of the conclusions that he draws is "At the very least, proponents of continuing global warming and climate change would perhaps be wise not to make the recent warming trend in recorded temperatures a central plank in their argument."
The GWPF kept relying on Mills's work, but the obvious flaw with it was explained here:
And so we have the latest such unphysical climate prediction, made in a report by Loughborough University statistics professor Terence Mills, on behalf of the anti-climate policy advocacy group, the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF). The report essentially fits a statistical model to past global and local surface temperature changes, and then uses that statistical model to forecast future temperature changes. It’s an approach that’s been used to predict financial market changes, for example.

The obvious flaw in this application is that the Earth’s climate is a physical system, and the statistical model includes no physics whatsoever. You simply cannot accurately predict how a physical system will change if you ignore physics, like the increasing greenhouse effect. As DeSmogUK put it, the GWPF report predicts no global warming by ignoring the main cause of global warming. And as climate scientist James Annan wrote,
The basic premise is that if you fit a nonsense model with no trend or drift, you generate a forecast with no trend or drift (though with huge uncertainty intervals, necessary to allow for the historical warming we’ve already seen). Amusingly, even with those huge uncertainty intervals, the temperature is already outside them
Or as Ken Rice explained in one of the links above:
Here’s the key point; projecting future warming requires some kind of estimate for future emissions. Trying to forecast future warming using some model with no physics and based only on past temperatures is obvious nonsense. Even a Professor of Statistics should be able to get this utterly trivial point. Maybe Terence Mills is so clueless that he really can’t grasp what is a pretty straightforward concept. 
My first question:  when will Sinclair Davidson admit he was wrong to be so easily influenced by Mills?
Second question:  why does he think there is value in running a blog that is chock full of "there is no AGW" denialism in both posts and comments.

Come on, Sinclair, don't be shy. 

Buddhism makes my brain hurt

The problem with Buddhism, I find, is that while the face of it is often relatively appealing - the serene temples, the earnest looking monks, the chanting and incense that is not a million miles from old style Catholic or High Church services - the fundamental ideas seem more conducive to nihilism than providing a solid basis for acting ethically.  

I bring this up because my post on the robot priest in a Kyoto temple apparently recites (or talks about?) the Heart Sutra, which is famous.  So, let's look at one translation of it:

when practicing the profound perfection of wisdom,
did light up and saw that
five aggregates were of emptiness
and he overcame all suffering and misfortune. 
Form is emptiness
and emptiness is form.
Form is not other than emptiness
and emptiness is not other than form.
So is the same for feeling,
perception, mental formation,
and consciousness.

The mark of emptiness of all phenomena 
is not of birth, not of death,
not of impurity, not of purity, 
not of increase, not of decrease.
Therefore, in emptiness
there is no form, feeling, perception,
mental formation, and consciousness,
no eye, no ear, no nose, 
no tongue, no body, and no mind,
no form, no sound, no odor, 
no taste, no touch, and no mental object,  
no eye sphere, and further no consciousness sphere, 
no ignorance, and also no cessation of ignorance,
further no aging and death,
and also no cessation of aging and death,
no suffering, no origin of suffering, 
no cessation of suffering, 
and no path to enlightenment, 
no wisdom, and also no attainment. 

Since there is no attainment, and
all Bodhisattvas rely on the perfection of wisdom,
there is no obstacle in their mind.
Since there is no obstacle in their mind, 
they have no possession of fear,
completely abandon wrong and illusory perception,
and arrive at the ultimate of Nirvāṇa. 

Since all Buddhas in the past, present and future
rely on the perfection of wisdom, 
they attain unsurpassable complete enlightenment.

Therefore, one should know that 
the perfection of wisdom is 
truly the profound mantra, truly the luminous mantra, 
the highest mantra, peerless mantra 
that put an end to all the suffering,
that is true and is not untrue. 

Therefore, proclaim the mantra 
that is the perfection of wisdom.
The mantra is said thus:

Gate, Gate, Paragate, Parasamgate, Bodhi Svaha!
Gate, Gate, Paragate, Parasamgate, Bodhi Svaha!
Gate, Gate, Paragate, Parasamgate, Bodhi Svaha!


According to this website, this will change my life forever [one has one's doubts about that]:

One thing we can safely say about the Heart Sutra is that it is completely crazy. If we read it, it does not make any sense. Well, maybe the beginning and end make sense, but everything in the middle sounds like a sophisticated form of nonsense, which can be said to be the basic feature of the Prajnaparamita Sutras in general. If we like the word “no,” we might like the sutra because that is the main word it uses—no this, no that, no everything. We could also say that it is a sutra about wisdom, but it is a sutra about crazy wisdom. When we read it, it sounds nuts, but that is actually where the wisdom part comes in. What the Heart Sutra (like all Prajnaparamita Sutras) does is to cut through, deconstruct, and demolish all our usual conceptual frameworks, all our rigid ideas, all our belief systems, all our reference points, including any with regard to our spiritual path. It does so on a very fundamental level, not just in terms of thinking and concepts, but also in terms of our perception, how we see the world, how we hear, how we smell, taste, touch, how we regard and emotionally react to ourselves and others, and so on. This sutra pulls the rug out from underneath our feet and does not leave anything intact that we can think of, nor even a lot of things that we cannot think of. This is called “crazy wisdom.” I guess I should give you a warning here that this sutra is hazardous to your samsaric sanity.
 And more:
Besides being a meditation manual, we could also say that the Heart Sutra is like a big koan. But it is not just one koan, it is like those Russian dolls: there is one big doll on the outside and then there is a smaller one inside that first one, and there are many more smaller ones in each following one. Likewise, all the “nos” in the big koan of the sutra are little koans. Every little phrase with a “no” is a different koan in terms of what the “no” relates to, such as “no eye,” “no ear,” and so on. It is an invitation to contemplate what that means. “No eye,” “no ear” sounds very simple and very straightforward, but if we go into the details, it is not that straightforward at all. In other words, all those different “no” phrases give us different angles or facets of the main theme of the sutra, which is emptiness. Emptiness means that things do not exist as they seem, but are like illusions and like dreams. They do not have a nature or a findable core of their own. Each one of those phrases makes us look at that very same message. The message or the looking are not really different, but we look at it in relation to different things. What does it mean that the eye is empty? What does it mean that visible form is empty? What does it mean that even wisdom, buddhahood, and nirvana are empty?

I remain....unconvinced.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

This should be a huge scandal...

Have a read of the texts just released between a weirdo wannabe Republican candidate and Giuliani's off sider in Ukraine, indicating that they had someone inside (and outside) of the embassy tracking unco-operative US ambassador Yovanovitch, and talking about how she could be taken care of, for a price.   

And Giuliani thinks he can help the President defend himself against impeachment?   Just nuts.

Conservatives and Markle hate

I have been reluctant to say anything about the Harry and Meghan escape to Canada story - it is an exceedingly unimportant story in the grand scheme of things.

But what I cannot get over is how utterly convinced conservatives can be that they know and understand what an evil bitch (in their minds) is Meghan. 

I still go over and read Sinclair Davidson's Ship of (ageing angry white, mostly male) Fools  (and man, do they get unpleasant when Sinclair is away - his pal Franklin telling another commenter to slit his own throat, for example, because he insulted the accuracy of a former pal's book); and I can report that their vehement certainty that climate change is a crock is matched closely with the same certainty that Meghan is a scheming, selfish disaster of a wife who they just cannot stand.     

I think the only explanation is that the same gullibility it takes to believe climate change "sceptics" - actually just culture war motivated denialists - makes them prime gullible targets for negative media reporting on anyone getting into the Royal family who they can deem a Lefty "woke" figure.   They completely fail to take into account the money making motive in both fields - climate change denialists who make a living by writing columns, running sites or hosting late night Sky News shows, and the tabloid papers which know all about Royal story "clickbait", both have every incentive in the world to push one invented line without a scintilla of care for balance or the truth.

And what about this Michelle Markin tweet, which has been rightly attacked as just nuts:

Very strange, very "culture war".  

This article at AP, which notes some of the racially tinged bias in British reporting on Meghan, is also worth a look.

Doesn't look futuristic enough for Antarctica

Brazil has opened a new base in Antarctica, but the design looks a little dull:

See my previous post (from 2011!) about my preferred, more futuristic, Antarctic outposts.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Robot religion

Vox has an interesting short article:

Robot priests can bless you, advise you, and even perform your funeral 

My first reaction:  cool.

Some extracts:
A new priest named Mindar is holding forth at Kodaiji, a 400-year-old Buddhist temple in Kyoto, Japan. Like other clergy members, this priest can deliver sermons and move around to interface with worshippers. But Mindar comes with some ... unusual traits. A body made of aluminum and silicone, for starters.

Mindar is a robot.

Designed to look like Kannon, the Buddhist deity of mercy, the $1 million machine is an attempt to reignite people’s passion for their faith in a country where religious affiliation is on the decline.

For now, Mindar is not AI-powered. It just recites the same preprogrammed sermon about the Heart Sutra over and over. But the robot’s creators say they plan to give it machine-learning capabilities that’ll enable it to tailor feedback to worshippers’ specific spiritual and ethical problems.

“This robot will never die; it will just keep updating itself and evolving,” said Tensho Goto, the temple’s chief steward. “With AI, we hope it will grow in wisdom to help people overcome even the most difficult troubles. It’s changing Buddhism.”

Well, still cool:  but I'm not a big fan of its looks - 

The article goes on to make an interesting case as to why Buddhism in particular seems suited to robot priests:
Buddhism’s non-dualistic metaphysical notion that everything has inherent “Buddha nature” — that all beings have the potential to become enlightened — may predispose its adherents to be receptive to spiritual guidance that comes from technology.

At the temple in Kyoto, Goto put it like this: “Buddhism isn’t a belief in a God; it’s pursuing Buddha’s path. It doesn’t matter whether it’s represented by a machine, a piece of scrap metal, or a tree.” 

“Mindar’s metal skeleton is exposed, and I think that’s an interesting choice — its creator, Hiroshi Ishiguro, is not trying to make something that looks totally human,” said Natasha Heller, an associate professor of Chinese religions at the University of Virginia. She told me the deity Kannon, upon whom Mindar is based, is an ideal candidate for cyborgization because the Lotus Sutra explicitly says Kannon can manifest in different forms — whatever forms will best resonate with the humans of a given time and place.  ...

Abrahamic religions like Islam or Judaism tend to be more metaphysically dualistic — there’s the sacred and then there’s the profane. And they have more misgivings than Buddhism about visually depicting divinity, so they may take issue with Mindar-style iconography.

They also have different ideas about what makes a religious practice effective. For example, Judaism places a strong emphasis on intentionality, something machines don’t possess. When a worshipper prays, what matters is not just that their mouth forms the right words — it’s also very important that they have the right intention. 

Meanwhile, some Buddhists use prayer wheels containing scrolls printed with sacred words and believe that spinning the wheel has its own spiritual efficacy, even if nobody recites the words aloud. In hospice settings, elderly Buddhists who don’t have people on hand to recite prayers on their behalf will use devices known as nianfo ji — small machines about the size of an iPhone, which recite the name of the Buddha endlessly.
Yes, I must admit, to the Christian mind, the idea common (in some parts, at least) of Buddhism that repetition of mechanical prayer (or of a "holy" image) is a metaphysically useful thing to do is pretty  foreign.    ("Oh look, a temple with 1,000 statuettes of Buddha", for example.)   But then again, the meditative state of a rosary session approximates something of repetitive chanting, I suppose.

Anyway, as robots can be designed to look male but have no penis, the Catholic Church should be considering them as a useful, less troublesome, adjunct to the fleshy troublemaker version of the priesthood.

About the late Roger Scruton

I can't say I followed him all that closely, but when I Google search my blog, I see he got a mention a dozen or so times.

On the good side - he took his anti-communism seriously enough to be actively involved in supporting dissidents, and his overall philosophy of the values of a conservative mindset seemed a useful contribution to political philosophy (and has endeared him forever to the American Right).  His writing on aesthetics could be interesting.  He was very badly treated by the New Statesman last year for no good reason.

On the not-so-good side:  he was lauded early on as being a (rare in global terms) conservative who took climate change as a serious issue and didn't deride it as something to be ignored.  But, like some other conservative figures (hello, John Howard), he moved from apparent initial acceptance of science to interpreting it so thoroughly through a culture war lens that you could pretty much say he ended up a friend of deniers.   The GWPF quotes him, for example, and he was happy to be out supporting IPA events.   If only he took that issue as seriously as his anti-communism.

I had also forgotten how strenuously conservative he was on matters of sexuality early on, but he came to change his mind somewhat.  He also was a secret paid shill for tobacco - a really disreputable way for a conservative to make a living, if you ask me.

Finding conservatives who don't have - shall we say - "problematic aspects" to their lives and beliefs is quite the challenge.

Smoke issues

Also noted, from the Washington Post of all places:
 In the state of New South Wales, home to Sydney, health officials said emergency room visits for asthma and breathing problems increased more than 34 percent in the period from Dec. 30 and Jan. 5 compared to a year earlier. Ambulance calls for respiratory issues were also higher, about 2,500 compared to the five-year average of about 1,900. Similarly, hospital admissions increased to more than 430, surpassing the five-year average of 361.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Looks and sounds good

My testosterone must be low today - the Washington Post has a vegan recipe up that sounds and looks pretty delicious:

Giant Jesus and Hindu god face off

It's important to keep up with giant statue news, especially when it's a Battle of the Gods type situation:
Catholics in India are seeking to erect the nation’s tallest statue of Jesus, over objections by Hindi groups who say one of their gods lives on the hill designated for the project.

Work began last week on the statue, planned to be nearly 100 feet tall, on 10 acres of land owned by the Archdiocese of Bangalore. If completed, the statue would be almost as tall as Poland’s 108-foot Christ the King statue, completed in 2010. Poland’s statue is believed to be the tallest statue of Jesus in the world.

Hindu groups have opposed the project, objecting that the Kapalabetta hilltop is the abode of their deity Kapali Betta. They said Christians cannot set up a statue there.

Feeling a bit glum

I need some news to cheer me up.

Any ideas?

Update:  here's one reason to be slightly cheerful - I do not live in this country:

(The caption, from The Guardian :  People travel on overcrowded trains after attending the final prayer of Bishwa Ijtema, considered the world’s second largest Muslim gathering after the hajj.)

Update 2:    more good news (kinda):  this was a false alarm -

Canadian officials accidentally push nuclear alert to millions, warning of 'incident' at Ontario plant

Not a good thing for people who think nuclear for Australia is the only way forward, though.  No other power station comes with this sort of need.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Pasta and not pasta

Two recipes made recently by me, for my future reference:

1.  Linguine with prawns, chilli, garlic and rocket:   the base recipe (from Taste and which I will copy below) is good, and makes one of the "drier" style pasta dishes which I find more appealing lately.

340g  Linguine
1/3 cup (80ml) extra virgin olive oil
5 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 tsp dried red chilli flakes
1 tsp finely grated lemon zest
Large pinch of salt
20 large green king prawns, peeled, deveined, tails intact
60ml (1/4 cup) white wine
1 tbs lemon juice
1 large bunch rocket, stems trimmed, leaves shredded [I reckon baby spinach leaves would work just as well]

Cook the linguine in a large saucepan of lightly salted boiling water, according to packet instructions or until al dente. Drain well and return to pan.

Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat. Add the garlic, chilli flakes, lemon zest and salt, cook stirring for 30 seconds or until aromatic. Add the prawns and cook stirring occasionally for 2 minutes or until golden brown and just cooked through. Add wine, simmer until reduced by half. Remove from heat.

Add the prawn mixture [and a punnet or so of halved cherry or grape tomatoes] to the hot pasta with the lemon juice, remaining olive oil and rocket, toss until well combined. Serve immediately with freshly ground black pepper.
 2.  Zucchini "noodles" (or "pasta")  with anchovy butter, garlic and chilli flakes.

Zucchini has always been low on my vegetable interests, but I have also long wondered whether the "spiralized" version of it done in lieu of pasta would be any good.

My daughter gave me the equipment at Christmas - one of these:

and I twisted a couple of large size zucchini through it, letting them sit on paper towels to absorb a bit of the moisture before cooking.

Internet research indicated you barely need to cook the zucchini strands, and I took a punt and made (as a side dish) a butter, anchovy, garlic and chilli sauce sauce for it.  The basic idea is here, although I am not sure that the 2 kg quantity of zucchini seems in right proportion to the other ingredients.

Amounts:  for two large zucchini's worth of "pasta":   about 7 or 8 anchovy fillets; about a couple of tablespoons of butter; about the same of olive oil; a few minced garlic cloves, and half a teaspoon or so of chilli flakes.   Just heat the oils in a deep frying pan, add the anchovy fillets and break them up until they are pretty much dissolved; add the garlic & chilli flakes, and then the zucchini "pasta".   Use tongs to move it around and cook for just 2 or 3 minutes until heated but still "al dente".   Check for saltiness and add some if needed.

The texture of the (barely cooked) zucchini was one of the most pleasant things about the dish - it had bite and texture more so than your average cooked zucchini, which can go mushy and watery.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Oh, the resolute stupidity

So the mayor of massively burnt out Kangaroo Island is a climate change denying Liberal from way back, who is upset that Obama made a tweet connecting the first to climate change.  I presume he didn't lose his own house, which is a bit of a pity.*  (It wouldn't have changed his mind, but there would have been poetic justice.)

As has been noted by many, old white men are killing the planet, and too stupid to learn anything new.  

*  Other property loss I would put down as evidence of a Righteous God - a gas explosion taking out the IPA's offices;  a meteor writing off this:

(That's Lachlan Murdoch's new home in Los Angeles, according to a weird, tabloid style article in the SMH today, that features more creepy photos of old man Murdoch in the water with Jerry Hall.) 

A space based quantum internet - and why it will be needed

It hadn't sunk into my consciousness 'til now, the matter of why a quantum internet was being keenly pursued as a research topic; but this article explains it's because of quantum computing's potential to break all present, mathematically based, encryption.  It then goes onto explain the technical issues with creating a quantum internet, and paints a pretty convincing picture that it is going to be best based in space, in orbiting satelittes:

First some background. At the heart of any quantum network is the strange property of entanglement. This is the phenomenon in which two quantum particles share the same existence, even if they are separated by vast distances. It ensures that a measurement on one of these particles immediately influences the other, a marvel that Einstein called “spooky action at a distance.”

Physicists usually distribute entanglement using pairs of photons created at the same point and instant in time. When the photons are sent to different locations, the entanglement linking them can be exploited to send secure messages.

The problem is that entanglement is fragile and hard to preserve.  Any small interaction between one of the photons and its environment breaks the link. Indeed, this is exactly what happens when physicists transmit entangled photons directly through the atmosphere or through optical fibers. The photons interact with other atoms in the atmosphere or the glass, and the entanglement is destroyed. It turns out the maximum distance over which entanglement can be shared in this way is just a few hundred kilometers.

How then to build a quantum internet that shares entanglement across the globe? One option is to use “quantum repeaters”—devices that measure the quantum properties of photons as they arrive and then transfer these properties to new photons that are sent on their way. This preserves entanglement, allowing it to hop from one repeater to the next. However, this technology is highly experimental and several years from commercial exploitation.

So another option is to create the entangled pairs of photons in space and broadcast them to two different base stations on the ground. These base stations then become entangled, allowing them to swap messages with perfect secrecy.

In 2017, a Chinese satellite called Micius showed for the first time that entanglement can indeed be shared in this way. It turns out that photons can travel much further in this scenario because only the last 20 kilometers or so of the journey is through the atmosphere, provided the satellite is high in the sky and not too close to the horizon.

Khatri and co say that a constellation of similar satellites is a much better way to create a global quantum internet. The key is that to communicate securely, two ground stations must be able to see the same satellite at the same time so that both can receive entangled photons from it....
I won't extract the next few paragraphs, detailed the new paper's calculations as to how many satellites at what orbit would be needed, and cut to the conclusions:
Khatri and co suggest that the best compromise is a constellation of at least 400 satellites flying at an altitude of around 3,000 kilometers. By contrast, GPS operates with 24 satellites.

Even then, the maximum distance between base stations will be limited to about 7,500 kilometers. This means that such a system could support secure messaging between London and Mumbai, which are 7,200 km apart, but not between London and Houston, 7,800 km apart—or indeed between any cities that are farther apart. That’s a significant drawback.

Nevertheless, a space-based quantum internet significantly outperforms ground-based systems of quantum repeaters, say Khatri and co. Repeaters would have to be spaced at intervals of less than 200 kilometers, so covering long distances would require large numbers of them. This introduces its own set of limitations for a quantum internet. “We thus find that satellites offer a significant advantage over ground-based entanglement distribution,” say Khatri and co.
That's pretty fascinating, and it sounds like China is really interested in it.  Maybe Huawei will build it! 

Friday, January 10, 2020

He doesn't look or sound well

I didn't watch much of his (Thursday morning?) post-airbase attack speech from the White House, but did notice the (now quite common) slight slur of words that comes when he is trying to stick to script, like he has false teeth that don't quite fit, or something.   Many Lefties talk about his sniffing a lot during these speeches, but I tend to think that may well be a nervous tic that comes from, well, just sticking to script.

The attempt at Messiah image, by his coming out of the room with the light behind him, was just too, too obvious; and somewhat offset by the awkward appearance of the "disciples" behind him:

...especially that top brass to the right of him in the photo - he always looks like he hasn't slept for 2 weeks and is on the verge of panic, if you ask me.

But this subsequent photo from another event also makes Trump look pretty unwell:

 And it's not just one photo:

At the very least, he looks very, very tired.  But given the somewhat mysterious recent visit to a hospital, I think there is reason to suspect he is not well with an ongoing condition.

Yes, there is a small corner of Lefties who go on about how any sniff means he's doing cocaine, or he obviously has dementia, or whatever.   I don't think it has any real widespread traction though.

Unlike, of course, the utter conviction that existed amongst Right wingnuts that Hilary Clinton was on her death bed, virtually, during the campaign.  

We can be 100% certain that if Hilary Clinton were President, showing the same speech tics and with blue bags under her eyes like Trump, the Wingnut Right would be speaking about it all day, every day.