Thursday, January 17, 2019

Protestants, Catholics and suicide

An interesting article at AEON talking about something that is apparently well known in certain circles, but of which I was unaware:
In his classic Le suicide (1897), Durkheim presented aggregate indicators suggesting that Protestantism was a leading correlate of suicide incidence. The proposition that Protestants have higher suicide rates than Catholics has been ‘accepted widely enough for nomination as sociology’s one law’.
Protestant countries today still tend to have substantially higher suicide rates. This fact suggests that the relation of religion and suicide remains a vital topic. Every year, more than 800,000 people commit suicide worldwide, making it a leading cause of death, in particular among young adults.
The article looks at research on suicide rates in 19th century Prussia, when apparently there were careful records kept, and it was also easy to account for the mix of Protestant and Catholics in different counties.  The research apparently confirmed the Protestant suicide connection:
As a consequence of this geographic pattern of diffusion, the share of Protestants is higher near Wittenberg. So is the suicide rate. The share of Protestants in a county is clearly positively associated with the suicide rate. The average suicide rate is notably higher in all-Protestant counties than in all-Catholic counties. Numerically, the difference in suicides between religious denominations in Prussia is huge: suicide rates among Protestants (at 18 per 100,000 people per year) are roughly three times higher than among Catholics.
OK, interesting.

Next up, I would like some sociological/economic research on why some intensely Catholic countries develop well entrenched criminal gangs that will cause death and mayhem on a remarkable scale, while the gang members still nominally think of themselves as decent Catholics - the Mafia in Italy, the drug cartels in Mexico and some other Central and South American countries; the corruption in The Philippines.  Is it just a case of Catholicism not being as good as Protestantism at creating wealth, so the poverty in those countries is the breeding ground for criminal gangs?

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

More on American driving safety (or lack thereof)

Further to my recent post about the (not widely know?) fact that America has become a terrible place, comparatively, for traffic accident deaths, I've Googled up a bit more.

Remarkably, the American situation is one where their safety figures show remarkable comparative deterioration.  There was a 2017 article in the New York Times explaining this:
It didn’t used to be this way. A generation ago, driving in the United States was relatively safe. Fatality rates here in 1990 were roughly 10 percent lower than in Canada and Australia, two other affluent nations with a lot of open road.

Over the last few decades, however, other countries have embarked on evidence-based campaigns to reduce vehicle crashes. The United States has not. The fatality rate has still fallen here, thanks partly to safer vehicles, but it’s fallen far less than anywhere else.

As a result, this country has turned into a disturbing outlier. Our vehicle fatality rate is about 40 percent higher than Canada’s or Australia’s. The comparison with Slovenia is embarrassing. In 1990, its death rate was more than five times as high as ours. Today, the Slovenians have safer roads.
Some evidence that Americans don't realise this - the writer of the article didn't know either:
I was unaware of this country’s newfound outlier status until I recently started reporting on the rise of driverless cars.
As to the specific factors behind the higher death rate:
“The overwhelming factor is speed,” says Leonard Evans, an automotive researcher. Small differences in speed cause large differences in harm. Other countries tend to have lower speed limits (despite the famous German autobahn) and more speed cameras. Install enough cameras, and speeding really will decline.

But it’s not just speed. Seatbelt use is also more common elsewhere: One in seven American drivers still don’t use one, according to the researchers Juha Luoma and Michael Sivak. In other countries, 16-year-olds often aren’t allowed to drive. And “buzzed driving” tends to be considered drunken driving. Here, only heavily Mormon Utah has moved toward a sensible threshold, and the liquor and restaurant lobbies are trying to stop it.
There are graphs in the article indicating that Americans are much, much more likely to be speeding or not wearing a seat belt than in a couple of comparable European countries.

I wonder how seatbelt wearing compares to Australia?  Well, this recent report says that 8% of Queenslanders do not wear one - which is higher than I expected - but the NYT article suggests it is 15% of Americans.    Given the report goes on to say that in Queensland, a quarter of fatalities involved people unrestrained, the lack of seatbelt wearing must be a huge factor in the high US fatality rate.

So why does America not make the legislative changes that have worked so well in other countries?:
The political problem with all of these steps, of course, is that they restrict freedom, and we Americans like freedom. To me, the freedom to have a third beer before getting behind the wheel — or to drive 15 miles an hour above the limit — is not worth 30 lives a day. But I recognize that not everyone sees it this way.
I find this quite surprising that it is not a bigger issue in the country - do libertarian types there really argue against measures that can so clearly be shown to have dropped death rates in other nations?  

The evidence would seem to be in that freedom kills.  

Update:   thought I should check what American seat belt laws exist.  Turns out that it's a complete dog's breakfast: 
There are mandatory safety belt laws in all states except New Hampshire. In some states, these laws cover front-seat occupants only, but belt laws in 29 states and the District of Columbia cover all rear-seat occupants, too. 
Belt use laws in only 34 states and the District of Columbia are primary, meaning police may stop vehicles solely for belt law violations. In other jurisdictions, police must have some other reason to stop a vehicle before citing an occupant for failing to buckle up. 

British madness

What's at the heart of the British nuttiness at the moment?   Why is Jeremy Corbin so wishy washy on an alternative path forward?   Why aren't there more Remainers in Parliament openly pushing for another referendum?  I missed that Politico had an article late last year that listed 8 different "Brexit tribes" within the Tories!  How is that not a embarrassing shambles for the party as a whole?     Why did the pound go up after May's loss - surely the only explanation is finance and business hoping that it means that the whole idea might be abandoned?  And what about libertarians and Brexit?   I get the impression that ones like Helen Dale like the idea in principle, but aren't open enough to admit they didn't understand the complexity and that in retrospect it was a dud idea from the start.   (She apparently wrote about it in the Australian recently?   But she spends most of her time on Twitter just complaining that she's sick of the whole thing.)  I see that Nick Cohen took a stick to libertarian influence on the poll last November.

Despite debate over how the question would be structured, polling indicates that if you do it with multiple choices on a first past the post basis, as their politicians are elected,  the Remainers would win.

But then again, perhaps a good case can be made for it being the first past the post elections behind the whole problem with UK politics generally.   I certainly get the feeling Australians feel better represented for having preferential voting.

Forget about it

I bet Sabine Hossenfelder is not impressed:
Plans for a machine that would dwarf the Large Hadron Collider have been drawn up by researchers at Cern to take over the baton in the search for new physics in the latter half of the century.

The €20bn (£17.8bn) machine, named the Future Circular Collider, would smash particles together inside a 100km (62 mile) tunnel, making it four times the size of the LHC, which at present is the largest scientific instrument on the planet.

The proposal for the FCC is described in a conceptual design report released on Tuesday by Cern, the particle physics laboratory near Geneva. It comes at a time when physicists around the world are considering where to build the next cutting-edge particle collider, with other machines under discussion in Japan and China.
Look, particle physicists - that type of money will, at that the time you want to spend it, be better used to do something about climate change.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

How Americans die

Yeah, that American opioid death situation is not improving much:
For the first time in U.S. history, a leading cause of deaths — vehicle crashes — has been surpassed in likelihood by opioid overdoses, according to a new report on preventable deaths from the National Safety Council.
Americans now have a 1 in 96 chance of dying from an opioid overdose, according to the council's analysis of 2017 data on accidental death. The probability of dying in a motor vehicle crash is 1 in 103.
"The nation's opioid crisis is fueling the Council's grim probabilities, and that crisis is worsening with an influx of illicit fentanyl," the council said in a statement released Monday.
Fentanyl is now the drug most often responsible for drug overdose deaths, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in December. And that may only be a partial view of the problem: Opioid-related overdoses also have been undercounted by as much as 35 percent, according to a study published last year in the journal Addiction.
Mind you, I was surprised to realise recently how poor the road death rate is in the US compared to Australia:
After spiking higher for two straight years, traffic deaths in the United States pulled back slightly in 2017, according to a new report by the National Safety Council.
The NSC estimates there were 40,100 motor vehicle deaths last year, which would be a drop of about 1 percent from the total of 40,327 in 2016.
On a population basis, it is extraordinarily bad compared to, well, just about everywhere:



Disturbing to watch

I've confessed before to occasionally wasting time on Reddit.

Last weekend, at the top of the popular list for a while was one of the more disturbing things you're ever likely to see there - and close to 100% of commenters were appalled:  a group of (temporarily) relatively attractive looking high school girls (with some money in their families, by the looks of the car) smoking meth before going into school.

There must be a fair chance the families will see this?   Or is it old and been posted as a cautionary thing by one of the participants?   Anyway, it's puzzling as to why the video is on line at all.

Nutty floating anthropology

Somehow, in the 1970's, I missed reading about an ill fated experiment in which an anthropologist picked a set of people to float across the Atlantic with him on a raft to see if there would be sex based conflict. 

The Guardian talks about it in the context of a documentary that has been made. 

Monday, January 14, 2019

Weekend stuff

*  Watched the well reviewed Charlie Kaufman movie Adaptation on the weekend, which features not one but two Nicholas Cages.    A bit meh, if you ask me.   I have never seen Being John Malkovitch, I have to admit, which might be a better movie.   But Adaptation is a bit too transparent in concept and how it came about - I remembered reading a bit at the time that Kaufman did get a bad case of writers block when trying to adapt the real book about orchids that features in the movie.   So he put the writers block in the screenplay, and also his anxiety about being a unique Hollywood voice and not following the industry idea, embodied by Robert McKee, that movies really only work best with 3 act stories with conflict that is to be resolved by the end.

The end result is a movie that is about writers block being resolved with a silly 3rd act that pretends it's like what Hollywood would come up for the resolution.

Robert McKee, I learned after watching it, did advise Kaufman on fixing his 3rd act on his first draft - and it's a bit puzzling to wonder whether McKee still sees the ending as ironic or not.   (He must, surely.)

Anyway, it's a case of being too meta for its own good.   Or not being innovatively meta enough, perhaps.

* The Gold Coast was looking very nice on Sunday.   Must actually swim next time.

The Washington Post has an article looking back at the Boston molasses disaster of 1919 - a huge tank of the sticky stuff broke and the flood killed 21 people and injured 150.   A very unique disaster.

*  Oh look - the New Yorker has an article asking "Is Marijuana as Safe as We Think?"  Lots of cautionary warnings there, and my strong, strong hunch remains that American style liberalisation of marijuana laws will be seen as a public health mistake within a couple of decades.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Friday random thoughts

*  2018 seemed to be the year of bisexual women characters turning up in US TV shows - and always dealt with in a non-judgemental, this is just normal, sort of way.  I'm thinking Rosa on Brooklyn Nine-Nine, the frequent bisexual interests of Eleanor in The Good Place, and the (OK, she's just lesbian, now that I think of it) glove wearing sister in Haunting of Hill House.   I don't know - but it feels a bit faddish to me.

* While talking sexualities, I've never read anything about why the service industries seem to be the "go to" jobs for so many gay men?   Once again, flying at Christmas, the extremely obvious sexuality of the male flight attendants, as well as one of the concierges at the hotel, and even a guy serving us at Malaysian McDonalds of all places, made me wonder about this.  I suppose I should Google the topic instead of just asking out loud.  I just don't get the connection between "I'm gay, and I really want to serve people".

*  Gawd, I didn't start writing this with these topics in mind, but I now I see that Benjamin Law is getting publicity in The Guardian for his show which I think is way over-rated by the usual sort of people who find any comedy with a sympathetic gay theme to be brilliant.

*  Should I see Aquaman at the cinema?  My son is dubious, but it is a genuine box office hit.  (It's going to break the billion dollar barrier, surprisingly.)  I don't really expect it to be great, but perhaps a bit weirdly amusing enough.

* Oh, someone at The Guardian reads Catallaxy - and notes "former IPA man" (former?) Sinclair Davidson's comments about the right wing rally last weekend.   He missed the Davidson "I'll make a weirdly eccentric claim that even the nutty conservatives reading Catallaxy think is over the top, and  then not justify it" comment of the week -
Gavin – people who advocate a two-state solution are anti-Semitic.
 I like it when he makes a big statement that leaves even the readers of that blog backing away slowly, which is pretty much what they did in that thread.

Oddly, he also posted about a vegetarian topic (noting the Impossible Burger) the same week I have - and sent the nuts in comments into a frenzy because how dare anyone suggest that making a "fake meat" burger that people want to eat is not a bad idea.   Next thing, socialists will be banning meat, don't you know?

It is the nuttiest collection of stupid right wingers in Australia.

 

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Deep ocean warming, and cooling

There was a paper in Science last week that seems to have attracted no media attention, even though it is not what most people would expect.  (A paper on ocean heating in PNAS did hit news outlets, but this is different.)

Apparently, the deep ocean in the Pacific is still cooling (slightly), while the Atlantic depths have been heating, and at a much faster comparative rate.  The reason is quite surprising - it takes a long, long time for top water to circulate to the bottom in the Pacific, and so cooling from centuries ago is still affecting its depths:
At depths below 2000 m, the Atlantic warms at an average rate of 0.1°C over the past century, whereas the deep Pacific cools by 0.02°C over the past century....
Deep Atlantic waters are directly replenished by their formation in the North Atlantic, but deep Pacific waters must propagate from the Atlantic and Southern oceans. Radiocarbon observations (11) indicate that most waters in the deep Atlantic were last at the surface 1 to 4 centuries ago, whereas most deep Pacific waters have longer memory due to isolation from the atmosphere for 8 to 14 centuries (6). As a result of differing response times, Atlantic temperature trends reflect warming over recent centuries, including that associated with anthropogenic influences, whereas the Pacific is still cooling as a consequence of ongoing replacement of Medieval Warm Period waters by Little Ice Age waters.
The paper indicates that their modelling and re-examination of some records indicate that surface cooling from the Little Ice Age is a good explanation of the deep Pacific cooling.

I gather, from looking at the diagram in the paper, that the total increase in heat in the Atlantic depths means that, on average, the global total ocean depths are still heating.   But it certainly appears that (like sea level rise), deep ocean heating is much "lumpier" when you look at the regions than I would have guessed. 

Science in India

I did post last year about how Hindu fundamentalists in India - including the PM! - believe silly things in the same way Creationist Christians do:
During the 2014 inauguration of a hospital in Mumbai, Modi pointed to the scientific achievements documented by ancient religious texts and spoke of Ganesha, a Hindu deity with an elephant’s head: “We worship Lord Ganesha, and maybe there was a plastic surgeon at that time who kept the head of an elephant on the torso of a human. There are many areas where our ancestors made large contributions.” Modi did not respond to a request from Reuters that he expand on this remark.
and now, Hindu "ancient science" beliefs got an airing at an Indian science congress:
At this year's annual meeting of the Indian Science Congress from Jan. 3 to 7, senior research scientist Kannan Jagathala Krishnan dismissed Albert Einstein's theory of relativity as "a big blunder" and said Isaac Newton didn't really understand how gravity works.
Nageswara Rao, a vice chancellor at Andhra University in South India, said that Ravana, a demon god with 10 heads, had 24 kinds of aircraft of varying sizes and capacities — and that India was making test-tube babies thousands of years ago.
Dinosaurs were created by the Hindu god Brahma, said Ashu Khosla, a scientist with expertise in paleontology at Panjab University in the North Indian city of Chandigarh.
Not exactly the kind of remarks you would expect at an event whose mission is to advance and further the cause of science, to stimulate discussion on scientific theories and to create an awareness of science-related issues, especially among children — and that is funded by the Indian government's Ministry of Science and Technology.
Krishnan, Rao and Khosla were addressing a group of 5,000 children assembled from all over the country at the event's Children's Science Congress. Their lectures were posted on YouTube and reported widely by the press. The congress organizers were red-faced, and the scientific community in India was outraged. 
 

Vegetarianism and counting lives

By way of update to my last post, speculating on the relevance of the number of animal lives lost to meat eating, I see that the Dalai Lama has been quoted on the same topic:
An Indian friend told me that his young daughter has been arguing with him that it is better to serve one cow to ten people than to serve chicken or other small animals, since more lives would be involved. In the Indian tradition, beef is always avoided, but I think there is some logic to her argument. Shrimp, for example, are very small. For one plate, many lives must be sacrificed. To me, this is not at all delicious. I find it really awful, and I think it is better to avoid these things. If your body needs meat, it may be better to eat bigger animals.
Come on:   why did he have to choose prawns as an example?   If you're going to start worrying about prawns' lives too much from an ethical point of view, you're well on the slippery slope to fretting about whether you accommodate cockroaches and termites in your house.  Or bacteria in that infection in your foot.

I never really did trust this Dalai Lama - who himself is not a strict vegetarian, I see.  (For health reasons, but I also have read that Tibetan Buddhism, due to the great difficulty of having access to vegetables there, is not a branch that has ever been hung up about avoiding meat.)

Anyway, it still seems to me to be a good question - is it better to eat one relatively smart cow that has had a pretty free range, happy life for a number of years, or (say) 30 not very bright chickens that have been raised in a shed for 7 weeks and never seen the light of day?    And what if raising the chickens produces less CO2 and greenhouse gases?   




Wednesday, January 09, 2019

Worrying about my food

I noticed this tweet via Andrew Revkin over the holidays:


I'm starting to get worried that I'm starting to develop a guilty conscience over meat eating.

I'm not entirely sure of the metrics I use to avoid worrying about animal life and suffering.   Can 7 weeks as a broiler hen in a shed ever be called a happy life?   Should I worry too much about what a hen would like to be doing, given that left alone, they'll spend a lot of time fighting other hens anyway (depending on living conditions, though, I guess.)   But what about the rooster chicks in the egg industry who get conveyor-belted into a grinder while they are still cheeping because they were born with the wrong genitals?  Is that more or less "tragic" than  being fed in a shed for 6 weeks purely to put on weight and having bodies that couldn't cope in the wild anyway?   

And 65 billion chickens a year killed to satisfy our fried chicken lust?  Seems a bit, well, excessive.  I mean, we do factor in numbers in assessing degree of tragedy involving death - should that also apply in some complicated fashion to working out if the egg industry or the broiler meat industry is the "worst" in terms of least justified termination of animal lives?

Look, I don't think I am ever in any danger of worrying about interfering with the life (or life enjoyment) of a prawn, or fish.   But when it comes to mammals and chickens, it's starting to feel complicated. 

Perhaps I should feel more sympathy for relatively smart creatures like cattle fearing what's coming at the abattoir, but at least they have gotten "more out of life" by having lived in the sunshine for a number of years before meeting their fate.   (At least in this country.) 

But back to the other hand - in terms of environmental impact, I think it's pretty well acknowledged that chicken does way less harm than big mammal farming.

And if I concede on chicken, there is a danger I'll start to fret about certain things further down the evolutionary scale - I recently saw this at the back of food market in Chinatown, Singapore:



Now look, I don't even like frogs, but looking at a bunch piled up, some peering out of the cage; one with its little, um, hand on the wire:


...and I felt sorry for them.   Of course, they are probably big enough that they would eat a small mouse given half a chance, and I like mice a lot more than I like frogs, so that would change my feelings again. 

Anyway.

I remember reading an essay by Paul Johnson in a collection he put out a decade or so ago, written probably in his 70's, in which he said ageing had made him feel more sympathetic to all life, and that he found himself even giving flies a chance to escape out of the window before reaching for the spray. 

I'm getting a bit worried I am heading the same way... 




This is really bad news

The number of really dangerous irukandji mini-jellyfish stings is really up this year in South East Queensland, and the warnings are that they are only likely to continue heading south.

If people, in 20 years times, are going to be worried about stings requiring hospitalisation from swimming at, say, my beloved Noosa Heads, it will be pretty bad for tourism.

Twenty-two people have been hospitalised this summer with Irukandji stings – which are so severe they can cause brain haemorrhages and a debilitating sensation of impending doom, known as Irukandji syndrome....
....the potentially fatal Irukandji stings – especially near Queensland’s Fraser Island – are sparking the most concern.
Prof Jamie Seymour from James Cook University said the density of Irukandji, a species of box jellyfish, and the rate of stings had been steadily growing in southern Queensland as sea waters warmed.
“We published a paper some years back looking at Irukandji syndrome in Queensland and we had a look at the number of stings,” he said. “Fifty years ago the southernmost sting for Irukandji was in the Whitsundays, and now the southernmost sting is Mooloolaba beach. And if you look at the number of stings at Fraser Island, they are steadily increasing. More and more animals are getting down there....
“In Queensland alone, we put more people in hospital due to Irukandji stings than shark attacks, crocodile attacks and snake bites combined. This is something that we need to address now. I can see a time when we have to shut major beaches on the Sunshine Coast. It is going to happen.”
He added that the current spate of stings at Fraser Island was due to “a perfect storm” of conditions: warmer water, more Irukandji and more people in the ocean during the Christmas holidays.
“You have hot water down there which is 29 or 30C, which is unheard of,” he said. “The animals love that sort of thing. The people being stung are on the western side of Fraser Island, where it is nice and calm, and this has coincided with the Christmas break where you have more people in the water.”

The new socialists

Of course, I think the rise of American youth and politicians labelling themselves as "socialist" is mostly a function of the American Right going nuts and so stupid and extreme that it has made the use of the formerly dubious label look reasonable in response.    (Part of this being the way the Right itself, using it foolishly as a boogeyman scare word - whereby other Western nations' health care systems are "socialist medicine"  for example - have drained it of its historical meaning,  and the reaction tends to be "if that's socialism, count me in!")

But it would seem that Jacobin magazine, which I have noticed being tweeted by respectable people like Peter Whiteford, might be able to claim some of the credit too.   

Here's a lengthy article, which I must admit I haven't read carefully yet, about its creator.

  


Tuesday, January 08, 2019

Trans, gay and snowflake all in one day

I've been watching SBS/Viceland a lot lately, and I don't think that it is conceivably possible for the network to give any greater promotion to that British "we've got a transgender boy/girl and we have to fight for his right to stop puberty" drama, Butterfly.    (I have the read the synopsis, and that is indeed what it is about.)   It's hard to believe that people who have seen the same ad about 5,000 times over the space of a few weeks could possibly still want to see the actual show, such is the annoyance factor of such intense repeat exposure.

It's also extremely hard for me not to see the show as assisting to promote at least some degree of social contagion of the idea that gender issues are at the heart of many emotionally fragile children's unhappiness.   And it's coming from Britain - which, I am sure I have noted some years ago in one of my more "cranky conservative" sounding assessments - seems to have transformed in the space of 50 years from the nation that used to go out of its way to unnecessarily punish gay men, to the one which is the most intensely celebratory of everything gay/transgender.    Is it all down to the public school system?   There must be some explanation.  

And when SBS is not running the Buterfly promo, it's likely showing the other extreme high rotation advertisement, the one for a new series of  Benjamin Law's slight autobiographical comedy The Family Law.   While Law himself seems witty and smart when I occasionally see him on TV,  this show about a younger version of himself is dull, not very funny, and barely worthy of a light comedy budget -  even though it may give some deserving Australian Asian actors a badly needed income.   The latest series seems to have the young Law coming out to his family, dressing gayly, and screaming as his mother opens the door while he's doing - something.   Gee, never seen something like that gag before.  The ads make it look very tired and past its use by date. 

That said, it's no where near as bad as some past SBS "home grown" content -  anyone would have to admit, Housos made The Family Law look like Altman in comparison.  I have no idea what goes on in the comedy commissioning mind of SBS - but it's not good.

And back to Britain:   that PR campaign for the Army would have to be the most ill conceived and readily mocked advertising idea since - doh, I'll get back to you as soon as I think of a more atrocious advertising idea.  Apparently, the "snowflake" soldier is threatening to quit, and the someone from an advertising agency (who I like to hear in the voice of Rick in The Young Ones)  gives some delightfully British wanky defence of it all:  
Although, for Dan Cullen-Shute, chief executive and founder of creative shop Creature of London the ads have "got everyone talking".

"It also looks beautiful. I make no apology for applauding that," he wrote in The Drum.

Responding to criticism on Twitter that the campaign copy had been written "by an old man", Shute added: "I don’t believe you have to be the target audience to write about the target audience. I know that’s a slightly contentious belief to hold nowadays, but I stand by it.

"It’s our job in advertising to understand people brilliantly, and then to craft compelling stuff that makes them think, act, or feel differently.
Yeah.

To be honest, the campaign is an embarrassment but in an interesting way.  It's like you can hear the pitch for it in the boardroom:   "we need to reassure the self involved, overly sensitive, short attention span, annoying youngsters of today that we can see what's good and worthy deep inside of them"; but in execution it's impossible not to read the posters as meaning just "Hey, if you're an annoying young prat, like the arrogant jock pictured here, come work for us. We love arrogant prats."


Monday, January 07, 2019

Amuses me

Headline at The Onion:

Hillary Launches Campaign To Raise $100 Million Or Else She’ll Run For President

Opium wars revisited

While not knowing a lot about it, I have always wondered why the West, generally speaking, doesn't seem to spend any time feeling at least a bit guilty about the Opium War of the 19th century.

There's a handy summary of what led to it, including opposition to the idea in Britain, in this review at TLS.   Good to know that it was controversial in its day.   For example:
And as news of opium seizures and rumours of war reached the British public, which previously had little knowledge of the business, a vocal movement against opium and conflict with China quickly mobilized. The strongest, and best-organized, opposition came from working-class activists and the Chartist reform movement, which recognized the parallels between opium use abroad and gin abuse at home as methods of capitalist control. After Elliot’s convoy opened fire on a fleet of Chinese war junks while repairing from Macao to Hong Kong – the preliminary battle of the Opium War – an editorial in The Charter condemned “this contemptible category of businessmen and politicians . . . who behave like thieves and bullies gloating over the prospects of the bloodshed”.

Some critics feared that Britain was risking its entire future trade for the vaguest, most impetuous goals, as national self-regard consumed long-term strategic thinking. Others focused on the military consequences of engaging the Chinese, warning that it wouldn’t be as easy an affair as pro-war advocates like Jardine had argued. Platt quotes the opinion of an English captain of the Hyderabad army, who conceded that in the short run a small British expedition could invade China, but “what then would be gained?” other than provoking the Qing dynasty into mobilizing its vast resources and turning itself into a formidable power against which “the combined nations of Europe would hardly compete”.

When Parliament finally took up the question of war in April 1840, those opposed to attacking China were scattered throughout the benches. Some, like the former Whig-turned-Tory MP James Graham, conjured the Sinomania of the eighteenth century, designating China a civilized part of the earth, where language, laws and feelings of pride had been transmitted without interruption for centuries, and whose people boasted “of their education, of their printing, of the civilisation, of their arts, all the conveniences and many of the luxuries of life existing there, when Europe was still sunk in barbarism, and when the light of knowledge was obscure in this western hemisphere”. From the other side, the Secretary at War and arch promoter of empire, Thomas Macaulay, countered that the Chinese were brutes slowing the inexorable tailwinds of History. Perhaps the most surprising intervention came from George Staunton, who as a young boy had accompanied Macartney’s ill-fated mission to China in 1793, during which he had spoken briefly with the Emperor. He was Britain’s leading Sinologist, and had done more than anyone to promote respectful opinions of China. But he was a patriot, too, and a great believer in British prestige, which, in the end, countermanded his Oriental sympathies. As he saw it, the Empire was held together by force of opinion, and any show of weakness in China could ripple out and distress the foundations of British rule in India. Lin’s provocations harmed British trade in China, he said, but they also challenged the imperium as a whole.

MPs voted 271 to 262 in favour of war, a “lukewarm” blessing in Platt’s words. The irony was that most of the Canton trades didn’t much care about the events of 1839, and the showdown between Lin and Elliot. They just wanted to be compensated for the opium they had lost, something Elliot promised the British government would see to. But there were those among them for whom British force served grander commercial aims, including free access to ports and the coastline, as well as favourable treaties that boosted trade. Jardine worked sub rosa to ensure that a war for reparations became a war that would crack China open to commerce.

Read the whole thing, though.

Time and physics

Two arXiv papers that have caught my attention:

From someone working in Sao Paulo, Brazil, this one is hard to follow after the introduction, and I have no idea whether there are any grounds to suspect a "compactified special time co-ordinate" really exists.  Still, sounds interesting:

*  Sometimes I read arXiv papers which I think are likely to be considered important - even though it seems I am not often right.  [I still want to know what other physicists thought of this paper from China that I noticed nearly two ago, as it seemed to say something important about quantum mechanics fundamentals.  But I have read nothing about it.] 

Anyway, here I'll take a stab at another paper that seems to have a potentially important idea:  Time Dilation as Quantum Tunneling Time. 

The abstract doesn't do it justice.   The point seems to be that (although I think this is perhaps a controversial point) experiments have shown that quantum tunneling is not instantaneous, and this may have big implications:
 Tunneling times of 80-100 attosecs were measured for their system. Tunneling can in some sense be understood as the collapse of a superposition of two spatial location for a particle. The wave function represents the probability that a particle can exist in various locations. For a particle with a finite barrier interposing itself on the wave function, some of those locations will be outside of the barrier and some inside. Thus it can be said to exist in a superposition of being behind the barrier and outside of it. The collapse of this superposition is what is measured when tunneling time is measured. Given this, one might expect that the collapse of a state function for entangled states also wouldn’t occur instantaneously. Generally this could imply that the update to quantum mechanical state information requires a non-zero time. The question of non-zero collapse time for an entangled pair can and should be settled by experiment as it was done for quantum tunneling time. If this is true then we have a mechanism which could explain the microscopic relative behavior of time in a higher mass-energy location.  ....

They then have a go at suggesting they can derive the mass energy time dilation formula based on the quantum tunneling time, and they seem to come up with a plausible result. Here's the discussion at the end:
This attempt to derive the mass-energy time dilation equation using the tunneling time formula from quantum mechanics has the appeal that one can recover a believable quantum correlation distance proportional to the causal light cone. As well as a vacuum energy density consistent with older and higher estimates is also recovered. This might be significant since a large issue in reconciling quantum mechanics with General relativity has been accounting for the large vacuum energy density predicted by quantum mechanics. Here the large energy density follows, as a natural consequence of this derivation.
Starting with the gravitational time dilation equation one should be able to re-derive Einstein’s field equations. Here the governing idea is that mass-energy slows the update of quantum states due to the finite time it takes to update quantum correlations in parallel. It is this differential in time updates which drives the emergence of the force of gravitation.
But whether this is just another theoretical physics mis-step - who knows?
  

Sunday, January 06, 2019

A very, very late movie review - Barry Lyndon

I had noticed ages ago that Barry Lyndon was on Netflix, and I've lived in fear for months that I would check again when finally deciding to watch it only to find it had been removed.

But happily (sort of), I have been feeling a bit under the weather for a few days and decided yesterday to really rest properly, which presented the perfect opportunity to spent an afternoon in front of the TV.

In short, I reckon it's very good; much lighter in tone and more enjoyable than I expected.

Down memory lane for a moment - I think at the time it came out (1975) my mother might still have bought some long defunct movie magazine and I may have first read about it there.   (She didn't go to the movies all that often, but I think it was more a case of really liking to see photos of her favourite stars - such as Paul Newman and [especially] Robert Redford.)   So I have long known its reputation for painterly composition and leisurely pace.  The technical innovations that allowed for a lot of scenes to be shot in natural candlelight I perhaps read about later.   I also have long known it didn't exactly attract a big audience on first release.

It is considerably better than that reputation - although I can see how the downbeat ending (which I presume comes from the book) may have left audiences feeling a bit underwhelmed.  (Actually, the Wikipedia entry on it says that critic's views of the film have been revised upwards since it first appeared, so my positive feeling towards it is not alone.)

Most significantly, I think it's Kubrick's most realistic depiction of human character.   I've long said he seemed to have real trouble writing normal human behaviour and character, not that it meant his films could not be great for other reasons.   But there does seem to me to be a lot of ordinary humanity in much of Barry Lyndon, and it's pleasing to see.

One very obvious thing that keeps happening in the film (especially in the first half - or did I just stop noticing it so much in the second half?) is a gradual zoom out to show the larger vista.  I'm not sure what the thinking behind the repeated use is, but it is not displeasing.

Oh, that's right - now that I Google it, I think I might have watched this Youtube commentary (I'll link to it at a Reddit thread devoted to the topic) about this aspect of the movie years ago, and it has a really good go at explaining the significance of its use.   Sounds pretty convincing to me, and also makes me glad I'm not a student of film having to come up with my own interpretations of cinematic language and intent!

Other things the movie made me Google:

*  whatever happened to Ryan O'Neal?   I didn't  think he was too bad in the movie, even though it seems many critics felt the acting could have been better.  I had forgotten entirely what a troubled personal life O'Neal has had.  He's 77 and still with us, but both he and at least his son has had frequent trouble with drug use, sleeping around a lot and generally dissolute behaviour.   Looking back, it's actually easy to argue that he has followed something like a downwards trajectory of the character in the movie.

*  what about those stick on beauty spots wore by both women and men in the film?     There are several websites which explain their history and context:  this one is pretty good, and this shorter blog entry mentions that, apart from velvet, they could be made from mouseskin (!), and it also gives the secret code behind facial placement:

the middle of the forehead - dignified
the middle of the cheek - bold
heart shape to the right cheek - married
heart shape to the left cheek - engaged or committed to a lover
touching edge of lower lip - discreet
on nasolabial fold - playful
near corner of the eye - on the look out for a new 'friend’
beside the mouth - will kiss but go no further
And so on….
I wonder what the source of that information is, and whether obsessive Kubrick was ordering placement of the spots on his actors with some knowledge of its code.   (He was such a detail nutter, it would be no surprise if he was.)

*  I see from this lengthy essay that Kubrick cut down the book a lot, which apparently contains much more farcical and roguish behaviour of the title character than appears in the movie. 
So, go watch it if you've missed it and have Netflix.

Friday, January 04, 2019

Catholics in comedy

I seem to have missed last month a column in the Catholic Herald that noted comedians from America who are Catholic (or at least, of Catholic background):
In any case, one area where Catholics have excelled is comedy: Fred Allen, Dom DeLuise, John Candy, Chris Farley, Bob Newhart, Bill Murray, Jimmy Fallon, Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Kimmel, Kevin James, Jay Mohr and a host of others have all practised the Faith with varying degrees of intensity. Bob Hope converted late in life after decades of marriage to his devout wife, Dolores, and endowed two statues of Our Lady of Pontmain: at the parking lot outside his parish church in North Hollywood, and with an accompanying altar and chapel at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC. Naturally, that particular apparition is also called “Our Lady of Hope”.
Well, there are a lot of names there that I did not know had a Catholic background, and although I don't know the work of all, I would have to say that, overall, that list seems to comprise a bunch of quite likeable actors/comedians.   (Did the author cull from the list any that I would find offensive, I wonder?) 

Anyway, just goes to show the value of Catholicism - it might make for nicer comedians.  :)

Economic genius

As he had done previously, Trump tweets as if it is other countries that have to pay tariffs to the US:


I would love to know the percentage of his "base" which thinks this is how tariffs work. 

I would also love to know how any economist (hello, Trump cultist Steve Kates) manages to excuse such lack of knowledge which is, well, about as basic a fact of economic and trade policy as you can get.   Can't any economics adviser get it into the Trump skull that he's making himself look foolish by continually giving the impression that he thinks other countries pay the tariff?

In other, tariff related news, I was interested to read Yglesias's column at Vox suggesting that Apple's problems in China are perhaps not all that tariff related:

Of course, this assumes that Trump’s saber-rattling and tariffs are the real source of Apple’s China sales woes.
There’s some reason to doubt that. After all, in May 2017, before any of this trade stuff was heating up, technology analyst Ben Thompson predicted Apple would suffer iPhone XS sales problems in China, not because of trade but because of WeChat. Chinese people use WeChat for everything, which makes smartphone operating systems less important:
Connie Chan of Andreessen Horowitz tried to explain in 2015 just how integrated WeChat is into the daily lives of nearly 900 million Chinese, and that integration has only grown since then: every aspect of a typical Chinese person’s life, not just online but also off is conducted through a single app (and, to the extent other apps are used, they are often games promoted through WeChat).
There is nothing in any other country that is comparable, particularly the Facebook properties (Facebook, Messenger, and WhatsApp) to which WeChat is commonly compared. All of those are about communication or wasting time: WeChat is that, but it is also for reading news, for hailing taxis, for paying for lunch (try and pay with cash for lunch, and you’ll look like a luddite), for accessing government resources, for business. For all intents and purposes WeChat is your phone, and to a far greater extent in China than anywhere else, your phone is everything.
Whether you own an Android phone or an iPhone, if you’re in China, you are using the same WeChat app to do basically everything. Outside of China, Apple’s sales proposition is phone hardware and a unique operating system. In China, it’s really just the hardware. Thompson predicted this would spell trouble for Apple whenever it tried to market a phone in China that didn’t look new. And right now Apple is trying to market the iPhone XS, a phone that looks identical to the iPhone X.
I did notice on my short holiday to Singapore and Malaysia that Samsung and (more surprisingly) Oppo had a very big store front presence in those countries.  Lots of posters for a new Huawei phone in the Singapore MRT stations, too.  

Yes, it seems Apple has lost the innovation edge.

Update:  a slightly more detailed explanation of the effect of tariffs from Business Insider, just so I can't be accused of not understanding that tariffs may affect Chinese trader's profits indirectly:

“A tariff is a tax on imported goods. Despite what the President says, it is almost always paid directly by the importer (usually a domestic firm), and never by the exporting country,” Gleckman wrote. “Thus, if the US imposes a tariff on Chinese televisions, the duty is paid to the US Customs and Border Protection Service at the border by a US broker representing a US importer, say, Costco.”
Facing a higher cost for the imported goods, US importers can decide to either absorb the increased costs into their margins – thus lowering profits and possibly forcing cost cuts elsewhere – or pass on the cost increases on to consumers to make up the difference.

“A business will, if it can, pass its higher after-tax costs on to consumers,” Gleckman wrote. “Thus, the price of Chinese TVs sold in the US may rise rapidly.”

So while the Treasury Department may be collecting more tax revenue because of the tariffs, most of the money is ultimately coming from US businesses and American consumers, rather than from China.

Ian Shepherdson, the chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, highlighted this problem in a December note to clients after Trump’s tweet in which he dubbed himself “Tariff Man.” The economist said some Chinese exporters may be forced to take lower margins to get their product to the US, but also asserted that American consumers would be the biggest losers.

“Tariffs are a tax on consumers, primarily, though some of the hit might be borne by Chinese exporters, forced to accept lower margins. But for the president to boast that the U.S. is ‘taking in billions’ on tariffs makes no sense at all,” Shepherdson wrote. “The ostensible objective of the tariffs is to force China to negotiate a new trading relationship with the US, not to raise money – from U.S. consumers! – for the federal government.”

Ergas and immigrants

I see, via some extract of it at Catallaxy, that Henry Ergas has written a column in The Australian highlighting a new estimate of the number of unauthorised (well, he uses "illegal") immigrants in the US that is much higher than previous estimates.  Here's what he says:
The conventional wisdom sets that number at 11.3 million; according to the researchers, who applied more accurate estimation methods to recently released data, there are now at least 16.7 million, and more likely 22.1 million, illegal migrants in the US, up from barely 3.3 million in 1990.
That would be a surprisingly large estimate change, which (it's true) did not seem to attract much media attention last year.

So I did a Google search "demographers estimate of number of illegal immigrants in the US" and this came up at the very first link - an abstract of a commentary paper expressing great doubts about the accuracy of the new estimate.   I'll paste it in full:
“The number of undocumented immigrants in the United States: Estimates based on demographic modeling with data from 1990–2016” by Fazel-Zarandi, Feinstein and Kaplan presents strikingly higher estimates of the unauthorized immigrant population than established estimates using the residual method. Fazel-Zarandi et. al.’s estimates range from a low or “conservative” number of 16.7 million unauthorized immigrants, to an “average” of 22.1 million, and to a high of 27.5 million. The Pew Hispanic Center estimated the population at 11.3 million in 2016, and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) estimated it at 12.3 million. The new method shows much more rapid growth in unauthorized immigration during the 1990s and a substantially higher population in 2000 (13.3 million according to their “conservative” model) than Pew (8.6 million) and DHS (8.5 million). In this commentary, we explain that such an estimate for 2000 is implausible, as it suggests that the 2000 Census undercounted the unauthorized immigrant population by at least 42% in the 2000 Census, and it is misaligned with other demographic data. Fazel-Zarandi, Feinstein and Kaplan’s model produces estimates that have a 10 million-person range in 2016, far too wide to be useful for public policy purposes; their estimates are not benchmarked against any external data sources; and their model appears to be driven by assumptions about return migration of unauthorized immigrants during the 1990s. Using emigration rates from the binational Mexican Migration Project survey for the illegal border-crosser portion of the unauthorized population, we generate a 2000 unauthorized population estimate of 8.2 million—slightly below Pew and DHS’s estimates—without changing other assumptions in the model. We conclude that this new model’s estimates are highly sensitive to assumptions about emigration, and moreover, that the knowledge base about emigration in the unauthorized population during the 1990s is not well enough developed to support the model underlying their estimates.

Now, I've only read extracts of Henry's article posted at Catallaxy, but I get the impression that he likely didn't mention the doubts over the methodology of the new estimate, as he does say in the extract above that it was a "more accurate estimation", despite the doubts that were so easy to Google up.

But if I am wrong about Henry looking lazy, let me know....

Another bad idea endorsed by Facebook

Turning up on Twitter yesterday - a lengthy NBC report about the rise of vigilante groups in the US that "catfish" adult sex predators (of children/ teens) and then publicly shame them.

I hadn't heard of this phenomena, but in concept it's been around for a while - even NBC itself apparently doing it a decade ago!:

POPSquad is one of dozens of similar online groups across the country unified by what they say is a mission to expose and shame people they allege are or could become sexual predators, according to an NBC News review of these groups on Facebook. The idea isn’t new — the NBC News “Dateline” show mined the same territory in its special series, “To Catch a Predator,” from 2004 to 2007. Ratings soared, and the network described it as a public service, but in three years the series was over, after drawing negative news coverage, advertiser wariness and a lawsuit from the family of a target who killed himself, which was later settled, with both parties saying only that it had “been amicably resolved."
There have been several copycats of “To Catch a Predator,” including Ontario construction worker Justin Payne, who ensnared dozens of men by 2015. In British Columbia, Ryan LaForge made a name (and a criminal record, pleading guilty to two counts of assault) with his group, Creep Catchers, and in Michigan, Zach Sweers caught potential predators under the name “Anxiety War” until 2016, when he settled two civil lawsuits from targets.
Now, thanks in part to social media, these groups have multiplied rapidly in recent months, propelled by a rabid and growing fanbase, according to law enforcement officials and Facebook data.
The NBC News review found more than 30 similar operations on Facebook across 23 states. Most have formed in the last year, finding an audience and influence on Facebook, where hundreds of thousands of users like and follow them, watch videos of their stings and support their efforts with donations and the purchase of branded merchandise.
Gawd, American media comes up with some patently bad ideas at times.

I have always disliked the idea of vigilante justice, and this is no exception.   While I have no objection at all to police forces setting up on-line predators, I think it is very clear that the motivation of those heading these private groups is one in which they get a power (and publicity) thrill from their activities, and that is obviously a dangerous thing. 

A criminologist quoted in the article goes a bit more high minded about it:
These online hunters are tapping into a hunger for vengeance, said Steven Kohm, a cultural criminologist at the University of Winnipeg.
“Criminal justice used to be emotional and participatory,” Kohm said. “Over the last 100 years, it’s become mostly hidden and dominated by professionals. People are yearning to reconnect with the punitive emotional core of the justice system. These groups focusing on the pedophile, a universally reviled category, helps them connect with the lost aspect of the justice system.”
Maybe:   I'm more inclined towards my own theory.

I mean, look at the background of the guy who started the POPSquad:
Erdmann, who is thin and covered in tattoos, runs POPSquad from an abandoned factory in Bristol, Connecticut. He and four volunteer team members work in an office lit by black lights and security monitors to catfish potential predators, edit videos and maintain the POPSquad website.
A former self-described “hustler,” and staple of the early-aughts Connecticut rap scene, Erdmann later hyped WakeUpNow, a Utah-based multilevel marketing company that targeted the hip-hop community. He is currently on probation for an unrelated 2016 felony drug conviction and now makes money from selling original music along with POPSquad hats and sweatshirts, and soliciting donations from his followers.
“I've been an entrepreneur for a long time,” Erdmann said. "I’m using the same entrepreneur skill sets that I was when I got into trouble, but not the same products. I create the product now."  
Yeah, great motivation I can see there.

What's worse, look at the mealy mouthed justification Facebook gives for hosting these groups:

Facebook told NBC News that it is aware of these groups and does not ban them outright, although much of what they do appears to violate Facebook’s rules against shaming or cyberbullying.
“We want people to use Facebook and our products to raise awareness about threats to public safety, including those who may pose harm to children,” a company spokesperson said in a statement to NBC News. “However, we do not want people to use Facebook to facilitate vigilante violence. That’s why we have policies against threatening real-world harm and to protect people’s privacy if they are being publicly shamed. We will remove content that violates these policies when it is reported.”
Facebook does not allow posts that “reveal personally identifiable information" or amount to cyberbullying, the spokesperson said. The company reviews posts when they are flagged.
After an inquiry from NBC News, Facebook temporarily suspended several predator hunter accounts, removed some individual posts and deleted at least one group entirely. Some groups voluntarily removed their own pages to escape what they saw as a purge. POPSquad appeared to be unaffected.
Facebook really is the pits.

Thursday, January 03, 2019

First physics post of 2019

Gee, Bee Hossenfelder feels pretty triumphant about how arguments from "naturalness", which predicted the Large Hadron Collider would surely find some sign of new physics, have hit the wall hard since it appears very likely that that only thing the LHC will be good for is finding the Higgs boson. 

Here's her post: How the LHC may spell the end of particle physics. 

I see she has also just posted against panpsychism - the somewhat silly idea that all matter is conscious, just some of it more conscious than others.  Not a bad read.

Before Christmas, I noticed a paper on arXiv called Non Locality versus Modified Realism: Convivial Solipsism. 

I see that the author - who I have never heard of before - has been plugging away at this idea for some time now.   It's a somewhat intriguing proposal, I think - hard to describe, but much of the paper was able to be followed.   I may be wrong, but I had the feeling that it was more sensible than Many Worlds interpretation - although still weird.  This particular paper was about its usefulness in restoring "locality" to quantum mechanics.    The abstract:
A large number of physicists now admit that quantum mechanics is a non local theory. EPR argument and the many experiences (including recent loop-hole free tests) showing the violation of Bell's inequalities seem to have confirmed convincingly that quantum mechanics cannot be local. Nevertheless, this conclusion can only be drawn inside a standard realist framework assuming an ontic interpretation of the wave function and viewing the collapse of the wave function as a real change in the physical state of the system. We show that this standpoint is not mandatory and that if the collapse is no more considered as an actual physical change, it is possible to recover locality.

Wednesday, January 02, 2019

Spider-verse reviewed

Perhaps not worth spending too much time on this, but here goes:

*  yes, the animation is continuously impressive, and very clever in concept and execution.  This is the main reason for an adult to see the movie.

*  The story is OK:  I do get the feeling, though, that American critics really go a bit overboard for the father-son reconciliation themes that seem to be a speciality of Phil Lord, who wrote the (also somewhat overrated) Lego Movie.  Rottentomatoes give this 97% though?   A bit extreme.

*  I think the very silly additions (the anime Spider girl, and Spider-ham) were a bit funny, but I think the movie would have been better tonally without them.

*  The worst aspect, by far, was the ridiculous character design of Kingpin; especially when his family was portrayed in the same realistic human fashion as all other characters (Spider-ham and anime girl excepted.)   His wife and son were shown driving in a car which he would have had trouble getting one buttock into.  I really do not understand this decision - it broke any sense of semi-realism in every scene in which he appeared.

* Some of the climatic fight animation was too cluttered for its own good.

*  This post sounds crankier than intended - I don't regret seeing it at all, as I do get quite a kick out of gorgeous, innovative looking animation.  (Unfortunately, the novelty does wear off - Pixar style semi-realism was, for a while, a big motivation to see anything they put out.   That's no longer the case.)     There was also plenty of genuinely good humour in a movie that, like all Spiderman movies really, are good-natured at heart.   So, I don't want to discourage anyone who might be interested from seeing it - it's just that I like to think about how I would improve movies (or TV series.)  And I really did dislike the Kingpin design.

Two returns

Happy New Year, all.

I've been on overseas holiday, hence the blog hiatus.    A holiday post will follow soon - I like writing them, as a form of (hopefully) digitally permanent on-line diary.    I guess other people might use Facebook for that, but here I get to protect privacy to some extent.   

As for another return, I have been reading about the comedian Louis CK.   

I know next to nothing about his style of work, except that I suspected  that I would not like it for the usual reasons I dislike most modern stand up comedy:   the puzzling expectation that a torrent of swearing you would not tolerate in your home (or even at a bar) is funny; the introspection that often embarrassingly discloses a troubled personality beneath the jokes.   I did see him interviewed on Seinfeld's Comedians in Cars show, and he seemed relatively normal, but I still had my doubts.

Anyhow, the first news stories about his surprise "set" at a comedy club were about him mocking the Florida school kid advocates for gun control.  I listened to the recording (via a Twitter link) and found it more about mocking young adults for being too serious about everything today:  that they don't know how to have fun like in his day when he was doing drugs, sleeping around and other stupid stuff.  That's what youth is meant to be about, you know?  What's more, they try to tell others how to speak too, with identity politics probably a bigger target than gun control advocates.

The swearing and crudity of it was beyond my (not optimistic) expectations, and I found it completely unfunny.  As many on Twitter were saying, he was sounding more like a coarse Right wing comedian (maybe an extreme version of PJ O'Rourke's old writings celebrating in a libertarian spirit his youthful stupid behaviour - and certainly unoriginal.  Many in twitter noted the similarity to a set on Youtube by some other male - I think Right wing - comedian I had never heard of with the same "kids of today - what's wrong with them, they're so annoyingly against fun" shtick.)   

But, I thought later, is it possible that Louis was not really "punching down" - as many on Twitter accused him - but mocking his own "old man" attitude?   Some said that his old act always did involve coarse attacks, but in a self aware way.   I don't know, I'm not going to research his old work to find out - but I doubt this explanation.

Today, and the primary reason for this post, is that I read a Slate article which excerpts much more from this stand up set, and it really shows that it was appalling in its entirety.  

Because I don't like repeating swearing on this blog, it's hard to cut and paste anything from the article quoting Louis, but I find the analysis completely convincing, and am utterly puzzled as to how any audience could find him funny.   Has the sudden disclosure of his weird exhibitionist behaviour towards women broken his comedy mind?   But what excuse does the audience have?

Go read the Slate article if you want to be appalled at what some people will laugh at today.

Update:   The Atlantic explains some of the nature of his old comedy act/persona, and is equally appalled at the nature of the leaked "new" Louis CK.  A key section:
Over the years, C.K.’s comedy evolved, as any comic’s will, but at their best and most well known, his jokes were about interrogating himself as a means of interrogating American culture. As C.K. shuffled uncomfortably on stages and sets, clad in rumpled T-shirts and slouchy dad jeans, he served as his own act’s useful idiot: C.K., author and character at once, played the privileged guy who—he’d be the first to admit it—didn’t fully deserve his privilege. It was classic observational humor, bending its lens to examine the warped terrain of C.K.’s own psyche, and while it was winking and postmodern and self-hating and self-elevating, it also contained an implied transaction: Hearing C.K.’s confession would offer, for his audience, its own kind of reconciliation. His performed selfishness could seem, in its twisted way, generous.
But while offense, in that sense, has always been an element of C.K.’s comedy—offense as a means of inflicting discomfort, and thus, the promise went, of illuminating awkward realities—offense, now, is all there is. The layer of alleged truth-telling is entirely missing from the new material. C.K.’s new set, according to its leaked version, doesn’t merely punch down; it stomps, pettily, to the bottom. None of it is smart or brave; it is simply cruel. And yet it tries to justify itself by suggesting that C.K. himself has been the recipient of cruelty. One of the key moments of the leaked set comes when someone, either by walking out or by shooting him a look, seems to question C.K. as he complains about being unable to use the word retarded. C.K. responds with a rant:
    What’re you gonna take away my birthday? My life is over; I don’t give a shit. You          can, you can be offended—it’s okay. You can get mad at me. Anyway.
It’s an old story: The guy who abused others, claiming his own victimhood. 


Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Friday, December 21, 2018

That's what happens when you elect a fragile narcissist

The WAPO sums it up:
Trump has shown time and again that he cares way more about his supporters and his good standing with them than he does about the Republican Party. That has made him an impossible negotiating partner.

When it seemed as if Trump might cave, the right-wing media piled on. Ann Coulter called him “gutless,” and Breitbart News noted Trump’s walk-back of promises from the 2016 campaign (like the fact that “the big, beautiful wall” is now concrete slats). Moreover, Trump’s loyal foot soldiers on Capitol Hill are urging him to reject the spending deal, warning of the major damage it would cause Trump with his base and his 2020 reelection bid. In fact, the leaders of the Freedom Caucus are going to the White House on Thursday afternoon to deliver that message.
Adoration from his base is Trump’s lifeblood. The threat of losing his supporters' affection is enough to make him throw the rest of the GOP and the federal government under the bus. As soon as he started getting criticized by them, he yearned to appease them.

A similar dynamic played out over immigration earlier this year when Schumer offered Trump a deal: funding for his border wall in exchange for a path to citizenship for “dreamers,” the undocumented immigrants brought to America as children. Schumer believed Trump was on board, but as soon as Trump received pushback from his supporters, he turned down the deal.

Which, in a way, is how we got here. Trump never sticks with one line of thinking. His positions are constantly shifting, and he doesn’t provide any lawmakers on Capitol Hill any guidance of where his head is at any moment. The Senate passed a short-term funding bill Wednesday night believing he would sign it and woke up the next morning to find out he wouldn’t.