Monday, September 26, 2016

The Democrat voting libertarian

Will the Left Survive the Millennials? - The New York Times

Oh yeah, I noticed this last week and forgot to pass it on.  Lionel Shriver has her say on the Brisbane Writer's Festival speech, and while most of it is OK, it is mainly of interest because she says she's been a life long "Democratic" voter. 

Doesn't this help confirm what I said when I posted about her column in which she said she identified as a Libertarian?   If you support gun control, think health care like the NHS works well, believe in climate change and have always voted Democrat, you're pretty far from being in the same tent as a libertarian.  If you ask me...

Ailes's long history

I didn't realise that former Fox News sleazemaster Roger Ailes had such a long history of supplying "zingers" to Republican Presidential candidates, until I saw this segment from Samantha Bee's show last night:



(I still don't care that much for her high strung comedy persona on this show, but you can learn things from anyone.) 

Let's get curious

How curiosity can save you from political tribalism – Mind Hacks

I hope that, if nothing else, this blog shows I'm curious about many things, with the exception of 98% of sports, poetry, and...well, I don't know, I'm at least a little interested in most other things.  So, by this criteria, I should not be very tribal when it comes to politics, and I don't think I am.

It's hard to summarise the study, and I'm not even entirely sure how reliable it is, but I like the conclusion.  So go read it.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Spotted wearing the Pauline Spring Collection today at Parliament House...

Well,  you tell me where the views of Bolt and Hanson haven't merged.   (I feel this needs a word or thought bubble somewhere to make it better, but am having trouble with what he should say.  Suggestions welcome...)

Friday, September 23, 2016

Old man writes nonsense

Adam Walinsky, Donald Trump, and the Kennedy Brothers' Dream of Peace - The Atlantic

What a great Fisking [haven't had the chance to use that word for a long time] of a patently silly piece by a former Robert Kennedy speechwriter, Adam Walinsky, who thinks Trump is the President for Peace.  

In fact, who could trust Trump on anything that requires calm consideration that's not to be outweighed by testosterone driven* one-upmanship?   How contradictory can one candidate get - to be promising that Iranians boats which harass US Navy ships would be blown out of the water; that ISIS has to be crushed, immediately, with overwhelming force [I hope you're all hearing this in your head in Trump's ridiculous voice]; that America must spend more money on its military; and yet he'll be slower to get involved in international conflicts that aren't really in America's interest?   But if they do - he'll keep the oil.  What is he meant to be, the Reluctant Imperialist? 

Despite the occasional fanciful and deluded pundit like Walinsky, it is clear that Trump's base wants him to be aggro with other countries, and they would not be adverse to the big stick being swung every now and again.  Given how he repeatedly plays up to his base - he so much wants to give the audience what it wants - how could anyone really think he would resist mititary adventurism when it's a matter of saving national face? 


And anyway,  how old must Walinsky be?  Speechwriting in 1964, he must be pushing 80, if not older.  Has he said other silly things lately?  I mean, he writes sentences well enough, but what else does he argue?

It would seem, from this site, that he thinks there is probably something being hidden about JFK's assassination; uh-oh, he's written for the Washington Times too - criticising Baltimore's politicians for not getting behind their police (hmmm).  He's worked for a long time as a consultant to police departments, it seems, urging large increases in police numbers.

Seems to me he hasn't been very reliable for quite a long time...



*What a transparent bit of theatre it was when Dr Oz noted with seeming awe Trump's testosterone level.  Never have we seen a candidate run so blatantly on the importance of his being a real man, a virile man, who looks Presidential, with stamina, and a penis that pleases da ladies.   As Colbert said recently, it's like we've reverted to a system where the hairiest guy who can lift the heaviest rock gets to be village chief.

Self interest and economics

More Virtuous Than We Think : Democracy Journal

Here's an extract from an interesting review:

To be clear, most policymakers probably recognize that people behave
from diverse motives. But standard economic analysis indicates that
policy should normally be based solely on the self-interest assumption.
Bowles’ second assertion is that policies based on the assumption that
people are motivated primarily or entirely by selfish motives often work
poorly and sometimes backfire. Worse, such policies may actually
promote selfishness and amorality.

Put more positively, public and
private policies often work much better if they are designed with the
recognition that people act in part from self-interest and in part from
“social preferences,” which include “altruism, reciprocity, intrinsic
pleasure in helping others, aversion to inequity, ethical commitments,
and other motives that induce people to help people more than is
consistent with maximizing their own wealth or material payoff.”
Furthermore, incentive-based policies may strengthen or weaken these
motivations. Simply put, public policy can promote or erode civic
virtue.

Planes should soon be harder to lose

Satellite tracking could prevent airliner disappearances, developers say ‹ Japan Today: Japan News and Discussion

I hope something like this is taken up.  The cost of lengthy ocean searches would reduce dramatically if it is.

Back to the lesser known adventures of Captain Cook's crew

Remember back in February, I had a series of salacious posts about the 18th century sexual mores of the South Pacific, and the misadventures of Captain Cook's crew with respect to same?  No?  Well, I thought they were a fun read, and here's a link to the one about same sex stuff.

Anyway, here's another incident, this time from the Maori part of the voyage:
Joseph Banks, a scientist on board Cook’s ship the Endeavour, recorded that one of the sailors had been with a Māori family and had paid them to have sexual relations with a young woman. The ‘young woman’ who retired with him turned out to be a boy. He returned and complained and was given another ‘young woman’ who turned out to also be a boy. When he complained again the family laughed at him. Banks was not sure whether this was evidence of homosexuality, or sharp trading.
The website doesn't mention anything about the "gender inversion" males of other parts of the South Pacific, but it does seem that Maori could still shrug their shoulders about men engaging in at least some sexual practices together:
There are a number of recorded examples of new settlers cohabiting in same-sex relationships with Māori. The most well-documented example is the Reverend William Yate, an English missionary, who lived with his male companion for two years in the Māori village of Waimate, before being expelled to England for homosexual behaviour. His relationship seems to have been accepted by the Māori community but it was frowned on by his religious peers. An investigation into allegations that Yate had engaged in sexual acts with Māori youths illustrates that there was a more open attitude by Māori to sexuality. Richard Davis observed that ‘[they] showed no shame. They simply declared that they were unaware of any sinfulness in such practices and that Yate had not initiated them.’3 *

As for Maori heterosexual behaviour (which I had never read anything about before), here's how the same article summarises it:
Māori chiefs would often have more than one wife. Except for puhi (high-born women set aside for a political marriage), sex before marriage carried no stigma. English and French explorers tried to make sense of the culture they saw. For example naturalist Georg Forster, who was on British explorer James Cook’s second voyage, said, ‘Their ideas of female chastity are, in this respect so different from ours, that a girl may favour a number of lovers without any detriment to her character; but if she marries, conjugal fidelity is exacted from her with the greatest rigour.’1 French explorer Julien Crozet said, ‘[Māori] gave us to understand by signs that we must not touch the married women, but that we might with perfect freedom make advances to the girls.’2 Many explorers, sailors and even missionaries had sexual relationships with Māori.
Children born outside marriage were still considered part of their tribe.
* Update:  actually, I see that Rev Yate has turned up in my blog before.   And on reading other accounts of what went wrong for him in New Zealand, I haven't seen mention of him living in a gay relationship in Waimate, so that article might be a bit misleading.  The acts he did get into trouble were not sodomy, which seems to have been a technical point on which he was saved from criminal sanction.

Some important astronomical news

I haven't noticed this in the press yet, but this new paper seems really significant.  It would seem, if I understand it correctly, that galaxy rotation rates may not need a halo of dark matter to explain them after all.  But it might also mean there is something stranger to be learnt from them, too.

Gay love and death: Islamic cultural contradictions

The things that Google can bring to your attention.

Here's a chapter (link to a .pdf) from a book published in 1997 entitled "Islamic Homosexualities: Culture: History and Literature".  The chapter title is "Male Love and Islamic Law in Arab Spain", although the points it makes apply more broadly than just to the left end of the Mediterranean.  I have to say, it's a really intriguing read about the deep contradiction in a range of Islamic national cultures where everyone could talk openly about how men could feel romantic love for men, but still be adamant that acting upon it sexually deserved punishment up to death.

Most interestingly, a large part of the explanation is said to go back to a "curious" hadith ascribed to Mohammad himself.  After describing the severe, hadith derived, punishments imposed on the actual practice of homosexuality, the chapter notes:
When we look at other aspects of Islamic culture, however, the indices are strikingly contradictory. Popular attitudes appear much less hostile than in Christendom, and European visitors to Muslim lands were repeatedly shocked by the relaxed tolerance of Arabs, Turks, and Persians who seemed to find nothing unnatural in relations between men and boys (Greenberg 1988:178-81; Crompton 1985:111-18). One measure of this important cultural difference is a vein of ardent romanticism in medieval Arab treatises on love. For Arab writers this "emotional intoxication," as it has been called, springs not just from the love of women, as with the troubadours, but also from the love of boys and other men.
Arab enthusiasts were concerned to establish that romantic love was an experience meaningful and valuable for its own sake. But how were they to reconcile such a view with their faith? They did this did by appealing to a curious hadlth ascribed to Muhammad himself-"He who loves and remains chaste and conceals his secret and dies, dies a martyr" (Giffen 1971:99). The Iraqi essayist Jahiz, who wrote extensively on the subject of love, had laid down the rule that 'ishq-or passionate love---could exist only between a man and a woman. But Ibn Da'ud, who was born the year Jahiz died (868), extended the possibility to love between males in his Book of the flower, and this view seems to have prevailed in Arab culture subsequently (Giffen 1971:86). Ibn Da'ud was a learned jurisprudent as well as a literary man: according to an account frequently mentioned in Arab writings on love, his passion for his friend Muhammad ibn JamI (to whom his book was dedicated) made him a "martyr of love."
Here's the description of how Ibn Da'ud was an example of this:
I went to see [Ibn Da'ud] during the illness in which he died and I said to him, "How do you feel?" He said to me, "Love of you-know-who has brought upon me what you see!" So I said to him, "What prevents you from enjoying him, as long as you have the power to do so?" He said, "Enjoyment has two aspects: One of them is the permitted gaze and the other is the forbidden pleasure. As for the permitted gaze, it has brought upon me the condition that you see, and as for the forbidden pleasure, something my father told me has kept me from it. He said ... "the Prophet said ... 'He who loves passionately and conceals his secret and remains chaste and patient, God will forgive him and make him enter Paradise,'" ... and he died that very night or perhaps it was the next day. (Giffen 1971:10-11)
Now look, long time readers know that I would generally wish that there was more sexual restraint in the modern West rather than less; but I have to say,  there's something that seems oddly immature in this elevation of hidden passion as something especially pleasing to God.  A bit like something an adolescent school girl might write in her diary:  "It's so romantic, the way he smiled at me today, all the time not knowing how much I love him."

I don't think it's the same as traditional Christian emphasis on the purity of virginity: it's like arguing that virgins are especially favoured for not just resisting sexual feelings, but for keeping all emotion a secret. (OK, well, I suppose in some situations this is the moral thing to do - for example, if your wannabe lover is already married and you don't want to risk upsetting that apple cart.  But really, this old Islamic principle seems much broader in intent.)

Anyway, the whole chapter is well written and an easy read.  It includes this apparent bit of history, which put me in mind of the old "girl has to pretend she's a boy" story plots, but I don't think we'll see this one turn up in a Disney movie any time soon:


Thursday, September 22, 2016

New Zealand and economic mono-cultures

John Quiggin  - New Zealand’s zombie miracle

JQ has an interesting post about the current Australian Right wing fanbase that the New Zealand economy has.  (It's all a beat up, how good it's economy is supposed to be, argues the Professor.)

One thing that I have been meaning to say in a post for a long time - my impression, although it stands to be corrected - is that small countries under a strong sway of free market, business friendly policies, often seem to end up as economic mono-cultures, with most of their sudden, relatively good economic improvement coming disproportionately off just one sector.  In New Zealand's case, it's dairy (which is even a subset of one sector); in many other countries, it seems to be financial services, or corporate services of one kind or another.  (Hey global companies, pretend your sales all come from here, and minimise your tax.)

I think we see it in Australia to a degree too, with free marketeers all poo-pooing any manufacturing support of any kind whatsoever.

It's supposed to be all about economic efficiency - letting countries that do something particularly well corner a large part of the global market for it, and we're all better off.

But there must be a risk to the way economies can swing in these mono-cultures, surely.   In New Zealand's case, there's an upheaval going on in dairy globally at the moment - how badly can that affect the country?   Quite a lot, by the sounds:
In its global dairy update for June, Fonterra said the country's milk production is continuing to decline as farmers respond to low prices.

Until recently, dairy was the backbone of New Zealand's economy, representing around 25 percent of exports. But prices have tumbled by more than half since early 2014, hurt by China's
economic slowdown and global oversupply.

In the season that ended May 31 milk production fell 3 percent on the previous 2014-15 season.

"Lower milk collections were largely a result of the low milk price environment, with farmers reducing stocking rates and supplementary feeding to reduce costs," Fonterra said.


Weak dairy prices have put significant pressure on New Zealand farmers. More than 85 percent of dairy farmers are estimated to be running at a loss.
 So, while understanding the benefits of global trade and economic efficiencies, isn't it reasonable to say that governments can play a positive role in ensuring that their economies do not end up putting all eggs in one basket?   Ultimately, doesn't a degree of government support for different sectors help ensure that wild swings in markets and economic circumstances are smoothed out, so to speak, and have reduced potential to cause too much damage?

What do small government, free-market-is-always-best, economists say about that, because it seems to me to be just a sensible position I'm suggesting.

Yet I heard ABC News repeating them word for word

Christian Porter's welfare figures are designed to shock. Pay them no respect | Greg Jericho | Business | The Guardian

Of interest

Why Panpsychism Is Probably Wrong - The Atlantic

Sounds fanciful

Productivity Commission calls to privatise public health and housing | Australia news | The Guardian: Social housing, public dental services and public hospitals could soon be opened to more market competition.

The Productivity Commission has said they are among six “priority areas” in the human services sector where the quality of services could be greatly improved if people are given a greater say over how they use them.
They cite services to remote communities, too, as an area where more privatisation can help.  All very improbable sounding, if you ask me...

The Late Night pushback was inevitable

Clinton’s Samantha Bee Problem - The New York Times

Douthat's column here reads too much like an Andrew Bolt bleat against media (in this case, TV comedy) bias.  A bit of recognition is surely deserved that it is the Republicans and Fox News that have moved to so many hyperbolic exaggerations and ridiculous positions (on everything from economics, to conspiracy belief about Obama, guns and climate change) that they thoroughly deserve being the object of ridicule.

But it is true - American youth would be very silly not to vote for Clinton for her not being sufficiently pure of heart in her Left wing policy positions.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Two coming science fiction films that aren't superhero guff - Hoorah

First:



Frankly, I'm not entirely sure about this.  Sure, likeable leads, but remember:  the ridiculous oversize clean splendour of the interiors of the spaceship in The Martian really, really bothered me (as did the gargantuan one in Sunshine, too, to a degree).   So can the lush enormity of the convention centre sized rooms in the interstellar ship in this one be forgiven if it's set sufficiently far in the future?  Yeah, maybe.  We'll see. 

And then there is this one,  of which I read favourable comments after it was shown at the recent Toronto Film Festival:



May be quite OK, by the looks.

For gluttons for journalistic punishment...

....try reading Andrew Sullivan's tedious explanation as to why he had to (and how he did) de-tox himself from the internet; but if that's not enough, go to Australia's writer who put the "self" into self indulgent political/social commentary to such an extraordinary degree she's unreadable* - Helen Razor on the Lionel Shriver/identity politics debate.

* unless you've done an Arts degree in Left Wing Verbosity for Obscurity's sake, I suppose

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

A research suggestion

Paramedics in need of support instead face bullying in NSW Ambulance service

This article about a paramedic who found that one particularly gruesome job sent him into PTSD made me wonder:   will there any detectable de-sensitising effect on younger paramedics who come to the job already used to playing the most gruesome computer games?

Sensitivity to game violence seems to be an age related thing - I know I find clips of it I see on Good Game or elsewhere disturbing enough, and just don't understand why people aren't repulsed by it;  but young people just seem to take it in their stride.

If there is anything to it have a desensitising effect, then one would think it might show up in young people (men particularly) who are becoming paramedics now.

Go to it, psychologists.  (Even if we don't really expect the first study to be replicated!)

Just saying...

Interesting to read last week about new estimates of the number of legally married gay couples in the US.

As explained in the New York Times, it's actually not as easy as you might think to know the number of married gay couples across the nation:
One reason it’s hard to get a fix on the marriages is that detailed marriage records are not tracked at the federal level. They’re managed by counties and states, which report the count of marriages and not much else. The Census Bureau isn’t always a lot of help either. Methodological problems like sample size and false positives have long plagued census estimates of this relatively small group.
But a new research paper published by the Treasury Department on Monday has found an interesting way around these problems: tax records.
By linking the tax returns of same-sex couples who filed jointly in 2014 with their Social Security records, researchers are able to give us the most accurate picture of same-sex marriages to date. And their estimate is this: In 2014 there were 183,280 same-sex marriages in America, roughly a third of 1 percent of all marriages.
Of course, implicit in this estimate is the assumption that all married couples file their returns jointly. But as a proxy for that, it’s pretty good. The Treasury Department estimates that 97.5 percent of married couples who file taxes file them jointly.
The article goes on to note a reason why it might be a bit of an underestimate.  On the other hand, Census estimates are likely to be way over.   (This report from last year says survey and census date indicated 390,000 married gay couples - a very big difference.)

Another report from 2014 said census date indicated 252,000.

And the LA Times, confusingly, said last year that:
About 780,000 Americans were married to same-sex partners before the high court's decision, according to Gary J. Gates of the Williams Institute, who analyzed the Gallup data. That number has now risen to about 972,000.
Even if you say that you divide that number by two to get the number of gay marriages, that would be about 480,000!

In fact, the tax estimate now seems to be thought to be pretty accurate, so the real figure might be much closer to 200,000.

As to what percentage that represents of gay cohabiting couples:  well, who knows how accurate the estimate for that figure is.   One of the links above says there were 1.2 million adults living in same sex domestic partnerships (that's all? - out of 242 million adults?).  So if that means 600,000 "partnerships", does that mean 1 in 3 chose to marry?

But, going forward, you would have to allow for the initial rush that legalising gay marriage causes, when old couples who have wanted to marry finally do.   Taking that into account, I think it still seems a fair guess that clear majority of cohabiting gay couples are not going to marry.

While I'm sure people will say "so what?  - that's not reason to not allow those who want to", but as my post title says, I'm just saying.... that people seem to be often overestimating the number of gay couples who do want to go through with marriage.

And as for the effect of gay marriage on gay mental health - it seems mean spirited to point it out, but sorry,  there's not exactly strong reason to believe it will be remove higher rates of suicide amongst gay and lesbians.  This report, from the Netherlands, with its 12 years of gay marriage and famously liberal attitudes to sex education, euthanasia laws and soft drug use, still indicates high rates of suicidal thoughts amongst gay youth.   Anti gay marriage sites like to point out studies like this one from Sweden, where gay married men still seem to have a 3 times higher suicide rate.  Again, this seems mean spirited, but when an argument is based a lot on anticipated emotional reaction to a legal change, facts are still worthy of consideration, aren't they?  

Gay marriage activists make the obvious point that the symbolism of legal recognition of gay marriage can only help with societal and family acceptance of gay folk, and thereby reduce suicide;  but honestly, I think they're overestimating the extent of likely positives outcomes.  It seems to me that the process over the last 20 or 30 years of recognizing gay partnerships as civil unions (either by being registered as such, or those jurisdictions which have simply allowed them to be treated the same as a de facto heterosexual marriages), legislating  against workplace discrimination, and high profile media, sporting and other personalities coming out as gay, have collectively had a much greater chance of modifying gay suicide rates than the final step of gay marriage.


Update:   part of the reason for this post is that my 13 year old daughter recently told me that her favourite high school teachers are all gay (3 male teachers - although one or more of them I think are not her permanent teachers.)    This led to her asking what I thought of gay marriage, and her obvious annoyance when I said I did not support it.

I didn't try to launch into a detailed explanation - but there is no doubt that most teenagers and supporters see this through an emotional prism that is not very interested in numbers and an independent look at the psychology of the issue.

And, as usual, part of the problem with not supporting it is that it is embarrassing to sound aligned with those who really do take the opportunity to insult and demean homosexuals per se - such as many of the losers who comment at Catallaxy.

But I'll still try to stake out a position that I think is reasonable....

Update 2:   But I have to admit, the re-framing of the question of gay marriage to one of "marriage equality" has been brilliant marketing.  

Right wing paranoia is surely part of the explanation

Gun inequality: US study charts rise of hardcore super owners | US news | The Guardian

New survey, part of most definitive portrait of gun ownership in
decades, shows just 3% of American adults own half of guns in the US.
Good news, I guess, is that the percentage of owners (per population) overall has dropped a little.  Bad news:  some of the remaining owners are massively paranoid.

Public transport success

Gold Coast light rail study helps put a figure on value capture's funding potential

Interesting to see here a study quantifying an increase in land values after the opening of the quite successful Gold Coast light rail.  But this idea of financing transport (or other infrastructure) projects via extra taxes on adjacent land which receives its benefit just seems very fanciful, if you ask me.  Ken Parish at Club Troppo wrote a couple of lengthy posts about it (in a positive light) with respect to a Sydney/Canberra/Melbourne high speed rail.  Apparently, the idea goes, lots of people will be happy to move to the middle of the countryside, known to be hotter in summer and colder in winter than the coast, as long as they can hop on a high speed train and be in a big city within an hour.  Just seems silly to me...

As to how to get money out of the increased value on properties if they are lucky to have a good rail system built near them, the article above suggests a simple way would be to levy land tax on them at a low rate, and removing the exemption on "owner occupied" real estate.   That would be an ongoing impost.  I wonder if an  simpler way would be to levy an excess on stamp duty on purchases in the area.  Or how about estate duties, no exemptions, but at a low rate hardly anyone would object to?   Has anyone looked at the effect of no exemption 1% death tax on every single inheritance.   (OK, lets say ones with a value over $100,000.)?

Anyway, the Gold Coast rail seems a bit of a blow to the pro-road infrastructure obsession of many small government types. 

Monday, September 19, 2016

Nice and clear explanation from Gavin

Why We Don’t Know If It Will Be Sunny Next Month But We Know It’ll Be Hot All Year | FiveThirtyEight

They just do?

Why Do Some People Hate Poetry? - The Atlantic

Never been particularly interested in, or partial to, poetry.   I also doubt that this is all that worthy of much analysis.  It's a contrived style of writing/communication that just misses the mark, for me.  Some people can listen to classical music, even the most "pop" pieces, and not be moved a bit.  Meh.   


Can't please all the viewers all the time

ABC's John Howard on Robert Menzies documentary dismissed as 'propaganda'

If you're watching a documentary hosted by Howard about his political hero Menzies, and with a stated aim to put a more positive spin on the era than is common in most Left influenced commentary, it seems a bit silly to complain about it.

I found it better than I expected:  I think it gave a reasonably good (if brief) treatment of the issue of how Communism faired in Australia at the time, which I found particularly interesting. 

I also liked how clear much of the archival film was.  (Digitally restored, I would assume.)

As I have noted before, when you're watching historical film in colour instead of black and white, it really does seem to make the past seem not as distant as it otherwise can feel. 

A very complicated issue

Child sex abuse doesn't create paedophiles

I think one of the most useful things in this article is the acknowledgement of the difficulty of conducting research in this area:
Our current understanding of the victim-offender cycle in child
sexual abuse comes from studies based on interviews with incarcerated
sex offenders or those in treatment programs, or self-report measures.
These are inherently unreliable methods, which fail to get to the bottom
of a sex offender’s victimisation history.

Another problem with these studies lies not with the offenders
themselves, but with the researchers’ “expectancy biases”. Those
interviewing sex offenders, for instance, may ask about childhood sexual
abuse and note its presumed significance to the offender’s criminal
history. They may end up putting more emphasis on this link than other
(perhaps more causative) factors.
Given the recent controversy about the difficulty of reproducing almost any study in psychology, it is good to see this acknowledged...

Sunday, September 18, 2016

A bit more about Shriver's talk

Further to the discussion about Lionel Shriver's talk in Brisbane about cultural appropriation, there is a "portrait" article in the Saturday Paper by Maxine Beneba Clarke that I think is really remarkable for the poor impression it leaves of her own judgement and behaviour - and it would appear she is completely unaware of this.   Seriously, an Australia Left aligned literary figure or ABC commentator who isn't completely devoid of common sense really needs to call her out.  (I'm thinking someone like Richard Fidler or Jennifer Byrne - or her Book Show regulars - could do this well.)  When will it happen?

From the other end of the literary/politico spectrum, Helen Dale has weighed in, which is unsurprising given that she's viewed herself as victim of Lefty literary types for decades.   Her Facebook comment, advising of a lengthier commentary to come, shows all the warning signs of why I think she is not particularly wise to step into the fray.  First, there is this:
I wrote an entire novel founded on cultural appropriation.
Well, yes:  can't deny that, I suppose.  But the on-going problem came from much more than mere literary cultural appropriation - it came from telling lies about her personal cultural background.  If her point had been that it was only published because she found no positive responses until she pretended it was not a case of so-called appropriation, then it could readily have been made in spectacular fashion if she had voluntarily disclosed this in one of the many post publication interviews/festival appearances.   (And do remember - the criticism of the content of the novel at the time came from both Left and Right.)

Secondly, she has never been one to not blow her own trumpet, despite the fact that I don't think she has had anything she has been writing published since:  
Shriver is transparently a better writer than her critics. I was and am transparently a better writer than my critics. Such is life.
Edit suggestion:  "a transparently better writer than some of my critics" makes you sound less egocentric, and is very likely accurate too, given the breadth of criticism you faced.

But to be fair, the main problem here is one on the academic and literary Left, and I don't think they're responding well.

Trumpian commentary

As I have complained before, there comes a point where media commentary about how much of a worry a Trump presidency would be becomes counterproductive to said media's desire not to support him.

I think we're going through another period of that, with the current tightening of the polls.  Media - calm down.  Stop talking about him so much.

With my usual disclaimer that I don't really follow US elections all that closely,  I remain very confident of my prediction that he will not win it: based on demographics, the reports of a very late start to organising voter turnout, very poor polling on personal qualities, and the unlikelihood of demonstrating policy competency in the forthcoming debates with Clinton.  If anything, as we have seen in the last couple of days, with his stupid talk of Clinton and guns, improved polling is likely to increase his cockiness into saying stupid, off the cuff, things. 

There are now, though, two uncertainties on the Clinton side:  does loser boy Assange really have something bad on her that he is saving up for maximum impact (although I am starting to doubt that); and would coming down with another coughing fit really be enough to cause an orange buffoon to be elected?  (The latter shouldn't - people can cough for all sorts of unimportant reasons - but we're talking a pretty weird electorate here that could even consider Trump as a President.)

Speaking as I was about historically inaccurate movies

Sully is the perfect fantasy for the post-fact era of the Brexit and Trump.

I dislike Clint Eastwood and his movies, so I was never destined to see this one anyway.

But, as this Slate article explains, it's a movie that had to invent conflict, and the one used aligns perfectly with the "vibe" of Trump voters.  All the more reason not to see it...



Sunday Prisma

Not saying this example is particularly beautiful, but it reminds me very much of the type of illustration that used to be common in cheaper educational books in the 60's, and perhaps into the 70's....

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Hitler and Henry: a hate story

Struggles with Mein Kampf – TheTLS

Good article here discussing the recent re-publication of Mein Kampf (in a very heavily annotated version) in Germany.

But had I read this before?:
 Henry Ford’s The International Jew: The world’s foremost problem (1920),
the editors emphasize, exerted a formative influence on the intellectual world of National Socialism in the early 1920s. Hitler called Ford an “inspiration” and kept his photograph above his desk.
Here's some more about Henry Ford's intense anti-Semitism:
In the period from 1910 to 1918, Ford became increasingly anti-immigrant, anti-labor, anti-liquor and anti-Semitic. In 1919, he purchased a newspaper, the Dearborn Independent. He installed Charles Pipp as editor and hired a journalist, William J. Cameron, to listen to his ideas and write a weekly column, “Mr. Ford’s Page,” to expound his views.
Ford wanted to assert that there was a Jewish conspiracy to control the world. He blamed Jewish financiers for fomenting World War I so that they could profit from supplying both sides. He accused Jewish automobile dealers of conspiring to undermine Ford Company sales policies. Ford wanted to make his bizarre beliefs public in the pages of the Dearborn Independent. For a year, editor Pipp resisted running anti-Jewish articles, and resigned rather
than publish them. Cameron took over the editorship and, in May 1920, printed the first of a series of articles titled “The International Jew: The World’s Problem.”...
A few months after the series began, Ford’s operatives introduced him to a Russian émigré, Paquita de Shishmareff. She showed Ford a copy of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, now well-known as a malicious forgery created by the Russian czar’s secret service at the turn
of the century that purportedly recorded a series of lectures by a Jewish elder outlining a conspiracy to overthrow European governments. Ford passed the Protocols to Cameron, and the Independent turned its attention to bringing this “blueprint” for world domination to the
public.
The Independent charged that the national debt was Jewish-inspired to enslave Americans, and that German Jewish financier Paul Warburg had emigrated to America “for the express purpose of changing our financial system” by creating the Federal Reserve. The paper labeled Jews an “international nation” with had an unfair advantage in business over Christians, who relied on individualism to get ahead. The paper even described American Jewish aid for oppressed Jews overseas as part of the conspiracy.
For seven years, the Independent continued to run anti-Semitic articles until the target of one series, California farm cooperative organizer Aaron Sapiro, sued Ford for libel. Sapiro was the third  Jew to sue Ford for libel, and the first to get to trial. Ford refused to testify, and apparently staged an automobile accident so he could hide in a hospital. The judge finally declared a mistrial, but Ford decided to settle out of court. Jewish leaders had called for a boycott of Ford motorcars, and his fear of slumping sales might have played a role in Ford’s decision to put the Sapiro case behind him.
Wow.  The lesson being, as it is today with climate change:  being a rich industrialist is no protection against being a complete and dangerous nutball conspiracist on matters outside of their limited expertise.

Update:   I should explain - I'm sure I had read something before about Ford's anti-Semitism; it's just that I didn't realise that he so was intensely involved in publicising it that even Hitler was an admirer.   Here's another source, talking about how Ford spread the word, so to speak:
What separates Ford from other people who were publishing anti-Semitic material during this time?
There are lots of small town newspapers that publish scurrilous anti-Semitic material, so it wasn't unusual in that way. But what's notable about The Dearborn Independent is that it was also spread through the Ford Motor dealerships. And so that there'd be stacks of them in a dealership in California, dealership in Massachusetts, a dealership in Iowa. In some places, the dealership would actually put copies of the newspaper in the car, so that when you drove off with your Model T, there you had on the seat next to you a copy of The Dearborn Independent.
And because The Dearborn Independent was published by Ford, it meant that other newspapers would pick up on what he said, and if only in reporting on an article that appeared in The Dearborn Independent, it meant that it got much greater currency than if it had just been a small-town newspaper in some equivalent sized town in Wisconsin or Montana. But this was Henry Ford's newspaper, and pretty much anything Henry Ford did was news.
What Henry Ford says, people stop and listen. There are people who talked about him as a potential presidential candidate in the 1920s. Some local tavern keeper makes a anti-Semitic remark over the bar, well, nobody cares. Somebody may listen, and maybe repeat it, but it has a very limited span. But Henry Ford's ability to gain a national audience with his words made him a very dangerous person.

Breeding friendly foxes

Russian geneticist repeats dog domestication with foxes in just fifty years
A Russian geneticist, the BBC is reporting, replicated the process that led to the domestication of the dog, with foxes, over the course of just fifty years. Curious about the means by which dogs became domesticated, Dmitry Belyaev began a breeding program in the late 1950's aimed at replicating the process using foxes....

Foxes were chosen based on their behavior in the presence of humans. Those that showed slightly more tolerance of humans were brought back to their Novosibirsk lab to serve as the start group. From there, the foxes were mated, and once again, those cubs that showed the most tolerance for humans were kept as part of the experiment while the others went on to become fur coats.

This process was repeated for a half-century—the research pair found that within just a few generations, the foxes had begun to lose their wildness and mistrust of humans. The fourth generation, they reported, showed traits that we see in modern dogs, such as tail wagging, seeking human contact and licking people. Over the course of 50 years, the foxes became friendly, their behavior nearly indistinguishable from domestic dogs. They changed physically, too; their ears drooped and their legs and snouts became shorter and their heads got wider. And it was not all on the outside—their adrenal glands became more active, resulting in
higher levels of serotonin in their brains, which is known to mute aggressive behavior.

Today, the foxes are still being bred, but they are also being sold as pets to help pay for the cost of the research center.
Here's a link to the longer BBC story, but I am looking for some video of friendly foxes.  Here's one, from 2013:



I think I have read about this before, but I watched a French kid's film about foxes last weekend on SBS on Demand, so I was interested..


I am officially amused

Given my Android/Samsung allegiance, this did really did make me laugh:

iPhone 7 launch in Denmark

Prisma, again

Just in case anyone is late to the story: I'm having fun running various photos from my recent Japanese holiday through the Prisma app.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Sick presidents

It's kinda topical, but let's not even discuss the evidence that Reagan had clear signs of developing dementia during his second term, and go back further to FDR.   There's a review of a new book about his last months up on the New York Review of Books, and here are a few extracts:

Roosevelt is entering his sixties when Lelyveld’s story begins, and he is still fighting his own body’s attempts to betray him. Sixty was older then than it is today, and after twelve years in the presidency his appearance sometimes left visitors alarmed. In his memoir of interviewing him that year, Turner Catledge, a respected reporter for The New York Times, recalled that at first glimpse of the president he was so “shocked and horrified” that he had an impulse to turn and walk out. He felt he was “seeing something I shouldn’t see,” he wrote, describing the president with a “vague, glassy-eyed expression” and mouth “hanging open,” a man who “would lose his train of thought, stop and stare blankly at me.”...

Yet old friends and family were now disturbed by visible signs of frailty. His hand shook when he lifted his coffee cup. His shirt collars seemed to be much too big. Ed Flynn, Democratic boss of the Bronx and one of FDR’s oldest political friends, had been keeping a professional eye on him lately and exercised friendship’s privilege by telling him that he no longer had the stamina for the job and ought to quit. There was also a somber opinion from Dr. Frank Lahey, founder of the Lahey Clinic, who had examined him. Lahey had left a memorandum that was kept from public disclosure until Roosevelt had been dead for sixty-two years. Maybe that was because it revealed doctors playing fast and loose with the presidential medical news back in the 1940s. Lahey wrote that Roosevelt was unlikely to survive another term, and that the president had been so informed. The note was dated July 10, 1944. The next day Roosevelt announced that he would run for a fourth term.....

Interviewed years later, Bruenn [a cardiologist belatedly brought in to care for the President] said Roosevelt was in “God awful” condition at their first meeting. His examination notes described “a diseased heart” that had “become enlarged and shifted away from its normal location in the chest.” The president’s face was “very grey,” indicating a possible oxygen deficiency in the blood. His blood pressure was “a worrisome 186/108.” All the evidence pointed to “an alarming enlargement of the heart, induced by chronic high blood pressure.” Bruenn’s notes said, “heart was enormous.”

His diagnosis was “acute congestive heart failure,” specifically “left ventricular heart failure.” Lelyveld observes that this would have been explosive political news in 1944 and may explain why it was kept from the public for twenty-six years.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

What a jerk

‘You think this is easy?’: Trump questions Clinton’s health at Ohio rally | US news | The Guardian: “You think this is easy?” Trump asked. “In this beautiful room that’s 122 degrees. It is hot, and it is always hot when I perform because the crowds are so big. The rooms were not designed for this kind of crowd. I don’t know, folks. You think Hillary Clinton would be able to stand up here and do this for an hour? I don’t know.”

The Republican nominee later went on to add of his Democratic rival, “Now she’s lying in bed, getting better and we want her better, we want her back on the trail, right?”
He didn't "question" her health, he taunted her about it.

The reviews are in

Just noticed a comment by CL at Catallaxy regarding Pauline Hanson's speech in the Senate yesterday (the one where she rails against Muslims, immigration generally, Halal food, foreign investment, free trade, the Family Court, and welfare bludgers) that reads:
It is funny, warm and just plain real. The stand-out oration of the new Parliament.
Of course he likes it.  He's a sad refugee from the 1950's, longing for a return to that decade, as is Hanson.  (Although I note the irony that twice divorced Pauline may well have found herself stuck in one of her unhappy marriages were we to emulate the 1950's divorce system today.)

Good, but just a tad late

Hillary Clinton’s new doctor’s letter, annotated - The Washington Post

Unlike Trump's ridiculous doctor's letter, the Clinton one today released about her health is detailed, reads well, and explains a lot.  Pity it wasn't done, say, last Saturday; and that there wasn't then special provision made for Hillary to sit down during the ceremony, under shade.

There has been some very ridiculous media coverage of this matter - even by the liberal press - but there remains no doubt that a pre-faint disclosure of mild pneumonia would have prevented some of it.  (Of course, there would also have been a downside to this too - Trumpkin nutters, who will never believe she isn't on her death bed, would have said she's a Typhoid Mary by going out in public, regardless of what her doctor says.)


Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The Shriver incident

Lefty identity politics and emphasis on victimhood can obviously be a silly pain, especially at Universities, and it seems there is finally some mainstream push back against "safe spaces" and "trigger warnings" in the US. (And perhaps here, given the complete lack of the media defence of the s.18C aboriginal claimant in the QUT case.)  I tend not to dwell on this a very serious matter - I suspect that most students can get by happily enough by ignoring the activists on campus, just as I used to ignore whatever the socialist students called themselves back in the late 70's and early 80's when I did my degree for free.  (I lucked out during that window of opportunity.)  

But I'm a bit surprised to not see more publicity given to the recent  kerfuffle at the Brisbane Writers Festival, when Lionel Shriver got stuck into the silliness of recent complaints about cultural appropriation. 

It apparently did not go over well with many in the audience, and an account of the talk and its aftermath made it into the New York Times. 

Now, I've dissed Shriver a bit before:  she is on the eccentric side (although I think she freely admits that), and I thought her complaint that people treat libertarians (as she claims to be) as kooks was wrongheaded, given that many of her stated positions in the same article were not actually typically libertarian.  But The Guardian printed her entire Festival speech, and really, it is extremely hard to see what's objectionable in it.  (I suspect that she might pay to be a bit more skeptical of the details of some of the reports of "cultural appropriation" incidents on US universities; but that's just my hunch that the media sometimes exaggerates the degree of seriousness of individual incidents.  But this is a minor quibble to what is basically a well argued case.)

And, let me say, that the readers of The Guardian do themselves much credit by also (as far as I can see) agreeing with her by a substantial majority. 

What I think is lacking is enough admission by writers and literary figures who are Left inclined (and gee, probably 90% of them are) that some of their fellow authors and commentators have just gone too far, and need to come back to something approaching common sense.  But can't say I'm noticing much of that...

Message to J Soon

Jason, took you a while to notice that Megan McArdle article, but it was discussed at several places at the time, with scientists noting that the comparison between economic models and climate models is not really  valid, and she doesn't understand climate feedbacks either.

I suggest you read ATTP's post on it, and this, and the comments following.

As he says, the "lukewarmer gambit", being the last refuge of people who don't want action taken (usually for purely ideological reasons), is a still a "rejection of evidence" position, tarted up as if it's "just being reasonable here":
This is wrong on many levels. Firstly climate models don’t assume large positive feedbacks; the level of positive feedbacks is an emergent property of the models. It’s one of the things these models are trying to determine. Secondly, climate models are not the only reason why we think that feedbacks could be positive and large. Palaeoclimate estimates of climate sensitivity are also in line with estimates from climate models.

Finally, even the energy-balance models preferred by Lukewarmers do not rule out high climate sensitivity, and this seems to be the main problem; anyone who says “warming is likely to be mild” is essentially dismissing evidence that suggests otherwise. The discussion that we should be having is what we should do if climate sensitivity is high enough that our continued emission of CO2 could lead to substantial changes in temperature, the hydrological cycle, and extreme events. If one group has already decided that this is unlikely, and that we shouldn’t base policy on this possibility, what else is there to discuss?
As with your false equivalence attempt on the doctor who came up with his own oddball Hillary health conspiracy:  stop doing that (false equivalence).  The Right wing conspiracy stuff about Hillary's  health has been massive, relentless (and ridiculous) and given a high profile on Fox News for many months, convincing large numbers of dimwits.  They haven't been "concerned" about Hillary's health - they've been exploiting everything out of context, from a photo after a slip on stairs to a joke head movement slowed down on video with scary music to argue she has everything from dementia to Parkinson's to HIV.  It has, truly, been "tinfoil hat" material.  And as for the doctor and his poisoning tweet - he's only getting attention because he is famous for other high profile work, the article is brief, and I don't think the paper is doing much to suggest it should be taken seriously.

I would argue with you on twitter, but I'm not keen on the word limits...

Update:  another bit of blog commentary on the McArdle shrug shoulder attitude of "sure, I don't dismiss it could be a major problem, but it might not be too, and no one will go for a carbon tax; so what can you do?

Chemicals under their skin

One in five tattoo inks in Australia contain carcinogenic chemicals

Doesn't sound like a good idea to me.  But I would say that, wouldn't I...

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Employment in Japan

Japan is so crazy about mascots that ‘fluffy toilet character’ is a real job - The Washington Post

Amongst the many amusing facts in this story:

The mascot industrial complex is so huge in Japan that the Finance
Ministry launched a campaign last year to cut the number of mascots to
save unnecessary spending.

There are no official figures, but
Masafumi Hagiwara, a researcher at Mitsubishi UFJ Research and
Consulting, estimates that there are about 4,000 local
­government-related mascots in Japan. The prefecture of Osaka alone had
about 92 mascots, but it gave pink slips to 20 of them during the
Finance Ministry’s campaign.

An additional 6,000 characters are probably at central government agencies, companies and other organizations, Hagiwara said.

That makes “mascot” a viable career choice in Japan. The day rate for a mascot is about $100.

Yes, I'll stop eventually...

Monday, September 12, 2016

A timing issue

Babies Take Longer To Come Out Than They Did In Grandma's Day : Shots - Health News : NPR

The typical first-time mother takes 6 1/2 hours to give birth these
days. Her counterpart 50 years ago labored for barely four hours.

That's the striking conclusion of a new federal study that compared nearly 140,000 births from two time periods.
Well I didn't know that. Possible reasons are included in the article. 

Why continue?

I hope there is someone in the media tonight who can explain why it is that the Senate couldn't just adjourn for the day (or until the afternoon) if it had no business to deal with.  It would seem that this is simply not an option, as it would be for any other organisation holding a meeting where the participants unexpectedly had nothing ready to discuss or vote on, but why is that so?

Sex and death - topics of abiding interest

A brief history of the afterlife | History Extra

This article from August summarises a new book from a Queensland academic about a topic that has been mentioned here a few times recently.  Good reading.

At the bottom of this History Extra page, there were links including to one article on sex, which lead to another, etc.  They make for some entertaining reading, and I learnt a few things on the way:

A brief history of sex and sexuality in ancient Greece

A brief history of sex and sexuality in Ancient Rome

(Can't say I had heard of the rumours of Julius Caesar "living as a girl" in the court of King Nicomedes when he was a young man.   There's a good, fairly detailed explanation of this rumour - which seems more just about him being the "passive" partner of the King, in a .pdf at this link.)

 Georgian Britain - sex in high places


I think I should be spending more on the History Extra site.

Joseph Stiglitz writes

Joseph Stiglitz Says Standard Economics Is Wrong. Inequality and Unearned Income Kills the Economy - Evonomics

It's pretty long, and I haven't read it all yet, but he does write clearly and sounds very reasonable.

Judith Sloan will hate it.

Despite the title, this is a good article

Is It Really Possible To Faint From Heat, As Clinton Claims?

Is it really possible that Right wing conspiracists are so dumb that they don't believe fainting from protracted standing in even mild warmth is not only possible, but not un-common to see happen in any large crowd of any age?  Obviously, they haven't witnessed many military parades or guards of honour...

I would also assume that the pneumonia diagnosis is a case of so-called "walking pneumonia".

She has enough time to rest before the first Presidential debate.   I predict Trump won't be so lucky as to have her pull out before that.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Yes, we'll take the lying, shallow, narcisstic, short attention span, draft dodging man boy who we don't trust to do anything he promises and whose man-crush on Putin we find rather disturbing because - Hillary

I think the heading fairly summaries the view of Instapundit's Glenn Harlan Reynolds, whose list of Hillary misdemeanours includes:

*  the email issue (even when it became clearer than ever last week that she did indeed have encouragement from Colin Powell to do what she did),

* the fact that contributors to the Clinton charity meant people asked for favours, yet no actual serious scandal of someone getting something they clearly shouldn't have has been shown; and

* a reference to the IRS targeting conservatives (because, argues Reynolds, the civil service is totally in the tank for the Democrats.)

That last point (and by the way, has anyone actually shown corruption in the American tax investigations?)  reminds me of Australian political conservatives complaining about how the institutions are against them - be it the public service, the ABC, or the Churches.   Funny thing is, it never seems to occur to them that facing widespread organisational opposition might be a sign of a self created problem - some examples being  denying climate change (boo hoo, the ABC doesn't feature the backyard scientists who don't believe NASA scientists); believing that cutting taxes always helps an economy (why won't Treasury just get, like, totally on board with that?); and pretending that keeping a couple of thousand people - including children - in indefinite detention in third world countries because they attempted to arrive in a boat is not a morally compromised position (Churches, stop being namby pamby wimps).  

The only explanation for this pathetic justification of Trump support is that the American Right (and its Australian fan base) has become so self deluded by its Right wing media echo chamber about the Evils of Hillary and the outrages of Obama that they would prefer to vote for anyone but her.  Yes, some of them think Trump is a hopeless, lying, changeable, windbag with worrying connections to Russia; but he's not Hillary, the woman who clearly deserves to be in jail because (despite detailed and repeat investigations that never can pin anything on her) the Right wing media just can't believe that prosecutions of her would fail.

As for the fate of the Nation under Clinton, there is nothing to really suggest that the path of American policy  would take a large detour from what it has been under Obama, who, for a President in charge of an alleged hell hole nation, has a pretty good approval rating.  Can't they face the fact that the American economy has not tanked?

Reynolds has outed himself, as has large slabs of the American Right, as having become simply unable to accept and process evidence with anything even faintly resembling objectivity.  Turn off the Fox news, read something other than the WSJ,  fellows, and get a grip after all these years.