Saturday, April 30, 2011

Lindsay stays loyal

Rudd was beheaded, and it was all for nothing, Tanner laments

It's interesting that Lindsay Tanner says that Labor dropped Kevin Rudd because they couldn't see that he could recover in the polls.

I'm sure that was part of it, but surely the fundamental reason it happened was because few could bear the way he organised himself and his office. Let's not forget passages such as this from just one of the post mortems after he was deposed:

The prime minister was a loner, far from consultative and keen to centralise power in his office. He appeared to have no mates in politics.

One veteran who has known Rudd since his days in Foreign Affairs says: "There are only two sources he goes to for advice: God and the cat." Cabinet was often out of the loop, on big issues and small. When Rudd announced the appointment of former National Party leader and deputy prime minister Tim Fischer as the ambassador to the Vatican, cabinet greeted the decision with stony silence. Only Foreign Minister Stephen Smith knew in advance about the appointment.

A well-placed Canberra insider said ministerial calls to the PM's mobile phone were always diverted to staffers, generally a gofer. From the time he became opposition leader in 2006, virtually none of his senior colleagues had a direct line.

They got in touch by sending a text. The story has often been told how Communications Minister Stephen Conroy was forced to get on the same plane as Rudd to give him a detailed briefing on the national broadband network.

Now we learn that booking a flight with the PM to get face-time was almost standard operating procedure. One Rudd staffer joined the boss on a flight to the Middle East, en route to Afghanistan, to brief the PM. The staffer then flew straight back to Sydney.

The outcomes of giving Kevin a chance to recover in the polls looked like this:

a. Kevin fails and we lose government;
b. Kevin succeeds and we have to put up with working with him and his appalling staffers, likely made even worse by a second success, for another 3 years.

They was no upside to keeping him.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Agony aunt Sam

The most overly self-exposed professional blogger in the world, Sam de Brito, wrote last week:
A month or so ago, I found I was suffering from four Hs: I had an outbreak of herpes, sported hives all over my body and, wonderfully, also discovered I'd developed haemorrhoids. Oh the joy.

The fourth "H" was heartbreak, ostensibly the cause of the first three Hs, as I mourned the loss of daily contact with my daughter since splitting with my partner late last year.
Well, yeah: more of your typical case of more than anyone (well, me especially) really needed to know about him.

But today's post from Sam (featured prominently at the top of the SMH: I do not visit him as a matter of routine) :

For all of today - that's Friday - from roughly 9am until 5pm, I will endeavour to answer every question or comment posted on the blog.

Soooo, if you have a question or a topic idea, write a comment and I'll do my best to reciprocate. I won't, however, be answering questions about my break-up or daughter.

If you'd like any advice on writing, journalism, getting published, getting into TV script-writing, blogging or how to shag chicks, I'll be happy to offer what help I can.

I suppose we should be grateful that he won't answer break up questions, but honest to God, what else is there in his life that we don't know already?

And why would anyone ask relationship questions of a man still effectively in the middle of his own breakup?

Yet, when I read the comments, there are many Sam admirers, who seem to find his take on all things male helpful. This says something worrying about modern social mores and Australian men, I'm sure, even though Sam's main life insight (as far as I can tell - see the very title of his blog) is that men shouldn't lie to women to get them into bed.

Which leads me to this agony aunt question he got today:

I'm currently dating a chick. She's the prettiest girl i've ever gotten this close to - i am totally physically smitten with her, and with her demeanour.

We have plenty in common, but also we're quite different.

Things are progessing well, but i have a little doubt in the back of my mind.

what do i do man?

- baz

Shag a lot. See what happens. Don't tell her you love her. Don't get her pregnant. - Sam

Err, I think I've detected a little problem here with Sam's understanding of women.

Doesn't everyone know that "shagging a lot" with any woman, regardless of whether the guy says he loves her or not, will invariably lead to the woman assuming he loves her. Jeez, wasn't this even the subject of a recent Natalie Portman movie? Sure, some women will say this won't happen to them, but it's biology. Men must assume it will happen.

Therefore, to recommend "lots of shagging" without any care as to how it will be interpreted is effectively to promote another form of lying.

So it's a big F (for Fail) in my assessment of his advice; but we knew that already.

As a sort of footnote, I extract this bit from another recent post of his I read today:

I was walking down the street a few weeks back and, vain creature that I am, checked myself out in the side window of a parked car and saw something quite disturbing.

As I moved, my chest was jiggling. Not heaving up and down like we're told a manly pectoral should, but jiggling, like a ... breast...

The next day I bought myself a pair of bathroom scales and stared down at them, dumbfounded: I was 100 kilograms.

Two years ago I weighed 86 kilograms and belonged to group of men I call "Quickdraws" because, as soon as there's a hint of sunshine, I had my shirt off to flex and strut.
I don't know, I wouldn't be completely surprised if Sam wasn't someone who's going to have a middle aged or late life sexual identity crisis. If he did, we would hear about it in all the gory psychological detail, I'm sure.

And I'll repeat my main problem with this: anyone's free to run their own blog about their own life in any detail they want. What really gets my goat is that this is a mainstream media blog carried by Fairfax. It wouldn't have happened when I were a lad!

Uhlmann on aboriginal issues

ABC The Drum - Political engagement is a universal constant

Chris Uhlmann, who I think has not turned out to be quite the climate skeptic in his 7.30 job as some might have hoped, writes about his visit this week to Alice Springs, which has led to some interesting reports on his show:

The trip has, again, brought into sharp focus the difficulty of doing anything meaningful to improve the lot of indigenous Australians, partly because they exist in a witch's brew of politics.

The feuding in Aboriginal leaders is extraordinary. And it is not just a divide between urban and regional leaders; there are sharp differences of opinion on the Northern Territory intervention in central Australian communities.

Overlayed on that is the politics of welfare, with competing ideologies fighting for the right to impose their worldview.

Then there is a state government which has, all too often, spent the Commonwealth money intended address indigenous disadvantage in the suburbs of Darwin.

No one disputes that something had to be done to protect children from neglect and abuse and to slow the rivers of grog. It's just as clear that one of the intervention's real failings was the failure to consult. That meant it did not get the one thing it needed to endure: the goodwill and enthusiastic support of the people it was aimed at helping.

But given that consulting here so often ends in a stalemate, it's easy to understand how a professional politician might choose to act rather than sit and watch a tragedy unfold.

I have noticed that Tony Abbott's contribution about the drinking issues in Alice Springs have so far consisted of asking that public drinking laws be enforced. Yet when Uhlmann asked him about large bars that are licenced from 10 to 2 and cater exclusively to an aboriginal clientele, all Tony would say is that he would like companies "from Coles and Woolworths down" to act responsibly in how they supply alcohol. I think it was Radio National today that he was asked about $2 bottles of wine that are available there. (Gosh, I never go below $3 clean skins from Dan Murphy's myself.) Again, he said something like "well, we need to enforce current laws first before we get into more draconian laws."

I think he must be reading Catallaxy.

It sure sounds to me like there is a complete lack of corporate responsibility going on there, and that it would not hurt to tighten licencing hours too. (Although, I guess the result of too much tightening of them would be ever larger amounts of takeaway grog and more public drinking which you couldn't control effectively anyway.)

It is a very intractable situation, seemingly.

Distressing news

Sad to say, it is the PM's living arrangements which have led to my children learning that couples are capable of having children without being married.

This all started at breakfast with the question "Does Julia Gillard have a boyfriend?" I thought it best to dignify Tim's status above that of mere "boyfriend" by explaining in a bit more detail that in some families, the man and woman never marry. My daughter took the opportunity to get in advance practice of some innate teenage-girl-rebellion-just-to-stir-her-parents genes by announcing that was good, she would not get married.

It was my son, on the other hand, who (though I thought he might have worked this out for himself already, but evidently not) piped up with "so people can have children without getting married? Wow." I was tempted to say "no, actually they can't, nor sleep in the same bed, it's illegal", but honesty is the best policy, regrettably.

So there you go - Julia and Tim need to marry, to prevent the further corruption of my children.

Not much of a surprise

Business gives cold shoulder to Coalition climate plan

As far as I know, no one of significance thinks the Coalition plan is worthy of support.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Shrugged indeed

Atlas sucks: Failing film producer vows to give up -

Last Monday, Tim Blair noted a Hollywood Reporter item detailing what a surprisingly (by independent film standards) strong per screen box office Atlas Shrugged (part the first) seemed to have for the first weekend. Might expand to a 1000 screens!

Hollywood Reporter didn't exactly figure on the fact that all of those who saw it on the first weekend represented the sum total of Ayn Rand fanboys in the United States, and you know, despite their disproportionate noise in political circles, there probably just ain't that many of them.

Hence it expanded to more screens (four hundred and something, not the 1000 the producer speculated on) and took about half the takings the next week.

So, that's a touch over $3 million, for a $20 million film.

Those figures are bad enough for the producer to wave the white flag. You could expect Salon (and me) to take pleasure from this, and we do:

And so its producer, an exercise equipment company CEO (I mean a DYNAMIC PRIME MOVER) who spent $20 million of his own money to finally put Rand's vision on the big screen, is giving up. The film will not expand to 1,000 screens. The second part of the trilogy will not be produced. (That is the real shame, here: The second part is where hundreds of people die horrifically of asphyxiation. And the best part is that they all totally deserve it for being "looters.") (No one will miss part three, which would've just been a three-hour-long speech.)

And so John Aglialoro, the film's producer, will "go Galt" and retire to the desert, where his ability to manage a company that produces exercise equipment will allow him to create the perfect society.

Sounds to me like it may not even get a cinema release here. Sinclair won't be left in the dark by himself after all.

That sounds healthy...

Study predicts how tattoos will age

A couple of surprising things from the above article:
"Tattoos are incredibly popular worldwide with more than a third of 18-25 year olds in the US sporting at least one design," said Mr Eames.
That's a bigger proportion than I would have expected. Then there's this:

Tattoo inks are a suspension of water-insoluble particles, such as mercury, lead, cadmium and iron, which are injected under the skin using a needle.

Over time, these inks become dispersed as the cells which contain them die, divide or leave the body.

My, that sounds like a healthy past time: injecting your cells with poisonous metals. Are there ever any health consequences of that?

Hey, it seems the FDA has been looking into it since 2008. Seems they are taking their time about it, though.

What a pity. It would cause me some amusement if it turned out the FDA wanted to restrict tattooing somehow.

Ups and downs

Michael Tobis has an odd post up in which he seems overcome by another wave of pessimism about winning the battle with "pseudoscientists" over climate change, but he tempers this by the odd sort of "upside" that the future without changing course will at least not be boring. In fact, it will have a bit of science fiction-y excitement about it. (Starving masses needing factory food from the moon, perhaps?) [To be fairer, his point is probably more that people who want climate change action don't do themselves any favours by painting a "boring" picture of the future that sounds like it's windmills everywhere while everyone becomes a happy hippy artist.]

Good old Michael at least wears his heart on his sleeve, and given that I've previously speculated on the coming Carbon Wars (cruise missiles being sent to destroy Chinese coal power plants, anyone?) I kind of like it when someone who's actually doing climate science stuff makes even wilder guesses as to the future. (Frankly, I think my idea of a group of modern Captain Nemos patrolling the oceans in submarines to sink coal carrying ships is more "do-able" than food factories on the Moon. This Navy Rear Admiral is completely on side with climate science, after all.)

On the slightly up side, given yesterday's depressing story about how China's consumer goods industry more than makes up for the carbon reductions the West has achieved, there is this story that Chinese carbon emissions might not continue rising forever:

Well before mid-century, according to a new study by Berkeley Lab's China Energy Group, that nation's will level off, even as its population edges past 1.4 billion. "I think this is very good news,'' says Mark Levine, co-author of the report, "China's Energy and Outlook to 2050" and director of the group. "There's been a perception that China's rising prosperity means runaway growth in . Our study shows this won't be the case."
But what are the assumptions here?:

The new Berkeley Lab forecast also uses the two scenarios to examine CO2 emissions anticipated through 2050. Under the more aggressive scenario, China's emissions of the greenhouse gas are predicted to peak in 2027 at 9.7 billion metric tons. From then on, they will fall significantly, to about 7 billion metric tons by 2050. Under the more conservative scenario, CO2 emissions will reach a plateau of 12 billion metric tons by 2033, and then trail down to 11 billion metric tons at mid-century.

Several assumptions about China's efforts to "decarbonize" its energy production and consumption are built into the optimistic forecasts for reductions in the growth of . They include:

• A dramatic reduction in coal's share of energy production, to as low as 30 percent by 2050, compared to 74 percent in 2005

• An expansion of nuclear power from 8 gigwatts in 2005 to 86 gigawatts by 2020, followed by a rise to as much as 550 gigawatts in 2050

• A switch to electric cars. The assumption is that urban private car ownership will reach 356 million vehicles by 2050. Under the "continued improvement scenario," 30 percent of these will be electric; under the "accelerated improvement scenario," 70 percent will be electric.

Well, I guess those figures are possible, but sound just a tad optimistic. Maybe China is interested in going to the Moon to set up the food factory farms just in case this all goes belly up.

Michael, pass me the bottle.

Eye Phone

After mentioning Apple yesterday, I was very amused to see a recent episode of Futurama last night which turned out to be a whole episode parodying the company and its fanboys:

It was the funniest thing I have seen for a long time.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Considering thorium

Why is no one talking about safe nuclear power?�(Science Alert)

Julian Cribb sings the praises of thorium reactors as having a lot of passive safety, as well as other attractive features (including scalability in size, and no need for large amounts of cooling water.)

I must admit, I have read little about them, and thought that, to a large extent, they were still pretty experimental.

I guess it's time to correct my knowledge deficiencies.

It's complicated, Part 2

New study links ozone hole to climate change all the way to the equator

....researchers at Columbia University's School of Engineering and Applied Science report their findings that the ozone hole, which is located over the South Pole, has affected the entire circulation of the Southern Hemisphere all the way to the equator. While previous work has shown that the ozone hole is changing the atmospheric flow in the high latitudes, the Columbia Engineering paper, "Impact of Polar Ozone Depletion on Subtropical Precipitation," demonstrates that the ozone hole is able to influence the tropical circulation and increase rainfall at low latitudes in the Southern Hemisphere. This is the first time that ozone depletion, an upper atmospheric phenomenon confined to the polar regions, has been linked to climate change from the Pole to the equator.
As the BBC version of the story notes:

The team found that overall, the ozone hole has resulted in rainfall moving south along with the winds.

But there are regional differences, particularly concerning Australia.

"In terms of the average for that zone, [the ozone hole drives] about a 10% change - but for Australia, it's about 35%," Dr Kang told BBC News.

The CSIRO will no doubt be very interested in the study.

It's complicated

Study shows developed nation's reduction in CO2, outpaced by developing country emissions

Despite the emergence of regional climate policies, growth in global CO2 emissions has remained strong. From 1990 to 2008 CO2 emissions in developed countries (defined as countries with emission-reduction commitments in the Kyoto Protocol, Annex B) have stabilized, but emissions in developing countries (non-Annex B) have doubled. Some studies suggest that the stabilization of emissions in developed countries was partially because of growing imports from developing countries. To quantify the growth in emission transfers via international trade, we developed a trade-linked global database for CO2 emissions covering 113 countries and 57 economic sectors from 1990 to 2008. We find that the emissions from the production of traded goods and services have increased from 4.3 Gt CO2 in 1990 (20% of global emissions) to 7.8 Gt CO2 in 2008 (26%). Most developed countries have increased their consumption-based emissions faster than their territorial emissions, and non–energy-intensive manufacturing had a key role in the emission transfers. The net emission transfers via international trade from developing to developed countries increased from 0.4 Gt CO2 in 1990 to 1.6 Gt CO2 in 2008, which exceeds the Kyoto Protocol emission reductions. Our results indicate that international trade is a significant factor in explaining the change in emissions in many countries, from both a production and consumption perspective. We suggest that countries monitor emission transfers via international trade, in addition to territorial emissions, to ensure progress toward stabilization of global greenhouse gas emissions.
Here's my half stupid suggestion: can we agree that Apple products are as good as they need to be for the next 20 years? In fact, now that I think of it, all computers are as good as they need be for the next ten to 20 years.

I'm pretty happy with TV technology as it is too. Does anyone need a better audio system than those available at the moment?

If you stop making things brighter and shinier, maybe people will stop buying new ones. Then China can shut down several factories in a few years time, people in the West won't buy so much stuff, and we can all feel better about importing less CO2.

Just call me Clive 2.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Couple of videos about ocean acidification

There hasn't been much noted about ocean acidification here for a long time, but I thought these two videos were worth a look.

The first makes me feel cold just watching it. Mind you, I am not sure of the significance of the phytoplankton polymer production that he is researching, but still it's interesting to see the efforts scientists go to:

The next is about ocean acidification generally, and the effect on larvae of some shellfish in particular. Seems a sensible man:

Back on board–kinda

So, what did I miss while touring Australia’s South Island (a.k.a. Tasmania.  Photo post to come.)

Labor in more than a spot of bother with refugees; Labor and Gillard’s popularity still down.  Ho hum: there is obviously not going to be any change for Labor until they have some sort of circuit breakers of success; we all know the government is going to look ineffectual until something starts to appear to be a decent policy well implemented.    Could Gillard be the opposite of Rudd:  too reliant on her Ministers working out the details when the country really wants to know what they are?  Time will tell, I guess.

The PM’s de facto having a chat with the Empress of Japan:  I bet he never saw this future role for himself 5 years ago.   I do wish they would marry – Tim and Julia, I mean, not Tim and the Empress.  While some would bemoan this as a cynical move to reverse the popularity slide, all conservatives should rightly welcome it as a good example for the institution of marriage, and visited Asian royalty and leaders would no doubt be much relieved.   But while ever they continue to do things like attend a royal wedding, they keep inadvertently bolstering the image of opportunism if they were to marry soon afterwards.   Who cares – just do it, I say.

Andrew Bolt still banging on about Fukushima not being such a bad thing because no one has (yet) died of radiation.  Meanwhile, in Japan, where the 80,000 odd people who had to leave the 20 km evacuation zone have been given 5 hours to collect stuff from home before the enforced exclusion from the zone, and people in the band of higher contamination to the north west well outside of the evacuation zone have been told to leave their towns within the month, they might feel somewhat less sanguine about nuclear power.

(OK, let’s assume the Japanese government is being overly cautious.  Yet they are acting on scientific advice, and hey, would Andrew Bolt or Gavin Atkins move back into the area with his own children if that was the advice being given?   Look – Atkins is right to bemoan anti nuclear drama students that even want to shut down the small, medical isotope providing facility at Lucas Heights; but fair’s fair.   Stop acting as if the indefinite abandonment of huge swathes of land and townships – a 20 km radius is a lot of area, and there are towns 30 or more km away about to be largely abandoned too – is just worth a shrug of the shoulders.   Your much proclaimed low number of radiation deaths comes at a very, very high human and economic price – in both Chernobyl and now Fukushima.) 

As for other areas of the world which might have some major human issues if there is a nuclear accident – Nature ran an interesting article pointing out that many plants are much closer to large population areas:

An analysis carried out by Nature and Columbia University, New York, shows that two-thirds of the world's 211 power plants have more people living within a 30-kilometre radius than the 172,000 people living within 30 kilometres of the Fukushima Daiichi plant, who have been forced or advised to leave. Some 21 plants have populations larger than 1 million within that radius, and six have populations larger than 3 million.

Yet working out the risk position of such areas is complicated, as the rest of the article argues.  Well worth a read.  I would say it largely supports my hunch:  smaller nuclear is better; passive safety should now be the over-riding feature of future design.  (And keep them away from large population centres anyway.)

Speaking of Andrew Bolt – remember him pooh-poohing the European flight bans last years during the Icelandic volcanic eruptions?  Because computer modelling was used to try to track the ash?   (As someone else already noted, this was a ridiculous comparison of climate models with computer forecasts for a few day’s of wind; but Andrew is very opportunistic with his anti-modelling line.)   Well, a couple of scientists have published a paper begging to differ.   The ash stayed dangerous for a long time.  (And I am betting there was no easy way to track its precise path in the sky.)  

It seems it doesn’t matter what safety issue it is – radiation, volcano ash, climate change – the right of politics has taken such an ideological position against AGW that it distorts their attitude to all other issues of public safety too.  

Conservative politics hasn’t always been like this – they used to like and trust science, I think.  One day it will swing back that way, but it seems a long, long way off in the future.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Heading off for a while

See you soon. Don't forget to come back...

Good points, Tim

Clubs Launch Pokies Campaign Against Restrictions

Tim Costello makes many good, sensible points on the issue of regulation of poker machines.

Polling today indicates quite strong support from the public for tightening their regulation. Support seems stronger from lower income people. So much for one argument from one participant at the blog noted next that regulating pokies was a form of class warfare to punish the working class for enjoying their preferred form of gambling.

Libertarian types at that certain blog continue to show themselves as whiny, hysterical types who exaggerate and use straw man arguments to disavow any government proposal to tighten regulation in virtually any field, no matter what evidence is provided. In fact, their ideological blinkers means that most of them don't need to consider evidence at all - just look at the typical libertarian attitude to climate change.

Libertarians are the mirror image of left wing ideologues who put their ideology ahead of what comprises good government from the view of common sense pragmatism. Both are to be avoided.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Not built like they used to be?

HMAS Adelaide: history made as Navy ship sinks

Is it just me, or does it seem to anyone else that Navy ships just don't seem to used for very long anymore before they're decommissioned and then, nearly as a matter of routine, sunk for an artificial reef? It just seems to happen so often now, and for ships I have a vague recollection of hearing about when they were in service; seemingly not so long ago.

Or is this just a sign of my advancing decrepitude?

Yuri's ghost

Yuri Gagarin and the superstitions of space | Open thread | Comment is free |

The Guardian has a brief piece on the superstitions of astronauts, particularly Russian ones relating to Yuri Gagarin:

They leave a red carnation at his memorial wall, visit his old office and ask permission from his ghost before launch. More bizarre is the tradition of male cosmonauts urinating on the right rear wheel of the bus used to transfer them to the launch site (women have the option of dashing a cup of their own urine on the wheel too).
Well, I suppose that rules out men with a "shy bladder" ever being an astronaut in Russia, then.

Here's the link to an story with a lot more detail of such superstitions, and it's a fun read.

Where's the Beano?

We went to a French restaurant last night, and very nice it was. Good French eating is still not that common in Brisbane, so it seems. The menu was far from innovative: in fact, it was like a list of the top 8 "classics" from a Margaret Fulton's 1970's cook book, but both the bouillabaisse and cassoulet were very good and of generous size. (Last year we tried a French restaurant at another part of Brisbane and the portion size was stunningly small, as it reputedly was when nouvelle cuisine was all the rage.)

Anyway, I was the one who chose the cassoulet (the hearty bean dish with sausage, duck and pork belly in it), bravely knowing the likely later consequences, which did in fact arrive, but not until about 4 am.

Which got me thinking: whatever happened to Beano. I remember reading about this in Discover magazine in (I think) the 1980's. They used to have a humourous columnist, a woman whose name I forget now, but I remember her column about a forthcoming enzyme based product which (if I recall correctly) was to be sprayed on your beans to reduce later gaseous consequences.

But Beano has never appeared in Australia, and I have never gone looking for it on the internet.

And here it is: you can get it in the US, but to take as a tablet, not put on your bean-y meal. (That was probably never a goer, but I'm sure I remember that being suggested as the way it would be used.)

I am pleased to see that the anti-flatulence product does not take itself too seriously. The videos at the University of Gas are done with an appropriate level of humour.

Maybe you can buy it online in Australia, but I have never noticed it in a pharmacy or supermarket. If it works, this is a product that deserves better marketing here.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Understood up to a point...

How much free will do we have? (Science Alert)

I always start to eventually get lost in the detail when reading about Bell inequality, free will and determinism, but this story about it was not a bad explanation for the most part.

They only want you to think they did

FBI destroyed thousands of UFO reports, 1949 memo reveals | World news | The Guardian

We all know they actually ended up in cardboard boxes in Mulder's basement office. How naive do they think we are?

Living in a hole

What a fun bit of speculation that must be worth a science fiction novel, or ten: Planets Could Orbit Singularities Inside Black Holes.

It doesn't exactly look like Star Wars, but still...

BBC News - Laser gun fired from US navy ship

People a bit smarter than expected?

Tobacco industry calls for plain packaging of cigarettes | Cigarettes Flavours

From the link:

A major tobacco-industry funded advertising blitz has backfired, with new research revealing the “It won’t work, so why do it” campaign persuaded more people to support the plain packaging of cigarettes than oppose it. The Cancer Council Victoria survey of 2,101 Victorians who recalled the ad campaign found has found that more than eight out of ten (86.2%) respondents said the ad didn’t affect their view of plain packaging 8.4% of respondents said the ad actually increased their support of plain packaging.

Nice view!

What Yuri Gagarin saw: First Orbit film to reveal the view from Vostok 1 | Science |

Just click on the link to see a lovely pic of the great view they have in the International Space Station from its big-windowed cupola.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Picturing C

Many are the ways in which I amuse myself. I've been playing with the iPad, while thinking about the identities at a certain bog. I mean blog...

"I just burnt a my bedroom."

"Oooh, he's such a talent. "

"Welcome all. So, our policy response to the last 4 Labor initiatives: bullsh*t, bullsh*t, bullsh*t and double bullsh*t. Meeting adjourned. Now to relax with some freedom sticks."

"My gym has a very loose dress code..."

"I moisturise daily, but I don't think anyone notices."

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Atlas burned

How amusing. PJ O'Rourke does his best to pan the Atlas Shrugged (Part 1) movie while trying to let down his Rand admiring buddies gently.

Here's his mea culpa paragraph:
Millions of people have read “Atlas Shrugged” and been brought around to common sense, never mind that the author and her characters don’t exhibit much of it. Ayn Rand, perhaps better than anyone in the 20th century, understood that the individual self-seeking we call an evil actually stands in noble contrast to the real evil of self-seeking collectives. (A rather Randian sentence.) It’s easy to make fun of Rand for being a simplistic philosopher, bombastic writer and—I’m just saying—crazy old bat. But the 20th century was no joke. A hundred years, from Bolsheviks to Al Qaeda, were spent proving Ayn Rand right.
A rather simplistic take in itself, I would have thought. I mean, O'Rourke himself notes this:

In “Atlas Shrugged” Rand set out to prove that self-interest is vital to mankind. This, of course, is the whole point of free-market classical liberalism and has been since Adam Smith invented free-market classical liberalism by proving the same point. Therefore trying to make a movie of “Atlas Shrugged” is like trying to make a movie of “The Wealth of Nations.” But Adam Smith had the good sense to leave us with no plot, characters or melodramatic clashes of will so that we wouldn’t be tempted to try.

This really gets to what I don't understand: why does anyone need the over-the-top version of Rand's take on self interest and capitalism to believe that capitalism and more-or-less free markets have (in the broad sense) worked well? It seems to me that she took the obvious, inflated it beyond common sense, and then turned it into a cult.

But what really amuses me about the review is that this praise for Rand at the (shall we say) "meta" level clearly does not please the Randheads. One comment simply reads:
Are you reviewing the Movie or just happy to pan the views of Ayn Rand?
And a lengthier one notes:
I find it interesting that a simple truth can be looked upon as so evil a thing byso many; One works hard. One is paid. One’s pay is immediately stolen via a rather shady progressive personal income tax that punishes anyone who actually tries. The more you try, the heavier the punishment. Seems in another age this would be called theft or craven evil by any sane person, but today, to raise objection means castigation.
And on it goes. You get the drift.

There has been controversy about burning the Koran lately. It seems to me if you really want to cause trouble within the American political system, where Randian inspired politicians are on the rise (even though I reckon level of enthusiasm for Rand is inversely proportional to a politician's degree of common sense), have a campaign of Rand book burnings and public denunciations of her philosophy.

It would amuse me, anyway.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Mammals are interesting

Pretty remarkable video in which both cat and dolphin appear to enjoy touching each other:

Reasons not to take them seriously

The Coalition on climate change policy, that is.

I refer to a couple of stories in the media this morning. In the first, Lenore Taylor takes to task a specific example of Abbott scaremongering about the cost of a carbon price, noting that a large increase in a butcher's electricity bill is not quite what it seems, for the customer:

For Greenwood, that [$4000 per year in increased electricity] is undoubtedly a significant extra cost. But he also told us his rough annual turnover, which allowed us to calculate that in order to pass on all that extra cost to his consumers, he would have to raise his prices by about 0.187 per cent.

For Greenwood's customers in Coffs Harbour that would mean T-bone steak at $22 a kilo would now cost … wait for it … . $22.04. Minced meat at $11 a kilo would now cost $11.02.

The indicative Treasury modelling released last week under freedom of information shows the average cost of a household weekly shop would rise by somewhere between 80 cents and $1.70, depending on whether the carbon price was set at the upper or lower end of expectations and whether it was allowed to flow through to the cost of petrol.

And Peter van Onselen in the Australian notes the Coalition figures who are taking hypocritical pleasure in the government's carbon price PR problem:

Climate change spokesman Greg Hunt, manager of opposition business in the House of Representatives Christopher Pyne, deputy leader of the opposition in the Senate George Brandis, shadow immigration minister Scott Morrison and countless other Coalition MPs are getting their media fix gloating about Labor's climate change woes in the here and now.

But they would do well to remember that in late 2009 each of them were arguing till they were blue in the face - with colleagues and through the media - that Turnbull should be backed in his efforts to pass the ETS. "You must price carbon if you want action on climate change" some bellowed. "If we don't pass the ETS we will be comprehensively routed at the polls," others exclaimed.

van Onselen reckons that Hunt has a broader leadership potential, and is being hobbled by having to do the hard sell on a Coalition policy that it he clearly can't genuinely believe is the best option.

Hobbled he may be, but personally, I fail to see his broader public appeal. I don't find his media performances at all convincing, and (although this is admittedly a shallow assessment!) I have trouble getting over his strangely old fashioned hair and strained grimace that passes for a smile. (One has to admit, Howard was not always a natural smiley face either. Politicians can be convincing despite odd looks, but Hunt is far from achieving that yet, in my reckoning.)

Friday, April 08, 2011

It's-up-to- you-New Del-hi, New Dellll-hiii

That title is meant to be sung to the tune of New York, New York, in case you couldn't figure it out, and is inspired by this news: Deadly superbug found in New Delhi water supply:

A deadly superbug was found in about a quarter of water samples taken from drinking supplies and puddles on the streets of New Delhi, according to a new study.

Experts say it's the latest proof that the new drug-resistant bacteria, known as NDM-1, named for New Delhi, is widely circulating in the environment - and could potentially spread to the rest of the world.

The superbug can only be treated with a couple of highly toxic and expensive antibiotics. Since it was first identified in 2008, it has popped up in a number of countries, including the United States, Australia, Britain, Canada and Sweden.

Most of those infections were in people who had recently traveled to or had medical procedures in India, Pakistan or Bangladesh.

Must make a city proud to have a widely feared, drug resistant bacteria named after it!

I forget what TV show I was watching recently that mentioned that many antibiotics in India are not sold under prescription, and hence are widely overused. Presumably, the is part of the problem.

Reasoned analysis

This is a recent photo. The woman in the middle of the three, Federal Health Minister Roxon, is heading up the government's push to enforce plain, ugly olive, cigarette packaging, in the hope that it will help prevent young people taking up smoking. (As I understand it, this is the main goal - if you stop teenagers taking it up, you've pretty much won the war.)

For her efforts, a couple of the intellectuals at Catallaxy note:

A fatty like Roxon is telling me what to do?

That’s the biggest outrage. A fat loathsome troll telling you what you can and can’t do takes the biscuit.

[this just in]:
Has this fat slob (Roxon) gone for a jog today or is she busy scoffing apple turnovers?


Such wit. Such connection with reality...

Update: in the time it took me to post that, I see they doubled down on their stupidity. It's a popular thing to do over there.

Update 2: Libertarians love to talk about adults having the right to live their life as they chose, while not acknowledging the fact that it is extremely likely such adults started "living their life" with respect to tobacco before they were 18. (And that, as a consequence of that childhood decision, may well have difficulty stopping what becomes an unwanted habit as an adult.)

Didn't know that...

Here come the Men in Black - again |

I remain quite fond of the first MIB. The second is hard to remember. Maybe the trilogy will be like Back to the Future, and the third will be better?

Stiglitz on Fukushima and risk

One egg; one basket - you weigh the risk

Well, I bet this'll annoy them over at Catallaxy. Joseph Stiglitz draws comparisons between over-confidence in both the nuclear and finance industries, and ends as follows:

For the planet, there is one more risk, which, like the other two, is almost a certainty: global warming. If there were other planets to which we could move at low cost in the event of the almost certain outcome predicted by scientists, one could argue that this is a risk worth taking. But there aren't, so it isn't.

The costs of reducing emissions pale in comparison with the possible risks the world faces. And that is true even if we rule out the nuclear option (the costs of which were always underestimated). To be sure, coal and oil companies would suffer, and big polluting countries - like the US - would obviously pay a higher price than those with a less profligate lifestyle.

In the end, those gambling in Las Vegas lose more than they gain. As a society, we are gambling - with our big banks, with our nuclear power facilities, with our planet. As in Las Vegas, the lucky few - the bankers that put our economy at risk and the owners of energy companies that put our planet at risk - may walk off with a mint. But on average and almost certainly, we as a society, like all gamblers, will lose.

That is a lesson of Japan's disaster that we continue to ignore at our peril.

This is, I might point out, very close to the argument I have been running lately. The climate change skeptics, safe in their beds thousands of kilometres away, have been very aggressively downplaying the seriousness of the Fukushima accident; but really, they are the last people who should be pretending to be able to make reliable calls on the question of risk.

Of course, I have criticised the likes of Barry Brooks too, and many scientists with connections to the nuclear industry, for leaping in too fast with claims of "no need to worry, it's all under control." By doing so, they have also hurt the image of their reliability to assess risk.

The appropriate response, is, as it happens, mine. (Who'd have guessed?):

1. the Fukushima accident is very serious: any accident that requires long term abandonment of land scores of kilometres from the scene is serious, regardless of how many deaths or cancers it is ultimately believed to cause. (Even the shorter term evacuation of about 170,000 people is just being ignored, or treated as a mere inconvenience, by some commentators.)

2. It has shown the lack of adequate foresight in the nuclear industry, and highlighted several issues that need urgent addressing, such as the danger of the current international practice of leaving large amounts of spent fuel at the reactor sites for long periods.

3. the accident shows the importance of maximising passive safety in future design, even if such safety increases the cost somewhat.

4. future reactors should not be closely sited together due to the domino effect of disasters.

These issues are not actually all that hard to work out with common sense. I mean, everyone can tell that it's risky having lots of reactors and spent fuel rods in pools in a high risk earthquake area, such as (unfortunately) all of Japan. (Well, we didn't know how dangerous spent fuel rods still were until this accident, did we? Now that we do know, the question is "what are the industry and government regulators thinking, just leaving huge amounts of this stuff in pools - which must always remain full - for decades?)

I still think there can be an important future for nuclear, but there has to be more common sense applied to some of the very basics here, and I am not sure that this should even increase costs unduly. For example, one of the arguments for pebble bed style reactors is that they may need less rigorous containment due to an inability to melt down. Also, is it really cheaper to store spent fuel rods for years in pools than move them off site into the (obviously needed) permanent geological storage facility? And what about the "mini reactors" that are being developed: although I am not entirely sure how "passively safe" they will be, at least if one goes wrong, the amount of material released is going to smaller and more localised.

The nuclear industry needs a good dose of common sense questioning and change, and downplaying Fukushima is not going to achieve that.

Not unexpected around here

Long-term users of ecstasy risk structural brain damage

The MRI scans showed that hippocampal volume in this group was 10.5% smaller than that of their peers, and the overall proportion of grey matter was on average 4.6% lower, after adjusting for total .

This indicates that the effects of ecstasy may not be restricted to the alone, say the authors

"Taken together, these data provide preliminary evidence suggesting that ecstasy users may be prone to incurring hippocampal damage, following chronic use of this drug," they write.

They add that their findings echo those of other researchers who have reported acute swelling and subsequent atrophy of hippocampal tissue in long term ecstasy users....

Other research has suggested that people who use ecstasy develop significant , so the Dutch researchers wanted to find out if there was any clinical evidence of structural changes in the brain to back this up.

"Did you bring me a gift?"

Sexual transmission of insect-borne virus

It's about yet another virus you can catch in Africa, the Zika virus, and it sounds nasty:
within five days of their return became ill. They experienced symptoms of rash, , headaches, and swollen joints. Foy also experienced painful urination and blood in his semen.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

The uncertain remedy

BBC News - Climate 'technical fix' may yield warming, not cooling

Interesting discussion of one of the simpler proposed methods of turning down the planet's heat if it keeps going up: ships spraying seawater in the air to encourage more clouds to reflect away heat.

Seems, though, if you didn't get it right, it could have the opposite effect.

All very unclear, and given that it seems a much less dangerous thing to try than, say, shooting sulphur into the stratosphere, it's probably not a bad thing to start trialling now.

Just can't stop the cultural slide

Big Brother returns with celebrity special after move to Channel 5

Yes, Big Brother will again be running in Britain for another couple of seasons, after being dropped by Channel 4. The onwer of Channel 5 apparently has all the worst qualifications to run the show:

Certainly, the factors that led the original British broadcaster to cancel the commission – a tiring franchise that was becoming increasingly sexualised and verbally violent – seem unlikely to bother Desmond, whose media portfolio includes the adult entertainment channels Television X and Red Hot TV.

Critics who felt that the first British version of the format had already lowered broadcasting standards, with scenes of racial bullying and sexual congress with a bottle, will fear that such moments may come to seem highbrow peaks in comparison with Desmond's version.

Top marks...

...for the most annoying and pretentious newspaper blogger/writer head shot ever devised:

Yes, for some reason, I recently made the click from the Sydney Morning Herald to have a look at what long time irritant, but puzzlingly popular, writer Sam de Brito was talking about now*, and once again grimaced at this photo, which seems to have been there for so many years I wouldn't be surprised if he has less hair now.

Maybe it wasn't his idea. Maybe it was his girlfriend at the time. But truly, how can it not grate?

I have posted before about how distasteful I find his all too public disclosure of his private life; but I think I have overlooked mentioning that Sam noticed the last time I talked about him here, and bagged me in his column! He refused to link to me, though, which is fair enough, but enough of his readers promptly Googled to find the source of complaint that I realised something was up via my Sitemeter.

So, what is he up to now? As far as I can gather, Sam is in a custody dispute over his young child, the mother of whom broke up with him when the baby was either very young, or (perhaps) not even born.

This is not funny for anyone, I'll grant you: particularly for a male with an unseemly urge to write about absolutely every intimate detail of his life, body and self perceived character.

As someone in comments at his blog made mention to Sam that perhaps he should not talk about his custody fight on Twitter, I went looking for it. Of course, if ever there was a type of person Twitter was designed for, it's de Brito. Hence, we get gems like these (keep in mind, this is a man - with a big media profile - having custody issues over his one year old):

Do you really need to wash all baby clothes before you put them on the kid?

Ok. Finally seem to have got rolling on the second half of this novel. The words are flowing. About time. Feel like having sex now.
I had no idea how heavily the law weighs in women's favour when it comes to child custody: never put yourself or your child through it.

Precursor chemicals for meth? Hypophosphorous acid, iodine, pseudo, benzene, metho, toluene ... since I asked, I shall inform as well.
Damn these kids next door and their basketball. I'm gonna leave some ice in the letter box. And a pipe.

Damn, just sucked my little finger and forgot I'd had it in my earhole ten minutes earlier. Nasty.

Well, it seems wrong to kick a man when he's down (although it seems he is having the kid sleep over now, so maybe he's not that down, and he can afford a $850 a week two bedroom apartment), but hasn't his lawyer told him something like this: "For God's sake Sam, no good ever comes of running a Twitter feed on every silly thought that comes into that inky faced head of yours when you're having custody fight with your ex! Just stop it. The world will get by without knowing you just tasted ear wax, or the age at which you grew your pubic hair!"

And Sam, if you're reading: it's just a bit of friendly advice to someone who seriously needs it.

* given that he's previously shared with us his the varieties of venereal bugs and infections he's picked up, as well as what an idiot he was when he last took cocaine, I was hardly surprised to see a recent column was all about he was relatively late in developing pubic hair.

Fox appears late

Here's trivial information for you: it would appear from the Japan Times that Fantastic Mr Fox - one of the most eccentric and enjoyable animated films of the last couple of years - has just been released in Japan. The world of movie distribution is indeed mysterious.

Speaking of animated films - I saw Rango last weekend. It is quite possibly even more eccentric a film than Fox, with a remarkable, slightly creepy, visual style; a plot that actually seems to forget to resolve a couple of key mysteries; but also the amazing vocal humour of Johnny Depp. Depp always grabs eccentric comedic roles by the throat and does them spectacularly well. (I'm not sure if I have mentioned it before, but his version of Willy Wonka in Charlie and Chocolate Factory is much more amusing than Gene Wilder's attempt.)

Rango is not perfect, but very enjoyable.

One anomaly solved, a new one arrives?

In physics news, it seems that the Pioneer anomaly may have been resolved without modifying gravity.  That seems a pity:  I would like gravity to be modified, especially at the local level.

But there may be a new big physics finding on the way:  Fermilab is about to formally announce they think they’ve  found evidence of either a new particle, or a new force.  Or, as the New York Times says:  “it could be there is something they do not understand about so-called regular physics”, which doesn’t quite have the same ring of excitement to it.

I see that the Cosmic Variance blog is taking a fairly cautious tone about this, so maybe it’ll come to naught.  But let’s hope not.   It seems something unexpected has to be found in physics in order to kick it out of its decades long rut. 

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Rodent news

Rat plague bears down on Alice Springs

That's not quite as bad as it sounds - it's a native rat making a a reappearance, in a big enough way to be called "an eruption":

The long-haired rat normally lives on isolated black soil plains in the Barkly Tableland of the Northern Territory and in western Queensland.

But it is taking advantage of high rainfall across the region to migrate en masse.

The rats have been sighted in Alice Springs for the first time in 25 years, and has also been seen in the remote community of Aputula, 250 kilometres further south.

"It really is a huge event and is pretty much down to that run of consecutive good, high rainfall seasons," said Peter McDonald, acting scientist with Northern Territory Biodiversity Conservation.

Mr McDonald says the rat migration is a unique event.

"It is unusual in the rodent world but Rattus villosissimus are unique in that way and they are pretty famous for their eruptions," he said.

"Probably the only similar expansion by a rodent is seen in the lemmings in the northern hemisphere with their eruptions.

Meanwhile, on the domestic front, there seems to be no doubt that at least one rat has taken up residence in the floor space between the downstairs living area and the upstairs level. I can hear it scurrying around while I blog late at night.

I guess it got there via the roof, where rats are an annual problem, and down through the walls. Maybe it moves between the roof and the floorspace daily: that would at least give me a chance of baiting it via the roof.

I just realised tonight that I can probably access the floorspace for baiting purposes by removing one of the kitchen downlights, and I did hear it scurrying a bit close to that area tonight. But if it dies in the floorspace, I'll have no hope of removing the dead body, and we know from experience that dead rat smell permeates ceiling plasterboard quite well.

I think we need a reliable rodent repellent that can be sprayed in ceiling spaces. That might be the only hope of keeping them away.

Ayn causes pain

Hey, another bit of anti-Randian material comes my way. (Must be the movie coming out soon that's prompting this?) Bit of a sad story, really, of a father who becomes a self absorbed objectivist (is there any other type?), and a pain to his daughter in the process. I like this anecdote:
One time, at dinner, I complained that my brother was hogging all the food.

"He's being selfish!" I whined to my father.

"Being selfish is a good thing," he said. "To be selfless is to deny one's self. To be selfish is to embrace the self, and accept your wants and needs."

It was my dad's classic response -- a grandiose philosophical answer to a simple real-world problem. But who cared about logic? All I wanted was another serving of mashed potatoes.

Woops, forgot the baby

The Economist notes that "White America" (sounds to me like there might have been a better way of putting it) is showing a dramatic drop in birth rate, while minority groups are growing strongly.

Not quite sure why this would be.

Recommended again

This short example of a Bryan Appleyard post (including comments following) shows why I am really pleased to have him blogging again.

Sounds important

The 'molecular octopus': A little brother of 'Schroedinger's cat'

Kind of a bad explanation of what they did here, but still the result sounds significant - a large organic molecule of about 430 atoms was shown to be in a state of "superposition", like the presumed state of Schroedinger's Cat.

I wonder if this leads us any closer to a theoretical understanding of what a quantum superposition means?

For those interested in this topic only

The topic being: how stupid is Catallaxy. (The rest of you should look away.)

I see that yesterday, a few of the regulars (CL, d-d and IT) decided that Tony Abbott really wasn't performing well at the moment. Policy cut through wasn't happening, with IT noting something like "he's too busy riding his bicycle for that".

What, I wonder, has changed in the last six months to lead to these conclusions? The answer: absolutely nothing, in fact. There is nothing in their present criticisms that wasn't true of Abbott in the immediate period after he became leader, and which I had been saying since then; including the fact that his enthusiasm for exercise makes him look not entirely devoted to thinking about policy.

Yet when yours truly made these comments, it was all derision and ridiculous psycho-sexual analysis of why I have an issue with a politician who seems to spend just as much time in the media in lycra as in suits.

Speaking of psycho-sexual analysis: it's an ironic sign of his lack of insight that CL routinely answers criticism of his views and conduct in debate(at least if it is made by a perceived enemy) by claiming that his critic must be psychologically disturbed. No, he can't ever be wrong, or admit overstepping a line: instead, the explanation must be that it's the critic who is psychologically troubled. We saw this again in his counter-attack on HC last night, who pretty much followed my line in attacking Fisk and CL's ridiculous support for more Koran burning: because, you know, there just haven't been enough deaths of UN workers and police shooting into rioters to satisfy them yet. (Harry, you missed my point, though, that the most offensive thing in their rants was Fisk's use of "worthless sub-human animals" for the people of Afghanistan.)

Anyway, the weirdly tribal inner circle of Catallaxy has spoken - Abbott is a bit of a dud and a lightweight after all.

What a bunch of maroons.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Deathbed visions surveyed

Going into the light - The Irish Times - Tue, Mar 22, 2011

There's an interesting report here on a study from Ireland that asked members of the Irish Association of Palliative Care to report their experiences of deathbed visions.

It appears to confirm that deathbed visions of relatives, a white light in the room, or even the smell of roses, are well known events in palliative care circles. A sudden emergence from a coma, with an ability to recognise the people in the room, before then dying peacefully, seems also relatively common.

The drug or fever induced hallucination as an explanation is not widely believed:
One common sense explanation may be that the visions are drug- or fever-induced hallucinations. But 68 per cent of respondents agreed, or strongly agreed, that DBE have different qualities from such hallucinations.

MacConville says there appears to be a difference in the quality of the visions: they appear with greater clarity, and they are experienced as meaningful, with significant associations, rather than random, as they would be in drug-induced cases.

An earlier study also indicated that patients experiencing deathbed phenomena are usually calm and composed. In contrast, drug- or fever-induced hallucinations can be disturbing and frightening, with other symptoms of drug-induced toxicity and high temperature present as well.

All very fascinating.

A few things arising from Fukushima

Here's a few things I have learnt from the coverage of the Fukushima accident:

1. Criticality accidents: well, I'm not Homer Simpson, and haven't ever read that much about dangers of operating nuclear plants, but the uncertainty over whether Fukushima has had some criticality incidents led to this explanation of what they are at the Time Ecocentric blog:
To nuclear workers, there are few events more fearful than a criticality accident. In such a scenario, the fissile material in a reactor core--be it enriched uranium or plutonium--undergoes a spontaneous chain reaction, releasing a flash of aurora-blue light and a surge of neutron radiation; the gamma rays, neutrons and radioactive fission products emitted during criticality are highly dangerous to humans. Criticality occurs so rapidly--within a few fractions of a second--and so unpredictably that it can suddenly kill workers without warning. There have been 60 criticality incidents worldwide since 1945. The most recent occurred in Japan in 1999, at an experimental reactor in Tokai, when a beam of neutrons killed two workers, hospitalized dozens of emergency workers and nearby residents, and forced hundreds of thousands to remain indoors for 24 hours.
Nature has a post detailing the controversy as to whether small scale criticality accidents have been happening at Fukushima.

2. Jimmy Carter took part in a dangerous reactor rescue in 1952:
The reactor in Chalk River, Canada, about 180 kilometres (110 miles) from Ottawa, was used to enrich plutonium for America's atomic bombs. On December 12th 1952 it exploded, flooding the reactor building’s basement with millions of litres of radioactive water. Lieutenant Carter, a nuclear specialist on the Seawolf submarine programme, and his men were among the few people with the security clearance to enter a reactor. From Schenectady, New York, they rode the train up and got straight to work.
"The radiation intensity meant that each person could spend only about ninety seconds at the hot core location," wrote Mr Carter in "Why Not the Best?", an autobiography published in 1975 when he was campaigning for the presidency.

The team built an exact replica of the reactor on a nearby tennis court, and had cameras monitor the actual damage in the reactor's core. "When it was our time to work, a team of three of us practised several times on the mock-up, to be sure we had the correct tools and knew exactly how to use them. Finally, outfitted with white protective clothes, we descended into the reactor and worked frantically for our allotted time," he wrote. "Each time our men managed to remove a bolt or fitting from the core, the equivalent piece was removed on the mock-up."

3. A commentary piece in Nature News today shares my view that the rush of some nuclear proponents to downplay the extent of the problems from this accident has not been helpful. It notes three lessons with wide implications for the nuclear industry around the world:

a. co-siting of nuclear reactors is (apparently) common in Western countries "because the only communities that will accept new nuclear plants are those that already have them." Yet the problem is, as we can see, have one go seriously wrong, and it can badly hamper the safe operation of the rest on the same site.

b. light water reactors melt if the water isn't there:
These designs are compact and relatively inexpensive, but their potential for meltdown was once obvious enough that Britain spent 30 years trying to develop gas-cooled alternatives. But, now that PWRs are the only viable design for new nuclear build, that extensive search for a safer design seems to have been forgotten by many of those who promote a nuclear future.
c. spent fuel rods have no where to go in Britain and the US.

The commentary then notes:
These legitimate technical criticisms of Fukushima, and of planned nuclear build, have been largely drowned out by the flood of technical reassurance offered by nuclear scientists and engineers in the wake of the disaster. For example, reassuring soundbites offered to journalists by the London-based Science Media Centre (which is funded by a variety of scientific bodies and industries, including Nature Publishing Group) in the days immediately after the earthquake contained barely a cautionary note on how serious the situation at Fukushima was set to become. Instead, the scientific establishment and those whose careers are invested in nuclear power have sought to convince the public that 'science' supports nuclear power. Too many specialists have assured us of the general safety of nuclear power without adequately addressing specific concerns.
Pretty much what I said.

For my benefit (and yours?)

Often, when helping the kids with something for school being prepared on the computer, I want to find a free bit of relevant clipart. Unfortunately, mere Googling often takes me to clipart sites that are not actually entirely free, and it can take a while to again find collections that are.

The always fun to read Red Ferret Journal (I still say its the wittiest gadget blog around) has had a few links to completely free clipart over the years, and I usually go and search that site. But it's probably simpler to list them all here, for faster searching:

WP Clipart

Open Clip Art Library

Public Domain Clipart

Free (not clipart per se, but useful)

Stockvault (photos)

On a different topic, Red Ferret also had a recent post entitled:

15 Best Websites for Free E-Books

I haven't checked any of them yet, but I will one day. The only free book download place I have used before is, but now it seems to be mainly full of illegal scans and copies; although if you into old esoteric copies of Playboy (Playboy Latvia, March 2011 is already there, for example), it would seem to be the place to go.

The Return

Well, that was remiss of me, not noticing the return of Bryan Appleyard to regular blogging after a significant break.

And he's in fine, cheery form. Here, for example, is his short take on Ayn Rand:

Now I have just been watching a film by a friend of mine which includes some startling material about Rand, all of which confirmed my dismal judgment of this ‘thinker’ as a dud novelist, a terrible philosopher and a political theorist of staggering and dangerous naivete. Hearing about her life with her circle of infatuated admirers, it suddenly came to me who she is. Ayn Rand, a Russian, is the reincarnation of another Russian – Madame Helena Blavatsky, the theosophical prophetess who wowed polite but gullible London society until her death in 1891. Blavatsky did, in fact, promise reincarnation, her last words were, ‘Keep the link unbroken! Do not let my last incarnation be a failure.’ The reincarnation was a roaring success: Rand was a chain smoker, like Blavatsky, and a total bozo, like Blavatsky.
A very good comparison, I think. And Rand gets a mention in passing later, when talking about Alan Greenspan's apparent recant of his recant, which I'll copy in full:
Alan Greenspan, former chairman of the Federal Reserve and one of Ayn Rand’s innermost circle, writes a curious piece in the FT. The piece is curious, first, because Greenspan writes a little like F.R.Leavis – incredibly badly, clotted, pompous, circumlocutory in away that is designed simultaneously to advertise and conceal high intelligence. It is, secondly, curious because, it seems, Greenspan, having created the over-financialised system that made the crash inevitable, then having recanted, is now recanting his recantation. Leaving aside the details of the Dodd-Frank Act, Greenspan points out that nobody forecast the crash, quite the contrary, that there is no hard science of markets, and that, on the whole, global financial markets are good for growth. He points out that finance has seized a much larger share of all major economies and, finally, wonders whether this larger share ‘has been a necessary condition of growth in the past half century‘ and whether there is a necessary link between greater financial complexity and higher standards of living. This is obfuscation, as is the suave justification of bankers’ bonuses. In power, Greenspan got it wrong because of his Randian market superstition and, as many of the commenters say, that fact alone is enough to destroy his authority in these matters. Recent evidence suggests strongly that excessive financialisation of our economy increases risk and, in the long term, reduces growth. Doesn’t everybody know that?
So good to have him back.

Makes me feel better

Gee, when the very reasonable Ken Parish at Club Troppo does a post that talks at length about aboriginal problems being intractable until traditional aboriginal cultural ideas change (such as the belief in sorcery and curses, which lead to protracted payback violence between clans, and "sorry business" that means aboriginal businesses close for a long period to mourn a death), it makes me feel better about having suggested years ago that maybe it's currently pointless trying to built permanent, vandal proof housing in all remote localities. Really nice tents, or yurt-y type things, sited around shared ablution blocks was my suggestion. Just give then a new one every year or two. They can pack up and move away from the clan they're fighting with, too.

I'll keep repeating this idea once a year until someone notices and mentions it to the Minister.

Told you they were evil...

BBC - Earth News - Males make pregnant horses abort

Horse breeders, including thoroughbred breeders in the UK, often send mares to stables to be mated with stallions.

But a study reveals that, when they return, the pregnant mares engage in "promiscuous sex" with males in their home stables, in an attempt to disguise the paternity of the foal.

When this is not possible, the mares often abort the pregnancy.

So, they look dumb and are depraved. I miss the days when animals were put on trial...

Monday, April 04, 2011

Wrong again, times two

Watts Up With That from 24 March ran at the top of its blog for a good few days the story of the excruciatingly tedious Steve McIntyre finding that there was “deleted data” at the starting end (so to speak) of a graph of tree ring proxy data by Briffa that appeared in Science in 1999. “Where are the academic cops?” asked Watts in a facetious post heading.

Of course, this then got picked up by Andrew Bolt on 25 March, and Catallaxy, the blog where the centre right and libertarians go to be wrong about climate change, on 28 March. The only surprise in this process is that Tony Abbott didn’t turn up in Parliament flourishing a copy of the graph.

Someone at Watts (after scores of comments claiming this was another outrageous outrage) did suggest that, well, maybe excluding the data that is so obviously not a reliable proxy in the period in question is the right way to go if, you know, you are trying to work out the correct temperature in the period.

Turns out the explanation is even better. Nick Stokes explains:

A file had been discovered which showed data down to 1400, and if you plot it, it goes into oscillations in the years before 1550. Since it is clear that this is in a period of rapidly diminishing data, and very likely caused by that, I thought that would die fairly quickly, but no, as these things go, it was promoted to a grand ethical violation, megaphoned at WUWT, and taken up at the Air Vent, where it was seen as "unbelievable fraud"….

Well, it seemed clear to me that the available data is just getting low as we go back beyond 1550, and the wild swings are just the result of the growing noise, as you'd expect. And I haven't found anyone who seems to seriously think they reflect any kind of reality. So Briffa sensibly stopped at 1550 to avoid misleading the public….

[Referring to graphs of the number of sites plotted to produce the data]: As you can see, the number of sites is dropping rapidly before 1600, and is down to about 40 near 1550. Here is the expanded region between 1400 and 1600

As you can see, the rate of decrease is quite sharp near 1550. There's no absolute rule on where you have to say that a plot has to be stopped. The noise rises relative to the signal in a continuous way, and I don't curently know how to quantify whether 40 sites is likely to be sufficient. But neither do the critics. What is clear is that the observed rapid changes observed in McIntyre's graph are closely associated with the steep reduction in data. In those circumstances, I would be very uncomfortable about presenting them as real. And I don't think referees would let me.

Nick goes on in the next post to show why having fewer sites can easily lead to spurious oscillations.

So, as expected, there is an explanation, and it is not sinister, especially in the context of a Science piece which was also (apparently) only a short commentary.

Will the readers of Andrew Bolt ever know that? Will Andrew ever have read this explanation.

Would Sinclair Davidson ever offer an explanation post at Catallaxy? Does he ever offer anything other than skeptic stories recycled from skeptic sites?

The other “Watts is wrong” story making the news is the “hero to zero” path that Berkley physicist Richard Muller has made in the space of a few months.

Once again, Sinclair Davidson gave this story recent prominence at Catallaxy by posting a Youtube of Muller’s lecture about “hide the decline”. Muller’s take on this always appeared to me to show self-aggrandisement about how it wouldn’t be done like that at Berkley, and he had been criticised at ">Skeptical Science for muddling the details.

But his other claim to fame was to be on the BEST project to independently compile a temperature record set.

As everyone knows by now, Muller has told Congress that the early results show close uniformity with the existing temperature sets: you know, the ones that Anthony Watts has spent years trying to show were defective and misleading.

The Economist has the story, told in relatively dispassionate terms, and many on the “AGW is real” side of the fence are now enjoying enormously the swing against Muller from the climate skeptics side. Of particular amusement is the vehemence with which the professional disinformation site Climate Depot, of Marc Morano fame, has gone for his jugular. As the headlines will change, have a look at this screenshot (complete with Muller with a snake photo, presumably designed to make him look at tad nutty):


Of course, sites like Salon are enjoying the whole turnaround, as well they should.

I said before recently that the climate skeptics have been slowly moving away from their pet idea that temperature increases over the 20th century were all an illusion. This only confirms the move – from now on it’ll be nearly all “lukewarmenist” arguments: yes, the temperature has increased over the 20th century, but not quite as fast as climate science said, and look at the last [insert cherry picked period] has not got significantly hotter at all: it’s probably all stopped now and that just shows what idiots those scientists were! And besides, even when the graphs go up again, maybe it’s all a good thing. etc etc.

Update: I just typed a really long comment in response to the politely worded skepticism of sfw in comments, but Blogger did not want to accept it (Blogger seems to be having some widespread comment issues lately). I did not want to lose the work, so here goes:

Hey, it's nice to have someone on your side of the fence who is moderate in tone, and thanks for the comments on the blog.

I'm not sure if you've been reading me for long time, but I was initially a bit of a fence sitter on the AGW issue. But I decided that ocean acidification was a sufficient enough reason to push for less CO2 urgently anyway. It is a problem with no easy solution other than "stop putting so much CO2 in the air", and initial studies nearly all showed serious problems with the sea critters they were testing.

Over the years, I think it fair to say that the fact of the ocean pH drop at the predicted rate has been confirmed by measurements, but the results of lab tests have become more ambiguous. My initial thoughts were that these tests would be straight forward in identifying which creatures would suffer first and and which wouldn't, but the process of doing this accurately was a lot more complicated than I initially credited. Also, a bit to my surprise, the detailed biochemistry of sea life seemed to have a lot more gaps in it than I would have expected. So, the type of test results that have been coming out in the last year or two have been harder to understand.

I still think it is a serious issue. I have particular concern about the future of pteropods, which appear to be a very important link in the food chain in polar waters. As for reefs, I still have an open mind as to how soon or how badly they will be effected. Some corals do worse than others in lab tests, and generally it seems to me they are hardier than expected, although combining acidification with much higher ocean temperatures just makes predicting their future very hard.

In any event, it now seems to me that the slow moving nature of the process makes it harder to convince people of the need for action on CO2.

At the same time, it seemed to me that the evidence for AGW and associated climate change was firmer than I had understood, and as I was never convinced of the issue by popularisers like Gore and Flannery (in fact, I have always been a tad suspicious of them), it mattered little to me that they had made mistakes in their presentations.

I also realised that the opposition to it is in fact ideologically driven. I genuinely find the climate science sites of Real Climate and Skeptical Science to be measured in tone and reasoned in exactly the way that the likes of WUWT are not. Skeptics just continually ascribe the worst motives to climate scientists, usually from a position of ignorance.

The popularisers of the skeptic side, with their grab bag of arguments, also made me realise there was no genuine attempt to be rationally critical of climate change science; the likes of Monckton and his ilk had clearly decided that it was all rubbish (often alluding to ludicrous conspiracies behind it) and anything would go in advocacy. Mistakes would be repeated and believed, all because it fitted into preconceived ideas in the audience.

Now, I do accept that there are actual scientists on the climate change side who have made careless overstatements, but usually on very particular things like glaciers, droughts, the future of snow etc.

And I can understand why people like you say that it looks like its unfalsifible.

Here's what I think: it's actually really complicated, and not easily communicated with simple messages. Messaging mistakes will happen, and will cynically be exploited by ideological skeptics, but that's no reason to throw out the baby with the bathwater.

It turns out, for example, that a significant number of papers had talked about more drought in the long term for Australia, but broken by more intense periods of rain. This is what we just saw happen. Yet it is so easy to point the finger at Flannery and say "hey, he said cities would be running out of water by now."

I figure: he's not even a climate scientist per se, and big deal, he made an exaggerated comment here and there. M'eh, if papers are there that did predict what would happen, big deal.

The same with heavy snow in the Northern Hemisphere this last couple of winters. Yes, it seems few scientists predicted it before it happened, but some in fact did. The mechanism seems credible (less ice over northern areas such as Hudson Bay), but won't be proven for some time yet. So, one guy said British kids wouldn't see snow again. He was wrong, he exaggerated. But he wasn't speaking for every scientist and simply should have been more cautious.

The Russian heatwave: a really severe event, which (I note) some NOAA scientists say wasn't really caused by AGW. I'm kind of expecting that they have in fact leapt too far to the cautious side on that one. In any event, it (together with the European heat wave of some years ago,) shows how serious (including for food supply) more regular severe heatwaves could be.

Climate change scientists are always going to be hobbled to a degree by the complexity of the climate system and the short term blips along the way to seeing the long term trend.

I think it is reasonable in such a system to make allowances for things that may yet happen to the weather that were not predicted in detail or more widely. (In fact, as I say, it can turn out they were predicted, but were just less emphasised in the public arena.)

But here's the key thing: the uncertainty in how exactly the climate change manifests locally (and, in a sense, globally) is no reason to dismiss the seriousness of AGW. The examples of the last couple of years of floods, heat waves and even blizzards have not been (more or less unexpectedly) good events: they have been (more or less unexpectedly) bad events, and there are mechanisms to explain them as a consequence of AGW.

So, while you see non falsifiability, I see danger, and all the more reason to take CO2 reduction seriously.

Quite a length for a comment, hey!