Friday, November 30, 2012

A meta-post

I'm becoming very aware lately of the lack of new topics dealt with in this blog.  Sure, it's good to keep building on knowledge about climate change, the 5 year madness of the Right in the US (with crossover effects in Australia), nudity in Japan, the cuteness of rats, the evil of horses, ocean acidification, World War 2 stories that I haven't heard about before, the magnificent talents of Steven Spielberg, how gay men aren't what they used to be, the troubles of Christianity, strange mythology, micro black holes, other strange physics, the stupidity of Catallaxy, ghosts, cryptozoology, Adolf Hitler's digestive system and (possible) venereal disease, pebble bed reactors, possums, yurts for aborigines, good reviews of bad movies, the Omega Point and my plan for resurrection via blogging; but eventually one feels the need for a string of novel topics.  (And not just about novels - I'm reading few enough of them lately anyway.) 

It also seems clear that everyone is reading fewer blogs lately.  Maybe all blogs feel a bit repetitious after 7 years.  A seven year blog itch, perhaps? 

So, I must put my mind to novel purposes.   Perhaps a special week of ALL NEW material - but I'm not going to go Seinfeld and throw out all of the past. 

I'll think about it....

Rats placebo-ed

Some time ago, I noted that horses getting acupuncture was meant to show that the treatment does not work via a placebo effect.   (I also accused horses of only pretending acupuncture works as a way of punishing humans.  I should start my anti-horse themed posts again - they amuse me.)

But now I see a recent study of the placebo effect in rats.  It works with them.  Who knew rats could be fooled like humans?

Well, now that I look via the wonders of Google - this has been known for a long time.  There are studies back to at least 1963 on a placebo effect in rats.   It turns out that dealing with animals has been an important bit of working out what the placebo effect is all about.  There's a long paper from 2004 about the effect to be read here.  (I've just skimmed it, but seems interested.)

I wonder how far down you have to get in the tree of life before the placebo effect doesn't work?

Good essay on the bad ending

On Great Novels with Bad Endings : The New Yorker

I quite like this short piece on bad endings in great novels.

I have to say, though, that one very good novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, has a great ending. 

Rude bits in history

Public nudity has been in the news in the States lately, leading to Slate running a short article "Why is Public Nudity Illegal?"  The main answer given is as follows:
Because it’s so difficult to ignore. The late political philosopher Joel Feinberg’s “offense principle” offers one persuasive theory for why nudity is illegal. Feinberg argued that an act need not be objectively harmful to merit prohibition—it need only produce an unpleasant mental state such as shame, disgust, or anxiety in observers. Plenty of obnoxious but legal behaviors, like chewing with an open mouth or failure to bathe, can create the same reaction, but Feinberg claimed that nudity has a unique ability to demand our attention. He wrote, “The unresolved conflict between instinctual desires and cultural taboos leaves many people in a state of unstable equilibrium and a readiness to be wholly fascinated, in an ambivalent sort of way, by any suggestion of sexuality in their perceptual fields.” We are drawn ineluctably toward the sexual suggestiveness of the naked body, Feinberg argued, then ashamed of our own reaction. 
All fair enough from a Western point of view, I suppose, but I don't know that it takes into account countries with a rather more relaxed attitude to social nudity.   Which led me to Google up stuff about changing attitudes to nudity in Japan.  This site spends a fair bit of time on the topic, making several interesting observations along the way.  For example:
Members of the samurai class, men and women, did not (or at least were never supposed to) appear in public without being fully clothed. Many norms and values of the samurai class resembled those of Chinese elites, for whom incomplete dress indicated incomplete civilization. In Japan’s terribly hot and humid summers, men and women performing manual labor outdoors *often worked semi-naked*. Scant clothing, therefore, was mainly an indication of manual labor, and one way that samurai distinguished themselves from laborers was by their more formal and complete attire. In the summer, male laborers in rural and urban areas commonly wore only a loincloth both during work hours and while relaxing. Women often went topless and in any case did not wear underwear (more on this below).
It is common in today’s world to link nudity with sex. Clothing serves as a personal boundary marker, and its removal or lack in the sight of others is often an invitation to intimacy. The lack of clothing was especially an invitation to intimacy in Western society of the nineteenth century because the skin itself, along with the secondary sexual characteristics of the body (e.g., curve of hips, breasts, etc.—but not the genitalia) had long been eroticized in visual representations. But clothing or its lack need not function this way in all times, places, or circumstances. While sexuality does have a biological basis, the ways in which it manifests itself are largely products of complex social codes. In Tokugawa and early Meiji Japan, *clothing—not nakedness*—played a greater role in eroticism than it did in most of the Western world. As Timon Screech explains:
Other than the rich (who would not be much encountered in the ordinary townsperson's life), then, fine clothes meant the garb of theatricality or of paying sex. The Edo male would have touched finer fabrics in the arms of these two categories of provider than on any other occasion. The *sexual power* of texture and look in first-rate cloth was commensurately great; it may very well have excelled in excitement the feel of skin, since good cloth was harder to come by than good skin and was more expensive when one did.2
Fine clothing, worn in certain ways and accompanied by certain gestures, typically conveyed sexual messages. Nudity per se, however, usually did not convey sexual messages in Japan at this time, especially cases of habitual nudity such as a woman doing laundry outside topless. A scholar of the relationship be­tween clothing and eroticism explains: “In general, when any­thing is constantly exposed to view, it leaves nothing to the ima­gination, tends to be perceived as ordinary, and, eventually, is hardly noticed at all. The eye be­comes jaded; habitual nudity is notably unerotic.”3
The page points out that it was part of the Meiji period that the government sought to regulate away public nudity (or semi nudity) as part of their modernisation process.  I was amused to read about this early form of protest:
Police enforcement of the law brought forth a brief period of public protest—in the form of #streaking#—but the reaction of the state was to crack down even harder. People began to cover up. In 1890, the Tokyo police issued an order prohibiting mixed ba­thing (police had broad powers to issue orders for the “public good”). Most bath owners could not afford elaborate renovations, so they typi­cally ran a rope across the center of the tub to separate it into sections for men and women. In this way, they complied with the letter of the law but not its spirit.
There's lots more on the page that is interesting, including the rise of underwear (so to speak) in modern Japan.

The site also has another chapter about evolving views on sex in Japan, which contains a lot of interesting information too.  On the older issue of homosexuality, the picture painted is one similar, I suppose, to that of ancient Greece and (to a lesser extent) Rome:

In today's terminology, therefore, the typical Tokugawa Japanese was more or less bisexual, although Tokugawa Japanese generally recognized that people tended to have a preference for one flavor of sexuality or the other. But either way, joshoku and nanshoku were not radically different things. They were simply two broad varieties of sexuality and sexual activity. Was there any major condemnation of those who preferred nanshoku? The answer depends on what is meant by "major." Mark Ravina makes the following observation in the context of discussing an institution called gojū, neighborhood schools consisting of boys and teenagers in nineteenth-century Satsuma (a domain):
Was gojū culture gay? The question is both intriguing and anachronistic. "Homosexual," as a label for people, did not exist in Saigō [Takamori]'s day: sex with men was a practice rather than an identity. Like drinking or fishing, one could enjoy homosexuality regularly, occasionally, or never, according to personal preference. Lacking a biblical story of Sodom, Tokugawa-era Japanese had no concept of sodomy, and Tokugawa-era laws did not criminalize homosexual conduct itself. Legal injunctions against male-male sexuality focused largely on the result of "outrageous" or "provocative" sexual conduct. Like consorting with a geisha or drinking, male-male intercourse became a vice rather than a diversion only when taken to extremes. When Yonezawa domain issued regulations on homosexual activity in 1775, for example, it mentioned violence rather than perversion. Any conflict among a handsome young samurai, his father, and his lover could easily lead to drawn swords and mayhem. Homosexuality was a problem only because male lovers' quarrels tended to grow violent and threaten the public order. (Mark Ravina, The Last Samurai: The Life and Battles of Saigō Takamori [Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2004], p. 33.)
In addition to violence, another possible "extreme" of homosexual behavior would have been failure to reproduce. Elite and commoner society expected men and women to marry and produce some offspring, and exclusive indulgence in homosexuality would have a hindered fulfilling this expectation. The *third Tokugawa shōgun Iemitsu* is a good example of nanshoku, its potential for violence, its possible conflict with expectations to reproduce, and connections between sexuality and politics. Looking at the wide range of social commentary in Tokugawa Japan, we can find a few Confucian scholars and other moralists who denounced nanshoku as morally improper, though often in the context of a broader critique of a society allegedly obsessed with sex. Overall, however, these moralists did not enjoy a large or influential audience. Generally speaking we can say say that there was little or no social censure of non-violent nanshoku in Tokugawa times for those who met their basic social obligations.
I find it somewhat amusing that the main concern about intense homosexual relationships was the threat of samurai running around the streets battling over their lovers!  How different can you get from the modern Western idea of the "problem" (for want of a better word) with homosexuality?   There are many things a visitor fear accidentally seeing in San Francisco (well, the new anti nudity law might help with that), but bloody battles between armed men over their lovers is not one of them.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Message re another blog

I am presently not getting comments through, for reasons unknown, at another blog.

Someone from there might care to point that out, over there...

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Back to that ocean problem

Animals are already dissolving in Southern Ocean - environment - 25 November 2012 - New Scientist

It's been ages since I have posted anything about ocean acidification.   I still read about it, but a lot of the studies that have come out in the last year or so have been kind of dull and very technical.   I think there is a realisation that ocean biology, chemistry and ecology are more complicated than previously thought, making forecasts of the effects of ocean acidification a field with a lot of uncertainty.  

I have also been waiting for something more specific about some species that everyone thought would be first affected, and pteropods are high on that list.  So at last there is a study out about them, noting field research from a 2008 field trip.  (They take their time, don't they?).

From the link above:

In a small patch of the Southern Ocean, the shells of sea snails are dissolving. The finding is the first evidence that marine life is already suffering as a result of man-made ocean acidification.

"This is actually happening now," says Geraint Tarling of the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge, UK. He and colleagues captured free-swimming sea snails called pteropods from the Southern Ocean in early 2008 and found under an electron microscope that the outer layers of their hard shells bore signs of unusual corrosion.

As well as warming the planet, the carbon dioxide we emit is changing the chemistry of the ocean. CO2 dissolves in water to form carbonic acid, making the water less alkaline. The pH is currently dropping at about 0.1 per century, faster than any time in the last 300 million years....

It gets worse:

Aragonite is still relatively plentiful in most of the ocean, but Tarling suspected that some regions might already be affected by shortages.

He visited the Southern Ocean near South Georgia where deep water wells up to the surface. This water is naturally low in aragonite, meaning the surface waters it supplies are naturally somewhat low in the mineral – although not so much so that it would normally be a problem. Add in the effect of ocean acidification, however, and Tarling found that the mineral was dangerously sparse at the surface.
"It's of concern that they can see it today," says Toby Tyrrell of the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton, UK.

Aragonite-depleted regions are still rare, but they will become widespread by 2050, says Tarling. The polar oceans will change fastest, with the tropics following a few decades after. "These pockets will start to get larger and larger until they meet," he says.

Tyrrell says the Arctic will become undersaturated with respect to aragonite before the Antarctic. Patches of undersaturation have already been seen, for instance off the north coast of Canada in 2008.

The only way to stop ocean acidification is to reduce our CO2 emissions, Tyrrell says. It has been suggested that we could add megatonnes of lime to the ocean to balance the extra acidity. However, Tyrrell says this is "probably not practical" because the amounts involved – and thus the costs – are enormous.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Prepare to backfire

Little observed in the media is the fact that, despite the circus last week of a sacked shock jock courting (to the extent of sharing a room with) a self confessed fraud who obviously hates Julia Gillard and admits to a bad memory of events, Newspoll yesterday indicated that the AWU scandal (TM News Limited and Michael Smith) is having absolutely no effect on public opinion.

You would think that this might give the Coalition some cause for concern about pursuing this much further.

But no, an Opposition that is almost completely devoid of characters that can provide any confidence in their political judgement is ploughing on, regardless.

After Gillard's second conference yesterday, I think there is every chance this is on its way to backfire on the Opposition.

Here is a list of points and questions that are not being made, or not often, in commentary on this matter:

1.   It was always the case that, if there was some solid evidence of Gillard having personally profitted from Wilson's association fund 18 years ago, it would have come out by now, probably via her factional enemies within her own party.   The fact that it hadn't always indicated that it did not exist.    This observation remains valid.

2.   The reporting on the matter has become a complete shambles of confusion and mixed up terminology.   Even those who are sympathetic to Gillard have made some comments which I think indicate carelessness  or confusion.   I think this only works to make the public disengage from the matter, because it is obvious that those campaigning most strongly on this (The Australian and News Ltd commentators) are out to damage Gillard and cannot be trusted to interpret events objectively.

3.  This has been a bush lawyer picnic, with the major bush lawyer the execrable Michael Smith.   This guy lost his job because he wouldn't pull a report which his boss had not been cleared through lawyers for defamation.   Smith claims it had been cleared - his boss disagreed. 

If Smith was so unfairly treated, why did he not sue his bosses?

Instead, Smith decided to go on a internet campaign against the PM.  He makes stupid, bush lawyer comments continually about anyone who signs a false statutory declaration "exposing themselves to perjury", as if this gives more credibility to evidence in a stat dec which is merely reporting rumour.

Smith's courting of Blewitt is ludicrously over the top - playing up to Blewitt as an ex Vietnam vet on Smith's website, etc.

This fake matey bonhomie persona of Smith annoys me no end - he's a dill and a nasty bit of work with an unhealthy obsession with a female Prime Minister.  And I have a particular question for him:

4.  He claimed many weeks ago - possibly months ago - that he had spoken to Bruce Wilson more than once - that he considered him a "mate" I think he went so far to say.  (Everyone is a "mate" to Smith if they don't tell him he's an asshat.)

Yet Smith has never indicated Wilson's attitude to this. 

Wilson was reported weeks ago as saying that he thought the media was "hounding" Gillard, and this indicated he thought it was unfair.  This weekend's report of Wilson finally coming out and saying that the media can give up - Gillard knew nothing and they won't find anything to the contrary raises the question - did he say the same to Smith?

If Smith knew this - has he ever even hinted at it?

I strongly suspect Wilson has told him the same, and Smith has sat on exonerating comments from the person who was the key player in the matter, just so he could continue the smear campaign.

I hope he never gets another job on radio.

5.  Smith is even the complainant to the police about an Power of Attorney signed by Blewitt nearly 20 years ago:  a power of attorney which Blewitt says he signed, was used to buy a house that Blewitt knew about, and sign a mortgage that the conveyancing file indicates Blewitt must have know about (because of letters and phone calls made to him about it.)   Blewitt now claims that he knew nothing about the mortgage - this man has extremely convenient memory gaps if it serves his purposes.

Now, assuming the worst version of events is true - that Gillard was not there when Blewitt signed it and should not  have witnessed it as if she were - there is no fraud against Blewitt that has been committed by use of the Power of Attorney.

Instead, it is Michael Smith, for blatantly political purposes, who wrote to the police asking for an investigation.

Why did the police take the matter on at all?  They have a great interest in documents signed twenty years ago that a lawyer witnessed as a favour for someone? 

I would be extremely surprised if the police complaint goes anywhere - and the police should deal with this and make their decision as soon as possible to not appear as part of a political vendetta.

6.   The whole "Gillard did something illegal by helping the association be set up" has always been a crock.

A journalist on Insiders about a month ago said he spoke to the current person in charge of incorporated associations in WA and asked whether incorporating an association with broad terms which would allow it to collect money for re-election would be illegal, and was told "no".

Again, this has barely been reported.

Finally:  unless Bishop and "scared that he can't speak about Gillard in case he again puts his foot in his mouth" Abbott have got something incredibly compelling in documentary evidence on Gillard re the incorporation - and I very much doubt they have - this is going to backfire on them soon.

They should drop it if they have any sense.

PS:  sorry about the lack of links - this story annoys me so much I can't be bothered putting too much effort into relevant work.

What is it used for?

BBC - Future - Technology - X-37B: Secrets of the US military spaceplane

A good article here on the funny looking mini shuttle thing that the US is about to launch again.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Pebble bed - it lives again

Catalyst: Next Generation Nuclear Power - ABC TV Science

I used to comment on pebble bed reactors as a new nuclear design with impressive sounding passive safety.   But the South African plans to build one ran out of money, and was deemed to be too ambitious in design, and we don't hear much about them any more.  (Apart from the fact that China had built at least one; I'm not sure that it has ever been more than a research reactor, though.)

So, I was surprised to see on Catalyst a few weeks ago as story about continuing research into them in California.

This one is to use molten salts as a coolant (instead of helium as per the defunct South African plan.)  The advantages:
 Dr Graham Phillips
This reactor doesn't use water to flow through the fuel elements and extract the heat - it uses melted salt. Now not table salt, sodium chloride, but the related substances lithium and beryllium fluoride. Heat these guys to about 450 degrees Celsius and they turn into a clear liquid.

Mike Laufer
One of the big advantages of the salt is that it's very effective in moving heat around, but it's at low pressure.

Low pressure means a less accident-prone reactor. Today's generation IIIs run at a staggering 70 times atmospheric pressure.

Prof Per Peterson
If we switch to liquid coolants, like these fluoride salts that we're using, then we can build much more compact, high power density systems that operate at atmospheric pressure, and that gives us a system which is intrinsically safe, because there's no source of pressure to disperse radioactive material.
 Sounds good to me.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Archbishop humour

Unthinkable? Rowan decides to write | Editorial | Comment is free | The Guardian

The Guardian has a bit of fun with this mock column by Rowan Williams, about the top 10 things he found "tricky" as Archbishop of Canterbury.  I liked number 3 in particular:
3) Critics saying that I can't compose a sentence without wandering off into some ontological reflection, although we need not human words that will decisively capture what the word of God has done but words that will show us how much time we have to take in fathoming this reality, helping us turn and move and see, from what may be infinitesimally different perspectives, the patterns of light and shadow in a world where the word's light has been made manifest. 

Possum survival

Possum fans may be interested to know that last Sunday, the day of the very big hail, the possums were not in their under-the-deck home.  (They are not there every day; they can be away for days at a time, but recently they have been here more often.)  So, we were a bit worried about how they had fared in a tree during the storm, and they had been away all of this week.

But today, they are back, looking as happy as ever:

I hope it is a good sign that their ability to be away for days at a time means they are not dependant on our fruit.

Crypto search

Bigfoot search from blimp: Cryptic species are real but Bigfoot, Yeti, Loch Ness Monster, Jersey Devil are not. - Slate Magazine

Here's a good article in Slate discussing why it is wildly unlikely that Bigfoot (or yowies, or any of the big man-ape-ish things around the world) are really there, due to matters such as the complete lack of relevant body remains.

At least the article does a rare thing by discussing the topic of cryptozoology seriously.

On the other hand, it doesn't even mention the Bigfoot as alien or paranormal theory, which seems a bit of an oversight.  As noted in Wikipedia:
One fringe theory, supported by paranormal investigator Jon-Erik Beckjord, theorizes that the lack of hard evidence supporting Bigfoot's existence may be due to the creature being an interdimensional being that slips in and out of dimensions. Many Bigfoot advocates distance themselves from the paranormal position and regard it as an embarrassment.[69]
 Yet it deals with the lack of bodily remains quite handily.    I find the theory oddly appealing.  Apemen as a cross over from an alternatively evolved Earth?   

And I have  mentioned before, one of the more puzzling things about yowie sightings is the awful smell that is said to accompany them in a number of cases.   You can read an odd paper here about the bad smells sometimes associated with Bigfoot.  (Strangely, it seems some people associate the smell with smegma (!) - an odour with which I am happily unfamiliar.)

Especially in the Australian context, there really is no animal I can think of which could be emitting foul smells while crashing through branches.  While smells do suggest the "it's an unidentified man/ape" theory,  there are cases of hauntings, and even UFO sightings, that have a smell element.  (I can't find a very credible link for UFOs and smells.  It is one of the major disappointments of the internet that UFOs, as a topic that you would have thought would gain credibility by allowing more serious analysis be widely seen, has instead suffered badly by being smothered in internet dross. I still don't know of a very reliable website on the topic.)  

Anyhow, it's all part of life's fun to have some mysteries around.

Friday, November 23, 2012

A big bunch of nothing

This year long smear campaign against Julia Gillard is getting ridiculous.

Last night, a lawyer who used to work in Slater and Gordon  who obviously didn't care for Gillard at the time (the firm is said to have had some partnership tensions) said he noticed evidence that Julia Gillard knew of solicitor's finance arranged for her boyfriend.

When asked by her firm in 1995 she said:
Mr Gordon: ''Were you aware at any time that the balance of the funds to make up the capital was to be provided by contributory mortgage of which Jonathan Rothfield [a Slater & Gordon partner] was trustee?''

Julia Gillard: ''I don't, I don't think I knew that at the time, where the source of funds was. It's subsequently been raised with me that that was done through the Slater & Gordon mortgage register but I didn't have any recollection of that.''
Now there is a  one bit of paper on file which indicates she might have known, or asked for, a Certificate of Insurance needed for such finance in 1993.

There are 2 obvious points here which the media, and public just does not get:

1.    It is certainly no proof that she was involved to any detailed extent in arranging the mortgage.  In fact, if that is the only thing they have got on the file that connects Gillard to the mortgage, it suggests that probably had peripheral involvement in it.  [Update:  I have since read the conveyancing file and, yes, the mortgage correspondence is from another solicitor or paralegal in the firm.]

2.   More importantly, even if she been completely involved in the provision of finance sourced through her firm (a practice common in those days; not very common at all now)  there is nothing illegal about that and would show nothing at all about her knowledge of the source of the other funds Wilson used.

This is the worst smear campaign against a politician that I have ever seen:  trawling over details from nearly 20 years ago without actually alleging that the person has done anything illegal - in fact when pressed the mainstream media says "not that we're alleging anything illegal".  But the obvious point of the campaign is to operate as a dogwhistle - to make people think she has done something wrong while denying that is what you are alleging.

There is also now an element of misreporting to this - I could swear that I heard on Sunrise this morning at the 7 am news bulletin that last night's 7.30 interview alleged that she had knowledge of the use of the slush fund money to buy the property.

If I heard that right (the reporting was changed by the 7.30 bulletin) that is completely wrong.

The supply of the solicitors finance says nothing about the use of the "slush fund".

If I were Gillard, I would be on the phone to Channel 7 demanding a formal retraction of the 7 am report. 

Update:   even if I misheard Sunrise at 7am, here is an example of completely wrong reporting on the matter:
 Julia Gillard has dismissed suggestions by a former work colleague that she knew of the purchase of a house with misappropriated money years earlier than she first said.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Important Mars news

Mars is safe from radiation – but the trip there isn't - space - 21 November 2012 - New Scientist

I've never been 100% sure on this point - just how safe would the Martian surface be for astronauts from a radiation point of view?   Now it seems the answer is a bit clearer:
You needn't fry on Mars. Readings from NASA's Curiosity rover suggest radiation levels on the Red Planet are about the same as those in low Earth orbit, where astronauts hang out for months on the International Space Station. A Mars visit would still be dangerous though, due to the years-long return trip.

Unlike Earth, Mars has no magnetosphere shielding it from solar and galactic radiation. But it does have a thin atmosphere, and readings from two of Curiosity's instruments suggest this provides some protection.

"This is the first ever measurement of the radiation environment on any planet other than Earth," Curiosity team member Don Hassler said at a press briefing on 15 November. "Astronauts can live in this environment."
The overall picture is still not rosy, though:
The biggest threat to Mars voyagers would be the cumulative radiation exposure during the long trip. NASA estimates that a return human mission to Mars would take three years. During that time astronauts might receive more than seven times the radiation dose they get during six months on the ISS.

Solar flares would also be a problem. On Earth these eruptions of charged particles from the sun are largely deflected by the magnetosphere. But Mars enjoys no such protection, and since Curiosity has yet to see a flare, it is unclear how much shielding the thin atmosphere would provide. '

Dartnell suggests that a base or colony on Mars could be built underground to avoid surface radiation. Or, with enough advance warning, astronauts could retreat to protective shelters during a flare. But is all that trouble worth it just to send humans where robots already thrive?
 As I have argued before, if you're going to have to live underground on Mars, in an atmosphere that is barely there, why would you bother travelling so far when you could do the same on the Moon, and always be just two days away from seeing a Broadway show?

I think water is the key difference, and if it is on the Moon in any useful quantities, I'm just not sure that Mars is worth it.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The writing life

Give Philip Roth the Nobel Prize as a retirement present - Telegraph

I've never read Roth, and don't feel particularly inclined to.  But I was a bit amused to read how being an author can have its own distinct downside, even though us readers might admire their achievement:
 “My autobiography,” he said as long ago as 1981, “would consist almost entirely of chapters about me sitting alone in a room looking at a typewriter. The uneventfulness … would make Beckett’s The Unnamable read like Dickens.” 

And, as it turns out, he wasn’t joking. When his relationship with Claire Bloom was in its first romantic flush, he invited her to spend three weeks at his home in rural Connecticut. According to one of the many slightly bewildered sections in her autobiography Leaving A Doll’s House, he then spent every day writing in his study — and every evening reading Conrad, Tolstoy, Chekhov and Dostoevsky. When the Berlin Wall fell, he warned fellow novelist Ivan Klíma of the dangers now posed to Czech literature by commercial television — which “almost everybody watches all the time because it is entertaining [his, presumably scornful, italics].”
Makes me sound like an action man, in comparison.  

The Madness of King Clive

Clive's giant vision unveiled as Jeff the dinosaur on loose | Sunshine Coast Daily

LOVE it or hate it, Clive Palmer's dinosaur collection is going to leave quite a footprint in the Mt Coolum area.
The mining magnate quietly unveiled his T-Rex, the first of more than 150 replica dinosaurs set to "roam" the grounds and fairways of his resort.

And it is enormous. The tyrannosaurus rex Mr Palmer has christened Jeff is 8.5m high, 20m long, and weighs 1.7 tonnes.

The giant creature towers over golfers using the resort's famous course, and with the possibility of another 149 prehistoric giants joining him, the effect will be stunning...

Mr Palmer has spoken of importing 150 replica dinosaurs to create the largest dinosaur park in the world but is waiting to hear if he will need council permission.
I just heard on the radio this morning:  Council says "yes, he does need permission for more than 4."  And it was noted that this would be a bizarre transformation for a resort (formerly a Hyatt Regency) that had a reputation for being a high class golf/health spa-ish place.   (Never stayed there myself.)

Here's the photo from the Sunshine Coast Daily as to what Clive thinks looks good:

I didn't realise that so many boys aged 10 and under played golf....

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The 1950's and the rich

This section of Paul Krugman's recent column contained some things about the 1950's of which I was not aware:
Yet in the 1950s incomes in the top bracket faced a marginal tax rate of 91, that’s right, 91 percent, while taxes on corporate profits were twice as large, relative to national income, as in recent years. The best estimates suggest that circa 1960 the top 0.01 percent of Americans paid an effective federal tax rate of more than 70 percent, twice what they pay today.  ....

Squeezed between high taxes and empowered workers, executives were relatively impoverished by the standards of either earlier or later generations. In 1955 Fortune magazine published an essay, “How top executives live,” which emphasized how modest their lifestyles had become compared with days of yore. The vast mansions, armies of servants, and huge yachts of the 1920s were no more; by 1955 the typical executive, Fortune claimed, lived in a smallish suburban house, relied on part-time help and skippered his own relatively small boat. 

The data confirm Fortune’s impressions. Between the 1920s and the 1950s real incomes for the richest Americans fell sharply, not just compared with the middle class but in absolute terms. According to estimates by the economists Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez, in 1955 the real incomes of the top 0.01 percent of Americans were less than half what they had been in the late 1920s, and their share of total income was down by three-quarters.

Today, of course, the mansions, armies of servants and yachts are back, bigger than ever — and any hint of policies that might crimp plutocrats’ style is met with cries of “socialism.” Indeed, the whole Romney campaign was based on the premise that President Obama’s threat to modestly raise taxes on top incomes, plus his temerity in suggesting that some bankers had behaved badly, were crippling the economy. Surely, then, the far less plutocrat-friendly environment of the 1950s must have been an economic disaster, right?
Actually, some people thought so at the time. Paul Ryan and many other modern conservatives are devotees of Ayn Rand. Well, the collapsing, moocher-infested nation she portrayed in “Atlas Shrugged,” published in 1957, was basically Dwight Eisenhower’s America. 

Strange to say, however, the oppressed executives Fortune portrayed in 1955 didn’t go Galt and deprive the nation of their talents. On the contrary, if Fortune is to be believed, they were working harder than ever. And the high-tax, strong-union decades after World War II were in fact marked by spectacular, widely shared economic growth: nothing before or since has matched the doubling of median family income between 1947 and 1973.
OK:  I knew about the high tax rate.  I didn't know about the relative modesty of lifestyle that a drop in income meant.  And yet, as Krugman notes, this is the period often thought by people as being the best of times for conservatives.  

Big solar in a spot of bother

BBC News - Solar storm as desert plan to power Europe falters

Desertec was set up in 2009 with a projected budget of 400bn euros to tap the enormous potential of solar and other renewables in North Africa. 

The hope was that by 2050, around 125 gigawatts of electric power could be generated. This would meet all the local needs and also allow huge amounts of power to be exported to Europe via high-voltage direct current cables under the Mediterranean sea. 

But three years later, the project has little to show for its efforts. Two large industrial partners, Siemens and Bosch, have decided they will no longer be part of the initiative. 
Recently, one or two large scale Australian solar plans failed to get government backed funding too.  A balance account of that can be found at Climate Spectator.

I wonder:  when some solar thermal plants go on line overseas, will their (I hope) success make it easier to get ones funded here.

Eruption coming

Eruption fears rise at 'Mount Doom' › News in Science (ABC Science)

In the story, there is mention of a disaster which I'm not sure I've heard about before:
The 2797-metre mountain last erupted in 2007, sending a lahar - a fast-moving stream of mud and debris - down the mountain but causing no injuries.

In 1953, a massive lahar from the mountain caused New Zealand's worst rail disaster when it washed away a bridge at Tangiwai and a passenger train plunged into the Whangaehu River, claiming 151 lives.
 That's real disaster movie stuff, isn't it?

Money to be made here

Fast and furious: intensity is the key to health and fitness

From the above article, worth reading in full:
Low-volume maximal HIIT sessions may provide a compromise between the previous two protocols.
This strategy involves eight to ten one-minute bouts performed at maximal aerobic exercise capacity, interspersed with 60-75 seconds of light recovery, therefore offering significant time advantages, with a single session taking around 20 minutes.

Therefore its lower intensity (compared to supra-maximal HIIT) and shorter session duration (compared to aerobic HIIT) may make it suitable for sedentary or obese people, and those with existing metabolic conditions.

This form of HIIT has already been trialled successfully in type 2 diabetes patients, who demonstrated markedly improved blood-sugar control in just two weeks.

How low can you go?

We still don’t really know the minimum amount of exercise required to induce significant health and fitness benefits. But a recent study has cut down the exercise time even further, showing that just six ten-second all-out sprints, spread throughout a week can improve aerobic fitness and blood-sugar control.
Much of this sounds too good (at least for those of us who find exercising a bore) to be true.  Someone will write a book about this and make a lot of money.  

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Stormy weekend

On Saturday morning I was at the Kelvin Grove outdoor markets, with wife and son, which is normally a very pleasant place to be.  (I really like the mixed university/apartment/retail area that has been created in the unfortunately named Kelvin Grove Urban Village.)

The weather bureau had been warning for a day or two that Saturday would have some big storms, but I don't think anyone (certainly not I) was expecting it to happen at 10.30 am.  That is an unusual time of day for a severe storm in Brisbane.

Anyway, although you could see the storm coming,  there wasn't all that much thunder until it started pouring down with strong winds, and we shot off into the safety of a charity second hand book store that runs inside some unleased retail shop every Saturday.   We couldn't see the street from there.

On re-emering into the outside world about an hour later (after watching a stormwater pipe suspended from the ceiling vibrating madly), we found the poor stall holders had lost many of their shade awnings and stock.  I didn't have a camera, but this photo (apparently from Quest Newspapers)  sums it up well:

Driving around town, as we had to that afternoon, it because clear that the storm had been at its worst in the inner city. 

Last night there followed about 4 hours of pretty much continual rain, lightning and thunder.   No damaging winds or hail, though.

That held off until this afternoon, when after some thunder throughout the morning, a serious amount of hail and wind struck around where I live.   This was the largest hail I have ever seen: "Gawd, I hope the windows don't break" size stuff.  In fact, my next door neighbout did have a couple of broken windows, as did some other houses when I drove around after the storm.  Here's our yard (not a clear shot, but hey the lightning and thunder was still going on.) There used to be some skylight material in that pergola roof where you can now just see shards:

And here's some of hail, picked up from the back door well after the peak:

The damage to the pergola was better than having some upstairs windows broken.  The storm happened at 5.35 pm, which meant the evening news did not really have much video in of the  damage. I think there must be some completely beaten up cars, and damaged houses, around the place in significant numbers.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Ghosts validated

Did St. Thomas Aquinas Believe in Ghosts? | Dominicana Blog

I found this blogpost via First Things.  It notes that St Thomas Aquinas, apart from allegedly having a couple of personal encounters with ghosts, did specifically endorse the idea of ghosts as souls who are allowed to appear to living humans.

I don't think I knew that...

Drought wars

Global drought may have changed less than thought | Environment | Science News

A new paper in Nature says that it seems that, globally, drought has not increased much, contrary to previous studies saying it has.  The problem is to do with how you assess drought.  The matter appears to remain controversial:

Sheffield and colleagues calculated global drought trends from 1950 to 2008 using both equations on multiple datasets. Notably, they found a much smaller change in drought using the Penman-Monteith equation. The estimated yearly drought increase was only half as severe as that derived from the Thornthwaite equation. The weather records invariably contain some errors, but Sheffield says those errors don’t alter the conclusion that the simpler model overestimates rises in global drying. 

The finding comes in stark opposition to the results of several recent studies. “It presented a somewhat different view of the drying trend for the last 60 years,” says Aiguo Dai, an atmospheric scientist at the State University of New York at Albany, whose own research suggests that the two equations yield very little difference in drought estimates. Dai says the new study fails to consider trends in soil moisture and other variables. He also claims that the new study relies on outdated weather records and questionable radiation data. However, Sheffield and colleagues attribute the disagreement to inconsistencies in the weather data used by Dai and others.

“I think the jury’s still out on why those groups looking at similar metrics come to different conclusions,” says paleoclimatologist Kevin Anchukaitis of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, who was not involved in either study.

More successful than I knew

Kickstarter: the crowdfunding site that wants to spark a creative revolution in the UK | Technology | The Guardian

It seems that crowdsourced funding for creative work has been more successful than I thought it would be:
Since the site launched in April 2009, more than 2.5 million people have helped to successfully back more than 30,000 creative projects. It has helped fund Oscar-nominated short films and put new products on the market. Earlier this year, the creators of a watch that can wirelessly connect to a smartphone raised more than $10m (£6m) on the site after being turned down by traditional investors. The singer Amanda Palmer raised $1.2m (£745,000) to record her album and tour; this week, the film director David Fincher reached his goal to fund part of an animated film. In October, a role-playing game developer raised nearly $4m (£2.5m) from more than 73,000 backers. The site estimates that around 10% of the films accepted into the Sundance and Tribeca film festivals this year were funded by Kickstarter.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Hyper about inflation

I don't claim to understand economics all that well:  but then again, it's a field in which the alleged experts  can't agree, particularly when it comes to predicting the future, so I shouldn't feel so bad about it.

One thing that I don't get in particular is the inflation argument.

Paul Krugman, amongst others, has been arguing for some time that the US could do with more inflation.  He says:
First, about inflation obsession: For at least three years, right-wing economists, pundits and politicians have been warning that runaway inflation is just around the corner, and they keep being wrong.
And indeed, sites full of right wing economists such as Catallaxy have been taking about inflation as a major concern, both now and last year.   (Sinclair Davidson appeared on Andrew Bolt more than a year ago to warn of the risk of stagflation for Australia.  It hasn't come to pass, even with the carbon tax.)

To take it to even greater extremes, aging science fiction writer Jerry Pournelle's reaction to the re-election of Obama (which he really didn't see coming) has been to start talking about hyperinflation and the wisdom of people stocking non perishable food and following his old survivalist guides written during the 80's before the end of the Cold War!   He usefully notes:
Interesting times. They can be made a bit less interesting if one has a large stock of non-perishable food acquired quietly and without drawing attention. You do not want your neighbors to believe you are hoarding. Hoarding is evil. Being prepared means protecting yourself from having the reputation of being a hoarder.
 I see from this 2010 story, about a silly video warning of hyperinflation, as well as other right wing obsessions, that it is a favourite topic for goldbugs.

Again, I don't know much about goldbugs, except for the fact that Jonova and her husband David Evans are well and truly in that category.  Apart from being quasi professional climate change denialists, it seems to be how they make their living.  

So - the credibility connections here aren't looking good.

And given England's dismal economic recovery, which Krugman puts down to them not taking his Keynesian line, who am I to doubt him on this issue too?   (Actually, I suspect he is a bit too hard line in his own direction, but overall, seems to me he certainly has it over the right wing economists at the moment.) 

I don't think I am going to bother with the canned food hoarding just yet.

More about Fukushima fish

Ocean still suffering from Fukushima fallout 

Nature reports:
Whether originating from plankton or sediment, the contamination is finding its way into the food chain. Bottom-dwelling fish in the Fukushima area show radioactivity levels above the limit of 100 becquerels per kilogram set by the Japanese government. Greenlings, for example, have been found to have levels as high as 25,000 becquerels per kilogram. But the contamination varies widely between species. Octopuses and squid seem to have escaped contamination, whereas other fish such as red snapper and sea bass are only sometimes found to be contaminated. Overall, the levels of caesium in fish and marine life seem to have begun dropping slightly this autumn, says Tomowo Watanabe, an oceanographer with the Fisheries Research Agency in Yokohama.

The implications are serious for the fishing industry, which lost an estimated ¥100 billion to ¥200 billion (US$1.3 billion to $2.6 billion) in 2011 as a result of the accident. Many fisheries remain closed, and because of the persistent contamination "we can't answer the basic question of when these fisheries will be able to open", says Woods Hole oceanographer Ken Buesseler.
Elsewhere in Nature, the extraordinary cost of the clean up of the reactors is noted:
 On 7 November, the Tokyo Electric Power Company, which owns the plant, announced that cleaning up the ruined reactors and surrounding countryside could cost ¥10 trillion (US$126 billion) — double the size of the clean-up fund set aside by the government.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Partial eclipse in Brisbane 2012

Taken just about 10 minutes ago from our balcony:


I just watched the total eclipse in Cairns on TV.  Very nice.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Revenge of the Supa Nerds

On Sunday my son wanted to go to this year's Supanova (which bills itself as a Pop Culture Expo) at the RNA Showgrounds.   As this is the last year he would get in free, and some of his mates' Dads were taking them, it seemed worth a shot.  Actually, he really only wanted to go because he  thought it would have computer games on display, even though I warned him I thought it was more about nerds dressing up. I was right.

I didn't take too many photos, as I did not really know how to ask permission of people to take a photo without indicating that I was doing so to later mock them.  (I think a couple of blokes dressed up - non satirically as far as I could tell - as Japanese anime girls were the worst.)  But some people who put effort in were worthy of a pic:

Obviously, the family that nerds together, stays together.

There was quite a large contingent of the Star Wars Redback Garrison, which claims to have 100 members through Queensland. (!)

The Rebel Legion (the good guys) on the other hand appear to only have 94 Australia wide.  Truly, the dark side must have its appeal.

As you might expect, Doctor Who also made an appearance, with a Tardis courtesy of Hire A Tardis available.   "...very popular at Weddings, Corporate Events as a crowd gatherer or Childrens Parties" says the website.   Why have I never been invited to a Doctor Who themed wedding, I wonder...

And, of course, there was a Dalek, although its best feature was the "Dalek Parking Only" sign on the wall.

But for the really, really odd idea, you could hardly go past the life size (?) Zetan alien models, which you could buy on the spot for (if I recall correctly) $440.  A bargain if 1/10 the price:

More information available from the website.  If a rich person with too much money is reading this, if you buy me a set of 5, I'll quite happily use them for a Christmas Nativity scene in my front yard this year.

I'm sounding fairly cynical, I guess, but really, I wasn't quite prepared for the full extent of nerd-dom on display.   I found a couple of times that dress up funsters volunteering to run the show make for fairly cranky crowd Nazis, even when it's not very crowded.  I started to approach one stall (not knowing really what it was selling) from the wrong side, at a time when there was in fact no customers at the tables, only to have a young woman rush up and insert herself between me and the bored salespersons saying "Are you here to buy tokens?"    As tokens were only for people wanting to pay for (mostly B grade) actor autographs, I said "No".  "Well, this is only for the sale of tokens, so don't go there."  I expect that this was one of her rare moments in life of being able to exert authority, however unnecessary it was to do so at this particular time.

One part of the show which was of more interest was the artists area, where there were quite a few comic and graphic artists, with their comics and books.   There are more people around doing their own comics and graphic novels than I realised; although it also seemed a little depressing to see that it seems difficult it is in this country to make a living out of it.   I can only assume that Japan would be the ideal type of society for them, where the consumption and admiration for graphic art (via manga and animation) must be at least of an order of magnitude greater than it is here.   I have never seen any documentary about how many people are involved in that industry in Japan; it would be interesting to know more about how they manage to put out so much comic art so regularly.

I did have a chat to a young woman, Caitlan Major, who had studied animation, and made a short film after not being able to find work.  It's pretty good (and certainly looks great).  Maybe a bit too deep and meaningful for its own good, but you can watch it for yourself and decide:

 At the end of the visit, we went and saw a little bit of the official dress up competition, where the entries really did need to put a lot of effort into it:

It's not a great photo, but I was at the back, where a young female helper told me we couldn't stand there but had to go to the side.  While standing at the side, she re-appeared to tell me we weren't standing far enough up along the side.   She was slightly nicer about it than the first female who threw herself between me and a stall with no one around it, but still, I felt it best to retreat out of the auditorium altogether.

So, it was interesting.   The nearest thing it reminded me of was the Medieval Fair that is held yearly north of Brisbane.  (My post about visiting that for the first time is here.)  Even though I thought it odd that there are many clubs for people devoted to the hobby of dressing and living like people from centuries past,  I could understand how this was a hobby that could involve detailed research about historical matters, and involve developing skills that are not common and have their own fascination.

People at Supanova, however, who just want to copy the look of characters in fictional movies, anime or TV, appeared to me to have much more of a "look at me" neediness about them; as a group, I didn't think they seemed as happy as those camping out in medieval gear.

Still, worth a visit, once.  I got to see Billy West, the voice of Bender in Futurama.  No photos allowed, however.

Big furry butt of the week

Time for a new possum photo:

Surely the teenage possum (facing us) is going to get the hint to leave home soon....

Monday, November 12, 2012

A handy Krugman summary

Delusions of Reason -

Paul Krugman had a short post at his blog summarising the problem with the current Republican Party:

Brad likes to tell the (second-hand) tale of Larry Lindsey arriving at the Council of Economic Advisers in 2001 and declaring that the people who really understood economics had arrived. A lot of 1-percent Romney supporters believed that only the unwashed masses could actually believe that Obama was making more sense on economic policy. And so on.

What’s so strange about this is that everything — everything — that has happened for the past decade has demonstrated the opposite. Modern Republicans are devotees of faith-based analysis on every front. On economics, in particular, they are devoted to supply-side fantasies that keep being refuted by evidence — and their reaction is to try to suppress the evidence. They’ve spent pretty much the whole past four years issuing dire warnings about inflation and soaring interest rates that keep not coming true; they cling to the belief that if only a Republican were in office we’d have a 1982-style recovery even though economists who actually studied past financial crises predicted the slow recovery in advance.

And don’t even get me started on climate change.

The truth is that the modern GOP is deeply anti-intellectual, and has as its fundamental goal not just a rollback of the welfare state but a rollback of the Enlightenment. Yet there are some wannabe intellectuals who delude themselves into believing that they have aligned themselves with the party of objective (as opposed to Objectivist) analysis.

You might think that the election debacle would force some reconsideration. But I doubt it; if the financial crisis didn’t do it, nothing will.
Well, "the rollback of the Enlighenment" might be taking it one step too far, but generally speaking, it's hard to disagree that on both science and economics, the Right in the US seems more devoted to ideology than evidence.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

A bit of a breathing space?

Greenland ice-sheet contribution to sea-level rise buffered by meltwater storage in firn : Nature 

This is quite an interesting abstract about what is happening to melt water in Greenland.   It's possibly not contributing much to sea level rise at the moment because a lot it may be sinking, filling in gaps in the partly compacted snow (know as "firn" - you learn something every day) and refreezing.

The article estimates that this process may go on for decades as a buffering effect to the contribution to sea level rise, although it also notes that " once the pore space is filled it cannot quickly be regenerated."

Small fungus: big change

UK unveils plan to fight deadly ash disease : Nature News 

It sounds like quite a  major forestry change is underway in England:
The UK government today announced an action plan to control the spread of “ash dieback”, a disease caused by the fungus Chalara fraxinea, but this will not stop the pathogen from killing up to 99% of the ash trees in the country, say scientists.

Diseased trees in nurseries — and those which have been newly-planted — will be identified and destroyed. Mature trees will be left standing, as the disease is not spread from tree to tree but via leaf litter. An import ban on ash trees, implemented at the end of October, will remain in place.

This however will not eradicate the disease from the United Kingdom. “There is absolutely no magic wand we can wave to make this disappear,” environment secretary Owen Paterson said at a press briefing in London this morning. Ash is the third most common tree in the UK, and with as many as 90 million ash trees at risk, the shape of the British countryside will be irreversibly changed.
 I thought that perhaps someone has pointed the finger at climate change for this fungus spreading, but my Googling around indicates this is not a connection that is really being made - yet. 

Save the mice

I had missed in my previous reading about the New York hurricane that there were actually thousands of lives lost - of mice and rats in the basement at New York University.

The BBC notes that this is bad news for research:
The genetically modified mice and rats were being used to study illnesses such as heart disease, cancer, autism and schizophrenia.

The animal colonies at the Smilow Research Center in Kips Bay were considered among the most important of their type in the US.
In shades of the inadequate planning for disasters reminiscent of Fukushima (well, they both involve ocean flooding,) the building the rodents were in was supposed to be designed to resist such problems:
The Smilow, which opened in 2006, can withstand a storm surge of about 3.7 metres — 20% higher than that expected from a once-per-century flood, according to the NYU. Now that Sandy has overtopped those defences, officials say that they will be assessing what they can do differently in the future.
 As pointed out in the Reuters report on this, lab animals appears to often be in the firing line when hurricanes strike America:
All told, said NYU spokeswoman Jessica Guenzel, the biomedical facility lost 7,660 cages of mice and 22 cages of rats. Each cage houses between one and seven animals, she said.

"This happens again and again and (research labs) never learn," said Fran Sharples, director of the Board on Life Sciences at the congressionally chartered National Academy of Sciences (NAS).  "Anybody with half a brain knows you do a site-specific analysis" to understand the risk of disasters, she said, "and it's really stupid to put your animals in the basement if you're in a flood zone."

It's not as if scientists didn't have recent lessons in the risk of natural disasters to biomedical research, she said. In 2001, tens of thousands of mice and scores of monkeys and dogs were lost when Hurricane Allison struck Houston; and in 2005, some 10,000 lab animals drowned when hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans.
 I wonder if Queensland University, which I assume has its share of lab rats, did better than that last year during the Brisbane floods.

Simple mussels

How to cook perfect moules marinieres | Life and style | The Guardian

I now find myself enjoying Felicity Cloakes' Guardian blog which usually talks just a little too much about how to do some of the classic recipes.   Here she tackles the simplest recipe for mussels, and  actually does it with relative restraint.  One English cook apparently suggests using cider instead of wine.  Not sure how that would go, but I'm willing to try, if my wife approves.

Saturday, November 10, 2012


The future of the Republican Party: What not to do | The Economist

I liked this paragraph in above short bit of commentary in The Economist:
 SEVERAL of my colleagues have written characteristically incisive pieces about what lessons the Republicans should take from losing an eminently winnable election. Over at the Corner, Michael Walsh and Mark Krikorian recommend a few lessons of their own. For Mr Walsh, the number one lesson learned from Tuesday's defeat is that "the Republicans should never again agree to any debate moderated by any member of the MSM, most especially including former Democratic apparatchiks like Stephanopoulos." That's number one! "Republicans should immediately begin constructing their own media operation," he writes, as if no such enterprises exist. The best-rated cable-news channel is Fox! Five of the top ten radio programmes (Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, Mark Levin and Neal Boortz) are conservative! Messrs Limbaugh, Beck, Hannity et al have spent the last four years telling their listeners that Mr Obama is an incompetent Kenyan-Marxist-Muslim-Commie-Socialist doomed to defeat. Such sentiments soothe their listeners and are good for ratings, but the parts about incompetence and imminent defeat turned out to be false. The problem is not that conservatives lack media outlets; the problem comes when they fail to venture outside of them.
And words of wisdom from the Lexington blog at the same magazine:
Republican pessimism is more than a PR headache. Put simply, it is hard for a party to win national elections in a country that it seems to dislike. Mr Romney’s campaign slogan was “Believe in America”. But too many on his side believe in a version of America from which displeasing facts or arguments are ruthlessly excluded. Todd Akin did not implode as a Senate candidate because of his stern opposition to abortion even in cases of rape or incest: many Republicans in Congress share those views. His downfall came because in trying to deny that his principles involved a trade-off with compassion for rape victims he came up with the unscientific myth that the bodies of women subjected to rape can shut down a pregnancy.

It was a telling moment of denial, much like the comforting myth that there is no such thing as climate change or, if there is, that humans are not involved. Ensconced in a parallel world of conservative news sources and conservative arguments, all manner of comforting alternative visions of reality surfaced during the 2012 election. Many, like Mr Akin’s outburst, involved avoiding having to think about unwelcome things (often basic science or economics). It became a nostrum among rank-and-file Republicans that mainstream opinion polls are biased and should be ignored, for instance, and that voter fraud is rampant and explains much of the Democrats’ inner-city support. Both conspiracies sounded a lot like ways of wishing the other side away.

Thoughtful Republicans are not oblivious to the dangers that they face. Optimists hope that new leaders will emerge to lead their movement rapidly towards greater realism, and greater cheeriness. If not, electoral defeats far more severe than those inflicted this time will surely impose such changes. Republicans may look back and wish the reckoning had started sooner.

Spielberg gets it right, apparently

Lincoln - Rotten Tomatoes

A bit to my surprise, given how dull and over-earnest Spielberg's last attempt at American costume history was (Amistad), there is strong consensus amongst the American critics that his Lincoln is very good.   Most reviews single out Daniel Day Lewis as being exceptionally good in the title role.  In fact, he sounds like a certainty for an Oscar nomination.

Given that the reviews also admit that it is a wordy film, you would have to wonder whether it will succeed at the box office.  And also, given the Obama victory, Spielberg's liberal reputation, and the film's concentration on compromise and deal making in politics, I suspect wingnutty types will give it a wide berth over fear of it being too "liberal."   (The slightest suggestion that Lincoln might have been attracted to men, which one gay guy writing in Slates thinks is in the film, will probably also annoy those on the far Right, perhaps.)   But again, I could be wrong.

Update:  the Slate articles on whether his wife was crazy, and what the real life characters in the film looked like, are well worth a look too. In particular, if you want a bit of a fright, have a look at the real life photo of Francis Preston Blair Snr.  Looks like proof that Lincoln had to fight zombies, if not vampires!

Update 2:  Ha!  As I predicted, the first really derisive review of the movie ("It’s a hopeless bore that, in an attempt to humanize an icon, turns him into a mere politician") is to be found on PJ Lifestyle - part of the Right wing PJ Media site.

I'll be on the look out for more sour grapes reviews of the movie from right wing reviewers.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Stewart enjoys the win

You can watch Jon Stewart on the Daily Show ripping into Fox News after the election win here:

After that, you might be a bit surprised and amused at just how derisive some at MSNBC felt they could be about the losers and their supporters:

Then I suggest that you read the list of "10 wrongest predictions" about the election outcome*, followed by how well uber wingnut Ted Nugent took the loss.  ("Not well" is the short answer.)

*  I used to think Peggy Noonan had relatively good judgement as a conservative-ish columnist, but her writing on how great Romney was going in the lead up to the election has convinced me otherwise.

The Obama win

It's not as if I think Obama has been an outstanding President, but looking at the current state of the Republicans, he certainly deserved re-election over them.

There's a lot of good commentary about this around with which I agree:  William Saletan shows how Obama has really acted like a moderate Republican of the past; Thomas Friedman correctly predicted that the election would show that Americans want centrist governments; and even Ross Douthat said that the Republicans failed to take Obama seriously as an opponent because of their belief that their cause was just obvious:
 You could see this belief at work in the confidence with which many conservatives insisted that the Obama presidency was not only embattled but self-evidently disastrous, in the way so many voices on the right sought to raise the ideological stakes at every opportunity, in the widespread conviction that the starker conservatives made the choice between left and right, the more votes they would win.
 As for how the Right is reacting in the blogosphere:  well, it seems to me a significant number are currently playing the extraordinarily unwise game of "blame the voters".  Take Roger Simon at PJ Media for example:
But even with that luck [Hurricane Sandy] you would think the electorate would have the brains (self-preservation really) to put him out of office.

So we have a problem with democracy. It’s not working or, more specifically, has been turned on its end, with the masses manipulated against their own self-interest, creating power elites similar to those described in Milovan Djilas’ The New Class.

How did that happen? I think many of us know there are three pillars of our own destruction: the educational system, the media and entertainment (the popular arts).
 See, the problem is not the Right, it's that the masses have been brainwashed by schools, the media and movies to just not be able to understand how magnificently correct the Right is.  The same attitude is currently also on abundant display on the allegedly "centre right" blog Catallaxy, where, as it happens (if Florida goes to Obama, as appears likely) I correctly predicted the final electoral college Obama tally of 332.

One thing is for sure:  it the Right doesn't become more evidence based and pragmatic, it is on the path for future irrelevancy in the US.  

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Johnson speaks

Charles Johnson of Little Green Footballs summarises his feelings about the Republican Party:
The Republican Party … well, if you’ve been reading the site for the past couple of years you know what I think about them. They’re lost in cloud cuckoo land in so many ways and on so many levels, there’s just no doubt that they represent a serious danger to the future prosperity of this country — not just for their magical thinking on economics, but in their denial of many areas of modern science (based on either religious fanaticism or cynical political calculation for personal profit), their continuing, relentless attempts to roll back progress on women’s reproductive rights, and the shockingly prevalent racism and xenophobia that have bubbled up to the surface in a highly disturbing way since the election of our first black President.

At this point, it’s not even really about Mitt Romney, although he’s an especially cynical example of the Republican brand.   Nobody the GOP could prop up and nominate would ever convince me to vote for a Republican in the foreseeable future, because of what the party as a whole represents: reactionary paranoia, manifesting as authoritarian rule whenever they gain power.

In my life, I’ve voted twice for Republican presidents, and Democrats every other time — and the second time I voted for a Republican (John McCain) it was with grave misgivings.

I’ll have no misgivings at all about casting my vote for Barack Obama.
 I didn't recall that he had voted for McCain.  That's funny, given how despised he is now on the wingnuttery side of the blogosphere.

Regardless of where he has been in the past, most of what he says now sounds about right.  (Well, OK, the bit about authoritarian rule is a bit over the top, and if Americans want to have laws that discourage abortion, that's up to them, although if the same pro-lifers are against reliable contraception being readily available, then I have no patience with them.)  The Republicans need a thorough clean out of the Tea Party side, and come back to common sense, moderate right wing views on science and economics, and compromise for the common good.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Impetuous from before you were born

Prenatal testosterone levels influence later response to reward

I don't know:  it seems a bit depressing to read studies indicating that certain character traits come from such random-ish sounding things like the level of testosterone early in pregnancy:

Although present at low levels in females, testosterone is one of the primary sex hormones that exerts substantial influence over the emergence of differences between males and females. In adults and adolescents, heightened testosterone has been shown to reduce fear, lower sensitivity to punishment, increase risk-tasking, and enhance attention to threat. These effects interact substantially with context to affect social behavior.

 This knowledge about the effects of testosterone in adolescence and adulthood suggests that it is related to influencing the balance between approach and avoidance behavior. These same behaviors are heightened in the teenage years and also emerge in extremes in many neuropsychiatric conditions, including conduct disorder, depression, substance abuse, autism, and psychopathy.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Beware the lead

Boys' sickness traced to an old crystal decanter
Alicia had been storing her expressed milk in an old crystal glass decanter - the type of family heirloom found in many Australian households.

But the brilliant old-fashioned crystalware, created by combining molten quartz with lead compounds, was slowly leaching lead into her milk.
It was making her twin boys sick.  It's an odd use to put the family crystal to, though.

This reminds me, there was once an episode of a medically themed show - I think it was Doogie Howser MD (before we realised he might have secretly had a thing for Vinnie) - in which an elderly woman's illness turned out to be lead poisoning from using some plates and bowls she got from (I think) Mexico.  It was a valuable lesson for doctors about sitting down and spending hours chatting about anything with their ill patients who have hard to diagnose problems, or something like that.  Or maybe it was an advertisement for more thorough toxicological testing when you can't tell what's going on.  One or the other.

Actually, I wonder if lead poisoning is more readily recognised in Australia than the US.  As this recent report noted, lead levels in kids in older Australian houses being renovated can often be a real problem.   In fact, I know of someone whose young daughter got dangerous levels many years ago before he had heard of this danger.   The first he knew something was wrong was the dog getting wobbly in the legs. 

Lead is nasty stuff.  Recently its continued use in shooting game birds in England was noted as a potential health problem too.  And even for those waterbirds that aren't shot, they often ingest lead shot and it can kill them.  The lead shot is not supposed to be used, but the law is apparently widely ignored.

I see that lead shot is also banned for hunting in Australia.  I wonder if our hunters are following that law?