Thursday, February 28, 2013

End times discussed

Could the Higgs mass determine the end of the universe?

 According to quantum theory, it’s possible that the lowest energy state of our universe – when there’s nothing but space and time – isn’t the lowest possible state of all.
In this picture, there exists an even lower energy state, one that our universe could transition to. That might not sound too ominous until you learn that in the lower energy state, all the protons in all the matter in the universe decay, with the unfortunate side effect that we cease to exist.
Worse still, the transition could happen at any time, anywhere in the universe, and expand at light speed from a tiny bubble until it annihilates the entire universe as we know it, which would be, you know, bad.
Recently, this idea was re-examined within the context of the Standard Model of Particle Physics – the modern quantum theory of subatomic particles and their interactions. Precise calculations dictate that the stability of our universe is intimately connected to the mass of the Higgs boson (and the top quark), a parameter which – thanks to the efforts of Large Hadron Collider – is now known to be about 125 GeV.
It is the conclusions of this re-examination that have raised a furore in the media: the Standard Model predicts that for our universe to be stable, the Higgs mass needs to be larger than 129.4 ± 5.6 GeV, so it only just fits within the uncertainties.
Ergo the end is nigh, at least in the units of time that cosmologists work with. But don’t stock your matter-collapsing-proof shelter just yet – those time scales are billions to trillions of years.
 The article goes on to note that, as the Standard Model doesn't cover everything, there may well be an "out."

The other person who had a lot hanging on the mass of the Higgs was Frank Tipler, who had predicted a Higgs mass way of 220 or so for his Omega Point theory to work.

Sadly, I have not seen any comment by him since the LHC announcement of its measurement last year.

That seems fast...

'Nearby' supermassive black hole rotates at close to the speed of light | Science |

Phil Plait at Slate gives a bit more detail:
As the material swirls around the black hole, it emits X-rays at a very specific energy—think of it as a color. But as it orbits that color gets smeared out due to the Doppler effect. The amount of smearing indicates how fast the material is moving, and that in turn can tell astronomers how fast the black hole is spinning. This can be complicated by the presence of dense clouds of material farther out from the black hole that absorb X-rays and mess up our observations. The new data from NuSTAR allowed astronomers to show that the smearing seen is definitely due to rotation and not obscuration, unambiguously revealing the black hole's tremendous spin: just a hair below the speed of light!
Most black holes spin far slower than that, so something ramped this hole’s spin way up. One possibility, as I mentioned above, is material falling in over time. Another is that it ate one or more other black holes, which is creepy but possible. Galaxies collide, and when they do their central black holes can merge, growing larger. If the geometry is just right, this can create a single black hole with more spin. Due this a few times, and you can spin one up to fantastic speeds.
I’ll note that NGC 1365 is a massive galaxy, easily twice as large as the Milky Way (an we’re one of the biggest galaxies in the Universe). That’s exactly what you’d expect from a galaxy that’s spent a lifetime eating other ones. Cosmic cannibals grow fat when the hunting’s good.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The movie finance business still hard to understand

DreamWorks Animation takes $87 million write-down on 'Rise of the Guardians' -

I promise I'll stop talking about movies soon, but this report shows (apparently) that a $145 million movie that takes in $300 million globally can still be said to have lost $87 million.

And this at a time when I thought digital projection was meant to make a substantial saving by studios not having to get film prints made and distributed around cinemas.  Also, I thought with kids films there was often substantial profit from DVD releases, but would this Christmas movie even be released yet? The movie is well suited for an Easter release.

Very odd. 

No rehabilitation needed

Japan’s prisons: Eastern porridge | The Economist

A somewhat interesting look here at how Japanese prisons operate.  (Watch the video too.  The interior of the prison looks pretty decent, but no reading?  Wow.)

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Spielberg considered (again)

Oscars 2013 and Spielberg: The storyteller is part of our cultural DNA -

A reasonable enough, lengthy article here on Spielberg's career and development as a director.

But to see how nutty some of the reaction against him is now, read the handful of comments that follow it.

One thing that bothers me - last time I checked, a couple of weeks ago, Spielberg has not made a decision on his next movie. 

Irony, humour, etc

Well, at the First Things blog of all places, there's a decent post complaining about the attempts at humour at the Oscars show last night.  It goes on to note that the overuse of irony is actually the death of humour:
Irony, and its near-cousin sarcasm, is the lingua franca of popular culture. The more deeply we tread into this part of our national consciousness, the more we realize the breathtaking vanity of its values. Irony is, in the end, self-referential, so once it becomes self-self-referential, it has created a hall of mirrors that ultimately implodes into meaningless parodies of itself that are, well, humorless even to those toward whom the jokes were originally aimed.

When everything is ironic, irony ceases to be ironic. It lapses into mere meanness, leaving an incredibly bitter aftertaste. Indeed, the life-root of bullying just may be irony. What struck me last night was the utter brutality of much of the attempts at humor. The writers were equal-opportunity offenders, but this is, to some extent, what we find in a worldview where nothing is worth defending or treating as precious. I have a vague recollection that Henri Bergson once said that humor is the first step toward acceptance; I wonder if the corollary is true: if everything is acceptable, is there anything that can be humorous? Do rules, in some rudimentary way, actually generate humor? If comedy is always transgressive and the world (in the interest of tolerance) no longer allows transgression, then have we lost the ability to laugh? Based on the evidence of last night’s show, I have to wonder.
Actually, I think I stop understanding the argument by the last two sentences, but I was sort of with it up to then...

Not everyone liked Argo

Argo **** yourself: Ben Affleck’s Iran hostage movie is the worst. - Slate Magazine

Am I to take it that there is a lot of swearing in this film? 

Doesn't seem right...

Want to emigrate to Australia? Be warned – it's not 'hot Britain' | Rae Earl | Comment is free | The Guardian

You get some pretty wacky takes on Australia from British migrants, but this one seems to describe a place that is barely recognisable as being drawn from reality. 

Good background on a harmful bug

Understanding the recent listeria-linked cheese recall

Climate change working in ways not quite expected

Weather extremes provoked by trapping of giant waves in atmosphere
"An important part of the global air motion in the mid-latitudes of the Earth normally takes the form of waves wandering around the planet, oscillating between the tropical and the Arctic regions. So when they swing up, these waves suck warm air from the tropics to Europe, Russia, or the US, and when they swing down, they do the same thing with cold air from the Arctic," explains lead author Vladimir Petoukhov.

"What we found is that during several recent extreme weather events these planetary waves almost freeze in their tracks for weeks. So instead of bringing in cool air after having brought warm air in before, the heat just stays. In fact, we observe a strong amplification of the usually weak, slowly moving component of these waves," says Petoukhov.
The report ends on a note of caution:
...the 32-year period studied in the project provides a good indication of the mechanism involved, yet is too short for definite conclusions.
but it still sounds like an important study.

Zach for the Oscars

Re the Oscar show last night, which I tried to speed up with much use of fast forward on the digital recorder, but still couldn't compress to an hour and a half I was aiming for.

Seth MacFarlane:  He can sing! He can dance!  He can't mature beyond the age of 18!

OK, there were a couple of funny bits - the seduction of Sally Field was OK, and having William Shatner appear was amusing, but should have been funnier.

Seriously, MacFarlane is too smugly amused by himself, and his whole brand of humour is built on the sort of self aware political incorrectness that most people grow out of by their twenties.

So, I was thinking - what has gone wrong with finding an amusing host for the Oscar shows?  It easily feels like 15 years or more since I've seen a host who I thought was doing a good job.  Steve Martin used to be good, but not the last time he co-hosted.  Same with Billy Crystal.   Hollywood outsiders - like Lettermen - crash and burn.  Some people liked Hugh Jackman, but I don't care for him in anything he ever does.

What the show needs is amiable LA insiders who can do a bit of comedy.  Hosts don't need to sing and dance - let the professionals do that.  It doesn't need "edgy" or ironic comedy, but it does need someone who appeals to a younger demographic.

So who fits this bill?   It came to me last night. This guy:

Well, that's his latest role, as helpful flying monkey in the heavily promoted OZ film, but this is the man himself:

I mean, who doesn't like Zach Braff?    Who didn't like Scrubs?   In fact, he could do the whole hosting job as if it is a dream sequence from that show.    (You could surely do worse than hand over the entire comedy writing job for the Oscars to that creative team.)

Who knows, if I had a readership, I think this could be a campaign that would take off.  

Instead, we'll probably get Whoopi Goldberg for yet another attempt at a return to form.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Lincoln seen (and analysed)

In a minor triumph of parental pressure to have a 12 (nearly 13) year old boy see an educational movie that he may well not like, I convinced my son to see Lincoln with me yesterday.  He likes history a lot, and maybe has read some Horrible History stuff about the Civil War (he knew about the shooting in the theatre, definitely) so I did have at least something to work on.  Be warned, I said, the movie is mainly about politics, so there is a lot of talking; and you will almost certainly be the youngest person in the audience. (I was right on that count.)

On the drive to the cinema, I gave him a bit of background on Republicans and Democrats in the US, and tried to be helpful by suggesting that he could almost certainly impress his teacher if he could just somehow casually mention to her that he had been to see it.  He could even pretend that he really liked it, even if he didn't.  (He wouldn't be in on this subterfuge.  Kids these days - I don't know.)

So, how did he like it?

Well, I had warned him that I wanted absolutely no complaint during the movie that it was boring, but we did have an argument just before going into the cinema that $5.60 for a regular Slushie was just too expensive. This primed him to be a bit cranky for the first 20 minutes.

But at the end of the day - no, I don't think he found it boring.  Sure, he complained about how a lot of the talk was hard for him to understand, but I could tell that he was always paying attention, if not always for the right reason.  (Tommy Lee Jones, who my kids like a lot from the Men in Black movies, amused him by wearing a bad wig and playing a typically gruff character.)   If it wasn't for the Slushie argument, he might even have admitted to finding it, almost kinda, worthwhile seeing.

So how about me?   It's a thumbs up for being a really fine, intelligent and engaging movie.  I suspect that most people who find it boring may only do so from a point of view that they might have been expecting a more traditional biopic that spans more than the events of the last few months of Abe's life.   

As everyone says, you just can't keep your eyes off Daniel Day Lewis when he is on screen.  In that way it is like the other (to use a hackneyed bit of praise) absolutely mesmerising example of acting in a Spielberg film -  Ralph Fiennes in Schindler's List. 

I deliberately did not read too many reviews or articles about the movie before seeing it, and I'm glad I took that approach.  You really don't want to know how nitpicking some people have been about its historical accuracy; and furthermore, I have read articles which have complained that some little detail was wrong, yet this has been contradicted in other articles.  Some of the criticism is of the kind "well, that just doesn't seem likely," but surely there are some matters of speculation involved here that no one can really be confident about.   (Even on a matter such as one prominent appearance of the "f" word, some have said this is unlikely; yet my own recent post on when it came into use indicates to me that you could not be certain that no man would use it that way at the time of the Civil War.)   It seems the movie had made everyone an expert on the Lincoln era. 

Overall, I would have to say that, having now read the relevant articles, it impresses me what a serious job Kushner did in trying to convey a movie that is essentially accurate, for a historical drama that has to fill in some details that aren't known.  I believe that Bob Carr, who seems to be a bit of a Lincoln nerd, praises it in this way as well.

One of the best overviews about its basic accuracy was at Slate.  Another short assessment from a historian who knows a lot about one of the key characters (Seward) says that there were plenty of minor points he thought wrong (the shift in some of the chronology is particularly puzzling, I think) but he still praises the movie overall:
All these points, however, are quibbles. Spielberg has made a great movie about Lincoln, Seward, the Thirteenth Amendment, the Civil War. With very few exceptions, the actors look like and act like the characters they portray; David Strathairn has Seward completely captured.

Even more persuasive are the relationships between the characters. We experience the interplay between Lincoln and Seward, how Seward could disagree with Lincoln yet serve as his most effective instrument. We see how the two men pursued their great goals, ending the Civil War and ending slavery, and how they were prepared to cut some corners to reach their goals. Spielberg and the actors make history alive in a way in which no author, however gifted, could with mere words.
I liked many of the details of the Lincoln household:  the young son Tad absolutely having the run of the house appears to be completely true.  I didn't know that the Lincolns were famously permissive parents, and Lincoln apparently took joy in playing with them.

Some people have complained a bit about the last ten minutes of the film, which I think is nonsense.  Many are simply hypersensitive above how Spielberg deals with emotion and always label it as sentimentalism.   As with Schindlers List, the ending caught me with an emotional wallop that I wasn't really expecting, and I sensed there were others in the audience suppressing a sniffle too.  (Overall, I feel confident that the audience was not finding the movie disappointing.)

So, all praise again to Spielberg.   And go see it.

Update:  Harold Holzer, one of the historical consultants to the movie, says that some of his suggestions were not followed.  But again, quite a lot of his points are of the "I don't think that's likely" character - not that it is known for sure that it could not have happened.  (Tad looking at the photographic plates, for example.  I thought it was suggested at one point that he was not supposed to be looking at them, and we know that the Lincoln were indulgent of his younger son, so how big a stretch is it really?)

Also - now he says this:
Lincoln may have given short, unmemorable speeches at countless flag-raising ceremonies in Washington, but never was he ever seen, as he is in the movie, fetching his manuscript from the lining of his top hat...

Yet in 2009 he said:
Yes, Lincoln did keep scraps of paper in the inside lining of his top hats — probably more often in the days he rode the legal circuit alone than when he was president and had clerks to help him file things.
 So it seems nitpicky why would he even mention the scene in the movie, then.

Anyway, Holzer still praises the movie overall.

Also - as I noted earlier, the main criticism of the movie has really come from right wing nutters who hate Lincoln even though he was Republican (and they also hate Spielberg too for being a liberal.)  Have a look at the start of the second comment following Holzer's article, for example:
The entire Lincoln Edifice Complex is a sham, a lie and a massive coverup of a tyrant who should have been shot the day before his inauguration.Spielberg adds yet another massive load of Bullshit on top the already Mt Rushmore high pile already extant about this singular mass murderer.
And in Australia, the only criticism of the film as "whitewashing" Lincoln that I have seen is from, you guessed it, the Right, in the form of Chris Berg of the IPA.  (Bolt had a bit of whine as well.)   Typical.

Update 2:  Daniel Day Lewis wins the Oscar, and makes what surely must be the funniest  joke of the evening.

Update 3:  I've stumbled across a very good, detailed article that says that Spielberg and Kushner have actually come up with some of their own legitimate historical arguments regarding motivation.   

Update 4:  A Washington Post article complaining about the lack of depiction of Fredrick Douglas in the movie.  Someone in the comment thread points out that he wasn't in Washington much in the couple of months the movie covers.   I have never seen so many people wanting to re-write a historical drama because of it not taking quite the route they wanted it to take.  Also, its worth some of the Lincoln defending comments there, regarding his attitude to slavery and freedom, like this one.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Possum update

We think this is the baby possum which featured with its mother here last year.  He or she now turns up alone:

And in other possum news:  the mother re-appeared yesterday after an absence of some weeks, with a new possum baby which is just starting to come out of the pouch.  No photo of new baby yet.


Sorry about that shouty heading, but seriously, just how many repetitions do Australian political journalists and commentators think they can wring from that theme in the space of a fortnight?

It is tedious in the extreme.

It's periods like this that political journalism becomes a big bore, and the self fulfilling prophesy of "can the leadership survive another poor poll?" shows up journalists as participants in a big game, not just sideline reporters.

I have to admit, though, that Peter Hartcher does something unusual this morning:  he finds some public servants who used to work with Tony Abbott who say he was thoughtful, courteous and good to work with.

I don't have a problem with accepting that - I have said before that I did not mind him as a Howard government minister.

However, his virtues evaporated once he wanted the leadership.  A policy he formerly didn't really care about and couldn't really see any great harm in (an ETS) suddenly became the Worst Policy in the World (with a nod of gratitude to Andrew Bolt and Alan Jones for showing him how to become a populist.)   Suddenly a Labor parental leave plan became not generous enough (a thought which seems to have occurred to no one else in Parliament, let alone his own party.)   Massive exaggerations of the effect of government policies (mining tax and carbon pricing) fell routinely from his lips.  Flaky ideas like a "Green Army" appeared, and he forced the government into  a version of his own asylum seeker "solution" that is bound to collapse again sooner or later under the weight of its poor treatment of people on crappy island accommodation.

Nope:  whatever his past merits, Abbott was promoted above his level of competency and he doesn't deserve the leadership.  Being in charge of everything doesn't suit him.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Pig in the dock

Medieval animal trials: Why they’re not quite as crazy as they sound. - Slate Magazine

A sample from this interesting article:

Such a case might seem bizarre to modern observers, but animal trials were commonplace public events in medieval and early modern Europe. Pigs, cows, goats, horses, and dogs that allegedly broke the law were routinely subjected to the same legal proceedings as humans. In a court of law, they were treated as persons. These somber affairs, which always adhered to the strictest legal procedures, reveal a bygone mentality according to which some animals possessed moral agency.
Scholars who have explored animals on trial generally avoid addressing this mentality. Instead, they’ve situated animal trials in several sensible (and academically safer) frameworks. The dominant explanation from legal scholars and historians is that, in a society of people who believed deeply in a divinely determined order of being, with humans at the top, any disruption of God’s hierarchy had to be visibly restored with a formal event. Another hypothesis is that animal trials may have provided authorities an opportunity to intimidate the owners of animals—especially pigs—who ran roughshod through the commons. A sow hanging from the gallows was, in essence, a public service announcement saying, Control your pigs or they’ll die sooner than you hoped.  

Particle men

So, it was arguing with someone on the 'net who seems to have missed the last 300 years of philosophy and science about Thomas Aquinas and God being  the "Unmoved Mover" that led me to Google up some sites about virtual particles and quantum physics.  (My point having been that particles popping into existence from the quantum foam paints a completely different type of universe from that of Aristotle and Aquinas, where giant spheres are all rotating around the Earth, and everything is assumed to just sit there until pushed.)

The first site I read on virtual particles was this one,by Fermi lab physicist Don Lincoln, which gives what I recall as the usual kind of explanation for them.  His blog seems to only be updated once a month, but the posts look pretty interesting and I will go back to it.

But the bigger find was a link to an alternative explanation of virtual particles on a blog by physicist Matt Strassler.   Now his explanation of virtual particles is really worth reading.  For example, here is his key point:
 The best way to approach this concept, I believe, is to forget you ever saw the word “particle” in the term. A virtual particle is not a particle at all. It refers precisely to a disturbance in a field that is not a particle. A particle is a nice, regular ripple in a field, one that can travel smoothly and effortlessly through space, like a clear tone of a bell moving through the air.  A “virtual particle”, generally, is a disturbance in a field that will never be found on its own, but instead is something that is caused by the presence of other particles, often of other fields.
You have to read the whole post to understand the point, but it is clear that Strassler puts a lot of effort in explaining things in a way that lay people can get a grip on.   His other articles and blog entries look very interesting and clearly written too.  (Well, as clear as you can get on some complicated topics.)

I must add these to the blogroll...

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Modern homicide

It's interesting to note that the homicide rate in Australia continues to fall, as it is apparently is internationally.  But the comparison with the US is still remarkable:
The Australian Institute of Criminology has released a report examining the 510 homicides across the country over 24 months between July 2008 and June 2010.
It found that the rate of homicide in Australia remains at a historic low of 1.2 deaths per 100,000 people.

The NSW rate was just below that at 1.1 per cent per 100,000, Victoria recorded the lowest while the Northern Territory rate was more than four times the national average.

Indigenous Australians were over-represented as victims of homicide, with the homicide rate four times higher than the equivalent rate for non-indigenous Australians.

Gun-related homicide dropped to a historic low of 13 per cent but the frequency of people dying from stab wounds jumped from 30 per cent to 41 per cent over the previous decade.
In the US, in the meantime:
 The national homicide rate for 2011 was 4.8 per 100,000 citizens — less than half of what it was in the early years of the Great Depression, when it peaked before falling precipitously before World War II. The peak in modern times of 10.2 was in 1980, as recorded by national criminal statistics.

“We’re at as low a place as we’ve been in the past 100 years,” says Randolph Roth, professor of history at Ohio State University and author of this year’s “American Homicide,” a landmark study of the history of killing in the United States. “The rate oscillates between about 5 and 9 [per 100,000], sometimes a little higher or lower, and we’re right at the bottom end of that oscillation.”
Well, isn't that fascinating:  the US is (so to speak) doing cartwheels over a historically low murder rate which is still 4 times higher than ours.   And this would seemingly mean that you can't blame all of America's current rate on the drug trade (or, in the past, on prohibition) - there have been decades in which neither of these factors were significant, the country still had a relatively high murder rate.

So, what's the theory of Roth, who is quoted above.   Here's the summary of his book on Amazon:
 In American Homicide, Randolph Roth charts changes in the character and incidence of homicide in the U.S. from colonial times to the present. Roth argues that the United States is distinctive in its level of violence among unrelated adults—friends, acquaintances, and strangers. America was extraordinarily homicidal in the mid-seventeenth century, but it became relatively non-homicidal by the mid-eighteenth century, even in the slave South; and by the early nineteenth century, rates in the North and the mountain South were extremely low. But the homicide rate rose substantially among unrelated adults in the slave South after the American Revolution; and it skyrocketed across the United States from the late 1840s through the mid-1870s, while rates in most other Western nations held steady or fell. That surge—and all subsequent increases in the homicide rate—correlated closely with four distinct phenomena: political instability; a loss of government legitimacy; a loss of fellow-feeling among members of society caused by racial, religious, or political antagonism; and a loss of faith in the social hierarchy. Those four factors, Roth argues, best explain why homicide rates have gone up and down in the United States and in other Western nations over the past four centuries, and why the United States is today the most homicidal affluent nation.
I see that the book has just been was released a year ago.  Sounds like it could be a good read.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Noted in African tabloid news

A sixty year old woman who neighbours allege is a witch is reported to have given birth to a rat at Ekumfi Eku Mpoano in the Central Region.

The woman whose name has been withheld for safety reasons is said to have challenged a pastor who told her she was possessed by an evil spirit.

The Head Pastor of the 12 Apostles Church in the Central Region, Madam Akua Nyaneba tells Adom News when the woman was brought to her she was not pregnant but upon praying for her the woman confessed she was a witch and was carrying the rat for onward transfer into her sister’s womb.
To be fair, the article (which I had missed last year - despite my efforts to keep abreast of interesting rat news) is followed by several comments indicating that the readers do not believe it.

I sort of like the odd detail about carrying the rat "for onward transfer into her sister's womb", though.

An attempt to fix European carbon trading

Carbon trading: The first hurdle | The Economist

EUROPE’S emissions-trading system, the world’s largest carbon cap-and-trade scheme, survived a near-death experience on February 19th. The environment committee of the European Parliament voted to support a plan proposed by the European Commission, the European Union’s executive arm, to take 900m tonnes of carbon allowances off the market for up to five years. Had it rejected the plan, the market might have collapsed.

The proposal would reduce some of the massive overcapacity in the ETS, which has driven the price of carbon down from almost €30 a tonne in 2008 to about €5 this year. As this article argues, the overcapacity has come about as a result of two things: recession (which has pushed down industrial demand for carbon, even though the volume of carbon allowances is fixed for 2013-20) and one-off factors such as an increase in the number of carbon auctions. By taking allowances off the market now, when prices are low, and reintroducing them later, when (the proposers hope) prices will be higher, the designers of the scheme hope to limit the price decline. In the first instance, that hope was not fulfilled. Prices fell to €4 a tonne after the vote.
A recovery in the price may well help the Gillard government sell its scheme.

Roman festival noted

This is late, given that Valentines Day was last week, but it sounds so odd it's worth noting anyway:
For centuries before Christianity came on the scene, the Romans celebrated a mid-February fertility festival called Lupercalia. (It continued to be honored until the 4th century A.D.) This odd ritual involved a cadre of nearly naked male runners, who roamed the city, lightly whipping every nubile female in sight with bloody strips of goathide. Sounds suspiciously like S&M, but it was a purification ritual. The floggings cleansed the city and chased off evil spirits, making Rome’s women receptive in the most basic sense for procreative sex.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Look in the mirror and slap yourselves it the face

This title is my advice to all Labor Party members and their supporters who are in a mad panic again over Labor's polling numbers.

The Party has never appeared united since the 2010 election. 

Despite this, it appeared to be within winning range of a present election, at least on a national vote, barely 2 months ago.

Since then, it is obvious that the party has had a lot of bad publicity, pretty much in one hit:   the Obeid inquiry in Sydney, Thompson being arrested, a Senator complaining about being dumped, a couple of prominent MPs announcing early retirement, people double guessing the wisdom of announcing the election date, Rudd deciding to raise his profile, and parliamentarians continuing to openly discuss how depressed they are about their prospects to any journalist they see on the street.  (In fact, it seems they run up to any journalist in the street whether the journo wants to talk to them or not.)

This is just ridiculous. 

The disunity has to stop:  changing leaders, especially back to Rudd, would be a disaster.   The public are fickle:  he might poll well for a couple of months, but there is no sign at all that he is pushing for any policy change in direction.   Do you think people will just vote for him because he's Kevin?

It is absurd that the party should be so fractured after all this time.   Rudd should either disappear back into the wood work, or do a public (and genuine) reconciliation with Gillard.   (Try looking her in the eye this time.)   Otherwise people will continue to not believe him, and his profile will be a continued destabilising influence.

Personally, I want him back in the woodwork.  There is no sign he is brilliant with policy.  He was always a flaky politician who got in by virtue of a large "it's time" factor for Howard, including dissatisfaction with Workchoices.

And finally - people have to realise the dills on the Coalition at the moment.  This morning, I heard that the Shadow Minister for Innovation Industry and Science is Sophie Mirabella (!)  She resigned rather than support an ETS an d is prominently against any carbon pricing.   She behaves badly in Parliament and is just an awful politician.  She's the type of Coalition politician who really must be kept out of government.

Snow "contradiction" noted, again

Climate contradiction: Less snow, more blizzards


 — The United States has been hit by twice as many of the most extreme snowstorms in the past 50 years than in the previous 60 years, according to an upcoming study on extreme weather by leading government and university climate scientists. This fits with a dramatic upward trend in extreme winter precipitation—both rain and snow — in the Northeastern U.S. charted by the National Climatic Data Center. 

— Yet the Global Snow Lab at Rutgers University says that spring snow cover in the Northern Hemisphere has shrunk on average by 1 million square miles in the last 45 years.

 — And an upcoming study in the Journal of Climate says computer models predict annual global snowfall to shrink by more than a foot (.3 meters) in the next 50 years. The study's author said most people live in parts of the United States that are likely to see annual snowfall drop between 30 and 70 percent by the end of the century. 

 "Shorter snow season, less snow overall, but the occasional knockout punch," Princeton University climate scientist Michael Oppenheimer said. "That's the new world we live in." 

Ten climate scientists say the idea of less snow and more blizzards makes sense: A warmer world is likely to decrease the overall amount of snow falling each year and shrink the snow season. But when it is cold enough for a snowstorm to hit, the slightly warmer air is often carrying more moisture, producing potentially historic blizzards.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Exceptions not noted

BBC News - Hollywood star Nicole Kidman: 'My life is totally normal'

Well, except for the bit about being paid to urinate on a young co-star, a feature of a recent movie which just keeps on getting mentioned again and again in the Australian media.  Last time I noticed  was here, but the story has been around for at least a year.

What's more, the movie itself has long been released in the US and make the staggeringly unimpressive sum of $693,286.   This figure is spectacularly low.   Have we had to listen to how Nicole didn't worry about really urinating on Zac for a year all in the hope that it can get the movie to crack $1,000,000 internationally?

Or maybe the problem is the movie does not live up to the trash billing.  The Age story (my first link) in fact notes:
 Of course, you don't really see that happen. You see her face; you hear a splash.
So let me get this straight:  for some reason of authenticity, or PR purposes, or something, Zac Effron let something most people would call degrading in any situation be done to him for real.   And it is not on camera at all?  That could have been achieved by a sound effect added later?

Actors must be stupider than I thought.... 

Right wing gun nuttiness on display

PJ Media - Would New Gun Laws Spark Widespread Civil Disobedience?

I would normally call the PJ Media site, well, not exactly moderate given where the American Right is at the moment; let's just say it's not usually prone to promoting the Glenn Beck nuttier than a fruitcake section of the Right.

But have a look at this article which seems to be positively licking its lips in anticipation of American gun owners openly ignoring Federal and State laws re gun ownership.  And hey, it notes with barely contained glee, people with 3D printers will soon work out how to make 30 round magazines in their basements anyway.  (As to why people want to have 30 round magazines - well, if the government tells them they can't have them, that's incentive enough, right?)

And have a read of the comments that follow, where a fair number are happy to anticipate not just civil disobedience but armed rebellion.

Truly - what has caused a large element of the Right in America to turn this way?  Is it a result of a decade of self induced brain washing caused by the internet and Fox News?   It's really remarkable, and worrying.

The remaining sane on the Right there just have to speak out more.

Update:  found via David Frum, The Onion reports on a captive breeding program being the only hope for repopulating centrist Republicans:
According to members of the Initiative to Protect the Political Middle (IPPM), centrist Republicans, who once freely roamed the nation calling for both economic deregulation and a return to Reagan-era tax rates on the wealthy, are in dire need of protection, having lost large portions of their natural terrain to the highly territorial Evangelical and Tea Party breeds.

"Our new program is designed to isolate the few remaining specimens of moderate Republicans, mate them in captivity, and then safely release these rare and precious creatures back into the electorate," said IPPM’s Cynthia Rollins, who traces the decline of the species to changes in the political climate and rampant, predatory fanaticism. "Within our safe, enclosed habitats, these middle-of-the-road Republican Party members can freely support increased funding for public education and even gay rights without being threatened by the far-right subgenus."
Working within a narrow three-election-cycle window to reverse the decline before extinction becomes imminent, political conservationists told reporters they have already begun the arduous process of tracking down members of the elusive breed of sensible, non-reactionary public officeholders, which a generation ago was one of the most plentiful GOP species in existence.

Brooker on the horses

On the downside: bad meat and angry meteors. On the upside: awesome footage | Charlie Brooker | Comment is free | The Guardian

I thought Charlie Brooker had a quite a few funny lines in his column about the European horse meat scandal.  For example:
First we had an equine restaging of Soylent Green in which we all, as a nation, looked up from the trough for a moment to spit out a lump of unidentified sinew. It turns out thousands of us may have gobbled off a horse. The shredded stallion scandal shows no signs of abating, and last week went international, as it was revealed the meat in your microwaved lasagne has racked up more air miles than Elton John by the time it hits your tonsils. Seriously, did you see the maps showing the route it takes? France, Luxembourg, Romania … it's like James Bond, but deader and dumber and minced up and eaten....

 But about 10 minutes later the finger of blame pointed back home, as British police began raiding meat plants all over the country. Let's face it, chances are none of us has actually eaten a cow since about 1998. It's been horse, horse, horse. And it won't stop there. They'll be turning up evidence of peopleburgers next. I know it and you know it. Might as well get used to the idea: you are a cannibal, and have been for years.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Sunday fun with the tablet

A free Android app that was getting top billing on Google Play this morning probaby means lots of people made something like this today.   This is the road in front of my house:

And here a scene later in the day, from the balcony:

What fun for kids.  And adult kids.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Fish pie noted

For the first time tonight, I tried making a fish pie (using a white sauce base), combining details from a couple of recipes.  It was pretty successful, so, for my own reference:

Ingredients:  about 300 g each chunky white fish and salmon.   Around a dozen shelled prawns and about the same number of scallops (more if you can afford them - but ones from Hervey Bay are selling for nearly $50 a kg!)

Put the seafood in a bowl and add juice of a lemon, and half of the rind finely grated.  Add about a teaspoon of salt, some pepper, and put in the fridge for half an hour while you do the sauce.  Turn over on to 200 degrees.

Put on 2 or 3 eggs to hard boil.  ( I used three - I think 2 might be enough next time.)

Finely slice one leek.  Melt 60 g butter and fry the leek gently til soft (about 8 minutes.)  Add 35 g flour and stir for a few minutes, making a roux.  Take off heat and slowly add 375 ml (1 1/2) cups of milk, or add some cream in lieu of a portion of the milk.  Put back on heat to thicken it.  Add 2 or 3 tablespoons of grated parmesan, or tasty cheese, if you like.  Thrown in some herbs; parsley or tarragon are probably most appropriate.  Add some salt if needed, but it's a bit of guesswork, given that the fish has been salted too.  If sauce seems a bit too thick, add a bit of white wine..

Thrown in the seafood and lemon juice from the fridge, a cup of defrosted peas, the boiled eggs roughly chopped, and stir it up.  Add more rind from the lemon and a bit more pepper.

Put in pie dish and cover with a sheet of puff pastry.  Brush with beaten egg and put in the oven for 20 - 25 minutes.

It makes for a very rich sauce which probably entirely detracts from the health benefits of the fish, but it's not the sort of dish you're going to eat every week.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Bad Astronomer on the Russian meteor

BREAKING: Huge Meteor Explodes Over Russia.

Phil Plait has an excellent collection of Youtube videos up at the above post showing the Russian meteor.

He also explains that it is unlikely to be associated with the asteroid due to skirt the Earth tomorrow morning; but as he says, it's quite a coincidence.

And quite scary when you consider this meteor would not have been so big, yet the shock wave seems to have broken a lot of glass.

Update:   How can I not embed one of the compilation clips for this fantastic looking event:

Also - isn't it weird how, in all of these clips, you don't see cars stopping and folks looking at the sky?  Are Russians so pessimistic (or phlegmatic) that something that has a fair resemblance to a morning nuclear strike just causes them to shrug their shoulders?   "Oh, Viktor, if we're lucky, maybe work will finish early today."

Further Update:   I dunno, the world seems to be a dangerous place this week.   Lightning strikes on the Vatican, asteroids passing so close I think I felt the breeze off it, and meteors.   Time to consider this important question from 1980 which I stumbled across last night:

(And readers might also be amused to read the top comment about that clip on the Youtube site.)

Update:   for reasons I can't work out, on my Android tablet only, this second clip sometimes comes up as Blue Oyster Cult, not the intended Safety Dance by Men Without Hats.)  Why would that be?

Andrew Bolt, Watts up With That crowd lose again

RealClimate: Urban Heat Islands and U.S. Temperature Trends

A new analysis of the US temperature record concludes:
  The simple take-away is that while UHI [Urban Heat Island] and other urban-correlated biases are real (and can have a big effect), current methods of detecting and correcting localized breakpoints are generally effective in removing that bias. Blog claims that UHI explains any substantial fraction of the recent warming in the US are just not supported by the data.
Andrew Bolt should be interested in particular.

He has been spending days demanding apologies from people who have been disputing the accuracy of the statement that there has been a 16 year pause in global warming.

Hey Andrew, why don't you lead by example:  in 2011 in a series of posts at this blog (see one of them here) and in a series of comments I left at your blog, I pointed out that you had interviewed Anthony Watts in 2010 and he finished with the statement that he believed up to .5 of a degree (about 2/3 of 20th century warming, you added) of the increased temperature in the US could be due to poor siting of thermometers at weather stations.

Andrew Bolt, you have never corrected the Watts' wildly incorrect estimate, despite repeated invitations in your blog comments threads to do so.   It was particularly worthy of comment because Watts' own co-authored paper had, within a surprisingly short time of his claim in Australia, disproved his long campaign alleging that poor siting of thermometers was a huge issue that could debunk global warming - a campaign which you also promoted for years, following his lead.  

Bolt is an extreme hypocrite, and has become an obnoxious commentator on all matters political.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Great moments in science fiction - Part 1

This could keep me entertained for a while:  I see that Project Gutenberg has a whole science fiction bookshelf set up now.   Most of the stuff is old, although there are some big name authors in there. 

So, I'm just looking at titles of stories and books I have (mostly) not heard of before, and finding some great bad lines.  The first:
“A quantum jump—that’s the way to beat the Reds,” the colonel had said a thousand times. His well-worn expression had nothing to do with quantum mechanics—the actual change in atomic configuration due to the application of sufficient energy. Rather, it was a slang expression referring to a major advance in inter-planetary travel due to a maximum scientific and technological effort.
And that was 1958.  Wait 'til you see what the 1930's and 40's bring me.

Robot rodent

One Per Cent: Robotic tormenter depresses lab rats

Well, the article is short on details, but the key point is that the Japanese have designed a rat robot whose task it is to depress other rats.

Other ways of inducing rat depression sound rather crude:
Rats and mice get their sense of smell severed to induce something like depression, or are forced to swim for long periods, for instance. Other methods rely on genetic modification and environmental stress, but none is entirely satisfactory in recreating a human-like version of depression for treatment. Hiroyuki Ishii and his team aim to do better with WR-3.
I feel sorry for the rats.

The article does go on to note another report that shows the problems medical researchers face when relying on rodent models for human diseases.  It starts: 
 For decades, mice have been the species of choice in the study of human diseases. But now, researchers report evidence that the mouse model has been totally misleading for at least three major killers — sepsis, burns and trauma. As a result, years and billions of dollars have been wasted following false leads, they say.
 A bit of a worry.

More Popery stuff

John Paul II vs. Benedict XVI: Popes, abdication, and Catholic hypocrisy. - Slate Magazine

Saletan is right - some Catholic writers are doing (not so convincing) rhetorical distortions to explain why it was right for JPII to hang on to the job til death, and also right for Benedict to let it go. 

I think that most of the laity in fact thought it wasn't particularly wise of JPII to hold onto it to the end.   In contrast, Benedict gets brownie points from most Catholics, I think.

A Pope Benedict explanation

Pope Benedict’s resignation: Why the pontiff failed to complete his reforms of a wounded Catholic Church. - Slate Magazine

Despite his pre-Papal reputation as an enforcer for rigid orthodoxy,  at the time he was made Pope, I remember Paul Collins saying that he was a more conciliatory figure between the liberals and conservatives in the Church than people realised.

The article above from Slate really confirms this:  pointing out that nearly all of Ratzinger's time in the Church during and since Vatican II has been concerned with this unresolved issue of how the Church responds to "modernity", and has been about trying to find a middle way.

It is well worth reading.

I found Pope Benedict a much more likeable Pope than I expected.   Sure, he's stuck on views on reproduction, contraception and sexuality which have rapidly changed in the laity he leads, but there were signs even there that he saw nuance, with his recent comment regarding condom use.  He specifically supported international action on environmental issues including, of course, the key one of greenhouse gases.  I think he made statements consistent with the Church's general concern about unfettered free markets hurting people.  (Which probably fell on deaf ears with the American Catholic Republican dills who think Ayn Rand had something useful to tell them.)  He even made a sort of semi approving statement regarding Teilhard de Chardin, who I think will prove to be an important figure in a re-framing of Catholic thought and theology as response to evolution.  (At its heart, I think the Catholic issue with "modernity" does come down to the unresolved issue of how the revolution in the scientific understanding of the universe and biology affects the doctrine of Original Sin, with knock on effects for the New Testament and subsequent Church understanding of the role of Jesus.)

So there was quite a lot to like, really.

The task of the new Pope will be extraordinarily hard.  The truth is, if you do allow all liberal and progressive elements to have their way under the umbrella of the Church, they can end up talking themselves into nonsense positions, such as saying it doesn't even matter whether Jesus really existed.  (See my old posts on what happened with St Mary's Church at South Brisbane.)  Weaving a way between giving conscience and woolly spirituality full sway on the one hand, while having a belief community that shares common values and understandings of why they join together on the other, is not an easy job....

Update:  further support for the "Pope Benedict was more liberal than you thought" position is to be found in this article at Salon.  I'll quote their section on economics in particular:

In countless speeches and letters, Benedict expressed an economic ethic that Fox News would label socialistic. In just that one address to the diplomatic corps, for instance, Benedict stressed the importance of universal education; the need for “new rules” stressing ethics over balance sheets to govern the global financial system; and the importance of fighting climate change in tandem with global poverty.

Sure, he phrased these views in terms of general principles rather than specific policy demands, and they happen to be very much in keeping with the long history of Catholic social teaching. But they were, all the same, not exactly a consensus view for an international Catholic audience that includes millions of people living in countries that do not educate girls. And they are certainly not a consensus view in places, like the U.S., where religious traditionalism has made common cause with laissez-faire economics to a much greater degree than it has in Benedict’s Germany.

John Paul II won the love of American conservatives through his Cold War alliance with Ronald Reagan; Benedict, coming to the papacy during the Bush years, played a rather different tune on issues dear to the right, from preventive war to unrestrained markets. “In many respects, democratic socialism was and is close to Catholic social doctrine,” he wrote just before his papacy, “and has in any case made a remarkable contribution to the formation of a social consciousness.”

Dogs understand human perspective, say researchers

BBC News - Dogs understand human perspective, say researchers

Dogs are more capable of understanding situations from a human's point of view than has previously been recognised, according to researchers.

They found dogs were four times more likely to steal food they had been forbidden, when lights were turned off so humans in the room could not see.

This suggested the dogs were able to alter their behaviour when they knew their owners' perspective had changed....

 It found that when the lights were turned off, dogs in a room with their human owners were much more likely to disobey and steal forbidden food.

The study says it is "unlikely that the dogs simply forgot that the human was in the room" when there was no light. Instead it seems as though the dogs were able to differentiate between when the human was unable or able to see them.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

What does Sheridan know?

Administration was not Benedict's forte | The Australian

What a weird little column by noted [/sarc] Papal commentator Greg Sheridan about Pope Benedict's resignation.

He also seems to be a paid PR consultant to George Pell.

I think it's hard to imagine Cardinal Pell having any support for the top job now, given his recent less than convincing performance on the Australian franchise of the Church's child abuse scandal.  But how much Australian TV other Cardinals watch is probably doubtful.

Update:  I see Pell is way, way down the list as far as the bookies are concerned.   Good.  (Funny to see Lance Armstrong on the list.  Maybe he's been injecting holy water.)

Monday, February 11, 2013

Oh dear, Japan...

Shops tout schoolgirls offering shady 'refreshment' services to men - AJW by The Asahi Shimbun

Japan's reputation for having lots of men willing to engage in pretty immature fantasy continues:
Tokyo police have started to crack down on the rapidly booming "JK rifure" industry, where girls clad in high school uniforms are paid to massage the limbs of male customers or lie alongside them in private rooms....

An Asahi Shimbun reporter was dispatched to one of the JK rifure shops in Akihabara.
A girl dressed in a sailor-style school uniform introduced herself as a 17-year-old, second-year senior high school student in a second-floor apartment of a multi-tenant building. Hit songs of AKB48, a popular all-female group of young idol singers that perform in an Akihibara theater, were playing in the background.

"Do you know about 'options'?" she asked the reporter in her cramped partition, about the equivalent of one tatami mat, separated by curtains. She pressed the reporter to order optional services, such as a light hug and lying with her head resting on his arm, both of which can last 10 seconds and cost 1,000 yen ($10.75) each.
A seventeen year old girl's head on your arm for 10 seconds for $10?   Talk about desperate for contact, or any kind.

(I must admit, though, it does remind me of an episode of Frasier, in which Niles made a confession to his brother about being so desperate he was paying women to touch him - via manicure.)   

Full service crossing

I found it surprising to read of this incident in a New York Times account of crossing the Atlantic on Cunard's Queen Mary 2.   I suppose I would be less surprised if it was a more "down market" company and ship; but then again I may be being unfair to them too.  Here's the story ("Cree" being the writer's wife - age not specified):
What is it about ships (and trains and planes) and sex? We were left to ponder this question with fresh avidity after an unfamiliar QM2 waiter approached Cree early one afternoon while she was reading alone by a window in the ship’s pub. 

This waiter, Cree reported later, was quite good looking, in a manner that resembled the actor Andy Garcia. He stood weirdly close. He made small talk and ended by remarking, “If there’s anything I can do to make your trip more enjoyable, let me know.” He walked away, then he strode back to Cree 15 seconds later and whispered, making eye contact, “Anything.” 

This sotto voce invitation was a great gift to us — to Cree, to me, and to a friend, Will, who was traveling with us — because for the rest of the crossing we lasciviously uttered, at least hourly, what we decided should be the new Cunard motto: “Cunard. Anything.

That's interesting...

Just for those like Rupert Murdoch who say "what's happened to global warming" when they see a big snowstorm in the US, this graph has turned up at Huffington Post and a few other places.  It's a wonder this clear increase in extreme precipitation  hadn't been noted before (as far as I can recall):

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Kevin still wants revenge

Upload of swearing video was a crime: Rudd - Seven News Queensland

What a silly man is Kevin Rudd.  By keeping alive the (not very interesting to anyone other Kevin) intrigue over who got their hands and posted his sweary video last year, he's making it clear he wants revenge and that it's still a party with an internal war going.

Maybe it's a good thing:  surely his supporters in Parliament can't think it's wise of him to still be stamping his feet about this?  Will it convince them that it's really not a good idea to see his return as leader?    Maybe they'll finally shut up.  

Saturday, February 09, 2013

No need for smoke signals from Rupert

Gee, Rupert Murdoch going on Twitter has sure made it easy for his editors to know which way to slant their coverage, hasn't it?  No more second guessing what will please him.  

Of course, the highly slanted coverage of global warming/climate change over the last few years in the likes of The Australian and on Fox News indicated that he had personally gone cool (ha ha) on the topic, after being a "believer" in the need for global action on emissions.  He professed to having left skepticism behind in 2006. 

So how's Rupert feel about  it now?  Well, we learned in 2011 that Fox News was explicitly under management directions to pooh-pooh climate change:
"[Journalists should] refrain from asserting that the planet has warmed (or cooled) in any given period without IMMEDIATELY pointing out that such theories are based upon data that critics have called into question."
but that's not directly from Rupert, and it may well be (in fact, it's likely) that he is cynical enough to just let his more right wing outlets make money by pandering to beliefs he personally doesn't share. 

But some of the latest Twits from Rupert directly show his mindset:


Funnily enough, Rupert, what happened to global warming in January was that the global figure, according to the UAH satellite record which skeptics usually say they trust most, showed a sudden leap upwards from December:
And who eyeballing that graph can really come away with confidence that there's a halt to global warming going on when you look at the 20 or 30 year history?

Rupert needs to read more sources other than his own papers and the Wall Street Journal.  Probably needs to retire, too.

Tea or coffee?

I quite liked Richard Glover's column this morning, which starts as follows:
The popularity of tea in the 17th century, I read this week, was a crucial factor in the expansion of the slave trade. This made me feel guilty about my early-morning ritual - properly brewed tea sipped in bed while reading the newspaper and picking nits from my partner's hair.

In truth, I shouldn't feel too bad because I don't take sugar. The sugar, you understand, was the problem; the popularity of tea brought a surge in demand for a sweetener, which created the need for vastly expanded sugar plantations, which in turn led to a boom in the slave trade.

Coffee, meanwhile, is said to have had a much more noble impact on history. I remember a book from a few years ago in which the writer Tom Standage argued that coffee led to the Enlightenment.
Here's his theory: once coffee arrived in Europe, coffee shops started taking over from pubs as the place where people would meet and talk which meant people were no longer completely pissed when they tried to strike up a conversation. All over Europe, people suddenly started making sense instead of just sounding like your Uncle Terry midway through lunch on Christmas Day. Sober for the first time in six centuries, they rapidly came up with the idea of rational thought.
It's a tough comparison for those of us who prefer a nice cup of tea: on one hand you have Jean-Jacques Rousseau knocking back an espresso while inventing universal education; on the other, a bunch of tea-desperate Poms waving off a fleet of miasmic slave hulks in order to summon up their next sugary hit.
I'm not sure what the reference to nits in his wife's hair is in there for, though.  Ignore that, and the rest is very witty.

For Bob and Gina

Lenore Taylor does a good job looking at the politics and improbabilities of the Coaltion's leaked discussion paper about developing Northern Australia:
Several ideas in the developing northern Australia discussion paper were ditched by Abbott almost as soon as they saw the light of day - including different taxation zones (which he conceded was likely to be unconstitutional, the same reason John Howard and Peter Costello rejected it on every one of the many, many occasions it was raised by the Nationals during the Coalition's last term) and the idea of cutting the aid budget by $800 million to pay for new medical facilities in the north.

The Coalition also immediately jettisoned the proposed ''first term initiative'' of moving federal departments to northern Australia. As the government quickly pointed out, many public servants responsible for policy delivery already lived outside Canberra. Presumably the ones advising future Coalition ministers would need to stay within earshot in the national capital.

And since the Coalition is planning major savings from cuts to the public service and sweeping changes to the way it does things, spending money moving people and departments around the country could run a little bit counter to the plan.

If these ideas were so obviously out of the question, it is unclear why they were included in a document sent by the opposition finance spokesman to premiers just last month, and included on the list of things the Coalition ''proposes to do'' in its first term.
She goes on to note that Federal politicians come up with these grand "let's decentralise"plans every decade or so; they never go far, as people tend to want to live where they want to live.
But as Lenore notes:
It is clear, however, that the ''visionary'' document aligns almost exactly with the manifesto of the mining magnate Gina Rinehart and others who have formed a lobby group called Australians for Northern Development and Economic Vision.
Erk.  I'm kind of allergic to "vision" in politics.  We can safely assume that Bob Katter would similarly be excited by any discussion of the North. 

And look who else is in on low wages and immigrants for the North: 
The director of the ''north Australia'' project at the Institute of Public Affairs, Dominic Talimanidis, says addressing labour shortages and ''heavily inflated wages costs'' is crucial for northern Australia to ''reach its full potential''.
I have often wondered if Gina is a financial supporter of the IPA.  Their crooked views on climate change certainly align with hers.  But who would know. 

Friday, February 08, 2013

Sounds persuasive...

Here's Paul Krugman, sounding pretty reasonable, if you ask me:

Even Republicans admit, albeit selectively, that spending cuts hurt employment. Thus John McCain warned earlier this week that the defense cuts scheduled to happen under the budget sequester would cause the loss of a million jobs. It’s true that Republicans often seem to believe in “weaponized Keynesianism,” a doctrine under which military spending, and only military spending, creates jobs. But that is, of course, nonsense. By talking about job losses from defense cuts, the G.O.P. has already conceded the principle of the thing. 

Still, won’t spending cuts (or tax increases) cost jobs whenever they take place, so we might as well bite the bullet now? The answer is no — given the state of our economy, this is a uniquely bad time for austerity. 

One way to see this is to compare today’s economic situation with the environment prevailing during an earlier round of defense cuts: the big winding down of military spending in the late 1980s and early 1990s, following the end of the cold war. Those spending cuts destroyed jobs, too, with especially severe consequences in places like southern California that relied heavily on defense contracts. At the national level, however, the effects were softened by monetary policy: the Federal Reserve cut interest rates more or less in tandem with the spending cuts, helping to boost private spending and minimize the overall adverse effect. 

Today, by contrast, we’re still living in the aftermath of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, and the Fed, in its effort to fight the slump, has already cut interest rates as far as it can — basically to zero. So the Fed can’t blunt the job-destroying effects of spending cuts, which would hit with full force. 

The point, again, is that now is very much not the time to act; fiscal austerity should wait until the economy has recovered, and the Fed can once again cushion the impact. 

But aren’t we facing a fiscal crisis? No, not at all. The federal government can borrow more cheaply than at almost any point in history, and medium-term forecasts, like the 10-year projections released Tuesday by the Congressional Budget Office, are distinctly not alarming. Yes, there’s a long-term fiscal problem, but it’s not urgent that we resolve that long-term problem right now. The alleged fiscal crisis exists only in the minds of Beltway insiders. 

Still, even if we should put off spending cuts for now, wouldn’t it be a good thing if our politicians could simultaneously agree on a long-term fiscal plan? Indeed, it would. It would also be a good thing if we had peace on earth and universal marital fidelity. In the real world, Republican senators are saying that the situation is desperate — but not desperate enough to justify even a penny in additional taxes. Do these sound like men ready and willing to reach a grand fiscal bargain?

Realistically, we’re not going to resolve our long-run fiscal issues any time soon, which is O.K. — not ideal, but nothing terrible will happen if we don’t fix everything this year. Meanwhile, we face the imminent threat of severe economic damage from short-term spending cuts.

So we should avoid that damage by kicking the can down the road. It’s the responsible thing to do.


Groundhog Day: the perfect comedy, for ever | Film | The Guardian

Oh look:  a whole bunch of people think Groundhog Day is just about a perfect film.

I am inclined to agree.  I love it too.

Prime number humour

Largest Prime Number Discovered; People Excited By Prime-Number News Still AWOL | Vanity Fair

The most interesting thing about the story is how odd it sounds to say that numbers are "discovered".   Yes, there's a whole Platonic world of new and exciting, um, mental things out there just waiting to be found.

This seems very unfair....

'Light' sodas may hike diabetes risk: study

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Surprise, surprise

Bruce Willis speaks against new gun laws, says movies not to blame for violence |

Hardly a surprise.

I get the feeling no one likes Willis much any more, do they?  The last talk show interview I remember with him many years ago indicated he was extremely disillusioned, perhaps bitter, about relationships after his break up with Demi Moore. 

Caution from Ray

U.S. shale oil: Are we headed to a new era of oil abundance? - Slate Magazine

Ray Pierrehumbert doesn't usually turn up at Slate (I see him via Real Climate, though), but here he is suggesting caution about America's newly recoverable oil and natural gas.   This paragraph is worth remembering:
 The flaws in the abundance narrative for fracked natural gas are much the same as for tight oil, so I won't belabor the point. Certainly, the current natural gas glut has played a welcome role in the reduced growth rate of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions, and the climate benefits of switching from coal to natural gas are abundantly clear. But gas, too, is in a Red Queen's race, and it can't be counted on to last out the next few decades, let alone the century of abundance predicted by some boosters. Temporarily cheap and abundant gas buys us some respite—which we should be using to put decarbonized energy systems in place. It will only do us good if we use this transitional period wisely. We won't be much better off in the long run if cheap gas only succeeds in killing off the nascent renewables industry and the development of next-generation nuclear power.
 All sounds very sensible to me.

Tofu at home

My wife made tofu at home this week.  I didn't see the process, but it's a lot simpler than I had assumed. 

I'm not the world's biggest tofu fan, but having it served cold this way in summer is very nice as part of a bigger meal.

Blogroll clean up

Time for some more fiddling with the blogroll.

I find I have a large number of Right wing blogs, being a legacy from the days when the Right was making sense.   Now, there's always value in keeping track on what the Wrong are saying and doing, but I really need to balance this up with moderate Right voices (which basically means "ones who stayed sensible while the rest went all Tea Party".)  But commentators who fit into that category are pretty hard to find. 

David Frum fits the bill, I think.   (I like his recent post "Murdered Over Dog Crap" - about a Dallas shooting in which an argument between apartment owners over dog poop seems to have turned into a a double hand gun homicide.  As Frum sums up:
When gun proponents talk about "defensive gun use," they invite us to imagine confrontations where one party is wholly blameless and the other party is murderously aggressive. Gayle Trotter conjured up just such a scenario in her imaginative testimony to Congress: mother alone at home with her babies; three or four or five bad men break into the house; what can she do other than mow them down with her AR-15? In real life, however, defensive gun use typically originates in confrontations to which both parties contributed - and in which the difference between aggressor and self-defender depends largely on the story told by the party who happens to survive.

Unless you run a home meth lab, you are exceedingly unlikely to face a home invasion by armed intruders. In order to defend against wildly remote contingencies, Americans are instead arming themselves to turn disputes over dog crap into lethal duels.
Yep, he's going on the roll.)

But who else?  Andrew Sullivan's blog I find a bit dull and, of course, too interested in gay rights.  Besides which, he did go absolutely bonkers over Sarah Palin and the imagined fake pregnancy.   Despite his concerns about the current Republicans, I deem him "not blogworthy".

So, readers are invited to tell me of any other politically moderate commentator who has his or her own site which I should note.

As for economics, I get the feeling I should expand a little on the black and white dichotomy of Quiggin and Davidson (the former doesn't post enough, and the latter far too much.)  Harry Clarke sits somewhere in the middle, but I am inclined to add Crooked Timber even though I only know Quiggin on the list of contributors.  Mark Thoma seems OK, and of course I would add Krugman if it wasn't for the New York Times annoying limited paywall.

As for other changes:  goodbye Zoe Brain, who only blogs about transexuals since he became one years ago; Washington Times I looked at about once a year; David Appel on climate change is in; so is The Old Foodie for looking at food in history and Wonders and Marvels for odd and interesting historical stuff; Japundit seems pretty defunct and is gone but Asahi Shimbun has a new Japan and Asia site; and I need new Japanese blogs. Oh yeah, io9 is in too.  As is 1735099, a person who (it seems) has also wisely given up on Catallaxy.

A few other sites I haven't looked at for ages are gone too. 

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Climate change as a communist plot

China flags peak in coal usage

China’s decade-long boom in coal-driven heavy industry is about to end as the leadership shifts priorities towards energy conservation, say officials and policy advisers.

The advisers predict China’s coal consumption will peak at only a fraction above current levels after the State Council, or cabinet, last week set an ambitious new total energy use target for the five-year plan ending 2015.

“Coal consumption will peak below 4 billion tonnes,” Jiang Kejun, who led the modelling team that advised the State Council on energy use scenarios, told Fairfax Media.

“It’s time to make change,” said Dr Jiang, who is director of the Energy Research Institute under the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC). “There’s no market for further development of energy-intensive industry.”
The imminent stabilisation of coal usage, if broadly achieved, would mark a stunning turn-around for a nation that is estimated to have burned 3.9 billion tonnes last year, which is nearly as much as the rest of the world combined.
It's not clear from the article to what extent climate change concerns might be a factor behind the decision, but it would seem it must be figuring there somewhere:
Pan Jiahua, who heads a team of climate change economists at China's leading think tank, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told Fairfax Media that the State Council’s endorsement of the energy target had the effect of elevating it into a “political requirement”.

He said officials in local governments and state-owned enterprises would now be judged partly on their ability to meet energy targets while a long list of green slogans, incentives and policies were translating into concrete measures.

Professor Pan said energy security remained the primary motivation behind the measures but last month’s record pollution readings in North China had contributed to the hardening of political will.
“Chinese people have done enough tolerating such bad air,” he said.

Wonders and Marvels missed, until now

From somewhere or other on the web, I recently found a link to the esoteric history blog Wonders and Marvels, which describes itself as "A community of curious minds who love history, its odd stories and good reads".

It lives up to that description: it's a great read, and regularly updated too.  How have I not known about it for so long?

Here is one example:  a post about whether the excessive swearing in Deadwood was historically accurate.  The writer, who loved the show, notes that it had the feel of the West down pat, but the swearing was not accurate.  Amusingly, she writes:
It is hard for us today to imagine the shock value of words like damn and hell a century ago. Many contemporaries of Twain censored themselves thus: d—n, dang, dam, dadburn, blank, even text-messagey acronyms like D.O.G. (danged old galoot).

In an illuminating essay entitled Deadwood and the English Language, Brad Benz quotes Nunberg (again) who writes that if the characters in Deadwood had sworn in a manner authentic to the period, they’d sound like Yosemite Sam. This is surely why Milch took the decision to sacrifice historical accuracy on the altar of dramatic license in this one aspect, in order to give us a sense of the barely subdued violence and rebelliousness of the people of Deadwood. I reckoned this meant that today’s F-word was equivalent to olden days’ D-word.
 And further: 
In the foreword of his book The F-Word, Jesse Sheidlower writes that the word f–k wasn’t even printed in the United States until 1926 in a WWI diary. Even then, it was not used as an expletive but rather in its verbal sense, for the act of intercourse.

The only instances of the F-word I have found from the 1860’s are in the Journals of Alfred Doten, where he uses the word in the verbal sense written in a code of his own devising. (The word appears as vcuk, not very opaque.) Doten and Twain were colleagues moving in exactly the same circles, so Twain must have known it. But Doten’s usage confirms that the F-word was NOT used as a swear word back then.
Well, that's odd then.  Certainly by World War 2, at least amongst the British, it seems it was in common use as a swear word.  (I cite Spike Milligan's autobiographies as authority for that.)  I guess I would have to read the book lined above to find out how it came into common use.

Anyway,  there you go:  I can object to the swearing in Deadwood not just on aesthetic grounds, but on the basis that it is historically inaccurate.    Stupid writers.