Sunday, June 30, 2013

Conservative Catholic Paranoia

I've never paid much attention to "Traditionalist" Catholics before (basically, the ones who are devoted to the Latin Mass, actually follow Papal teaching on contraception, and freak out about how everything in the Church has gone to hell in an handbasket since Vatican II.)

But reading the Catallaxy blog,  which has in the last couple of years increasingly attracted a significant number of Traditionalist Catholics and Catholic supporters, has led me to look at some conservative Catholic figures over the last 6 months or so.

What a worry they are.   In the US, they have culturally aligned with the Tea Party, so I suppose it should be no surprise that they seem to like Catallaxy, which is like the Australian Tea Party sub branch.

Father Z's blog  seems to be very popular in the US, and I gather that Zuhlsdorf has been on Fox News quite a bit.  A look around his blog indicates he likes guns, and nuns who use them.  (Yes, really.)  The blog gives an excellent taste of the Pharisaical obsession that this branch of Catholicism has with liturgy. 

He is pals with Michael Voris, a conservative lay Catholic who has built a subscription media business out of videoing himself every second day explaining how the Church must return to its pre-Vatican II state.  He seems to be pretty big in the Trad Catholic circles, but how is it possible that a man (especially an American) who advocated in all seriousness that a Catholic monarchy is "the only way to run a country" still have any popularity at all?  He does tick the box on other Right wing obsessions, though:  climate change is all a conspiracy to do something or other, for example.

In any event, the point of the post is this:  it would seem that the recent legal successes in court cases in the US for gay marriage, as well as Italian media reporting about gay priest in the Vatican, has sent both of the them in great paranoid spasms about the e-vil currently befalling the Church.  Here's Father Z a few days ago:
There are those who hate the Church with as much hate as we love the Church. They are organized, they have a great resources, they have a Dark Prince. Dreadful liberal publications and websites, and even the blitherings of some priests and bishops, are only shadows of the deeper agenda flickered out on the back of the cave for popular consumption by barely witting dupes.

Deeper enemies, like our own beautiful missionaries and martyrs of ages past, are willing to set aside their appetites, put on a facade, and endure for patient years for the sake of a long term plan.

Yes, I buy it. I have seen manifestations of communist, Masonic, and especially homosexual networking in the Church both in the USA and in Rome. It would be stupidly naive to think that it isn’t present. In the USA, Masonic and communist? Maybe not so much.  Elsewhere, yes.  The other thing?  Ohhhh, yes.

Those agents will probably go to Hell.  Let us remember that the gates of Hell will not prevail against the Church.

However, Our Lord did not promise that Hell would not prevail in these USA or, in the Roman Curia, in any other particular place.

When you hear awful stories, do not become discouraged.

We are nearing some kind of turning point. I think it is time to press forward HARD and with courage to renew our Holy Church’s liturgical worship, the best, clean antidote.
 Yes sir-ee.  Purity of liturgy is the answer to the "homosexual networking" in Rome.   Sure.

Voris has also been in Rome recently at the same time as Zuhlsdorf, both attending the same liturgy conference I think, and if you have never seen him before, this video of him hyperventilating about Roman gay priests and whether there is Satanism involved is as good a place as any, I guess.

(Actually, you could also look at this video in which he also paints the broad picture that the Church has gone all wrong since about 1960.)

These guys are hopeless:   poisonous Catholic Right wing cultural throwbacks who lack charity to a profound degree.  Even if they are "right" on a topic, they express it in such a way that it is embarrassing to say one agrees with them.   The Church will pass them by, but their ugly noise in the meantime is interesting to watch in a train wreck type of way. 

Pancakes and the Sunday morning butter explosion

I see that it was back in 2011 that I last mentioned a pancake recipe that was better than average.

I've decided it was too much work for your average Sunday morning, so today I tried another recipe, this time not from Gourmet Traveller, but from Kidspot.   It worked well, except for the unfortunate microwave butter explosion.  (I have successfully melted butter in the microwave before, but the container used today seemed particularly well suited to making melting butter explode.  Must use cling wrap to contain said explosions next time.)

Apart from that problem, the recipe worked pretty well:


  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 2 tsp lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups self-raising flour
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate soda
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 2 tbsp butter, melted
  • 4 tbsp butter for greasing the pan  (???  I am sure this a mistaken quantity.  Just use spray oil anyway)


In a bowl, place the milk, lemon juice and sugar together and whisk. Leave to stand for 5 minutes. The milk will take on a curdled appearance but that's fine.
In a bowl, sift the flour and bicarbonate soda and whisk in the curdled milk mixture.
Whisk in the egg and cooled, melted butter until well combined.
 Then you cook them.   Oh:  and I added a bit of vanilla essence too, and a pinch of salt.


Saturday, June 29, 2013

Speaking of movies, again...

I see George Lucas got married this week. Here's the lovely photo from People, assuming of course  that it's not an entirely digital creation from Industrial Light and Magic:
George Lucas & New Wife Mellody's Wedding Photo

The magazine reports that the guests included "Samuel L. Jackson, Ron Howard, Steven Spielberg, Oprah Winfrey, Harrison Ford, Calista Flockhart and Tyler Perry." What the hey? Since when does Jackson go ahead of a list including Spielberg and Ford?

As it happens, a couple of nights ago I ended up  watching a lengthy documentary on the original Star Wars films that I think is part of the DVD set my wife has.  I had seen it before, but a long, long time ago, in a life time far far away.

Anyhow, I had sort of forgotten how young and weedy looking George was when he made the first movie.  (He would have been 33, if my maths is right.)   The work was genuinely gruelling for him, with a huge amount of studio pressure to wind up the shoot when it started to go over, trouble with editing it, and the special effects taking forever to come together and look half way decent.   He thought he was having a heart attack at one point.  (The same thing happened to Barry Sonnenfeld when he was directing Men in Black 2. In fact, here's his full summary of the stresses he has suffered as a director:
On the first movie I directed, The Addams Family, I ended up fainting when, after a sleepless night, I thought I could maintain some sense of awareness the next day by drinking nine straight espressos. When the head of Paramount Studios said that it was unreleasable, I spent the night weeping on Sweetie's (the wife's) lap. During Men in Black II, I was raced to the hospital with what I thought was a heart attack. After spending the night in the emergency room next to a woman whining, "I need quinine," I was given an echocardiogram and told that I was simply suffering from stress and that I should get into a program of meditation. (I didn't tell the doctor that I was meditating when the chest pain started.) On Wild Wild West, I broke my hand in five places when I punched Will Smith's arm.
In fact, I like nearly everything Sonnenfeld has done.)

But back to George:  sure, he lost his ability to recognise a good story from a so-so one pretty much after Empire Strikes Back (or, perhaps, Temple of Doom,) but he did work really hard for his success, and was essentially behind much of the technological innovation in movie making that was realised with money he generated, so I find it impossible to not have some admiration for him and wish him luck.

The virtual world of Gatsby

I still have no interest in seeing The Great Gatsby, but as it was only a couple of weeks ago that I linked again to a video from a couple of years back showing how they use green or blue screens in TV and movies for results with remarkable realism, I note with interest the new video out showing how the same technique is used to spectacular effect in The Great Gatsby.  (Sure, some shots where the camera zooms in and out make the background look un-real, but there are many, many shots here where it's completely surprising to see how much of what is on the screen is not there when it is shot.)

The Great Gatsby VFX from Chris Godfrey on Vimeo.

No danger for me, but beware Tony

Triathlon Deaths Increasing Among Males Over 40
As the average age of competitors in endurance sports rises, a spate of deaths during races or intense workouts highlights the risks of excessive strain on the heart through vigorous exercise in middle age.

Among the recent casualties: American Michael McClintock, senior managing director of Macquarie Group Ltd and a triathlete, who died at age 55 of cardiac arrest earlier this month after training.

The men's 40-to-60-year age bracket - often referred to as middle aged men in Lycra, or Mamils - now holds 32 per cent of the membership in USA Triathlon, the sport's official governing body in the US.
More fitness conscious than previous generations, their numbers in competitive races are swelling, along with their risk of cardiac arrest. Triathlons, the most robust of endurance races requiring swimming, biking and running, are also believed to be the most risky.
The ways in which over exercise can hurt a middle aged heart apparently includes just physical wear and tear:
Intense exercise for periods longer than one to two hours can cause over-stretching and tiny tears of the heart's tissue, says James O'Keefe, a sports cardiologist and head of preventative cardiology at the Mid America Heart Institute in Kansas City, Missouri.

This type of repeated injury over years can cause irregular heart rhythms, increased inflammation, scarring and stiffening of the arteries, he says.

Athletic over-achievers tend to think that “more is better,” though when it comes to health, “moderation is almost always best,” O'Keefe says.

This part I find encouraging for my present lifestyle (heh):  
“If anyone is going to have a cardiac event they're far more likely to have one during exercise,” says Davison. A person is seven times more likely to have a heart incident while exercising than at rest, he says, citing a 1984 New England Journal of Medicine study.

Odd if it was in a movie

A movie based on this scenario would seem pretty odd, yet here it is, the subject of an upcoming criminal trial in Melbourne:
A tourist from Holland has claimed she was subjected to six weeks of sexual and physical abuse, mental trauma and a death ''ritual'' in a Melbourne hotel by a man possessed by an ancestor.

The woman, 22, has told police she was repeatedly raped and bashed, felt brainwashed and was blindfolded, hogtied with chains and forced to act like a dog and live on scraps.

A detective testified the woman claimed Alfio Granata, 46, performed a ritual by sealing an envelope with her photo, finger and toenails, a piece of hair and her blood to symbolise her ''being was no more''....

In the police summary, the bisexual woman said she met the two accused at a party in St Kilda last October and later engaged in consensual ''threesomes'' and drug use. It was alleged that by November he became violent to both women and then the tourist felt brainwashed and could not leave before she was subjected to abuse, death threats and trauma until she was admitted to hospital on Christmas Day.

Detective Senior Constable Marc Hodgson said at the bail hearing that Mr Granata had become ''possessed by one of his ancestors''.

Innovative idea for police public relations

Noticed in the Jakarta Post:
Dozens of boys wearing sarongs and black velvet caps looked worried, some sobbing on their moms’ laps, and many fled the police station premises upon hearing their friends scream in pain.

It was a free mass circumcision held by the local police as part of a public relations event to mark the 67th National Police Day on Friday.

Fry (and me) on loneliness

Only The Lonely � The New Adventures of Stephen Fry

A few weeks ago I noted Stephen Fry's "confession" that he had tried to commit suicide last year, despite his self awareness of his mental health problems.  (I saw one of the first stories about it, and probably wouldn't have bothered once it became widespread in the media soon thereafter.)

In any event, I see that he now has a post up at his website which deals mainly with the topic of loneliness.  Last I had noticed, he was a in long term relationship, but the post makes it clear he is single again, and I see now from Wikipedia that he has been since 2010. 

Fry's comments on how he, as a very famous and publicly popular figure who has a very active life can still be lonely, reminded me very much of part of interview I saw years ago with Freddie Mercury in which he expressed a very similar sentiment.   (From memory, it was along the lines that you can be surrounded by people every day who think you're great but still feel you have no friends.)  Given that by that stage it was already known he had led a very active gay recreational sex life, I also felt it a poignant comment on the lack of emotional satisfaction that such a lifestyle could entail.

Anyway, here's what Fry writes:
In the end loneliness is the most terrible and contradictory of my problems. I hate having only myself to come home to. If I have a book to write, it’s fine. I’m up so early in the morning that even I pop out for an early supper I am happy to go straight to bed, eager to be up and writing at dawn the next day. But otherwise…

It’s not that I want a sexual partner, a long-term partner, someone to share a bed and a snuggle on the sofa with – although perhaps I do and in the past I have had and it has been joyful. But the fact is I value my privacy too. It’s a lose-lose matter. I don’t want to be alone, but I want to be left alone. Perhaps this is just a form of narcissism, vanity, overdemanding entitlement – give it whatever derogatory term you think it deserves. I don’t know the answer.

I suppose I just don’t like my own company very much. Which is odd, given how many times people very kindly tell me that they’d put me on their ideal dinner party guestlist. I do think I can usually be relied upon to be good company when I’m out and about and sitting round a table chatting, being silly, sharing jokes and stories and bringing shy people out of their shells.

But then I get home and I’m all alone again.
I think that there may be many people out there who understand this - more than Stephen realises, probably.  When single, intimate (not just sexual) company can be missed sorely; yet when in relationships, any desire for time alone can be seen as being a slight on the partner or family, and people may feel a bit bad for even wanting some time alone. 

It seems to me that this latter attitude was not always with us.  I have the impression that, perhaps up to the 1960's or so, it was not so uncommon for at least the artistically inclined (writers especially?) to travel for lengthy periods away from their family for the experience and personal enjoyment, and it was not thought remarkable.  (Of course, being artists, one would also not be surprised if there were sexual encounters involved as well.)  I'm not sure when the tide turned against this, but I have the distinct impression that it has.

I don't raise this in any particularly autobiographical sense either - I very much enjoy domestic time at home after my long time as a single person, and in any event, the nature of my work affords little opportunity for time away - but if I was idly rich, I wouldn't mind short trips away.  Occasionally.

I'll now end on a note which will probably annoy some readers.  I had often wondered when I was single about how it was that, although I could wish I was more "connected", some people who are very outgoing, busy and popular with people (such as Mercury and Fry) can still feel lonely.   Fry perhaps has bipolar as a possible explanation, but I don't think that is always the case for people who feel like him.

My suspicion is that, for people who believe (or even, perhaps, have just believed in the past) in a personal God (or any non materialist belief system which involves an otherworldly care for their well being?) may always have a more fundamental feeling of worthiness that helps prevent loneliness from moving into despair.   If this is true, it shows the value of teaching such types of religious belief  to children, rather than the modern idea that it is more honest to let them know intellectually about all religions and decide which (if any) is true when they grow up.   And as for not teaching religion at all until people are adults, coming new to a belief in a personal God, or a deceased relative watching over you, carries too readily for them the suspicion of wish fulfilment.  But if you have a child feeling emotionally that it is true, and noticing that it provides comfort for others in their family, I half suspect that the psychological benefit persists even if they become agnostic in the future.

There's probably been some work on this somewhere which I could go looking for, but not right now. 

Friday, June 28, 2013

On the Rudd return

Harry Clarke has a personal dislike of Rudd that's probably even more intense than mine, but his post on the return of the bizarrely popular politician is pretty accurate.  Rather me doing a fresh post, I'll just put here my comment that I made at his blog, with a couple of corrections:

It’s hard to disagree with this analysis. If Rudd had put as much effort into helping articulate government policies as he did in getting revenge on those who dumped him, it could have helped the polling. But it didn’t suit him to do so.

Still, the biggest mystery is why Rudd is relatively popular with the public in the first place. It’s always been a puzzle to me, and it seems to be an unfortunate consequence of most voters only getting their news from the 6 pm TV bulletin that they did not have a clue that Rudd was replaced due to his own (hidden from the public) appalling management skills that many considered made him impossible to work with – not due to some vicious ambition of Julia Gillard to replace him at all cost. Those of us who had been paying attention to stories of the people he was offending (and who knew of his reputation in Queensland under Goss) were not surprised.

Having said that, I don’t want to see Abbott as PM – if anything, the Coalition is the side more in the need of an urgent clean out of ideologues who have been converted to the Tea Party obsessions regarding climate change and a hopelessly over-simplified view of economics. *

Funnily enough, last election I was pretty disappointed with much of Gillard’s campaigning – particularly her hopeless policy of seeking to put off carbon pricing until the silly idea that public meetings would converts dills who get their science from Andrew Bolt and Monckton had been tried.  Hence I actually did not vote at all in the House of Reps, but voted towards Labor in the Senate. But then Gillard started to impress once she formed government and started implementing policies with more care (generally) than the haphazard approach of Rudd.

I suspect this time I will have to vote Labor in both houses of Parliament despite my great annoyance at the Rudd re-ascendency and the appalling way Gillard has been treated in the right wing media and blogosphere. I suppose it does depend on his “new” policy adjustments, though.
 *  I have never, ever seen so much of the Right in Australian politics so ugly and dumb as it is at the moment.   With a few moderates in the Liberals leaving at the election, this could possibly get worse.  

The little known war

The Sino-Japanese war: The start of history | The Economist

This review of a new book on the Japanese war on China last century makes it sound an interesting read.  I think it's certainly true that most Westerners only know a vague outline, and (apart from one or two atrocities), few details:
It is also a story, pure and simple, of heroic resistance against massive odds. China is the forgotten ally of the second world war. For more than four years, until Pearl Harbour, the Chinese fought the Japanese almost alone. France capitulated in 1940, but China did not. Its government retreated inland, up the Yangzi river to Chongqing (Chungking)—a moment that would later be described as China’s Dunkirk (pictured). From there it fought on—sometimes ineptly, often bravely—until victory in 1945.

Asia has never had a strong China and a strong Japan. Their complex relationship in modern times began when Japan welcomed the West in the mid-19th century while China pushed it away. As Japan modernised, it became a model for Chinese reformers and a refuge for Chinese revolutionaries who opposed their own government’s insularity. Chinese students who went to Japan in the early 20th century included Sun Yat-sen, who led the 1911 revolution, and Chiang Kai-shek, the man who would lead the Nationalist government of China against Japan in the 1930s.

But as Japan’s imperial ambitions grew, China was the obvious place to expand. In 1931 Japan occupied Manchuria, turning from mentor to oppressor. The full-scale invasion began in 1937. Mr Mitter does not skimp in narrating the atrocities; the stench of war infuses his narrative. But he paints a broader account of the Chinese struggle, explaining the history that still shapes Chinese thinking today....

Up to 100m people (20% of China’s population) became refugees during the conflict. More than 15m were killed.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Well, that didn't go to plan...

Time to resurrect Julia the Kevin Slayer

Bonds on the brain

For a non economist like me, one of the most unclear aspects of an economy is the bonds market.

Take two stories in the media this morning, for example:  one in the Sydney Morning Herald, which talks about bond prices going up, and how Australian bonds don't affect as much as they do elsewhere; and then one by Alan Kohler, talking about concerns of there being "the biggest government bond bubble in history" and how it needs to deflate carefully.

I come away from both articles still being somewhat confused; but maybe that's just me...

Anyway, the comments following the Kohler article are interesting, including one by someone talking about the vast extent of the derivatives market being a major concern.  (Yes, according to him, the derivatives problem that caused the GFC are in a sense still around bigger than ever.)   Yet, someone following that points out that the value of this market all depends on how you count the amount of money at stake; and, I must admit, the first comment does sound as if it might be from someone equivalent to a fiat currency nutter.   But I don't know.

And now that I think of it - in the current situation, provided this bond market stuff doesn't blow up,  the goldbugs (who often tend to be climate change skeptics)  have probably blown a huge amount on gold investments,  and will never get it back, haven't they?*    Including, I hope, JoNova.    It couldn't happen to a more deserving bunch.

*  Oddly, in the comment piece I link to, the writer says "I’ve always thought of ‘gold bugs’ as the crashing bores of the investment world — the same personality type who bangs on obsessively at dinner about the evils of Europe or the perils of climate change."   He's completely wrong on the point - see JoNova, and (I am sure) many in the Tea Party movement.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

As inspired by watching Q&A last night

It's a history topic, OK?

I can't remember what article I was looking at recently that linked to this one from last year: Getting It On: The Covert History of the American Condom | Collectors Weekly, but the condom article  turned out to be a pretty fascinating read.

Things I learnt included the fairly gruesome sounding attempt by the military in World War 1 to deal with veneral disease with self administered clean up kits:

In 1905, in an effort to combat common infections like gonorrhea and syphilis, the Navy implemented the first trial system of chemical prophylaxis dispensed by staff doctors. Though the treatment was strictly post-intercourse, its results impressed Navy brass enough that the procedure became standard on all ships by 1909. However, one of the system’s major flaws was its dependence on self-reporting to a doctor, so the following year prophylactic kits or “pro-kits,” were distributed to soldiers for self administration. This was highly preferred to an exam, and though still painful, the pro-kits protected many recruits from being court martialed for contracting VD.

When draft examinations for World War I revealed infections for nearly a quarter of all recruits, military policy was altered to accept some soldiers with pre-existing VD. Over the next two years, around 380,000 American soldiers would be diagnosed with some form of VD, eventually costing the U.S. more than $50 million in treatment. Jim Edmonson explains that during World War I, American soldiers weren’t issued condoms; instead they were given a “Dough Boy Prophylactic Kit.” The idea behind these kits was that soldiers who “went out on a weekend furlough and had sexual contact would then clean themselves up afterwards with antiseptics and urethral syringes and so forth.” Edmonson points out that this method was like “closing the gate after the horse is out of the barn; not very effective.”
 You can see from the photo of the "Dough Boy" kit that it included some mercury compound - just about the last thing I expect any modern man with even a vague knowledge of toxicology would want to be using in a  ointment to be applied liberally to the relevant area (or in urethral syringe, although I am not sure what they contained).  It seems, from some other sites, that th Not only that, it didn't work so well anyway:
This half-hearted prevention program resulted in a complete epidemic of sexually transmitted infections. Sarah Forbes says nearly 18,000 soldiers a day were unable to report for duty because of these illnesses. Starting with the pro-kit, which Forbes describes as “glorified soap that was completely ineffective,” the U.S. military began its attempts to counteract the dire consequences of VD.  Slowly but surely, they provided condoms and developed health education programs, which Forbes says became the precursor to sex-education in American public schools.  
 One other thing of wry amusement in the article was the photos of condom tins from the 1930's, which "highlight fantasies of the Mid-East with names like Sheik, Ramses, and Sphinx."

Isn't it funny how cultural assumptions about regions change?  Although the I presume that the popularity (at least with women) of  Rudolf Valentino in his arabian roles in the 1920's may have had something to do with why a condom company in the 1930's would want their product to be associated with the Middle East, it does raise the whole question of how the region got a reputation for erotic allure, and then lost it totally.

I don't know much about the topic of its original reputation, although the description of this book gives some ideas:
 Richard Bernstein defines the East widely—northern Africa, the Middle East, Asia, the Pacific Islands—and frames it as a place where sexual pleasure was not commonly associated with sin, as it was in the West, and where a different sexual culture offered the Western men who came as conquerers and traders thrilling but morally ambiguous opportunities that were mostly unavailable at home. Bernstein maps this erotic history through a chronology of notable personalities. Here are some of Europe’s greatest literary personalities and explorers: Marco Polo, writing on the harem of Kublai Khan; Gustave Flaubert, describing his dalliances with Egyptian prostitutes (and the diseases he picked up along the way); and Richard Francis Burton, adventurer, lothario, anthropologist—and translator of The Arabian Nights.

When I think about it,  I guess the idea of the Middle East as a region of sultry sexual intrigue for heterosexual men lasted right up to the 1960's.  (Is it too silly to cite "I Dream of Genie" in support of this argument?)   But at some point - perhaps the 1970's or 80's, this all reversed, and I think it is safe to say that the Middle East is now seen as just about the last place a Western man would think of in terms of eroticism.  But how that happened, I am not entirely sure either.

In any event, I see that despite the new reputation, you could at least up to 1996 still buy Sheik branded condoms in the US.   (There's an annoying ad for them on Youtube.)  Condom name traditions die hard, obviously.

Update:  I was just googling around and found a brief account from a few years ago by a retired journalist of his WW2 experiences, which notes how the US managed to make the situation worse:
I was eventually assigned to an Army base about 60 miles north of Calcutta. The area boasted the highest rate of venereal disease of any overseas region in which U.S. troops were based. Before the American army's arrival, Calcutta was renowned as a sin city crammed with hundreds of brothels licensed by the British army. The incidence of VD was minimal, however, because the local prostitutes were periodically examined and treated by military doctors.

Aghast at what they regarded as official immorality, the U.S. Army chaplains pressured the British to abolish the system. With the whores now no longer under medical surveillance, the VD rate soared. For the men in my outfit, the 903rd Signal Co., the scenario was sadly familiar. Before coming to India, the company had been stationed near Alexandria, Egypt. There, too, the British Army's traditional medical control of local brothels collapsed with the arrival of the Americans. Once again, a VD epidemic broke out. A handful of my 903rd buddies landed in India with undesired "souvenirs" from their sojourn in Egypt.
 As someone in comments notes, the US and the backfiring ideal of abstinence has some history to it.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Everyone makes planes, except us

Aircraft-makers: Singin’ in the rain | The Economist

The Economist reports that the market for manufacture of civil aircraft is looking bright.

What surprised me, though, is that it's not just Brazil which is getting into mid size regional jet building, but Canada too (and Russia and China are hopeful new entrants too):
Other firms, including ones from developing countries, have long been eyeing the mainstream single-aisle market, where growth is strongest. They are closing in.

Closest of all is Bombardier of Canada. Pierre Beaudoin, its boss, promises that its new CSeries, aimed at the 100- to 150-seat market, will make its maiden flight this month, give or take a week, and that deliveries will start in 2014. Bombardier has 177 firm orders for the plane so far. It will be the first to use Pratt & Whitney’s geared turbofan engine, the closest thing to a big idea engine-makers have had for a while. Replacing the usual shaft between fan and turbine with a gear allowing each to revolve at its optimal speed should cut fuel use, emissions and noise significantly.

Embraer, the Brazilian firm that is Bombardier’s biggest rival in the market for smaller “regional” jets, confirmed at the show that it would revamp its E-Jet, designed for the 70- to 130-seat market, and said it already had 300 orders and options for the new version. It does not intend—yet—to compete against Airbus and Boeing, but it will overlap with the smaller version of Bombardier’s CSeries. And it will also use Pratt & Whitney’s new engine.

Russia too has aspirations. In Paris Irkut, owned by the United Aircraft Corporation (UAC), displayed a mock-up of its planned 130- to 150-seater MC-21, which will again use the geared turbofan engine (and eventually a Russian one). Irkut expects to start building the aircraft this year and to fly it in 2015.
I suppose Australia did manage to build trouble prone diesel submarines; but in the high technology  stakes,  I would personally feel better it if we could build planes that other countries wanted.   Maybe they should try converting the flying box known as the Nomad  to vertical take-off and landing. (Ha.)

Silver benefits

Silver makes antibiotics thousands of times more effective 

I mentioned earlier this year that I was trying a new deodorant which claimed to incorporate silver ions.   (The exact quantity of them remains a mystery.)  I am happy to report that it seems to work well.

Silver's useful effect against bacteria other than those that live in my armpit (sorry for that image) are discussed in the above Nature article:
Many antibiotics are thought to kill their targets by producing reactive oxygen compounds, and Collins and his team showed that when boosted with a small amount of silver these drugs could kill between 10 and 1,000 times as many bacteria. The increased membrane permeability also allows more antibiotics to enter the bacterial cells, which may overwhelm the resistance mechanisms that rely on shuttling the drug back out.

That disruption to the cell membrane also increased the effectiveness of vancomycin, a large-molecule antibiotic, on Gram-negative bacteria — which have a protective outer coating. Gram-negative bacterial cells can often be impenetrable to antibiotics made of larger molecules.

“It’s not so much a silver bullet; more a silver spoon to help the Gram-negative bacteria take their medicine,” says Collins.
But too much silver does have toxicity:
Vance Fowler, an infectious-disease physician at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, says the work is “really cool” but sounds a note of caution about the potential toxicity of silver. “It has had a chequered past,” he says.

In the 1990s, for example, a heart valve made by St. Jude Medical, based in St. Paul, Minnesota, included parts covered with a silver coating called Silzone to fight infection. “It did a fine job of preventing infection,” says Fowler. “The problem was that the silver was also toxic to heart tissue.” As a result the valves often leaked2.

Before adding silver to antibiotics, “we’ll have to address the toxicity very carefully”, says Fowler. Ingesting too much silver can also cause argyria, a condition in which the skin turns a blue-grey colour — and the effect is permanent.
That bit about blue-grey skin puts me in mind of alleged UFO aliens.   Possibly, they come from a planet (or future) with too much silver.  (It's a theory....)

Water everywhere

There seems to be a lot of flooding going on in the Northern Hemisphere recently:

*  the Northern Indian floods, which are described as being the result of an early monsoon season for that part of the country, could have killed at least a thousand people.  The most remarkable image was perhaps this one:

although it would be good to know the size of the statute we are looking at, to give us some scale.*

The papers are not giving too much detail as to how unusual this weather event is, but Jeff Masters at Wunderblog explains more:
According to the Indian Meteorological Department, Uttarakhand received more than three times (329%) of its normal June rainfall from June 1 - 21, and rainfall was 847% of normal during the week June 13 - 19. Satellite estimates indicate that more than 20" (508 mm) or rain fell in a 7-day period from June 11 - 17 over some regions of Uttarakhand, which lies just to the west of Nepal in the Himalayas. Dehradun, the capital of Uttarakhand, received 14.57" (370 mm) of rain in 24 hours June 16 - 17....
The June 2013 monsoon rains in Uttarakhand were highly unusual, as the monsoon came to the region two weeks earlier than normal. The monsoon started in South India near the normal June 1 arrival date, but then advanced across India in unusually rapid fashion, arriving in Pakistan along the western border of India on June 16, a full month earlier than normal. This was the fastest progression of the monsoon on record.
Masters does acknowledge, however, that some are saying deforestation, dam building and mining with inadequate environmental oversight has contributed to the scale of the floods,  and I would presume there is some truth in that.

*  Central and Northern Europe:   the recent floods there have been reported as being of record height for some rivers and cities (the countries affected include Austria, Switzerland, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, and Germany.)  But to get more detail on the event, it's again worth looking up Jeff Masters:
The primary cause of the torrential rains over Central Europe during late May and early June was large loop in the jet stream that developed over Europe and got stuck in place. A "blocking high" set up over Northern Europe, forcing two low pressure systems, "Frederik" and "Günther", to avoid Northern Europe and instead track over Central Europe. The extreme kink in the jet stream ushered in a strong southerly flow of moisture-laden air from the Mediterranean Sea over Central Europe, which met up with colder air flowing from the north due to the stuck jet stream pattern, allowing "Frederik" and "Günther" to dump 1-in-100 year rains. The stuck jet stream pattern also caused record May heat in northern Finland and surrounding regions of Russia and Sweden, where temperatures averaged an astonishing 12°C (21°F) above average for a week at the end of May. All-time May heat records--as high as 87°F--were set at stations north of the Arctic Circle in Finland.
 Masters notes that it is increasingly argued that these changed patterns are part and parcel of global warming:
 If it seems like getting two 1-in-100 to 1-in-500 year floods in eleven years is a bit suspicious--well, it is. Those recurrence intervals are based on weather statistics from Earth's former climate. We are now in a new climate regime with more heat and moisture in the atmosphere, combined with altered jet stream patterns, which makes major flooding disasters more likely in certain parts of the world, like Central Europe.
 * Canadian floods:  the phrase "record flood"is appearing for the current Calgary event is appearing even in places like the Wall Street Journal, so it must be true.   The reason for the flood is again being put down to a "blocked"weather system (and this time it is not Jeff Masters talking):
The heavy rain is also the product of an odd set of circumstances, says Stephanie Barsby, CBC's meteorologist in Edmonton.

The massive weather system responsible for the storms was still trapped over southern Alberta on Friday by a high-pressure system to the north and winds blowing toward the west, the opposite direction of the prevailing winds throughout Canada.

"That high pressure system is preventing the storm from moving north, and the Rockies are preventing it from moving west, so it's stuck right over the regions that are seeing the flooding," said Barsby.

"It's unusual to see a system stuck in one place for such an extended period of time."
 All of these events have reminded me of a recent letter that appeared at Nature Climate Change regarding increased flooding due to a warming planet.  The article got a bit of publicity in the mainstream media, but not that much.  Here is what the ABC said
But now researchers from the University of Tokyo in Japan have done just that, presenting global flood risk for the end of this century, based on the outputs from 11 climate models.

The team predicts a large increase in flood frequency in parts of Asia, Africa and South America. It forecasts more moderate increases in northern Australia and Tasmania.

In certain areas, they predict flood frequency will decrease, including eastern and northern Europe and central North America.
You can see what Tim Flannery says in that report too.   As he is continually grossly misrepresented on water issues for Australia, it's a wonder Andrew Bolt hasn't been there already trying to twist something out of it.   It is a sign of Bolt's lack of intelligence (or rather, ideological motivation not to understand an issue) that he continues to have a ridiculous inability to understand that increasing the water cycle can mean both longer droughts and worse floods in some places.

I see that there is news this morning of another study about how climate change will affect the Indian monsoon with increased variability, in the region which is presumably the most unable to afford adaptation to floods.

In any event, I have been saying since the extraordinarily widespread Australian floods of 2011  that increased flooding and drought may well be the first climate change effect which really becomes very clear and convinces government and voters that serious action on CO2 needs to be taken.  Recent events suggest I may be right.

Update:  Here's the same statue, I think, at a different angle:

Here it is, from the same direction, in flood:

And by the way, who is that guy on Shiva's head? 

Sunday, June 23, 2013

People aren't as upset with carbon pricing as much as politicians think they are?

Abbott carbon tax mantra blunted

I'm not sure whether to take encouragement from this, or doubt the accuracy of the survey:
Fewer voters want to see the carbon tax removed now than before it took effect on July 1 last year. Nearly half, or 48 per cent, wanted the tax scrapped a year ago.

But a poll of 1009 people, conducted by JWS Research for the Climate Institute, found just 37 per cent of them now supported the Coalition's intention to wind the tax back in favour of its ''Direct Action'' policy, which involves paying companies to reduce emissions.

Even fewer people - 34 per cent - would back an Abbott government calling a double dissolution election to fulfil its ''pledge in blood'' to repeal the tax.

Fewer than half the Coalition voters would back Mr Abbott taking Australia back to the polls.
Is it possible that, even though it hardly ever gets any commentary by economists, people have worked out that the Coalition "direct action" plan is a crock? 

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Skin cancer risk

Look beyond the sun for skin cancer culprits, doctors warn

I was a bit surprised at the size of the risk increase:
Even things that seem unrelated to UV light—such as getting an organ transplant or a tattoo, or having an autoimmune disease—have been linked to skin cancer diagnoses.

People who've had an organ transplant have an extremely elevated risk for skin cancer—up to 200 times higher than others, according to Ibrahim. 

This stems from the medications that must be taken after a transplant to suppress the immune system. As a result, the immune system, which normally fights off growing cancer cells, may not be strong enough to do its job.

Organ transplant recipients should talk to a dermatologist to get an idea of their baseline risk for skin cancer and find out how often they need to be screened. Ibrahim said that some high-risk people who've had organ transplants need screening every three to four weeks.

Very witty, Bernard

I wish Crikey didn't have so much locked behind its paywall, but in any event, Bernard Keane's latest column is free to view, and has many witty lines.  First, talking about Labor:
...a party one step short of seriously considering consulting John Curtin via Ouija Board about how to resolve the Rudd-Gillard tension. It’s a party frozen in fear, terrified that any move it makes will be a mistake but painfully aware that doing nothing means a wipeout. The Liberals went through it in 2007, but Labor, as if to demonstrate that anything Tories can do, they can do better, are taking it to new levels.

Still, at least the Prime Minister has the the crucial Russell Crowe endorsement to add to Hugh Jackman’s support; with a visiting Arnie, the PMO could boast she had Gladiator, Wolverine and the Terminator. Then again, Tony Abbott doubtless has Dad and Dave and the cast of Division 4.
The next part, summarising the Coalition's policies, is pretty much spot on:
So far, there are two kinds of Abbott policies: those that mimic Labor, and those that look terrible. His Direct Action climate change policy is an open, albeit expensive, joke; his paid parental leave scheme is loathed by many within his own party and in the Nationals. His industrial relations policy is essentially a commitment to keep Labor’s Fair Work Act until the Productivity Commission gives him political permissions to go to voters with reforms; his broadband policy is, courtesy of Malcolm Turnbull, NBN lite, although at least 30% and probably more of Australian households will get the full-cream version.
And then the summary of the Coalition's "let's keep Gina happy and her cheques flowing in" Northern Australia project is really terrific:
 The Abbott vision is that northern Australia becomes a cornucopia of tourism, agriculture and mining, apparently unaware it’s tricky to have even two of those together let alone all three, and climate change is hardly conducive to any. Just ask tourism operators on the Great Barrier Reef.
In fact, this deep north stuff is downright weird. It’s not just Tony Abbott’s own big government DLP mindset emerging — it’s shared by Coalition MPs with functioning brains like Andrew Robb, the small government types at the IPA and far-Right miners like Gina Rinehart. It’s straightforward, Whitlamesque regional development, complete with Whitlam government policies like moving public servants around. It’s social and economic engineering on a huge scale; there’s not a market mechanism in sight. Indeed, there’s a utopian tone to the whole thing, not dissimilar to the early, funny socialist visions that were untainted by the nasty experience of the real world. It’s as if the Right wants to create a new Australia, one free of all the bad things about the current one like pesky unions, well-paid workers and restrictive environmental regulation, a place where entrepreneurs, with just a little help from taxpayer handouts, some government spending on infrastructure where no one currently lives and a few indentured public servants, can breathe the (admittedly, rather humid) air of freedom and create a more efficient economy.
Funny how Sinclair Davidson (and everyone else who blogs at Catallaxy) simply refuses to talk about the IPA's broad endorsement of this policy.

Friday, June 21, 2013

More self indulgence (as inspired by Catallaxy)

Excuse me while I indulge myself...

For a certain writer at Quadrant


I've just discovered, while googling my name for a work related purpose, that a young man from England has a twitter account in my name.  His tweets indicate he may well run the most boring twitter account in the universe, as it comprises mainly of short complaints:  "it's so cold today, hate this weather"  "when's my next pay rise?"  "I wish I was on holiday again".  To break up the monotony, there is the occasional "great time last night".  But it's nearly completely devoid of information. 

Come on, lad:   a namesake of me has to be more interesting.  And stop smoking.  (He thanked his Mum for a gift of fags.  D'oh.)

Fish to the foreground

Farmed fish overtakes farmed beef for first time - life - 19 June 2013 - New Scientist

It's just - interesting...ok?

Bringing back Zeus

BBC News - The Greeks who worship the ancient gods

I hope they draw the line at temple prostitutes, nude olympics, and pederasts ceremonially chasing boys, though. 

Some Friday weirdness for you

Yowie sighted at Bexhill - witness asks to stay anonymous | Northern Star

An anonymous, but interesting, claim of a recent yowie sighting in Northern New South Wales.  

Local science makes me proud

Catalyst: Dengue Fever - ABC TV Science

I was very impressed with the state of science in Queensland as shown on Catalyst last night.  

The first story was about the promising looking plan to replace dangerous mosquitoes in Cairns with bred ones that will not carry the dangerous Dengue Fever.  

You can watch the video at the link (or see a transcript.)

The second story was about scramjet research based a the University of Queensland.  They've been plugging away at this for a long time, but still seem to be making advances.  

The story is not yet up on the Catalyst website, but I'll link to it when it is.

Tony loves Gina


As inspired by Malcolm Farr's story today which should have been titled "How the Coalition plans a complete suck up to Gina Rinehart."

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Quick and early success with vaccination

Sexually transmitted HPV declines in US teens

Since a vaccine against HPV was introduced in 2006, 56 percent fewer girls age 14-19 have become infected, said the research announced by the US Centers for Disease Control and published in The Journal of Infectious Diseases.

CDC Director Tom Frieden described the findings as a "wake-up call" that the vaccine works and should be more widely used. Currently, about one-third of girls age 13-17 are fully vaccinated.
 I wonder what percentage of 14 to 19 year old girls were formerly infected, though.  Certainly, go a bit older and the figures are big:
The CDC says about 79 million Americans, most in their late teens and early 20s, are infected with HPV, and every year some 14 million people become newly infected.

Hot where it counts

All-Time Heat Records Broken in . . . Alaska?! | Climate Central

It hasn't had attention in the Australian media, as far as I know, but recently Alaska has been having all time record heat, even while England continues with another wet and cool summer (and possibly may have more in the coming years.)

Someone in a comment somewhere on the net said it reminded them of chaos theory, which suggested some systems go through swings from one extreme to another until they settle into a new state.   That did ring a bell with me too.

The criteria as defined by Catallaxy

As far as I can tell, the main criteria by which Sinclair Davidson, Judith Sloan and others who post at Catallaxy for an economist to run Treasury (or the Productivity Commission) is that they have never been identified as expressing belief in, or have worked on, matters relating to environmental causes, and climate change in particular. 

Hence, Davidson says Treasury all started to go wrong when Ken Henry came in back in 2007.  

Of course, one would think that an economist who went out hard on a stagflation warning two years ago might be more circumspect in criticising Treasury for getting their recent years forecasts wrong, but no...


More data storage? Here's how to fit 1,000 terabytes on a DVD

In The Conversation today:
 In Nature Communications today, we, along with Richard Evans from CSIRO, show how we developed a new technique to enable the data capacity of a single DVD to increase from 4.7 gigabytes up to one petabyte (1,000 terabytes). This is equivalent of 10.6 years of compressed high-definition video or 50,000 full high-definition movies.
They also point out:
 Some 90% of the world’s data was generated in the past two years.
Their two light beam technique, which reduces the "dot" size when burning a DVD, is said to be:
...cost-effective and portable, as only conventional optical and laser elements are use, and allows for the development of optical data storage with long life and low energy consumption, which could be an ideal platform for a Big Data centre.
I'm not sure if that means it won't be turning up on a home PC, but still, it sounds a remarkable advance.

The Age tries comedy

(As inspired by this story in The Age this morning: Abbott, the thinking person's prime minister.)

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

No Bond gadgets needed?

Uri Geller psychic spy? The spoon-bender's secret life as a Mossad and CIA agent revealed - Features - Films - The Independent

This sounds very improbable, but interesting:
We may know him for spoon bending antics and for his lengthy friendship with pop star Michael Jackson but showbiz psychic Uri Geller has seemingly had a lengthy second career as a secret agent for Mossad and the CIA, albeit one that was more Austin Powers than James Bond.
Geller was at the Sheffield Doc Fest this week for the premiere of Vikram Jayanti’s The Secret Life Of Uri Geller – Psychic Spy?, a new film that offers compelling evidence of his involvement in the shadowy world of espionage.
“Uri has a controversial reputation. A lot of people think he is a fraud, a lot of people think he is a trickster and makes things up but at the same time he has a huge following and a history of doing things that nobody can explain,” Jayanti says of his Zelig-like subject....
 The doc leaves a question mark in its title but provides so much background evidence that we are left in little doubt that even its most outlandish assertions are rooted in truth. Whether or not Geller had psychic powers, US security forces were certainly prepared to take a very hefty wager on him.
The documentary doesn't just rely on Geller's claims (in fact it says he is guarded in what he says):
Jayanti didn’t rely on Geller’s own cryptic testimony. Instead, he spoke to the high-level officials involved in recruiting and using him. These include scientists from The Stanford Research Institute as well as senior CIA operatives. Among the interviewees with first hand knowledge of Geller’s psychic spying activities are former CIA officer Kit Green, Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell (the sixth man to walk on the moon), physicists Russell Targ and Hal Puthoff, and retired US army colonel John Alexander (of The Men Who Stared At Goats fame). A Brit, Nick Pope, once the British Government’s UFO boffin, also puts in an appearance. 
Hmmm.  Given that most of those named are prominent as believers in the paranormal, I wonder how reliable some their testimony might be.

Anyway, sounds well worth watching.

A comment made in absentia

I have a comment awaiting moderation for Catallaxy, where Julie Novak has attempted to answer the question "why are there no libertarian countries":
* Julie may well have read of this article elsewhere (it was getting a lot of publicity in the US), but I was the first to raise it at Catallaxy in an open thread some days ago. It attracted little comment, apart from the “just piss off” variety, and daddy dave accused it of being deliberately provocative to dare raise it at a libertarian themed site (even though, as many others now point out, the threads are dominated by conservatives.) This is an example of the completely out of whack treatment yours truly receives at the blog – it was an interesting argument well deserving of comment, but because I am the one to raise it, I am the one who deserves punishment.
* Isn’t it gob smackingly ironic for the complaints at this blog regarding the alleged crushing nanny statism which Australians are suffering under that Julie is citing recent research ranking the country high in the matters of economic and personal freedoms? I haven’t been able to download the paper at the link, but people who can should perhaps explain why it doesn’t support my contention that the blog is full of exaggerating panic merchants?

Oh, boo hoo

Of course, confirming that the Labor politicians who are still fighting the war for a Rudd return are not quite right in the head, Doug Cameron and Kim Carr have lined up to pretty directly condemn Gillard for seeing that Crossin loses her job.

But quite frankly, that's politics, isn't it?   People sometimes lose pre-selection for someone they think less deserving.

And after all - it's not as if Crossin hasn't had a good run.  In the Senate since 1998, and what sort of pension will she retire on?:
TERRITORIANS shouldn't feel too sorry for Trish Crossin following her dumping from the Senate.
She will get an annual tax-free pension of more than $100,000 a year and five free business class flights a year.
Oh, it's a right tragedy for her, that is.

Lift cables, skyscrapers, and space

Lifts and skyscrapers: The other mile-high club | The Economist

Here's another interesting piece up at The Economist website:
This week Kone, a Finnish liftmaker, announced that after a decade of development at its laboratory in Lohja, which sits above a 333-metre-deep mineshaft which the firm uses as a test bed, it has devised a system that should be able to raise an elevator a kilometre (3,300 feet) or more. This is twice as far as the things can go at present. Since the effectiveness of lifts is one of the main constraints on the height of buildings, Kone’s technology—which replaces the steel cables from which lift cars are currently suspended with ones made of carbon fibres—could result in buildings truly worthy of the name “skyscraper”.

The problem with steel cables (or “ropes” as they are known in the trade) is that they are heavy. Any given bit of rope has to pull up not only the car and the flexible travelling cables that take electricity and communications to it, but also all the rope beneath it. The job is made easier by counterweights. But even so in a lift 500 metres tall (the maximum effective height at the moment) steel ropes account for up to three-quarters of the moving mass of the machine. Shifting this mass takes energy, so taller lifts are more expensive to run. And adding to the mass, by making the ropes longer, would soon come uncomfortably close to the point where the steel would snap under the load. Kone says it is able to reduce the weight of lift ropes by around 90% with its carbon-fibre replacement, dubbed UltraRope.
The article does note at the end that the development suggests that space elevators may be do-able:
Nor need carbon-fibre lift-cables be confined to buildings. They could eventually make an idea from science fiction a reality too. Space lifts, dreamed up in the late 1950s, are a way of getting into orbit without using a rocket. Building one would mean lowering a cable from a satellite in a geosynchronous orbit above the Earth’s equator while deploying a counterbalancing cable out into space. The cable from Earth to the satellite would not be a classic lift rope because it would not, itself, move. But it would perform a similar function of support as robotic cars crawled up and down it, ferrying people and equipment to and from the satellite—whence they could depart into the cosmos.
I'm guessing that the strength of this new cable has some way to go yet.

But as it happens, I was idly wondering recently about whatever happened to the idea of a "skyhook" system for helping get things into low earth orbit.  

I always thought the idea of space plane catching a ride up at the end of skyhook sounded like a good idea, and I wonder whether the strength of the Kone cable is enough for the job.   (Although a skyhook presumably needs to be rigid, not flexible like a lift cable.  I wonder if that is a problem?)

It does sound kinda stupid

Google's Project Loon to float the internet on balloons - tech - 18 June 2013 - New Scientist

I hadn't previously bothered reading the details of the Google trial of internet via balloon,  but now that I have, it's hard to imagine it working:
 Google will rely on weather prediction to keep its balloons in the right place, moving them up and down to take advantage of different air currents. "Project Loon uses software algorithms to determine where its balloons need to go, then moves each one into a layer of wind blowing in the right direction," Google announced. "By moving with the wind, the balloons can be arranged to form one large communications network."
An IT consultant also says it's a bit silly to think that access to the net will be of instant value to the poorest people of the world:
"It is a total myth to imagine a farmer in Mali using Google to find solutions for a disease his tomatoes have. Barriers are just huge: illiteracy, language, ICT training," Boyera says. The existing web is not that useful to the underprivileged populations of developing countries, and no amount of new connectivity options can fix that, he says.
Good point.

Day 10 of the prophecy that won't self fulfill despite everyone's best effort

Gee, isn't everyone getting sick of the media story that the Gillard leadership crisis is coming to a head, um, any day now.  The current countdown really got a kick along by Barrie Cassidy on Insiders the Sunday before last, and given that he is said to be close to the PM's partner Tim (well, they have often been seen at the footy together, I think the story goes,) I thought it might even have been some sort of authorised leak from the Lodge about Gillard re-considering her position.  This private theory of mine obviously had nothing to it, though.

Of course, the media is not entirely to blame:  but it is for continually repeating the musings of the line up of Labor politicians who want to have a cry on their shoulder about how Kevin is their only hope.

We also have left leaning academics to blame - John Quiggin, who has agitated for a Rudd return for a long time, and even the normally sensible Ken Parish is now advocating a completely cynical switch based on the theory that Rudd wouldn't win the House of Reps anyway, but would keep the Senate out of Coalition control, even though he really is a "treacherous turd" (Ken's own words) . 

I haven't seen the evening news on TV lately, but I've caught a bit of Question Time during the day, and Gillard has performed well.   She does not look like a leader who deserves to lose her position at all.

If only people of the Left would stop talking about the need for her to go, so that everything that happens in Federal politics is not being seen purely through that prism.   (Of course, this advice should have been followed for the last 2 years, as well.)

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Things I don't understand about movies

Steven Spielberg and George Lucas Have a Strange Vision of the Future - DailyFinance

As this article notes, it was very odd hearing the creators of the Hollywood blockbuster mentality complaining about how it has sucked dry financing for other films.   (Spielberg had to look hard for financing for Lincoln, apparently, even though I would have thought it was one he could have paid for himself.  Lucas self financed his last film, which was a critical and commercial flop that seems to have not even been released internationally.  [Or if it has, I hadn't noticed.])

Anyhow, Hollywood financing and accounting has always been an enigma and famously shonky, and although I mentioned this before fairly recently, I still need someone to explain the following about the present situation:

1.  we used to hear that a huge cost of putting out a film was the print costs and distribution.   The US now has a large number of digital cinemas, so what has happened to all those costs savings?

2.  similarly, digital video cameras should surely represent a huge saving in film stock and processing.   Where did the savings go?

3.  digital video and cheap computer graphics processing should presumably also have dramatically cut the cost of special effects, and there was even that video going around the internet a couple of years ago showing how TV shows can basically use digital sets which presumably is much cheaper than going to a location. Where did the savings go?

On a separate note, on Friday night I watched the SBS sex movie that traditionally follows their Nazi documentary.   (Who started this long standing tradition at the station, I wonder.) 

This movie ("Lower City") was from Brazil, and the synopsis is here:
When prostitute Karinna accepts a ride to Bahia on Deco and Naldinho's cargo boat, sexual services are part of the arrangement.

Both men quickly become enamoured with her and seek the means to take her away from her life as a prostitute and pole dancer.

Set in the beautiful Bahia de San Salvador in Northern Brazil. 
It fitted the European (and Australian) School of Pointless Realism perfectly:   follow the events in the life of a few characters who are small time criminals and on a "life's losers" trajectory.   End the film by having them get into a fight, but with no resolution of the situation that has developed in the film whatsoever.  (The two guys both fell in love with her; the prostitute is pregnant with someone's baby, but it could be anyone's.  The guys beat each other up, she washes their blood in her room, and has a cry.  End credits.)  

I thought to myself:  I have been complaining about this style of narrative in art house film (let's set up a situation for the characters:  let's not attempt any resolution of any kind at all!) for decades.   I actually find it so cliche now that it is funny.      

The oceans rise up

Coastal cities and climate change: You’re going to get wet | The Economist

Here's a good, detailed article on the very serious issue of how expensive and difficult it will be for the US to deal with rising sea levels.

Cartoonist idea

Has some cartoonist in Australia today done something combining the Gillard/Rudd leadership issue and the Nigella Lawson "just a playful tiff" story?   Seems sort of obvious...

And speaking of cartoonists, First Dog on the Moon's one from last week was very good.  (Particularly the talk back callers.)

Ben's right

Many men find gender debates too threatening to handle | Ben Eltham | Comment is free |

Whether you think Gillard has been a good prime minister or a poor one, the highly sexualised attacks against her person are on the public record for all to see. The avalanche of personal slurs against the prime minister has snowballed so far, overseas media outlets are starting to take note of it.

Except, unfortunately, many can't see it. For many Australians, including many men, the idea that Gillard is on the receiving end of a torrent of sexual abuse is just too hard to cope with. As a fellow on Twitter remarked to me yesterday about the Sattler interview, the interview was “hardly sexist”. No, he went on, “she is an incompetent leader who back-stabbed the PM of the country. That is why she is hated.” Incompetence and backstabbing – there's a couple of gender stereotypes we see time and again in the way the prime minister is discussed.

It's not just the froth and bubble of social media. Robust opinion poll data shows the trend. Gillard is particularly unpopular with men, and the trend shows up in different polls by different pollsters.
In the wake of Gillard's speech last about men in blue ties and abortion, the trend has worsened. Nielsen's John Stirton tells us that “Labor's primary vote was down 7 points among men.” The Australian Financial Review's front page screamed this morning, “Men in revolt against Gillard”.
There's no doubt that abortion is a divisive issue. But few seem to have bothered to read the full speech, which is actually quite moderate. Gillard's decision to raise abortion and gender issues is hardly beyond the pale. How can it be? These are vital social issues of the utmost ethical significance.
In any case, the Gillard hatred is not really about abortion. It's about power.

The truth is that many men find gender discussions uncomfortable. They find them uncomfortable because they threaten male power. The most anti-Gillard segment of the community is older white males – precisely the most privileged demographic in Australian society. For men like Alan Jones, Andrew Bolt and Howard Sattler, it really does appear as though a female prime minister threatens their sense of identity. Perhaps that's why Jones seems incapable of stopping himself referring to the prime minister as “this woman.” Andrew Bolt prefers a more subtle power dynamic: he likes to call Gillard a “professional victim”.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Mysterious and convenient timing, and a bunch of questions about Smith's crusade

Hedley Thomas re-appears today in The Australian to tell us that Victorian Police have taken files (under a search warrant) from Julia Gillard's old law firm.

Yet if you read the report carefully, one will see that there is no mention of when they did this.  Just that "sources told The Australian yesterday."

Given that Gillard is under intense leadership, doesn't this leak just appear a bit convenient?

I personally suspect that there is something deeply fishy and potentially scandalous about the whole matter of the Victorian police investigation into the Gillard "did she or did she not properly witness a Power of Attorney" question.

The point is - no one seems to be claiming that anyone lost any money out of this, and the person whose evidence is crucial (Ralph Blewitt) is both widely considered to be a crook, and does not deny signing the Power of Attorney.

A lawyer who improperly witnessed a document may certainly be guilty of unprofessional conduct, but it is a matter normally dealt with by the local Law Society, as this blog post by a barrister with lots of examples illustrates.  He points out that solicitors don't even usually lose the right to practice over such a matter.

Without knowing the exact details of what Blewitt has alleged, it is difficult to know completely what the Police are running with.   But it has always looked very strange to me that the Victorian Police have such an intense interest in a matter which is nearly 20 years old, and in which no one alleges any money was lost.  Furthermore, it has to be remembered that Michael Smith, a man well motivated to have a nutty personal obsession with politically hurting the PM, but who wasn't even involved in the matter, is apparently the one who has made the complaint that the police are investigating.   How does that work? 

Will it work like this:  Police conduct investigation for a year or more, hand it over to public prosecutor lawyers who decide there is insufficient evidence to charge anything, and it really is more a matter of professional misconduct?   Meanwhile, political damage has been maximised?   Wouldn't that be considered a somewhat scandalous outcome?

Or is it that Blewitt has made some other allegation of Gillard's knowledge of the source of funds to buy the house in Melbourne?  But as his partner in dodgy business Wilson is completely supporting Gillard, how would you ever hope that there is a credible case to be worth running?   

If it is only relating to the power of attorney, why has there been no lawyer or reporter out there asking "why are the police so interested in an old matter which would normally be one relating to professional conduct only"?  Or has there been, but I have missed it?

I have been meaning to make this point for many months, but today's report was the one to finally prompt me to do it.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

The coming seafood buffet crisis?

It's been ages since I have had a post about ocean acidification.

Three recent stories on the topic caught my eye, however, and two of them are potentially bad news for those who like to partake of a seafood buffet:

1.   squid, including the type we routinely eat, seem to be adversely affected by increasing acidification (although the experiment in question did look at their growth at pH levels which won't be seen in the ocean for a hundred years or so);

2.  the mechanism via which oysters suffer under low pH appears to be better understood:
They discovered that the tiny larvae undergo a dramatic growth spurt during their first 48 hours of life, forming new shell at a rate 10 times higher than they do when they are five days old.
This spurt is fuelled by nutrients packed into each larva's egg. As well as powering shell construction, the nutrients also fuel the development of feeding organs – vital for getting energy once the food source from the egg has been used up. But such high growth rates are difficult to sustain when seawater pH falls. That's because the carbonate ions normally used to build calcium carbonate shells instead react with the more acidic water, reducing the amount available for shell material.
3.  To muddy the ocean acidification story further (almost a pun there), another recent study indicates the confusing situation regarding what is already doing well, and what's doing not so well, in the oceans, and the uncertainty as to what is causing the changes:
The study, published in PLoS One found that different species react in different ways to changes in their environment. As dissolve in seawater they lower the pH of the oceans making them more acidic and more corrosive to shells.

and coccoliths, which are small shelled plankton and algae, appear to be surviving remarkably well in the more . But numbers of pteropods and bivalves – such as mussels, clams and oysters – are falling.

'Ecologically, some species are soaring, whilst others are crashing out of the system,' says Professor Jason Hall-Spencer, of Plymouth University, who co-authored the paper.

The scientists are unsure whether this drop in certain species is because of changing , or whether it is due to a combination of stress factors like warming, and eutrophication -which results from a build up of in water.

Vacuum assisted aim

The video itself is a few years old, but it just appeared at Boing Boing, and it's genuinely interesting to see how well a vacuum system for space urination seems to work:

How to send a secret message without sending it

There's a really good article up at Vanity Fair, by a guy who seems to know what he's talking about, trying to correct the many misperceptions about the US PRISM program aspect of the current NSA "scandal". 

He makes a point (after a good technical explanation as to how the NSA works in the email spying business) which I have always thought pretty obvious:
Sure, people could make the argument that this could be the slippery slope to some sort of effort by the government to monitor your porn subscriptions, but . . . really? The N.S.A. is downloading petabytes of data every day with so many anonymizers and protections in place, it is incomprehensible to imagine (and illegal and technologically problematic) that someone would just somehow start surfing through private records. To me, the slippery-slope argument makes as much sense as the N.R.A.’s position that, if we use background checks to keep guns out of the hands of criminals, the United States is on the way to the seizure of weapons. And they make the same silly argument—they think that the government invades their privacy by running those checks.
I was also interested to read of this pretty clever way of passing information without sending an email:
Sometime after 9/11, al-Qaeda members figured out that a great way to transmit information over the Internet was by not transmitting it at all. Instead, a terrorist would open an account with a free service like Hotmail or Google, write an e-mail, and rather than sending it or even writing in the address of a recipient, would store it in a “draft” folder. Then, through other means such as a satellite phone or another e-mail account, a coded message would be sent to the planned recipient telling him the account name and the password. The recipient would know to open the account, check the draft file, and then delete the account. Once the N.S.A. knew through other means of the existence of the message, it would gain access to the temporary account through a court-issued subpoena to the company, read the secret message, and watch what happened. By 2010, though, the terrorists figured out this wasn’t working anymore and changed tactics.