Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas Greetings

Not sure how Christmas-y that really is, but there sure is a lot to look at

Update:  for the person who asked in comments, the painting is Salvador Dali's Madonna of Port Lligat, which is discussed at Wikipedia here.  It gets a lengthier analysis at this site.  

The remaining mystery of "what does"

Income management doesn't work, so let's look at what does

So some research has reported that income management for aborigines in the Northern Territory is not really working.  But, as many people in comments after this piece say, the author does not address what does work, other than in the type of general platitudes that are always floating around these issues. 

Don't panic

The world is not falling apart: The trend lines reveal an increasingly peaceful period in history.

Steven Pinker sets out to prove that the world is not, despite current impressions, going to rack and ruin with violence.  He does a pretty good job, too.

As for Tony Abbott's "Merry Christmas" warning that terrorism was "likely" - I'm not sure that anyone believes anything he says about anything anyway.   Certainly, historically, it seems Islamic terrorists have chosen never to stage massive attacks during the Christmas season.  But now that I Google the topic, I see that the UK and US media gave some coverage at the start of December to concerns that al-Qaida was planning airline attacks before Christmas.  I don't recall reading that in the Australian media, which is odd, seeing Rupert has developed a large Islamic bee in his bonnet. 

Hey, I seem to have strayed somewhat from the cheery tone that I was aiming for.  Oh well, there's probably an asteroid with Canberra's name on it that Abbott's cuts to science means won't be detected, anyway.

And for the astute observer of this blog, perhaps you can tell from my Marvin-tinged tone, as well as the title, that I recently found that the BCC TV version of Hitchhikers Guide is on Youtube.  You can thank me later.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Cartoonist makes good

Probably it's because I wish I had talent with a pen, but this story of a young guy taking a risk and succeeding in (what I assume is) a very competitive field was really pleasing to watch on 7.30 recently.  

Bad advice, and a nice graphic

Hey, I haven't derided Senator Leyonhjelm for at least 4 hours, so it's time to do so again.  A sign of good politician is that he has a good sense of from whom to take advice.  Leyonhjelm doesn't display that talent:
Leyonhjelm, a self-described “libertarian”, is being advised Max Rheese – the former long-serving executive director of the Australian Environment Foundation – a spin off of the ultra-conservative think-tank, the Institute of Public Affairs.
The AEF describes itself as an “environmental NGO”, but it disputes the science of climate change. And it hates wind energy, urging all its supporters to attend the anti-wind rallies held last year in Canberra, which were hosted by conservative shock jock Alan Jones, the man who elicited the “wind farms are utterly offensive” comments from Treasurer Joe Hockey.
For a taste of what this environmental group thinks about climate science, see this speech in 2010 by then chairman Alex Stuart. One quote: “There is no link between man-made trace greenhouse gases and scenarios of climate catastrophe.” He labels such theories as “catastrophist” and are aimed at “reining in mankind.”
While we're on the topic of global warming, he's a nice graphic from Greg Laden:

But as Senator Leyonhjelm would say:

Good, detailed article on Antarctic sea ice

RealClimate: Clarity on Antarctic sea ice.

Of course, the people who most need educating on this probably won't read it.  

More about a book I didn't care for

My Brother Jack at 50 – the novel of a man whose whole life led up to it | Books | The Guardian

I recently mentioned this book in my post about David Malouf's Johnno.  It was a high school English assigned novel, if I recall correctly, and I didn't much care for it.  (I think the version produced for high school in the 1970's had one or two rude bits excised.) 

Nonetheless, it is somewhat interesting to read about the background of the author, and I didn't recall that the book was only published in 1964.  George Johnston and his wife had moved to the Greek island of Hydra in the 1950's, but certainly did not have a great life despite the book's success:
The wind-whipped Hydra winters are harsh, however. Johnston and Clift had
little money, often living on credit from local shopkeepers. By the time My Brother Jack was published, their marriage was deeply strained; tuberculosis and subsequent medical treatment had rendered Johnston impotent and infidelity was a constant undercurrent of their
relationship. Johnston left Hydra in 1964, a physical shadow of the strapping man who’d departed Australia in 1951. Despite his reputation as a journalist, and the moderate success he’d enjoyed as a novelist, MyBrother Jack was his make or break moment.

He knew that he didn’t have many writing years left. But the success, Johnston’s due, did finally come with the publication of My Brother Jack.
The Johnston-Clifts settled in Mosman, Sydney. Both continued to drink heavily, Clift especially so, although she managed to produce a popular newspaper column while Johnston wrote his famous sequel. This time he wrote no less evocatively about island life in Greece in Clean
Straw for Nothing, in the same way he’d conjured suburban Melbourne from Greece in My Brother Jack.

Clift died of a barbiturate overdose at 45 in 1969, just as Clean Straw for Nothing was about to be published and before it, too, won the Miles Franklin Award.

Johnston died a year later, at 58, before he could finish the third instalment of the Meredith trilogy, A Cartload of Clay. It was published posthumously in 1971.

The postscript was no happier. Shane Johnston committed suicide in 1974. In 1988 Johnston’s daughter by his first marriage, Gae, died of a drug overdose. Then Martin Johnston, an acclaimed poet, died of alcoholism at 42 in 1990. Only Hydra-born Jason Johnston survives.

Self defence

David Leyonhjelm's fall back position from every person being able to carry a pistol will help reduce gun violence (yeah, well, he's still in mourning about not being pat his guns for comfort) is that Australian should at least be able to carry items for self defence.

In this regard, the Wikipedia article on pepper spray is interesting.  I see that it has long been controversial in the States for its likely contribution to scores of deaths, and on the international scene, it is has very variable regulation.  It's not at all uncommon for it to be banned entirely, while other countries may allow it under licence, or for use only in protection against animals.

Tasers are of course controversial for their potential lethality too.  Wikipedia indicates that they are illegal for the public to have just about everywhere, except the Czech republic, and of course, many parts of the United States.

As for knives:  well, they can do a pretty good job at mass killing too, and I am not surprised that they are regulated and that police have concerns about certain groups having one in their possession.  I'm not entirely sure how one regulates so that the police can take one off a bunch of drunken youths in a nightclub area, but leave it with the young woman coming home from the office who thinks it will be useful in self defence.

And really, the dubious utility of allowing people to arm themselves is the big problem for all self defence.   First, the chances of involvement with violent crime for most people, in the course of a lifetime, in a country like Australia, is very very small. Worrying about being armed against attack in a normal day is, I would say, a touch paranoid for nearly all men.  (It's less so for women who are out at night, unfortunately, but statistically I would be sure the reality is far different from the perception.)  But for those who do have exposure to danger,  there is no certainty at all that having a non lethal form of self defence is going to be accessible or useful in the event of attack. 

And, of course, the number of cases in which self defence items are successfully deployed has to be considered in light of the number of times criminals may successful use them aggressively for their own purposes.  And that certainly happens with non lethal items as well as with guns - see these articles from the States in 1995 and just this year about the criminal use of pepper spray, for example.

In the big picture of what's better for society overall, I think most Australians are comfortable with what's illegal from a potential weapon point of view. 

Update:  even nice old Canada can have criminal problems with  pepper spray - where it appears popular for protection against bears - as appears from this report from earlier this year.  There are some surprising figures:
 CALGARY – Police say there’s an alarming increase in the use of pepper spray by local criminals.
In 2011, police recorded 88 incidents where pepper spray was used. A year later that number almost doubled to 161. Then, in 2013 there were 147 incident in the first nine months, which suggests an upward trend
The latest pepper spray incident was during a robbery at the Bay location at Market Mall on Wednesday.

Christmas physics

[1209.0881] A Potential Foundation for Emergent Space-Time

The abstract:
We present a novel derivation of both the Minkowski metric and Lorentz
transformations from the consistent quantification of a causally ordered set of
events with respect to an embedded observer. Unlike past derivations, which
have relied on assumptions such as the existence of a 4-dimensional manifold,
symmetries of space-time, or the constant speed of light, we demonstrate that
these now familiar mathematics can be derived as the unique means to
consistently quantify a network of events. This suggests that space-time need
not be physical, but instead the mathematics of space and time emerges as the
unique way in which an observer can consistently quantify events and their
relationships to one another. The result is a potential foundation for emergent
 But the introduction of the paper itself makes the point a bit clearer:
We demonstrate that concepts of space and time, and their precise relation to one another, can emerge as a representation of relations among causally-related events. While we take causality as a postulate, we have demonstrated in other work [22][23] that it is of benefit to push back further and consider the idea that directed particle particle interactions enable one to define a causal ordering among related events. The basic idea is that everything that is detected or measured is the direct result of something influencing something else. We focus on an intentionally simplistic, but fundamental, picture of  influence where we consider the process of influence to connect and order the act of influencing and the act of being influenced. We refer to each of these two acts with the generic term event, so that the event associated with the act of influencing causes the event associated with the act of being influenced.
Rather sounds like physicists working on a way of supporting Aquinas (or Sound of Music theology - "nothing comes from nothing, nothing ever could".)  And - guess what - I see that the work was supported by a grant from the Templeton Foundation.

All rather interesting, anyway.


Monday, December 22, 2014

Maybe I should change hangover medicine this holiday season

Ibuprofen boosts some organisms’ life spans | Science/AAAS | News

I like the warning given at the end of the report:
 So far, researchers haven’t shown that any drug extends human life span.
To folks who are impatient, Miller cautions against extrapolating the
study’s results, especially because the side effects of long-term
ibuprofen use can include fatal stomach bleeding. “I think any person
who says, ‘Anything that works in yeast is something I want to take,’ is
asking for trouble.”

Sunday, December 21, 2014

A good haircut today? Jawohl!

It was only a few months ago that I told the story of an incident at a post office in Brisbane in about 1979 in which the European man serving me was very sure, from the way I spoke, that I was from Europe, rather than from a house 300 metres down the road.  This happened just after I had returned from staying in youth hostels in New Zealand, where nearly no one picked that I was from Australia.

Fast forward 35 years, and yesterday I went to a new barber about 300 m from my house.  He had a European accent, and after my explanation of what was desired of the hair cut, he said "Are you from Munich?" 

As with the post office incident, the following conversation went something like this:
"Um, no, I'm from Brisbane."
"Really!  I could have sworn you were from Europe. The way you speak English.."
"Er, no.  Born in Brisbane.  Never even been to Germany."
"It just sounds like you learned English in Europe as a second language - I thought German, maybe French.."

And then I told him the post office story from 1979.

The barber, incidentally, was from Spain, and has only been living in Brisbane for a year or so, escaping the terrible economy of that country. So it certainly seems that to at least some European men, I sound very much like English is my second language.

I am not entirely sure what to make of that, but it is at least amusingly odd.  I told my family that it perhaps gives me a certain air of mystery and intrigue.  They aren't convinced.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Old and new (part 2)

OK, I know people will make the comparison about how ageing male singers don't cop the same style of assessment that comes the way of ageing females ones.  But, even while feeling a tad guilty posting this, I still think viewers should be cautious watching this second video.  It's not encouraging for those of us well on the path towards old age.  But few of us, at least, have the heights of youthful gorgeousness from which to descend that Debbie had:

Careful now:

Old and new (part 1)

So, last night I spent a bit of time with the Chromecast looking at music videos, and found that Barenaked Ladies had a new song out last year with an amusing clip.  The comparison of the band members in their younger and older versions is pretty remarkable, but they haven't done too bad in the ageing gracefully stakes:

First, the old:

Then the new:

They always seemed a very cheery bunch.

I'll never look at mince the same way again

Hey, I missed this very amusingly made video from They Might be Giants last year.  Better late than never:

Man, that's cutting...

I like savagely bad movie reviews, but this conclusion of Christopher Orr's thorough beating of, well, the entire Hobbit trilogy really,  gets very, very cutting at the end:
In my review of the second Hobbit installment, I suggested that Jackson had confirmed his standing as the new George Lucas. With this finale, he makes the comparison all the more depressingly concrete. It’s one thing for a director to produce movies worse than the ones he made earlier in his career. But it requires a rare gift—and thank goodness—to produce movies that actually make that earlier work itself look worse.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Bolt and IPA connection missed

Well, it seems I am not reading the media closely enough, otherwise I would have given this evidence that, verily, the ABC (Australian/Bolt/Catallaxy) is a closely intertwined (some might say "incestuous") collective a run earlier in the year.

Turns out that Andrew Bolt's son James works for the IPA as Communications Co-ordinator.  

And didn't the Bolt family get upset with the Saturday Paper revealing this, even though James himself, looking rather like a Bolt, is on the IPA website.  As Ackland writes in that diary, there is a remarkable degree of hypocrisy in the Bolt family about public discussion of offspring.   What exactly did Mrs Bolt think the readers of the Saturday Paper were going to do with this somewhat amusing discovery that the Institute most rabidly arguing for legislative changes to an Act because of its use against Andrew Bolt had a Bolt offspring on staff, trying to make sure that its communications on the topic were effective?   Well, I assume that's part of a Communications Co-ordinator's job.

Of course, Labor and common soft left jobs like ABC journalism are chock full of professionally incestuous relationships.   It's just that you don't often hear of such an example where the family involvement in the line being run by the organisation is so direct.

And they didn't get it changed anyway.  How sad...

Merry Christmas, Julia (and bye bye Arthur)

Union royal commission finds no evidence of serious wrongdoing by Julia Gillard | Australia news | The Guardian

This was, of course, always an incredibly safe bet for anyone who had an ounce of common sense, for one simple reason:  if anyone had compelling evidence of Gillard's knowledge of the matter, it would have been used to hurt her politically long, long ago by someone within Labor, let alone the Coalition.

I have said before that it is scandalous that a Victorian police investigation was allowed to drag on for so long given its political sensitivities.  When is it going to announce that it is formally closed vis a vis the ex PM?

And, of course, Andrew Bolt's disgusting role in promoting all of the Michael Smith muck racking via the sleaziest of sleazy characters involved, and that of Pickering and Hedley Thomas, is a blot on the media landscape too.

Update:  I see that Arthur Sinodinos has quit, which is really the right thing to do.  It's unfortunate that one of the few politicians in the Abbott government who is widely liked, and considered moderate and sensible (well, until it came to how to make a quick buck for little work outside of politics) had to go, but them's the breaks.

Update 2:  Bolt and Smith are saying that Heydon's disbelief of Gillard's evidence that she paid for all of it is some sort of damning result against her.  Yeah:  they have to say that to attempt to save face.   In fact, to my mind, Heydon's sections about this read to me as the work of a somewhat eccentric judge.  I mean, have a read of this:
Gillard denied the claim, but the commission believed the account of her builder Athol James, who gave evidence that “she said Bruce was paying for it”.
The commission said there could be alternative explanations for Gillard’s testimony. The first was that she wanted it to be true that she had paid for all the renovations; the second was that she knew her testimony to be false.
It was very unlikely that Gillard’s testimony proceeded only from “some unconscious transmogrification of the truth proceeding from velleity”, the report says.
“She knew that Athol James’s testimony was inconsistent with the position she had developed over the years up to 2012.” The report adds it would be very hard for Gillard to make any concessions; “a cleaner solution was absolute denial”.
Seems to me to quite of bit of unnecessary "thinking out loud" there.

Also, even if one disbelieves Gillard on that question (that she paid for it all and Wilson paid nothing) - who knows what Wilson may have said about the source of the money?  We knew from the evidence that he was one to sometimes go on casino benders - and why could a winning night there not plausibly be the claimed the source of $5000?

There was never hope of proving that Gillard was knowingly receiving money Wilson fleeced from the company, which never pressed for charges against him anyway.   Well, not without the clearest of clear evidence from parties who she had discussed it with.   As I said at the start, if such evidence existed,  it would have been used against her years ago.

So instead the story got recycled as a smear campaign by Smith, Bolt and Thomas for, what, about 3 years now?

It was a disgraceful journalistic performance by all involved, motivated by revenge at her understandable fury that had resulted in the sacking of a lazy journalist (Milne) and an obnoxious one (Smith).

The only good thing to come out of this is that Smith is now even discredited on the Right due to his apparent infatuation with the attention seeking Kathy Jackson.  How's the Smith marriage holding up, I wonder?

Seedy space

Asteroid soil could fertilise farms in space - space - 16 December 2014 - New Scientist

Quite a bit of interesting stuff here about experiments to grow plants on the ISS.

Fuel cell potential

Japan Promotes Home Fuel Cell on Path to Hydrogen Society - Bloomberg

It seems to me that we never hear enough about the potential for fuel cells for domestic use.  Japan has been pretty advanced in this regard, and they are still working on them, as this article indicates.

Within Australia, I wonder what their potential is as an alternative to battery back up for solar?

I never notice anyone writing about that....

A great Lego science moment

How to Measure Planck’s Constant Using Lego | MIT Technology Review

Very cute in a science geek sort of way.

Sometimes a higher profile doesn't help

David Leyonhjelm certainly gained himself a lot of media coverage by claiming that the answer to the Lindt hostage situation would have been for Australia to be more like Texas.

Of course, no other politician in the land that I know of has come out to agree with him (OK, maybe some State upper house nobody from a Shooters Party has - but who cares?), and every column about him that allows comments has been overwhelmed with negative reaction.

So I have my doubts this was good media strategy on his part.

I also thought it's about time his twitter profile was adjusted:

More from the Creighton files

I see that Adam Creighton returns to the line I noticed appearing recently from the Say's Law obsessive Steve Kates at Catallaxy - that the depreciation of the Australian dollar is now, according to these anti-Keynesian, simplistic, government-must-tax-and-spend-less-obsessives, not such a good thing after all.  It hurts people's buying power, don't you know?  

I wrote about this once before, at some length, but it remains all a bit rich, doesn't it?   As I noted then, Sinclair Davidson in 2009 argued that the "price signal" of an increasing dollar meant that Australia had to cut costs or improve quality to keep its exports attractive. I wouldn't mind betting that Creighton and Kates would argue that business and government should still cut costs because that always makes things better, and lets the government return to budget surplus so as to enable the dollar to rise to improve the lot of people who want to holiday overseas and buy their sneakers on line instead of supporting a local shopkeeper.

Businesses and government running things efficiently is obviously a good thing economically.  But the assumption that the answer to everything is "cut costs, cut spending" has to reach a point of diminishing returns somewhere, but you won't hear it from this school of economists.  (Or, in the case of Judith Sloan, if they mention it once - as with her brief advocacy of increasing unemployment benefits - they never like to mention it again.)

And there is this continual thing I see now, repeated by Creighton today, that they really, really like the on line purchasing on the global market, and hate the idea of anything increasing the cost of that (such as trying to make sure too much GST is not avoided that way.)   They also really enjoy their overseas holidays.  (Creighton completely fails to mention the Australian tourism industry - yet it is surely one of the biggest parts of the economy that suffer under a high dollar.)

Now, it's true, I have had Labor voting relatives on a double income with no kids complain about how much tax they were paying under the Howard government, so I know self interest doesn't flow only on one side of politics.   Nonetheless, it is very, very difficult not to conclude that the motivating factor on the small government, CIS/IPA, libertarian side of politics is basically simple selfishness.  "It's my money, leave it alone!"  is what it so often comes down to.

Update:  OK, maybe I am being mean to Adam by already not acknowledging his advocacy for an inheritance tax.  His line is more "it's my money, leave it alone, until I'm dead."    And in any event, his advocacy of it was only on the basis that his taxes while alive are reduced, so I'm not sure that he deserves much credit for altruism for that line of argument.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Hobbit off

Even though I have no interest whatsoever in the Hobbit movies, I see that quite a few reviewers really seem to be glad to see the back of the whole, drawn out, Peter Jackson obsession with Tolkien.

I got to that position ahead of them: after about 60 minutes into the first Rings movie.

In other "I am not alone about movie trends" news - I see Tim Burton says the Marvel superhero formula is getting boring.  True, even if I found Guardians of the Galaxy pretty good.  (But being an outright comedy meant it was not part of the formula - and the characters were not superheros, either.)

Wise choice

Professor Barry Spurr resigns from University of Sydney after email leaks

I wrote earlier that the emails left the University in a very difficult position - and I think it is a wise choice of the Professor to resign.

Pity he wasn't exercising wisdom when he wrote some of the emails.  And I am still of the view that the worst of the emails - the exchange about a sexual assault which I find impossible not to be appalled about - actually received less attention in media commentary than it deserved...*

*OK, I'll modify that - it's not that I wanted it to be widely published,  as it was an email which had the least justification for release from a public interest point of view.   But, once it was out, if anyone was going to defend Spurr, they really had to address the email which is likely to have the most direct impact on his student's views about him, since I can't imagine any sensible female student being comfortable being lectured by a guy who they know has indicated a private view that a woman who merely is at a "room party" should be condemned for going to the police about a sexual assault that happens while she's asleep.

Instead, the Right wing commentairiate ignored this email.   Probably because they knew it was indefensible at any level... 

Let's help the Senator who can't Google... (aka: a list of some Texas hostage situations)

David Leyonhjelm is shooting his mouth off on national radio this morning saying that the Sydney hostage situation wouldn't likely happen in places like Texas, because of concealed carry laws.  Let's Google the topic, shall we, and add some bold so the good Senator can't miss the relevant words:

My first Google brings up this  item, from 2010:
Police: Houston area bank standoff ends, all hostages safe
and this in 2007 isn't that hard to turn up either:
The Johnson Space Center shooting was an incident of hostage taking that occurred on April 20, 2007 in Building 44, the Communication and Tracking Development Laboratory, at the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston, Texas, United States.
and 10 years before that:
 Police were negotiating with a gunman who was holding an unidentified number of adults and children hostage Wednesday evening at a day care center in Plano, Texas.
(concealed carry seems to have started there in 1995, by the way.)

Oh, and here's another one,  from 2012:
"This guy was driving crazy, and he was shooting, and we were shooting, and people were ducking under cars," Singletary said.
After the driver wrecked his car, he got out, ran into a building and took several people hostage, Stephens said. The suspect eventually surrendered to police, she said.
 How about 2013?:
Authorities shot and killed a gunman who took a woman hostage from a Central Texas department store and fled with her, leading police on a chase through multiple counties. 
Gee, get this starting to get boring now:  from 2011:
Gunman beat, tried to rape victim in hostage situation
OK, one more time, from 2012, and I think we can agree:  if the Senator loves concealed carry so much, he should move to the States where he can spend his time fondling his weapon to his heart's content:
 TEMPLE, Texas A hostage situation inside Scott and White Memorial Hospital in Temple ended in gunfire Sunday evening.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Nutty Randians and paranoia

Sorry that I keep on going about the nuttiness of Catallaxy, but when reading this article about a convention for Randians in Las Vegas, I was struck by how this is exactly the same paranoid political philosophy analysis you see continually in threads at that blog: 
“The Left dominates our intellectual world,” Brook declared. And yet, despite its success, the stated aims of the Left are merely a pretext for an agenda far more sinister than anything contained in the Democratic Party’s platform or, for that matter, a Michael Moore movie. Take the professed concern for the growing disparity between the very rich and the rest of America: The liberal impulse to address this gap may seem rooted in a sense of fairness or even a desire to promote social cohesion, but viewing it as such is extremely na├»ve. Indeed, it takes at face value the rhetoric of the Left, which keeps one from seeing it for what it really is: the language of a decades-long con game. “What they’re really after is not the well-being of anybody,” Brook explained. “They want power. They want to rule us.”

It gets worse. For if “the intellectuals” use fear-mongering around the so-called problem of inequality to seize power, they wield it in favor of a nihilistic vision of the human condition. They aim to systematically undermine and annul the great achievements of heroic men and women, an effort that will not only corrupt the “American sense of life” but one that stabs at the very heart of Ayn Rand’s vision. “We need to tell the truth about these bastards,” Brook said. “We need to reveal them for what they really are. We need to expose them to the American people for what their agenda really is. They’re haters. Their focus is on hatred. Their focus is on tearing down. Their focus is on destroying.” 
It would all be laughable if it weren't for the fact that there are scores of US politicians whose similar paranoia about the "real reason" for the UN wanting action on climate change (it's all a socialist plot, don't you know?) is actually affecting the future of the entire globe. 

On the "up" side; maybe the obese can market themselves as carbon sinks?

Breathing blows body fat away as carbon dioxide, Australian scientists find | The Australian

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Cheap shots - (and Whoops! Milestone Reached!!)

US Navy laser cannon blows targets out of the water - at $1 a shot

I just watched the video that's been on line for a week or so about this ship board laser weapon.   It is amazing how pinpoint accurate it is, and the way it is controlled with a game console style handset.

I am also surprised at how cheap it is to run.  Not sure how rapidly it can fire, yet, though.

MILESTONE NOTIFICATION:   according to Google, my next post will be the 8,000th published.

What should it be about?   Let's see, here are some candidates:

*  I have been trying a new style of underwear lately, and I quite like them.

*  My wife was watching Love Actually when I got home last night, leading me to expound again upon its awfulness; but I think I've covered that enough in the past.  It did get me thinking, though, that I don't believe I have ever posted a list of my top ten most over-rated movies in history.   I have at least 6 in mind.

*  Just indulge in self congratulation?  

*  Commission my oldest regular reader that I know of, Tim from Will Type For Food, to write an epic poem to mark the occasion?   

UPDATE:   I have miscalculated.  This is


An extraordinary day in Australian Blogging History, I am sure you'll agree.

All my own work - not a guest post in sight.   Hours of dedication to the  task of producing a blog with a diminishing number of readers, but which satisfies me anyway.   As I have noted before, I've been writing here for so long that posts from years ago can be half forgotten, and on re-reading them, I am nearly always  pleasantly surprised by their quality.  Why the National Library isn't archiving it I'll never know. :)

Next year, it will be the 10 year anniversary.  I won't be up to post 10,000 by then, but it will be the next milestone nonetheless.

And as for the underwear:  it's those new-fangled (well, from 5 or 10 so years ago since they started appearing in numbers) boxer briefs.   They have been a pleasant surprise too.

Quiggin on nuclear

Tell them they’re dreaming • Inside Story

John Quiggin's take on the poor prospects of nuclear power for Australia sure sounds pretty convincing.

Death and torture

While mourning the innocent lives lost in Sydney over night, most Australians would be somewhat relieved to know that the perpetrator was a nutter well known to the police, rather than a previously unknown "lone wolf" inspired by IS to make a grandiose stand for their fetid view of Islam.  The latter would rightly raise the question "how many more are out there?"  and the media would not be able to get off the topic for days at a time.   It would also appear that the initial concern and rumour that this might be a widespread and co-ordinated terror event (with things like the Opera House being cleared) were unfounded.   The police appear to have acted very professionally, and were on the scene quickly.  So, despite the tragic outcome, there are some reasons for a sense of relief.

Not that it will be found in evidence at Catallaxy, where (as one would expect) the incident will end up with thousands of extreme comments about Islam.  You really have to wonder about how proud Sinclair Davidson, who (very, very occasionally) waves the flag of moderation towards the religion of some of his friends, must feel about his readership.

And, of course, the blog's same participants have had little to say about the US Senate report on torture, but what was said was pretty much fully in support of the "this is all a Democrat stitch up" line of most Republicans.

The Dick Cheney interview on Fox on the weekend showed what a moral vacuum he, and quite a few of the political Right, have become.  In this good article at Slate, the comparison is made between Republican complaints about how Obama is supposed to be "acting like Caesar" in making an executive decision about illegal immigrants, with their acceptance of the Cheney argument that it's  OK for the State to do "whatever it takes" to torture to the point of death some folk who were in fact innocent:
Still, if the immigration action is Caesarism—if, as Sen. Cruz has said, it’s the action of an “unaccountable monarch”—then the same is surely true of the torture program. In reality, it’s not even a comparison. On one hand, you have discretion for some unauthorized immigrants, rooted in congressional statutes. On the other, you have a secret and illegal program of kidnapping and torture, justified by wild claims of executive authority and defended in the name of “security.”
Barack Obama used his office to help illegal immigrants, and for this, Republicans have attacked him as a Caesar. That’s fine. But Dick Cheney used his office to claim dominion over the bodies and persons of alleged enemies, some of whom were innocent. If that isn’t Caesarism, if that isn’t despotism, then it’s something scarily close. But here, with few exceptions, Republicans are silent.
Indeed:  the Right has a long way to go to return to a sensible, moral, centre.

As readers know, I have been talking about the same despotism friendly policies of this Abbott government  in relation to boat arrivals - centralising decision making in the hands of one Minister; removing recourse to judicial review; justifying stopping boasts on the high seas, and imprisoning people from them on Australian ships for weeks at a time; returning them to their point of departure with no real review of why they are leaving.

This is much worse, in my view, than the libertarian hand wringing over government attempts to regulate data retention, because in fact the government proposals may end up with less access to the information for piffling reasons than currently exists anyway.  (And besides which, the information is already informally retained for some period - the internet has always been capable of leaking.  It is not as if the government is inventing some risk to individuals that is novel.)

Yet we have heard very little about the liberty abhorrent nature of the migration law changes in Australia, and both the media, and those who purport to be concerned about liberty in principal, should be ashamed.

Update:   talking of the morally bankrupt, Rupert Murdoch knows just the right thing to say about the tragedy.  [/sarc...and be sure to read the comments following.]

Update 2:   Tony Abbott this morning twice referred to it as "politically motivated" violence.   I would have thought, given this nutter's background, that most people would be thinking that's exactly what it wasn't.  Just because a nutter holds hostages and wants to talk to the PM (as was reported yesterday, although I know of no confirmation) I don't see that that makes it "political".   Once again, one has to question the smarts of this PM.   (Although,  for the most part,  he  and Mike Baird have deserve praise for seeking to ensure there is no general community backlash against the moderate Muslim community.)

Update 3:  I have to agree with Jason Soon, Brendan O'Neill, whose writing generally makes me grind my teeth, gets the reaction to this incident just about right.

Except that, perhaps, he might be playing down this guy's role in radicalising others if  Rachel Kohn's almost prophetic piece from 2009 is anything to go by.  She points out that he was actively promoting radicalism (she was a direct target of it!) and he should have been the subject of much more active condemnation from the broader Islamic community.   (And perhaps, even closer attention from the authorities - although, I guess we don't really know yet how closely he has been monitored over the years.)

Monday, December 15, 2014

I'm no expert, but...

I see that David Leyonhjelm had an article in the AFR in which he decried the Labor Party's re-regulation of Australian mercantile shipping.

Now I'm no expert on this topic, but nor do I suspect is Senator Blofeld.  The article reads very much as if it repeating information fed to him by a lobby group.  Yet that doesn't necessarily mean it doesn't make some good points. 

Yet the reason I would take it with a grain of salt is that I had, for a number of years,  the acquaintance of an old former merchant ship captain, who I knew was a steadfast Liberal Party supporter and active in his local branch.  (He has, sadly, recently died.)   He was a great supporter of the Howard government, but was strongly of the opinion they got it completely wrong on the way they had deregulated coastal shipping.  The general gist of it was he believed the policy was severely undermining the nation's collective seamanship skills that would enable us to manage our own mercantile shipping fleet should the nation cease being serviced by those ships of other nations.   He essentially saw it as a long term national security issue.  (If I recall correctly, he also did not think that foreign shipping was up to scratch in safety or competency standards, either.)

Now, again, I have to say that I don't really know to what degree that the Labor re-regulation really improved this situation from his point of view.  But all I can say is that, from knowing this old sea captain with good conservative political credentials and a lifetime of experience in the industry, I do think there is something to be said for not completely deregulating this industry.


Isn't it more than a bit weird that some readers of Catallaxy can crack jokes during an actual hostage crisis underway in their own country?  People use black humour for disasters that have happened at some distance, sometimes, but during a hostage crisis in their own country?

Update:  not sure what the point would be of any Prime Minister doing a press conference only a few hours into a hostage situation, particularly a PM as prone to making gaffes as this one.   Leader of "Team Australia" trying to comfort the nation in fatherly manner?  Just issue a press statement, like Shorten did.

The partly correct Ergas

I have to admit that Henry Ergas comes across as almost balanced today in his column on health costs and the co-payment, where he agrees up front that the Australian health system actually seems to work well and at basically reasonable costs compared to international standards.

Where he goes more ideological than evidence based, though, is in the basic assumption that a "price signal" is warranted for GP services.

Economists may see increasing costs of providing services and instinctively say "price signal needed"; but obviously it is more complicated than that with health care, where treating a condition early may result in massive savings later.   And really, what is the evidence that people love going to a doctor to waste time?

There have always been people willing to go to the doctor for trivial matters (my own mother was inclined to), but it is not as if this resulted in much of the way of excess visits over the course of a year.  I think the great majority of people don't like going and only do so for what is usually a justifiable reason.  Putting a price signal to discourage a small number of people who might warrant it for a minority of their visits to a doctor may quite likely be outweighed by the problems caused by the larger number of people who may delay treatment due to the cost.

If the price signal is meant to be directed more to doctors (if, for example, there seems evidence that they are doing unnecessary and wasteful pathology tests - and I have a hunch there have been cases where that suspicion is justified), then putting the price signal on that makes some sense; but it seems to me the evidence that you need a price signal on the average punter going to the doctor per se is completely lacking.

That doesn't stop a government simply saying the co-payment is needed as another tax, and people can decide whether that seems justifiable or not.

The worst aspect of the government's latest changes, though, is not that it has a $5 co-payment, but by drastically changing rebates to doctors, purely bulk billing practices seem likely to disappear, and the working poor will actually face a very large increase in the cost of going to the doctor.   The "price signal" of their new policy is therefore dramatically worse for most people than the simple idea of $5 extra to go to a GP.   I would not be surprised if that results in more expense for the health system in the long run.

This is a hopeless government, full of crook policies, and without an ounce of sense that I can detect.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Oooh...does the IPA favour an inheritance tax now?

Fortune favours babes of boomers, and it all comes tax-free | The Australian

Adam Creighton comes out and argues that a modest sized inheritance tax would be a good idea. (But only if income taxes are lowered too, it seems.)

I had been wondering about this, as I think I saw Catallaxy a while ago run a bit by McCloskey in which she supported inheritance taxes too.  (It seems, now that I Google it, that she has supported them for some time.)

Given their general allergy to taxes in all forms, I am surprised to see IPA aligned economist types  tentatively suggesting a new one.

Next thing you know they'll be promoting a straight forward carbon tax as a sensible thing.


Update:   I see that the IPA's Novak is still against them.    Should I be congratulating Creighton for a having a view that isn't IPA endorsed?

Quick re-entry

I was in a hurry, OK?

Thursday, December 11, 2014

More about the revised co-payment

GP co-payment 2.0: a triple whammy for patients

Good article here from Grattan Institute about the complexities of the changes to the co-payment scheme, and how it will hurt patients.

I tend to think that these problems need to be brought quickly to the publics attention by those opposed to it, because the headlines so far will not have given a correction impression of the consequences of the changes.

Ridley takedown

Matt Ridley, Anti-Science Writer, Climate Science Denialist – Greg Laden's Blog

Ridley is a favourite of the IPA style denialist set, and well and truly outed himself as having no credibility in his recent writings in which he endorsed Jonova's completely bogus complaints about BOM's work on temperature records in Australia.

Greg Laden does a good job at explaining how he is a denialist twit.   Hence, he will continue to be believed and quoted by Bolt and Catallaxy.  

Right wing torture

I said yesterday that it seemed to me that the American Right was not sure how strongly to respond to the Senate Report on CIA torture.  It now seems though that they have decided to push hard the CIA's line that it was all worth it and got heaps of benefit from it, and that this is all politic-ing by Democrats.

There are truly revolting Fox News clips  around, and I see that the Wall Street Journal is prominent in the "Go, CIA!" defence.

The Obama response - to sit in the middle at least on the issue of whether it was effective or not - seems measured and appropriate.

Despite the CIA's claimed justification, I just can't see the public accepting that the methods used, now that they are fully detailed, were acceptable in any context.  It also shines the strongest light ever on the genuinely Orwellian use of language in the phrase "Enhanced Interrogation Techniques."   The thing is, when you read a list of them described dispassionately, such as here, people might think "well, used judiciously, I can live with that."   (And who doubts that this is how the CIA sold it to politicians in briefings.)   But when you read the details of how they were actually applied - a prisoner freezing to death on the floor, being forced to stand with broken bones, rectal "feeding" that caused injury - well, that it puts the theory into ugly reality. It's no longer just the matter of "is waterboarding torture?", which was the main way the public perceived the issue 10 years ago (remember Hitchens writing about that?); it is much, much more.

Brains and religion

Finding God in a seizure: the link between temporal lobe epilepsy and mysticism - Encounter - ABC Radio National (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

 I heard part of this on the radio while in the car yesterday, and it did indeed sound very fascinating.

There is more in the full episode than appears in this article.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Why would anyone ever believe them again?

Even allowing for the normal way that parties, once they achieve government, will let some promises drop and reverse some others, it really is extraordinary the number of broken promises or reversals of position this Abbott government is making.  Why would the public ever believe anything anyone in this government says about their future intentions again?

The latest example of bold faced, direct reversals (and one with really no attempted justification at all) comes via Julie Bishop:
The Abbott government has denied international pressure forced its decision to commit $200 million to a global climate fund it had previously said it could not support....

The foreign minister also responded to criticism that the funds should not be drawn from Australia's existing foreign aid budget.

"This is our neighbourhood, this is where we are already using our aid program to assist developing countries in the Pacific," she said.

"This is money from the aid budget that would have otherwise been allocated to the Pacific for climate mitigation and climate related action to work against the impact of climate change."

In an interview with the ABC in 2012 while in opposition, Ms Bishop said climate change funding should not be "disguised as foreign aid funding".

"We would certainly not spend our foreign aid budget on climate change programs," she said at the time.

All you never wanted to know about "rectal feeding"

Controversial 'rectal feeding' technique used to control detainees' behaviour | US news | The Guardian

 I'm sure I wouldn't be the only person greatly surprised that the CIA torture regime could include "rectal feeding".  Rectal re-hydration I thought possible, but feeding?   What's more - look at what was fed:
Officers also administered a “lunch tray” enema to Majid Khan that
consisted “of hummus, pasta with sauce, nuts and raisins [that were]
‘pureed and rectally infused’”.
Bloody hell...

The Guardian article at the link, though, does give a detailed background as to the idea of inserting real, minced food  there for medicinal purposes.  It includes this bit:
When President James Garfield was shot by an assassin in 1881, he was kept alive for several days with enema infusions of “fresh beef, finely minced, in 14 ounces of cold soft water”, along with egg yolk and a bit of whiskey.
Not surprisingly, the idea was abandoned by just about everyone not into torture about 60 years ago, apparently.

Now, this post may well sound as if it is making light of an odd aspect of the report.

It's not meant to - the activities detailed in the report are truly scandalous, and I find it hard to believe that the "pushback" by past CIA figures is going to wash with anyone other than the nuttiest figures on the Right.  I get the impression that parts of the Right don't really know how to play this -  Breitbart is not giving it much prominence, and is simply running with a "CIA defends itself" story. 

Update:   this Slate article gives a good summary of the report and how the CIA got into the torture game.

Just thought I would add a bit of information to a graph....

Hey, I thought removing the carbon tax and mining tax was going to make everyone feel fantastic and full of confidence and financial vigour?  [Sarc, of course]

We'll be hearing more from GPs soon, I expect

The GP co-payment trick that purports to save $3.5 billion

Peter Martin explains that a lot of the government's claimed "savings" from their new policy comes from some quite dramatic changes to the rebate to doctors:
Part of the trick is that it isn't the co-payment that saves the government money, it's the cut to the Medicare rebate. That cut was always going to be $5 per consultation. If doctors had had the ability to charge a $7 co-payment they would have got an extra $2 in their
pockets. Now they won't.

Another part of the trick is that the government will now cut some rebates by much more. Standard so-called Level B consultations of up to 10 minutes currently attract a $37.05 rebate. Under the changes they will classified as Level A and attract $16.95 for the young and
concession holders and $11.95 everyone else.

And the two-year freeze on Medicare rebates that was going to extend to June 2016 will
now become a four-year freeze, extending to June 2018.

That sounds a huge difference to me, and (I would have thought) both guarantees the end of practices that bulk bill everyone, and lead to significant extra payments to make up for lost revenue from the re-jigging of the rebates.   I mean, will a GP seeing 6 sick kids in a hour really take $102 for the pleasure?

A universe that runs forwards and backwards

Here's an interesting article on a new-ish idea about what causes the arrow of time.
Tentative new work from Julian Barbour of the University of Oxford, Tim Koslowski of the University of New Brunswick and Flavio Mercati of the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics suggests that perhaps the arrow of time doesn’t really require a fine-tuned, low-entropy initial state at all but is instead the inevitable product of the fundamental laws of physics. Barbour and his colleagues argue that it is gravity, rather than thermodynamics, that draws the bowstring to let time’s arrow fly. Their findings were published in October in Physical Review Letters.....

Although the model is crude, and does not incorporate either quantum mechanics or general relativity, its potential implications are vast. If it holds true for our actual universe, then the big bang could no longer be considered a cosmic beginning but rather only a phase in an effectively timeless and eternal universe. More prosaically, a two-branched arrow of time would lead to curious incongruities for observers on opposite sides. “This two-futures situation would exhibit a single, chaotic past in both directions, meaning that there would be essentially two universes, one on either side of this central state,” Barbour says. “If they were complicated enough, both sides could sustain observers who would perceive time going in opposite directions. Any intelligent beings there would define their arrow of time as moving away from this central state. They would think we now live in their deepest past.”

What’s more, Barbour says, if gravitation does prove to be fundamental to the arrow of time, this could sooner or later generate testable predictions and potentially lead to a less “ad hoc” explanation than inflation for the history and structure of our observable universe.

Interesting, but...

The Australian is delighting in running a story about how a couple of  Fairfax editors were out to get Hockey after having to apologise for errors in a previous story.

Two questions:

a.  yeah, it's all fun reading, but I'd love to see emails that circulated within News Ltd papers during the Gillard era.  Wouldn't mind betting that they would be the most incendiary since the Whitlam era, especially she got on the phone to them about the Milne article.

b.  the defamation case (as far as I can tell) turns on the question of how literally readers take headlines, rather than headlines read with the article itself.   Surely there is allowance for the fact that headlines routinely need explanation or elaboration in the body of the article?  I wouldn't mind betting that if one took the literal approach that headlines alone convey the story, there would be hundreds of cases of defamation of Rudd/Gillard from the Daily Telegraph alone.

Hockey is a big, rich sook, and a failure as a Treasurer.

As a man who formerly had ambitions to be PM, he's probably the government's number one loser, and the defamation case indicates he's feeling it.


Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Not quite understanding

This new Abbott attempt to get money out of universal medicine (to put it into a medical research piggy bank that is going to cure cancer or Alzheimer's , or something) has confused me.

I don't suppose the doctors' wives were ever going to vote for him, but they'll actually  be manning the polling booths next time.

And as someone said at The Guardian, where the report is already up to 575 angry comments:
Abbott has dropped the co-payment from $7 to $5, with pensioners, children under 16yrs, veterans, people in nursing homes and concession card holders being excluded from this payment.
So how exactly does he figure that it will still reap up to 3.2b in revenue and can still start up a medical reasearch fund ?? He must of got Hockey to do the figures.
At the end of the day it is still an attack on medicare, no matter how he dresses it up.
Worst government ever
I gotta say, I also don't understand the basics of how it's supposed to work, and a lot of comments at the Guardian indicate the same.

I can't see the policy winning hearts and minds.  But the prospects of GP's getting paid less gets Adam Creighton excited:

Nothing wrong with him that a fat injection couldn't improve.*

* insult designed for readers who have read a nearby post

An announcement...

I am only 21 posts off published post no. 8,000.

I should start working on the celebration now......

German prominence

A story in the (UK) Telegraph recently about the increasing popularity of male, um, member enhancement, brought to my attention something I had previously overlooked:  Germany appears to be the European centre for surgical penile enlargement.

Now that I Google the topic, I see that earlier this year, the same paper had asked the hard question (*snigger*):  why is this operation so popular in Germany?   It involves a ligament snip (which I had heard of before) but also this:
Next, fat harvested from elsewhere on the recipient’s body is injected into the penis shaft so it “grows” (by a modest 2-3 cm girth).
Gee.  I'm a little surprised that the injected fat stays in situ, so to speak.   I mean, to use German engineering speak for a moment, it's going to be subject to some mechanical compression of some vigour, no?   But I assume it doesn't all get relocated at the base, or other end, or we would have seen an example on Embarrassing Bodies by now.

As for the reasons why Germans are into it to such a degree, the Tele does mention an apparent national fondness for pornography (I had thought the Scandinavians might hold the European title for that, but this is based on impressions formed in the early 1970's and may require revision.)   They don't mention the national fondness for bratwurst, but I wouldn't be surprised if that has something to do with it, in some subliminal sort of way.

Those readers who want to know more about the matter can visit this site from the German Centre for Urology and Phalloplasty Surgery - a very fancy name, hey?   But it does some unusual plain talking, for a medical centre:
When we ask patients who have had a failed penis operation somewhere else before coming to us for corrective surgery why they underwent surgery somewhere else in the first place, the answers are always the same:
  • '...because it was so cheap there...'
  • '...a plastic surgeon even performed the surgery...'
  • '...but they promised that it would work...'
We are astonished at all of these answers. Please excuse us for being direct, but is very unfortunate to hear these types of childish answers from grown adults when it is a matter of their health, particularly when it involves the primary male organ.
 I wonder if all German doctors have such a bedside manner...

And thus ends the post with possibly the biggest use of the "p" word in this blog's history.

Update:  it appears some cosmetic surgeons don't think much of the procedure:
Fat grafting is the most common, and the most notorious, of the penile augmentation procedures. It can result in disasters such as loss of the penis if fat is injected into blood vessels or if infection occurs. When the augmentation does work, the result is temporary. Complications such as nodules in the penis, skin deformity, and scarring and loss of normal contour are common. The injected fat is extremely fragile and needs to remain fairly motionless in order for blood vessels to grow into the tissue. If they don't grow in three days, the fat will die and be absorbed by the body. If the fat is disturbed during the first three weeks, it will lose its new blood supply and be resorbed. The penis cannot stay motionless when urinating and when erections develop. Virtually by definition, fat grafting into the penis is doomed to fail.
 Update 2:  on the Australian scene, here's the Australian Centre for Penile Surgery describing the recovery process for the procedure it uses:
You will need to spend two weeks lying flat in bed in order to minimise any swelling. Excessive swelling strains the blood supply of the penile skin and may cause it to die, resulting in loss of shaft skin. This is almost entirely avoided by lying flat.
During this time, you will also need to take a combination of three drugs to prevent you having erections. As a side effect of these drugs, you will feel very drowsy.
 Gee.  Men really put themselves through that for cosmetic purposes?

The technique for this are different from mere injection, too:
The Australian Centre for Penile Surgery does not recommend penile widening by fat injection because of the risk of fat necrosis. Dr Moore uses dermal fat grafting which is long-lasting in 98 percent of cases, and produces excellent results.
 So, sounds like there might be genuine dispute about technique that is apparently popular in Germany.

But here's another good bit from the Australian site:
What are the chances of retraction?
During follow-up, you'll be taught how to stretch your scar. If you fail to perform this exercise properly, some or all of the length gained through surgery might be lost.
Retraction may also result from the patient's own excessive production of adrenaline, which causes the penis to shrink. This is extremely rare.

A trilogy of wrong, illustrated

Laffer Curve: Napkin Doodle Launched Supply-Side Economics - Businessweek

What a remarkable idea - bringing together three Republican stars, all of whom have been shown to be involved in decisions that went badly wrong:

That's Laffer, in the middle.

(OK, Laffer may not be completely wrong; but his idea gave rise to tax cutting exercises that simply did not work, and tax cut worship that persists to this day on the Right.)

Real Climate is hot

While watching the Abbott government implode is getting a bit dull, Real Climate has couple of posts well worth reading about "the pause", and deceptive graphing by Anthony Watts.

Apparently, this graph is consistent with not taking any action on climate change, according to more than half of the Coalition, nearly all libertarians,  and Andrew Bolt:

 Scientists like Andrew Bolt and Monckton (and an aging chemist from Newcastle, who the incredibly easily self deluded at Catallaxy treat as having disproved global warming) all prefer to use graphs from the RSS satellite, because it has been the outlier on the cool side for some years now (not even agreeing with UAH's numbers.)

A hot and stormy start to summer, meantime, makes people think about climate change and how the Abbott government doesn't really believe in it.  That's good.

Update I see that Sinclair Davidson recently tweeted a link to Jo Nova (another reliable climate scientist) who plotted UAH figures to "disprove" BOM's claim that Australia has had its hottest Spring on record.

Rather than believe thermometers on the ground, they now rush to believe the rather more complicated methods used by satellites to measure the temperature of the atmosphere above the ground.  Because, of course, the BOM can't be trusted to do analysis of ground temperatures: they are corruptly out to prove global warming by hook or by crook.

Sinclair, haven't you got some more mathturbation to do on tobacco and plain packing, rather than reading Jonova?

I also see that Jonova and the IPA are both making end of year plea for donations.   A bigger bunch of  moochers I have never seen.  Can't you just write begging letters to Gina and Rupert and be done with, instead of begging on street corners?