Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Sounds unwell

I was wondering why he hadn't commented here for a while, but I see that Homer Paxton was/is unwell.   Sounds very unpleasant: get well soon...

Bad news for reefs

Ocean acidification could lead to collapse of coral reefs: To better understand the effect of acidification on coral growth decline, Hebrew University scientists led by Prof. Jonathan Erez and Prof. Boaz Lazar at the Fredy and Nadine Herrmann Institute of Earth Sciences, together with Carnegie Institute colleagues Dr. J. Silverman and Dr. K. Caldeira, carried out a community metabolism study in Lizard Island at the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.
The researchers compared calcification rates documented in 2008 and 2009 to those measured using similar techniques in 1975-6. Despite the fact that the coral cover remained similar, the researchers found that the recent calcification rates had decreased by between 27% and 49%. These lower rates are consistent with predictions that took into account the increase in CO2 between the two periods, suggesting that ocean acidification is the main cause for the lower calcification rate at Lizard Island.
While previous studies on individual reef building corals have shown that they lower their calcification rates in response to ocean acidification, in the present study this was demonstrated for the whole community. These findings suggest that coral reefs are now making skeletons that are less dense and more fragile. While they still look the same, these coral reefs are less able to resist physical and biological erosion.
According to Erez and Silverman, "The results of this study show a dramatic decrease in the calcification of the reef, and that it was likely caused by ocean acidification. When the rate of calcification becomes lower than the rate of dissolution and erosion, the entire coral ecosystem could collapse and eventually be reduced to piles of rubble. The collapse of this habitat would ultimately lead to the loss of its magnificent and highly diverse flora and fauna."
This strikes me as a pretty significant study, as I would expect that Lizard Island is a bit less affected by river run off issues than reefs further south. 

More depressing Islam news

Iran executes man for heresy | World news | theguardian.com

Well, in the story itself, it appears that the Iranian judiciary is denying it was because of heresy - instead it was more to do with "illicit sex" with his followers;  although it is also said that there was no evidence of the sexual activities.  What's more, there are several long term prisoners for religious reasons:
Iranian authorities are sensitive towards those practising Islam in
ways not conforming to the official line. In recent years, several
members of Iran’s Gonabadi dervishes religious minority have been
arrested and are currently serving lengthy prison terms.

Amnesty said last week that a group of nine Gonabadi dervishes were
on hunger strike in protest at their treatment in prison. They were
Mostafa Abdi, Reza Entesari, Hamidreza Moradi and Kasra Nouri, as well
as the five lawyers representing them who have also been jailed: Amir
Eslami, Farshid Yadollahi, Mostafa Daneshjoo, Afshin Karampour and Omid

“The men were mostly detained in September 2011, during a wave of
arrests of Gonabadi dervishes. They were all held in prolonged solitary
confinement, without access to their lawyers and families, and were
sentenced, after two years and following grossly unfair trials, to jail
on various trumped-up charges,” Amnesty said. “The men are prisoners of
conscience, imprisoned solely for practising their faith and defending
the human rights of dervishes through their legitimate activities as
journalists and lawyers.”
All of this from a country that could be useful in the fight against IS!

Drink and violence in the NT

Protecting the right to drink trumps the safety of Indigenous women in the NT | Nova Peris | Comment is free | theguardian.com: In Darwin alone domestic violence-related assaults have jumped 35% in the last two years. It is even worse outside the capital city. The rates of domestic violence in Tennant Creek are 12 times higher than in Darwin. In Tennant Creek police statistics show that only 10% of domestic violence assaults don’t involve alcohol.

In the NT, the right to drink trumps the rights of victims, who are continually bashed in alcohol fuelled violence. I am extremely concerned that the Abbott government has decided to sign up to this approach.

A domestic violence strategy that does not even mention alcohol is not worth the paper it is written on. A domestic violence strategy that continues to allow people who commit alcohol related domestic violence to keep drinking as much as they like will not work.
You would have to suspect she's right.   Also, as someone in comments notes, this is a much more important practical issue than Aboriginal recognition in the constitution.

I put it down as yet another case of bad Abbott government priorities.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Did you hear? - the Minerals Council has made a film as part of its PR campaign...

[Apologies to Laika, which seems a very progressive company and probably won't mind righteous ridicule.  I will review their film shortly...]

Don't tell Rupert Sheldrake...

Stone Age groups made similar toolmaking breakthroughs
Different palaeolithic populations around the world might have developed
a crucial toolmaking skill independently. This conclusion, based on the
analysis of hundreds of artefacts from a recently excavated
archaeological site in Armenia, weakens a long-held theory that Stone
Age people in Eurasia learnt sophisticated techniques from migrating
African tribes. The work is published in Science1.

A case of morphic resonance, no doubt.  (Heh).

The intellectual quality of Barnaby on climate change

I enjoyed Jane Cadzow's retrospective on the years she has spent writing profiles of well know personalities for the Fairfax Weekend Magazine.   (Her paragraphs about Warwick Capper are especially amusing.)

But her description of what it was like talking to Barnaby Joyce in 2011 about climate change show the dire lack of intellectual rigour we see in so much of this Abbott government:
Joyce, now the federal agriculture minister, talked non-stop, though not always in complete sentences. As we sped along a south-east Queensland highway one morning, he laid out his case against evidence that global warming was caused by carbon-dioxide emissions from human activity. "I'm going to just pour bullshit on that," he told me, "and just say, well, I just, you know, I, and okay now I'll go beyond that ..."

I waited until he paused for breath, then suggested that even if there weren't conclusive proof of man-made climate change, it might be sensible to reduce our emissions. Why not err on the side of caution?

"Erring on the side of caution means we should drop a bomb on Tehran," he replied.

"Does it?" I asked doubtfully. "Well, you know," he said, "because there's a possibility that they're developing a nuclear weapon."
Now, I think everyone finds Barnaby likeable at a personal level (very down to earth and self deprecating much of the time) and, surprisingly, he has been actively telling some other Right wingers around the place to stop with the "Australia can be the food bowl of Asia" overblown rhetoric.  But seriously, it's clear he takes his climate science from Professor Andrew Bolt, as so many in this government do.

He's getting old...

It's as if The Australian is written by Rupert personally.  Here he is, tweeting like he's Alan Moran (maybe he is):

That first word, being used by him, is causing much hilarity (and wishes for his early earthly departure) in many of the tweets that follow.

Hey, I had that weird thought first

In only the second paragraph of his Guardian column about the (rather unimportant) issue of who pays for the first date, David Mitchell, who is making a welcome appearance back at the paper, wonders whether in the future drones will carry embryos across the sky, such that the stork story will turn out to have been a premonition of the future.

I would like to point out that I had odd thought 9 months ago.

That's OK, maybe someone else had written about it before me.   But if he writes soon about my proposed TV series of time travelling, fecal transplanting doctors who change the course of history, I'll expect an acknowledgement.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

The ever reliable tobacco industry speaks

BBC News - France to introduce plain cigarette packaging

Hey, interesting to note that France is going the "plain packaging" route for cigarettes.  Apparently, youthful smoking has been on the increase, despite the EU already requiring that packets be plastered with health warnings.

Most amusing, though, is a claim from a tobacco aligned company (although the article does not say what it actually does):
Celine Audibert, a spokeswoman for French firm Seita, which is a
subsidiary of Imperial Tobacco, described the move as "completely

"It's based on the Australian experience which, more than a failure, was a complete fiasco," added Ms Audibert.
She should work for the IPA; she makes about as much sense.  

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Well known skeptic has some doubts

Anomalous Events That Can Shake One’s Skepticism to the Core - Scientific American

This is a rare story - a widely known skeptic getting a bit spooked by a remarkably meaningful co-incidence (or more?)

It would be great if this sort of thing happened more often.  Skeptics should doubt their skepticism a bit more often than they do, I think. 

(I also trust that this isn't some sort of playing with his readership on Shermer's part.)

Significant movie news

At last!   Some confirmation that Spielberg is about to start shooting his next movie:
The Steven Spielberg-directed Cold War era movie is currently taking over the DUMBO section of Brooklyn. Signs for the previously untitled project, now going by St. James Place, began popping up around the area surrounding the Manhattan Bridge this week, and this morning about two blocks have been taken over by the production.
The film will star Tom Hanks, Amy Ryan, Eve Hewson, Alan Alda, and others. According to a Variety report from June:
"DreamWorks and Disney have dated the Cold War spy thriller for Oct. 16, 2015. Joel and Ethan Coen came on board last month to write the script, which Marc Platt and Kristie Macosko Krieger will produce with Spielberg. The Coen Brothers, who won screenwriting Oscars for Fargo and No Country for Old Men, are revising Matt Charman’s script."
The movie is based on the true story of attorney James Donovan (Hanks), who was "enlisted by the CIA during the Cold War to surreptitiously negotiate the 1962 release of Francis Gary Powers, the U-2 spy plane pilot who was shot down over Russia two years earlier." During his lifetime, Donovan also negotiated deals with Fidel Castro during the Bay of Pigs invasion,
counseled during the Nuremberg Trials, and in 1962 was backed by Kennedy for as the Democratic candidate for a New York Senate seat (which he lost to Jacob Javits). In the late 1960s, he was the President of Pratt Institute.
 Sounds quite interesting, no?

In non Spielberg related news, I also noticed this week that the new James Bond will be directed again by Sam Mendes, who I thought did a very classy (and distinctive looking) job with Skyfall.  Shooting starts in December, for release in November 2015.  

Then, in December, will be the release of the new Star Wars film.  I don't hold any particularly high hopes for that, as I think JJ Abrams is a poor director.    Possibly better than George Lucas, though.  At least, it would appear, he is limiting the amount of CGI, which is a good thing.

The end of 2015 is going to be pretty full of highly anticipated movies....    

Friday, September 26, 2014

Some awesome photos...

...are to to found in this series of Europe by drone at The Guardian.  (All by one photographer - Amos Chapple.)   Perhaps he won't mind if I paste one of them:

Backyard nature news

The family noticed yesterday some new birds visiting the backyard, and after a perusal of the bird book, it would appear it was a family of apostlebirds.  They look like this:

Not exactly colourful, but their behaviour was interesting:  hoping around the ground in a group of 5 or 6.

And I see from Wikipedia that they indeed seem to be a very co-operative species:
The apostlebird was named after the Biblical apostles, the twelve followers of Jesus Christ.[5][6] In fact, the species travel in family groups of between 6 and 20, which may coalesce with other family groups into large feeding flocks of over 40. ...
Apostlebirds are a socially living, cooperative breeding species with each breeding group generally containing only one breeding pair, the rest being either their helper offspring, kin or unrelated adult birds. Most group members help construct a mud nest, share in incubation of the eggs, and defense of the nest. Once the eggs are hatched, all members of the group help feed the chicks and keep the nest clean.
Positively socialist!

I take it from one other site, where someone posted a photo of them from Brisbane in 2013, that they are not so common here.  (They generally come from a bit further inland, it seems.)

We seem to be privileged to be seeing them.  Hope they hang around.

Physics and life chemistry considered

Force of nature gave life its asymmetry : Nature News & Comment

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Disturbing in its own way

OK, it's not disturbing in a "Nutjob IS followers beheading innocent victims and attempting the local eradication of people of other faiths - including those with the wrong brand of Islam" sort of way, but I still can't watch this without feeling very uneasy about the mix of pretty simplistic religiosity and the US Marines.  (And besides, it looks like worship more suited to a primary school camp than for adult men.)


Interesting details on the potential for cheap, flexible solar cells

Cheap solar cells tempt businesses

I know:  it seems that a flexible and cheap version of solar cells has been just around the corner for a long time now, but this article goes into details that does indeed make them sound likely to be commercially available soon.  (Or soon-ish.)

These perovskite ones sound different to what the CSIRO hopes to commercialise.

Sounds like quite a race may be on to get some form of cheap, flexible cell on the market. 

Needed next:  a breakthrough in cheaper storage batteries.

I take this very seriously...

Is Exercise Bad for Your Teeth? - NYTimes.com

Yay!  An unexpected harm from exercise - maybe.  If you're an athlete who does heavy training.

I don't care - any anti-exercise news is welcome in this neck of the woods.   

Yet another reason not to trust them...

The grim story of the Snowy Mountains' cannibal horses. 

Gee.   Jonathan Green (whose twitter feed indicates when he's not in the studio, he's on a horse*) needs to watch his back...

*  quite possibly, he's tried training his horse to operate the panel

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Spy stuff

A Private Tour of the CIA's Incredible Museum | History | Smithsonian

Quite a lengthy article here showing more than a dozen, rather interesting, items held in the CIA museum.

About Julia

I only saw about the last 15 minutes of the Julia Gillard interview last night with Ray Martin.

A few observations:

* it seemed to be lit in a strange, harsh looking way.  It certainly highlighted a bit of bagginess under the eyes of Gillard, but it did no favours for a well wrinkled Martin as well.  I wonder why it was done that way?

*  Gillard herself remains a cool, calm and very likeable character.  She readily admits to mistakes, but regrets little and (to use that pop psychology term that has fallen out of favour) just seems a very "centred" person.   Despite half of the public's nutty obsession with attacking her for carbon pricing, her general reliability for sound policy approaches runs rings around the ever flaky, unreliable, current PM we have.

*  I was particularly impressed by her encouragement of women to enter into politics despite the troubles she had been through herself.   (And her dismissal of the idea that anyone should get into politics because they like the attention it will bring them.)

*  There is no doubt that Labor made a disastrous decision to go with Rudd - and as I have said before, the only good thing that a Coalition win has achieved so far is ridding the political scene of that menace.

Perhaps they can build a toilet on Mars?

BBC News - Mangalyaan: Will India's Mars mission reach the orbit?

Look, I'm not one who would argue that you never have a space program until you eliminate your own country's (or the world's) poverty.  (I heard a lot of that type of talk at the time of the Apollo program - but I think that virtually all idealists of the 60's have since realised that solving poverty is not simply a matter of the rich West sending its  money overseas.)

However, India, a country where the WHO says  more than 600 million people are without access to adequate sanitation (read - toilets of any variety) perhaps does deserve a bit of a re-organisation of priorities.

Senators having a lend

The fact that there are almost certainly some seriously disturbed nutters in some Australian cities who are thinking that videoing beheadings is a good Islamic State PR move is leading to some very silly claims by the Senators who got into Parliament by accident.

First, Senator Lambie claiming on Insiders on the weekend that she didn't post a photo of a (now deceased, rather heroic) burka clad policewoman with the intention of showing burka clad people as being a danger for carrying concealed weapons.   We can safely assume that there would be no one in this wide brown land, short of a Tasmanian meth head with formication issues, who would believe her.

Secondly, because the United States is so chock full of examples of how gun carrying citizens have thwarted terrorist attacks [/extreme sarc], the gun loving libertarians of both Catallaxy and Senator "I liked to pat my guns" Leyonhjelm are both now talking about how it's such a shame our gun laws have left the good, beheading fearing, citizens of Australia defenceless.*  Here is Senator L in the Daily Tele, making some very odd claims in the process:
Australia’s prohibition on practical self-defence is relatively recent, emanating from the 1996 changes in firearms laws that followed the Port Arthur massacre. Not only were many types of firearm prohibited, but Australia embraced an international push to prohibit civilian ownership of firearms for self-defence.

This was driven by several factors. One was a desire to avoid America’s so-called ‘gun culture’. However, this seems to have broadened to include all means of self-defence. Another was a type of religious pacifism, of ‘turning the other cheek’. There was also a type of precautionary approach — average citizens may one day be struck with murderous tendencies. And then there were the perennial claims that resistance is futile and weapons will inevitably be turned against those using them.
A few points:

a.  there is nothing "so-called" about American gun culture.

b.  who has ever heard of the claim that "religious pacificism" or "turning the other cheek" was even a partial motivation behind the Howard led  revamp of gun laws?   The fact that there had been a series of armed nutters shooting up random strangers for the previous decade did not, from my recollection, lead to anyone, anywhere, suggesting that there was a need for a "turn the other cheek" approach to gun laws.  Let us recall:
In the decade up to and including Port Arthur, Australia experienced 11 mass shootings. In these 11 events alone, 100 people were shot dead and another 52 wounded.
 Leyonhjelm is prone to creative fantasy when it comes to guns** - I can see no other explanation.

c. [Engage /extreme sarc again]:  who has ever heard of "average citizens" one day being "struck with murderous tendancies?"  I mean, a grandfather shooting his daughter and six grandchildren (after apparently accidentally shooting his son a decade ago?)  As if that could happen.  OK, maybe Dads in Australia are different.   Yeah, sure.

*  I certainly hope we don't soon have an example of a random beheading here any time soon, but even if we did, as this post goes on to show, there would have to be about 100 of them to match the danger that nutters with guns on rampages represented to the public before the gun laws here were tightened. 

** and economics, I should add...

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Two bits of writing that cheered me up, a bit

In the New Yorker: 
A climate-change march that organizers claim was the largest on record is nevertheless unlikely to change the minds of idiots, a survey of America’s idiots reveals.
Charlie Brooker in The Guardian, writing about Apple:
As part of the iPhone 6 publicity blitz, Tim Cook also announced every iTunes user in the world would be getting U2’s new album free of charge. It was downloaded automatically on to millions of users’ phones, like a sinister virus. Music is meant to be catchy – but not until you’ve heard it. The album, which I haven’t listened to yet, is terrible: even worse than their last one, which I didn’t listen to either. I don’t want to listen to any U2 albums in case I discover I like them, and have to violently reassess my own self-image. For the past five years, it’s been delightfully easy to ignore U2. Then Apple comes along and slings them under your nose like a bowl of bum soup you didn’t order. What do we have to do? Start lobbying Google for U2’s right to be forgotten?

Disconcerting times

Looking globally, there are such a huge number of things to be intensely irritated about, interspersed with the occasional grounds for optimism on that little thing called the liveability of the planet in 100 years time, that my head is spinning and I don't know where to start.  What's more, I think I have an eyeball that is starting to fall apart, which is a condition I was previously unaware of.   Retina is still attached, though, so that's something.

More posts later...

This is an outrage

A letter from Ms Credlin to Mr Pyne's office approving the trip also notes that the attendance of Mrs Pyne was expected to cost the Commonwealth no more than a business class airfare for the minister. As a minister, Mr Pyne is entitled to fly business class on official overseas travel.

Mr Pyne flew business class from Adelaide to Sydney but switched to economy for the rest of the journey to London.

That's from the Fairfax story this morning, explaining how Pyne, who (by the way) has done the completely un-Catholic thing of using IVF to have kids yet wanted to be at the canonisation of one of the most conservative Popes, managed to take his wife along for the ride.

All good people of Australia, like me, who only ever fly economy, should be outraged that in doing so there is a risk that they may have to sit for 20 hours beside the whiniest voiced, biggest pillock of a lying Minister this country has seen in 50 years just so his wife can hold his hand.

I'm thinking of contacting GetUp about this....

Monday, September 22, 2014

More about the recent optimism on de-carbonising the world

John Quiggin � From derp to denialism

JQ has always been an optimist on this topic, but here he is, looking the recent burst of reports I was noting last week, all suggesting that decarbonising the world is indeed do-able, and won't kill the globe economically in the process.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Douthat sounding surprisingly sensible about the Middle East

Grand Illusion in Syria - NYTimes.com

Sunday drugs education

A few days back, I mentioned the delusion that there are bugs under the skin, which is commonly noted as one of the mental problems ice addicts can develop.

Just thought I would look up more about it, and learned that it has a specific name "formication".  

This article from Psychology Today gives a good summary.   I'm surprised to see that it can occur with drugs with a lot less of an image problem than meth:
Drugs that have been reported to cause formication are Adderall, cocaine, crystal meth, methamphetamine, Ecstacy, MDMA, Keppra, Lunesta, Ritalin, Tridyl, Wellbutrin, and Zyban.
You may now resume your normal Sunday activities.

Friday, September 19, 2014

More reason to be optimistic?

Within 10 years, every SolarCity system will come with batteries from Tesla's Gigafactory : TreeHugger

It would appear that the Musk family is confident that, once they get a mega battery plant going, in 10 years, home solar power systems will come with storage and the electricity will be cheap.

As I wrote earlier in the week, there seems to be a sudden wave of optimism around that the world might be able to move to lower CO2 quicker than previously felt possible.

Squeezy spacesuits still under investigation

Spacesuits of the future may resemble a streamlined second skin

Interesting report here on MIT research still ongoing as to how to make a practical, skin tight spacesuit.  (Jerry Pournelle used to feature these in his science fiction from decades ago, so the idea has been around a long time, but a practical version seems yet to be realised.)

More depressing Islam news

Blasphemy row professor killed in Pakistan | GulfNews.com: Unidentified gunmen on Thursday shot dead a professor of Islamic studies in Pakistan who had faced accusations of blasphemy and threats from colleagues over his moderate views, police said.

Blasphemy is a crime carrying death sentence in the mainly Sunni Muslim nation of 180 million people.

The south Asian country is experiencing a spike in the number of cases of blasphemy, which activists attribute to its growing use as a tactic to settle grudges or extort money.

Dr Mohammad Shakil Auj, the dean of the faculty of Islamic Studies at the university in the southern port city of Karachi, had received threats following complaints that his teaching was too liberal, a colleague said.
How liberal, you might wonder?:
Among the articles the 54-year-old had written was one arguing that Muslim women should be allowed to marry non-Muslim men, the colleague said.
Even worse is this description of how blasphemy works there:
The crime is not defined by law, so anyone can file a case saying their religious feelings have been hurt. Frequently, those accused of the crime who are not lynched on the spot can find themselves jailed indefinitely.
Judges and lawyers are often too afraid to show up in court to try the cases, as mere description of the offense can itself often be viewed as a fresh offence.

Where we're heading?

World population unlikely to stop growing this century : Nature News & Comment: The authors calculate an 80% probability that the world population in 2100 will be between 9.6 billion and 12.3 billion, and a 95% probability that it will be between 9 billion and 13.2 billion (see chart above). They also predict that the odds are 70% that the population will keep growing throughout the century.
I wonder if climate change will be having an effect on African fertility (which is where the study says growth will be coming) by the second half of the century?  I mean, this sounds incredible:

Raftery and his colleagues project that Africa’s population will at
least triple by 2100, reaching 3.1 billion and possibly as high as 5.7
billion (see chart below). The population of Nigeria, currently 160
million people, could rise to 1.5 billion and overtake China as the
world’s most populous nation, says Raftery.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Those gut bugs messing with our plans, again

Sugar substitutes linked to obesity
A team led by Eran Elinav of the Weizmann Institute of Science in
Rehovot, Israel, fed mice various sweeteners — saccharin, sucralose and
aspartame — and found that after 11 weeks, the animals displayed glucose
intolerance, a marker of propensity for metabolic disorders.

To simulate the real-world situation of people with varying risks of these
diseases, the team fed some mice a normal diet, and some a high-fat
diet, and spiked their water either with glucose alone, or with glucose
and one of the sweeteners, saccharin. The mice fed saccharin developed a
marked glucose intolerance compared to those fed only glucose. But when
the animals were given antibiotics to kill their gut bacteria, glucose
intolerance was prevented. And when the researchers transplanted faeces
from the glucose-intolerant saccharin-fed mice into the guts of mice
bred to have sterile intestines, those mice also became glucose
intolerant, indicating that saccharin was causing the microbiome to
become unhealthy.

Wages of sin, continued

Yet more talk about the increasing rate of STD's in Australia, with syphilis in particular increasing, apparently largely in gay men.  The SMH even has an interactive map for looking at each State's rate over the last decade or so.  (One of more unusual uses of an interactive map you're likely to see.)

I am also surprised at the apparent popularity of ice amongst the gay community.   The Age had an article the other day:
Gay men are openly trading ice on dating apps such as Grindr as soaring use of the drug raises fears it is fuelling a 20-year high in Australia's HIV diagnoses.

Grindr, which has more than 63,000 active monthly users in Melbourne, connects men for casual  sex but is increasingly becoming an online playground for ice dealers.

The drug is popular with some gay men during sex as it causes a surge of the "happy" chemical dopamine, boosts libido and strips  away inhibitions.
Another article I linked to before said that ice was, in England, seen as only a rich, urban gay drug.

Like I say, I find it rather hard to credit that any people use the drug at all, when there is a very real risk of addiction and long lasting psychosis.  I also find it a little hard to credit that some gay men, living in an environment where free casual sex has become easier than ever to arrange, don't remain satisfied with the mere availability of sex, but want to actually artificially enhance the feeling of orgasm more and more.  (I suppose you could say that is part of what is behind ecstasy and cocaine use for straight rich people - although I see from some sites the latter can impair orgasm.  It at least won't end with making you feel you've got bugs permanently under your skin.  Bizarrely, I also see at a Reddit site that someone claims LSD can be great for sex.   I would be very surprised if that were consistently the case; I would have thought there is a fair chance it could involve your partner turning into a giant spider at an inconvenient time.)

I don't know - I just keep getting the feeling that being non judgemental about these things isn't working out great.   Isn't it time some people in drug and STD education started saying something obvious like:  "look guys, sex and orgasms are fantastic, but if you're doing it right, you don't need drugs to make it feel better.  Seriously.   We've got thousands of years of collective human experience to back that up.   Oh, and a chancre sore on your penis or mouth is a really bad look, and you kinda deserve to feel bad if you've spread it around to some stranger you met on Grindr."

Modern university

Harry Clarke's post on what it's like at a modern university teaching economics is pretty interesting.  I am a bit puzzled about the ability to skip tutorials, though.  Can't attendance at them at least be made more compulsory?  (Not that I recall them being particularly useful, though, to be honest.  I just don't like the idea of attendance at the university being more or less optional unless you actually are doing an on line course.)

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Audience shrugged

In news to quicken the heart of, oh, about 6 Australians who post or comment at Catallaxy, I see that the third instalment of Atlas Shrugged has opened in America.  The reviews are not positive. Here's Variety:
That must be the fault of those damn freedom-hating socialists, or perhaps it’s due to the fact that so few of the Tea Party types the series’ producers once hoped would queue up are, er, the literate sort. Or maybe it’s just that the prior installments weren’t very good movies, and it should surprise few that this last one is the worst of the lot.
Amusingly, I see it features a couple of cameos:
(Prominent conservative pundit types including Grover Norquist and Sean Hannity duly make cameo appearances as themselves here to further the cause.)
 And someone gives us a synopsis of the story:
For the blessedly uninitiated, Rand’s 1,168-page novel is the favorite book of many young sociopaths you meet in business schools. Published in 1957, Atlas Shrugged posits a hysterically overwrought nightmare dystopia in which government regulation has crippled the economy. Shadowy politicians conspire with corrupt union leaders to bleed corporations of their precious profits, with “parasites,” “looters,” and “moochers” living off the hard-earned wealth of the noble 1%. In this time of crisis, America’s captains of industry have had it up to here with poisonous concepts like “charity” and “altruism.” Inspired by a mysterious figure named John Galt, they sabotage their companies, trashing the country’s infrastructure before disappearing altogether. Basically, it’s all about a bunch of rich crybabies who don’t want to share their toys so they break them and go home.

Rugby mates a bit too matey

Rugby players risk infectious skin condition by swapping bacteria on shared razors and towels 

In England, an investigation into how 4 men at a rugby club got a serious skin infection resulted in this:
 Almost 20 per cent of players said that they regularly share towels,
while 10 per cent said they share razors and five per cent swap clothes.
Really?  Razor and smelly towel sharing?  Sport needs to be banned, I say, as a public health measure. 

GM not so great in one respect, at least

Cross-bred crops get fit faster 

As reported in Nature:
Old-fashioned breeding techniques seem to be leading genetic modification in a race to develop crops that can withstand drought and poor soils.

As the climate warms and rainfall becomes more erratic, farmers worldwide will increasingly need crops that can thrive in drought conditions. And the high costs of fertilizers — along with the environmental damage they can cause — are also pushing farmers to look for crop varieties that can do more with less.

The need for tougher crops is especially acute in Africa, where drought can reduce maize (corn) yields by up to 25%. The Drought Tolerant Maize for Africa project, which launched in 2006 with US$33 million, has developed 153 new varieties to improve yields in 13 countries. In field trials, these varieties match or exceed the yields from commercial seeds under good rainfall conditions, and yield up to 30% more under drought conditions.

An analysis published earlier this year reported that by the project’s end in 2016, the extra yields fromdrought-tolerant maize could help to reduce the number of people living
in poverty in the 13 countries by up to 9% (R. La Rovere et al. J. Dev. Areas 48(1), 199–225; 2014). In Zimbabwe alone, that effect would reach more than half a million people.

And here's the bit about GM:

Drought tolerance is a complex trait that involves multiple genes.Transgenic techniques, which target one gene at a time, have not been as quick to manipulate it. But CIMMYT and six other research organizations are also developing genetically modified (GM) varieties of
drought-resistant maize, in collaboration with agricultural biotechnology giant Monsanto in St Louis, Missouri. Coordinated by the African Agricultural Technology Foundation in Nairobi, the Water Efficient Maize for Africa project aims to have a transgenic variety ready for African farmers by 2016 at the earliest.

A look at economic optimism

New Scientist reports this:
Is it too good to be true? Top economists this week lay out an audacious argument for transforming the world's economy into a low-carbon one. Even if you forget climate change, they say, it is worth doing on its own. That's because a low-carbon economy is an efficient economy that will deliver faster economic growth, better lives and a greener environment. Forget the costs, feel the benefits.

The report is published today, a week before world leaders gather at the United Nations in New York City for the UN Climate Summit 2014, which will discuss how to share out the cost of fighting climate change. But its optimistic message is that there is no cost to share. Nations should be cutting their carbon emissions out of self-interest.

The study – authored by the World Resources Institute, a think tank in Washington DC, the Stockholm Environment Institute and others – is published by the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, an independent body chaired by Felipe Calderón, former president of Mexico, and Nicholas Stern of the London School of Economics. (The Stern Report in 2006 first opened up a global debate about the economics of tackling climate change). A copy of the latest report, Better Growth, Better Climate: The New Climate Economy Report, is available here.

"We can combine economic growth and climate responsibility," Stern said at a pre-publication press briefing. "The key is fostering the right investment, making it profitable to the private sector."
 They also link to another (pretty wildly) optimistic sounding report:
"You can go green and continue to prosper and develop," said Ed Davey, the UK secretary for energy and climate, yesterday. And the evidence is on his side. Economists say that, despite the expense, drastic cuts in the UK's carbon dioxide emissions will boost the country's economy.

The finding should encourage action to reduce CO2 levels, which reached a new high in 2013, according to a report by the World Meteorological Organization. The growth from 2012 was the biggest jump since 1984, and may be partly down to plants and other organisms taking in less CO2.

If climate change isn't incentive enough to cut emissions, try this: if the UK cut its carbon emissions by 60 per cent from 1990 levels by 2030, as it has promised, its GDP would be 1.1 per cent bigger than if it stuck with fossil fuels, says a study by consultants at Cambridge Econometrics.

About half the gain would come from cheap running costs for fuel-efficient cars, with 190,000 new green jobs and higher wages also helping. The average household would be £565 a year better off.
Maybe it's just me, but I do feel that even things like China deciding to be pickier about what coal it burns, and the Abbott government discovering that the Australian public actually loves renewable energy does make it seem that what Greenies have been saying for a long time may turn out right - the world is going to go cleaner and it's stupid to not take steps to encourage that in Australia too.

A look back at economic pessimism

In comments in a post here yesterday, I was arguing that those economists who are optimistic on the cost of taking serious action on CO2 emissions probably have history on their side, in that there are clear examples of where government mandated changes for environmental reasons did not have the terrible economic costs that the industry initially claimed.   The examples I gave were the introduction of unleaded petrol, removing CFCs, and catalytic converters in cars.

Now, I was  really just going by memory on these, but I've looked up what was said about catalytic converters in the 1970's, and it's very interesting to read in retrospect.  These extracts are from a Thomas Friedman book:

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

From one extreme to another

Hello, Kurdistan :: Daniel Pipes

Gawd.  Daniel Pipes in this column notes that he used to oppose an independent Kurdistan in Iraq; now he thinks it would be a good idea for a transnational independent Kurdistan to be created in the region, looking something like this:

That'll go over well with Turkey and Iran.   Talk about your one extreme to another.

So which Australian politician is quoting this column with implicit approval?   Senator Blofeld Leyonhjelm.  (See his twitter feed.)   Along with his (apparent) view that cannabis should be sold from the supermarket, the government take over supply of ecstasy, gun laws be relaxed, and fixing the budget by a slash in both welfare and the top tax rate, he's a "big ideas" man with the luxury of not having to deal with the practicalities of ever putting them into effect.

An optimistic take on China and renewable energy

Economics: Manufacture renewables to build energy security

Quite a lot of surprisingly optimistic news on China and its rapid growth in renewable energy to be found in this article.  For example:
China generates more than 5 trillion kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity, about 1 trillion kWh more than the United States. China's rapid economic expansion since it joined the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2001 has been based on fossil fuels: it consumes around 23% of the world's coal production for electricity. But fossil fuels alone cannot power the industrial growth the country needs to keep up with the West.

Since the mid-2000s, China has also pursued a low-carbon energy strategy. Investment in hydroelectric, wind, solar and nuclear-power generating facilities increased by 40% between 2008 and 2012 — from 138 billion renminbi (US$22 billion) to about 200 billion renminbi. The share of investment in fossil-fuel power facilities in China, meanwhile, fell from around 50% to 25% over the same period.
And for the big, big picture:
Our critics will counter that technology-based solutions raise concerns over the availability of industrial materials and land for building solar and wind devices and farms. But our calculations suggest6 that a global renewables push for an extra 10 terawatts of power-generation capacity could be achieved on current industrial scales over the next 20 years, by which time the world energy system would be well on the way to total conversion. Producing the extra 10 terawatts from renewables needed to transform global electric power would require more than 5 million square kilometres (about twice the size of Kazakhstan) filled with around 3 million wind turbines, 14,000 concentrated solar-power installations and 12,500 solar-photovoltaic farms. These technologies could perhaps be accommodated in the world's desert and semi-desert regions. The targets are large — but they are manageable compared with current world production levels of 1.75 billion mobile phones per year or 84 million vehicles per year6.

Yet more illustrations for the Right

Boy, isn't the increase in Antarctic sea ice getting a run for the money from the Right wing ignorance machine?

Looking around the web, here's a couple of comparisons for illustration:

The Arctic, today, at the end of summer, showing the extent of ice compared to a longer term average, compared to Antarctica with a similar comparison.

I'm not sure why even the likes of Andrew Bolt can't understand the point that loss of sea ice in summer in the Arctic is a much more significant issue for warming compared to an increase in sea ice in Antarctica in winter (because there is little sun in winter to have any effect anyway), but insist on adding up total sea ice and saying "Ha!" is what they do.

This recent paper also illustrates the complexity of the Antarctic situation, where there is the issue of the ozone hole and its contribution to circulating winds.   It appears that increasing winds have led to a decreasing or flat lining of sea surface temperatures much around the continent; and interestingly, a significant change in trend happened around 1980.

Climate change isn't simple, and not every effect at every part of the globe has been perfectly foreseen.

But it is clear to anyone who reads on the topic that the current Antarctic sea ice situation does not mean that global warming is not happening.

Even shorter version: they all hate each other?

The Christian Science Monitor has a short-ish guide to why the Islamic nations around Iraq and Syria are reluctant to be seen to be too involved in attacking ISIL, or whatever we're supposed to call it today.

Actually, I'm a bit worried that I found myself nearly agreeing with Rand Paul on something this morning, when I heard him on the radio saying this:
“I think the first 10,000 soldiers marching into battle need to be from Iraq, live in Iraq and need to be fighting for their homeland. The second 10,000 need to be from Saudi Arabia,” Paul said on Monday in explaining his support for the president’s plan. 
I feel rather ambivalent about  Australia's involvement.  Certainly, Abbott has had a "pick me! pick me!" enthusiasm about it that smells of seeking political advantage here.   On the other hand, actually using our Hornets for something useful is something that we probably should do every 15 years or so.  But overall, it still has an unpleasant feeling of an attempt to fix up what is essentially someone else's mess because we accidentally made it worse.

The big picture missing from The Australian

Doesn't the Australian today have yet another article promoting the Jennifer Marohasy screams of "Fraud!" against the entire Bureau of Meteorology?  Oh yes, it does, again smearing the Bureau on the basis of the claims of a biologist funded by a climate change denying fund.

I'm a little puzzled why the BOM doesn't come out and simply put these graphs more prominently on its website:

Here's the Bureau's explanation of the above graph:
Both adjusted and unadjusted temperatures show that Australia's climate has warmed. Since 1955 adjusted and unadjusted data are virtually identical. It is during this time that most of the warming has occurred in Australia.
The graph below shows temperature trends since 1910 from the unadjusted temperatures (AWAP), together with those that have been carefully curated, quality controlled and corrected for artificially induced biases (ACORN-SAT). Carefully curating and correcting records is global best practice for analysing temperature data.
 And the ocean temperature record around Australia follows a similar pattern:

 Again, why has the Right become so insistently dumb and gullible on matters of science?

Andrew Bolt, nuclear expert

Interesting to note that in Japan, some investigation statements relating to the Fukushima nuclear disaster have been released by the government, from which we learn this:
Plant manager Masao Yoshida envisioned catastrophe for eastern Japan in the days following the outbreak of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, according to his testimony, one of 19 released by the government on Sept. 11....

In his testimony, Yoshida described the condition of the No. 2 reactor at the Fukushima plant between the evening of March 14, 2011, and the next morning: “Despite the nuclear fuel being completely exposed, we’re unable to reduce pressure. Water can’t get in either.”

Yoshida recalled the severity of the situation. “If we continue to be unable to get water in, all of the nuclear fuel will melt and escape from the containment vessel, and radioactive substances from the fuel will spread to the outside,” he said.

Fearing a worst-case scenario at the time, Yoshida said, “What we envisioned was that the entire eastern part of Japan would be annihilated.”
In Australia, local nuclear expert Andrew Bolt was writing this:
No, there won’t be a nuclear explosion, “China syndrome” or “another Chernobyl”. The situation today is better than yesterday, and as each day goes by the chances of a big accident lesson. The nuclear fuel remains contained.

This scaremongering over the crippled Fukushima nuclear complex is extraordinary. 
So while the actual plant manager was freaking out about rendering a huge slab of his country uninhabitable, Andrew Bolt was writing "stop your stupid panicking, environmentalists." I think I know which person to trust more in terms of the seriousness of what was going on.

Why has the Right become so insistently dumb on matters relating to science, technology and risk?

Monday, September 15, 2014

Garden fly

Drink your lithium and be happy

Should We All Take a Bit of Lithium? - NYTimes.com

Here's a fascinating article about whether or not lithium in "natural" quantities in drinking water has a significant health benefit.
The scientific story of lithium’s role in normal development and health began unfolding in the 1970s. Studies at that time foundthat animals that consumed diets with minimal lithium had highermortality rates, as well as abnormalities of reproduction and behavior.
Researchers began to ask whether low levels of lithium might correlate with poor behavioral outcomes in humans. In 1990, a study was published looking at 27 Texas counties with a variety of lithium levels in their water. The authors discovered that people whose water had the least amount of lithium had significantly greater levels of suicide, homicide and rape than the people whose water had the higher levels of lithium. The group whose water had the highest lithium level had nearly 40 percent fewer suicides than that with the lowest lithium level.
Almost 20 years later, a Japanese study that looked at 18 municipalities with more than a million inhabitants over a five-year period confirmed the earlier study’s finding: Suicide rates were inversely correlated with the lithium content in the local water supply.
More recently, there have been corroborating studies in Greece and Austria.
Not all the research has come to the same conclusion.
Even allowing for that last sentence, why haven't I heard about this before?

Or maybe I have, but just don't have enough lithium in my diet.  (The article suggests it may help prevent dementia.) 

An innovative place to go looking for a new antibiotic...

Vaginal microbe yields novel antibiotic

Late movie review

I never got around to seeing Prometheus when it was at the cinema, and wasn't especially concerned because of the so-so reviews, but it turned up on commercial television last night and I did that rare thing that used to be common place - watch a Sunday night first release to free TV (I think) movie.

Well, what a complete and utter mess of a film.

It looks impressive for about the first 15 to 20 minutes or so, but my God does it go rapidly downhill in all respects after that.   As with Sunshine, this is a science fiction film in which it seems very big space ships are crewed by people who appear to be picked out of a hat, such that no one seems to know anyone else, everyone starts making stupid decisions and ignores anyone who says it's not a good idea, and the science of just about everything is dubious if not silly.  

It's a really awful script full of improbabilities, and the "big picture" of what's going on remains rather opaque all the way through.  Yet there is a sequel being made!   Why?

The only positive thing I can say is that it seemed surprisingly low on swearing.  But apart from that....

Update:   Unbelievably, I see from checking on Rottentomatoes that Prometheus got 73% approval rating; Sunshine, which I also disliked, got 75%.   But Oblivion, which I watched at home this last weekend on DVD (after seeing it at the cinema last year) got only 54%.    What gives?   Oblivion was about twice as enjoyable as those awful films. 

Technology news

Yessss!  Two months of insisting on staring at the glowing screens of the new Samsung Tab S every time I've been with anyone from my family anywhere near a shop that stocks them paid off!

I was given one (the smaller version) for my birthday last week, and it is awesome, especially if you're upgrading from one of the early Samsung Tab models, which now appears extremely underpowered as well as having a screen that looks like sandpaper.   (It never used to be a noticeably poor screen, but after looking at the ultrafine, colourful, better-than-real-life, screen that I've been using for a few days, I laugh at its primitive resolution.  [Insert mocking laugh.])

But apart from the screen, which I'll try to not mention another 5 times, what I thought on the old tablet was a slow wi-fi connection at the far end of the house turned out to just be slow processing speed.   The Tab S works likes lightning in comparison.

So, I'm very happy, and am currently on a new Tablet honeymoon that may see me posting less frequently.  The screen, the screen, the screen....I must look at it again...

Sunday, September 14, 2014

In the garden

Photos taken with the camera in the new device, more about which later....

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Priorities of a pathetic government

May this year:
...this government has slashed more than $450 million from key science agencies that have all suffered substantial losses, including:
A controversial tourism facility at a Cadbury factory partly funded by taxpayer dollars looks set to go ahead, with the chocolate maker announcing the "globally relevant chocolate experience" should be signed off within weeks.
Tony Abbott promised a $16 million grant to the Hobart project during last year's federal election, however questions have since been raised about the generous pledge given the Coalition government's refusal to provide taxpayer assistance to fruit cannery SPC Ardmona.

No reason

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Julia show

There are quite a few humorous tweets going down about the Gillard appearance at the Union corruption royal commission, but this one is perhaps my favourite:

Senator Blofeld is a bit of a nut...

Libertarian Senator David Leyonhjelm, pictured here:

sorry, I meant here:

is in the news today for having appointed Helen Dale, famous for getting into heaps of trouble for pretending to have a family background that was useful for promoting her novel. Well, she does have umpteen law degrees, seems to do nothing useful with them, and her blog is a bore, so she's qualified, but listen to what Leyonhjelm says about the fraudulent episode in Dale's past:
“I was impressed that she extended a work of fiction into the authorship, which I thought was entirely appropriate,” Senator Leyonhjelm told The Australian. “I regarded the controversy at the time as both absurd and amusing.”
 He's a nut.

Update:  more "fraudulently passing yourself off as someone you're not for notoriety and financial gain is hilarious"  analysis from Senator L:
"I recall at the time thinking it was hilarious, it was a big joke and she kept up the fiction for quite a while. Then, when they realised she was pulling their leg they turned on her, which I thought was very unkind."
 Update 2:   I'll make a prediction:  she will not be in the job for more than a year or two.

Update 3:  David Crowe does some sort of sucking up today for having released the story early, or something like that?  

Yesterday we learned that Paul "magic water" Sheehan has been to a libertarian conference, and also seems to think Ms Dale is the bees knees?    He notes this about a paper she gave:
Dale's presentation focused on social changes caused by technology, not expensive social engineering. Among many examples was a correlation between the removal of lead from petrol, paint and cosmetics and a decline in crime.        Practising law, she saw government regulation and compulsion as frequently having both adverse and unintended consequences.
Well, I hope her paper then went on to note that it was government regulation that forced the move to unleaded petrol, as I have the distinct recollection that there was resistance to the policy from motoring associations and oil companies.   I would like to see what the IPA was saying about it at the time, although, to be honest, I don't know that was as intensely ideological then as it is now.

Update 4:   Hey, I find something good to say - sort of - about Helen Dale's views as a libertarian.   She wrote only late last year:
5. Libertarians in particular need to drop their widespread refusal to accept the reality of climate change. It makes us look like wingnuts and diverts attention from the larger number of greenies who spew pseudoscience on a daily basis. That said, don’t confuse real science with greenie catastrophizing. When Matt Ridley pointed out (a) that climate change is real, (b) it is currently having beneficial effects, and (c) is likely to continue to do so for some time, he got a bucket of turds dumped on his head by both sides. Don’t do that. 
So, on the "up" side she should be off side with everyone who posts at Catallaxy then, her very very very good friend (he keeps telling us) Sinclair Davidson, Judith Sloan (who takes every opportunity to ridicule scientists and bodies pushing for a serious response to climate change), Kates, Moran, etc etc.

On the downside - one of the main figures she should be skeptical of is Matt Ridley, but she appears not to be.

And more downside - she's still happy to take a job with a Senator for a party whose official policy is to sit on the fence and do nothing because, you know, it kinda hates government doing things anyway...

I've read Andrew Bolt's blog today so that you don't have to.....

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Tony's persistent woman problem

Tony Abbott was long said to have a "woman problem", which I am sure Andrew Bolt and his  acolytes who have migrated to Catallaxy have ridiculed as a bit of Leftist smear and imaginings.   (Obviously, though, Abbott or his minders knew it was true, given the way they made his daughters stick by his side every single minute of the election campaign.)

Today's Essential poll (indicating a government pretty firmly stuck at 48/52 TPP with Labor in the lead) also notes about Abbott's approval:
52% of respondents disapprove of the job Tony Abbott is doing as Prime Minister – down 2% since the last time this question was asked in August – and 35% approve of the job Tony Abbott is doing (down 2%). This represents no change in net rating  at -17.

84% (up 4%) of Liberal/National voters approve of Tony Abbott’s performance, with 9% (down 3%)
disapproving. 87% of Labor voters and 79% of Greens voters disapprove of Tony Abbott’s performance.

By gender men were 42% approve/48% disapprove and women 29% approve/56% disapprove.
Well, I'm gobsmacked that 84% of LNP voters approve of him; but still, the main point is that Tony has a persistent woman problem.

Hydrogen power cycle into the future

Australia's first fuel cell bicycle

This sounds like really clever technology:

UNSW researchers have built an Australian-first bicycle that can take riders up to 125 kilometres on a single battery charge and $2 of hydrogen.

One kilogram of the standard metal hybride is capable of storing 100 litres of hydrogen, but Aguey-Zinsou and colleagues at the Material Energy Research Laboratory in nanoscale (MERLin) at UNSW are now developing borohydrides that could
store the same amount of hydrogen using just 50 grams of storage material.

Hydrogen for the Hy-Cycle can be produced with as little as 100 millilitres of water. The water is split into its elements – oxygen and hydrogen – and the fuel cell recombines the hydrogen with oxygen to produce electricity.

However, Aguey-Zinsou envisions a future where riders could purchase
replacement canisters from a network of distribution points, rather than
needing to produce hydrogen.
But does it come in different colours*, and what will it cost?

*  Allusion to old what's her name**, on The Inventors

** Diana Fisher - it just came to me.

Pining for the 50's

Dear old Philippa Martyr, who I find quite an interesting character, busy pining for the 50's at Catallaxy in sympathy with the only 40-something year old man alive today who was actually born in 1910 (Currency Lad):
There may be Liberal Party branches somewhere in Australia that still believe in scones, the flag, children being seen and not heard, the Golden Rule, live and let live, the value of honest work, the economic power of lower taxes, and the therapeutic power of a nice cup of tea.

I just can’t think of any.
Of course, the scones and tea would be made by the stay at home housewives while their husbands are out building houses by sawing up asbestos laden sheets in their Jackie Howe singlets. 

How dare Parkinson defend himself!

The print version of Catallaxy (The Australian) is full of indignation that Martin Parkinson has defended the response of the Rudd/Swan government to the GFC (they, after all, were following his Department's advice which he has fully endorsed), after current cigar smoking Finance Minister Cormann was out launching some attack on Parkinson's policy from a little known, IPA aligned, economist from that power house of economics, Griffith University.

Did you see how much Groucho Ergas went on about this yesterday?  Is he paid by the word?  Today it's the turn of the least favourite economist in the land for giving key note addresses at what is meant to be a celebratory dinner, Judith "You're all Lazy Idiots!" Sloan.

I thought these economists who are outraged at Parkinson being so "political" might have asked themselves the question - who started this in the first place?   Parkinson is leaving his job early because of the sway of the cranky and deluded IPA/Boltardian Right - of which Sloan, Ergas and Davdison are the leading lights (lights with about the same utility as glow in the dark dinosaurs) - because he believes in climate change and has the belief shared by nearly every other economist not of the Catallaxy brand that Australia's successful passage through the GFC probably was in some significant part due to the stimulus policy.

Furthermore, Cormann is not content to wait til Parkinson leaves to be seen endorsing Makin's attack on his views, he's doing it now.

The politicisation of the matter is all of the Right's doing.

Update:  by the way, the IPA's Chris Berg is widely regarded as the most affable of the Institute's talking heads that still get given a ridiculous amount of time on the ABC to sprout their one eyed views.   But his entry into the commentary on the politics and economics of the GFC stimulus last week I think shows him up as just another Right wing economic lightweight who has drunk the IPA kool aid.  [Update:  see how he wasn't taking any strong position on this only 12 months ago?]

It also seems to me that he never talks about climate change.  The most he has said (that I recall) is (my paraphrase) that if you have to have a policy to tackle it, a carbon tax is the way to do it.   (Even Sinclair Davidson has said that in the past I think.)

But anyone who works for the IPA is forever tainted by the fact they make their money from an institute supported by at least one prominent billionaire miner which pays people to ridicule climate science and all policy directed towards reducing CO2.   Berg gets too easy a ride for appearing nice (certainly, he doesn't come across as an aggressive and unpleasant fellow like Roskam)  but he should be shamed for working for the IPA at all.   

Update 2:   the blogging head of the Insane Clown Posse that is Catallaxy (I'm trying out for a sort of Bernard Keane degree of sarcasm today)   Sinclair Davidson joins in the criticism of Parkinson, claiming that Makin's critique is obviously right, and again confirming that the government should be completely political in immediate sackings of public servant heads.

Is all of this angst because Judith isn't getting Parkinson's job?  (Reference to likely joke rumour that I don't believe.)

A warning from an unusual source

Scots, What the Heck? - NYTimes.com

Here's Paul Krugman warning the Scots about having its own government but not its own currency.

An unusual WWI story

World War I: Teenage girl Maud Butler cut hair, dressed as soldier and stowed away on troopship 
If I had read a novel in which this had happened, I would have thought it quite unrealistic...

Monday, September 08, 2014

What is going on at The Economist?

I was going to comment on The Economist's strangely enthusiastic investigation into prostitution, and endorsement of it as a career for those who chose it (not to mention complaining about it being "illiberal" to make it illegal) which appeared about a month ago, but I never got around to it.

Frankly, when economists start talking about things like the sale of bodies and sex, or illicit drugs, they can  work themselves up into enthusiasm for legalisation simply because of the money involved; but their discussions easily become an embarrassingly moral free zone.  Not that I am one to take a hard line stance on the question of legality for prostitution;  as with so many things, I tend to think that Australia gets the balance more right than many of the American States and without the sleaziness of some other countries, too.  But it's embarrassing to see an economics magazine downplay the exploitation inherent in such a large proportion of an "industry".   You certainly get the feeling that the number of women who were involved in compiling the story was nil.

And now we have even more cringeworthy  material appearing in the magazine:  a review of a book on slavery that sought to paint that enterprise as "not all bad".   This post at Boing Boing summarises the matter, and the Economist did withdraw the (anonymous) review and apologise.

Both of these stories indicate to me that something is amiss in the magazine's editorial decisions at the moment.

Update:  on the matter of the status of economics more generally, I thought that Harry Clarke's complaint about how the enthusiasm is now all for econometrics without tying it to theory was interesting.

It perhaps also explains why Piketty's work has been received with such enthusiasm - from what I can gather, it combined the novel compilation of figures with their analysis in terms of theory in a way not seen for some time.

Is it still under warranty?

And one other thing: quite a few people seem to have noticed on the web that Abbott seems to have had a cough or cold in interviews for months and months now. The opinion columnist with the biggest man-crush on Abbott in the world, Greg Sheridan, even questioned today whether Abbott is working himself too hard. Is his cough always a nerves thing? Or does he have some long lingering respiratory ailment? I don't think Mr Superfit is as fit as he used to be...