Friday, February 28, 2014

But I'd like my own planet....

Mormons clarify talk of personal planets | The Japan Times

Ridiculously unnecessary

BBC News - Three-person baby details announced

So some medical researchers with nothing better to do other than to try to find a find a way a whole 10 or so women a year in England can have a baby without mitochondrial disease have got some "draft regulations" which might allow them to do it.

I like this quote [/sarc]
Prof Doug Turnbull, who has pioneered research in mitochondrial
donation at Newcastle University, said: "I am delighted that the
government has published the draft regulations.

"This is very good news for patients with mitochondrial DNA
disease and an important step in the prevention of transmission of
serious mitochondrial disease."
Hey, Prof Doug:  here's an even easier step that we already know is guaranteed not to transmit the disease - don't have children.  Adopt one instead.

It's a ridiculously complicated bit of fiddling, with completely unforeseeable consequences for the health of children, that is only needed for a tiny number of couples.

These researchers need to be forced into something more useful.

A strange story of crank science from Eygpt

Egypt army 'AIDS detector' instead finds ridicule

As noted elsewhere, the "detector" looks an awful lot like the fake bomb detectors sold by a fraudster in England (now in jail) to Iraq.

I don't mean to sound rude, but is there something about desert nations and the heat that makes them particularly gullible?

So, someone else has noticed

Manly men v wimps: what's behind the macho language in Australian politics? | Ed Butler | Comment is free | 

So, someone else has noticed the nauseating way that right wing politics (including in News Ltd) has latched onto macho language to sell itself.  It's ridiculous.

Hawking considered

Hawking: Is He Really That Great? | TIME.com

A realistic, but sympathetic, look at the question of how significant a physicist Stephen Hawking really is.

Gosh, who do I believe?

Who do I believe:

a.  the 2011 "stagflation" flag waving economist who regularly shills for donations to his* prominent anti climate science "think tank" (even though its financials indicate it has a retained surplus of $1.5 million) who rubbishes climate scientists and gets a thrill every time he reads something about the "pause" in global average temperatures.  (The IPA's latest brilliant idea is for numbskulls to donate $400 to get their name on the back of a book about climate change with contributions by the sharpest scientific minds in the world:  Andrew Bolt, Delingpole, Monckton, Roskam, Watts, etc.   As someone says in comments "Can’t see much point in this. Looks too much like preaching to the choir."   Is the IPA finally reaching the limits of separating fools from their money?  The true scandal about this is that donations are tax deductible.)

You see, what really annoys me about Davidson is his disingenuousness - he is running the line now that people are only being reasonable in being reluctant to take economic action like carbons taxes or ETS's when they see that scientists are saying that there is a "pause" the causes of which are still being investigated.

He completely fails to mention in posts like that that he personally is actively involved in promoting in the public the complete disbelief  that climate change is a real and serious problem that deserves a politic response now.    And the people he helps promotes to the public (see his shilling of the IPA book) are not scientifically credible at all.  They aren't even scientists in most cases.

He is essentially, involved a vain project of arguing that because he thinks he's being reasonable, despite not believing a clear scientific consensus, everyone else who agrees with him is also being reasonable.

He claims "success" because he (and his buddies) manage to convince some fools to join him in his ideologically motivated foolishness.   That just intensifies the degree of foolishness on display.

or:

b.       Actual scientists:
US and British scientific academies said Wednesday there was a clear consensus that climate change is real and will have serious disruptive effects on the planet.
The US National Academy of Sciences and Britain's Royal Society said they were making the joint declaration in hopes of moving the public debate forward—to the question of how the world responds, instead of whether climate change is happening.
"It is now more certain than ever, based on many lines of evidence, that humans are changing the Earth's climate," the joint publication said.
"The atmosphere and oceans have warmed, accompanied by sea-level rise, a strong decline in Arctic sea ice, and other climate-related changes."
The academies cautioned that science inherently cannot settle every detail and that debate remained on some specifics, including how much climate change is linked to extreme weather events.
But it said scientists were "very confident" that the world will warm further in the next century and that a rise by just a few degrees Celsius would have "serious impacts" that are expected to include threats to coasts and food production.
I also note that scientists and others are making an increasingly clear case that "the pause" is in fact rather illusory.

Have a look at David Appell's post in which he takes all the graphs from Tamino's recent post looking at how you can graph the recent temperature record.

Then note that the number of extremely hot days over land is still on the way up, regardless of what the global average has been doing for the last 10 to 20 years:
Extremely hot temperatures over land have dramatically and unequivocally increased in number and area despite claims that the rise in global average temperatures has slowed over the past 10 to 20 years.
Scientists from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science and international colleagues made the finding when they focused their research on the rise of temperatures at the extreme end of the spectrum where impacts are felt the most.
"It quickly became clear, the so-called "hiatus" in global average temperatures did not stop the rise in the number, intensity and area of extremely hot days" said one of the paper's authors Dr Lisa Alexander.
"Our research has found a steep upward tendency in the temperatures and number of extremely hot days over land and the area they impact, despite the complete absence of a strong El NiƱo since 1998."
The slow down in the global average surface rise seems to be increasingly well understood in terms of ocean winds and their effect on heat transfer in the oceans (which are warming) and the under-appreciation of the effects of volcanoes.  Neither of which can anyone really expect to be permanent features of the next century.

I just hope for the next El Nino to come sooner rather than later, for the sake of getting denialists further scientifically marginalised than they already are.

*  in the sense that he is a "senior fellow" of it - not that he personally runs or controls it

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Cats and old folk don't mix so well

New Study: 'Remarkable' Deterioration in Memory Functions of Seniors Infected by Common Parasite Found in Free-roaming Cats

The person who wrote this story really, really doesn't seem to like cats, but the study he or she refers to really does show surprisingly serious results for old folk with toxoplasma gondi.

American defamation

Truth emerges after lies about Hoffman death

A pretty amazing story here of how easily the National Enquirer is duped.  Also - why did the fake guy do it?  Does the paper pay well for such stories, or was he just a nutter?

A look back at confession

Catholic confession’s steep price - Ideas - The Boston Globe

John Cornwall has written a book about the changing nature of the Catholic sacrament  of confession penance/reconciliation, and this article provides quite a few important details about confession of which I was unaware.  (Even though I don't know that Cornwall is always to be trusted, I take it he is not making up the basic historical points here.)

It is certainly true that confession is ignored by most Catholics these days.  It is a dramatic change from what it meant to be Catholic even in the 1960's.  And you know what - the parish priests seem hardly concerned at all.   I have rarely heard this dramatic change in practice as the subject of a sermon, for example.

I tend to blame its downfall on the widespread rejection of the Church's teaching on the Pill, but the societal changes in the views of sexuality more generally no doubt played a role too. 

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Seeing this in orbit would creep you out...

I'm not sure if I read about this at the time or not:  an unneeded spacesuit (two actually) being kitted out with a radio and sent out from the International Space Station as "suitsats" in 2006 and again in 2011.

I certainly don't remember the short clip you can see at the link showing a suit leaving the station in what looks very much like a scene from Gravity.

What fun science.

A lovely farewell

Harold Ramis: Stephen Tobolowsky remembers the Groundhog Day director.

The actor who played the annoying insurance salesman in Groundhog Day writes a really lovely piece about what it was like making Groundhog Day (one of my favourite movies) with Harold Ramis.

Well, actually, it is a political cover up

I'll go out on a limb here.

First:  Stephen Conroy has a well deserved reputation for having a big mouth but looking and acting like a goose. (A minor point, but his sartorial inelegance yesterday with a saggy pullover while doing politically sensitive work on national TV didn't help his public image.)  His performance before the Senate committee with Angus Campbell has not been endorsed by any journalist or commentator that I have read, and it is unfortunate that his mode of attack has blunted the message.

But here's the thing:  it appears that while over the top restrictions on disclosure to the Australian public about operations to turn back boats might be called a Government decision, it seems that it is one which is indeed based on the advice of Lt General Campbell.  Here he is quoted in the ABC:
Lt Gen Campbell repeated his decision was based on "dealing with avoiding advantage to people smugglers, manipulation of potential clientele of people smugglers, the safety of our people and the management of regional and bilateral relationships and their sensitivities".
As Conroy suggested, not as clearly as he should have, if a General is basing advice (even partially) on concerns about "management" of the "sensitivities" of a relationship with neighbouring country,  he is taking "politics" into account.   And critics are entitled to point out that he is, via his advice, enabling a government to let concerns about relationships with Indonesia cast an internally politically convenient withholding of information to voters over matters of genuine public interest and concern.

Campbell may want to deny political partisanship - but he can't credibly deny that this is an operation with political aspects both internationally and domestically.  If he is freely admitting that political sensitivities are a matter he takes into account in his advice - why should he be free from questions about his judgement in that area?

Campbell can claim offence as much as he likes:   his dubious judgement is already shown by how he let himself be used jointly at media conferences for as long as he did.  His Army boss, now defending him, should have done something about that earlier than he apparently did.

The Defence leadership is not covering itself with glory in the way it has let itself be politically used by this awful government.  

And Conroy just had to "nuance" his questioning a bit to get the message across.

Update:  a Michael Brissenden commentary illustrates the ridiculous background of secrecy that Conroy was facing, and plenty of people in comments agree with my take, too.  

The General is giving advice that is helping enable a political cover up of a non military operation.



Yet another graph

OK, so I just happen to be stumbling across a lot of charts of interest lately.

Here's one from The Independent, in its article on the Ugandan tabloid which published the names of the (alleged) top 200 homosexuals in that country.  All the better to track them down and beat them up, I suppose.

Anyhow, here's the graphic:


By the way:    I'm not sure if I agree or not, but here is a guy who argues that gay marriage is actually the end result of Christianity's emphasis on equality.    (But, I would note - when you read Karen Armstrong's take on Islam, she emphasises its success as being based on innovative ideas of social justice and equality for its time.   So why does it still treat homosexuality as death worthy, after all these years - and despite its weird little corners such as Afghani's rural fondness for dancing boys?  And yet when you compare Muslim teaching on sex within marriage, and things such as contraception, it takes a more pragmatic and sensible line than Catholics.   Sex and religion and culture and science - it's all very complicated!)  

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Catholics not exactly on the same wavelength

Last week, I noted some international polling on attitudes to homosexuality, and made some comment about how Catholic dominated countries generally seemed to have higher rates of acceptance.

I see now that Time reported on a pretty large scale international poll of Catholic attitudes to various sensitive issues earlier this month.  The results are pretty interesting, and on issue after issue, the really outstanding conservative Catholic attitudes are shown in the results from Africa and the Philippines.

On gay marriage (a more specific issue than mere acceptance of gay relationships) look at the results:





Well, there's not going to be any movement on that issue if the Africans have their way!

(And I see that while the Pew poll indicated the Philippines accepted gay relationships, they apparently don't go as far as accepting gay marriage.)

But look at the other issues on which the Pope is trying to hold a firm line.   On contraception, the results are pretty clear that the Church has lost everyone (except, oddly, a lot of Filipinos):

 

I think the figures for those opposed to contraception in the US are also unusually high, but perhaps  the political argument over the contraception mandate in Obama's health plan has heightened feelings against it.

But even on abortion, clearly, Catholics pretty much do not follow the straight-down-the-line teaching by a pretty big margin:

 

Mind you, that question is a pretty broad brush one and allows for some confusion.

In any event, the main point I take from this is that Catholicism has the same issues as the Anglican Church:  it is pretty fractured on some key teachings on matters of sexuality.  

Update:  William Saletan talks about the same polling, and notes that it reveals big age differences on matters such as gay marriage, indicating that the Church's position on sexuality generally is going to face continuing strains.

Mark Steyn, National Review - pay attention

See, Andrew Bolt's brief kerfuffle with Michael Mann shows how sensible people deal with a claim of defamation.

They realise they could well have overstepped the line, and offer an apology, even if grudgingly.  (And how can Bolt complain about that - he ends his post by snidely asking how he can get Mann to apologise for the hockey stick.)

How did National Review respond to Mann after publishing Steyn's column using "fraudulent" to describe Mann's work?  By publicly telling him to "get lost", and having a giddy laugh about how suing would hurt Mann more than it will hurt them:
My advice to poor Michael is to go away and bother someone else. If he doesn’t have the good sense to do that, we look forward to teaching him a thing or two about the law and about how free debate works in a free country.

He’s going to go to great trouble and expense to embark on a losing cause that will expose more of his methods and maneuverings to the world. In short, he risks making an ass of himself. But that hasn’t stopped him before.
Not at all a sensible approach.   And for Steyn personally - well, as I noted earlier today, even conservative lawyers can't really fathom why he thinks it a good idea to keep talking about the case and about Mann with derision. 

But then again, Steyn and National Review don't believe scientist's warnings about climate change.   Why should I expect them to have common sense about anything?

A sign of a crook government

If this report of what was said in the Coalition party room meeting this morning is true, it's a bad, bad sign for the way this government perceives itself:
The PM also congratulated Scott Morrison's handling of the immigration portfolio.
We understand that MPs then applauded.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said that Labor was treating the death of one asylum seeker (last week) as more important than the more than 1,000 people who have died at sea.
"The hypocrisy on the left on this issue is breathtaking."
Says the women who is asking Cambodia if they will take some asylum seekers.  (Because, you know, Malaysia was just too risky.)

And also:  to think that the government is backslapping itself on a day Newspoll shows it substantially down on Labor.  Reality challenged in more than one way, this government.


Conservatives agree

I assume from its blogroll that Popehat is a conservative legal blog.  And the writer of this post thinks Michael Mann will, and should, lose his defamation case against Mark Steyn.

Yet he still thinks very strongly that Mark Steyn has a Fool for a Client.

He explains in some detail why Steyn's self written counter claim is a joke that will go over like a lead balloon in court.

Good.

Celebrity news briefly noted

Robin Thicke, Paula Patton Announce Separation | TIME.com

Gee.  So perhaps making a video learing over a bunch of topless models prancing around you is not good for your marriage?

(I only note this because I think I read somewhere that one of the blokes who featured in that video said the men in it were all happily married and thought it a bit of a lark to make it as "out there" sexy as they could.)

Show trial time

Tony Abbott ordered cabinet documents to go to royal commission | World news | theguardian.com

Have I complained before about the vindictive, abuse of political power that's inherent in the Abbott government's Royal Commission into the "pink batts" scheme.

This inquiry is a farce.  We know what happened politically - insufficient heed was paid to warnings that better regulation of installers would be wise before a heap of money being made available to anyone who set up an installation business. The circumstances of each individual death were the subject of enquiries already.  Nothing more is to be learnt about them.

There is nothing to be gained from this inquiry.  No government in the next 30 years is going to forget what happened with the pink batts scheme, and it is a disingenuous attempt to cause political pain to Labor, made even more pointless by the fact the main people involved at the time have all left politics.  As with communist countries, though, the urge for renunciation and "show trials" of previous leaders seems to strike Tony Abbott as a good idea.

Of course families of the deceased will welcome it - the desire to ventilate all possible blame for a relative's accidental death is strong and lasts for years and years, especially with parents.   But a wise government does not seek to accommodate this essentially emotional reaction.

In fact, let's face it - Lefties love to call out right wingers as "fascists" and this is normally over the top and silly. But with the Abbott government, with its embrace of militarism as a solution to a civil problem, and its preparedness to hold show trials into previous government leaders, it actually is the closest look to a fascist  government we have ever had.

More on Morrison

Bernard Keane's article on Morrison's awful attempt at spinning death on Manus Island is very good.

Fairfax reports this morning that Morrison is himself to be subject to "an internal review".  The story opens:
Border Protection Minister Scott Morrison has confirmed he knew a week ago his initial statements about a fatal brawl at the immigration detention facility on Manus Island were likely to have been wrong but has refused to say why he waited to correct the record until Saturday night.

Instead he has advised that his own conduct will be subject to an internal review, which will also take in the role of his officers, the private company charged with security at the detention centre, G4S, and Papua New Guinea authorities.
And could it be that Morrison's performance has contributed to bad polling for the Coalition last week?   Or is it that Abbott blaming Labor for every business closure just starting to look too transparent to the public? 

Hilariously, several of the Catallaxy comment crew (mainly women, as it happens) were telling people yesterday that they were sending emails of support to Morrison's office.   Amazing how politics blinds people.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Well deserved attacks

Scott Morrison has always annoyed me, with his smarmy "I know what I'm doing and you don't, and I'll tell you just as little as I care to" approach to the media, along with his co-opting of the military to try to puff up a civil problem into a war like one.

So it is good to see his copping some well deserved (and well reasoned) blasts from two seasoned journalists today - Michelle Grattan and Lenore Taylor.  As Michelle writes:
In other circumstances the admission of incorrect information might have been excusable. The situation had been chaotic and the briefing was given very soon after.
But Morrison should not be cut any slack.
First, he cuts no one else any (viz, his tirade about the ABC’s coverage of the burned hands allegations).
Second, he was dismissive of various claims about the causes and nature of what might have happened on Manus. On Wednesday, for example, he said he had given “very fulsome press conferences … If others want to provide speculative reports and noise and chatter, well I’d encourage people to ignore that and stay focused on the official reports that I have provided.”
And third, for him to take nearly a week to sort out whether the disturbance was inside or outside the centre suggests, at the least, incompetent administration – a failure by his department to extract accurate information from the service provider (G4S) and others.
 And further:  what a sign of the Coalition's cynical train wreck of an approach to boat arriving asylum seekers that they opposed them  being sent to Malaysia, really for purely political advantage, and are now asking Cambodia to take some instead!

Of course Labor is not perfect in all of this too - Rudd's "New Guinea" solution was always high risk, and riots in the island detention centres were always going to come unless people were moved out of them relatively quickly.   But at least Labor can still legitimately argue that it was the Coalition (and the Greens) who forced them into a more extreme position without even being given the opportunity of seeing if the Malaysian plan would help.  The Malaysian plan always had the appearance of being the start of a genuine regional approach:  it involved co-operation, rather than a simple "here, can you take our problem?" line.  It wasn't perfect, but well worth a try.  

Update 2:  found via Twitter:  back in 2001, Greg Sheridan was white hot with rage and indignation at the Howard government's use of the military regarding boat asylum seekers, the secrecy of such operations, and the attempt to blacken the name of all asylum seekers.   There matters are all being repeated today, if anything, to a worse degree.

In 2013, has Greg repeated anything like this with regard to the Abbott government?   What's changed, Greg. Apart from the appalling and extreme right wing politicisation of your newspaper, that is?


Sunday, February 23, 2014

Silicone oil and quantum reality

Bee at Backreaction has a post up about some fascinating work by a French physicist using silicone oil drops to essentially mimic some quantum effects.

I'd not heard of this before, but it does seem a great way of visualising the idea that the smallest bits of matter might indeed by both waves and particles.

You should watch the video in the post too, it explains it pretty well.

Odd journalistic disclosure

Slate sometimes has been pretty lightweight examples of column filler, and there's one up at the moment about how its Deputy Editor (!) Julia Turner finally made herself watch Schindler's List by having a half dozen people (most of whom had also been sort of avoiding the film) over for a viewing party.

This strikes me as a very odd idea.  If a famous feature of a movie is its emotional impact, why watch it in a setting presumably designed to lessen its emotional impact?  (Unless you actually do have a history of depression or nervous breakdowns.  I guess that might give you a fair enough reason.)

Anyway, she ends up thinking the movie is "worth watching", but her analysis is rather flawed by one of the strangest critical confessions I have ever read:
 We took a break for tacos about 80 minutes in; no one talked much, apart from trying to distinguish the spicy chicken from the extra spicy. (I also admitted that I’ve long found it hard to tell Neeson and Fiennes apart. I thought Neeson was Fiennes until Fiennes himself showed up.)
That's just bizarre.  Perhaps an eye test is in order, Julia? 

Wes related material

I'm not sure when Wes Anderson's new movie The Grand Budapest Hotel is coming out in Australia, but here are a couple of stories about two of the stars:

*  Bryan Appleyard interviewed Ralph Fiennes, who I think is a great actor, and likes the new movie very much:  "It is gorgeous, moving, funny and, ideally, should have gone on for ever."   But, now that I think of it, Appleyard hated Gravity, so I have no idea whether I can trust his judgement.  (Actually, I think he's fairly lukewarm towards Spielberg too, which is a bad sign.)  

*  The Guardian has an interview article with Bill Murray.  He's only 63, apparently, but gee he's looking old in some photos I've seen.  I don't recall knowing this about him before:
And trouble followed him into his adult life; in 1970, aged 20, he was caught in possession of 10lbs of marijuana at Chicago’s O’Hare airport.
Ten pounds seems quite a lot, doesn't it?  I'm surprised he only served probation.

 I see there are American reviews out for the movie already, and they are mostly good.  But the critics' praise of his last movie was too high.  I hope they are right this time.  

Little of substance

So, Tim Wilson got a full profile in the Fairfax press this weekend, and I have to say, it only reinforced my opinion of him as an overweening, fast talking, political lightweight who shouldn't be let near the Human Rights Commission.

I mean, seriously, a limited edition print of Ron and Nancy Reagan on your bedroom wall?  (OK, so that mainly goes to warped taste for a 34 year old man, whatever his sexuality.)

But really seriously this time, a man who believes this:
 ...last year ...Wilson appeared before a parliamentary committee on anti-discrimination law. At one point, Wilson was thrown a hypothetical question about an Aboriginal man who is refused service at an outback pub. Should the publican be prosecuted under anti-discrimination laws? No, said Wilson, the publican should be free to "show [his] bigotry and hatred" - and the public should be free to boycott his pub. Once again, the market would come to the rescue.
has no place in a Human Rights Commission, if you ask me.

The article also highlights a couple of issues where, when working for the IPA, he took hard free market lines on public health issues (third world countries and HIV drugs, and plain packaging of cigarettes.)   I don't know enough about the HIV drug patent argument to have a firm view, but I find it hard to believe that anything coming out of the IPA is fair or correct or in the public health interest. If my hunch is right, it would be particularly galling for a gay man to be running a case effectively against easier access to anti HIV drugs in poor countries.

I also have to say that I have always had the impression that, whether it be for general vanity or simply as a part of relentless self promotion, Tim really loves getting his picture taken.  It appears that this dates even from his university days:
 He also had "this really clever little trick", using a digital camera, "which very few people had back then", to take photos of himself at university club functions, several of which he would attend in a single night. He would then send the photos to the club magazines the next morning. "They didn't have any photos, certainly not that immediately. So they'd run them, and of course I was in half of them, and it made me look as if I was the centre of everything."
Well, I take that as enough justification for this:

video


Friday, February 21, 2014

The puzzling, contradictory Russians

How Russian Prudishness Produced an Anti-Gay Propaganda Law - Olga Khazan - The Atlantic

This article about Russian cultural attitudes towards sexuality is really fascinating, and includes a couple of great charts and graphs.

First, here's a handy one that illustrates clearly the global attitudes towards homosexuality:



Look at those figures for African countries, with the exception of South Africa!  And the signs of Muslim culture seems clear - although whether that really explains Indonesia and Malaysia, I have no idea.

I would say that Japan and China are about where I expected them to be, but Italy is perhaps higher (given that I think I have read there is little in the way of "gay rights" in that country.)   Korea seems a bit unexpectedly low, but look at the Philippines - in fact, in most "traditionally" Catholic countries, the acceptance rate is pretty high.   Make of that what you will.  (Actually, it makes me laugh at traditionalist Catholics who think the future is in clinging to Church teaching on sexuality which is as bizarrely prescriptive in a married couple's bedroom as it is possible to be.  People forget this because so  many Catholics ignore the Church's analysis of sex.)

But back to the Russians.  Here's another chart I've never seen before, showing the big demographic changes that occurred around the fall of communism:

So, they are only now getting back into the baby making game.

And despite all the talk about the increase in social conservatism, it hasn't extended to abortion:
It’s true that protecting children makes a convenient excuse for all
sorts of legalized prejudice, but Russia’s obsession with instilling
traditional sexual mores goes back decades. In more recent years, a
small, vocal group of conservative activists, many of whom are aligned
with the Orthodox church, have been doing everything from shouting down
proposals for sex education in schools, to pushing for restrictions on
gay rights, to supporting the crackdown on protest collectives such as
Pussy Riot.


To this day, Russian schools have no sex ed to speak of. No textbooks mention the word “condom,” and abortion is still one of the most common forms of birth control. Russia's children's ombudsman said last year that Russian teens can learn everything they need to know about love and sex from Russian literature.
Gee.  I only mentioned the fact that I hadn't read War and Peace the other day.  Little did I know what I could learn from it.

What a strange, strange country.