Friday, December 25, 2015

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The problem (partially) explained

Will the Republican Party Survive the 2016 Election? - The Atlantic

I think this long essay by David Frum on the problems of the Republican Party is pretty good.  But it still feels inadequate in not completely addressing the culture war the Right perceives itself as being engaged in.

Only took 50 years..

SpaceX rocket in historic upright landing - BBC News

These vertically landing rockets put me in mind of the one in You Only Live Twice.   As the post title says, I only had to wait 50 years to see it become reality (kind of).

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Force awakened

Just saw the new Star Wars - which is a more literal way of putting it than you might think, if you haven't been reading the reviews.

On the down side, I did have to suppress a scream due to a key plot feature which I warned the world would disappoint me.   But on the upside, the film is in most respects more Empire that Wars, in that the key action and drama is more one-on-one, human-centric, than on the "X Wings versus yet another gigantic space ball weapon" scale.

Yes, Christopher Orr was right:  the movie is pretty much a "mashup masterpiece"; and so was the more cynical  Anthony Lane (who pretty obviously enjoyed it anyway) when he writes that the movie "feels young" and "as an act of pure storytelling, streams by with fluency and zip."  (It really does seem to take only about 3/4 of its actual length, and the pacing always feels just right.)

Yeah, I have to give JJ Abrams his due:  this is pretty well directed. And well scripted - there's an air of mature credibility to much of the dialogue that is so refreshing after the terrible lines in the prequels.

So while I did enjoy it for what it is, the best thing is perhaps that this is all the mashup-ery that is really possible in the series, so that the next movie must surely have to tread some new ground.  They can't just recycle Empire, can they?  It's my new hope that they can't.  (Heh...)

[And on a "meta" observation:  this has been a huge, huge year for movie franchises that have revisited their past.  Certainly, there was a large element of it in Spectre; and with Mission Impossible, it was once again a case of Hunt having to defy the authorities and work in some sort of unauthorised ghost-like mode.   Jurassic World was in many respects rather like the first, but with hundreds of victims in a cooler looking mega park.   The trouble is, as much as I would like a bit more originality, I enjoyed all of them a great deal, and they all were pretty huge hits.  I guess we only have ourselves to blame if we don't get more plot novelty.]

A cheering alcohol story for the holidays

Drink to Your Health (in Moderation), the Science Says - The New York Times

Monday, December 21, 2015

An unusual movie recommendation

You don't need children to watch Shaun the Sheep Movie, and it did much to redeem Aardman studio in my mind, after some dud material of late.  (Well,  The Pirates is from 2012 I see - seems longer ago than that -  and it was not good, in my opinion.)

Lucky residents of Hobart

Powerful aurora australis puts on spectacular display of Christmas lights in Tasmania - ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

And some people go travelling all the way to Norway to get a glimpse of them...

A touch of the Don Quixote's about him

I generally avoid Spiked, largely because I can't bear the whiny, hectoring voice of Brendan O'Neill complaining every column about the whiny, hectoring voices of the Left.

But this Spiked Review interview with Roger Scruton is interesting.   He has a new (or updated) book out, complaining about the rise and (in his mind) continuing influence of the style of Left wing intellectualism that got going in the 1960's.  I think these are the key paragraphs summarising Scruton's view:
In Fools, Frauds and Firebrands Scruton attacks the left idea of thought for a cause, ‘politics with a GOAL’. By contrast, he tells me, ‘Conservatives are by their nature people who are trying to defend and maintain existence without a cause’. Simply to keep things as they are? ‘We obviously all want to change things, but recognising that human life is an end in itself and not a means to replace itself with something else. And defending institutions and compromises is a very difficult and unexciting thing. But nevertheless it’s the truth.’

For Scruton, the left intellectuals’ apparent attachment to a higher cause only disguises what they really stand for: ‘Nothing.’ He writes that ‘when, in the works of Lacan, Deleuze and Althusser, the nonsense machine began to crank out its impenetrable sentences, of which nothing could be understood except that they all had “capitalism” as their target, it looked as though Nothing had at last found its voice’. More recently, ‘the windbaggery of Zizek and the nonsemes of Badiou’ exist only ‘to espouse a single and absolute cause’, which ‘admits of no compromise’ and ‘offers redemption to all who espouse it’. The name of that cause? ‘The answer is there on every page of these fatuous writings: Nothing.’
But the interviewer makes an obvious point, and one which is similar to what I've been saying from time to time about the "culture wars" as it is playing out in Australian right wing politics:

The slightly pained look on his face suggests that I am not the first to ask Scruton why he has devoted a book to taking on a collection of largely declining or deceased intellectuals and a culture that he concedes ‘now survives largely in its academic redoubts’. ‘They may seem like obscure intellectuals to the man in the street but actually they are still dominant on the humanities curriculum’, he explains. ‘If you study English or French, even musicology or whatever, you have to swallow a whole load of Lacan and Deleuze. Take Deleuze’s book, A Thousand Plateaus – the English translation has only been out a few years, but it’s already gone through 11 printings. A huge, totally unreadable tome by somebody who can’t write French.’
‘Yet this is core curriculum throughout the humanities in American and English universities. Why? The one sole reason is it’s on the left. There is nothing that anybody can translate into lucid prose, but for that very reason, it seems like a suit of armour around the age-old prejudices against power and authority, the old unshaped and unshapeable agenda.’
 Hmmm.   Many of the comments following the article are very good, and some go straight to the point that he's attacking a bit of a straw man:
He is a populist conservative who creates a grotesque caricature of the left, focusing on the nuttiest currents of academic leftism, then lumps all liberal thought in the same category and presents conservatism as a healthy and rational alternative. By and large this is how the new conservatism works. Part of it is the martyrdom fallacy, that is, presenting conservatism as the silenced victim who has "uncomfortable truths" to tell. The supposed outrage of the left at hearing these "truths" is presented as evidence that something true really was said. Needless to say, ad hominem attacks like these are never evidence.
For a more sympathetic, but still critical, take, try this one: 
I have a lot of time for Scruton. As a young person in the 80's all the arguments seemed to be coming either from the social liberal, "progressive" left, or from the Thatcherite neo-liberal right, both of which I found wanting, for various reasons. I'd alway been attracted to ideas, but had a conservative outlook for more instictive reasons, and so reading Scruton a lot later gave an intellectual justification for what was an essentially non-intellectual poitical disposition an I thank him for that.

I do get the impression these days though, that in railing against the post modern intellectual left, he is still fighting yesterdays's battles, as very few people take them seriously any more, and their influence really is on the wane. Another failing, is that he seems to fail to realize that neo-liberal, globalizing capitalism is as much as a threat to conservative values as left-wing socialism. He occasionally acknowledges this, but fails to eleborate on it, as if this woufd be "letting the side down" or something.Still, all in all, he's one of the good guys. Thumbs up Rog!
(I'm guessing that was typed on an iPad, by the way.)

All rather interesting.  

Sunday, December 20, 2015

An example of the low standards of the Republican field

Ted Cruz has lied about immigration.

Les Miserables revisited

As I wrote in my lengthy post about the musical (and book) Les Miserables in 2013*,  I had never seen a stage production of it at the time I saw the movie.

This was rectified yesterday, when my wife and I sat in the balcony at QPAC to watch it, wishing we had opera glasses.   (Actually, if you sit right at the front of the balcony, which we moved close to after intermission, it's not too bad.  But the cheaper seats up the back - very far away indeed.)

Anyway, it is a very good production, and the favourable reviews it has received are well deserved.   Perhaps it was due to more familiarity with the score from seeing the movie, but I found it more moving in parts than the movie.  (My general line is that it is easier to be moved by the realism of a movie than the artifice of a stage show.)  

Certainly, I have certain earworms stuck in my head today that are showing no signs of leaving.

I noticed as we left that Cats is returning next year:  a show I have zero interest in seeing, although I suppose that any show with good singers will have bits that are good.   My wife and daughter went to see Wicked by themselves earlier this year, and liked it well enough.   The other musical viewed recently was Anything Goes, which got it's own explanatory post too.  

My point in noting this is to observe that the creation of  really successful narrative musicals seems to take place at an incredibly slow rate.   When they are big successes,  they just keep returning, decade after decade.   But perhaps this is just from an outside of Broadway perspective:  I see that someone in Variety was noting in 2013 that maybe there were too many new musicals at that time for them to all be successful. 

*  you should read it - it's the style of post I like doing in particular, and enjoy re-reading when I have forgotten half of it.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Wrong and wrong again

Before he gave up his "I'm for small government" principles for a government job with fantastic travel allowances, Freedom Boy Tim Wilson used to specialise in mouthing off on behalf of the IPA on behalf of Big Tobacco against tobacco plain packaging.

Here he is, warning that the Australian government may have to pay billions to his then benefactors:
"Bad anti-intellectual property laws by State and Federal Parliaments could require taxpayers to gift up to $3.4 billion per year in compensation to film companies and big tobacco for the loss of their trademarks", Director of the IP and Free Trade Unit at the Institute of Public Affairs, Tim Wilson, said today.
 Here he is in 2011:
The IPA raised concerns that stripping trademarks from packaging could lead to the acquisition of property rights under the Constitution and lead to compensation on "just terms".
It's a good thing he left that job, I suppose, given his prediction rate is looking very poor indeed.

First, the High Court didn't agree that the Commonwealth had stolen property rights, and now a completely bogus trade arbitration claim in Singapore has failed too.

What's the IPA to do now?:  I guess the only think is to continue with Sinclair Davidson's sad exercises in complaining that, because smoking rates were dropping before plain packaging, and plain packaging came with increased tobacco taxes, his mortal enemy Simon Chapman can never really claim that plain packaging "works".   So there. 

It's all a bit pathetic:  but nothing compared to the coming IPA crisis as its climate change denying group of aging non experts continue to fade into complete irrelevancy.  

But back to Wilson:  I saw a tweet yesterday that claims he's interested in running for selection for a Liberal  Senate seat.   Just what the Liberals need - a shallow intellectual lightweight proven wrong on previous prognostications who's primarily interested in self promotion - and selfies.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Daly counters Sloan

Australian government spending as a percentage of GDP

That's quite a graph Daly has got there.  I hope it's right.  

Meanwhile, in one of the most ridiculous nations on the planet

Teacher suspended after playing violin for young women |

A university in Saudi Arabia has suspended a foreign teacher after he played the violin in front of a class of young women.
Dr Eisa Al Ansari, the rector of Prince Mohammed University (PMU), one of the largest private universities in Saudi Arabia, said that an investigation had been launched into the incident.

The rector said that the teacher was new at the university and that he was recruited two months ago.

The incident was a personal behaviour by the teacher and violated the formal policy of the university aligned with the systems and regulations of the Ministry of Education that are endorsed and applied by all universities in Saudi Arabia, he added, Saudi news site Sabq reported on Thursday.
Good grief.   Was he doing it nude?  (No.)   Is it meant to be seductive?  (Ha.)   Does a bow carry some sort of phallic symbolism?  Who knows?

In other news from that country where the heat seems to addle minds:
A huge family dispute erupted in Saudi Arabia after a man’s wife kissed a camel.

The man’s mother accused her daughter-in-law of breaking religious and social traditions and pressured her son to divorce his wife.

The wife insisted that the kiss was innocent and spontaneous.

She also accused her mother-in-law of using the kiss as an excuse to attack her because she had not yet given birth to a baby.
Mind you, this story is not sourced, and sounds the equivalent of tabloid gossip, but still...

My new found respect for the sea monkey

BBC - Earth - The animal that lives for 10,000 years

Perhaps that should be "lives" (in inverted commas) because what they are talking about is the larva cysts, which can dry out yet appear to be viable for 10,000 years.  (They know this because they got some to hatch from old salt layers of that age.)

Still, that is very impressive.  It sounds as if it won't be cockroaches that inherit the earth, after all.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

What about the Pelagians??

Would you believe it? A selection of ancient faiths ripe for revival � The Spectator

As far as heresies go, the Pelagian one seemed pretty inoffensive, and, indeed, somewhat more attuned to modern thinking.

A topical slur

Steve to young monty, looking over at Catallaxy Files:

"You will never find a more wretched hive of dumb and villainy."

Another global warming problem in the making

Climate change rapidly warming world's lakes
Algal blooms, which can ultimately rob water of oxygen, are projected to increase 20 percent in lakes over the next century as warming rates increase. Algal blooms that are toxic to fish and animals would increase by 5 percent. If these rates continue, emissions of methane, a greenhouse gas 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide on 100-year time scales, will increase 4 percent over the next decade.
Another article at indicates this is a real problem even for North American cities:
By the latter half of this century, toxic algal blooms like the one that cut off drinking water to the city of Toledo in 2014 will no longer be the exception, but the norm, a study suggests.

Wondering about Lawrence

I wonder how much credit for the apparent success of the new Star Wars is due to Lawrence Kasdan's involvement with the script?   I always thought he was largely credited with the good script for Empire Strikes Back.  (Then again, he also worked on Return of the Jedi, which I thought was a very weak script and story in comparison.) 

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

German coco nut

Death By Coconut: A Story Of Food Obsession Gone Too Far : The Salt : NPR

Born in Nuremberg in 1875, August Engelhardt was among the disaffected youngsters drawn to the back-to-nature Lebensreform (Life Reform) movement sweeping through Germany and Switzerland at the time. Its proponents yearned after an unspoiled Eden where people ate
vegetables and raw food.

Engelhardt was especially taken by Gustav Schlickeysen's 1877 dietary treatise, Fruit and Bread: A Scientific Diet. Influenced by Darwinism, the book claimed that since the natural food of apes was uncooked food and grain, that was also "the proper food for man."

Engelhardt  took it even further: For him, even bread and fruit were tainted. In his mind, the only immaculate and mystical fleshpot was the coconut, with its snowy white meat and translucent water.

In 1898, he and fellow vegetarian August Bethmann laid out their vision in a pamphlet called A Carefree Future: The New Gospel. As the pamphlet's grandiose subtitle makes plain, Engelhardt's ambitions of a Coconut Camelot, with himself as a nude King Arthur, were driven by much more than dietary compulsions: His was a spiritual quest.

"He believed that since the coconut grew high up in the tree, closest to God and closest to the sun, it was godlike," says Kracht. "And since it had hair and looked like a human head, he thought it came closest to being a man. According to his rather crackpot theory, to be a  cocovore was to be a theophage — or eater of God."
 So he goes to an island in New Guinea with a coconut plantation, 15 young Germans join him, they die or catch malaria (which Engelhart claimed wouldn't happen because of the power of the coconut) and his cult ends.   Engelhardt himself dies at 44 as a skinny and very unhealthy man.

Now if only it had been parsnips, on the other hand....

Fundamental mistake

What???  I, as a Spielberg nerd, and no doubt thousands of Star Wars nerds, am shocked at the caption beneath this report on The Australian:

Kate's looking nice, in an Annie Hall kind of way, but Spielberg has never been "an original director" of anything Star Wars.  

Whichever wet behind the ears journalist who wrote that deserves the sack.

How did the Right get so stupid and nasty, Part 2

For no particular reason, via Tim Blairs blog (which still lists me in the blogroll, as it appears not to have been updated for 8 years or so), I dropped in on the long running American right wing comic Day By Day.  A couple of recent entries:

Yeah, the first one is meant to be (I think) from a DVD the characters are watching.  Cos, you know, there's  nothing the paranoid gun owners of America would like more to watch than a black president (is he meant to be a zombie too?) being blown away over gun rights.

The second one again shows the "don't worry, if he tries that he'll be shot" philosophy of the cartoonist.

This cartoon is still linked to by the half respectable Hot Air conservative site (which seems to have a lot of Catholics amongst its columnists).   Perhaps they don't read it, too. 

Monday, December 14, 2015

How did the Right become so stupid and nasty?

The nastiness is not confined to one side of politics:  if anything, the Left used to pretty much have the market in asinine, ridiculously over-simplistic yet rudely and aggressively stated views to itself.

But why did the American Right decide to go that way too?  Seems to me to be a major socio-cultural question that I really haven't seen properly explained, yet.

This was brought to mind by noting on the weekend the American Right blogosphere (and their Australian numbskull followers) high-fiving themselves over convicted criminal and Obama hyperventilator Dinesh D'Souza  getting nasty with a college student in America (while simultaneously not listening to him.)

To paraphrase the exchange down to its key parts:

Privileged white college student:    Don't you think you should acknowledge that black disadvantage is ongoing not only as a result of the slavery era, but even from the well documented modern financial discrimination such as how veterans after WW2 were treated?

D'Souza:   well, why don't you give up your rich white-ass seat at this college to a black person?

PWCS:  hey, I didn't say I supported Affirmative Action..

D'Souza:  well if you're serious you would

PWCS:  hey, if you're saying I'm a hypocrite - we're all a bit hypocritical in the way we don't all do the maximum thing that our concerns indicate we could, in theory, do; but you know, I've tried to help in some ways....

D'Souza:   so you support Affirmative Action.

PWCS:   I just told you I didn't.  I'm talking about effective social security - 

D'Souza:   You massive hypocrite - you make me sick - yes, you personally.  We can deal with the historical injustices either by ending discrimination (which we did in the civil rights movement) or you can be a Leftist thieving scumbag, like you, who wants to steal from others to give it to the underprivileged, but won't give up your own seat in this college.   


I don't think I'm exaggerating much...

Now, I've left out the bits about D'Souza saying how if you want to look far enough back in history, lots of people confiscated lots of stuff from lots of other people, so rectifying all historical injustices could be a never ending exercise (true).  But he ends up in such an over the top position of his own that is only defensible if he's a "all tax is theft" twit. 

I see that The Atlantic took a look at his decline from relatively credible conservative commentator to over-the-top, irrationally Obama hating darling of the Tea Party.   (The article notes that critics say he likes to attack straw men - a tactic used in abundance in the video above.   Surely people can see that?   Oh, that's right, these are the same people who can't believe thermometers, either.)  For a more acerbic attack on D'Souza, you can't go past Bill Maher interviewing him in 2012

I hadn't paid attention to him much til this weekend, but it seems he may well be emblematic of the decline of American Right.

Update:   I meant to add that D'Souza's story seems similar to Niall Ferguson - formerly somewhat interesting conservative writer capable of making decent argument becomes mere hyperbolic shadow of his former self in playing up to the Tea Party wing of the Right.   Both are divorced too, in what I think were unhappy ends to their first marriage.   Niall Ferguson got much publicity a couple of years ago by arguing Keynes didn't really care about the future (and the effect of his economics on it) because he was gay.  Perhaps  conservative extremism in academics is exacerbated by adultery and divorce, hey Niall?

Another good Marvel comedy

As readers will recall, the genre of science fiction comedy is one that I particularly enjoy, and while I regret the huge amount of Hollywood time now devoted to comic book material (in the form of Marvel or DC Comics characters) played seriously, I can enjoy it if it is used primarily for humour.

Hence I enjoyed Guardians of the Galaxy, and this weekend, very much enjoyed Ant-man, too.

It's a terribly witty script with (of course) very silly and inconsistent physics.  But it is funny, fast, nicely acted, and features the best role for Thomas the Tank Engine ever written.

I suppose I should say something about Paris...

For a short, sharp take on the outcome of Paris, I think James at his Empty Blog is probably as good as any - as long as you read the comments too.

As I try to be a "glass half full" type of person, generally speaking, I find myself somewhat encouraged to read about the shocking pollution in China last week (and, perhaps, the incredible smoke problem stemming from Indonesia that blights neighbouring countries too) as giving reason for at least those countries to get serious about not burning carbon for reasons other than mere temperature rises and climate change.  But then again, maybe I am being too optimistic (see The Economist's short take on the Chinese air pollution problem.)

I see that Lomborg has been The Australian's go-to boy for commentary on how the Paris meeting was all for nought.   I see that Senator for Guns, Soccer Fans (but not Bicycle Helmets)  Leyonhjelm tweet-cites him, which is a bit odd, given that Lomborg actually advocates a $100 billion to be spent on clean energy research.  I thought small government types didn't trust governments to back winners.   

By the way, Lomborg's website seems to contain even more selfies than Tim Wilson's twitter account, if that's possible.   Wilson:  "Oh look, here I am, in one of the crucial historical and cultural centres of the world, so let's take up half of this shot with my beaming face!":

And what the heck is he doing there at a meeting with the Palestinians and Bronwyn Bishop and Christopher Pyne??   See his twitter account, if his visage doesn't give you hives.

Update: John Quiggin's cautious optimism seems about right, too.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

I'm quantum walking backwards for Christmas*

I didn't care all that much for Adam Gopnik's recent New Yorker piece talking about science, and in particular, "spooky action at a distance", but I did like the end of this paragraph:
What started out as a reductio ad absurdum became proof that the cosmos is in certain ways absurd. What began as a bug became a feature and is now a fact. Musser takes us into the lab of the Colgate professor Enrique Galvez, who has constructed a simple apparatus that allows him to entangle photons and then show that “the photons are behaving like a pair of magic coins. . . .They are not in contact, and no known force links them, yet they act as one.” With near-quantum serendipity, the publication of Musser’s book has coincided with news of another breakthrough experiment, in which scientists at Delft University measured two hundred and forty-five pairs of entangled electrons and confirmed the phenomenon with greater rigor than before. The certainty that spooky action at a distance takes place, Musser says, challenges the very notion of “locality,” our intuitive sense that some stuff happens only here, and some stuff over there. What’s happening isn’t really spooky action at a distance; it’s spooky distance, revealed through an action.
A clever way to put it!

Speaking of spooky action, I also noticed this week on arXiv another paper (he has many) by Australian philosopher Huw Price (and Ken Wharton) entitled "A Live Alternative to Quantum Spooks"  about how retrocausality could an explanation. even though this possibility is pretty routinely overlooked.  Here's the crucial page:

If I understand him correctly, Price argues that this type of retrocausality preserves free will - it's just that the consequences of it can work both forwards and backwards.  (!)

He also says that this couldn't be used for potentially paradox causing signalling to the past: 
It couldn’t be used to signal for much the same reason that entanglement itself can't be used to signal
Well, he's convinced me of the possibility.  Now if only the physicists will get on board...

*  for the young reader:  a topical reference to a song from the Goon Show.

Satellites vs Thermometers

Sometimes you have to wonder why someone on the science reality side hasn't graphed something earlier.

For the last couple of years, I guess, the climate change denialists have moved from following Roy Spencer's UAH satellite temperature graph to the one by RSS, because of the lower trend it now gives for recent atmospheric warming.   As can be seen from the Skeptical Science trend calculator, this is what your get for RSS for the last 18 years:

This is what you get when you use UAH for the same period:

So you can guess which one is now Andrew Bolt's favourite (even though he used to post only UAH every month.)

But, as people who read other than denialist propaganda know, the satellite method of determining temperatures is inherently complicated, and is about the temperature at different levels of the atmosphere.   Hence, they do compare what they are doing with the balloon based thermometer readings to see if the methods they are using for the satellites seem right.

So, given that RSS is now the denier's outlier, Tamino has graphed it against the balloon thermometer record known as RATPAC, and shows this:

 As Tamino says:
They’re in excellent agreement until recently. Lately there’s a strong divergence, one which seems to be growing, after about 2012. It’s hard to believe that the problem is with balloon data; yes there are important calibration issues with them, but thermometers are still thermometers, and there are just as many serious issues if not more with the satellites’ microwave sounding units, including merging over a dozen different instruments, disentangling the signal from different levels of the atmosphere, and changing orbital drift and timing — issues about which different teams do not agree.....
 The RSS data simply fail to show the recent warming which is plain to see in the balloon data — the data from actual thermometers.
Now, as we know from Andrew Bolt's recent whiny post about being called out by Waleed Aly, Carl Mears from RSS is no AGW skeptic.  So I am curious as to why this discrepancy hasn't been brought up earlier.

Unless Tamino has made some sort of mistake, this graph of his absolutely blows away the "satellite temperatures are the gold standard that NOAA is ignoring"  in a way that is so plain to see, even to denialists. (And that's before the likely spike from the El Nino shows up early next year.)

Update:  this recent article in Forbes gave some of the technical details of how satellite measurements work.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Took me a while... work out who the departing Oz editor (and disgrace to the whatever good name journalism might sometimes be capable of) Chris Mitchell:

 reminded me of, but I'm pretty sure it's the young Les Patterson:

OK, maybe  not that much of a physical resemblance, but the swept up hair and plain features just makes them both look old fashioned and not the brightest, to my mind.

Caution urged

I'm getting rather concerned that the new Star Wars film may be being burdened by the extraordinarily high expectations of the public.   Can it live up to its hype?

I'm not really the Star Wars nerd that some other middle aged men (and women) seem to be.   The first movie was good and ground breaking in several ways;  the second was terrific; unfortunately the promise was squibbed in the third.   The prequels are notable for many things, but none of them positive:   Lucas' tin ear for dialogue; his tin ear for mythology after all, with the strange quasi-demolition of the mysticism of the Force via the "midi chlorian" explanation ( I am betting the new movie tries to forget completely about that - and Jar Jar Binks); and of course the un-engaging results of making adventure movies with way too much CGI.

But yes, I am relatively keen to see the new movie, although I think my expectations are realistically lower than those of many.   (I am not convinced that JJ Abrams is that good a director - but everyone's so relieved it's not George, it may hardly matter.)

Anyhow, I was thinking this morning:  what things would really disappoint me in the new film?  Here are a few ideas:

*  if it ends with an X Wing attack on a new and deadly space based weapon, I'll scream.  That's what made Return of the Jedi a dull re-write of the first film:  it must not happen again.

* any mention of midi chlorians (see above);

* a CG  army of Yoda clones (although I would be slightly amused if some sort of long lost loser son of his turned up and had to learn the way of the Force from aging Luke - as long as the son is a puppet, not pixels);

*  a set of Chewbacca pups could be funny too, as long as they make a brief appearance only;

*  no ewoks, please.

The shrill cries of denialism failing

Seems to me that the climate change denialism movement is getting rather shrill and hysterical.

They are, after all, having an embarrassing failure of a time in attempting to counter the negotiations in Paris.  What do they expect if the likes of loon faced conspiracist Monckton is one of their stars:
"I'm quite sure that without Turnbull and his own faction, the UN would have found it harder [to topple Mr Abbott]," he said. "But I think it's also naive to assume that [Mr Turnbull] has not been in contact with the UN and that they have not provided him with whatever assistance he required to achieve his objective.

"I talked to [UN Secretary-General] Ban Ki-moon a few months ago. They know perfectly well that the climate is just a side issue; it's an excuse, a pretext. It's pseudo-moral cover to give the UN a form of supra-national, indeed global, governing power from which there will be no escape."

Someone paid Alan Moran to go to Paris too - since he apparently no longer works at the IPA, perhaps it's Gina paying for him personally?   (Or some coal company or other, I expect.)  Anyway, his reports back are full of his complaints about climate change "factoids", which is pretty funny if he thinks people don't  recognise him as a routine deployer of denialism factoids.   Are his reports appearing in the Murdoch press, or just at denier central (aka "Catallaxy Files")?   Anyway, seems to me he's getting no traction with anyone important;  I don't really know why he's there.
And Andrew Bolt is having a hissy fit over Waleed Aly calling him out over using just the RSS satellite record to "prove" global warming is still paused.    Does Bolt read enough to realise that there is an excellent chance that the satellite graphs are about to turn against him?   Because that could explain his shrill tone in that piece.

I don't even think that Ted Cruz's calling Mark Steyn to give evidence at his repetitious Congressional committee denial-a-palooza has worked out well.    Is this what the denial movement is reduced to - relying on testimony from experts on Broadway and popular music of the 20th century?  Because, you know, the actual scientist who is on the side of the 97% of other climate scientists pretty much wiped the floor at the hearing:
After Senator Cruz pushed Titley to answer a question about the satellite records, which he claimed “the global warming alarmists don’t want to talk about,” Titley let loose. “Let’s talk about the satellite measurements,” Titley said. “Let’s talk about orbital decay. Let’s talk about overlapping satellite records. Let’s talk about stratospheric temperature contamination. I think Dr. Christy and Dr. [Roy] Spencer, when they’ve put this out, they have been wrong, I think, at least four consecutive times. Each time the data record has had to be adjusted upward. There have been several sign errors. So, with all due respect, sir, I don’t know which data, exactly, your staff has, whether it’s the first or second or third or fourth correction to Dr. Christy’s data. We used to have a negative trend, and then we had no trend, and now we begrudgingly have an upward trend.”
As someone writes, Cruz, Steyn and other denialists are trying to claim they are "victims" now.  This tactic has been around for a while, but perhaps its exacerbated by the sense coming from watching Paris that they really are sidelined and being ignored by the serious people in the world.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Things to post about

There's actually quite a lot I would like to post about:   the awfulness of Donald Trump and the gutlessness of the Republican Party (he'll be dumped, eventually - I can't really see any other outcome);  the ridiculousness and lack of insight on the part of Tony Abbott (he is Kevin Rudd circa 2010 - but with the addition of testosterone, unpopularity with the Australian public, and fewer brain cells);  the outright smug ignorance of Ted Cruz on climate change;  but I am rather busy.

So instead, I will just post this trailer for Steven Spielberg's next film.  I am presumably not in the prime demographic for this type of film, but the trailer is extremely pleasing, as it highlights everything that's fantastic  about a good Spielberg film:   the lush and enveloping John Williams score (so sorely missed in Bridge of Spies); beautiful cinematography; the use of suspense, even in comedy or lighter movies; graceful and engaging camera movement; pleasing composition of shots; good acting; and story material with themes that are never degrading or violent for its own sake.   Can you tell I like him?:

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

NYT really can't stand this Republican field

Bizarre Responses to a Plea for Reason - The New York Times

Look at this editorial piece from the NYT, and enjoy its withering  dismissal of this bunch of Republican candidates:
Donald Trump, a bigot without foreign policy experience, showed that there is nothing he won’t say or support to sow hatred. On Monday he outrageously proposed barring all Muslims from entering the country. There is no precedent for denying immigration based on religion, experts say, and any such test would surely be used as an excuse to attack Muslim Americans.
Ted Cruz, Twitter warrior, pledged after Mr. Obama’s speech to “direct the Department of Defense to destroy ISIS.” He played soldier all weekend in Iowa, spouting “We will carpet bomb them into oblivion,” to a tea-party crowd in Cedar Rapids, adding “I don’t know if sand can glow in the dark, but we’re going to find out,” whatever that means.
Marco Rubio took to Fox News to remind Americans that they are, or should be, “really scared and worried.” He also said that “people are scared not just because of these attacks but because of a growing sense that we have a president that’s completely overwhelmed by them,” as if he alone had his finger on the pulse of America.
“Bolder action across the board is needed because our way of life is what’s at stake,” was the nonprescription from Gov. John Kasich of Ohio. “Also, when terrorists threaten us, our response can’t be to target our own constitutional rights. Our rights aren’t the problem, our unwillingness to act to defeat extremists is the problem. We need to decisively and aggressively protect our nation and our ideals. We can’t delay.”

Greenpeace does something useful

Exposed: Academics-for-hire agree not to disclose fossil fuel funding - Energydesk

I don't pay much attention to Greenpeace, but this investigation was good and useful.

Don't believe everything said at a police conference...

As it happens, I have some personal knowledge of the family beset by tragedy yesterday in Brisbane (daughter suffering a "violent death", mother believed to have committed suicide, father said to have been asleep until police arrived.)   I did, in fact, contact the police.  No return call (yet).

Suffice to say that certain things said by the police officer conducting the press interview yesterday afternoon were not accurate.   Of course, I do not know what happened on the night; but it was more of a matter of a comment or two made at the conference about the background of the family situation.

I guess this is not unusual in the early stages of an investigation, but it is still a bit annoying to not see more care taken in comments made.   

Update:  police statement given.   

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

How your teenager will get lost

How Fallout 4 took over my life — and gave me a new one - Vox

I have to say, this writer does a great job of explaining why he finds the recently released Fallout 4 so engaging and addictive.   But in doing so, he also inadvertently serves as a warning to parents as to how "dangerous" this game may be if your teenager gets it, at least if you want them to have a recreational life away from the computer.

A bit of a reality check

Drug tests wouldn't prevent deaths: expert | SBS News

Also, read this article at Vice where the English seller of testing kits says the same thing - they have to be very cautious about not over-promising about what can be done with crude on site testing.

Of course it's sad for the family when a young person dies from a drug.   But people in grief are not the best judges of public policy, particularly when they have the added grief that their child deliberately took something (and merely for fun, not due to any addiction) not knowing whether it was safe.   


Kant in 8 minutes

I quite liked this recently created short discussion of the life and (some of the) works of Kant:

The only thing I would say, though, is that the video gives no attention to his Critique of Pure Reason, which modern philosophers tend to like more than his moral philosophy. 

Monday, December 07, 2015

Deadly talk radio

Dead Air — The California Sunday Magazine

Actually, it's about The Philippines, where being a talk back radio has an usually large role, and can be very dangerous:
The Philippines has about 600 radio stations, generally small affairs held together with hope and duct tape. To defray costs, many stations rent out “blocks” of transmitter time to freelancers. In the provincial Philippines, where radio is king, “blocktimers” are often the only source of news and political criticism people can hear. At its best, blocktiming is a mix of political theater, social commentary, and yellow journalism. Some blocktimers are loudmouthed demagogues (think Rush Limbaugh). Some are serious journalists producing shows akin to 60 Minutes. Some are zealots and crusaders, fighting corruption and environmental degradation. Some are hacks working for the families that run the Philippines. A good blocktimer — one who stirs up some controversy and gets a good audience and a sponsorship deal — can earn a middle-class living.
Are blocktimers trustworthy? It is hard to say. A political system built on double-­dealing and conspiracy breeds a paranoid style. That federal report a blocktimer is reading, which provides evidence of a politician’s theft from a road-building fund: Is  it accurate or ginned up by one of his rivals? And the blocktimer himself, fulminating against corruption: Who is paying him? All too often, it’s another politician buying his voice the same way he might buy a hit man....

The Philippines is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists. Depending on how you count, only Syria, Iraq, and Somalia are more lethal. According to the Philippine Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, at least 168 journalists have been killed since1986, when the Marcos dictatorship fell and democracy was restored. About half of the dead have been freelance broadcasters, like Damasco. By the time Damasco took to the air against Hagedorn, the murders had developed a certain ritual. As the broadcaster leaves work, a motorcycle with two men drives up. The passenger fires. The journalist falls. The motorcycle speeds away. Whoever hired the hit man goes unpunished.

An assessment

I've been meaning to say this for quite a long time:  I find Helen Razer a verbose, tedious commentator  to read or hear, and usually lose interest in understanding her idiosyncratic takes on matters long before I understand exactly what they are.  They might be interesting, but I for one don't care.

Bernard Keane, who can write well, seems to think she's fantastic.  I have never seen it myself.

Mug shot

Oh look:..

everyone who voted for David Leyonhjelm's  party on Saturday got to pose in one photo...

(This blog might never be mentioned by Jason Soon again...)

The likely end of denial

The satellite temperature record of the lower troposphere has been the last refuge of the climate change deniers/lukewarmers, and lots of people have been wondering when the likely rise in it due to the current strong El Nino would start to appear. 

Hotwhopper shows via a simple graph of the last El Ninos that it is indeed likely to happen early in the new year:

And given where the temperatures currently are in the UAH series (the green line) compared to 97-98, there would seem to be pretty good reason to suspect that the old 1998 high is going to be broken.

Nothing would delight me more.   While it may be too late to influence the Paris talks, such a broken record should be extremely useful to show up the appalling and dangerous anti-science of the Republican party for the US election (and, for that matter, the Australian election , where I the anti-science is probably highest in the Nationals.)  

In other satellite temperature posts over the weekend, Nick Stokes at Moyhu looks at the very big adjustments that have been made to the UAH series, compared to the small adjustments made in GISS.   Yes, Lamar Smith's "objective record" is anything but.  This is why people are furious about the harrassment of NOAA - it is based on ignorance.

Michael Tobis makes a fair analogy about the intellectual bankruptcy of Lamar (what a name, by the way):

Imagine if your scale is telling you you are putting on weight, and your doctor’s scale says the same, but your belt is still on the same notch it has long been on. Your belt is certainly a measure of your weight — heavy people have longer belts than lighter people. But it doesn’t measure exactly the same thing as your scale does. It’s a discrepancy that may need to be worked out. Perhaps you are gaining muscle tone. Perhaps your belt is stretching.
Suppose, though, that you are adamant about not changing your diet, and you decide to resolve the discrepancy by lawyering up and issuing subpoenas to the manufacturer of your home scale. (You also choose to ignore that your doctor’s scale agrees.) Is this an “investigation”?
Clearly, it is not an investigation in any reasonable sense. If you were fairly investigating the question you’d be as interested in the internal workings of the belt’s manufacturer as of the scale’s.
Most relevant of all, you would not accuse the scale’s manufacturer of fraud on the grounds that the scale does not account for your belt.
Karl et al’s purpose in the disputed publication is to analyze the surface record. Analyzing the satellite record is somebody else’s job. Reconciling the two if they are inconsistent is yet other people’s job in turn. The idea that the surface record is politically motivated because it isn’t the satellite record is hopelessly indefensible.
Essentially Smith attacks the people releasing the surface record on the grounds that it is not the satellite record. Does Lamar Smith actually believe this makes sense?
One is left with the impression that he has passed the task off of defending his behavior to dyed-in-the-wool internet deniers who really don’t much care whether the drivel they are spouting could even possibly hold together in the real world. Maybe Smith is not smart or well-informed enough to know better, but the idea that nobody on the majority side of the House Science Committee can figure this out is enormously discouraging.
I see that Krugman wants a spade called a spade when it comes to the Republican Party denialism.  He's quite right.

And back on the ground a Google search of "record rainfall" indicates that, apart from the newsworthy floods in the North of England, Florida and Indian both have some local intense rainfall, too.  (It has only taken Miami five days to become the third wettest December on record.)

But yeah, let's go for another 1 degree global temperature rise and see what that does to rainfall intensity, shall we?

The days of climate change denialism being able to continue persuading the gullible are numbered, and some of the ringleaders know it.

Sunday, December 06, 2015

Maybe he should try "don't look at me"

I regularly post disdainfully about David Leyonhjelm's "this will get me some attention" Senate speeches and quips to the media (and sweary and embarrassing things said on Twitter), but I also assumed they were all part of some plan of highlighting the enlightened, libertarian values of his party, so as to give it a reputation as a serious political player.

Well, once again, we have proof the public just aren't buying it.

The LDP yesterday ran a business man with a familiar name (and who has long lived in the electorate) as its candidate in a well educated, presumably highly taxed, part of Sydney that could therefore surely appreciate the value of a small government, libertarian style party that really hates taxes. 

So his primary vote?  At the moment:  2.06%.  Worse than the Sustainable Population Party, Fred Nile's mob, and only 8 times less than the Greens.   

I'm starting to suspect that if the LDP changed its name to the "We Like Cats Party" it could gain more votes.  (Would be less deceptive, too.)

Saturday, December 05, 2015

Oh! My! God!

Is it possible to actively dislike Taylor Swift?   I don't think so; and long time readers might gather from the fact that I posted a video of her last year that I am kindly disposed towards her.

She is presently gracing my fair city for a stadium concert tonight.   I was wondering which hotel she would stay in - and it looks like the penthouse at the Stamford might be the premium site now.  It does look nice:

After a really non-cynical review of her Sydney show last weekend from aging music journalist Bernard Zuel, I actually suspect seeing her concert  might be enjoyable, even if taking a pair of binoculars might be necessary:

But my daughter is not as big a fan as would be useful to get me entry as a non-committal parent half grudgingly accompanying her.  Pity.

Finally, the lovely pic of her and a cockatoo on her twitter feed.  Which I don't follow.  Honest:

Age appropriate content will now resume....

About those guns

It is, of course, an indictment of where the political Right in America has gone that they now simply cannot contemplate action on guns in the way that Ronald Reagan once did.  (Yes, he did support the decade long ban on assault weapons, despite having been a gun rights defender at other times.  Unfortunately, it seems that getting shot is about the surest way an American politician can be driven to enthusiasm for gun control - see Gabby Gifford's site, for example.)

The media if full of fascinating stuff about the guns used at San Bernardino, and other mass shootings:

*  the New York Times pictorial list of what weapons they used (which actually shows a preponderance of pistols, it seems);

The Australian notes this morning that despite having "tough" (by American standards - ha!) gun control laws, Californians can still buy assault style rifles provided they are slightly harder to re-load:
Included in the ban were rifles that can use detachable ammunition magazines that hold more than 10 rounds and have other characteristics. Magazines that hold more than 10 bullets are also outlawed.

But rifles that aren’t specifically listed in the ban are considered legal, as long as a tool is required to release the ammunition magazine. The change is intended to effectively limit the number of rounds the gun can fire because it presumably takes extra time to reload.

California’s law prompted the gun industry to start marketing military-style rifles with so-called bullet buttons, a sort of sleeve that blocks quick access to the release button. Users can use the tip of a spare bullet or a tool to release the gun’s magazine, although a small magnet can be attached to the ­button so that users can quickly press it using just their finger.

The executive director of the Violence Policy Centre in Washington, Josh Sugarmann, said the gun industry was “cynically ­exploiting an inadvertent limitation” of California’s assault weapons ban.
*  As usual, the paranoid reasoning - both (I assume) that having your own gun will help protect you in a gun massacre, and that the Feds under Obama are about to swoop in on their black helicopters and disarm the wingnuts of the nation - is expected to lead to an increase in sales

*  Despite the Australian gun control experience getting an extensive airing in the US media again (as it does after every massacre), even I can see that if you are starting with a base of an insanely armed society, you can't expect the Australian method to be replicated there   Vox has a good bit of commentary on this:  What no politician wants to admit about gun control.  But that is not to say that there is nothing to be done, of course.  The stupidest of all arguments, which appears regularly in Catallaxy, of course, is that because some crimes still happen with guns in Australia, our gun control measures are a failure.   It's such an insanely dumb attempt at a debating tactic, you have to wonder about the brain size of those deploying it.

*  In a broader sociological context, another Vox piece looks at the gun control problem in the US as part of the broader polarisation of American society: gun enthusiasts, mass shootings are not arguments against guns but for them. The rise in mass shootings is only convincing both sides that they're right, causing them to dig in further.

It's not even clear that opinions on guns and gun violence remain amenable to argument. Over the past few decades, gun ownership in the US has evolved from a practical issue for rural homeowners and hunters to a kind of gesture of tribal solidarity, an act of defiance toward Obama, the left, and all the changes they represent. The gun lobby has become more hardened and uncompromising, pushing guns into schoolschurches, and universities.

This has taken place in the context of a broader and deeper polarization of the country, as Red America and Blue America have become more ideologically homogeneous and distant from one another. The two sides are now composed of people who quite literally think and feel differently — and are less and less able to communicate. The gun issue is a salient example, but far from the only one.
 The article, which is quite fascinating, goes on to look at the argument that the polarisation is partly based on a Conservative/Liberal personality divide - but then it also lists the reasons to be skeptical of such arguments too.

I don't doubt that the polarisation has happened, and as I have said frequently, it has been more of a case of the Right moving into an eccentric, ideologically motivated, evidence free, corner, than the Left going more Left.   (Even allowing for the silly revival of extreme political correctness on US campuses.)  

I seriously think there is inadequate blame for this to be put on the internet, and the Fox Network.    

Self induced boredom

I had been meaning to comment that Andrew Bolt had become quite the intense bore, with his continual whining and hand wringing about the loss of Abbott and the rise of the "Left" in the form of Malcolm Turnbull.  But perhaps I don't have to, as Andrew admits this today:
I’ve boring even myself in criticising this lurch to the Left, and the pleasure of saying “I told you so” isn’t compensation enough. 
Of course, the Gold Ribbon for nutty ratbaggery in political commentary still comes from Steve ("everyone else has been wrong about economics for the last 80 years") Kates, who's now suggesting that Turnbull should make "shirtfront" Abbott the Foreign Minister!

An absolute hysteric on Muslims; a person who simply can't understand why so many politicians can't see through the climate change fraud by scientists, like he can;  it's rare to see such foolery on such regular display by an academic.  (I also can only assume that economics students who go to RMIT are either Right wingers full of the worst youthful arrogance, or silly enough not to have checked out the internet material put out by their lecturers.)   

Fascist Saturday

The Android app Zite has always been good at flagging odd and interesting content in a list that is easy to quickly scroll; but sadly, it is about to close and be absorbed into the less easily scrolled Flipbook.  I guess I'll try setting up a Flipbook account and migrate my Zite preferences to it, but I don't expect it to be as good.

Anyhoo, it was via Zite that I found this entertaining article from Atlas Obscura (a site that deserves a spot on my blogroll):  The Sex-Obsessed Poet Who Invented Fascism.  It starts:
It can be hard to reconcile the incredible charisma of Hitler written about in history books with recordings of his speeches in which he looks like a madman. Some might conclude that perhaps Germans didn't notice how off-putting he was because his style of declamation was widely used at the time and has simply fallen out of fashion.

But Hitler's speeches weren't normal or spontaneous. Neither were Mussolini's. Both of them were to a large extent imitating one man: an Italian poet named Gabriele d'Annunzio, who lived between 1863 and 1938. He was a war hero and famous libertine, and he essentially invented Fascism as an art project because he felt representative democracy was bourgeois and lacked a romantic dramatic arc.

D'Annunzio was a thrill-seeking megalomaniac best described as a cross between the Marquis de Sade, Aaron Burr, Ayn Rand, and Madonna. He was wildly popular. And he wasn't like anyone who came before him.
It's a great read.  Apparently, after WW1, he set up a purported mini nation in a city in what's now Croatia,  where his leadership style is described as follows:
Being d'Annunzio, he of course turned it into a sex-positive corporatist libertarian art commune. For 15 months. In the aftermath of a long war of attrition, nobody but d'Annunzio wanted to jump back into battle—and Fiume's eventual nationality was still on the negotiating table.

D'Annunzio believed that a country was sustained by faith, not trust. Therefore, instead of trying to govern kindly or honestly, he thought a leader should act like the head of a religion—not simply a pope or grand mufti, but a Messiah. It’s unclear whether he structured his government as a personality cult because he thought it would be effective, or because he was so self-obsessed it was inevitable.

You've seen what it looked like, because you've seen the imitators. D'Annunzio made stylized, inflammatory speeches full of rhetorical questions from balconies flanked with pseudo-religious icons. He outfitted his troops in embellished black shirts and soft pantaloons, and told them to march through the streets in columns, palms raised in a straight-armed Roman salute that would be plagiarized by the Nazis.

He called himself Il Duce. He encouraged his troops to brutalize "inferior" people to rally everyone else's morale, and attempted to found an Anti-League of Nations to encourage continual revolution instead of peace.
No one knows whether d'Annunzio exalted violence because of a Futurist pre-postmodern conviction that new structures could only emerge from complete destruction—modernity lancing the corrupted past like a boil—or whether he simply found the adrenaline arousing. Other of his governing ideals seem incongruously idyllic—music as a central duty of the state, enshrined in the constitution, plus nightly firework shows and poetry readings. In essence, he believed in government by spectacle.

Many artists of the time, including people who really should have known better, thought it was a daring and provocative thought experiment that should be allowed to continue indefinitely. Nevertheless, Italy itself eventually besieged Fiume (or as d'Annunzio styled it, Carnaro) and demanded d'Annunzio step down.
 How fascinating.  I feel I should have known about this guy before now.

Friday, December 04, 2015

Best commentary on the San Bernardino shooting

I think this one is awkward for the gun nuts of America (and Australia.)   Seems likely that it is a case of Islam inspired domestic terrorism, but with high powered weaponry legally purchased.  This removes the "we must identity and treat the mentally ill better" argument, presumably.   And even the desperate, movie fantasy land "if only someone there had their own pistol on them, they could have taken them down" when it sounds like most people were shoot in a initial spray of rapid fire.   (Oh, the gun nuts will still run the argument, no matter the improbability.)    Even our own resident gun obsessive, fantasy prone, Senator hasn't been running any of the usual NRA guff about guns in the light of this one:  his main tweet after it suggests something like this:  "well, yeah, America has lots of mass shootings, but other countries with quite a few guns don't.  Maybe if we let more guns be owned, we'll luck out and be more like those countries."   Yeah, right. In a country where the number of mass shootings took a dramatic drop after tightening gun control, why should we take that risk, other than to give him the thrill of being able "to pat" semi automatics from his attic again.   (I am not making that up.)     

In light of the commentary following, I guess the appropriate response is to feel somewhat sorry for the (probably relatively high proportion) of Americans who fully understand why other countries think their attitude to gun control  is absurd. 

Here's the best piece I have read:

The Most Dangerous Belief is not Believing in Gun Control

Here's an extract:
I actually think that there was some rhetoric that contributed to the shooting. Rhetoric like “guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” and “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” Did you know that less than a month before the Planned Parenthood shooting, there was another mass killing in the town of Colorado Springs? One woman was witness to both, by the way, and her boyfriend said she cried the first time but not this time because quote, “She’s a veteran now.”
Well in that first shooting the shooter was walking down the street with his rifle—an AR-15, in fact. Concerned citizens saw him and called the authorities and said, “There’s a man walking down the street with a rifle.” And the dispatcher told these citizens, “Well there’s nothing we can do about that because Colorado is an open carry state and the only thing that’s going to stop a bad guy with a gun is—” Oh too late, three innocent people are now dead.
That was Halloween day. In between that mass shooting and the Planned Parenthood Black Friday mass shooting, the website Shooting Tracker chronicled 31 additional mass shootings. Forty-seven dead and scores more wounded. Now these were just the mass shootings. These were not the one-off accidents, the suicides, the targeted slayings, the gangland beefs. No presidential candidates of either party were called on to make statements decrying the Ohio man who killed his neighbors and their 7-year-old son; the quadruple murderer in Kentucky who shot a family then burned their house; the Texas man who shot six at a campsite; the Jacksonville, Florida, man who made the mother of his 5-month-old twins hold their babies as he shot her, and them, and then himself.
Guns. A lot of people have a lot of terrible ideas: Sometimes it’s getting revenge on an ideology, sometimes it’s getting revenge on the police, sometimes it’s getting revenge on people you personally know. But without guns, the death toll would be much lower. I’m not saying that all the hateful rhetoric around Planned Parenthood didn’t unfairly nudge them closer to the crosshairs. But it’s not just bad ideas and angry men that lead to these obscene death tolls. It’s that the ill heads with these twisted ideas can so easily access a means of lethality uncommon in the civilized world. We are an aggrieved, worked up, angry people. But an American who is aggrieved or enraged or unmoored is more deadly that an Englishman or an Australian not because of the extremes of our discourse, or the extent of our aggrievement. The bad idea that people are most dying from is not an anti-abortion idea or an anti-cop idea or anti-Western, anti-Christian. It’s anti–gun control. That’s the deadliest and most ignorant idea of all.

Obvious, but a large slab of Americans need to be reminded.  (Depressingly, they'll also ignore it.)

In other commentary, James Fallows writes touchingly of how saddened he is by this latest shooting.

And from an article that appeared just before the shooting, here's an article ripping into the deliberately intimidating tactics of many "open carry" advocates:   Gun Nuts Are a Threat to Democracy.

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Seems pretty important...

Physicists confirm thermodynamic irreversibility in a quantum system

A reminder

I wonder, was yesterday's better than expected GDP figure a good enough reason to remind the world that a certain anti-Keynesian economist was warning about Australian stagflation in 2011? 

Yes; yes.  I think it is.

For the sardine obsessive

I'm still eating a lot of sardines lately (well, twice a week), and on a hunt to find the nicest available in Brisbane.

As I've noted before, the Canadian ones are a major disappointment;  those from Portugal (for which I have to go to a deli in West End) were pretty nice; but the best were the heavily smoked German ones from Aldi, which have tragically disappeared off their shelf.   The old "King Oscar" brand, which are now canned in Poland (I had forgotten 'til I checked a map that Poland actually had ocean frontage), are said to be "lightly smoked", but it's barely detectable.  Still, they are pleasant enough in a small sardine way.  Aldi's sardines are now also from Poland, and one suspects from the same factory as King Oscar's.  They are OK, but I'm leaning towards King Oscar still.

But if you think I've become a bit obsessive about sardines, you ought to read this extensive blog (actually, just consisting of one enormous post - but comments are still active!) by a couple of women from Melbourne, rating not only cans available in Australia, but those they have sampled on international trips.   (I have to say, based on those brands they review which I have also tried, their taste seems fairly closely aligned to mine.)

Yes, if you are truly interested in sardine taste comparisons, you should read The Sardinistas - A Comparative Study of Tinned Sardines.

 And if you still aren't sick of sardines by then, go and have a look at this page - Journeys in Canned Fish History.  (Honestly, what would you do without my blog.)   You'll find there many photos of how canned Norwegian sardines used to look in Australia, with this odd example of graphic art from a 100 or so years ago at the top:

And what about this crook looking Kooka, who I suspect not only has a mohawk, but is hooked on ice:

Anyhow, I'll hopefully try another European deli this weekend, to see if I can extend my personal tasting range.

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Gay indulgence

The Danger in Comparing the HIV-Prevention Pill to Condoms - The Atlantic

The writer of this article, about the rather vexing issue of gay men going on permanent (and expensive) medication so they can sleep around with as many (possibly) HIV positive guys they want without a condom, has not done his cause any favours:
As a gay man who has receptive sex—and who lives in Miami and Washington, D.C., the cities with the first- and fifth-highest HIV rates in the U.S.—I knew how high my risk was, and for the most part, I wasn’t willing to chance it....

How often do you have sex without a condom? this new doctor asked.

I explained my situation: I was there because I don’t like sex with condoms. I knew it put me at risk, so I rarely had sex. I knew it wasn’t the right reason to ask for PrEP, and I knew it wasn’t 100-percent effective, but I knew asking for it was the right thing to do.....
I swiped my credit card. On the way back to my apartment, I popped a pill in the street.
I took the pill for 30 days. I had sex once. I couldn’t afford to refill the prescription, so I didn’t.

Over the next few months, I tried, unsuccessfully, to find a steady partner so that I could have a condomless sex life without fear. That seemed like my only option: I literally couldn’t afford sex with multiple partners. The truth is, though, even that option seemed suspect: Several of my HIV-positive friends had acquired the virus from boyfriends who’d cheated on them.
Well, this is extraordinarily self indulgent, if you ask me.   Instead of the cheap, simple option that he doesn't even have to put on his own sensitive bit, he prefers to take risks and then use an expensive medication to keep him virus free.  (But won't stop a wide variety of other STDs.)

And people in comments following note the same:
It would seem disingenuous to file this under 'Health' rather than 'Lifestyle', given that at almost every opportunity the author states that medical/scientific experts were wrong, without explaining why, and all to justify his personal (and understandable) preference for condomless sex without feeling bad for the negative externalities it engenders. A study earlier this year already showed resistance mutations in a clinical study. Cavalier usage of prep as a lifestyle drug will only shorten it's efficacy, not to mention increased STI rates in all other areas.

In short, it's a selfish personal essay to excuse and justify behaviour that the author knows deep down is wrong.
 And this:
This article sounds like it was written by a Reagan-era conservative to destroy any sympathy for AIDS patients by portraying them as irresponsible, selfish, and greedy.
On the other hand, some argue that it makes sense to issue this expensive drug because preventing contracting HIV outweighs the lifelong cost of the drugs that keep it from killing those who contract it.

Yet, the point is, if people could have monogamous relationships, and only with those who don't have the disease, it costs nothing to stay healthy, and doesn't even involve a condom.   This works for billions of heterosexual couples on the planet.   And lots and lots of straight people have trouble finding "intimacy" and long term relationships for a period in their lives, too.   Hard to see why so many gay men find their lives need expensive financial medical assistance and worthy of special sympathy.

Wingnut obsessions

I have to say, it has taken the death of one Maurice Strong for me to even notice the guy, and that's only  because of the way wingnuts have obviously been obsessing about him for the last decade as some sort of e-vil overlord of the UN role in seeking to limit global warming. 

Fortunately for them, most "climate change is a complete crock and scam that is about to collapse" believers are old codgers and women who'll be dead before their grandchildren can curse them for their stupidity.   Although the grandkids of Andrew Bolt will probably be so happy with their inheritance that they won't care how Grandad made money by pandering to the gullible.  

Oh, and once Jason Soon has paid for the Chinese gene editting uplift to sentience of the descendants of David Leyonhjelm's cats, they'll probably think he was a moron too.

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

OK, back to the old topic

Global - How to Save the World - Foreign Correspondent - ABC

This special last night on the ABC was well worth watching.   Things I liked in particular - the German farmers who make money from their many wind turbines and don't fantasise about infrasound;  the way the average age at the Heartland Skeptics conference looked to be about 65-70; the Kenyan villages getting into solar power electricity because you don't need heaps of infrastructure to get it there.  Good work.

New topic wanted

I'm feeling oddly bereft of posting topics today.   I was going to note Peter Hartcher's story that even Liberals were questioning Abbott as to whether a (widely rumoured) affair with Peta explained his refusal to dump her, and how this seems to have attracted little attention from the rest of the media today.   (I find that odd.   But I find it even odder that both News Ltd and Fairfax outlets have taken to innuendo about Abbott and Credlin - going skiing together, staying in France together, Tony sleeping on her couch instead of spending his allowance on an actual hotel room - and neither of them, nor their spouses, come out to complain about it.  If I were the subject of such innuendo, and if I had not slept with my staffer, I think I could at least muster a press release of denial and then say I was not going to dignify it by addressing it again.  But just remaining silent despite the increasing openness of the innuendo?   Strange...)

But there, now that I have done that, I am waiting for other inspiration...