Saturday, January 31, 2015

An observation

One of the funniest things to read on an election night when Labor is doing well (as it is in Queensland tonight where, in what is surely the most extraordinary reversal of fortune in Australian electoral history, it looks to have a chance of forming government after being in Opposition with a number of MPs you could count on two hands) is the Catallaxy blog.  Especially when that bunch of climate change denying numbskulls - it's a prerequisite to be part of the club there - start saying the only explanation is that Australians are too dumb. 

Update:   While he's not the only economist who seems to have too much faith in election betting markets (Kouk loves quoting them all the time too,) Sinclair Davidson's dedication to them should surely be tested after this election.  

Also - I see that Adam Creighton had a tweet last night claiming its all due to the electorate's economic illiteracy.  This from a man whose ideologically anti-Keynesian pals in the US have been predicting runaway inflation as the big worry for the last 6 years.  And, of course, his pals here include a certain blog master who warned about stagflation in Australia 3 years ago.  

Creighton's latest persistent line is that the drop in the Australian dollar is not really a good thing - I suspect because it makes his internet overseas purchases more expensive, which trumps its obvious benefits to just about anything being exported from here, as well as the tourism industry.

Update 2:   The election result seems to confirm that the Newman campaign to drum up support for asset sales by calling them 99 year leases was too slick by half.   The campaign was so obviously advertising agency manipulation to get the result Newman wanted, it backfired.  Mark this one as a Crosby Textor fail.   Couldn't happen to a better jerk, as Mark Textor clearly is

Update 3:  Good Lord.  Judith Sloan has a post about the apparently leaked replacement policy to Abbott's to-be-abandoned-tomorrow parental leave plan with which I agree.   The thing is, though, people like me always said Abbott was a policy flim flam man and a mere opportunistic flake.  That's how he got the leadership, for God's sake; but because the ideologically driven to not believe science  were so excited that he was their man for carbon tax removal, they weren't worried about him then.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Lost for choice

Tony is out and about, being a proud captain of Team Australia with his happy team players.

Honestly, there are more potential funny captions for what could be coming out of this guy's mouth than there are stars in the galaxy:

Remarkable droughts remarked upon

California's drought is now even more horrible.

Looks like San Francisco is definitely set to have its first completely dry January since continuous records started in 1850.    Snowpack in the Sierras (which supplies a lot of drinking water) down to 25% of normal.

As for Brazil, even the WSJ is reporting on how dire its drought is.

All with barely a degree of warming, hey Lukewarmists? 

It won't happen, but if he were to sack Peta...

Good work Waleed

The PM's woes started earlier than you think

Truth be told, I think lots of journalists have been telling this exact same story over the last 12 months, but Waleed does sum it up all rather well.

Update:  well I barely got that out, and I see that Twitter is bent over in stitches because Tony Abbott has apparently just said that Turnbull and Bishop are excelling because "they have a good captain".  

On current indications, his press club performance on Monday will, one suspects, likely see him out of the job....

The tedious world of Moffat

This summer, the ABC has been running that re-invented Sherlock show from the BBC from the start.  I had not seen it before.

There is quite a bit to like:  Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman are both good in their roles, and the (novel, as far as I can recall) method of showing internal thoughts or other information simply by having the floating words in the air near the character is neat.  On the downside, I have always found the 90 minute format for character based, slightly comedic, detective stories is just a bit too long.   I remember my interest in episodes of Columbo, for example, always started petering out at the 60 to 70 minute mark, and that was with commercials.

But my main reason for the post is to make the observation that, just as Graham Greene's output seemed permanently stuck in a "Greeneland" [depressed males, often with a crisis of faith, seeking solace in sex,] co-creator and sometimes writer Steven Moffat seems absolutely stuck in pan or omni-sexual Moffatland.

It was an obvious modern joke to make in the first episode: people wondering if Sherlock and Watson are a gay couple.  Maybe even the second episode.   But last week, I think 4 shows in, and we have the lesbian dominatrix story.  And Watson still talking about how he is not gay.  And everyone wondering if Sherlock has ever had a boyfriend or girlfriend.  Really, who cares?   It is tediously like modern Dr Who of the last 5 or so (possibly 8 or so - I lose track) years, where it seemed an episode which did not feature some jokey reference to queer sexuality or practice of some kind or other was a real rarity (in what is basically a kids' show.)

I have no idea why this obsesses Moffat so much.   Amusingly, it seems that even gay or "queer" theorists  find fault with how he deals with it.   It also appears that some feminists find Moffat very objectionable.  Maybe he is rather like Tony Abbott - can't keep anyone on any side of the spectrum happy.

But the main thing is - it's just such a bore to see a personal obsession keep on appearing with such regularity in shows which are not about sexuality.  It sticks out like a sore thumb,  from a man who seems to have issues. 

Tracking down the cause

Mystery childhood paralysis stumps researchers : Nature News & Comment

I don't like hearing that there are cases of childhood paralysis that don't have a clear cause, but there you have it.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Meanwhile, in New York...

PS:  my theory is that Rupert lives on by taking a daily infusion of more youthful blood compulsorily donated by editors and staff at News Limited papers.  Hard to explain that in one box, though...

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Julie's loss noted

For those of my vast international readership who are wondering what this is about.... 

Musing about the PC, 28 years ago

I'm under pressure again to dispose of my old magazine collection - many of them Omni's from the 1980s.  (By the way, they were printed on quality paper - there's really not that much page yellowing in my carelessly stored editions.)

But just glancing through these still quite appealingly designed magazines, I come across articles that remind me how the world has changed, and it's sort of charming, even if it makes me feel old.   Here's a scan of an article written by someone in the PC business in April 1987, who was asked by Omni "Is the Computer Business Dying?":

Cute design

Cubitat from Urban Capital and Nichetto Studios is a compact home in a box.

I like this a lot.  Of course, as a home, all it lacks is exterior walls.  But no design is perfect...

Maybe if I could just have one installed in an appropriate sized yurt...

Rupert now directing Prime Ministerial staff arrangments...

Hilarious to watch Rupert directing the show from New York:

Especially funny if Abbott really is personally responsible for the Prince Phil knighthood and didn't even run it past her...

Disappointing that I'm not smarter than I knew

Unconscious thought not so smart after all

A bunch of studies American's don't believe

Good guy with a gun myth: Guns increase the risk of homicide, accidents, suicide.

The most surprising thing, as this article points out early, is that a significant majority of Americans actually believe the NRA line that gun ownership is a good idea for personal safety.  

More common than you think

BBC - Earth - Spectacular real virgin births

A good read about virgin births in the animal kingdom.  (Quaint term - "animal kingdom" - isn't it?)

Time to 5:2 again

Fasting facts: is the 5:2 diet too good to be true? | Life and style | The Guardian

I tried the 5:2 diet last year and it did work, but having stopped completely for maybe four months now the weight has been creeping back up towards last year's starting point.  Michael was probably right - having lost the weight, doing it one day a week may be the way to maintain it.

This Guardian article starts out as if it is going to take down the claims a peg or two, but everyone it quotes still seems quite strongly supportive.  There is an alternative mentioned:
Longo himself has fasted daily for more than five years now. He practises time-restricted feeding, where he allows himself only two meals within three to 12 hours – a method that is common among centenarians and, says, “a good way for me to maintain a healthy weight”. It’s better than 5:2, according to Longo, because your system prefers a daily routine, rather than extremes every few days (he also recommends three-to-five day fasts every three months). But he wouldn’t recommend trying it without medical supervision, for fear of malnourishment and “because people like to improvise”, he says. You certainly can’t just go around fasting willy-nilly if you’re still growing, pregnant, diabetic or have other serious health conditions.
Well, until a book comes out about that, I won't try it.

Anyway, perhaps from next week it's time for me to go back to 5:2.   When it's cooler, I can throw in one of those 60 second a week exercise regimes .   Michael endorse them too!  (Heh).

Tuesday, January 27, 2015


Climate change will hit Australia harder than rest of world, study shows | Environment | The Guardian

The CSIRO/BOM website that the article links to looks pretty good - it breaks Australia down into regions and explains what is on the cards regarding not just rainfall, but extreme rainfall, temperatures, etc.  It also indicates the degree of confidence.

While regional forecasts of the effects of climate change are still very tricky, it's interesting to note that one thing they are still most confident about  is that the south west corner of Western Australia will continue to get drier. 

The Guardian report also notes this:
Some of the most profound transformations are set to take place in the
seas that surround Australia, which will warm by a further 2C to 4C
unless emissions are cut.
The ecological changes that this could involve have potentially serious consequences on such mundane matters as tourism.   This summer, a boy was stung at the Brisbane bayside suburb of Wellington Point by the (sometimes) deadly irukandji jellyfish.   An article at the Conversation in 2013 noted that they are normally only in northern Queensland waters (north of Gladstone) but had been found in Harvey Bay.  Now Brisbane.   While it remains unclear whether they can establish this far south in large numbers, if they did, and effectively prevented widespread use of southern Queensland beaches for the hottest summer months, the tourism effect would be very dire.

I am guessing that economists and their DICE models haven't worked out a way to factor that one into projections for GDP effect of global warming in 2090...

Monday, January 26, 2015

Faker than a spaghetti western

Just turned over to watch some of the Baz Luhrmann film Australia, which I knew would be ridiculous, but it exceeds my expectations. 

What on earth was this director thinking?   Everything about the film screams "fake":  the awful acting of poor Nicole Kidman, the sets, the story, the stampede, and (somehow) he even makes the Australian outback look fake - it looks and sounds more like a (particularly bad) 1940's American Western.   It's a film weird in concept and execution.   Any Australian critic who liked it is not to be trusted.

And looking back at what some American critics said about its treatment of aborigines - I see exactly what they mean.

I've been out for a Abbott still PM?

Tony Abbott under fire from Cabinet colleagues over decision to grant knighthood to Prince Philip

 So, the answer seems to be yes, but is on the way out...


Yesterday, ABC TV said that Brisbane had a high of 37 degrees, and Ipswich too.   It's quite unusual to see the same temperature in both locations. 

I know it was hot where we live, about halfway between those locations.  If this heat and high humidity continues well into February, I think it will start to have the feel of the 1998 summer.

Looking around the world, Brazil is apparently having record heat and continuing, very serious, drought, and California has been hot.  Its drought is also still hanging around, even though rains late last year gave them hope.  The January lack of rain is, however, highly unusual:
January is usually San Francisco's wettest month, averaging four and a half inches of rain since 1850. In January 2015, though, it hasn't rained at all -- and the forecast doesn't suggest that's likely to change. Over the past 165 years, that has never happened. Not once. The closest the city came to a rainless month was when it got 0.06 inches -- in 2014.
But back to Brisbane.

Although our weather bureau contains tables of our climate at different locations, I can't see that they provide anywhere where you can easily graph the results.   (I would welcome being corrected on that.)  But over at the Berkeley Earth temperature records, they do provide pre-made graphs for all major cities.  

Here's what Brisbane's looks like:

 Seems a clear trend since I was born...

A call out to a gallah

Honestly, it would be the funniest bit of political history in Australia since Federation  if Tony's weird knighthood decision led to his losing the Prime Ministership.   I await with pleasure his media performance on this one....

Update:  the photo of the cockatoos was taken this morning.   It's very cheering, watching these white, intelligent birds having a feed. 

Friday, January 23, 2015

Butterfly improvement

Butterflies booming in south-east Queensland - ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

Yes, my daughter (still on school holidays) has taken to ringing me daily at work to tell me the large number of pretty blue (and one or two orange, apparently) butterflies in our back yard.   I haven't actually seen them there myself, although while driving around I have caught sight of a flash of blue.

We normally get only the most basic black and white type, which I have posted pictures of before.  I did, however, some years ago, get a nice shot of a slightly more exotic one.   I am not sure why there should be a sudden burst of prettier ones. 

An oldie but a goodie - about Matt Ridley

Libertarians are the True Social Parasites | George Monbiot

Mentioned today because the recent Ridley "why are people so mean to me?" column was tweeted by one jtfsoon.

Jihad continues

Man, someone at The Australian is absolutely determined that Gillian Triggs is to be sacked, or discredited to the max.   I would love to know what contact there has been between editorial staff and Coalition figures who want the same outcome - this campaign has been so intense it is hard to believe that it is being driven just by someone at the paper who has taken affront at Triggs.

Anyway, the latest effort comes by quoting the only Australian Human Rights academic I know of who has come out in defence of torture, and taken the view that Australia should withdraw from the UN Refugee convention.  His views on refusing entry to potential refugees who arrive on boats arrivals have essentially been adopted by this government (following from the Rudd decision, it has to be admitted.)

Mirko lost his Refugee Review Tribunal position due to his torture column.  He is truly an outlier in the field of human rights commentary.  His opinion on anything to do with human rights has to be seen in that light.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Gay ol' Berlin

The Gay Capital of the Nineteenth Century - The New Yorker

OK, so everyone's aware of Germany being a bit avant-garde regarding homosexuality in the 20's and 30's, if only because of Cabaret.  (Actually, I still haven't seen it - but I think that's right...)
This review of a book argues that Berlin was actually way ahead of its time in the 19th century, and that a few prominent characters in Germany really can be said to have kicked off the whole gay rights reform movement, despite neighbouring France having actually decriminalised it much earlier.
It's quite an interesting read.  Here, for example:
Gay urges welled up across Europe during the Romantic era; France, in particular, became a haven, since statutes forbidding sodomy had disappeared from its books during the Revolutionary period, reflecting a distaste for law based on religious belief. The Germans, though, were singularly ready to utter the unspeakable. Schopenhauer took a special interest in the complexities of sexuality; in a commentary added in 1859 to the third edition of “The World as Will and Representation,” he offered a notably mellow view of what he called “pederasty,” saying that it was present in every culture. “It arises in some way from human nature itself,” he said, and there was no point in opposing it. (He cited Horace: “Expel nature with a pitchfork, she still comes back.”) Schopenhauer proceeded to expound the dubious theory that nature promoted homosexuality in older men as a way of discouraging them from continuing to procreate.
Not surprisingly, Karl Heinrich Ulrichs seized on Schopenhauer’s curious piece of advocacy when he began his campaign; he quoted the philosopher in one of his coming-out letters to his relatives. Ulrichs might also have mentioned Wagner, who, in “Die Walküre” and “Tristan und Isolde,” depicted illicit passions that many late-nineteenth-century homosexuals saw as allegories for their own experience. Magnus Hirschfeld, in his 1914 book “The Homosexuality of Men and Women,” noted that the Wagner festival in Bayreuth had become a “favorite meeting place” for homosexuals, and quoted a classified ad, from 1894, in which a young man had sought a handsome companion for a Tyrolean bicycling expedition; it was signed “Numa 77, general delivery, Bayreuth.” Ulrichs had published his early pamphlets under the pseudonym Numa Numantius.

I don't know much about Wagner, but I didn't suspect his work of having such an influence.  However, I see that a lesbian blogger has written at length about it.  She says:
In the epilogue to Laurence Dreyfus’s study of Wagner’s erotics, he writes, “It is clear that Wagner’s devotion to depictions of sexual desire was exceedingly unconventional, indeed unprecedented in the history of art.”2  This is certainly because his belief that the repression of female sexual desire as one of the big ills of society was very unconventional. Eva Rieger called the depiction of female sexual desire via Isolde “all but revolutionary.”3  I have covered all this in the posts I referenced above, but I want to make one clear point: all his female characters exhibited very strong desire, including the “virginal” ones such as Elisabeth in Tannhäuser. This was particularly subversive to the dominant sexual culture.
Women–“respectable women”–flocked to hear Wagner’s works, and were among his strongest, most consistent supporters.4  And, while they didn’t scream à la Beatlemania, there were repeated reports of audience members—mostly women or gay men—fainting, having sobbing fits and other sorts of delirium.5  This outsized reaction to him made his critics react in horror, seeing his work as both a manifestation of illness, and a cause of it. They deemed—with their own brand of hysteria— that Wagner seduced the women (and gay men) to mental disease through his over-wrought music. He was damned as degenerate—just as critics damned rock n rollers in the same way. Nonetheless, Wagner won the cultural battle—at least for a time—as a large share of the intelligentsia reacted by embracing him, and Wagnerism was born.
Wagner’s stunning popularity and vast influence (as I wrote about here) opened
the floodgates to much more sexual expressiveness in music and, for that matter, all art. He got away with it, so others now fearlessly followed in his path. In this way, he both directly and indirectly influenced the cultural perception of sexuality. The acceleration of trends towards more open sexuality of the fin de sìecle period, particularly within Germany, France and England, can certainly be traced directly to Wagner.
The things you learn....

Update:   just been reading a bit more about Richard Wagner, and find that his son Siegfried, who continued the family business, was definitely gay - or actually, if one takes ability to have several kids with his wife being any guide - bisexual.   (Rather like Oscar Wilde in that regard.  It would seem that both are now claimed as "gay", but whereas the popular impression of the 21st century gay man is more of one recoiling in horror at the idea of sleeping with a woman, those of the 19th and early 20th century seem to have been somewhat more flexible.)

Anyway, as noted in this site, there is a direct Hitler connection too (I mean, apart from his liking the music):
When Hitler, who was a financial supporter of the Bayreuth Festival, could no longer publicly endorse Lorenz, it was Siegfried’s wife Winifred who used her influence to rescue Bayreuth’s star heldentenor from public disgrace, exile and possible imprisonment over a charge of homosexuality.

Most historians concede that Hitler and Winnifred (below) carried on an affair after Siegfried’s death in 1930; there were even rumors of a possible marriage. Although Winifred was proud of her association with Hitler, when he visited her at Bayreuth, she took pains to conceal the connection. Hitler would register at the Hotel Bube in nearby Bad Berneck, and Winnifred would send her own car to pick him up, so that Hitler's ostentatious Mercedes would not be seen pulling into the driveway at Wahnfried, the Wagner family's villa built for Richard Wagner by King Ludwig II of Bavaria.
  Well, I didn't know that...

Maybe a fair summary?

American Sniper and the political battle over Chris Kyle.

Dana Stevens writes what sounds like a pretty balanced take on the movie and the surrounding controversy.  She liked it, but not without qualification.

This single line seems important:
It’s an existential critique of violent machismo that doubles as a celebration of violence.
 I do usually have a serious problem with that sort of contradictory effect in a movie...

Violence and alcohol

I see that libertarian Liberal Peter Phelps has tweeted a link to the opinion piece in Fairfax today "Australia doesn't have a problem with alcohol.  We have a problem with violence." I take it that he has a problem with the various lock out laws in New South Wales.  

The article makes the first hand observation that in Germany, or Berlin at least, alcohol is sold with few restrictions, at low cost, and consumed copiously, yet they do not have the street violence problem that we have in inner city Australia. In this respect, it sounds like Germany is very like Japan.  (The national characteristics are very similar is quite a few ways, really.) 

So, we all know that different countries have different cultures and different ways of reacting to alcohol and drugs.   But, as the writer of the Fairfax article says, it is by no means clear why young Australians often behave badly when drunk compared to young-ish Germans and Japanese. 

I agree with that.  Many people also feel that behaviour on the streets has become worse over the last few decades.   Why has that happened (assuming it's true - and I suspect it is)?   There is likely no simple answer, with various factors involved, but obviously, it would be completely unrealistic to say the alcohol consumption itself is not a factor. 

But the thing is, if you want to address a problem, you deal with what you've got, and what you can address quickly.  Changing a culture around the consumption of alcohol is not something you can do quickly. 

So regardless of the inter cultural comparisons, the obvious thing to do for a problem of alcohol related street violence in Australia is to tighten control on sale of alcohol.   If the hospital doctors in Sydney say its working, it almost certainly is.  The cultural change that may see us with happy drunks in the streets who rarely get into a fight (as with, in my experience, Japan) might, somehow, come eventually; but until then you deal with what you've got with ways that are quickly effective.

(Oh, and by the way, though regular alcohol consumption after work is extremely common in much of Japan, they do mostly toddle off home by midnight.) 

Verbosity take down

The Guardian has a lengthy essay up with the somewhat promising title "After the Paris Attacks: It's Time for a New Enlightenment."   The author is Pankay Mishra, who I don't know, and while he  appears well intentioned, it seems from a quick scan to be a very verbose, somewhat rambling exercise that does an awful lot of sympathetic "contextualising" of European Muslims, which I am inclined to think is not a very useful response.

More interesting (and amusing) is this comment which really puts a boot into this style of essay.  I will re-print it in full:
This will be become the standard example of the post-modern essay for first year undergraduate humanities students. It demonstrates all the features required to achieve celebrity pundit status. Firstly make sure you extensively quote many other pundits, trying to avoid scientists and politicians in democracies, both actual text and hearsay, name dropping as much as possible but carefully avoiding having any original thoughts yourself. This will confirm how well read you are but not expose you to the tedious business of having to defend your views. If the quotes come from those getting bungs from the Templeton Foundation, so much the better. Secondly, make sure that what you say will be just this side of bonkers and irrational so you don't come across as actually objecting to physical reality, gravity or such like but don't impugn those whose views encompass denial of historical events, human rights or some of the benefits of modernity. Thirdly, and this is very important, don't come up with any concrete suggestions yourself on how to effect change, manage difference and organise a functioning society but maintain an ethereal detachment from the nitty-gritty of getting elected or promoting tolerance and pluralism without being killed. Lastly, whatever you do don't draw attention to the obvious failures or barbarities of some cultural practices or, if you have to then make it seem as though these are not really related to the culture itself but must be some relic of previous oppression. Once these techniques have been mastered future commissions for filler and click bait are assured.

When touching equals molesting

BBC News - How teenage hugs angered Islamic authorities in Malaysia

You have to watch the video to get a good idea of the neurotic control "Sharia authorities" wish to exercise over sexuality. 

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

What a good idea...

Saudi Arabia should 'curb marriages within relatives', says genetics researcher |

Some extraordinary figures in this report:
Riyadh: A scheme to curb marriages within relatives in Saudi Arabia is
being intensified with a compulsory pre-marriage medical tests now
broached to cut the high rate of genetic diseases among the population.

Dr Ayman Al Sulaiman, a genetic researcher and consultant at King
Faisal Hospital in the capital Riyadh, told Saudi TV that a 2004 survey
showed endogamy (marriage between close kin of the first or second
degree or even in the same family) in Saudi Arabia was around 53 per
cent. Now, that figure has climbed to 67 per cent....

In 2014, the head of the Embryology Unit in Al-Ahsa Maternity and
Children Hospital, Dr. Nihad Al-Kashi, blamed endogamy for up to 70
percent of fetal abnormalities in Saudi Arabia's Al-Ahsa region,
according to an Arab News report.

Dr Al Sulaiman said Saudi population faces genetic diseases no other
country has and has one of the highest  genetic disease rates in the
world, estimated at one per 1,000. This compares with one per 4,000 in
the United States and one per 8,000 in Japan.

"This means the ratio of genetic diseases in Saudi Arabia is almost eight times that of Japan,” he told Saudi TV.

Camel love

The deep bond camels share with their owners |
Winning a camel race may fetch you huge prize money and luxury cars,
“but more than the money, it is the prestige attached to owning the
fastest camels that matters”.
Camels, he said, represent the prestige of a tribe. “We will go to any
extent to retain that honour. We will even die for them. There have been
instances in the past where tribes have fought wars over camels. If
someone from one tribe took away a camel belonging to another, the onus
was on the owner to bring it back, whatever the cost, even if he had to
pay with his life,” Al Ameri said.

Moochers Against Mooching strike again

The IPA gets into mooching again, putting its hand out for money to pay for fellow anti-mooching moocher ("Send me Money - I am defending myself in a defamation case and my fees are extraordinary") Mark Steyn to come out to Australia.

Well, thank God it's not tax deductible this time.

Historical rice

From a review of a new book "Rice - A Global History":
The role of rice in supporting population growth in ancient China is explored in some depth. The arrival of short-growth-season rice varieties into Song Dynasty China, for instance, marked the beginnings of a green revolution. Unfortunately, Marton overlooks the regional complexities of the process — the gradual domestication of perennial wetland grasses in the Yangtze valley, and their subsequent adaptation to temperate China and to drier ecologies in the mountains of Southeast Asia2. The story of the wild rices of India is also passed by. The hybridization of these varieties with Chinese rices, potentially around 4,000 years ago, led to an explosive expansion of agriculture and population growth in India. It was the lowland irrigated forms from India that went on to fuel urban expansion in places like Thailand over the past 2,000 years2. While these stories are missed, other aspects of rice's cross cultural journey are highlighted. Each of these translocations led to new recipes, culinary fusion and diversification, as nicely illustrated by 16 recipes selected from historical cook books the world over. As Marton states “Rice is frequently the white canvas on which culinary cultures are painted.”

Marton pays particular attention to the establishment of rice in the Americas, starting in the sixteenth century. Here, traditions of cultivating rice can be traced back to west Africa. Whether initially smuggled by enslaved Africans or intentionally brought over by European settlers, the African rice crop made the tropical lands of the Caribbean and the waterlogged soils of the Lower Mississippi productive enough to support dense populations that then turned their attention to the cultivation of non-subsistence crops like sugar and cotton in less waterlogged soils. The demand for sugar and cotton drove demand for more slaves, and more mouths to feed meant more rice had to be planted. Later, rice became an export commodity in its own right. Marton explains how the growing demand for rice in European urban centres like London in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries came to be met increasingly by American colonies; Africans with inherited cultures of growing rice were in high demand at the time to ensure high profits for their masters. Today, the rice-based dish gumbo, that came out of Louisiana in the eighteenth century, serves as a clear example of the history of rice in the region; the dish takes its name from the linguistic root for the vegetable okra in the African Bantu languages, and is a melting pot of African, French, Spanish and Italian culinary influences.
 Rice certainly has played an important role in lots of places, then;  more broadly than I had realised.

Around the world on sunlight

Solar plane set for landmark round the world flight

It carries one pilot, and will take 25 days to fly around the world (but landing at several places along the way.)

Going around the world without landing would be more impressive, but I guess 3 weeks of food is quite a lot to carry...

A coupla questions...

Regarding Islamic State, the repulsive movement which seems entirely based on it attracting enough young male psycho/socio-paths from around the world to keep it going:

a. why are the efforts to financially starve this group seemingly taking so long to have any effect?  Or does the demand for a $200 million ransom mean that it is starting to have effect?

b. is there a lack of co-operation from certain countries in this approach to the problem?  If so, shouldn't we know?  What would be the point of the West tip-toeing around that issue?

How "no-go" are "no-go" zones?

The Origins of Fox's Favorite Muslim No-Go-Zone Myth - The Atlantic

Here's a detailed look at the oft repeated claim that Muslims have created "no-go" zones within European cities. It's interesting to see that Daniel Pipes once regretted calling them such, but apparently has recently used the term again.  A bit of opportunism there, perhaps?

Slate also weighed in on the matter, with one of its contributors saying she lived in what Fox designated such a zone in 2007, and she found it fine.

It's good to see this being addressed, as I always suspected there was some Pauline Hanson style exaggeration going on.

Recent TV viewing

This week's episode of James May's Toy Stories, featuring his effort to make an Action Man doll break the sound barrier, was particularly entertaining.  It seems to be up at Dailymotion, and is presumably on the SBS site for viewing too for a couple of weeks yet, too.

David Attenborough's quick run through animal evolution which finished last night on ABC was also good.  Many parts of China that he was in looked quite beautiful.   Perhaps this was a repeat, but I hadn't seen it before.

American Liar noted

I hadn't paid attention to the Chris Kyle story until the controversy over American Sniper, so I am a little surprised to learn about how he has been shown up as a self aggrandising liar, at least with respect to his exploits in America after returning from Iraq.

I wonder if the exposure of this, shall we say, problematic aspect of his character led Spielberg to drop the project?  Or did it only gain ground after he was shot?

Update:  from a Slate movie critic reflecting on the movie:
The falsehoods in American Sniper are dangerous because a lot of audiences leave the theater thinking that Chris Kyle was a role model. I’ve actually gotten emails from military vets who were also troubled by the film. A lot of them are even harsher on Kyle than I’m comfortable being, in part because I’ve never served and in part because I was once attacked by Glenn Beck’s online army after poking holes in Lone Survivor. But American Sniper convinces viewers that Chris Kyle is what heroism looks like: a great guy who shoots a lot of people and doesn’t think twice about it. Watching American Sniper, I kept wondering who Kyle himself had been imitating. Sylvester Stallone? John Wayne? Or the ultimate irony, Clint Eastwood himself as Dirty Harry?

ABC doing pretty well compared to Rupert's baby

Oh, so Rupert's pride and joy, The Australian, is doing its boss's bidding and attacking ABC TV for going from 11% of the national audience to 10.8%.  Quelle horreur!  I can likely put that down to a few things:  too many QI repeats, even for people who don't mind Stephen Fry;  many BBC shows being rather dull of late or being sold off to Foxtel already; and Australian comedy and light entertainment production being in a bit of a slump (seems to me to be little in the way of young new talent for years now.) 

But how is The OZ doing in popularity, given that about 90% of comments following the ABC story say its because the network is now so Left wing in current affairs?

According to Morgan, across all platforms, from 2013 to 2014 it lost 5.7% of its readership.

Makes the ABC's ratings loss look trivial.*

Being a magnet for one eyed, right wing dummies doesn't seem to pay off, hey Rupe?

*   (Although, to be scrupulously fair, 10.8/11 x 100 = 98.18, so the ABC's loss calculated the same was is about 1.8%.   Still, only a third of the OZ's loss.) 

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

More atonement made easy

I found another brief reference to an atonement method in the book Israelite Religion - this time a Greek ceremony, and with an odd connection with figs.

I have Googled the topic and found a couple of descriptions in books.  First, from "Problems with Atonement"

And in another book (The Impact of Yom Kippur on Early Christianity)

I'm not sure if there is any connection with Jesus cursing a fig tree because it wasn't bearing any fruit.

And as to why figs were deemed particularly significant in Greek purification/atonement rituals:  this site makes some observations, and uses a lot of big words, but it still seems rather unclear.

Whether it has anything to do with the fact that, if one eats a significant amount of figs at one sitting, one will feel nearly empty of all intestinal impurities within about 24 hours, remains another mystery...

Some seriously deranged thinking going on here...

Man who suffered failed penis enlargement operation 'murdered prostitute' | Daily Mail Online
 [I did recently post about penile enlargement operations, and - separately - about a famous author's chronic habit of blaming women for his strong sex drive which seemingly disgusted him.   The moral of this news story may therefore be that it's lucky that Tolstoy didn't have modern cosmetic surgery available to him.]

PS:  I think I deserve some sort of recognition for - I suspect - creating the first piece of writing in the history of the universe to link Tolstoy with penile enlargement surgery.  

When Harry reviewed Richard

I see that last week, Harry Clarke (at his temporary blog) posted a review of a book by Richard Tol.

Given that Harry only recently pointed out at his old blog where his temporary blog was located, I was surprised to find that Tol himself had already appeared in comments complaining about Harry's rather mildly worded review. 

This suggests Tol likely spends a fair amount of time Googling up his own name for references to him, no matter where they appear.

It also appears that Harry does not know of Tol's reputation for attacking people he disagrees with.   Harry should do some searches for references to him at Rabbett Run, and And Then There's Physics, and elsewhere.

And elsewhere, I see Tol weighing in on a ATTP post about Matt Ridley's complaining column in The Times that he's unfairly attacked for being a "lukewarmer". 

I think Richard has too much time on his hands

That'll go over well...

Pope Francis planning to address joint session of Congress, organizer says | TheHill: Pope Francis is planning to address a joint session of Congress and visit the White House during a trip to Washington, D.C., in September, one of the archbishops organizing the pontiff’s trip said.

Clint Eastwood is not all bad...

....he did, after all, improvise the "empty chair" bit at the 2012 Republican convention, which  moderates at the venue found an embarrassment, including Mrs Romney and Romney aides.    Democrats lapped it up as showing a weirdly out of touch party that had to attack "imaginary Obama" instead of the real one, as Jon Stewart put it.   I have no doubt that it hurt the party far more than it helped.   Thanks, Clint.

But as a director (and, even more chronically, as an actor) he has no talent.   I know that even liberal movie critics don't agree - but I simply do not understand the ways in which his direction is supposed to be impressive.  My prediction is he won't be used as an example in movie schools of the future, in the way many of his contemporaries will.

So the unexpected opening success of American Sniper has me wondering what is going on.  His recent films have not been clear box office hits, and there are quite a few reviews of it by liberal critics which indicate it has a somewhat morally ambiguous take on the effect of violence on the lead character.  (The fact that Spielberg was once intending to direct it also surely indicates this.)

Yet films which show such ambiguity are not normally $90 million openers.   

And there have been articles noting that far Right wing nutters are coming out of it tweeting that it has given them a strong urge to kill Arabs (no doubt with their own gun collection.)   Certainly, some reviewers think it is too celebratory of violence, but as I say, opinion seems divided.

I therefore suspect that what is going on is best summed up in this article from The Guardian, whether or not her take on Kyle's character is accurate (I haven't read enough to have an opinion):

Adds Scott Foundas at Variety: “Chris Kyle saw the world in clearly demarcated terms of good and evil, and American Sniper suggests that such dichromatism may have been key to both his success and survival; on the battlefield, doubt is akin to death.”
Eastwood, on the other hand, Foundas says, “sees only shades of gray”, and American Sniper is a morally ambiguous, emotionally complex film. But there are a lot of Chris Kyles in the world, and the chasm between Eastwood’s intent and his audience’s reception touches on the old Chappelle’s Show conundrum: a lot of white people laughed at Dave Chappelle’s rapier racial satire for the wrong reasons, in ways that may have actually exacerbated stereotypes about black people in the minds of intellectual underachievers. Is that Chappelle’s fault? Should he care?
Likewise, much of the US right wing appears to have seized upon American Sniperwith similarly shallow comprehension – treating it with the same unconsidered, rah-rah reverence that they would the national anthem or the flag itself. Only a few weeks into its release, the film has been flattened into a symbol to serve the interests of an ideology that, arguably, runs counter to the ethos of the film itself. How much, if at all, should Eastwood concern himself with fans who misunderstand and misuse his work? If he, intentionally or not, makes a hero out of Kyle – who, bare minimum, was a racist who took pleasure in dehumanising and killing brown people – is he responsible for validating racism, murder, and dehumanisation? Is he a propagandist if people use his work as propaganda?
That question came to the fore last week on Twitter when several liberal journalists drew attention to Kyle’s less Oscar-worthy statements. “Chris Kyle boasted of looting the apartments of Iraqi families in Fallujah,” wrote author and former Daily Beast writer Max Blumenthal. “Kill every male you see,” Rania Khalek quoted, calling Kyle an “American psycho”.
Retaliation from the rightwing twittersphere was swift and violent, as Khalek documented in an exhaustive (and exhausting) post at Alternet
In any event, I won't be seeing it, at least until it's free on TV.   It's important that the purity of my disdain for Eastwood is not sullied by the risk that he has made a film I might like (even though I think there is a very small chance of that.)

Update:  another article that argues that the movie shows moral complexities (even if it greatly simplifies the particular war in question) is here. 

Update 2:  gee, this review of the book the movie is based on (via one of the links above) makes it sound like poison to a liberal.  It certainly would seem the movie accurately reflects Kyle's simplistic world view; perhaps it increases the sympathy for his post war troubles beyond what the book achieves.  But if so, is that a good thing, or a bad thing? 

Monday, January 19, 2015

That big?

Two undiscovered planets as big as Earth ‘could be on edge of solar system’ | Science | The Guardian

About 18C Racial Discrimination Act

I see that Tim "Selfie" Wilson continues his jihad against s18C of the RDA in a lengthy column in The Australian.

I also see that Mike Carlton has taken offence at his mention in the column, too.  I would have thought he has grounds for a defamation action, but I could be wrong.   I hope some lawyer volunteers to act for him, though, even if he is annoying much of the time. 

I don't really understand Wilson's ability to run around continually trying to drum up support for policy changes which are not entirely consistent with the policy position of his workplace, the HRC.   (Well, I think that's what's going on, anyway.)

The media attack on his boss, Triggs, has also been a disgrace.    Sure, her finding of compensation being warranted to a detainee kept confined for years after he served his criminal sentence sounded high, but the finding that his detention was in breach of international convention was hardly surprising to most lawyers who have commented on it.

The Right seems to think that you're an immigrant, you can be kept detained indefinitely if you have committed a serious crime, even after serving the sentence.  (They are displaying exactly the same nonchalance about the situation on Manus Island, which is likely to turn very ugly soon, by the looks.)  

But back to 18C:   one of the odd things about it is that I see no compelling evidence that Tim's buddy Sinclair Davidson is worried about its use against him for hosting a blog that becomes chock full of the most inflammatory comments about Islam and Muslims after every terrorist attack.

And as for Wilson's argument that he's worried that aboriginal attitudes against gays can't be discussed freely because of 18C - what a completely bogus point.   As someone at Catallaxy (how odd - something useful from that blog!) has pointed out - the topic of aboriginal tradition being used as a self justification for completely unacceptable sexual behaviour was thoroughly canvassed in The Australian in a column in 2007.  Did 18C prevent that being published?  

Wilson and his buddies selfservingly exaggerate the operation and effect of 18C - and they have little in the way of actual cases to point to where it has interfered with a topic getting discussed in the media.

But, that's right, Andrew Bolt got taken to court over a column and his paper had to print a statement to run with the offending columns.   (And we don't know who paid for Andrew's legal costs.  But it was stressful for him.  Very, very stressful.  And so s.18C must go.)

Poor Rupert

Rather unbelievable that Rupert Murdoch should tweet complaining about the tax he pays in New York, isn't it?   I take it he means 55% - and the outpouring of sympathy in tweets following is very amusing to behold.

Oh no it's Alan Jones

I don't normally listen to 4BC, but this morning it happened to be on in the car, just in time for me to hear its new morning host (Alan Jones on relay from Sydney - groan), but it was interesting to hear him telling the world that no one can believe a word the lying liar Campbell Newman says.  (Jones actually went through the campaign launch speech and mocked all of his promises.)

It's all to do with Jones being against farm land being lost to miners. 

I didn't listen long enough to get to the point of understanding who Jones thinks Queenslanders should vote for, though....

The problem of Tony

I missed the story yesterday that a leak shows that top ranking Ministers are dead keen to let the public know that they did not agree with the Abbott "captain's call" to get into the Medicare rebate.

Unrest within government ranks about the PM's competency must be running a lot higher than journalists seem to be letting on.

Wouldn't it be hilarious if the Coalition "does a Rudd" with Tone?  (Although, of course, I assume they would say it couldn't be done the same way, and they would just insist that he resign or the party faces certain defeat, and for all his faults, Tony doesn't have the personality of Rudd and would - I expect - accept such a rebellion.)

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Atonement simplified (and other Old Testament stuff)

I've been slowly reading a book written in 1963 by a Swedish Biblical scholar, Helmer Ringgren called Israelite Religion.    (It was at a second hand book market at Kelvin Grove, and I bought it because I thought it might fill in some lack of knowledge about Jewish temple practices.)  Helmer only died in 2012, I see, at the ripe old age of 94.

It is quite a good read, actually, and although only half way through, there are a few curious points I consider "blogworthy":

*  tent sanctuaries, such as that originally described for the Ark of the Covenant, are clearly known to have been used by pre-Islamic Arabs, and by modern Bedouins,   Seems little reason to doubt, then, that Jews had one.   In fact, I see now that there is a book called The Kregal Pictorial Guide to the Tabernacle which goes into much detail about these.  Interesting.  I just didn't realise that they were likely many of these wandering the deserts of the ancient Middle East.

*  there is the curious story of Jephthah in the book of Judges which is a little like the story of Abraham being prepared to sacrifice his son, except in this case the daughter does actually get it.   I don't think I had heard of this before, although it is probably a favourite of the "New Atheists", as it is clearly not, shall we say, Sunday School friendly.  (It certainly didn't pay for kids in that part of the world  to rush out of the house to great their Dad after a hard day on the battlefield.)

 The Wikipedia article about it notes the various ways its meaning has been guessed, although Ringgren himself seems to think it may be an echo of human sacrifice undertaken by the Canaanites.  He thinks, however, that there are other parts of the Old Testament that more clearly indicate some Israelites at some times may have "borrowed" other Middle Eastern ideas of the sacrifice of children.

Update:  Wikipedia has a quite detailed entry about the controversy over child sacrifice to Moloch

*  As far as the matter of sacrifice and atonement in the Temple is concerned, Ringgren makes brief mention of a Babylonian atonement ceremony which involved putting dough on a person and washing it off.   Seems a lot simpler than killing a bull, goat or pigeon and sprinking its blood on the altar.  (I wonder if the size of the sin had to be reflected in the size of the animal?)

The chapter about sacrifice and its meaning is one of the most interesting in the book, but I haven't finished it yet.

Update:  the book has also reminded me about the "showbread" or "Bread of the Presence" which was left in the Temple.  I only had the vaguest recollection of this, but once again, there's a decent enough summary of this practice in Wikipedia.

As you may guess from this post, the Catholic Church has not, in my lifetime, shown much interest in teaching people about the Jewish precedents for Christian practices.   Catholics to tend to only know about a fairly narrow range of the OT through the first readings at Sunday Mass.   I guess the Catholic Church has more or less been motivated to distance itself from Judaism over most of history, and I presume that's the explanation...

A First World Problem, if ever there was one...

Our TVs at home are all a good number of years old now - in fact we still use in one room a plasma screen that must be pushing 8 or 9 years, and is a very "standard" definition screen that still somehow gives quite satisfactory enough viewing with DVDs.  The other big screen TV is LCD, but I think a fairly low end one.  It does night time scenes from DVDs particularly poorly.

At Christmas we were watching Guardians of the Galaxy on DVD on my sister's new-ish LCD TV, and while I was sitting there thinking how clear and crisp the image was, my wife pointed out that it was actually too clear - it was like watching very high quality video, not a cinema movie. Once it was pointed out to me, it did become a little distracting.

I noticed that this was also the case with all the HD TVs at the department store this afternoon too - they were all were showing a silly Avengers movie, and they all made it looked rather like video.

But I see on Googling the topic that this is a common issue people have when they first get their shiny new HD TVs.

An article in Wired from last August explains:
This annoying little phenomenon is commonly referred to as the “soap opera effect,” and it’s a byproduct of your TV’s motion-enhancing features. Thankfully, the effect can be turned off, and that’s probably a good idea when you’re watching movies. While these smoothing features can make a few things look better—scrolling tickers, sports, and HDTV test discs, for example—our eyes and brains expect something very different when we’re watching movies. A slower frame rate is one of them.
It then goes into a rather technical description of what's going on, and how to try to make sure your TV isn't making some sublime cinematography look like a high end Days of Our Lives.

I see that this was discussed in the SMH in mid 2013, but I didn't pay much attention to an article describing a problem I hadn't yet seen.

Anyway, now that I realise it's an issue, I'll know how to deal with it when we get a new TV.  We're kind of hoping that happens soon, as the LCD TV did an odd flicker out the other day, but revived itself.  It would be good to be able to watch movies with night scenes again...

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Local and global heat

I've been meaning to comment here that it's been a hot and uncomfortable summer in South East Queensland.   When the temperature hasn't been high (it will likely reach 38 degrees in the Western parts of Brisbane today), it's been very humid*, but with little relief from storms.     (Oh yeah, but when they have come, they have caused damage pushing close to $1 billion.)

So with a hot summer, it will make the message that global warming is real more readily accepted by to many in Australia.

Amusingly enough, I see that when the Wall Street Journal runs a "straight" story reporting on the NOAA, NASA and JAMA findings that last year did set a global record (just), it does not go down well with its readership.   (Have a look at the comments.) 

Of course, the paper will probably run six follow up pieces by the likes of Roy Spencer, John Christy, Pat Michaels or Nigel Lawson all offering comfort to their deluded and gullible right wing readership that the paper hasn't abandoned them.

Anyhow, according to the stupid (or, more accurately, the ideologically motivated to disbelieve science)  this is what "AGW - Ha! What a crock!" looks like:

And this is what it looks according to the Japanese (using a different baseline):

And let's not forget - what does Richard Muller's Berkley Earth temperature independently calculated record say:

(Actually, they say that 2014 was a record, but by such a tiny margin it's hard to be sure it really did beat 2010 or 2005.   Seems they are very clear 1998 is not the king, though.)

We all know what the climate change "do-nothings" will say - look at the satellite records - even though they attempt to measure, via the most indirect and complicated means available, the temperature of the atmosphere above the earth rather than surface temperatures.  The two major satellite records have been increasingly diverging, and were shown to be clearly wrong for a protracted period in the past, but deniers will cling to them anyway, rather than believe thermometers on the ground.

That all said, the temperature rise is still running on the low end of model projections (gee, who would have thought that modelling and measuring heat distribution across an entire planet would be complicated...), but stepping back and looking at the big picture (literally, in the case of graphs), people have to be very determined to convince themselves there is not a big problem....

*  This weekend's high humidity (and temperatures - 38 near my house again, today) - noted here.

Friday, January 16, 2015

The secret life of vegans

I didn't go looking for this story, honest.  (I was in fact reading about The Box Trolls' Oscar nomination, and the Laika studio is based in Oregon - see.)

Anyway, this is one of more improbable headlines I've seen for a while:

Two Portland strippers sue vegan strip club Casa Diablo for back wages, unlawful deductions, battery

And the opening sentence:

Two strippers accuse Portland's Casa Diablo, which bills itself the "World's First Vegan Strip Club" of not paying them wages and fining them for such artistic transgressions as failing to disrobe fast enough.
I would never have guessed that a vegan strip joint would have an audience, but it seems to have been operating for a few years at least. 

Bee on being simulated

Backreaction: Do we live in a computer simulation?

Good post by the best active physics blogger that I know...

Update:  I'm sure these are not novel thoughts, but I guess the upside of being in a computer simulation which is running right now is that on death, it may make re-loading me immediately into another simulation a.k.a "the afterlife" a relatively straightforward process.  And, I guess, letting a person review their past life either as part of the dying process, or even at a more leisurely pace from the other simulation, should be easily accommodated too, providing there have been good backups made for "viewing." 

I don't really see that there should be much difficulty in allowing ghost like visits from one simulation to another, too.  Perhaps either the person/thing running the simulation could allow for it, upon request, or there could be viruses that allow for cross simulation incursions.

Of course, the downside is that if the simulation controller is a super advanced teenage gamer, he/she/it may find relocating people into randomly chosen varieties of afterlife a bit of a laugh.  "Put Hitler and all the other bad dudes into  into what everyone else thinks is Heaven, and see how they react?  Haw, haw, haw."

Or does something like Game Theory dictate that if you are running simulations, you do not mistreat your underlings for fear of being punished yourself in the simulation you might be running in?