Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The uncertain promise of electro-braining

Adventures in Transcranial Direct-Current Stimulation - The New Yorker

A pretty good summary here of the uncertain position science is at regarding mild direct current electrical stimulation of the brain.

I should look around for the "do it yourself" versions of the devices which are apparently on the 'net.

Things I have enjoyed on TV lately

*  Tony Robinson's "Walking Through History" series on SBS.  Just finished, I think.   He makes history very accessible, and is a charming guide.  I see that at least a few episodes are on Youtube.

*  Brian Cox's Human Universe:  OK, I'm late to the party on this one, as it finished at least a month ago.  It was a bit, I don't know, vaguely New Age mushy in parts, but it was a really stunning looking show that looked a million bucks, as they say.  And it did take us to some unusual places and was, for the most part, quite interesting.

*  Some other show on lately that I can't think of now - will come back later.

Oh, that's right:  the doco "Inside the Commons" about the British Parliament.  A fantastic, inside look at how their Parliament works.  

Something I haven't enjoyed on TV lately:

The new version of The Odd Couple.   Terrible acting in an old idea that makes all the participants look like embarrassing, incompetent imitators rather than actors.

Zero company tax?

I understand Peter Martin's argument about stopping dividend imputation and reducing company tax, but I don't get the last bit:
Gruen believes  a 19 per cent company tax would push up demand for Australian shares and push their prices high enough to compensate existing Australian shareholders for no longer having imputation. He says the government could use the extra tax it got from the investment surge to cut the company tax rate further, to 15 per cent.
Eventually we will have no choice but to cut it even further, ever closer to zero. As long as just one nation undercuts all the others with a low tax rate, businesses will choose to invest there over other countries. It's why Google will sell you its products in Australia but routes  your money through Ireland, where its profits are taxed at 12.5 per cent.
The man who designed the dividend imputation scheme for Keating can see a zero corporate tax rate beyond the horizon. "The evidence before the Henry review is that cutting the company tax rate is the most helpful thing we could do," said Greg Smith shortly after the Henry Tax Review was released.
Smith served on Keating's staff throughout the tax reforms of the 1980s and later served on the Henry Tax Review. "I have thought seriously about a 15 per cent company tax rate partly funded by the abolition of imputation," he said. "There is an intellectual case for a zero rate. That's the way the world is going, that's the direction in which our competitors are moving."
Why does a race to the bottom on company tax make "intellectual sense"?   Do that, and the next thing the "taxes are bad - very bad" crowd will be arguing  that alternative sources of revenue should be reduced too, no?

Trolleys, psychopaths, utilitarians (and Catholics to boot)

The Last Word On Nothing | The trolley and the psychopath

Here's a good post on the trolley problem and what it may, or may not, show about utilitarianism.

(The site it's on looks like quite a charming mix of science and well crafted writing, too.)

Update:  as it happens, I just found a short animation that talks about the trolley problem, via Open Culture, a website I have been meaning to add to my blogroll:

And have I mentioned my own use of a sacrificial dilemma to challenge some Catholics at Catallaxy a couple of years ago?  Let 's say a supercriminal with a predilection to setting up ethical dilemmas for pro-Lifers sets up a scenario where 5, or 10, or 200, frozen embryos are sitting on a balance far above the ground, with a young, healthy, randomly chosen and innocent woman on the other side.  The physical set up only allows one side to be saved - removing one will cause the other side to tip and plummet to the ground to certain destruction.   Surely peoples' reaction to who should be saved tells us something about the status we give to life in embryonic form, compared to that of a healthy adult. 

The Catallaxy Catholics did not like this challenge.  As far as I can recall, it was never properly addressed.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Cryptic message (nearly all readers may safely skip)

For the instructions to mix a Tom Collins, a cocktail of great simplicity, try looking somewhere other than this blog - I'm too busy writing on it.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Saturday morning duty

My daughter may, or may not, be visible in this picture. OK, she is.  This is how I'm spending my Saturday mornings this year, taking her to orchestra practice.

It's pretty interesting, actually, watching a strings orchestra learning new pieces in (what seems to me, a musical ignoramus) remarkably little time.  

This takes place in the Old Queensland Museum, a charming building of decorative brickwork that barely survived the Bjelke-Petersen era of historic building destruction.  Now used by Queensland Youth Orchestra, and some other music or dance groups, it's a really good venue for them, although parts of the building are still in a state of decay.  I think the State government maintains it to the minimum they can get away with.

I don't usually stay for the whole practice, and so I am becoming quite familiar with how the area around the Brisbane showgrounds and parts of the Valley are developing.  

The Royal National Association, which owns the freehold of this large slab of close to inner city real estate, has embarked on a huge development project of the precinct, the first residential part of which will be finished later this year.  The apartment blocks are in their final stages, and I am a bit surprised at how many there are.  They look a bit crammed together, to be honest, with some apartments looking to have not so fantastic views into the next block.  But who knows, it may look a lot better when fully finished and landscaped.   It is being built by Lend Lease, who I think have a good record. 

I dropped into the on site sales office today and was told they are all sold (bar 2 which the buyers handed back), and two new large blocks which are not yet started are fully sold as well, at significantly higher price than the first bunch.   I think he said 400 units will be in the new blocks; there must be at least that number, probably more, in the blocks that are nearly finished.   It seems clear that buyers are expecting this new precinct is going to be a success. 

In fact, looking at the huge number of number of future apartment blocks the RNA thinks it can build around the showgrounds, it's hard to believe there will be enough showgrounds left for a decent Exhibition.  It's also hard to believe the RNA won't end up incredibly wealthy from the development process.  They'll probably be able to h byave the first agricultural show on the Moon.

But back to young teens and kids playing music.   When I work out the best way to upload it, I'll link to a track from the first evening concert my daughter was in a couple of weeks ago.   They're pretty good, to my untrained ear, at least.

Friday, March 27, 2015

A naive suggestion?

Do people who feel suicidal usually try to hide it when asked directly?  Googling around indicates it is generally thought that they don't.  For example, from the book Psych Notes: Clinical Pocket Guide, we get this:

Would it hurt to have this question on the pre-flight check list that all pilots ask each other? 

What they do now seems not to be direct enough:
The FAA expects pilots and airlines to take joint responsibility when considering if a pilot is fit for duty, including fatigue resulting from pre-duty activities such as commuting. At the beginning of each flight segment, a pilot is required to affirmatively state his or her fitness for duty. If a pilot reports he or she is fatigued and unfit for duty, the airline must remove that pilot from duty immediately.
Update:  I heard some aviation expert or other on the TV saying that if the co-pilot really wanted to kill himself and passengers, he could almost certainly circumvent any procedural changes.   And I have heard Senator Leyonhjelm say, in relation to gun suicides, that people determined to suicide will find another way in any case. 

Apart from Leyonhjelm simply being statically wrong, this line of defeatism seems to me to pay no attention to the psychology of suicide.  If you can make impulsive acts harder to finish, you do reduce suicide. 

Protracted sarcasm can be pretty funny

Persistence! | …and Then There's Physics

The guy who writes And Then There's Physics has a post up about Richard Tol's never ending whinge about the John Cook's "97% consensus" paper, and it's a fun exercise in protracted sarcasm.

As Tol turns up in comments, it makes for some amusing reading.

Improbable alien artefacts

Physicists Describe New Class of Dyson Sphere | MIT Technology Review

In praise of sardines

I'm not sure why, but my wife has been accumulating cans of sardines from Aldi.  I have never seen her eating them, but a couple of days ago, while looking for some lunchtime eating, I found 6 cans, and decided I would try them.

Mashed sardines (with a bit of balsamic vinegar) on toast is not the most attractive looking lunch, but I had forgotten how nice they could be.  I don't think I had eaten canned sardines for at least a decade, possibly two.

As you were...

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Let's not pretend, libertarians

David Leyonhjelm claims in the Fairfax press this morning:

"...the basis of contemporary marriage is love and affection." 

And then this:
"Support for marriage equality does not require, or indeed imply, approval of any particular marriage or marriage outcome. Nor does it open the door to bigamy, polyamory or any other dire outcomes that some people predict."

Of course it does.  The arguments have already started in America, and probably elsewhere, that multi partner marriages can have lots of love and affection, so why shouldn't the government recognise those as legal marriages, if we all agree that gay marriages should be allowed because marriage is about love and affection?   And in fact, I don't think polygamy is something to have a moral panic about; I don't think it is a good way to organize society, but there is a huge amount of cultural precedent for it around the world, contrary to same sex marriage.

Now, at the risk of being on the side of the nutty Catholic element of Catallaxy, what they argue about the libertarian claim that recognising gay marriage is about getting the government "out of the bedroom"  is correct.  That is, libertarians are being disingenuous:   if they truly wanted the government "out of the bedroom", they'd be arguing for it to recognise as few relationships as possible as marriages; not more. They would, I would have thought, be against the way de facto couples were brought completely within Family Law, despite the fact that they may have deliberately decided not to marry so as to avoid at least some of its legal consequences.  That it was done may be argued as a justified government intervention into regulating relationships for the social good, but it can hardly be argued as having increased liberty at the individual level.   Quite the opposite.

Government recognition of marriage confers benefits and (at least when it ends, if not before) imposes obligations.   Making marriage more open to diverse groups, including same sex and polygamous relationships (as the logic inevitably runs) means more government involvement in the regulation of private relationships across society; not less.

It's particularly ironic that libertarians are frequently non-traditionalists (as well as atheists or agnostics) who recognise no particular significance to marriage as a legal status in their own lives  - they take the Leyonhjelm line that you "don't need a marriage licence" to make a marriage "real".  Thus they seem to have both little regard for what legal marriage means personally, while insisting that government should take an expansionary view of it.   The reason?   Well, because it makes some (actually, a relatively small number of gay people) feel left out.  
Libertarians hate a welfare entitlement mentality in others, yet they are happy to endorse a "symbol entitlement" mentality, and have chosen to paint this argument as essentially a rights issue in the same way wet liberals and Lefty's do.   And libertarians are not normally all that taken by the idea of human rights, but they will make an exception for their gay friends, it seems.

As far as I'm concerned, there is very little that is intellectually consistent about the "libertarian" view on same sex marriage with the rest of their world views.   

I don't really care if they just argue "well, it's what people want"  (which, in much of the world, it is) and left it at that.   But don't try and argue it as being an issue particularly consistent with small government, libertarian instincts.

And while I am not going to lose any sleep over the possibility of same sex marriage arriving here soon, I suspect that long term it will be seen as an early 21st century faddish interest which relatively few gay couples will ever take up.   I would much prefer, though, that gay relationships be recognised as civil unions similar to, but without the exact same status, as heterosexual marriage, which has a long tradition in the West of being at its core about having kids.  And as a conservative on matters of biology - being against the use of surrogacy or IVF for anyone, let alone gay couples - the argument that gay couples have kids all the time now does not wash with me.  (And older couples who can marry even if they are not fertile - they get the "benefit of the doubt", so to speak.  Rules about marriage don't have to be entirely, 100%, logically consistent.) 

My view, in another irony, is arguably a truer "small government" view of marriage than that espoused by libertarians.  

Possum problem

Last night, around 11.30, a lot of noise of unusual character started coming from the roof.   Stepping out onto the balcony, you could hear it from outside, but could not see the part of the roof it was coming from.  It sounded like something hitting a tile on the roof.

It persisted, and was loud enough to stop sleep, so after midnight I was carrying the stepladder upstairs and poking my head through the access hole with a torch.   A furry movement was noted, and eventually a possum appeared clearly, walking nonchalantly from one part of the roof it appeared to be intend on attaching, to another corner of the roof space.  It seemed to me to be trying to make or enlarge an access point through tiles.  The sound resumed about 20 minutes later, but did stop.

While rats in our roof space are common (I have already had to bait it once this so-called autumn), and I always assumed it might be next to impossible to block all tile roof entry spaces to prevent rat entry, when you find you have a possum in the ceiling, it's time to call in the professionals. 

I have done so already, and will post the results.

Update:  the possum man identified a clear gap in some roof flashing where he was sure the possum had entered, and it was at the spot where the possum had been noisily doing something on Wednesday night.   He said that the way the roof flashing had been pushed/chewed open, it possibly was finding it hard to get back out.   This is consistent with what I had guessed.  (He said it is unusual to have a possum in the roof at that time, as they usually leave of an evening to eat, returning in the morning.   This would also likely explain the 'walking' sound that we had heard from the roof/ceiling, as it was generally heard at those times.)

Trap cages were left in the roof space last night to try to catch the possum if it was still inside.  None caught yet, though.  

Bad ocean acidification news

Shell-shocked: Ocean acidification likely hampers tiny shell builders in Southern Ocean

The coccolithophore E. huxleyi is important in the marine carbon cycle and is responsible for nearly half of all calcium carbonate production in the ocean, said lead study author Natalie Freeman, a doctoral student in the CU-Boulder'sDepartment of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences (ATOC). The new study indicates there has been a 24 percent decline in the amount of calcium carbonate produced in large areas of the Southern Ocean over the past 17 years.

The researchers used satellite measurements and statistical methods to calculate the calcification rate - the amount of calcium carbonate these organisms produced per day in surface ocean waters. Across the entire Southern Ocean, which surrounds Antarctica, there was about a 4
percent reduction in calcification rate during the summer months from 1998 to 2014. In addition, the researchers found a 9 percent reduction in calcification during that period in large regions of the Pacific and Indian sectors of the Southern Ocean.
Not quite sure how those percentages add up to 24% - I suppose it has to do with the area over which the reductions happen.

Anyhow, sounds bad.

That big a surprise?

Widely used herbicide linked to cancer : Nature News & Comment

 I dunno - I tend to assume that chemicals that pretty rapidly cause living things to die are probably going to be cancer causing if you're exposed to too much of them.

The issue is more about the dose, really.

And having said that, I still rely on my common sense to tell me that the Monsanto tactic of making Roundup tolerant crops so you can spray heaps of chemicals  on them to control weeds is not that great an idea, certainly in the long term, but also quite possibly in the short term.

Update:  I probably linked to it before, but here's a short report from the Nature website that explains how herbicide tolerant weeds have developed despite Monsanto's improbable claim that they wouldn't.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Hitler and the nude dude

BBC - Culture - The Discobolus: Greeks, Nazis and the body beautiful

Hey, I didn't know that Hitler liked the old Greek discus thrower statue so much that he bought it:
Hitler’s opportunity to acquire the statue arose in the 1930s, when the Lancellotti family fell upon hard times and offered it for sale. At first the sculpture was earmarked for the Metropolitan Museum in New York, but the original asking price of eight million lire was deemed too high. By 1937, Hitler had made known his interest in the statue, and
the following year, despite initial misgivings on the part of the Italian authorities about exporting it, the Discobolus was sold to him for the still huge sum of five million lire. Funded by the German government, this was delivered in cash to representatives of the Lancellotti family in their palazzo.

By the end of June 1938, the Discobolus had arrived in Germany where it was displayed not in Berlin but in the Glyptothek museum in Munich. On 9 July it was officially presented as a gift to the German people. Hitler addressed the crowds: “May none of you fail to visit the Glyptothek, for there you will see how splendid man used to be in the beauty of his body… and you will
realise that we can speak of progress only when we have not only attained such beauty but even, if possible, when we have surpassed it.”
Some more interesting reading about the popularity of a Nazi era coffee table book of nude photos of the body beautiful is to be found here.

As for the exhibition which inspired the BBC link  about Hitler and the statue, there is a more detailed article about it at The Guardian, including some odd bits such as: 
The Greeks could see their nudity was a bit odd, and wondered how it came about. One theory was that an early competitor at the Olympics had accidentally or deliberately lost his loincloth and went on to win the 200m sprint, thanks to some aerodynamic advantage. Not to be outdone, the other competitors copied him. More likely it has something to do
with primitive rituals of “stripping off” one’s childhood cloak and “running out” into the ranks of citizens at the age of 20, practices still going on in Sparta and Crete in the historical period.

In Athens, meanwhile, on Athena’s birthday at the hottest time of year, each graduating year of ephebes would streak all the way from the altar of Love in the gymnasium called “the Academy” to the Acropolis carrying torches, the laggards and the podgier ones getting slaps from the crowds as they huffed and puffed through the main city gate.

Nudity was a kind of costume, an idea enhanced by the fact that much time seems to have been spent oiling oneself up and scraping oneself down. The best condiment for the body was that olive oil produced from the sacred olive trees given to Athens by Athena and awarded as prizes
in the games that accompanied her birthday. The resulting salty “boy gloop” or paidikos gloios was sometimes collected and used to treat ailments and signs of ageing.
Erk.  The article gets a bit more sordid after that...

Because we wouldn't like to think it was a sign of things to come

Autumn's record-breaking hot spell - Agriculture - General - Weather - The Land

Several media outlets, including The Land, are reporting on the weather bureau special report about how ridiculously, record breakingly, hot March has been over a large slab of Australia.   (The weather in Brisbane was weird last week - very hot and humid for a couple of days, followed by two days of storms popping up from odd directions.)

But what is most amusing is this comment:
I must thank The Land for publishing a story about hot weather without mentioning climate change or global warming. This would have to be a first and hopefully it's something that will continue. 
I expect that person reads Catallaxy, too. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Doing my bit for Tom

I think I read a comment about this that was like "Physics - who needs physics?"  And it's true, it seems some of the stunt fighting is starting to look a tad too enhanced via invisible cables.

On the other hand, it's a pretty funny joke at the end, and by the time the theme kicks in, well, who can resist? 

Big crunch mentioned again

Universe may be on the brink of collapse (on the cosmological timescale)

I posted about these guy's ideas last year.  They're still working on it, and I have no idea what other physicists/cosmologists think of it.

Uh huh

3D food printers could end famine, says academic Vivek Wadhwa | The Australian

Very hard to believe...

A change with unclear consequences

RealClimate: What’s going on in the North Atlantic?

No one seems 100% sure how big the effects will be as it continues to slow down and (perhaps) eventually stops.

But hey, let's just keep pumping CO2 into the air and see what happens, folks?

Explanation for Newspoll today...

I can't really see any other explanation.

Update:  Essential has the vote 54/46 in favor of Labor, which is quite a jump for the slow moving poll, while Newspoll jumped in the opposite direction.   All rather odd....

Monday, March 23, 2015

The pre-trailer trailer for Mission Impossible 5

Well, this seems a new marketing technique - put out a pre-trailer trailer announcing the arrival of the actual trailer in a couple of days.   Odd.

However, in the absence of really bad reviews, I will see it.  Tom Cruise just makes great action films, with only the occasional complete misfire.  (He is also what I assume is a rarity - an actor with not the slightest fear of heights.)

The battle of the Tims

Tim Wilson, the Human Rights Commissioner for Selfies, Gays and Things the IPA Wants, manages to turn a valedictory comment about Lee Kuan Yew into a message from the IPA:

Yeah, thanks for the heartfelt sentiment, Tim.*

Meanwhile, I have been meaning to comment that it seems to me that the other Tim at the HRC, Tim Soutphommasane, who I tend not to refer to much because his surname is even harder to memorise than Senator Blofeld's, might be on some sort of selfie twitter war with Wilson. I really think Tim S has increased the number of photos of himself with groups of people as a response to the intense selfie-ifcation of the work of a Human Rights Commission since Wilson arrived on the scene. (Maybe there is also a rumour around that the Commission will be defunded to just one Commissioner, and the one who seems busiest will get the job.)

But on the weekend, I think Tim Wilson struck back, and wow, with this tweet photo, allegedly about the fountain in the background, he is still winning the selfie twitter war by a country mile:

Congratulations, Tim. (Wilson: King of the Selfie.)

*  actually, from just Googling around, I'm not even sure what Wilson says makes sense.   Didn't LKY pay scant attention to property rights when refusing compensation to land owners when it was needed for economic development?   And I see that the public housing system, which has a very active role in the government providing housing (admittedly, with private ownership as the outcome) still shows an incredible amount of government involvement which one would have thought the IPA would run a mile from.

Is this a case of another small government Right identity praising Singapore for systems they are adamant should not be done in their own country?

Financial scandals of Rome

‘God’s Bankers,’ by Gerald Posner - NYTimes.com

Like most people, I guess, I have only the vaguest idea of the corruption issues relating to modern Vatican finances.  This review indicates the scale of the problem:
From there Posner weaves an extraordinarily intricate tale of intrigue, ­corruption and organized criminality — much of it familiar to journalists who cover the ­Vatican, though not widely known among more casual church watchers — from Pius XII down to Benedict XVI. These were years when the Vatican moved beyond the last vestiges of feudal restraint to become “a savvy international holding company with its own central bank” and a “maze of offshore holding companies” that were used as sprawling money-laundering ­operations for the Mafia and lucrative slush funds for Italian politicians.
Posner’s gifts as a reporter and story­teller are most vividly displayed in a series of lurid chapters on the ­American ­archbishop Paul Marcinkus, the arch-Machiavellian who ran the Vatican Bank from 1971 to 1989. Notorious for ­declaring that “you can’t run the church on Hail Marys,” ­Marcinkus ended up ­implicated in several sensational scandals. The biggest by far was the collapse of Italy’s largest private bank, Banco ­Ambrosiano, in 1982 — an event ­preceded by mob hits on a string of investigators looking into corruption in the Italian banking industry and followed by the spectacular (and still unsolved) murder of Ambrosiano’s ­chairman ­Roberto Calvi, who was found hanging from scaffolding beneath Blackfriars Bridge in London shortly after news of the bank’s implosion began to break. (Although the Vatican Bank was eventually absolved of legal culpability in Ambrosiano’s collapse, it did concede “moral involvement” and agreed to pay its creditors the enormous sum of $244 million.)
In one of his biggest scoops, ­Posner ­reveals that while Marcinkus was ­running his shell game at the Vatican Bank, he also served as a spy for the State Department, providing the American ­government with “personal details” about John Paul II, and even encouraging the pope “at the behest of embassy officials . . . to publicly endorse American positions on a broad range of political issues, ­including: the war on drugs; the guerrilla fighting in El Salvador; bigger defense budgets; the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan; and even Reagan’s ambitious ­missile defense shield.”
The cumulative effect of Posner’s detective work is an acute sensation of disgust — along with a mix of admiration for and skepticism about Pope Francis’ efforts to reform the Vatican Bank and its curial enablers. Pope Benedict, too, ­attempted to bring the bank into conformity with the European Union’s stringent money-­laundering and transparency
statutes. But the effort failed.

Agricultural State

The Economics of California's Drought — The Atlantic

I was surprised to read about how important agriculture is to California, and how thirsty the industry is:
California is known globally for its coastal beaches, mountains, and desert. But the state's most important economic region may be its Central Valley, one of the world's most productive agricultural areas. Virtually all of the almonds, artichokes, lemons, pistachios, and processed tomatoes  grown in the United States originate from the valley, whose productive soil is unmatched elsewhere in the country. California's spinach yield, for example is 60 percent more per acre than in the rest of the United States. The state's marine climate allows it to grow crops like broccoli that wilt in humid climates.
California is the world's fifth-largest supplier of food, a big reason why the state would, if an independent country, be the 7th largest economy in the world.

But California's agricultural output demands a lot of water. Irrigation claims up to 41 percent of the state's water supply, while cities such as Los Angeles and San Francisco demand comparatively little. Crops such as almonds, grown exclusively in California in the United States, consume 600 gallons of water per pound of nuts, more than 25 times the water needed per pound of tomato. These water-intensive crops tend to have high profit margins, providing farmers with an incentive to plant them.

A good sign

BBC News - Climate change: China official warns of 'huge impact'

The more seriously China takes climate change, the better.

And of course, it's remarkable how the global conspiracy of scientists and national weather organisations who make up pretend science about climate change extends even into this (nominally) communist nation, isn't it?    [Sarcasm for any visitor from Catallaxy.]

He's probably upset he won't get to make a Senate speech about gun rights for gay marsupials...

The Australian notes:
“I hope Bob Hawke doesn’t die soon, otherwise we’ll never get any work done,” Liberal Democrat David Leyonhjelm told reporters in Canberra on Monday...

Senator Leyonhjelm said he had no fond words to say about Mr Fraser, other than he defeated Gough Whitlam in 1975.

“My mum said if you can’t say anything good about someone don’t say anything at all. So I’ll be totally silent today."

Sunday, March 22, 2015

I trust Julia Gillard will send Michael Smith a sympathy card?

The Michael Smith led smearing of Julia Gillard over 20 year old matters already exposed at the start of her political career, fully endorsed and promulgated by News Corpse figures such as Hedley Thomas, his editor at the OZ, and Andrew Bolt, was in my view a real scandal of extraordinarily protracted political much racking;  and why the Victorian police even entertained Smith's complaint about the witnessing of a Power of Attorney when he was not involved, and those who were lost no money from its use, is something that has been sorely lacking a deserved investigation of its own.

As I wrote of Smith back in 2012:
He makes stupid, bush lawyer comments continually about anyone who signs a false statutory declaration "exposing themselves to perjury", as if this gives more credibility to evidence in a stat dec which is merely reporting rumour.

Smith's courting of Blewitt is ludicrously over the top - playing up to Blewitt as an ex Vietnam vet on Smith's website, etc.

This fake matey bonhomie persona of Smith annoys me no end - he's a dill and a nasty bit of work with an unhealthy obsession with a female Prime Minister.  ..
He claimed many weeks ago - possibly months ago - that he had spoken to Bruce Wilson more than once - that he considered him a "mate" I think he went so far to say.  (Everyone is a "mate" to Smith if they don't tell him he's an asshat.)

Well, while Julia Gillard seems to be enjoying an early forced retirement, the Australian this weekend (presumably with Smith's co-operation - he is looking for sympathy, I expect) recount how his asshattery has ended anything resembling a career, as well as his marriage to his "Czechoslovakian Princess".

It is in fact quite peculiar:  how Michael Smith got into any of his post police force/defence jobs, or managed to marry an attractive woman:
A former police constable, army corporal, Telstra executive and symphony orchestra managing director, he got his break at another Fairfax-owned station, Brisbane’s 4BC, in 2007. 
Well, actually, to be honest, I did hear him on 4BC occasionally when he started his radio career there, and first impressions were that he was something of a "natural" for that line of work.   But his political views and personality soon enough started to grate.  I presume that it is a great talent for displaying self-confidence in interviews that has got him in executive positions in novel fields - but never for very long, it seems - as well as quickly into some women's beds, I expect.

This Crikey profile actually indicated a flighty, obsessive man with possibly quite serious "personality issues," as Jackson alleges.  (Although I had also picked her as an attention seeking prima donna early in the piece too - I'm sure she has "issues" of her own.) 

My 2012 post was titled "Prepare to backfire".  For Smith, it well and truly did.

It may not be very Christian to gloat over his current circumstances - but if ever someone's life shows evidence of karma, his seems to be it.   (At least for now.)

Update:   I had forgotten about this, but this report was about Brandis and Barnaby Joyce both attending Smith's wedding (only in 2011 I see) at the cost of the taxpayer.   Moreover, if you can believe Smith, there were some quite nausea inducing scenes at the reception:

''Fair dinkum, he was tearing up the dance floor and every young chick there wanted to dance with George,'' Smith said at the time.
Yes.  Brandis has long been known as a chick magnet.   [Insert Julie Bishop eye roll emoti here].

Speaking of Julie, wasn't she happy to talk to Blewitt when Smith would put him on the phone?  That's right, she was.

Yes, the Coalition was up to their eyeballs in giving Smith moral support in what they thought was very politically useful slime.    

I wonder if any of them are offering him a place to sleep now?   Julie's single, I think, so I presume she has a spare room for a friend in need...


Sunday with physics and aliens

A fun article has appeared in Physicsworld.com talking of a novel way to look for extraterrestrial intelligence:
Has an advanced alien civilization built a black-hole-powered particle accelerator to study physics at "Planck-scale" energies? And if such a cosmic collider is lurking in a corner of the universe, could we detect it here on Earth?
Brian Lacki of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton, New Jersey, has done calculations that suggest that if such an accelerator exists, it would produce yotta electron-volt (YeV or 1024 eV) neutrinos that could be detected here on Earth. As a result, Lacki is calling on astronomers involved in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) to look for these ultra-high-energy particles. This is supported by SETI expert Paul Davies of Arizona State University, who believes that the search should be expanded beyond the traditional telescope searches.
Oddly, one possible way of detecting such high energy neutrinos would be via an array of ocean hydrophones.   But the article indicates that they might also be detectable via radio signals when they hit the moon, and that experiment is underway in the NuMoon project, although how actively I can't really tell.  Here's a .pdf list of articles about it. 

All sounds rather fanciful, and as Paul Davies says, once the aliens find what they are looking for in this high energy experiment, why would they keep it operating anyway?

But speaking of detecting aliens, it just occurred to me that another possible explanation for the odd bright lights on Ceres (instead of the current speculation that they are natural ice plumes from solar heating) might be that they are the exhaust from an alien industrial process going on inside.

We like to think big on Sunday mornings....  

John Howard

Gee, on Insiders this morning, John Howard (there to talk about about Malcolm Fraser) was looking very healthy, and sounding articulate, generous and pretty reasonable.

At least, of course, until it came to the his "loyal to the party" line that Tony Abbott has great political skills and will make a recovery in the polls.   (He's also been sucked into climate change skepticism;  but I still suspect that he is persuadable out of the Dark Side on that issue in a way about 50% of Coalition parliamentarians are not.) 

The thing is, hearing Howard talk just reminds us how pathetic Abbott is in comparison when it comes to sounding genuine and reasonable.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Malcolm Fraser

I think even hardened Laborites felt some sympathy for Malcolm Fraser when he broke up in his election concession speech in 1983. His continued active role in the matters of human rights and justice then rehabilitated him well and truly from the Left's point of view.

As for how he acquired the top job - if the Whitlam government was happening now, I would certainly  be attuned to the way the Murdoch press was campaigning against him (I was only a teenager at the time!); but despite that, nothing has come out since then to challenge the view that it was (even when viewed from the Cabinet room) a genuinely shambolic government.

While I understand why the Left was so upset with the Dismissal and Kerr's role, I still find it hard to feel that the nation was badly done by, given that it quickly got to express its views at an election.   As far as I can tell, there is little to suggest that the government could have righted itself, given just a bit more time.   And while no one wants to see Governor-General's dismissing governments as a matter of routine, once or twice a century, provided an election is promptly held, is not a great problem for democracy.   It's one of those cases where practicalities trump principles; sorry.

I know that Fraser's period in government is seen by some as a lost opportunity for economic reform and advancement, but really, my impression is that the whole world was in a confused post Vietnam War/oil shock funk.   Criticisms about Fraser based on economic grounds just seem to be made with too much benefit of hindsight.

And I was thinking that yesterday before Fred Chaney turned up on Lateline and, after praising Fraser for all the humanitarian aspects of his leadership and post political career, he said more or less the same thing:
 But, can I say something, Emma, about the economic thing, which is the great criticism that's levelled against Malcolm: he didn't undertake economic reform quickly enough. It seems to me that Malcolm governed at the most difficult time, a time of change between the Federation settlement that ran from 1910, from the time of Deakin, right through to the 1970s when we'd had high protection, we'd had centralised wage fixing, we'd had a sort of certain pillars - what have been described very well by people like Paul Kelly as the standard pillars of Federation up to that point. Malcolm was there when the big debate was on: did we need an entirely different approach to economic management? There was a huge debate in the Liberal Party under Malcolm's leadership. That debate between the wets and the dries was quite a bitterly-contested one, but by the end of Malcolm's prime ministership, the soul of the Liberal Party had moved to a more open economy, the heart and the mind of the Liberal Party had moved. And part of the success of the - the great success of the subsequent government, the Hawke Government - the Hawks and Keating Government, was that we as an opposition understood that we had to have a more open economy in Australia. So, I would say that Malcolm was there at that most awkward of periods, the period of change, he was on the cusp, and I think that his government and the party that he led at that time was an honourable part of moving into that new space.

 EMMA ALBERICI: And yet, Malcolm Fraser was more inclined to allow the budget to - the deficit to blow out, whereas his Treasurer was a much more fiscal conservative-style Liberal, wouldn't you say?

FRED CHANEY: Well I think we see this battle in every government. I went through the papers that were released for the 1978 government, a government that I - I only became a minister at the end of that year, so they were new to me, and all the arguments about debt and how you would deal with the debt, all the arguments about immigration, refugees, are rehearsed in those documents so long ago. These are almost perpetual problems for government. I think that, as you'll see, any government is always having to moderate the pure economic arguments in favour of what the public are prepared to stand. I think that the Fraser Government could have moved the economic changes along more quickly, but that's the wisdom of hindsight. What I can recall is that in 1983, after we'd lost government, I remember reading in The Australian that Malcolm Fraser had been too tough on the unions. History gets rewritten all the time and I think that there was more movement and economic movement at the time of Fraser than is currently being admitted.
Another bit of praise for Fraser, this time from a rather unusual source (about whom I will post more soon) is at Michael Smith's blog.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

As good an explanation as any..

Philosophical humour

'Kant Is a Moron': Vandals Mark Philosopher's Former Home Near Kaliningrad — The Atlantic

There is fun to be had in the comments (which suggest the writer got his anti-Kantian philosopher wrong, too.)

Further topic suggestions for Senator Leyonhjelm

The Senator continued his needy, "look at me!" Parliamentary tactics yesterday by suggesting that Australian native animals be kept as pets.   (Unfortunately, he seems to have overlooked the fact that most Australian marsupials have rather small brains and/or quite selective taste buds that go with their cute, furry bodies.  Hasn't he ever heard the makers of Skippy talking about what it was like trying to work with a 'roo?)

He's probably going to run out of libertarian themed topics soon, so I think I'll have to make some suggestions:

a.   Introducing the LeyonBit.  A novel private currency David mints in his basement, featuring 6 different breads of moggies on the back side, and available for paying for IPA membership and lectures, as well as catnip.

b.   Come visit Free Leydonia - created by lashing together a few left over oil platforms from Bass Strait, relocated to Sydney Harbour.  A grand new basis for innovative society, unleashing the power of freedom and ammunition from government regulation and clothes (see next point.)

c.   Relax the nudism laws - seriously, do you know how much wealthier both the poor and rich could be if we could be free from the tyranny of buying  pants - or underpants for that matter.   Wearing cats can keep you warm, anyway.  And if you're offended by wrinkly old testicles on public display, that's your problem, not David's.   There's far too much of this offence taking these days anyway.

I'm working on others...

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

What about Kansas?

It was disappointing to hear Fran Kelly on Radio National yesterday having a jolly interview with Art Laffer in which she did not raise the matter of Kansas and its disastrous, on going, tax cutting experiment.

Unemployment in Kansas - lagging badly.

Lost revenue in Kansas - credit rating lowered, roads and school funding cut.

Art Laffer - still defending it.

No warning first?

BBC News - Judges sacked for watching porn

I can understand the public service, and private companies for that matter, having policies against use of work internet access to distribute pornography in any fashion, or the watching of any that is illegal, or in circumstances where any other staff could possibly see or know that a person was watching or using it.   And a blanket approach certainly avoid any issues of trying to categorise less or more acceptable breaches of the rule.

But surely, everyone recognises there is a scale of seriousness in which such a blanket rule could be breached?

And it's not as if the access costs to the internet are likely to raise the issue of these judges wasting public money by (say) watching 5 minutes of vanilla porn when everyone else in the office has gone home, as against downloading some recent case law.

So one would imagine a detected breach should result in at least a warning first, and not an instant dismissal.  

Will the media stop reporting it seriously, now?

Mars One Is Broke, Disorganized, and Sketchy as Hell

Ice plume explanation for Ceres?

Bright spots on Ceres could be active ice : Nature News & Comment

“What is amazing is that you can see the feature while the rim is still in the line of sight,” said Andreas Nathues, a planetary scientist at the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Göttingen, Germany. Nathues, who leads the team for one of the Dawn cameras, showed
the images on 17 March at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in The Woodlands, Texas.

At dawn on Ceres, feature number 5 appears bright. By dusk, it seems to fade. That could
mean sunlight plays an important role — for instance, by heating up ice just beneath the surface and causing it blast off in some kind of plume r other feature.

Ceres is believed to be made of at least one-quarter ice, more so than most asteroids. Dawn’s goals to figure out where that ice resides and what role it plays in shaping the asteroid’s surface. One idea is that the ice is blanketed by a very thin layer of soil. The ice may occasionally squirt up in towering ‘cryovolcanoes’, thanks to internal pressures within the asteroid.
An asteroid made of 1/4 ice?   Might be a good place for settlement then, except for the fact there is next to no gravity, I suppose.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Taking nutters seriously?

EPA debunks 'chemtrails,' further fueling conspiracy theories ( video) - CSMonitor.com

I suppose it's better, on balance, that a government agency actually addresses conspiracy nutters; but it's a shame in a way that they are being treated as worthy of even addressing.

Perhaps the EPA's statement should have been more "calling a spade a spade"; something like "if you genuinely believe this global conspiracy, there's a good chance you need psychiatric help."

Have to agree

Joe Hockey outclassed on Q&A, by an economist

Mind you, it's not hard for Joe to be "outclassed".   He's just a windbag who shows no consistency in painting an economic picture.  A poor ministerial performer out of a government full of them.

Update:  Ha!  Judith Sloan thinks Peter Martin is an idiot for saying Daley was more credible than Hockey, in a ranty, shouty, straw man and nonsense filled post at Catallaxy.  (Why is she never this ranty on TV?   Why won't she repeat some of her more ludicrous claims there, but adopt a pretence at being more moderate than she really is?)

Her argument that abolishing negative gearing would be "double taxation" is particularly hard to follow, and I had to search the internet to remind myself how she even comes up with it.  In this takedown of her arguments, we get this explanation from JS:
To eliminate negative gearing would be to introduce double taxation. The flip side of an investor taking a loan to buy an asset is a lender providing the loan. And that lender pays taxation on the associated profit.
As the article notes:
Sloan’s argument that “the flip side of an investor taking a loan to buy an asset is a lender providing the loan” and that to disallow the cost of borrowing by investors would amount to “double taxation” is ridiculous.

Using this logic, the private health insurance rebate is not really a cost to the budget, since it is income in the hands of health funds that in turn pay tax to the government. Using the same logic, childcare should be made tax deductible, since childcare centres would earn higher profits, part of which would also be remitted back to the government via company tax (not to mention the extra income taxes paid by childcare workers). To do otherwise would amount to double-taxation, according to Sloan’s twisted logic.
It is plainly nonsense, involving Sloan creating what amounts to her special meaning for the phrase "double taxation".

In other of the collection of her "Greatest Hits of Nonsense":  she won't read The Economist because it is "deeply Green, deeply Keynesian".   (Belief in climate change as a serious issue is an automatic disqualifier for 'seriousness' for dear Judith.)   And let's not forget, Australia's compulsory superannuation "is a tax".   (Again, a completely individual use of terminology, as far as I can tell.) 

Monday, March 16, 2015

Douthat on the poor

For Poorer and Richer - NYTimes.com

Ross Douthat makes a brief contribution to the debate about whether the "social crisis" amongst the American poor is a problem of economics or culture.

He seems to think both sides have some valid points, although (not to my surprise, given his constant Catholic angst about the sexual revolution) he leads more to blaming culture change.

He does make one point which, I think, has some validity, and it's one that has surfaced from time to time in the threads of the Catallaxy blog, before their permanent decline into name calling tedium and obsession:
But recognizing that culture shapes behavior and that moral frameworks matter doesn’t require thundering denunciations of the moral choices of the poor. Instead, our upper class should be judged first — for being too solipsistic to recognize that its present ideal of “safe” permissiveness works (sort of) only for the privileged, and for failing to take any moral responsibility (in the schools it runs, the mass entertainments it produces, the social agenda it favors) for the effects of permissiveness on the less-savvy, the less protected, the kids who don’t have helicopter parents turning off the television or firewalling the porn.
It's a worry, my giving quasi-support to the uber Catholics of Catallaxy who think the world started all going wrong in about 1960;  but Catholicism and economic libertarianism were always  philosophically incompatible.  Bigger fool the Catholics for staying in that marriage of convenience, just because they think a mutual hatred of a third party should keep them happy together.

Hello, Thomas

Edison Worked on a Spirit Phone to Record Voices of the Dead | Mysterious Universe

I think I've heard about this before, but I didn't recall that he had been happy to explain all about it in the first edition of his memoir.

Probably a good sign that the policy is OK

Rupert Murdoch blasts Malcolm Turnbull over media reform

But, seeing I have trouble keeping fresh in mind the arcane world of media ownership and broadcast rights in Australia, maybe I'm wrong...

Unintentionally amusing comment

'Horsewoman of the Apocalypse': Liberals defend Peta Credlin against text attack

Julie Bishop commenting on this story:

"It's very colourful language," Ms Bishop told Sky News.

"It's deeply unfortunate it has been said and been made public.

"The less the internal workings of the Liberal Party are made public, the better off for everybody."

When even Cory Bernardi is against it...

Remarkable news this morning that even Cory Bernardi is against Christopher Pyne's threat to cut (not very expensive) science funding if he doesn't get his way on massive University reforms which came out of the blue after the election.

What's not so surprising is Senator Leyonhjelm's predicatable and purely ideological driven support of no government funding for science:
But Liberal Democrat David Leyonhjelm said he had no qualms about cuts to research because government funding crowded out the private sector.
"I'd wind back government-funded research in a heartbeat, it's hard to justify in a climate of big deficits," Senator Leyonhjelm said.

Keynesian pursuits

Last week Jason Soon linked to a review of a new biography about Keynes that appeared in the (UK) Telegraph.  That review only paid short attention to the parts of the book about his tangled love life, noting as follows:
Keynes’s love of ballet was strengthened through his wife, the Russian ballerina Lydia Lopokova, but in the decade prior to his marriage, Keynes had been an active homosexual – even keeping statistics on his sexual encounters. The tangled and overlapping love lives of the Bloomsbury set is as confusing as it is salacious but if this section drags, this is only a small eddy in a book which otherwise flows freely. 
Well, there's no fun in that lack of detail, is there?

Over the weekend, I found a review by the aging, Lefty turned Conservative, Paul Johnson, who was happy to expound more upon this part of the book:
Universal Man contains a fact-packed chapter entitled 'Lover', which contains a good deal of new (to me, at least) information. Keynes's letters chronicle 'the initiations, experiments, risks, sprees, settled confidence and ultimate stability of his sexual history'. Keynes first had sexual intercourse with another male in 1901, when he was seventeen. He discovered (or said he did) that at Cambridge 'practically everybody ... is an open or avowed sodomite'. Apostles divided their activities into 'higher sodomy', which was non-physical but intense, and 'lower sodomy', which was anything else. Keynes performed both, using his persuasive powers for what he called 'flirtation', and his affairs embraced a formidable number of people. Sometimes merely the intimate exchange of ideas was involved - for Keynes intelligence was a major sexual component. Thus he conceived of Einstein, whom he met in 1926, as 'a naughty Jew-boy, covered with ink, pulling a long nose as the world kicks his bottom; a sweet imp, pure and giggling ... I had indeed a little flirt with him.' In the same vein, after a meeting with Lloyd George he wrote, 'I had a terrible flirtation with Ll. G. yesterday.' After Cambridge he transferred his activities to London, writing to Lytton Strachey in 1906, 'I am off to dine at a low sodomitical haunt in Soho ... where guardsmen offer their services at half a crown a bottom.' He compiled, in 1915 or 1916, a list of his sexual partners, identified by their initials and years, showing the wide range of his conquests, from 'lift boy of Vauxhall' and 'sixteen year old under Etna' to 'stable boy of Park Lane' and 'the Chemist's boy of Paris'. The social mix was striking, and included 'the clergyman' and 'Grand Duke Cyril of the Paris Baths'. 
It's rather strange a century later to read about the way the English intelligentsia became so enamoured of the idea of homosexual love as (potentially) a thing of purity and beauty, and intellectualised it so much.* I'm sure I've read that the blame goes back to a 19th century revival of scholarship into ancient Greece.  (The ancient Romans thought the Greeks were so enthusiastically gay because they spent too much time wrestling nude; little did anyone see that naked male pastimes 2,300 years ago would lead to betrayals of Western values to an evil brand of socialism in the 20th Century.  I'm referring of course to the Cambridge spy ring,  not Keynes.)

This guy (I have no idea who he is, writing in Forbes in quasi defence of Niall Ferguson's silly comment that Keynes' homosexuality influenced his economics) at least explains the culture of his times in (what sounds like) an accurate way:
He [Keynes] was not ‘gay’ in the modern sense of the world, fighting against prejudice and bullying from a bigoted establishment. Keynes and his circle were the establishment, whose prejudice led them to bully others. The Cambridge Apostles is the definitive book on the group in which Keynes lived and moved and had his being. He and his circle embraced what they called ‘the higher sodomy’ which was based on the idea, not just that sodomy should be tolerated, but that everything else was inferior. The philosophy of the higher sodomy held that the highest form of human relations was one in which men of refinement, intellect, class and aesthetic superiority combined their male friendships with sexual relations. To go to the club and converse with men of high intellect and then to have to go home to the little woman is a lower life, a falling short of the higher sodomy.
As Strachey’s biographer put it:
“They thought that love of young men was a higher form of love. They had been brought up and educated to believe that women were inferior —in mind and body. If from the ethical point of view . . . love should be attached only to worthy objects, then love of young men was, they believed, ethically better than love of women.”
We have to avoid anachronisms here: Keynes was not the friend of the bride in a modern rom-com, who loved to gossip with the girls. He was drenched in, and in some ways intensified, a culture of misogyny which was characteristic of both his particular era and of his academic milieu. The movement to sexually integrate British universities was a matter of great debate during Keynes’ time at Cambridge. The intensity of feeling is hard for modern people to imagine: Dorothy Sayers’ excellent mystery, Gaudy Night, uses this as the backdrop to a series of crimes and provides Sayers, a Christian feminist (and the only female member of CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien’s famous Inklings literary society,) with the opportunity to make the case for women’s equality. Keynes himself actively criticized integration, at least in his own case, opposed having women in his classroom. He went so far as to say that he found female modes of thinking repellant:
“I think I shall have to give up teaching females after this year. The nervous irritation caused by two hours’ contact with them is intense. I seem to hate every movement of their minds. The minds of the men, even when they are stupid and ugly, never appear to me so repellent”
Interesting.  I suppose you could argue that the rise of feminism has meant the fall of homosexual intellectual elitism, which is a good thing all around.   Funny too, given that both feminism and the gay lobby now are considered allies, especially in some dubious identity politics. 

Anyway, Paul Johnson seems very enamoured of the book, and for a crusty Conservative, he actually seems to hold Keynes in high regard.

*  If only TV and Australian Googlebox had been around at Cambridge back in the 19th century, perhaps everyone would have giggled away the idea of gay couples as having the higher attainment of intellectual purity. 

Friday, March 13, 2015

Floating to the edge of space

Hey, here's some information on one balloon based competitor to Branson's harebrained space tourism venture.

It seems that for about half the price, rich folk will get a 5 to 6 hour ride, spending 2 hours looking at the view from 30 km, without the possible stomach churning effect of sudden weightlessness.  Then they come back down on an already deployed parawing, ending up perhaps 200 to 300 km from where they took off.

This sounds much, much safer than the rocket powered joyride in the space rocket with the weird moving wing design.

Here's the World View Experience website, with some pretty illustrations.

I wish them luck.


A certain accidental Senator seems to me to be a bit "needy" for attention.  He's given to making speeches to an empty Senate chamber (I suppose, to keep his huge [/sarc], accidental voting base appraised of his views on guns, gay marriage, and how awful government really is) but it has now extended to include puff pieces on, for goodness sake, the cats in his life.

While it's not surprising to know he follows the Heinlein line on how cats are a libertarian's preferred pet,   many readers of the Guardian piece have noted the irony of the way Senator Blofeld then emphasises the importance of keeping furry libertarian analogues under the strictest control. 

Yes, that is true:  cats can't be trusted to do the right thing, just like their fur-free political analogues....

In which I do not criticise Freedom Boy (much)

The Australian government's data retention scheme is not 1984 come to life | Tim Wilson | Comment is free | The Guardian

Good Lord - the nation's most irritating, self aggrandising, political appointee to the Human Rights Commission has written a column on data retention that is moderate and reasonable, and I can't really find anything about it to criticise.

Next point - why has he started wearing a cowboy hat on twitter, the twit?

Please explain

Paul Grimes sacked over lack of 'strong, mutual confidence' with Barnaby Joyce | Australia news | The Guardian

I still don't follow exactly what has gone here.  Is the implication that Grimes was going to dispute Barnaby Joyce's claim that changes to Hansard had not been directed by him (Joyce), but then he didn't, for reasons unknown?   If so, can't that be stated more clearly in reporting?

Oh look - another bit of rubbish from the pages of The Australian

Unfinished business for Abbott, Brandis | The Australian

Chris Merritt here overlooks an obvious solution - replace Tony Abbott with Malcolm Turnbull and the Triggs "problem" goes away.

Merritt's argument is rubbish anyway - does he think a government can fairly remove an appointee to a statutory authority just by arguing they think the person is biased by the timing of one report?   The Coalition complaint about Triggs is trumped up, bullying rubbish.

Saying that Triggs has to go because of the government not liking her (which is essentially all that has happened) is ludicrous.   Triggs isn't hurting the HRC - it's the government that has shot itself in the foot. 

Gene fiddling caution

Scientists sound alarm over DNA editing of human embryos : Nature News & Comment

Note that the gene editing is said to be of benefit for preventing inherited diseases.

As with "three parent babies" - the obvious advice "just don't have your own baby" to people with clear inheritable, serious diseases just seems too hard in this age of entitlement.

The poor and their values

When Values Disappear - NYTimes.com

This short Krugman column leads to an interesting argument about the relationship between poverty and values.

If you want a dose of "brony" weirdness for today...

What a masculinity conference taught me about the state of men | Life and style | The Guardian

(Actually, there are some comments which make some decent points - and many that don't.  One that I agree with:  "Is the hairstyle affected by the author an attempt to be more like a My Little Pony?" Ha.)

A sign of things to come?

I have mentioned a few times how this summer seemed to involve relatively few storms in Brisbane (but more in Sydney - although that is just my impression.)   It turns out that the Brisbane weather may be an example of future weather under climate change:
In summer, however, the analysis of observational data coming from weather stations and satellites reveals a clear decrease in the average storm activity. This means a reduction in either frequency or intensity, or of both. The scientists studied a specific type of turbulences known as synoptic eddies, and calculated the total energy of their wind speeds. This energy, which is a measure for the interplay between intensity and frequency of high and low pressure systems in the atmosphere, dropped by roughly one tenth since 1979.
"Unabated climate change will probably further weaken summer circulation patterns which could thus aggravate the risk of heat waves," says co-author Jascha Lehmann "Remarkably, climate simulations for the next decades, the CMIP5, show the same link that we found in observations. So the warm temperature extremes we've experienced in recent years might be just a beginning."

Thursday, March 12, 2015

One for the libertarian reader

It seems to me that Jason Soon has taken an unfortunate turn into increased enthusiasm for libertarianism, and it has been noted before that he and other libertarian inclined people have a bit of a "thing" for Victorian England as an example of a society where matters such as drug use and prostitution were sort of self regulated and every one (at least with money) had a jolly old time and society trundled on and inventors invented and everything worked out for the best.

Well, this review of a book about the invention of the modern police force puts a bit of a different light on that - in particular, with the way some were using (for about 70 years before they lost!) a libertarian argument against even having a professional police force:
Despite this collection’s title, the earliest extracts were written in the 1750s, and highlight the theoretical positions that would underpin the decades-long debate about whether a paid, uniformed, hierarchical body of men should be created to replace the local, unpaid constables responsible for keeping order in public spaces and bringing criminals to justice. Henry Fielding’s Enquiry Into the Causes of the Late Increase of Robbers (1751) is accepted as the first noteworthy plea for the methodical prevention of crime, rather than solely an improvement in the arrest and punishment of criminals after the fact. Fielding envisaged a new body of crime-fighters as just one element in a new moral order in which the poor would be prevented from turning to vice and crime in the first place. He advised severe curbs on places of entertainment, on the selling of alcohol, on gambling and any aspect of modern life that would tempt the weak-willed into becoming “vicious”. An instant refutation, by the journalist Richard Rolt, pointed out that top-down attempts to “moralize” the lower orders would undermine their liberty and sense of independence. A nation of cringing, hypocritical slaves would emerge, Rolt wrote; better to allow the poor to exercise their own moral choices and accept whatever punishments might follow their wrong decisions.

Later eighteenth-century “moral reformists” wished the poor to be able to benefit from the order and stability that a professionalized police force would foster. Writing in 1780, the philanthropist Jonas Hanway pointed out that not having an effective police was “enslaving” British men and women – who were prey to villains of various kinds and were the most vulnerable part of the population whenever serious civil disorder took place. A body of paid and trained “civil soldiers” – men drawn from the citizenry, not from the Army – would protect against the “atrocious violence” visited on people during criminal acts or breakdowns in order. Such an organization would obviate the need for the local militia or the standing Army to be called in during unrest. Or, as the Solicitor-General put it in 1785: “To keep the bayonet out of employ, the power of the civil officer must be rendered efficacious”.
 Sir Robert Peel would reuse the slavery/liberty arguments during the passage of his 1829 Act; and as his Bill passed, the journalist Albany Fontblanque, a supporter of Peel’s legislation, wrote of “the liberty we have hitherto enjoyed of being robbed and knocked on the head at the discretion of their honours, the thieves”. Legislation similar to Peel’s had failed in 1785 because of outrage at the attempt to centralize London’s policing – wresting control away from the parishes, and especially from the City of London, and handing it to government. Peel cleverly left the City out of his 1829 draft Bill, circumventing that particular vested interest; and he overcame the fears that the new force was to be a militarized body imposed from above by insisting that the Metropolitan Police would bear firearms only in exceptional circumstances and would wear uniform that was as close to civilian clothing as possible. Nevertheless, “Peel’s Private Army” was one of the many slang names Londoners gave to the new force, while the Weekly Despatch newspaper routinely referred to them as “police soldiers”.
 Well, the libertarians of 1750 to 1820 look rather like gooses now, don't they?   Just like Leyonhjelm.  (Although, the article does go on to give examples of some excessive powers of Victorian police, I must admit.)

Update:   when you look at things like this list of English legislation brought in during the Victorian era, it seems to me that the period is actually a good argument for sensible government regulation and intervention in matters relating to labour, public health and eduction, as against the libertarian inclination to be against regulation.  With few exceptions, the period serves as an example of the inadequacy and failure of libertarian philosophy to improve society, doesn't it?

Update 2this website appears to have reliable, and rather fascinating, information regarding the English criminal justice system  in the 18th century, including its gradual transition into something more recognisable as modern.  The section regarding the push for professional, government controlled, policing is here:
Policing, such as it was, was rather inefficient in this new urban context. The old system was a mixture of Night Watchmen and 'Thief takers' who were private individuals employed by the wealthy and by magistrates. The system was certainly vulnerable to corruption: thief takers on occasion entered into alliances with thieves to share rewards for the return of stolen property (one is reminded of the old saying: 'set a thief to catch a thief') The bad reputation thief takers is in no small measure due to the exploits of the notorious Jonathan Wild who styled himself as  'Thief Taker General of Great Britain and Ireland'. He was exposed in 1725 as a leading reciever of stolen goods. 
The wealthy themselves were frequently reluctant to be magistrates in urban areas. Many lower middle class magistrates, during the latter part of the century, accepted payment for executing warrants for the arrest of offenders. The quality of these 'trading justices' was regarded as low and the Conservative writer Edmund Burke denounced them as 'scum of the earth'  It is as well to remember, however, that payment for services can be seen as a continuation the older tradition in which personal relations predominated over any notion of the impartial application of law.

There was much talk in the latter part of the century about the establishment of a New Police at the turn of the century Robert Peel who became Tory Prime Minister made several attempts in parliament to set up a professional full time police force. He was thwarted (until he finally suceeded in 1829) by country landowners, still powerful in parliament before 1832. 

Their resistance was quite rational. As we have already seen, their control over the local criminal justice system enhanced their rule and status. If it came to tracking offenders then they had plenty of gamekeepers and retainers at their disposal. The traditional fear of the French model of a powerful centralised national police was anathema to the English gentry and their notion of liberty. But the urban middle and lower middle classes had quite a different problem of security. As Philips comments
"The squirearchy might treasure the discretion which the old system allowed them, to choose among a variety of punishments ranging from an informal reprimand to death; but the urban shopkeeper wanted something which would efficiently protect his commercial property." (Philips 1980: 126) 
In the early years of the nineteenth century it was the aftermath of the Napoleonic wars and the growing fear of the urban masses becoming revolutionary which finally tipped the balance in Peel's favour. But at that point the issue was public order and rebellion rather than tracking down criminal offenders. Indeed during the anti-Catholic Gordon riots in 1780 a mob had taken over the centre of London for 5 successive days. This concentrated the minds of those who resisted the idea of a new police, again not so much from the perspective of effective thieftaking but the more general issue of public order. We shall discuss this in a future lecture.
 As for the attempt to crack down on crime by making hanging the punishment for all sorts of things, the section begins:
 As theft was becoming more of an issue as we have described above, so the authorities did the only thing they knew and intensified the penalties. It would be some time before it was generally understood that the best way to deal with crime is to increase the certainty of detection rather than simply impose more severe penalties. The ruling elites hung on to the law and the gallows as the main mechanism of rule at their disposal. The expansion of crimes which carry capital punishment (the death penalty) is a major feature of the period. Not only murderers but thieves, rapists, forgers, were hung. In 1688 there were 50 offences which carried the death penalty. This is amazing by modern standards when even murder gets only imprisonment, but by 1800 there were 200 offences punishable by hanging. The eighteenth century was thus a period of expanding use of capital punishment. People were being hung for all manner of petty crimes. Some court records show that during the two years 1774-6  people were hung for arson, cattle stealing, 'destroying silk on a loom', 'wilfully wounding a horse', sheep stealing, swearing false oathes, 'impersonating another to receive a seaman's wage', and similar.

Vindication 20 years later

How the “Disney Renaissance” marked a turning point in the animated movie musical, from Little Mermaid to Frozen.

Well, if only this video had been on the (then non-existent*) internet in 1994.  Because I do remember at a quasi-date dinner being undertaken in about that year that I was telling a woman that it seemed to me the Disney animated musicals were really replacing (if in somewhat shorter form) the Broadway musicals of the 50's and 60's, and she rather poo-poohed the suggestion.

Mind you, as a single man talking to a woman I had just met about anything to do with Broadway musicals was probably not sending exactly the right message, if you know what I mean.   Oh well:  as the link explains, I was exactly right.  (And I still say Frozen is one of the crappiest Disney musicals around.)

* there is no surer way of feeling old than to realise - "oh, that's right, that was pre-internet."

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Four year anniversary remembered

250,000 Japanese still displaced 4 years after quake

Monsters Inc

The House That Stalin Built | The National Interest

Here's a very favourable review of (yet another) biography of Stalin.  A sample:
Stalin, whose party nickname was Koba, succeeded, against incalculable
odds, in helping to create a Bolshevik dictatorship in the world’s
largest country; through adroit maneuvering, he positioned himself in
absolute control of that dictatorship. The result, however, bore no
resemblance to the proletarian utopia predicted by Karl Marx. In fact,
the Bolsheviks were turning Marxism on its head by launching a
revolution in Russia. Marx always thought that the revolution would come
in Western Europe. The notion that a Communist revolution would emerge
in Russia, where there was no real proletariat, would have dumbfounded
him. According to Kotkin, the Russian empire’s dissolution in wartime
meant that “the revolution’s survival was suddenly inextricably linked
to the circumstance that vast stretches of Russian Eurasia had little or
no proletariat.” The regime scrambled to come up with a theory
justifying tactical alliances with local “‘bourgeois’ nationalists,” a
term that had as much bearing on reality as did the later employment of
“kulak,” which implied that any peasant who owned a cow or two was
somehow part of the exploitative class. 
 I've never read a book about Stalin, and this one sounds quite good.  (It is further described in the review as "uncommonly entertaining".)

I am currently reading a (not very big) book on Hitler, concentrating on his life up to the time he was diagnosed with hysterical blindness after being in a gas attack in World War 1.   (I knew he had been in a battlefield gas attack, and that this was believed to be why he would not countenance use of such weapons in World War 2, but had not  known he had psychological blindness as a result.)   The book's argument is that the doctor who treated him for his blindness really set Hitler off psychologically on his future path, but I haven't got to that part yet.

There are many other things I hadn't realised before - that he was very likely the result of an incestuous marriage; how long he had tried to make it as an artist, and that his school teachers found him irksome as well.  He was very depressed after his Mum died. 

Certainly, he was an oddball from a very early age. 

Update:  here is an interesting extract from an earlier review of Kotkin's bio of Stalin:
One might disagree, however, with Kotkin's assumption that Stalin's paranoid, vindictive nature was a product of, not a motive for, the pursuit of power and that it was slow to develop. Stalin's youthful sexual liaisons may have been normal ('Stalin had a penis, and he used it,' Kotkin remarks), but his impregnation of the thirteen- or fourteen-year-old Siberian orphan Lidia Pereprygina was, even by the standards of the most unbourgeois Bolshevik, the kind of behaviour to be condoned only in a male stoat. Kotkin omits many of the acts of the young Stalin that mark him as a creature of exceptional turpitude among the thugs, bandits, fanatics and misguided adolescents of the Transcaucasian Social Democratic Party. For example, when General Griaznov was assassinated in Tbilisi in 1906 and a bystander, Joiashvili, was arrested, Stalin composed an incriminating pamphlet to ensure that Joiashvili and not the real assassin was hanged (Stalin admitted this with pride in the 1920s). Likewise, he tried to have fellow party members executed on false accusations of treachery. The best evidence for any semblance of humanity in the young Stalin is not in Kotkin's narrative but in the pictures. The photograph of a dishevelled Stalin standing with his mother and his in-laws by the open coffin in which his first wife lies is the sole picture of Stalin showing anything like remorse, sorrow and embarrassment. Kotkin might also have cited some of the postcards Stalin sent back to Georgia from London, in which he appears as just a laddish adventurer out to have a good time, hoping not to shock his new bride.

Stalin's childhood injuries and illnesses are well catalogued by Kotkin, but he does not pursue them as a possible source of Stalin's sadism (as some have done, on the Dostoevskian principle that the primary desire of a man suffering from toothache is that everyone should share his agony). Medical historians conclude that Stalin was in more or less acute muscular, neurological and dental pain all his adult life. His pain threshold was high - as is testified by his endurance of extensive root canal treatment from the bravest man in his circle, the dentist Yakov Shapiro. But Stalin's brutality towards the medical profession, hitherto sacred to all Russian authorities, hints at the frustrations of a man in unremitting pain. (Kotkin does not mention the first murder of a doctor attributed to Stalin: the death in 1927 of Dr Bekhterev, two days after he remarked that he had just examined 'a paranoiac with a withered arm'.)
 Hmmm.  It looks like my idea for history changing time travelling doctors (see previous posts referring to Hitler needing a fecal infusion to make him a nicer person) has to include a couple of good dentists to deal with Stalin.