Thursday, April 30, 2015

A fast food and diet observation

It seems years since I've eaten chicken pieces from KFC.  The occasional burger, yes.  But pieces of chicken, no.

But two nights this week, I've eaten cold KFC chicken.  (I got home late, that's all.)

I found it nicer than I remembered.  Much nicer.   Not very greasy, really.  Especially as it was cold.  I sometimes think I prefer cold chicken to hot.

It might also be partly because of being on a 5-2 diet.  It seems to heighten appreciation for the taste of food, even on a non fasting day.

Celebrating brain injury

I entirely concur with the bandanna clad one (Peter FitzSimons, if you didn't know), even though I rarely read anything he writes, in his article about boxing.

That is, once you know the intrinsically damaging nature of boxing as a sport, how can you intellectually consider it as a endeavour worthy of support? 
Chronic traumatic brain injury (CTBI) associated with boxing occurs in approximately 20% of professional boxers.
  The repeated head blows sustained by fighters during their battles link to slower cognitive processing speeds and smaller volumes of certain brain parts.
Not sure that I would ban it if I were Benevolent Ruler of the World.   Perhaps pay for an advertising  campaign designed to shame people out of supporting the sport, though.   Or put money into developing exoskeleton boxing.  (I have my doubts that people are ever going to get sufficient thrill out of watching boxing robots, like in that silly Real Steel movie.  Maybe if they build in blood bags ready to be splattered?)  But what if there's a human in a suit designed to prevent a head taking a full blow?   But why am I worried about satisfying the desire for biffo anyway?   It's all something to do with testosterone and evolutionary biology I suppose, and I feel I need to accept that in some fashion or other.  

OK, here's a compromise:  professional boxing allowed, but it's mandated by law that it has to end with a bonobo style, bonding-despite-the-fight-we-just-had, same-sex love in between the competitors before they leave the ring.

There, the problem of professional boxing solved.   (I'm sure Jason Soon will be impressed.)

Yet more lucid, convincing, Krugman

The austerity delusion | Paul Krugman | Business | The Guardian

Yet another good, long, read from Krugman on austerity, Keynesian and anti-Keynesian forces, and England in particular.    (The way The Guardian presents the article graphically is pretty neat too.)

I especially find this section pretty convincing, especially when you read the never ending defence of corporations and businesses (along the lines "how dare anyone accuse Google or Apple of not paying enough tax!") that comes from the IPA associated economists:

Beyond that lies a point made most strongly in the US by Mike Konczal of
the Roosevelt Institute: business interests dislike Keynesian economics
because it threatens their political bargaining power. Business leaders
love the idea that the health of the economy depends on confidence,
which in turn – or so they argue – requires making them happy. In the US
there were, until the recent takeoff in job growth, many speeches and
opinion pieces arguing that President Obama’s anti-business rhetoric –
which only existed in the right’s imagination, but never mind – was
holding back recovery. The message was clear: don’t criticise big
business, or the economy will suffer.

But this kind of argument loses its force if one acknowledges that job
creation can be achieved through deliberate policy, that deficit
spending, not buttering up business leaders, is the way to revive a
depressed economy. So business interests are strongly inclined to reject
standard macroeconomics and insist that boosting confidence – which is
to say, keeping them happy – is the only way to go.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Saturday, April 25, 2015

A pet's passing

In 2005 in the early days of this blog, I posted this photo of our sweet natured dog, Pochi:

She quite suddenly took ill on Thursday night and died peacefully at home this afternoon, aged close to 16.  The only pet our children have know (we got her before our eldest was born), her sudden departure is being keenly felt tonight...

A bit weird

Liquid mercury found under Mexican pyramid could lead to king's tomb | World news | The Guardian

Time to retire, Gerard

Gerard Henderson's weekly, self-indulgent bore sessions now appear (and not behind a paywall) at The Australian.  This week he gets to re-visit such compelling issues as an ABC Chairman 40 years ago writing a letter to the Sydney Morning Herald in which he defended the airing of a documentary program about pederasty.

Henderson interprets the letter as being a call for sympathetic understanding of pederasty, but it's a bit of culture war cherry picking if ever there was one, given how the letter goes on to refer to uncivilised behaviour.  How outrageous, says Gerard, that the current ABC Chairman refuses to apologise for this.  If it had been a Catholic Bishop who had done this, how different things would be.  (The implication - "everyone has to agree with how I read the letter.")

I think it's clear why Henderson raises this again this week:  it's one of the near routine, and pathetic, attempts at a counterattack you see from the Right wing culture warriors any week in which someone from the Churches has come out badly in the Royal Commission into Institutional Child Abuse.  In this case, a retired Catholic Bishop who apologises for taking 3 years to stop a pedophile priest from having contact with children, and then writing a character reference for him.   Rather more dire, by a magnitude or three, than an academic head of the national broadcaster saying a documentary about pederasty was not intended to offend.  

Gerard is scrapping the very bottom of the faux moral equivalence outrage barrel on this one.  He really ought to retire, it's becoming so embarrassing some of the lines he chooses to pursue.   

He also has a characteristic that Andrew Bolt and a host of other Right wing commentators now routinely display:   they don't just spend time trying to explain why a particular take on a matter is wrong; they devote a huge amount of effort to complaining about how people - the media, celebrities, academics - don't agree with them.

It's boring and tedious, and I mainly put it down to a "chip on the shoulder" that they have developed about not being able to convince scientists, academia and sufficient politicians that climate change is a non-issue.


I see that the Queensland State Library has been putting up some ANZAC Day material for the 100th anniversary, including some good, short videos.  I liked this one:

Update:  there's also a remarkably good set of World War 1 photos (including some from Gallipoli) up at The Atlantic.

The only reservation I have about them is the way black and white photos tend to make the past look more distant that it really is...

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Nudes from the Brisbane Courier 1933

Update:  Well, that put an end to the fun that Brisbane papers had been been following for a while.  From the Sunday Mail on 31 March 1929:

Why am I searching old Brisbane papers for reference to nudists?   Because I can....

Update 2:   this cable news report from America turned up in several Queensland papers around 24 August 1931:

Quite the moral panic...

Update 3:  whoever it was who was filing reports for the Australian Cable Service liked to keep the nation informed about the New York nudist threat.  On 14 December 1931:

Update 4:  Oh no!  By 16 December, the arrested indoor nudists had had a win:

Update 5:  Good Lord!  There were serious nudist outbreaks happening in Sydney, as reported on 1 January 1932:

Update 6:   By 16 August 1932, there were news reports which combined both Hitler's rise to power, and the German government crackdown on nudists and women wearing pajamas in restaurants.   (I'm not sure, but there's a fair chance that might be the only time Hitler and PJ's ever made it into the same news story.):

The evil sausage

In case you are a visitor who never scrolls down to see if I have updated a post, you should at least look at the latest update to my fermented meat post just a few posts back.  The religious history of the sausage gets a mention there...

Daly really wants super tax to bite

Labor’s superannuation tax policy needs more bite | Grattan Institute

John Daly, who impressed lots of people on Q&A recently, thinks the Labor changes to superannuation tax should be much, much tougher.  I'm scared for Judith Sloan's bold button if she gets to read this - it will be overworked to oblivion.

Francis not pleasing anyone?

Pope Francis is starting to look a lot like Sarah Palin or Kevin Rudd | Kristina Keneally | Comment is free | The Guardian

A bit tough, I think, Kristina...

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Fermented meat and oxygen

I don't understand fermented meat products.  Like, how they were invented.

And although it's not fermented meat, I recently found that beef jerky has fairly low calories, and eating some with salad makes for a pretty satisfying lunch when on a "fast " day on the 5:2 diet.

I also realised recently that I didn't know much about how the International Space Station maintains a healthy atmosphere.  Some initial looking at websites indicates it's pretty complicated.  This also made me realise that I don't know if NASA has any good idea as to the system to use on a Mars mission.  Or, for that matter, if Mars One has any idea.   Electrolysis of water is a key part of the ISS system; I guess having a Mars base near ice would be very handy, then, for a permanent base.  Provided you can trust your equipment to never break down.

I need to do more reading...

Update:   a site with the grand name "SoyInfo Centre [World's Most Complete Collection of Soy Information]"  has a lengthy essay on the history of fermentation generally, with this somewhat interesting section:
The first solid evidence of the living nature of yeast appeared between 1837 and 1838 when three publications appeared by C. Cagniard de la Tour, T. Swann, and F. Kuetzing, each of whom independently concluded as a result of microscopic investigations that yeast was a living organism that reproduced by budding. The word "yeast," it should be noted, traces its origins back to the Sanskrit word meaning "boiling." It was perhaps because wine, beer, and bread were each basic foods in Europe, that most of the early studies on fermentation were done on yeasts, with which they were made. Soon bacteria were also discovered; the term was first used in English in the late 1840s, but it did not come into general use until the 1870s, and then largely in connection with the new germ theory of disease.

The view that fermentation was a process initiated by living organisms soon aroused fierce criticism from the finest chemists of the day, especially Justus von Liebig, J.J. Berzelius, and Friedrich Woehler. This view seemed to give new life to the waning mystical philosophy of vitalism, which they had worked so hard to defeat. Proponents of vitalism held that the functions of living organisms were due to a vital principal (life force, chi, ki, prana , etc.) distinct from physico-chemical forces, that the processes of life were not explicable by the laws of physics and chemistry alone, and that life was in some part self determining. As we shall soon see, the vitalists played a key role in debate on the nature of fermentation. A long battle ensued, and while it was gradually recognized that yeast was a living organism, its exact function in fermentations remained a matter of controversy. The chemists still maintained that fermentation was due to catalytic action or molecular vibrations.

The debate was finally brought to an end by the great French chemist Louis Pasteur (1822-1895) who, during the 1850s and 1860s, in a series of classic investigations, proved conclusively that fermentation was initiated by living organisms. In 1857 Pasteur showed that lactic acid fermentation is caused by living organisms. In 1860 he demonstrated that bacteria cause souring in milk, a process formerly thought to be merely a chemical change, and his work in identifying the role of microorganisms in food spoilage led to the process of pasteurization. In 1877, working to improve the French brewing industry, Pasteur published his famous paper on fermentation, Etudes sur la Biere , which was translated into English in 1879 as Studies on Fermentation . He defined fermentation (incorrectly) as "Life without air," but correctly showed specific types of microorganisms cause specific types of fermentations and specific end products. In 1877 the era of modern medical bacteriology began when Koch (a German physician; 1843-1910) and Pasteur showed that the anthrax bacillus caused the infectious disease anthrax. This epic discovery led in 1880 to Pasteur's general germ theory of infectious disease, which postulated for the first time that each such disease was caused by a specific microorganism. Koch also made the very significant discovery of a method for isolating microorganisms in pure culture.
Gee.  It's easy to forget how something so spectacularly important to 20th century improvements to longevity was only being worked out in the late 19th century.

But it still doesn't help with my fermented meat issue, in particular.

Update 2:   turns out European fermented sausage is not so old:

 From the 1995 book Fermented Meats.

Update the Third:   Tim, I know you have a particular interest in fermentation, and did a post on a book all about it.  Does it explain how fermented sausage making got started?  

Update 4:    Brilliant!  From Meat Fermentation at the Crossroads of Innovation and Tradition - A Historical Outlook:
 And I have learnt that there is a "Dry Salami Institute" (in San Francisco, of all places):

I also did not know of the Catholic controversy over sausages.   I'm guessing the phallic shape has something to do with it:

Lest we Forget [with apologies to the RSL...]


Slippery judicial slopes

The Democracy in America blog at The Economist has a post which is relatively sympathetic to the argument that the American voters should decide when they are ready for gay marriage, not the Supreme Court.  In it, they note the slippery slope argument for polygamy as follows:
The states' arguments taste of rather weak tea, but the line-drawing point should give pause to even the liberal justices. In framing their view as one of "marriage equality", and in urging a shift from procreation to state-recognised intimacy as the basis of marriage, the challengers of the state bans open themselves up to worries about where this all ends. We don't have to revert to Rick Santorum's ridiculous comparison of homosexuality to "man on child, man on dog, or whatever the case may be" to imagine polygamists pressing for their day in court were the justices to affirm a new constitutional right to same-sex marriage. There may be much better policy arguments for a ban on polygamy than for prohibitions on gay marriage (and there certainly are strong state interests in maintaining age-of-consent laws) so the worry is not that handing gays and lesbians this new right will destroy marriage as we know it. But the issue will come up, and the justices need to find a way to expand the boundaries of marriage without erasing them.

This could account for some family fallout

Cannabis consumers show greater susceptibility to false memories

One of my impressions of the downside of recreational drug use is that it can lead to relationship breakdown - with parents and siblings - often in families that previously seemed happy.

If this research is correct, it could well give a partial expectation at least for the cannabis user.  

Down Mexico way

Why Douching Won't Die — The Atlantic

A rather odd article this, that mainly concentrates on the rise of douching in Mexico.  As people in the comments following say, the article is a bit light on with what doctors actually know about the detriments it causes.

Reviewing reviews of Piketty

John Quiggin � Waiting for the fallout: Australia and return of the patrimonial society

Good post here by JQ talking about Piketty.

Yay, a policy, and it seems to make sense

Shorten's superannuation policy to hit accounts over $1.5 million

I can't imagine this policy not being popular with the electorate.  I just wonder whether it really goes far enough.

But I will have to wait until Judith Sloan breaks out the bold button until I can tell if it is a really good policy.  (If she hates it, it probably is.)

Update:  Hilarious, especially if the Coalition ends up doing something similar...

Update 2:  Yes!  Judith has bolded her objection to this outrageous attack on the cashed up retirees who manage to draw in more than $75,000 per year.  That's less than average weekly earnings, she tells us.  What she doesn't mention is that average receiver of average weekly earnings pay tax on it - about $16,000 worth.   

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Dark matter, cancer, dinosaurs and galaxies

Dark Matter’s Deep Reach -

I had missed Bee Hossenfelder's suggestion, referred to in the open of this decent article on dark matter, that weakly interacting dark matter passing through humans might be capable of causing cancer.   (But the effect would be way less than the risk from cosmic rays.)  Another suggestion is that it may contribute to volcanism.

Both rather interesting suggestions.   As is the one I read elsewhere today, that perhaps there is evidence for dark matter interacting with itself via a force only it feels. 

This would not be good...

Weather: Bangkok may set heat record today; relief by Thursday. | Bangkok Post: learning

 Parts of Bangkok may be hit with temperatures of up to 41 degrees
Celsius today. High humidity could create additional problems for those
without access to air-conditioning. By Thursday, it will be much cooler,
Can't be healthy for those in slums.....

Somewhat depressing

Permafrost feedback update 2015: is it good or bad news?

Here's a good article summarising the present state of understanding of the risk from carbon leaking out of melting permafrost.  Long story short - catastrophic bursts of methane are still considered unlikely (despite craters found in Siberia), but the long term issue of carbon leaking as permafrost melts is still serious - like adding another United States' worth of emissions.

Scenarios like this make me wonder whether research should be more about carbon sequestration - not from carbon capture from burning fossil fuels, which should stop anyway, but capture and sequestration from the atmosphere.  The only serious method proposed for that is ocean fertilization, as far as I know.  I'm not sure that it has been looked into in enough detail...

An extraordinarily dubious exercise

Asylum seekers returned to Vietnam by Australian Navy had claims assessed at sea, UNHCR says 

That headline doesn't quite gel with the body of the story, as it sounds as if the UNHCR does not know the details of the "screening" at all.

I also consider it rather likely that a boatload of Vietnamese on a boat may have better reason to be leaving their country than the average Muslim Middle Eastern refugee leaving Indonesia or Malaysia to get to Australia.

And I still think it is a scandalous matter the way this government uses "operational matters" to refuse to disclose details of what they have just done.

Why is the lazy media just shrugging their shoulders about that?

Monday, April 20, 2015

A complex matter

Serving All Your Heroin Needs -

This was an interesting article about the new sales mechanism for heroin in the United States, and its relationship with the apparent over-prescription of opioid painkillers in that nation.

The opening paragraph sets the scene:
FATAL heroin overdoses in America have almost tripled in three years.
More than 8,250 people a year now die from heroin. At the same time,
roughly double that number are dying from prescription opioid
painkillers, which are molecularly similar. Heroin has become the
fallback dope when an addict can’t afford, or find, pills. Total
overdose deaths, most often from pills and heroin, now surpass traffic
As I have commented before, this startling fact about the number of people who die in America via prescription opioids surely should make people somewhat skeptical of one of the key arguments for drug decriminalisation at least with regard to heroin - that it is not so much the drug that kills, but the poor and variable quality of the black market version that people are forced to buy.

If people can't even safely self administer a high quality legal opioid, what do reformers suggest as an the answer to that problem if you allowed them to be legalised?   A massive expansion of the type of supervised drug taking that is inherent in the methodone program?   (In Australia, at least, the addict attends the pharmacy and has to drink their dose in front of staff.)     Yet drug legalisation proponents are often libertarians who hate the nanny statism that would be part of that.  And besides, not everyone can fit a daily visit to a clinic discretely into their work or domestic life... 

Something useful out of the muck

It's extraordinary how the ratbaggery of marginalised Right wing opinion know as Catallaxy is intensifying over the years.   Alan Moran too much of an anti-Islamic extremist for the IPA?  No problem - let him continue his clean energy jihad at Catallaxy; and by the way, he's now an expert on Darling River water flows too - one of the most intensely scrutinised Australian environmental issues in which I thought there was a consensus amongst virtually every interested party in the land, except for shrill, climate change denial funded, independent researcher Jennifer Marohasy; oh, and Moran too.  (Actually, if I recall correctly, Judith Sloan has commented on it dismissively in the past too.  "Climate change - as if" is her considered position on anything related to the issue.)

Sinclair Davidson, quite possibly the only academic in the land who couldn't see how calling an aboriginal man an ape could be racist, also can't see the tackiness problem with Woolworths alluding to their advertising slogan in an ANZAC poster.  Even Andrew Bolt could see that one.

Judith Sloan discovered the bold function about a year ago and now can't stop shouting at everyone in every post.  She's an expert on caesarean birth rates too, apparently.

And yet, shouting, sarcastic Judith  has done some useful - shown in comments that Catallaxy favourite (well, except when it comes to gay marriage and the conservatives) David Leyonhjelm made up a policy suggestion in ignorance of the background.  Who could be surprised - it was about clean energy, something the Bald One thinks is completely unnecessary. 

The details are here:   Leyonhjelm had a suggestion published in the AFR as to how to "fix" the RET:
With this problem looming and negotiations between the Government and Opposition stalled, late last year I developed a detailed reform package for the RET. Since most opposition to reform is based on cuts to the 41,000 GWh large scale target, my plan is to maintain this but to recognise established hydro generation in the calculations – essentially Snowy Hydro and Hydro Tasmania – which together produce about 15,000 GWh.
But as Judith notes in comments:
David, I don’t think this is going to work. Hydro is defined as renewable (see Section 17 of the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Act 2000 and is already counted in the 16 to 17K of MWh being produced from renewables currently. It is already being counted.
 And then Leyonhjelm admits:
After this was published I was informed that “old” hydro had been counted when the original target was established under Labor. I was told the total electricity market was estimated at 300,000 GWh in 2020, of which 20% is 60,000. Deduct 15,000 for existing hydro leaves the target of 45,000. Of this, 4,000 was allowed for small scale solar (ie roof top panels) and 41,000 for large scale (mainly wind). It is reduction in the latter target that is now the subject of dispute.

Adding back old hydro (without attracting Renewable Energy Certificates) would bring us close to 20% renewable anyway (as we won’t be anywhere near 300,000 by 2020) so the case is still arguable, but I acknowledge it would be double counting.

Quite a "whoopsie".

So thanks Judith!   Can you give me a big, bold, shouty call out?   

Sunday, April 19, 2015

The weddings

Well, that's twice now that I've been to a Vietnamese wedding, and what fun they are.  Lots of people (about 420 at last night's!), lots of food, lots of karaoke singing (not of the jokey kind), lots of cute kids, and quite a lot of beer, but no obvious drunkenness that I could see.   They are very happy events enthusiastically, but not raucously, celebrated.  Don't ever knock back an invitation to one...

Saturday, April 18, 2015

It's just natural

'Shallow, Selfish, and Self-Absorbed' Details Why Women Aren't Having Children — The Atlantic

Given the number of comments following this article, there certainly is a lot of interest in the question of why more women are choosing not to have children.  "Education" is given as the main answer, but then it dwells on the question of whether or not it is fair or right to call the decision selfish.

While I am fully supportive of the use of contraception to limit family size, I always took the view that having at least one child is just a natural part of most permanent sexual relationships, and is educational in itself.   I tend to be cautious about calling the decision "selfish", but I have always questioned why normal, basically happy, people would want to keep themselves out of this part of the natural aspect of  life, and not want to learn more about themselves and others by going through the experience directly.  In this way, I think I have viewed it in an intellectual way, just that I have come to a different conclusion to the educated who do not want kids.

I think the latter are misguided when they argue that they just never felt like they wanted kids - that's an appeal to emotion, and lots of people find their emotional response changes once they have a child.  In a similar way, I have repeatedly argued that couples who say they are emotionally crushed if they cannot have fall pregnant (and therefore demand experimental procedures such as "3 parent babies" just so they can have their own) are putting emotion at an far undeserved premium.

That's how I see it, anyway.   

All Stanned up

I've been trying the one of the on-line streaming media services - Stan (what an odd name) - because it has a free 30 day trial.  

The main reason for doing this was to see the more recent Sherlock episodes, and last night we watched the Watson wedding one.   I thought it was terrible - meandering, quite dull for most of its length, and with the stupidest "locked room murder" resolution possible.   [Spoiler]:  Apparently, you can put a skewer through a standing person's back and if you do it in the right  spot, they won't notice.  It looks like a show on its last legs.

More successful has been re-watching The IT Crowd from the beginning.   My mental chronology of when TV shows were on has gone rather wonky - I actually thought it was older than it is.   But re-watching (through the first two seasons anyway) has been a pleasure; it was often a very funny, if silly, show.   I never cared for Lineham's Father Ted at all; I just found the comedy in it too simple, and the characters completely unconvincing in any sense.   I could watch an episode and not laugh once.  It reminded me of the cringeworthy nature of Australian sitcoms.

While I can see how someone could make an argument that the IT Crowd style of humour is very similar, and therefore it's odd that I can dislike one and laugh madly at the other, that's just how it is for me.   I think I could make a case that the nerds of IT are at least recognizeably real, if exaggerated, whereas the Father Ted crew bear no resemblance to any priest I've ever met; but perhaps I haven't really tried watching FT long enough to properly put my finger on it.

I also seem to recall that one of the series of IT - perhaps the third, which I haven't re-watched yet - was going downhill.  But it happens with most shows. 

As for the Stan service, it seems to work well and has a pretty good back library of TV and movies.   Still not sure if I will stick with it after the first month, though...

Friday, April 17, 2015

A good Quiggin piece

Gambling on Climate Change - The Chronicle Review - The Chronicle of Higher Education

I have one quibble - I can't see on-line shopping meaning the complete death of shopping malls.  It's a bit like the predictions that TV, or cable TV, would spell the end of cinema.   They are different experiences.

The three reasons the new Star Wars trailer is creating buzz (to put it mildly)

1.  the music
2.  the fact that when on the ground, it doesn't look like one or two real people acting in front of a gigantic green screen (which is what made the prequels and the LOTR movies uninvolving - that and the fact George Lucas can't write a good screenplay to save himself and I am completely uninterested in Tolkien-lore)
3.  Harrison Ford looks better than expected as a aged Han Solo

A scandalous use of Commonwealth money

Abbott government gives $4m to help climate contrarian set up Australian centre | Environment | The Guardian

Lomborg has next to no credibility amongst climate change scientists and policy analysts who take climate change seriously.

And all you really need to know is this:
The Institute of Public Affairs responded to Lomborg’s new Australian operation by saying, “Bjørn, it’s great to have you!”

Quite an omission

It's rather surprising to find the academic author of a an article about how fatal shootings are reducing in several different Western countries says this in response to a comment about whether improved medical treatment is behind the dropping numbers:
Good question about medical treatment. That could certainly be one of the contributors to falling death rates. I’ve also seen a suggestion that mobile phones have made a difference, because they mean medical help can be called out more quickly. It would be interesting to look more closely at these possibilities.
If she had read this article before, I would have thought she would have answered more along the lines of "yes, there are certainly some experts in America who believe that is the case."

And I just noticed, further down in the comments thread Simon Chapman turns up with a pointed question to the author as follows:
Samara, in your declaration you say you "hold memberships with, and volunteer for, a range of not-for-profit firearm-related organisations." Could you please list these for the sake of transparency, and tell us whether any of these organisations or you personally are an advocate for watering down Australia's firearms laws in areas like ending gun registration, opposing restrictions on semi-automatic hand guns, allowing self defense as a reason to own a firearm, and introducing "right to carry" legislation in Australia of the sort supported by the US NRA and law in many US states. Do any of the organisations you are affiliated with have mutually supportive relationships with the NRA.
 She hasn't answered yet....

Who doesn't like futuristic weapons systems?

US Navy develops cannon-launched 'swarming' drones - BBC News

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Cheese hackers

Interesting to read that some DIY work is being done by science/computer nerds on fiddling with DNA in yeast to get it to make milk, and thereafter Real Vegan Cheese.

Seems much more plausible to me than lab grown meat ever being particularly tasty, or texturally as good as, or economically viable compared to,  the real thing from a cow.

The only environmental concern, I suppose, would be if there was ever a chance that escaped milk producing yeast could interfere with the alcohol producing "natural" variety used in wine and beer making.  A great scientific dystopia it would be if in a 1,000 years beer brewing had to be abandoned because it kept going half milky! 

From Slate today

Still, the evidence suggests that America’s wealthiest faced a significantly higher tax burden during the country’s years of midcentury prosperity. Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez, for instance, find that, once corporate and estate taxes are added into the mix, the top 0.1 percent of earners paid 71.4 percent of their income to the IRS in 1960, compared to 34.7 percent in 2004. Reaching further back and using slightly different methodology, the Congressional Research Service finds that 0.1 percenters paid an average effective personal income tax rate of 55 percent in 1945, compared to around 25 percent during the late 2000s. The tax code really was more progressive back in the day—and more aggressive.
Here's the link.

Not sure about this...

Why a 'Google tax' is not the answer to corporate tax avoidance

It's from the Lowy Institute blog, but it covers the issue pretty well.

Worrying about glaciers

A short video here showing why experts in the field of Antarctic glaciers think the situation is likely worse than thought only a decade or so ago:

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Boys and Girls! You too can make something travel faster than light!

Can't say I had realised this before, but physicist Bee has a fascinating post that starts:
If you sweep a laser pointer across the moon, will the spot move faster than the speed of light? Every physics major encounters this question at some point, and the answer is yes, it will. If you sweep the laser pointer it in an arc, the velocity of the spot increases with the distance to the surface you point at. On Earth, you only have to rotate the laser in a full arc within a few seconds, then it will move faster than the speed of light on the moon!
Now a bit more explanation:
This faster-than-light motion is not in conflict with special relativity because the continuous movement of the spot is an illusion. What actually moves are the photons in the laser beam, and they move at the always same speed of light. But different photons illuminate different parts of the surface in a pattern synchronized by the photon’s collective origin, which appears like a continuous movement that can happen at arbitrary speed. It isn’t possible in this way to exchange information faster than the speed of light because information can only be sent from the source to the surface, not between the illuminated parts on the surface. 
Oh, and your average laser pointer won't still be visible on the moon, and I have my doubts a laser strong enough to be visible is available from scientific supplies shops.

But, it's still fascinating.

(And it's posts like this that I sometimes re-read years later and think "Geez, I do run a great blog!")

Sort of disappointing

Search for advanced civilizations beyond Earth finds nothing obvious in 100,000 galaxies

From the link:
"Whether an advanced spacefaring civilization uses the large amounts of energy from its
galaxy's stars to power computers, space flight, communication, or something we can't yet imagine, fundamental thermodynamics tells us that this energy must be radiated away as heat in the mid-infrared wavelengths," Wright said. "This same basic physics causes your computer to radiate heat while it is turned on."

Theoretical physicist Freeman Dyson proposed in the 1960s that advanced
beyond Earth could be detected by the telltale evidence of their mid-infrared emissions. It was not until space-based telescopes like the WISE satellite that it became possible to make sensitive measurements of this radiation emitted by objects in space.
Roger Griffith, a postbaccalaureate researcher at Penn State and the lead author of the paper, scoured almost the entire catalog of the WISE satellite's detections—nearly 100 million entries—for objects consistent with emitting too much mid-infrared radiation. He then individually examined  and categorized around 100,000 of the most promising galaxy images.
Wright reports, "We found about 50 galaxies that have unusually high levels of mid-infrared radiation. Our follow-up studies of those galaxies may reveal if the origin of their radiation results from natural astronomical processes, or if it could indicate the presence of a highly advanced civilization."

In any case, Wright said, the team's non-detection of any obvious alien-filled galaxies is an interesting and new scientific result. "Our results mean that, out of the 100,000 galaxies that WISE could see in sufficient detail, none of them is widely populated by an alien civilization using most of the starlight in its galaxy for its own purposes. That's interesting because these galaxies are billions of years old, which should have been plenty of time for them to have beenlled with alien civilizations, if they exist. Either they don't exist, or they don't yet use enough energy for us to recognize them," Wright said.

AI and "catastrophic forgetting"

​Teaching a Computer Not to Forget — The Atlantic


A glowing recommendation (heh)

Fukushima bottled water wins Gold Quality Award in Monde Selection ‹ Japan Today: Japan News and Discussion

Irvine on company tax (and the problem with economics)

Why Joe Hockey's tax review should focus on lowering company tax

Since returning to Fairfax, Jessica has been doing a pretty good job with explaining some economic issues.

The problem with economics (and I'd be sure this is not an original thought) is that there is "always something else going on" which makes pinning down cause and effect of particular policy settings very hard to work out.  And it enables economists from opposite and set ideological positions to look at the same set of global evidence and both claim they are vindicated.

Hence, with company tax, you can complain that the Australia rate is now uncompetitive, yet the American rate is even worse (and there appears little prospect of it dropping soon), but America is still achieving an economic recovery.  "Sure" the anti tax, small government economists will say "but if you look at countries X, Y and Z and their growth, consider how much faster the American recovery could have been!"  (And, of course, you can often look at some aspect of how country X, Y and Z operates which the ideologically committed would disagree with, so it's virtually impossible to find a country that you could say is a perfect example of following one consistent economic ideological line.)

I'm not saying that is impossible to ever get to a "truth" in economics; just that the very nature of it means that there are always going to ways for dubious economists to convince politicians that they are the ones who are right.

As with the world of moral philosophy, it pays to not tie oneself to any one analyst, and let intelligent common sense from outside the field guide your actions.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

UFOs and Poltergeists

J. Allen Hynek Writes Letter About Infamous Ghost Experiment - The Black Vault Case Files


J. Allen Hynek wrote very sensible books in a measured tone about UFOs at the peak of public interest in them, and ended up being a consultant to Spielberg for Close Encounters (as well as making a cameo appearance.)  

Interestingly, the letter at his link shows that, despite his reputation for leaning towards the "alien spaceship"  side of likely explanations for UFOs, he did have an interest in the possible interconnection between psychic phenomena, including ghosts and poltergeists, and UFO sightings.

I wonder whether it was conversations with him that got Spielberg interested in writing the story for Poltergeist.  I guess the answer to this might be in a biography of Spielberg on my shelf that I've never got around to reading.

Speaking of the very enjoyable Poltergeist, the remake is due out soon.  The first trailer left me a bit underwhelmed, but the second one that came out recently is making me much more inclined to see it.  It is, I think, a great example of a scary movie trailer, particularly when you consider most viewers probably know the story.

Watch it in a dark room with headphones on, and see if doesn't cause a jump or two:

Catallaxy propaganda

Sinclair Davidson is back to his long standing favourite line of arguing that because the Australian government's tax revenue (when looked at as a simple dollar figure) has, after a post GFC dip, continued to climb since the Howard government, this actually means there is no "revenue problem" but only a spending problem.

Funny how he doesn't mention either population growth (21,542,000 in September 2008, and 23,581,000 in September 2014 - close enough to a 9.5% increase).  Or the growth in GDP.   (Not sure if inflation has been factored in; maybe it has?)

In short - of course revenue should have grown over the period in dollar terms; the question is whether it is growing at expected rates to cover expected needs of a growing, aging population.  To dwell on the rise without context is just ideological propaganda.

And as for arguments about what government is better at covering rather than private enterprise:  the recent DeLong/Krugman writings about it are of great interest.

Update:   I see Andrew Bolt continues his gullible following of any argument Catallaxy runs and re-posts the Davidson graph and line.

Corporate tax considered

Of course, if the "small government at any cost" crowd at the IPA (and ideological anti-taxers like David Leyonhjelm) think that corporate tax per se is a bad idea,  it's a safe assumption that it's actually a good idea.   But seeing they are being given a bit of media space to run their arguments, I've been looking for some pro-corporate tax articles on the net, and here is what I've found so far:

10 Reasons we Should Tax Corporations

Why corporate taxes are good for you

Why we need the corporate tax income tax

The IPAers end their article as follows:
But even if the government wishes to keep the corporate tax fiscal illusion going, there's hope. For all the handwringing about the double Irish Dutch sandwich, one point often missed is that Ireland has been very clever. That country's low corporate tax rates have brought in multinationals, and with them jobs and investment.
It's not obvious those low rates have come at a cost to the Irish budget. Corporate tax revenue as a percentage of total revenue in Ireland is almost exactly the OECD average. There's no reason we couldn't copy the Irish example – get in on the Irish-Dutch sandwich ourselves. The Irish make their own luck. So should we.
 Of course, some countries can do well out of the race to the bottom, by being first to get there.  And they win at a real, impoverishing, cost to other nations who recover diminishing revenue from economic activity in their country.

But people with a moral sense above that of Scrooge McDuck  can see that you can't expect all countries to succeed in this race.   There's only so many multinationals minimising tax to go around...

Style consultant needed

Seriously, Noel Pearson is in the Australian this morning looking like he slept in that suit, and is taking his fashion tips from childhood memories of Homocide Homicide. 

(Or perhaps I should just stop reading Benjamin Law.  Then I might even stop spelling Homicide as Homocide.)

Too generous

Why Hockey will have to clean up Costello's superannuation mess in May budget

It's hard not to be convinced by Peter Martin's explanation here.  

Lincoln death details

After the Assassination: Images from HBO's Living With Lincoln Documentary - The Atlantic

A great article here with some fascinating photos and details about  Lincoln's death and aftermath.

I can't say I've heard of this before, for example:

After performing the inquest into Lincoln's death, U.S. Surgeon General Joseph Barnes cut off a lock of the dead president's hair and gave it to one of Lincoln's servants, a man named Thomas Pendel. Pendel, who became Lincoln's chief  doorkeeper in 1864, was noted for his striking resemblance to Lincoln: The doorman's lanky frame nearly matched the president's odd dimensions and his facial features were so uncommonly similar to Lincoln's that Pendel was sometimes mistaken for the president himself.

It was this uncanny similarity that initially endeared the doorkeeper to Lincoln's son Tad. And it was Pendel who was ultimately left to comfort Tad after news of the president's death reached the family home and Lincoln's son came running to his father's lookalike, screaming, "Oh Tom Pen! Tom Pen! They have killed papa dead. They killed papa dead."
Later that May, Mary Todd asked the servant to put on her husband's black broadcloth coat and model his presidential office suit in a posthumous portrait painted by the famed Boston-based artist William Morris Hunt.
Though Pendel was later described as a "simple, uneducated" man, his possession of this snippet of hair, cut from the head of his dead presidential doppelgänger, along with the
elegant broadcloth, made him a person of particular interest for Lincoln's archivists.
 If this had happened today, there would be an online community of Lincoln assassination conspiracists who have the real Lincoln living in Argentina, and 25% of the population would believe it.  

The fattening

I mentioned my BMI last week, which I checked using a calculator on the Australian Heart Foundation website.

Using sliders to adjust weight and height, it's also accompanied by a graphic of a body that grows fatter as BMI increases.  The trouble is, it might have a bit of a problem with the gradation.

Here it is at a BMI of 25 which, at this morning's DNW (dry nude weight, a term of my invention with which I dismay female workers at the office), I have achieved, the illustration is this:

Yes, I can live with that image - seems pretty accurate to what I'm seeing in the mirror.

But move the weight scale up 1 kg, and at a BMI of 26. this is what the drawing becomes:

And to think I was that hideous only a month ago...

Monday, April 13, 2015

Making it up as she goes along?

I just noticed Judith Sloan making a comment in a Catallaxy thread that didn't sound right:

Could that line about Tasmania be true?

In 2013, the Premier was claiming 27,000 public servants, but the person who wrote this post said that if you add in employment in Tasmanian government owned bodies, it's more like 33,000.   Then someone in comments points to a 2010 report which said this:
New figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics yesterday show 40,900 Tasmanians were employed by the State Government in June, more than 17 per cent of the entire state workforce.
The wages bill for state public servants also leapt by nearly 19 per cent in the past year, gobbling up 53 per cent of the state’s limited Budget in salaries.
The State Government now provides more than one in six of all jobs in Tasmania, compared to an average of one in eight jobs being state government-reliant across the rest of Australia.
But when all public servants over three tiers of government federal, state and local government are taken into account more than one in five workers are employed by a government of some kind in Tasmania, compared to one in eight nationally.
And, by the way, this report from Tasmanian Treasury in February this year says there are about 241,000 employed workers in the State.

Seems to me that for Judith's claim to be correct, there would need to be at least 3 times more public servants there than there actually are.

Quite the gaff from an economist who is routinely rudely dismissive of all economics commentators she disagrees with. 

Update:  more facts and figures on Tasmanian workforce here.  Seems to me that, even if you were talking full time employees (about 145- 150,000), and also treating every public servant  as such, there is still no way her quip could be true.

I am failing to see how the mistake could even have been made...

Aging graphically

From a New York Times article that talks about European (and other countries') ideas about how to get people to have more babies comes this chart:

One suspects the situation in Japan just can't happen.   Immigration, at least, would have to increase, one would think.  There will be lots of empty houses for migrants to move into, anyway....

Maybe more time before there are no stars in the sky?

Accelerating universe? Not so fast

Let's hope there is no connection

Mass beaching fuels fears of impending quake | The Japan Times

The mass beaching of over 150 melon-headed whales on Japan’s
shores has fueled fears of a repeat of a seemingly unrelated event in
the country — the devastating 2011 earthquake and tsunami that killed
over 18,000 people.

Despite a lack of scientific evidence linking the two
events, a flurry of online commentators have pointed to the appearance
of around 50 melon-headed whales — a species that is a member of the
dolphin family — on Japan’s beaches six days before the monster quake,
which unleashed towering tsunami and triggered a nuclear disaster.

The junk science Senator

David Leyonhjelm writing in the AFR last week:
The only losers would be the major wind-energy generators, which are eagerly waiting to build dozens of new wind farms in an effort to meet the target and get on the subsidy gravy train. Against that, many people are hoping these are never built, among them those who suffer adverse health effects from the inaudible infrasound they generate...

Krugman on laughing Laffer

The Laffer Swerve -

The article in the Washington Post he links to is worth reading too...

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Drug madness

Experience: my anti-malaria drugs made me psychotic | Life and style | The Guardian

I had heard that there was one anti-malarial drug that often gave people vivid nightmares; I assume it was Lariam as described in this interesting first hand account of how it sent one young guy completely psychotic for a time.   I didn't realise that it could have that drastic an effect.  Lots of people in comments tell of their bad experiences with the drug, too. 

Friday, April 10, 2015

Fat but happy?

Underweight people face significantly higher risk of dementia, study suggests | Society | The Guardian

People who are underweight in middle-age – or even on the low side of
normal weight – run a significantly higher risk of dementia as they get
older, according to new research that contradicts current thinking.

The results of the large study, involving health records from 2
million people in the UK, have surprised the authors and other experts.
It has been wrongly claimed that obese people have a higher risk of
dementia, say the authors from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical
Medicine. In fact, the numbers appear to show that increased weight is

At highest risk, says the study, are middle-aged people with a BMI
[body mass index] lower than 20 – which includes many in the “normal
weight” category, since underweight is usually classified as lower than a
BMI of 18.5.

These people have a 34% higher chance of dementia as they age than
those with a BMI of 20 to just below 25, which this study classes as
healthy weight. The heavier people become, the more their risk declines.
Very obese people, with a BMI over 40, were 29% less likely to get
dementia 15 years later than those in the normal weight category.
This will set the fat cat amongst the public health policy pigeons.

Good news for me, at least, with my determined effort to keep at the very edge of BMI of 25.  (Actually, it seems according to one calculator, a 1 cm difference in my height is the difference between 25 and 26.  I must measure myself, somehow, again.)

The blob discussed

'Warm blob' in Pacific Ocean linked to weird weather across the US

In other weather/climate news, there was a story last night on 7.30 about the drought conditions out in Western Queensland, with many properties around Longreach being completely de-stocked.   As this is happening with (at best) a weak El Nino, it is not a good picture if a strong one develops later this year, as I think some suspect is on the cards.

Making rice better with coconut oil? (And let's talk food poisoning)

New coconut rice cooking method claims to slash kilojoules - Health & Wellbeing

Well, this sounds all very preliminary, and as if it is sponsored by a coconut oil manufacturer, but the claim is that adding a small-ish amount of coconut oil to cooking rice, then cooling and reheating it, makes it better for you by increasing the amount of resistant starch.  (It's funny how making starch indigestible seems to be a good thing for the gut, but there you go.)

The article also makes some points about being careful with re-heating rice so as to avoid food poisoning.

I've always had the intuition that, of the things that could give you food poisoning, reheated plain cooked rice would have to be on the low end of the scale of risk.  But, I was told decades ago by someone who worked in the microbiology, water and food safety field, that this was not true.  It's one of the riskier foods for it, apparently, but I don't know why.

The story above says to not keep rice in the fridge for more than 3 days.  I'm sure we often go way past that, and there is not a time I know of when eating re-heated rice has apparently made me sick.  In fact, I have been thinking lately, it's been a long, long time since I've had a stomach upset of any variety.

Re-heated rice from the microwave is a marvel.  In fact, if you only had a microwave for melting butter, defrosting meat, and re-heating cold or frozen rice, it would still be worth it.

And speaking of food poisoning, in my other wanderings around the net lately, I have come across a blog that is absolutely chock full of food poisoning news - the Barfblog.  (It's a more serious site that the name suggests.)

The main author at the site, Doug Powell, appears to be a Canadian who worked in Kansas, but his blog entries make enough references to Brisbane to make me suspect he might live here now. Maybe he can tell me what has caused a repeated series of food poisoning outbreaks at the wonderful (well, provided you don't eat there) Brisbane Convention Centre in the last 6 months?  I have never heard if the cause had been definitely identified.

The good news and the bad news (about Mars)

So, it turns out there might be quite a lot of ice just under the surface over quite a large part of Mars, and not just in the polar ice caps. 

The bad news for future human ice miners:  the planet also seems to have high levels of the toxic to the thyroid chemical perchlorate.   Bummer, hey?

The Laffer experiment the IPA doesn't talk about

Kansas GOP Governor Sam Brownback Retreats on Tax Cuts to Close $600 Million Budget Deficit — The Atlantic

How disappointing of Australian journalism was it that Arthur Laffer, on his recent IPA promoted comedy tour here*, was not asked about the complete failure of his policies in Kansas?  

* well, I didn't watch all of the video of his IPA talk, but it certainly opened with a sustained string of jokes to an adoring audience.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

The big smash

Puzzle of Moon’s origin resolved : Nature News & Comment

Would have been something to see - a Mars size planet smashing into the early Earth.  If time travel is invented, that event should be high on the list of "to do's".

The tax race to the bottom

Countries slow race to bottom on tax competition -

With the Senate asking questions about how the multinationals shift money around to minimise tax, the whole question of whether international tax competition is an ultimately harmful "race to the bottom" that countries ought to stop is of greater interest than ever.

The article above (which you may have to answer a question to get to) seems a decent summary of the controversy regarding the matter.   (Of course, seeing libertarians are of the view that tax competition is fine and dandy, I think its a very reasonable conclusion that of course tax competition has become harmful, and that it can all be fixed by war being declared on Ireland, Bermuda, Singapore and any other country that is getting rich by enabling companies to impoverish the rest of the world.)

In other tax musings, I see that many are talking about the advantages of increasing land tax for revenue, and reducing stamp duty and other taxes.

While Jessica Irvine did a good job the other day explaining the advantages, transitioning to such a system would surely be complicated, and the idea that people having attained the "Australian dream" of home ownership with no mortgage now having to pay for the privilege is surely a hard, hard sell politically.

How much easier from a fairness point of view is it to say that companies have to pay local tax in the country where they generate the profit?   Of course, achieving that result with international co-operation is the trick.  I think my warfare plan, as well as rounding up the libertarians as enemies of the State to be interned until the cessation of hostilities, might have trouble being endorsed by politicians:  although I may be in with a chance with the Greens.

The Muslim conspiracy issue - again

'Iraq Is Finished' — The Atlantic

I've asked this before on this blog, probably quite a few times over the years:  why is it that out of all the peoples in the world, Middle East Muslims seem to be the most extraordinarily prone to believing in persecutory conspiracy theories?   Take this, from the rather good article linked above about the situation in Iraq:
 The conversation soon turned to Daesh (known as ISIS in the West), and how the group had formed. A common view I’ve heard in the region, propagated by Sunni and Shiite alike, is that Daesh is the creation of the United States. There was no al-Qaeda in Iraq or
Islamic State before the U.S. invasion in 2003. Therefore, so the twisted reasoning goes, the United States must have deliberately created the group in order to make Sunnis and Shiites fight each other, thereby allowing the U.S to continue dominating the region. Local media had reported on alleged U.S. airdrops to Daesh. Some outlets even referred to Daesh's leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, as an Israeli-trained Mossad agent.
Anyhow, the article in total is well worth reading.

Update:  well, to state the obvious, isn't Google great?   Here's an article from New Statesman last year asking the very same question, and mentions some other "greatest hits" of Muslim nonsense, which the writer notes, extends far beyond the Middle East:
A Pew poll in 2011, a decade after 9/11, found that a majority of respondents in countries such as Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon refused to believe that the attacks were carried out by Arab members of al-Qaeda. “There is no Muslim public in which even 30 per cent accept that Arabs conducted the attacks,” the Pew researchers noted.

This blindness isn’t peculiar to the Arab world or the Middle East. Consider Pakistan, home to many of the world’s weirdest and wackiest conspiracy theories. Some Pakistanis say the schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai is a CIA agent. Others think that the heavy floods of 2010, which killed 2,000 Pakistanis, were caused by secret US military technology. And two out of three don’t believe Osama Bin Laden was killed by US navy Seals on Pakistani soil on 2 May 2011.

Consider also Nigeria, where there was a polio outbreak in 2003 after local people boycotted the vaccine, claiming it was a western plot to infect Muslims with HIV. Then there is Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country, where leading politicians and journalists blamed the 2002 Bali bombings on US agents.

Why are so many of my fellow Muslims so gullible and so quick to believe bonkers conspiracy theories? How have the pedlars of paranoia amassed such influence within Muslim communities?
The explanations are limited:
I once asked the Pakistani politician Imran Khan why his fellow citizens were so keen on conspiracy theories. “They’re lied to all the time by their leaders,” he replied. “If a society is used to listening to lies all the time . . . everything becomes a conspiracy.”
The “We’ve been lied to” argument goes only so far. Scepticism may be evidence of a healthy and independent mindset; but conspiracism is a virus that feeds off insecurity and bitterness. As the former Pakistani diplomat Husain Haqqani has admitted, “the contemporary Muslim fascination for conspiracy theories” is a convenient way of “explaining the powerlessness of a community that was at one time the world’s economic, scientific, political and military leader”.
Nor is this about ignorance or illiteracy. Those who promulgate a paranoid, conspiratorial world-view within Muslim communities include the highly educated and highly qualified, the rulers as well as the ruled. A recent conspiracy theory blaming the rise of Islamic State on the US government, based on fabricated quotes from Hillary Clinton’s new memoir, was publicly endorsed by Lebanon’s foreign minister and Egypt’s culture minister.
It's all rather depressing.

And what about the irony of how in the United States, the biggest long term dangerous conspiracy going around (climate change is a hoax) is held by those on the Right who are most rabidly anti-Muslim?  Just thought I would throw that in for good measure.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Arnie doesn't like what bodybuilding has become

Has gay panic ruined bodybuilding?

Well, Arnie's not a complete meat head, then.   But gosh he looks old and so far past his prime in those real estate ads showing on Australian TV.

When defence technology doesn't work

The Pentagon's $10-billion bet gone bad - Los Angeles Times

A great, eye catching photo starts this article on the Pentagon spending billions on technology that doesn't live up to its promise.

The LA Times also has a story today about the Cold War era games of Putin:
U.S. F-22 fighter jets scrambled about 10 times last year — twice as often as in 2013 — to monitor and photograph Russian Tu-95 "Bear" bombers and MiG-31 fighter jets that flew over the Bering Sea without communicating with U.S. air controllers or turning on radio
transponders, which emit identifying signals.

The Russian flights are in international airspace, and it's unclear whether they are testing
U.S. defenses, patrolling the area or simply projecting a newly assertive Moscow's global power.

"They're obviously messaging us," said Flores, a former Olympic swimmer who is in charge of Tin City and 14 other radar stations scattered along the vast Alaskan coast. "We
still don't know their intent."

U.S. officials view the bombers — which have been detected as far south as 50 miles off  California's northern coast — as deliberately provocative.