Friday, July 31, 2015

Drinking and conception

Drinking at conception boosts diabetes risk for baby

This finding:
Babies conceived by women who drink alcohol around the time of conception face dramatically increased risks of type 2 diabetes and obesity in early middle age, a University of Queensland
study has found.

The discovery was made by School of Biomedical Sciences scientist Associate Professor Karen Moritz during research into how events – particularly alcohol consumption – before and during pregnancy affect the long-term health of offspring.
is only based on "laboratory rat model", but still, it does sound a potential worry for humans.

Sharks getting aggro?

Surfer mauled in shark attack at Evans Head

I'm sure I'm not the only person thinking that it seems sharks are getting more aggressive against humans lately, including, unfortunately, many of them around Australia.  Have a look at the recent list of attacks in this article, many of which have only given people a fright, but still there are quite a few incidents of aggression that I haven't heard of until now.

Adam Goodes noted

Of course, the Australian sport that I have the least possible interest in (well, apart from cage boxing, I suppose) is Aussie Rules Football, but it's impossible not to comment on the Adam Goodes story.

It seems to me that the on the "this boo-ing has gotten out of control" side is every current AFL player, the management of every AFL team, the AFL management itself, every single politician who has commented on it, including Coalition members such as the down-to-earth indigenous affairs minister Nigel Scullion,  the editorial team at The Australian, as well as everyone down to the cleaning staff at the ABC and The Guardian (but the latter is not unexpected, of course.)

On the "Adam Goodes is a sook and ought to suck it up and he started it all anyway" side is a newspaper columnist who lost a court case about race and has spent a decade or more downplaying racism as an issue to a silly extent; an ex AFL player or two; the intellectual giant of cricket Shane Warne; an economist from South Africa who had never even heard of "ape" being used in a racial context; and a group of right wing columnists who are most notable for despising Julia Gillard and not believing in climate change.

I don't know - I got a feeling in my bones about which side on this might have the better "cred".

Thursday, July 30, 2015


I was reading the Courier Mail review for Anything Goes from 14 March 1936, and noticed this ad on the page:

"Knickers" seems to have changed meaning over the years...

Updatea post may be found here giving some details about the fashion for boy's knickers in the first half of the 20th century.   Yet I'm still not entirely sure as to what made "knickers" knickers.  It would seem to be the length as indicated in this photo:

  But the advertisement showing a "knicker suit" in Australia seems to have shorts that aren't below the knee in length.

Update 2:  just in case anyone thinks I'm easily confused - yes, I am aware of knickerboxers - which are what the pants in the photo in the update would be called, and (I presume) knickers is a contraction of that.  Maybe I'm just confused because the "knicker suit" and "knicker pants" in the Brisbane ad don't look long enough to count.

Herbal remedy with the opposite effect (for some)

Taking St. John's wort for depression carries risks: study

I didn't know this was possible (or at least, to this extent) with St John's wort:

Using reports filed with Australia's drug safety agency, the researchers found that to St. John's wort were similar to those reported for the antidepressant fluoxetine—better known by the brand name Prozac.

Those included anxiety, panic attacks, dizziness, nausea and spikes in blood pressure, the researchers reported in the July issue of Clinical and Experimental Pharmacology and Physiology....

The researchers based their findings on doctors' reports to Australia's national agency on drug safety. Between 2000 and 2013, there were 84 reports of adverse reactions to St. John's wort, and 447 reports on Prozac.

But since those are voluntary reports, they do not reflect the actual rate of side effects from either therapy, according to the researchers.  And, Hoban said, bad reactions to St. John's wort are particularly likely to go unreported, since the herb is often not even considered a drug.

According to McCutcheon, it's important for people with depression symptoms to see a health professional before self-medicating with St. John's wort. "That will help ensure you have the right diagnosis," she said.

If your symptoms are actually part of a different disorder, St. John's wort may be ineffective—or possibly even risky. For example, McCutcheon said that in people with bipolar disorder, the herb might fuel a manic episode.

But possibly the biggest concern, she said, is the potential for St. John's wort to interact with commonly used medications.

The herb can dampen the effectiveness of birth control pills, blood thinners and heart disease drugs, along with some HIV and cancer drugs, according to the U.S. National Center for Complementary and Integrative

Falling pregnant unintentionally due to taking it can't be good for depression!

Masculinity and nature

Cecil the lion: Jimmy Kimmel breaks down on air as he condemns animal's killing

Wow.  Jimmy Kimmel made his name on "The Man Show", didn't he?:  a low brow comedy that joked about masculinity in quite an un-PC, right wing sort of fashion.   (The co-host Adam Carolla appears to make a name for himself still by being the favourite comedian of sites like Breitbart.)

Yet Kimmel gets emotional talking about Cecil the lion.

It's pretty amazing how strongly most of the West has turned against trophy hunting, where what was once seen as something a strong man would naturally like to do (up to perhaps about the 1960's, I reckon) is now condemned as sign of inadequacy. 

Yet, as this Washington Post story notes, it is still big business in Africa, fed mostly by Americans, and includes those ridiculous cases where captive animals are bred and hunted for fun, or whatever the motivation is for this activity.

There's no doubt there is a very different view of our relationship with nature now, but there is still a strong cultural element about it all - it seems to me that the Chinese are far, far behind the West in having empathy  for animal suffering, and the reasons for that I do not know.  (I should Google it one day...)   

I suspect that this story is leading more people to cast a skeptical eye on the claim that trophy hunting is a good, or valid, way of raising money for animal conservation. 


Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Catholics in retreat

The last Catholic priest in the Antarctic - BBC News

Interesting story about religious services in Antarctica.

I like the penguins on the wall at the back of the chapel:

For a special weekly dose of climate change pessimism

What Happens If We Don’t Mitigate?

I see that the Climate Change National Forum site, which seemingly had become quite inactive, has been re-formatted and has more recent posts finally up.

The one at the link is a good interview with 3 climate scientists, including one of my old favourites John Nielsen-Gammon.  He's always been fair:  too fair, in fact, given that he was prepared to help out Anthony Watts with his failed attempt to prove that poor weather station siting was really behind increasing temperatures.  

Anyhow, Nielsen-Gammon is well and truly a realist as to what is in store with temperature rises, and this interview is worth reading.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Peculiar Japanese headline of the day

Moss-viewing trips catching on among women | The Japan Times

Uncertain meters

Catastrophic Sea Level Rise: More and sooner – Greg Laden's Blog

Greg Laden talks generally about the new James Hansen paper that warns that sea level rise may be more rapid than most scientists think:
Let me rephrase that to make it clear. We have already caused
something like 14 meters of sea level rise. Like the horrifically sad
words uttered by a movie or TV character who has received a fatal wound
and turns to the killer, uttering “You’ve killed me” (then they die),
we’ve done this. It is just going to take some time to play out. But it
will play out.

A conservative estimate is that likely sea levels will rise 8 meters
or more, quite possibly considerably more. But generally, people who
talk about sea level tend to suggest that this will take centuries. Part
of the reason for that is that it takes a long(ish) time for the added
CO2 to heat up the surface, then it takes a while for that heat to melt
the ice sheets. However, there is no firm reason to put a time frame on
this melting.

A new paper that is making a great deal of news, and that is still in
peer review, suggests that the time frame may be shorter than man have
suggested. We may see several meters of sea level rise during the
lifetime of most people living today.

We don’t really how long this will take. Looking at the paleo record,
we are lucky to get two data points showing different ancient sea
levels that are less than a thousand years apart. There are a few
moments during the end of the last glaciation where we have data points
several centuries apart during which sea levels went up several meters.
We don’t have a good estimate for the maximum rate at which polar ice
caps and other ice can melt.

The current situation is, notably, very different from those periods
of rapid sea level rise. The amount of CO2 in the atmosphere is
approximately double the Pleistocene average, and the rate at which CO2
levels and temperatures have gone up has not been seen in tens of
millions of years. Whatever rate of sea level rise over the last several
tens of thousands of years must be regarded as a minimum, perhaps a
very low minimum.
Australian Libertarians, meanwhile, are fretting about not being able to get a drink at Kings Cross at 3.30 am after a day of riding their mountain bike without a helmet with their repeat action shotgun slung over their shoulder for killing feral cats with which to make a fur coat for their gay friend's wedding.

An odd therapy gains acceptance?

EMDR Eye Movement Therapy for Victims of Trauma and PTSD - The Atlantic

This short article doesn't really give much detail, but it is interesting to note that this odd sounding therapy hasn't disappeared, as I first suspected it might.

Bad news for salmon

Too bits of bad news for fish on the net lately:

Lakes are warming at a surprisingly fast rate.

More than a quarter million sockeye salmon returning from the ocean to spawn are either dead or dying in the Columbia River and its tributaries due to warming water temperatures.Federal and state fisheries biologists say the warm water is lethal for the cold-water species and is wiping out at least half of this year's return of 500,000 fish.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Odd bit of publicity

I find this rather surprising:   The Daily Telegraph, not exactly known for doing any damage to the Abbott brand, runs a puff piece about the PM and his daughter and Peta Credlin having a weekend in the snow.

Given the past rumour mill, one would have thought the Tele would be keen to point out that Credlin was there with her husband or, if not, say something to clear up that this story was not hinting at anything untoward between Abbott and her.

Because, at the moment, those with suspicious minds may well be interpreting this as an exercise in "softening up" the public for a further revelation.  And if it is purely accidental that the story comes across that way, I presume  Peta has been on the 'phone to the Tele demanding some changes?

Update:  To confirm I'm not reading too much into this, I've looked at the story again and can't get over how much it looks exactly like the sort of celebrity are-they-dating-or-not gossip column entry you might see at the Daily Mail (or a women's magazine.)   I mean, even the heading:

Snow business as Prime Minister Tony Abbott hits the slopes with Peta Credlin and daughter Frances

makes it sound like the point of the weekend is to introduce Frances to Credlin as the new part of the household.

Now, given that no journalists are hinting at coming "Abbott bombshell" on twitter, I assume that this is an accident.  But it's a very weird one, about which I would have though Credlin/Abbott would be very annoyed. 

A detailed look at the cost of energy

FactCheck: does coal-fired power cost $79/kWh and wind power $1502/kWh?

Sunday, July 26, 2015

How Anything went

I'm not sure, but I suspect the "modern" revival of Anything Goes must have been in Brisbane before, but I had not seen it until this weekend.

I went into it without reading up on its background, and couldn't even remember if it had been put together by Cole Porter himself, or was a later construct incorporating many of his songs.  I have been reading up on it today, which has had the unfortunate side effect of putting the title song well and truly into "earworm" mode, but it's been very interesting nonetheless.

First, the show was made by Cole Porter (and a team of other creative types of the day) in the early 30's.   In fact, the history of its creation as recounted in Wikipedia is so interestingly haphazard it bears repeating in whole:
The original idea for a musical set on board an ocean liner came from producer Vinton Freedley, who was living on a boat, having left the US to avoid his creditors.[2] He selected the writing team, P. G. Wodehouse and Guy Bolton, and the star, Ethel Merman. The first draft of the show was called Crazy Week, which became Hard to Get, and finally Anything Goes. The original plot involved a bomb threat, a shipwreck, and hijinks on a desert island,[3] but, just a few weeks before the show was due to open, a fire on board the passenger ship SS Morro Castle caused the deaths of 138 passengers and crew members. According to one version,[4] Freedley judged that to proceed with a show on a similar subject would be in dubious taste, and he insisted on changes to the script. However, theatre historian Lee Davis maintains that Freedley wanted the script changed because it was "a hopeless mess."[5] Bolton and Wodehouse were in England at the time and were thus no longer available, so Freedley turned to his director, Howard Lindsay, to write a new book.[3] Lindsay recruited press agent Russel Crouse as his collaborator, beginning a lifelong writing partnership.[3] The roles of Billy Crocker and Moonface Martin were written for the well-known comedy team William Gaxton and Victor Moore, and Gaxton's talent for assuming various disguises was featured in the libretto.
 I am not knowledgeable about Wodehouse, but I would hazard to guess there are only one or two jokes in the show which have his "air" about them.

As Wikipedia goes on to note, later versions of the show (it seems to get revived about every 25 years) have added or deleted songs, so it's not as if there is a canonical version.   But they all share the same silly story.

For me, the show comprises some spectacularly pleasing song and dance routines  interspersed by some spectacularly anachronistic, broad vaudevillian comedy of a kind that is not to my taste (by which I mean, rarely rises above "slightly amusing").   Perhaps the problem is partly this cast overacting (I found myself particularly irked by the Captain seemingly doing a Nathan Lane impersonation); but it just might be something inherent in  romantic farce when done in the theatre:  the medium leaves no room for subtlety, and what might be made to work on screen gets overblown on stage.  Still, it was very professionally done when it came to the music, singing and dancing, and I certainly didn't regret seeing it.

And to be clear:  for a curious person, some of the anachronisms* help make the show interesting.

For example, I was only recently posting about how Australian papers were reporting (what we might now call) the nudist moral panic of New York in the early 30's, but I didn't realise at the time that this gets a reference in the lyrics of Anything Goes:
When ev'ry night the set that's smart is in-
Truding in nudist parties in
Anything goes.
The Wikipedia entry on the song gives explanation of many other then-current references to scandal and gossip in the lyrics.

I thought the bit about the cruise ships crossing the North Atlantic needing to have a celebrity on board was interesting; in fact, the short song "Public Enemy Number One" had a bit of Marx Brother's style satire to it which I wished more of the comedy shared.

But I was most interested in learning who the (female lead) role of Reno Sweeney was satirising.  Clearly, there must have been some female Christian evangelist type who had notoriety at the time, and it didn't take long to track down that it was Aimee Semple McPherson.  Her rather fascinating career as the 1920's equivalent of the modern tele-evangelist (and about whom I don't recall ever hearing about before now) is the subject of a fascinating, and not overly long, article at the BBC website, and she has many other articles devoted to her controversial life.   Here she is, looking quite the glamour preacher star:

And, oddly enough, the "Foursquare Church" she founded claims to still be active and widespread today.  I see I could even go to a service at the University of Queensland (?) if I wanted to.   Should I be highly embarrassed by having just admitted I knew nothing of her until now?

Of course, having seen the musical led to me reading up a bit on Cole Porter himself.

I think everyone with the barest knowledge of him now knows he was gay (or bisexual) but married to a woman who was he quite devoted to (as long as she didn't interfere in his sexual pursuits.)

It's funny how both autobiographical films were extremely misleading, but in entirely different ways.  The recent-ish Kevin Kline movie De-Lovely (which I haven't seen) gets marks for at least showing him as homosexual; but it sounds as if it twisted virtually everything else about his life to various minor or major degrees.    This article about him in the New Yorker from 2004 is perhaps the single best one I read, but his lengthy Wikipedia entry is good too.

One thing I was surprised about - he didn't have his first hit show until he was 36 - followed by some dud ones, and finally hit his mark in the 1930's when he would have been in his 40's.   He may have been rich and self indulgent as a young man (to put it mildly), but it sure appears he worked very hard on becoming a success in his chosen career.

(Here's one odd fact I stumbled upon by accident - David Cassidy of Partridge Family, um, fame, says in his autobiography that he only learnt after his death that his bisexual father Jack Cassidy had a long affair with Porter.  Shirley Jones apparently confirms it in an autobiography which is very sexually explicit, leading one review to comment:
Jones also shares a story Cassidy told her about seducing composer Cole Porter, a story so lewd and off-putting that I’m not going to repeat it here.

I'm sorry, this post started off all nice, but is ending a tad sordid...)

Anyhow, as you see, seeing this show has been an education. Now, if only I can stop the John Williams orchestration of the version of the song in Temple of Doom running through my brain, I will happy.

*  perhaps this isn't the right use of the word, since the play is still set in the 1930's.  Perhaps just "dated" is more apt, but it doesn't sound as sophisticated...

Welcome news

The first reviews of Mission Impossible 5 are mostly positive; some very much so.  (A couple seem to say it's the best in the series.)

This is cheering news...

Friday, July 24, 2015

El Nino as seen from California

El Nino could bring disaster and drought relief to California - LA Times

Have a look at this good graphic from the article, too:

They're pretty sure this winter will very "interesting" on that side of the world.

It's also quite likely that a fairly cold winter in Australia will turn around quickly to a warmer than usual summer.  Hope we don't then slip into a decade long drought, like we did after the last big one...

Creighton is not to be trusted

Labor’s renewable energy target policy would waste $100bn | The Australian

Another country not to visit

Iran executions see 'unprecedented spike' - Amnesty - BBC News

Arsenic, rice, coffee

The sub heading in this Nature News article raises an interesting question:
Preparing rice in a coffee machine can halve levels of the naturally occurring substance.

The substance being arsenic, and the question being "what type of coffee machine can you cook rice in?"   (I'm pretty sure filling used Nespresso pods with a teaspoon of rice is not going to work, and also take a hell of a long time to serve the dinner party.)

I think I've had a post about this before - rice is particularly prone to sucking up arsenic and getting it into your diet.   And it seems pretty unclear as to how dangerous it could be over a lifetime.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Renewables and energy costs

One thing has become pretty clear - the economics of government renewable energy targets are complicated, and modelling this type of policy's effects can be all over the shop, often seeming suspiciously prone to making assumptions that suit the interests of the modeller.

I would not trust any initial wildly negative reaction to Labor's apparent decision to increase the renewables target dramatically.   I don't even trust the Grattan Institute on this topic.  Wildly optimistic modelling is probably wrong too. 

ISIS and climate change

Is Martin O’Malley Right About ISIS, Climate Change, and the Syrian Civil War? - The Atlantic

A suggestion that drives conservatives into mocking meltdown is not so crazy, but I have a few comments to make:

*  it's funny how we don't always hear about dire, record breaking droughts if they are in parts of the world we don't care about;

* this part of the article makes sense:
Of course, scientists and security consultants get nervous when the media covers studies such as this one. They worry, in particular, about the impression that wars can be reduced to a single cause. (As one told The Guardian in May about the PNAS study, “I’ll  put this in a crude way: No amount of climate change is going to cause  civil violence in the state where I live (Massachusetts), or in Sweden or many other places around the world.”)
* I see that one of the most worrisome nations in the world for instability - Pakistan - has an ongoing drought issue, too.

Popular does not equate with quality

I see today that Jurassic World is now the third biggest grossing movie behind, ugh, Titanic and Avatar.

Odd, hey?   I've never finished Avatar - I lose interest after the shortest time of watching the fake blue aliens do fake flying and such.   (My mind also starts wondering about how 20th century the flying machines look.)
And as for Titanic - terrible script.  Just terrible.

Oddly enough, the success of these films is said to be about young women who became obsessed with their romantic elements.   Which is odd, given Cameron's reputation of jerk-like, uber masculine behaviour in real life.

James Cameron may be extremely rich, and has very peculiar hobbies (involving putting himself in capsules and sinking to the bottom of the deepest ocean), but there is no way his movies are going to be remembered as getting to where they are by virtue of their timeless quality.

(And as for Jurassic World - it's not an artistically important film either, but to me, getting to near the top by being merely fun is more credible than getting there by sucking in women with terrible romances.)

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

More Bishop meme-ery

I think I've identified the other actors (gee, they were young then):   Joe Hockey (to her immediate left), Henry Ergas (to our far left), and I think that might be Eric Abetz on the far right.

The very definition of Pyrrhic victory

Joe Hockey defamation trial: Treasurer to recover only small fraction of legal costs from Fairfax case - ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

Justice Richard White found that a poster headline and tweets reading "Treasurer for sale" were defamatory.

All other claims made by Mr Hockey were dismissed.

In the Federal Court today, Justice White ordered that Fairfax pay no more than 15 per cent of Mr Hockey's recoverable costs.

This means his legal bill is expected to be far in excess of the $200,000 he was awarded.

A source close to the case dismissed speculation Fairfax and Mr Hockey each incurred more than $1 million in legal bills.

However, the bill for both parties combined is expected to top $1 million.

If that is the case, Mr Hockey would net $250,000 from Fairfax in damages and costs but face a legal bill of about $500,000.
So, it seems virtually certain that, even if these figures are out a bit, Joe has probably lost a year's salary (at least) by virtue of his defamation "victory".

Thinking big

Mystery haze appears above Ceres' bright spots : Nature News & Comment

The article says Ceres is "at least" 1/4 water.   It's also about 1,000 km across.  If I had time, I'd work out the weight and volume of ice, then.  But I see a report from 2005 says it might be more fresh water than on all of Earth.

That could go a long way towards making the Moon a livable place.   Got to get Ceres there first, though.

But what's the diameter of the Moon?  Only 3,500 km?   I imagined it would be bigger than that.  Well, I wouldn't recommend smashing Ceres into it, then.  Although I guess it could be a way of making some nice, ice rings around the planet.    

Coming up to the 4 year anniversary


Remember when Bronwyn used to be on Senate "waste committees"?

Found via a collection of old Laurie Oakes columns:

Update20 years later:
On February 2, 2013, Mrs Bishop - then shadow special minister of state and for seniors - charged taxpayers more than $1000 for the use of a car.
Bronwyn Bishop charged the taxpayer more than $1000 for the use of a car the day she attended the Opera Australia performance of La Boheme at the Domain.