Saturday, October 31, 2015

For Halloween

I recently talked about re-discovering the greatness of The Shining (movie, not the book), and now I see via Open Culture a fascinating half hour documentary on its making.   (Not sure, but I think I have seen this years ago, perhaps on TV.)  It is extraordinary to be reminded that the interior of the hotel is in fact a gigantic set in England.  (And even the exterior in most shots is a mere facade.) 

I wonder if Kubrick, if he were making movies today, could ever warm to the remarkably life like digital sets that are now just standard fare.  I like those videos that show all the green screen use in film and TV. Here's the one for The Martian:

But I digress. Here's the doco on The Shining:

VIEW FROM THE OVERLOOK: Crafting The Shining (30 min) Directed by Gary Leva from Gary Leva on Vimeo.

Not a great idea

Labor promises to lower voting age to 16 or 17 if it wins next election | Australia news | The Guardian

Friday, October 30, 2015

Alan loves Putin

Vladimir Putin: Global Warming 'A Fraud' | The Daily Caller

Ha.  The former IPA anti-renewables mouthpiece Alan Moran turns up at Catallaxy again noting that Putin "appears to be one world statesman willing to call the scam [global warming] for what it is".  (See link above.)

Yes, of course, Alan.  The one world stateman most noted for conducting himself with so much self interest that he makes excuses for local invasions and passenger planes being shot out of the sky and who has a lot of fossil fuels to sell would be the one I would expect to be on your side.   No big surprise, and great company you keep.

More about that annoying company

Apple Doesn't Sell All the Phones. But It Makes All the Money | WIRED

Yes, people keep forgetting that Samsung usually sells many more phones than Apple.  But, with my $59 cheapo Sony Android in my pocket, I guess I am part of the reason why making monies from smartphones is so hard for Android using companies.  (I am thinking of upgrading to a Samsung, but not paying more than $180.)

Cod don't care for warmer water

Warming waters a major factor in the collapse of New England cod, study finds

When not to trust scientists

Forensic DNA evidence is not infallible : Nature News & Comment

Given that it infuriates me that a substantial slab of people do not believe that those who work in the physical sciences are competent when working out things like a temperature record, or the effects of a gas in an atmosphere, I suppose I give the impression much of the time that I never question scientists of any stripe.

But when it comes to the biomedical sciences:  yes, there are many examples of scientists leaping in when they should be more cautious.

And when they get caught up in a court case, they are particularly prone to giving up caution, presumably  because they think they are promoting a good outcome.

This article in Nature shows the danger:
The term 'touch DNA' conveys to a courtroom that biological material
found on an object is the result of direct contact. In fact, forensic
scientists have no way of knowing whether the DNA was left behind
through such primary, direct transfer. It could also have been deposited
by secondary transfer, through an intermediary. (If I shake your hand
then I could pass some of your skin cells onto something that I touch

Contamination from secondary DNA transfer was raised as a possible problem in Nature in 1997 (R. A. H. van Oorschot and M. K. Jones Nature 387, 767; 1997).
It is known to happen, but has largely been dismissed by legal experts
as being rare outside the conditions of a laboratory. Experiments done
in real-world conditions seemed to support this, and concluded that
secondary DNA transfer would have little impact on interpretation of the
genetic profile.

It is important to recognize that DNA amplification kits have become
much more sensitive than they were in the past. As a result, the types
of samples being analysed have expanded. Investigators no longer need to
identify and request analysis of body fluids such as blood, semen and
saliva. They can swab surfaces for otherwise invisible cells left
behind, on the handle of a weapon or on a windowsill, perhaps, and ask
labs to generate a DNA profile from them. The new kits can generate a
full genetic profile of a suspect from as little as 100 picograms
(trillionths of a gram) of DNA.

These subtleties are not usually explained in court. Instead, a jury is told
that there is a one-in-a-quadrillion chance that the evidence retrieved
from the crime scene did not come from a defendant. Naturally, the
jurors assume that the defendant must have been there.

Given  the power of modern forensic techniques to pull a DNA profile from a
smudge of cells, secondary DNA transfer is no longer a purely
theoretical risk. In California in 2013, a man called Lukis Anderson was
arrested, held for four months and charged with murder after his DNA
was found under the fingernails of a homicide victim.

Anderson had never met the victim and was severely intoxicated and in hospital
when the man was killed. The same paramedics who took Anderson to
hospital responded to the murder. Most likely, the paramedics were
covered in Anderson's DNA, which they then inadvertently transferred.
The charges were dropped.

Experiments in our labs, under the supervision of forensic anthropologist Krista Latham,
show how easily DNA can be transferred to an object.

We asked pairs of people to shake hands for two minutes and then each
individual handled a separate knife. In 85% of cases, the DNA of the
other person was transferred to the knife and profiled. In one-fifth of
the samples, the DNA analysis identified this other person as the main
or only contributor of DNA to the 'weapon' (C. M. Cale et al. J. Forensic Sci.; 2015).

How significant is the result of a single study? Other analyses have shown
that DNA transfer can be unpredictable and can depend on environmental
conditions. We need more research on when and how secondary transfer can

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Republican hopelessness

So, Ohio Governor John Kasich recognizes the complete policy nuttiness of Trump and Carson:
"I've about had it with these people," Kasich said at the rally in Westerville, Ohio. "We got one candidate that says we ought to abolish Medicaid and Medicare. You ever heard of anything so crazy as that? Telling our people in this country who are seniors, who are about to be seniors that we're going to abolish Medicaid and Medicare?"
Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson has acknowledged that he would like to gut Medicare.
Kasich went on, saying, "We got one person saying we ought to have a 10 percent flat tax that will drive up the deficit in this country by trillions of dollars" and there's another challenger in the field who "says we ought to take 10 or 11 [million] people and pick them up — I don't know where we're going to go, their homes, their apartments — we're going to pick them up and scream at them to get out of our country. That's crazy. That is just crazy."
Donald Trump has expressed support for deporting immigrants living in the country illegally.
"We got people proposing health care reform that's going to leave, I believe, millions of people without adequate health insurance," Kasich says. "What has happened to our party? What has happened the conservative movement?"
But his own plans for tax and finances?  (my bold):
Mr. Kasich’s tax plan -- which would cut the top individual income-tax rate to 28% from 39.6% and provide more relief for lower-income people through the Earned Income Tax Credit -- is the latest offering in an array of tax cuts proposed by Republican presidential candidates.
Mr. Kasich’s proposal isn’t the largest or most radical reduction on the GOP table, but it is being offered as part of one of the most specific plans to eliminate the deficit. It is still short on many details about how the budget would be balanced but calls for drastic policy changes such as transferring responsibility for Medicaid, welfare and highway-construction funding to the states.
The old "we must cut taxes on the rich to make the budget balance" line, hey?  (And let other governments work out how to raise money for services and infrastructure.)

Sorry, he may be less nuts than the populist leaders (who no one expects to last), but his views still show all the deficiencies that have been plaguing the Republican Party for years.

And how's that Laffer endorsed Kansas going:
“These things take some time,” Brownback said not long ago when asked whether his king-size income tax cuts have had the desired effect.
The key, he said, is patience.
Arthur Laffer wants more time too. He’s the philosophical architect of the Kansas income tax cuts.
“You have to view this over 10 years,” Laffer said. “It will work in Kansas.”
But that’s one point of view. As Kansas struggles with higher sales taxes and slashed budgets, I wondered what economists who focus on this stuff would say.
It’s been nearly three years since the state slashed income tax rates and took scores of businesses off the tax rolls. To be exact, it’s been two years, nine months and 23 days.
How much time do we have to wait for the promised “shot of adrenaline into the heart of the Kansas economy” that Brownback promised?
I randomly called half a dozen economists from around the country. They’re at major think tanks and major universities far from Kansas, and they don’t have any dog in the Kansas dispute. I asked this: Have the tax cuts had enough time to work?
Economists don’t agree on much, but they agreed on this, and they were unanimous: Yes, the tax cuts have had plenty of time. No question about it.
Ha!   Will Laffer still be around in 10 years to claim victory?

Update:  just noticed this from a live blog of the 3rd GOP presidential candidate debate:
Nobody is doing better on the debate stage tonight than Ted Cruz. He won the biggest applause of the night with his attack on the press, and now he gets an appeal to Ron Paul libertarian voters by professing himself in favor of a return to the gold standard and a call to audit the Federal Reserve.
 As I said, how utterly hopeless...

Update 2:  Vox has a good piece about Ted Cruz's attack.  The key points:
Cruz's attack on the moderators was smart politics — but it was almost precisely backwards. The questions in the CNBC debate, though relentlessly tough, were easily the most substantive of the debates so far. And the problem for Republicans is that substantive questions about their policy proposals end up sounding like hostile attacks — but that's because the policy proposals are ridiculous, not because the questions are actually unfair.
The Republican primary has thus far been a festival of outlandish policy. The candidates seem to be competing to craft the tax plan that gives the largest tax cut to the rich while blowing the biggest hole in the deficit (a competition that, as of tonight, Ted Cruz appears to be winning). And the problem is when you ask about those plans, simply stating the facts of the policies sounds like you're leveling a devastating attack....
 Cruz's strategy was smart, and he was arguably the debate's big winner. But it bespoke a deeper weakness. Republicans have boxed themselves into some truly bizarre policies — including a set of tax cuts that give so much money to the rich, and blow such huge holes in the deficit, that simply asking about them in any serious way seems like a vicious attack. Assailing the media is a good way to try to dodge those questions for a little while, but it won't work over the course of a long campaign.

When is a proof a proof?

The biggest mystery in mathematics: Shinichi Mochizuki and the impenetrable proof 

I don't often post about mathematics, but Peter Woit's blog had a link to this article in Nature about a lengthy proof that hardly anyone in the field can understand:
But almost everyone who tackled Mochizuki's proof found themselves floored. Some were bemused by the sweeping — almost messianic — language with which Mochizuki described some of his new theoretical instructions: he even called the field that he had created 'inter-universal geometry'. “Generally, mathematicians are very humble, not claiming that what they are doing is a revolution of the whole Universe,” says Oesterlé, at the Pierre and Marie Curie University in Paris, who made little headway in checking the proof.

The reason is that Mochizuki's work is so far removed from anything that had gone before. He is attempting to reform mathematics from the ground up, starting from its foundations in the theory of sets (familiar to many as Venn diagrams). And most mathematicians have been reluctant to invest the time necessary to understand the work because they see no clear reward: it is not obvious how the theoretical machinery that Mochizuki has invented could be used to do calculations. “I tried to read some of them and then, at some stage, I gave up. I don't understand what he's doing,” says Faltings.

Fesenko has studied Mochizuki's work in detail over the past year, visited him at RIMS again in the autumn of 2014 and says that he has now verified the proof. (The other three  mathematicians who say they have corroborated it have also spent considerable time working alongside Mochizuki in Japan.) The overarching theme of inter-universal geometry, as Fesenko describes it, is that one must look at whole numbers in a different
light — leaving addition aside and seeing the multiplication structure as something malleable and deformable. Standard multiplication would then be just one particular case of a family of structures, just as a circle is a special case of an ellipse. Fesenko says that Mochizuki compares himself to the mathematical giant Grothendieck — and it is no
immodest claim. “We had mathematics before Mochizuki's work — and now we have mathematics after Mochizuki's work,” Fesenko says.

But so far, the few who have understood the work have struggled to explain it to anyone else. “Everybody who I'm aware of who's come close to this stuff is quite reasonable, but afterwards they become incapable of communicating it,” says one mathematician who did not want his name to be mentioned. The situation, he says, reminds him of the Monty Python skit about a writer who jots down the world's funniest joke. Anyone who reads it dies from laughing and can never relate it to anyone else.
 All rather odd.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

A sad McDonalds story

The night time 'McRefugees' of Hong Kong - BBC News

Management never asks the sleeping customers to leave?

Ridley wrong

Countering libertarian arguments against science funding | Science | The Guardian

Matt Ridley ran a bank into the ground, chose to blame "regulation", and now is a major player in the lukewarmer field, associating with wrongologist economist Richard Tol.

His latest book is not a hit with the reviewer from (of course) The Guardian, but also not even the one at The Spectator.

He is, generally speaking, a bit of a pillock who is best ignored.  

Dumb and on the wrong side of morality

I see that the IPA, Sinclair Davidson and his blog are promoting heavily a new book by the zero credibility Ian Plimer that insists the only way to help the global poor is to burn more coal - lots more coal:

Catallaxy is full of hilarious hyperbole from its conservative cohort about how this communist Pope is trying to kill millions by arguing that increased CO2 is not the way to go.

But in all honesty - if an economist can't see through the complete and utter bulldust that an aging geologist has been specialising in for some years now, there's no reason to trust his or her judgement on anything.

Floods and climate change, continued

Just noticed a recent paper:
Severe flooding occurred in Thailand during the 2011 summer season, which resulted in more than 800 deaths and affected 13.6 million people. The unprecedented nature of this flood in the Chao Phraya River Basin (CPRB) was examined and compared with historical flood years. Climate diagnostics were conducted to understand the meteorological conditions and climate forcing that lead to the magnitude and duration of this flood. Neither the monsoon rainfall nor the tropical cyclone frequency anomalies alone was sufficient to cause the 2011 flooding event. Instead, a series of abnormal conditions collectively contributed to the intensity of the 2011 flood: anomalously high rainfall in the pre-monsoon season especially during March; record-high soil moisture content thorough the year; elevated sea level height in the Gulf of Thailand which constrained drainage, as well as other water management factors. In the context of climate change, the substantially increased pre-monsoon rainfall in CPRB after 1980 and the continual sea level rise in the river outlet have both played a role. The rainfall increase is associated with a strengthening of the pre-monsoon northeasterly winds that come from East Asia. Attribution analysis using the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5 historical experiments pointed to the anthropogenic greenhouse gases as the main external climate forcing leading to the rainfall increase. Together, these findings suggest increasing odds for potential flooding similar to the 2011 flood intensity.

Not a cent from me

Apple is a ridiculously successful company:
Apple has more than $205bn of cash in the bank, the company revealed on Tuesday as its chief executive Tim Cook said the firm had made more than $234bn in 2015, making it its “most successful year ever”.
The California company now has more money in the bank than the Czech Republic, Peru and New Zealand make in gross domestic product (GDP) a year, according to World Bank statistics. Apple’s cash balances increased by $2.8bn in the last three months alone.
I'm not sure their doing anything really useful with their money, though, apart from throwing it in the air and letting it fall on their head, McDuck style.  I suggest establishing a private air force with which to blow up coal mines or their train lines. (Useful and would annoy Bill Gates, too!)

I trust he dressed appropriately for his big speech...

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Diamonds in the sky

Climate scientists ponder spraying diamond dust in the sky to cool planet : Nature News & Comment

The diamonds part sounds a bit wacky.  


The AFR is being openly gossipy about Tony Abbott and Peta Credlin:
This is going to be pretty hard for some of you to get your heads around, so I guess I better just tell it to you straight:
So, about that Margaret Thatcher lecture that Tony Abbott is delivering in London on Tuesday night – you know, the privately funded trip which, according to the former PM's office, he's being accompanied on with his wife, Margie Abbott?
If only the travelling party was really so conventional. See, there's also a villa in France, where, following the big speech, Abbott will be retiring  for a period of convalescence with his former chief of staff, Peta Credlin, his C-bombing advancer, Richard Dowdy, (aptly named) and his mysterious press office veteran, Nicole Chant.
And you thought Credlin joining the then PM (sans wife Margie, but avec daughter Frances Abbott) skiing at Perisher in July was a little unusual!
We wonder if Margie will be joining the French party or steering well clear? If we're all still talking about Ainsley Gotto nearly 50 years after she ran John Gorton's PMO, Abbott's Last Tango Near Paris will certainly be one for the history books.
I remarked at the time that the publicity given in an Abbott friendly News Ltd paper to Abbott and Credlin skiing together was rather unusual.   Now Fairfax is joining in.

Surely this latest piece should be the cause of some complaint if there is nothing to the Abbott/Credlin relationship?

Update:  I see that on Twitter, The Australian has tweeted that Credlin "became more like a first lady" (as noted in its linked story on the Abbott downfall.)  The full quote in the article:
If there was one overarching, final loyalty from the prime minister, it was to his chief of staff. She had become almost a first lady, accompanying Abbott to everything from private dinners at the New York home of Rupert Murdoch to private snow-skiing holidays with Abbott and his daughter Frances. The chief of staff was the one introduced to foreign leaders. She interrupted to answer questions others put to Abbott, ruled the strategy, and used her power and intellect to barricade his office against the outside. His colleagues came to see their relationship as impenetrable and toxic for the government. But Abbott had empowered Credlin and, in the end, it was Abbott’s call. He gave her free rein. He called his colleagues sexist for challenging her.
Sounds to me like subtle innuendo?  

I can't work out what is  going on here.   Is it that they are emboldened that Abbott or Credlin will not address the innuendo directly, because there is something to it?   And what about the spouses?   If this is just scurrilous gossip, why aren't they making their displeasure known?

I have said before, if something is going to be revealed about the Abbott Credlin relationship that has been known by journalists for years, people should be furious if it is only done now, after the "family man" campaign Abbott ran for years against Gillard (and, in a sense, Rudd, in the last election).  

Unliveable desert countries

I'm told by a relative that Doha is already an unbearable place to live for any length of time, but researchers are saying that the Arabian Gulf is going to get much worse and perhaps become virtually unliveable*:
A human body may be able to adapt to extremes of dry-bulb temperature (commonly referred to as simply temperature) through perspiration and associated evaporative cooling provided that the wet-bulb temperature (a combined measure of temperature and humidity or degree of ‘mugginess) remains below a threshold of 35°C. (ref. 1). This threshold defines a limit of survivability for a fit human under well-ventilated outdoor conditions and is lower for most people. We project using an ensemble of high-resolution regional climate model simulations that extremes of wet-bulb temperature in the region around the Arabian Gulf are likely to approach and exceed this critical threshold under the business-as-usual scenario of future greenhouse gas concentrations. Our results expose a specific regional hotspot where climate change, in the absence of significant mitigation, is likely to severely impact human habitability in the future.
*  OK, without airconditioning.  Although, it's actually pretty incredible to me that people lived there at all before airconditioning.  Here's the summary from
It would still be rare, and cities such as Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Doha wouldn't quite be uninhabitable, thanks to air conditioning. But for people living and working outside or those with no air conditioning, it would be intolerable, said Eltahir and Pal. While Mecca won't be quite as hot, the heat will likely still cause many deaths during the annual hajj pilgrimage, Eltahir said.

Furry Hannibal Lecters

The case against otters: necrophiliac, serial-killing fur monsters of the sea - Vox

Wow.  This article really makes the case for otters having some very surprising, and horrible, behaviours.

Nasty virus tricks

HIV latency: a high-stakes game of hide and seek

It's interesting to read about the devious way HIV, even when people are on treatment, hides itself:
In latent infection, HIV integrates its genetic material into the DNA of the patient and becomes “silent”.

A brilliant added tool is the use of a long-lived critical cell of the immune system, the resting T cell, as its preferred hiding site. These latently infected resting T cells can slowly divide and, given HIV is now part of the patient’s DNA, the HIV is passed down to the daughter cells too.

HIV usually replicates in activated T cells and can efficiently kill those cells in several ways. First, the virus directly damages the outer membrane of the cell. This membrane usually keeps the cell intact.
Following infection of a cell, bits of the virus are quickly revealed to the immune system which, once activated, can zoom in and eliminate the infected cell.

However, if the virus manages to get inside a resting cell, in contrast to an activated T cell, all the machinery needed to produce new viruses is not available and the virus life cycle essentially shuts down.

If things shut down after the virus has already entered the patient’s DNA it gets stuck there – forever.
As the article also notes, people who go off the antiviral drugs quickly get high viral counts - within weeks.

What a nasty virus it remains.

Yet more on climate policy

Here's a very worthy bit of commentary about the Vox article I posted about on Sunday - pointing out that one has to be on the lookout for fatalism in the way the problem is described.   (It's by Michael Tobis, who is doing guest posts at ATTP lately.)

Movie economics

Turns out that Greg Jericho knows a lot about the matter of government subsidy for the movie business. 

I suspect that the benefits of this sort of government support are a bit stronger than Jericho thinks.  I reckon that of the type of industries government can be seen to be helping,  this one has a certain high profile, confidence building factor that others don't share.   All the publicity surrounding a major star staying for protracted periods on the Gold Coast or in Sydney (and saying nice things about these places) must count for something, no?  (Unless, of course, you are Barnaby Joyce and manage to turn a national image of relative youth and vigour into something more resembling a patronising fogey-ness.)

Monday, October 26, 2015

About Gary

I've been reading up a little about Gary Powers, the key figure in Bridge of Spies.

The has a short article about him, which contains a couple of surprises (he was allowed a conjugal visit with his wife, but she was an unfaithful alcoholic; and he kept a journal while in prison that indicates he may have had a touch of Stockholm syndrome.) 

His son has a website up, which doesn't have a lot of content, but some of it is interesting.

As for the old poison needle in the coin trick:  yes, this was true and the poison used was saxitoxin, derived from shellfish.  

You can even read an account of his accident on the CIA website, where we get a good description of his dangerous exit from the U2:
The young pilot had been flying for almost four hours when he heard a dull thump, the aircraft lurched forward, and there was a bright orange flash from a nearby surface-to-air missile. The plane’s right wing began to droop and the nose started to go down. Powers tried to correct it, but the plane continued its downward trajectory. Powers was uncertain if the control cable had been severed or if the tail was gone. He was certain, however, that he no longer had control of the plane.

Powers initial reaction was to pull the destruct switches, but he decided he’d better secure an exit plan for himself first. This, however, was proving difficult as the g forces had hurled him to the nose of the plane, which was spinning tail first towards the earth. Powers thought of ejecting but realized, in his current position, he likely would have had both off his legs cut off while trying to escape the plane.  

On the verge of panic, Powers decided he would climb out of the plane. The whirling aircraft had passed thirty-four thousand feet when he removed the canopy. He took off his seat-belt, which sent him flying halfway out of the aircraft. His face plate frosted over rendering him visionless. Powers tried to get to the destruct switches twice but, realizing time was running out, he began kicking frantically and miraculously the oxygen hoses that were holding him hostage in the U-2 broke and freed him from the spiraling plane.

Suddenly, all was silent, except for the rustling of material as the chute opened and settled in the wind. Powers hung in the air desperately trying to comprehend what had just happened and trying to assess his current situation. He was fifteen thousand feet above the Soviet Union and the ground was growing ever closer. As he clutched the straps of his chute, he saw a piece of the plane float down past him.
Maybe not exactly as portrayed in the movie, but pretty close.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Bridge spied

Hmmm.   This is an odd situation.  For once, I think a Spielberg film has been a tad overpraised, collectively, rather than my usual feeling that there are too many critics too cynical about him.

It's not that there's anything wrong with Bridge of Spies:  the acting is fine; the script has witticisms at times; and I don't think anyone now does history with finer and more authentic feel in the art direction than  Spielberg.  

It's just that I missed an element of tension, and had been expecting a bit more, I guess, intrigue in the story.   Out of Spielberg's last few films, I admit, this impressed me less than both War Horse or Lincoln.  (And Lincoln was a bit similar in that we already knew the ending - the interest is in how the movie gets there.)

I am also a little surprised that it hasn't had a wingnut backlash in the US, as it can be read as impliedly criticising the handling of those captured by the US in the war on terror, yet Breitbart gave it a glowing review too. 

Anyway, it's worth seeing, as Spielberg always is.  I just wish I could have been more gushing in praise.

Climate change economic modelling questionned

David Roberts at Vox has a good article up explaining the doubts about how valid any of the long term economic modelling of climate change can really be.

Given that I had noticed those doubts being expressed in some of the quieter corners of the 'net for a year or two now, it's good to see this is  finally getting some broader attention.

I did raise this issue in a thread at John Quiggin's blog recently too, noting Pindyck's criticism of the whole IAM exercise, but he didn't comment on it.

Friday, October 23, 2015

More about that Berkeley study...

The Economist has a good article up giving some more of the background of the Berkeley study that looked at the economic effects of global warming in a new way.  Here's part of it:
A paper published this week in Nature challenges this finding. The authors—Marshall Burke, Solomon Hsiang and Edward Miguel—suspected that economists had been looking for the wrong thing: a linear relationship between temperature and growth. Instead, they looked for an optimal temperature, on the assumption that excessive cold could harm growth as much as punishing heat. That is exactly what they found: hotter-than-usual years benefit countries, rich and poor alike, up to an average annual temperature of 13°C, after which hotter weather begins to sear growth. That allowed them to draw inferences about the likely effect of climate change: for Brazil, for example, an increase in temperature of 3°C will lead to a fall in output of 3% (see chart).

The apparent heat resistance of rich countries, it turns out, is simply because some of them, such as Germany and France, lie on the colder side of the optimum, so grow faster in hotter years, whereas others, such as America and Australia, lie on the hotter side, and so wilt as temperatures rise. Within individual counties in America, for instance, every hot day (with an average temperature over 24 hours of 24-27°C) lowers the average income per person that day by 20%, according to a working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research by Mr Hsiang and Tatyana Deryugina. Very hot days (over 30°C) lower income per person by 28%. Looking at the average impact of rising temperatures in rich countries as a group had obscured such strong responses.
 David Appel shares my skepticism of (as he puts it) an economic model atop a climate model, but his post extracting some of the material from the paper is worth reading too.  (I added a comment to his post along the lines of what I said here.) 

Much mirth caused

'Offers over $40,000': Tony Abbott joins the international speakers circuit

According to article:
Mr Abbott's preferred topics include advice on leadership, negotiation, election forecast and analysis, current events and Asia.

The disappearance of Mussolini

Seems to be the day for updating previous pop culture posts.

In July, I wrote about seeing the musical Anything Goes.  (One of those posts I like a lot, but no one comments on.)  Today, I see that Beachcomber has a post about the mysterious appearance and disappearance of a reference to Mussolini as a "top" in the song "You're the Top."  

Seems Wodehouse was responsible, although the matter is not without uncertainty.

Not entirely sure it was worth the update, but still....

Well argued

Hockey the fantasy economist may as well have farewelled Middle-earth | Greg Jericho | Business | The Guardian

I liked this piece from Greg Jericho that really showed up Joe Hockey as not up to the job of Treasurer.

Seems a nice enough guy in real life, but a bit of a hypocrite in politics and just all over the shop on matters of economics.  

You don't see that every day

Remember earlier this year that I had a bit of fun reading up on the nudist panic of the early 1930's in the US and Australia? 

Well, upon stumbling upon a new resource of scanned materials from museums and what not, it's always tempting to just search "nudist" and see what pops up.   That's how I found out (via the Digital Public Library of America) that the Smithsonian has in a box somewhere this photo from 1930:

The description is: Staged nudist wedding on a parade float with a mechanical dinosaur.

I have a suspicion that these particular nudists were trying to really annoy the anti-evolutionists in the South, but I could be wrong...

Your new word for today: phantosmia

It sounds a little like the phenomena of the phantom limb, that often hangs around when people lose their real one; but I hadn't heard of phantom smells before:
It occurs in people who lose the sense of smell. People with phantosmia imagine smells which can be odd, unnatural, unpleasant or even euphoric. It is a rare condition which can occur in relation to brain injuries, strokes, seizures, schizophrenia, Parkinson’s disease and other neurological disorders. 
From a recent episode of the Science Show.  You can read more in the transcript that is at the link on this page.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

UnEnglish and Unmanly

That's the title of a .pdf paper  I've stumbled across from 1982 about Anglo-Catholicism in England and its appeal to homosexual men.  It's by Adelaide historian David Hilliard, who (I think) has been on the ABC from time to time.

I vaguely knew about this topic, but didn't realise how "hot" an issue it was at the time of Newman and his followers.  Haven't read all of it yet, but it's an interesting read.   (I also wonder whether this aspect of the Anglican Church put off a figure like CS Lewis from moving towards the Catholic Church.)

Spectre arrives

I see from Rottentomatoes that the first British reviews for Spectre are pretty strong.  (Mind you, they still seem to be classifying one dubious review as a good one.)   That's pleasing.

But of course, all right thinking people will be off to see Bridge of Spies this weekend, to bask in the magnificence of a well made Spielberg. 

Another go at the economics of climate change

Expect to hear a lot about this study just out from some Berkeley researchers.  The headline from the Washington Post:

Sweeping study claims that rising temperatures will sharply cut economic productivity 

The claim is simple, but interesting:
Culling together economic and temperature data for over 100 wealthy
and poorer countries alike over 50 years, the researchers assert that
the optimum temperature for human productivity is seems to be around 13
degrees Celsius or roughly 55 degrees Fahrenheit, as an annual average
for a particular place. Once things get a lot hotter than that, the
researchers add, economic productivity declines “strongly.”

“The relationship is globally generalizable, unchanged since 1960, and
apparent for agricultural and non-agricultural activity in both rich and
poor countries,” write the authors, led by Marshall Burke of Stanford’s
Department of Earth System Science, who call their study “the first
evidence that economic activity in all regions is coupled to the global
climate.” Burke published the study with Solomon Hsiang and Edward
Miguel, economists at the University of California, Berkeley.

If the findings are correct, they add, that means that unmitigated
global warming could lead to a more than 20 percent decline in incomes
around the world, compared with a world that does not feature climate
change. And this would also mean growing global inequality, since poorer
countries will be hit by worse temperature increases — simply because
“hot, poor countries will probably suffer the largest reduction in
growth.” Indeed, some already wealthier countries with cold weather,
like Canada or Sweden, will benefit greatly based on the study, moving
closer to the climatic optimum.
 But things start to sound a bit more shaky here:
Assuming this relationship between temperature and productivity is
correct, that naturally leads to deep questions about its cause. The
researchers locate them in two chief places: agriculture and people. In
relation to rising temperature, Burke says, “We see that agricultural
productivity declines, labor productivity declines, kids do worse on
tests, and we see more violence.”
Yes, not sure I'd be entirely confident of the heat and violence connection, but if we go over to the university press release on this study, there is more reason to question the accuracy of the new study:
Unmitigated climate change is likely to reduce the income of an average
person on Earth by roughly 23 percent in 2100, according to estimates
contained in research published today in the journal Nature that is co-authored by two University of California, Berkeley professors.
 So far, so disastrous.  But look:
The Nature paper focuses on effects of climate change via
temperature, and does not include impacts via other consequences of
climate change such as hurricanes or sea level rise.
Detailed results
and figures for each country are available for download online.
Or, I might add, rainfall pattern changes, or ocean acidification and potential large scale changes to the food cycle there.  How the heck can you be confident of projections if you cannot be certain how many poor countries may be destined to longer droughts and/or more frequent ones, followed by larger floods?    And what about poor coastal countries where local fish is an important food source?

So, I think there are grounds to argue that this study is another example that accurate predictions of the economic consequences of global warming decades into the future are pretty much guesswork. But at least it notes that the uncertainty is no grounds for complacency, as techo-optimist libertarian types seem to think.

And it does support one thing that I reckon common sense suggests:     the poor nations will suffer disproportionately from climate change; and even if some pro-development-at-any-climate-cost proponents had their way and we had every poor country building coal burning power plants as fast as they could, they are not going to develop their way economically fast enough to outpace the damage from climate change.   They're not going to be able to aircondition their agricultural sectors, after all; nor are they all going to be manufacturing centres, or financial hubs making a living from mobile money.

Back to how bad some of the study's projections are (from the University link above):
They find climate change is likely to have global costs generally
2.5-100 times larger than predicted by current leading models. The
team’s best estimate is that climate change will reduce global economic
production by 23 percent in 2100.
“Historically, people have considered a 20 percent decline in global
Gross Domestic Product to be a black swan: a low-probability
catastrophe,” Hsiang warned. “We’re finding it’s more like the
middle-of-the-road forecast.”
Half of the simulation projections suggest larger losses. The hottest
countries in the world are hardest hit: in less optimistic scenarios,
the authors estimate that 43 percent of countries are likely to be
poorer in 2100 than today due to climate change, despite incorporating
standard projections of technological progress and other advances.
 Richard Tol is already bleating about this, I see.  Given that I consider him a discredited jerk, I'm not surprised, but it will still be interesting to read more coverage about this.

Update:  here's the abstract from Nature in full:
Growing evidence demonstrates that climatic conditions can have a profound impact on the functioning of modern human societies1, 2, but effects on economic activity appear inconsistent. Fundamental productive elements of modern economies, such as workers and crops, exhibit highly non-linear responses to local temperature even in wealthy countries3, 4. In contrast, aggregate macroeconomic productivity of entire wealthy countries is reported not to respond to temperature5, while poor countries respond only linearly5, 6. Resolving this conflict between micro and macro observations is critical to understanding the role of wealth in coupled human–natural systems7, 8 and to anticipating the global impact of climate change9, 10. Here we unify these seemingly contradictory results by accounting for non-linearity at the macro scale. We show that overall economic productivity is non-linear in temperature for all countries, with productivity peaking at an annual average temperature of 13 °C and declining strongly at higher temperatures. The relationship is globally generalizable, unchanged since 1960, and apparent for agricultural and non-agricultural activity in both rich and poor countries. These results provide the first evidence that economic activity in all regions is coupled to the global climate and establish a new empirical foundation for modelling economic loss in response to climate change11, 12, with important implications. If future adaptation mimics past adaptation, unmitigated warming is expected to reshape the global economy by reducing average global incomes roughly 23% by 2100 and widening global income inequality, relative to scenarios without climate change. In contrast to prior estimates, expected global losses are approximately linear in global mean temperature, with median losses many times larger than leading models indicate.

Paranoia, probably

The average gun owner now owns 8 guns — double what it used to be - The Washington Post

The Right wing paranoia that's been on the rise in the US would have to play a significant part in this, surely.

Well, he does appear a lot on Fox News, so what do you expect?

Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu stirs trouble by linking Muslim leader to Holocaust

I can't even see any Right wing blog cite defending Netanyahu's history claims.  Not yet, anyway.

Something Back to the Future missed

Westmead Hospital to offer life-saving, stomach-churning, poo transplant cure

Yes, poo transplants are going mainstream.

It's pretty amazing, really, how no one seemed to see the importance of our gut microbiota until recently.

And for all you fans of a what's basically a new field of medicine, I see there is a website up with the great name Gut Microbiota Worldwatch, run by a bunch of European gastroenterologists, it seems.  (Which, come to think of it, is probably appropriate, since I think Germans have been a bit ahead of the field in having a keen interest in observing poop for health reasons.  Whether they truly have a national interest in all things poop related seems up for debate, however.)

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Are you in a superposition?

Hey, I didn't know that we had a "Department of Quantum Science" in ANU.  But I do now, after reading this paper (.pdf link) from last month which deals with the following:
In this paper we address the question of whether it is possible to obtain evidence that we are in a superposition of different ‘worlds’, as suggested by the relative state interpretation of quantum mechanics. We find that it is impossible to find definitive proof, and that if one wishes to retain reliable memories of which ‘world’ one was in, no evidence at all can be found. We then show that even for completely linear quantum state evolution, there is a test that can be done to tell if you can be placed in a superposition.
Ok, so I don't quite understand their test, even if it sounds pretty simple.  I'm surprised Googling the author's names doesn't bring up any media press release from the university.

There is a report about the paper here, which also has a link to a rather odd website where people swear they are remembering alternative histories, rather than just having bad, malleable memories.

All rather odd.

Oh, diddums

Funny how the IPA thinks that governments shouldn't be funding research, but are convinced it's a matter of "censorship" when it backs out of funding research on which research should be funded.  (Well, that's how I interpret some of Lomborg's "consensus" wonkery.)

Anyway, it's obviously all because they see a useful delaying tactic ally in the 'Borg, as far as climate change is concerned. 

Krugman considers Denmark

Something Not Rotten in Denmark - The New York Times

As Krugman writes:
Describe these policies to any American conservative, and he would predict ruin.  Surely those generous benefits must destroy the incentive to work, while those high taxes drive job creators into hiding or exile.
Strange to say, however, Denmark doesn’t look like a set from “Mad Max.” On the
contrary, it’s a prosperous nation that does quite well on job creation. In fact, adults in their prime working years are substantially more likely to be employed in Denmark than they are in America. Labor productivity in Denmark is roughly the same as it is here, although G.D.P. per capita is lower, mainly because the Danes take a lot more vacation.
Nor are the Danes melancholy: Denmark ranks at or near the top on international comparisons of “life satisfaction.”
It’s hard to imagine a better refutation of anti-tax, anti-government economic doctrine, which insists that a system like Denmark’s would be completely unworkable.
It does make you wonder how some economists and politicians become obsessed with the idea that "anti-tax, anti-government" is the only  possible way to run a successful modern nation.

Early life, mistreated coral, the unhealthy rich, and the dubious figures of climate change damage is full of interesting stories today.  Here's one, saying that the start of life on Earth can (perhaps) be pushed back to 4.1 billion years ago. 

Given that the planet only formed at about the 4.5 billion mark, that's pretty quick.

And here's another, this one about how humans, with their use of sunscreens, may be loving some coral reefs to death. 

Then what about this - rich, urban medieval folk were arguably less healthy than those slaving away on farms, all because of lead glazing (and lead roof tiles.)

Finally:  the dubious methods of "normalising" economic damage from climate change (that is, the long running shtick of Roger Pielke Jnr) is probably a crock.   I always suspected that, and I think the lesson is: don't let economists get too involved in climate change policy - they can be a menace to good policy.

Lots of universe left to run

Most earth-like worlds have yet to be born, according to theoretical study

Earth came early to the party in the evolving universe. According to a new theoretical study,
when our solar system was born 4.6 billion years ago only eight percent of the potentially habitable planets that will ever form in the universe existed. And, the party won't be over when the sun burns out in another 6 billion years. The bulk of those planets—92 percent—have yet to be born.
The same story claims this:

The data show that the universe was making stars at a fast rate 10 billion years ago, but
the fraction of the universe's hydrogen and helium gas that was involved was very low. Today, star birth is happening at a much slower rate than long ago, but there is so much leftover gas available that the universe will keep cooking up stars and planets for a very long time to come.

"There is enough remaining material [after the ] to produce even more planets in the future, in the Milky Way and beyond," added co-investigator Molly Peeples of STScI.

Kepler's planet survey indicates that Earth-sized planets in a star's , the perfect distance that could allow water to pool on the surface, are ubiquitous in our galaxy. Based on the survey, scientists predict that there should be 1 billion Earth-sized worlds in the Milky Way galaxy at present, a good portion of them presumed to be rocky. That estimate skyrockets when you include the other 100 billion galaxies in the observable universe.

This leaves plenty of opportunity for untold more Earth-sized planets in the habitable zone to arise in the future. The last star isn't expected to burn out until 100 trillion years from now. That's plenty of time for literally anything to happen on the planet landscape.

Yes, Happy Back to the Future Day

The Back to the Future trilogy serves the surprising function of providing something upon which Sinclair Davidson, long term stuck-in-the-1950's-and-he-wasn't-even-born-then uber Catholic and Catallaxy fixture CL, and I, can agree.

I have a Coen brothers style fantasy vision of meeting them in a bar, and all nodding in agreement about the worthiness of the Future trilogy (yes, even the second one); then simultaneously saying  "But, jeez you're an idiot on every other topic" and a fistfight breaks out.   Jason Soon then makes an appearance, utilizing his boxing skills to stage an intervention.

Philippa Martyr can make a late entry, doing her Julia Flyte redeemed impersonation, tending to our wounds in her volunteer nurses uniform...

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

He's already on the backbench, but now it's time to....

Harsh, but it's the best "m" word I could come up with in the circumstances...

Not the sort of surprise I'm keen on...

From the report Asteroid making surprise flyby at an 'unusually high' velocity (my bold):
 A newly discovered asteroid (not pictured) will make Halloween more thrilling by passing within 1.3 lunar distances (310,000 miles) of Earth. The object, which measures between 300 and 600 meters (1,000 and 2,000 feet) across, was discovered last week by the asteroid-hunting Pan-STARRS observatory in Hawaii, according to NASA. It'll streak by on October 31st at an "unusually" high encounter velocity of 35 km/s, or around 78,000 mph. By contrast, the Russian meteorite caught by vehicle cameras in 2013 was 17 meters (55 feet) across and traveled at a top speed of 19 km/s, while the one that flattened a Russian forest in 1908 measured 40 meters (130 feet).
There's no danger of a collision, but the asteroid would pack an enormous punch if it did hit the Earth, given its size and especially its velocity. It's also a bit alarming that astronomers only found it nine days ago, considering how close it already is to our planet.
Well, this would suggest that it's still quite on the cards that one day, NASA will announce that a substantial disaster will be taking place somewhere on the Earth with (perhaps) all of 10 days notice for people to head for the hills, or dig a bunker, or whatever.

All a bit of a worry....

Dealing with the big issues

When is it socially acceptable to wear black tights? | Fashion | The Guardian

One of the best things about The Guardian is that when you see an article that is surely just a bit of space filling, inconsequential fluff,  the comments thread following is full of amusingly rabid attack on just those grounds. 

Monday, October 19, 2015

No wonder I'm confused

Backreaction: Book review: Spooky Action at a Distance by George Musser

Very careful readers of this most excellent blog (I'm craving appreciation again) may recall that I recently noted in a comment that I wasn't really sure what nonlocality in physics meant.

Seems I'm not alone, as my favourite blogging physicist Sabine H writes in this post reviewing a book on the topic:
 Locality and non-locality are topics as confusing as controversial, both
in- and outside the community, and George’s book is a great
introduction to an intriguing development in contemporary physics. It’s a
courageous book. I can only imagine how much headache writing it must
have been, after I once organized a workshop on nonlocality and realized
that no two people could agree on what they even meant with the word.
My confusion is therefore excused...

Yay! Some dissing of 1984

Goodbye to all that: Orwell's 1984 is a boot stamping on a human face no more

I've written before how much I disliked 1984 as a high school student, and yet felt compelled to write about it somewhat positively because of its near universal critical acclaim.

I think this academic's take on its mere transitory relevance as parable is just about right.  Why wasn't he around when I needed him in 1975?   

Sunday, October 18, 2015

The Martian, spoiled

Went to see The Martian this evening.

Now, let me be clear: I deliberately did not want to be affected by the articles on the web with titles like "Just how accurate is the science in The Martian?"; so I didn't look at them, til now.  Nor did I read any reviews:  I just saw from Rottentomatoes and Metacritic that it had been generally well received.   So I didn't really go into it with any particular expectation as to why it was meant to be good.

And my verdict:  a mediocre, surprisingly scientifically inaccurate, film.


Look, I had my doubts about the strength of the dust storm at the start of the film, being aware that the atmosphere is incredibly thin, even though there are big, planet covering, dust storms from time to time.

But, yeah, turns out that this, a key element of the plot, is ludicrously overblown.  (Pun alert too.)  Here's long time Mar mission enthusiast Robert Zubrin's comment:
This is the only thing I noticed that was completely impossible, as opposed to improbable or sub-optimal. The Martian atmosphere is only 1% as thick as Earth’s, so a Mars wind of 100mph, which is possible although quite rare on the surface, would only have the same dynamic force as a 10mph wind on Earth. You could fly a kite in it, but it wouldn’t knock you down.
OK, but this was just a hunch on my part while watching the film.

No, the bit where the movie lost me on the science cred front was the ridiculous size of the main Ares Hermes spacecraft; and the spacious, apartment like setting of the living quarters in the rotating ring.

Come on Hollywood:  movies that are trying to be realistic about planetary missions need to be so  about the scale of spaceships likely within the next 50 years.  It perhaps wasn't as bad as the enormous spaceship out to re-light the sun (or whatever it was doing) in that horrible Sunshine movie, but that one wasn't really going for accuracy in the way The Martian was.

So why make living quarters with enormous, Star Wars battlecruiser-like windows?  It made the Jupiter bound spaceship in 2001: A Space Odyssey look hokey in comparison.  The movie never recovered for me after that.

And as for silly physics:  how have science types watching not have been upset by the "use the air in my spacesuit as a rocket" tactic at what is meant to be the dramatic climax of the film?   This was worse than anything in Gravity, if you ask me: far worse.

OK - so you get the message that the film lost me on the scientific plausibility front.

But it didn't grab me on the psychological front, either.  I don't really care for Matt Damon as an actor, but I would have thought the story should spend some time on the psychological strain of isolation on his character.  Instead, he's just relentlessly upbeat, pretty much.

In fact, people left in isolation often have hallucinations of someone (or something) unseen being present with them.  You would have thought there should be some incident of creepiness in the film, even if only in a scary dream sequence in which his fears are displayed.  But nope.   The film is too damn cheery to be effective.

I can understand why NASA scientists may like the film, for showing the organisation as comprising caring, "can-do" type people.  And the habitat on Mars setting looked pretty realistic.

But overall, it's not a great or memorable film. 

Update:  I've been reading up on Reddit some very nerd-centric comments about the film.  (They are mostly ecstatic about it, incidentally.)  But here are a few updates to my commentary in light of that:

* yes, I should have mentioned last night the use of an explosion on the Hermes to get its speed close enough to that of the just-launched Matt Damon.  Improbable, especially when the bomb is rigged up in (I think) about 30 minutes, but I'm not sure if it was in the book or not.  Certainly, the "Ironman" sequence is not:  it's apparently suggested, and rejected.  How un-wise of the film to make it happen.

* the author of the book freely admits that the opening, and critical, sandstorm is artistic licence, in that it could not topple the lander or hurl rocks and metal around.   Why use it, then?  It would be more impressive to come with a reason to abandon a crew member that was actually possible.

* a more minor but related point:  after Damon rigs up a plastic cover for the blown airlock, there's one scene where he is inside at night with the sounds of another fierce, pebble hurling, sandstorm outside.  Would the plastic really be capable of withstanding that?

* Yes, the explanation of the gravity assist slingshot to get the Hermes back to Mars was really poorly handled in the film.  Instead of treating the head of NASA as a dumbo who would never have heard of a gravity slingshot before, why not have it shown by him explaining to the a dumbo media person how it would work?

*  a very detailed and informed look at the trajectories used in the book and film are at this link.  Apparently, the book is based on a 2035 mission, making the size and sophistication of the Hermes spacecraft in the movie even more ridiculous!   And as someone in comments following it says:

However, forgiving all of those previous errors, the ones that I find utterly unforgivable are in the climax (spoilers!) where Watley is shot into space to rendezvous with the Hermes (slowed down by a jury-rigged explosion!???, oh please!!!) in a stripped down capsule with no windows and ultimately no steerable spacecraft, then using a self-made hole in the glove of his spacesuit to propel himself towards the awaiting MMU of his rescuers! Rendezvous is very, very, very, very, very, very difficult! It's not just hard, it's really, really, really hard. The relative velocities, the trajectories, the math! You don't just point two guns at each other and pull the triggers! Hollywood has a penchant for such shenanigans (Gravity, Mission to Mars, now The Martian).
Don't get me wrong, I did enjoy the movie, but the rescue process in the 2nd half nearly ruined it. Just once, I'd like to see a scifi movie where they get the science right all the way through!
 Quite right, although I didn't exactly enjoy the movie the way that person did...

Update 2:   I can't stop thinking of things in the movie that didn't quite make sense.   Here's another:   Watney is a botanist?   Why take a botanist to Mars?   There's no sign of a plant anywhere on the spaceship or habitat.  Apparently, in the book he is an engineer (although perhaps also a botanist?)  In any event, noting him as having engineering qualifications of some sort in the movie would have helped understand his abilities at constructing stuff.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Two articles for weekend worrying

The AGU website, which I should probably visit more often, has two climate change articles of concern:

1.  Diatoms are not doing well:
The world’s oceans have seen significant declines in certain types of microscopic plant-life at the base of the marine food chain, according to a new study. The research, accepted for publication in Global Biogeochemical Cycles, a journal of the American Geophysical Union, is the first to look at global, long-term phytoplankton community trends based on a model driven by NASA satellite data.

Diatoms, the largest type of phytoplankton algae, have declined more than 1 percent per year from 1998 to 2012 globally, with significant losses occurring in the North Pacific, North Indian and Equatorial Indian oceans. The reduction in population may reduce the amount of carbon dioxide drawn out of the atmosphere and transferred to the deep ocean for long-term storage.
2. Methane blooms off the coast of Washington and Oregon seem to be related to warming waters:
Warming ocean temperatures a third of a mile below the surface, in a dark ocean in areas with little marine life, might attract scant attention. But this is precisely the depth where frozen pockets of methane ‘ice’ transition from a dormant solid to a powerful greenhouse gas.  New research suggests that subsurface warming could be causing more methane gas to bubble up off the Washington and Oregon coast.

The study shows that of 168 bubble plumes observed within the past decade, a disproportionate number were seen at a critical depth for the stability of methane hydrates. The study has been accepted for publication in Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems, a journal of the American Geophysical Union
Most of this methane is not making the surface, but it's increasing the acidity of the oceans anyway:
 If methane bubbles rise all the way to the surface, they enter the atmosphere and act as a powerful greenhouse gas. But most of the deep-sea methane seems to get consumed during the journey up. Marine microbes convert the methane into carbon dioxide, producing lower-oxygen, more-acidic conditions in the deeper offshore water, which eventually wells up along the coast and surges into coastal waterways.
Not very encouraging...

Friday, October 16, 2015

Climate whiplash

Why Winning the War on Climate Change Will Require a Technocratic Revolution - The Atlantic

If you ask me, there is a bit of a problem going on with "climate whiplash" at the moment.

On the one hand, you have a series of relatively optimist papers and reports about the rapid drop in price of renewables and the great potential for affordable battery storage to make it even more attractive; on the other hand you have stories like this one about how really, really hard the problem of a rapid reduction in global CO2 is.

Apart from the story linked above, here's Kevin Anderson being a pessimist, too:
The world’s top climate scientists are deliberately downplaying the challenge of avoiding warming above the 2C danger zone because of pressure from funders and politicians.

That’s the view of Kevin Anderson, professor of climate change at University of Manchester, in an article published in the journal Nature Geoscience on Wednesday.

He argues the rapid level of greenhouse gas cuts required to ensure the world does not blow what the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) termed a “carbon budget” would mean a radical shift in consumption and energy use in rich countries.

“Delivering on such a 2C emission pathway cannot be reconciled with the repeated and
high-level claims that in transitioning to a low-carbon energy system global economic growth would not be strongly affected,” he says.

But instead of warning governments that they need to implement an energy revolution, Anderson argues many influential scientists continue to suggest warming above 2C can be avoided through a steady transition away from fossil fuels.

“We simply are not prepared to accept the revolutionary implications of our own findings, and even when we do we are reluctant to voice such thoughts openly,” he writes.
While Anderson may have a point to a degree, the real problem with too much pessimism is that it encourages the fools who have never wanted to do anything anyway, and may increase the political power they already richly do not deserve.

And I also suspect that the pessimists underestimate the power of  markets to make rapid changes if they have the right combination of market signals and regulation.   By being too pessimistic, they are not encouraging  the badly needed price signal.


A particle purely made of nuclear force
For decades,scientists have been looking for so-called "glueballs". Now it seems
they have been found at last. A glueball is an exotic particle, made up
entirely of gluons – the "sticky" particles that keep nuclear particles
together. Glueballs are unstable and can only be detected indirectly, by
analysing their decay. This decay process, however, is not yet fully

Professor Anton Rebhan and Frederic Brünner from TU Wien (Vienna)
have now employed a new theoretical approach to calculate glueball
decay. Their results agree extremely well with data from particle
accelerator experiments. This is strong evidence that a resonance called
"f0(1710)", which has been found in various experiments, is in fact the
long-sought glueball. Further experimental results are to be expected
in the next few months.
The Standard Model is very messy....

Thursday, October 15, 2015

What a difference

I was just watching a bit of Question Time of Federal Parliament under new PM Turnbull and Speaker Tony Smith.

What an incredible contrast it is to the embarrassment that it was under Bronwyn Bishop and failed PM Tony Abbott.   It's like its had an infusion of maturity that makes the former version look like a kindergarten. 

It's funny how Abbott's departure from the top job has made just about everyone in the Coalition look better (well, with the exception of the irredeemable Peter Dutton.)   They just seem all happier and more competent than before.   Perhaps it's having the yoke of Peta lifted from their shoulders that is helping, too.  Given Christopher Pyne's recent pointed comments about Turnbull being the kind of PM who actually considers questions and tries to answer them in detail (and how "refreshing" that is), I'm even feeling more kindly towards him!

And what about Hockey?  It's like people have forgotten he was ever there already.  Kind of humiliating, especially for a politician with famously thin skin.  (As for Abbott, I suspect he is too dumb to understand the depth of his own humiliation, although I was amused to read that he apparently is upset that John Howard wasn't supportive enough after his dumping.)

Of course, the public torment of Andrew Bolt* continues, as well as that of just about everyone at Catallaxy save for Sinclair Davidson.   I can't credit the Prof's judgement about Abbott needing to go too much, though; he was also the only commentator on the continent who thought Bronwyn was doing a  good job as speaker.  (Well, maybe ratbag Rowan Dean agreed.)  Anyway, seems Turnbull is reluctant to do any fiddling with s18C RDA, so we'll see how long the goodwill towards him continues. ...

*  Speaking of Bolt and his 3000 words a day of Muslim-ania since the teenage shooting a fortnight ago;  I think by far the best media coverage about the problem of youthful radicalisation in Australia has been on the ABC's 7.30.   Does Bolt give them credit for that?  I don't think so.  

Troublemaking cows

Why the humble cow is India's most polarising animal - BBC News

Gee.  I hadn't realised the trouble cow reverence causes in modern India:
More seriously, most states forbid cow slaughter, and the ban on beef has been criticised by many because the meat is cheaper than chicken and fish and is a staple for the poorer Muslim,
tribal and dalit (formerly untouchable) communities.
Last month, a 50-year-old man in northern Uttar Pradesh was killed in a mob lynching over rumours that his family had been storing and consuming beef at home. Even as Prime Minister Narendra Modi broke his silence over the killing nearly two weeks later, members of his party thrashed an independent lawmaker in Kashmir for hosting a beef party.
Earlier this month, Hindus and Muslims clashed over rumours, again, of cow slaughter in Uttar Pradesh. A row over banning beef is threatening to stoke religious tensions in restive Kashmir..
There are worrying reports that supporters of the BJP and right-wing Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh in the state have launched a virulent campaign against
cow slaughter and beef.
Although the government's own animal census shows that the cow and buffalo population has grown - a 6.75% increase between 2007 and 2012 - and cow slaughter is banned in most states, there is hysteria being whipped up that the bovine is under threat.

Vigilante cow protection groups have mushroomed. They claim to have a strong network of informers and say they "feel empowered" because of the ruling Hindu nationalist BJP
government in Delhi. One of these groups actually managed to get a court order against a beef and pork festival at a Delhi university in 2012.
That's not all. The BJP-ruled state of Rajasthan has a cow minister. There are campaigns going on demanding that the cow should replace the tiger as the national animal - a minister in Haryana, also ruled by the BJP, promptly began an online poll.
All of this makes me wonder about what they serve in Indian McDonalds.  The BBC handily has a story from 2014 on that very topic.

Not too late, apparently

Antarctic ice sheets face catastrophic collapse without deep emissions cuts | Environment | The Guardian

Studies like this, which suggest that the Antarctic ice sheets will start to melt (unless deep cuts to CO2 start very quickly) but take centuries to do so can't really take into account possible geo-engineering approaches that may develop in the intervening period.  Still, seems that it's a lot "safer" to do the achievable - reduce CO2 - than bet on unproven techniques with unclear consequences.

Nasty virus

Ebola lingers in semen for nine months - BBC News

All quite unexpected, too, it seems.   Does any other virus do something similar?

Update:  just to make readers uncomfortable, here's an article about all the various types of virus that can be in semen, and the list is longer than I expected.   I was more interested, though, in the ones which it seems the body has defeated, but they linger on.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Yet more El Nino discussion

El Nino could soon rank as the strongest event since 1950

It seems to summarise things pretty well.

Yes, sometimes they do impress

If you believe the account of her contact with a medium given in this really fascinating first person article in Elle, you will understand why mediums sometimes can still make deep impressions that are hard to explain away.

And Ross Douthat, inspired by the article, writes interestingly on ghosts in the secular age.

Higher sensitivity still quite possible

Most of the talk over the last couple of years has been about observational studies indicating that climate sensitivity to CO2 was perhaps on the lower side, rather than the high side.  Yet I see that in a paper that has just come out, some NASA based researchers give reason to think the high side is more likely:   
The large spread of model equilibrium climate sensitivity (ECS) is mainly caused by the differences in the simulated marine boundary layer cloud (MBLC) radiative feedback. We examine the variations of MBLC fraction in response to the changes of sea surface temperature (SST) at seasonal and centennial timescales for 27 climate models that participated in the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 3 and Phase 5. We find that the inter-model spread in the seasonal variation of MBLC fraction with SST is strongly correlated with the inter-model spread in the centennial MBLC fraction change per degree of SST warming and that both are well correlated with ECS. Seven models that are consistent with the observed seasonal variation of MBLC fraction with SST at a rate −1.28±0.56 %/K all have ECS higher than the multi-model mean of 3.3 K yielding an ensemble-mean ECS of 3.9 K and a standard deviation of 0.45 K.
That seems important...

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Birth order and consequences

This very long review of a couple of new books about the history of the Castrato contains a lot of information.  Here are a couple of paragraphs, noting which boys got to draw the short straw, so to speak:

It began, it seems, because women were not allowed to sing in church,
and, in the Papal States, were banned from singing at all. ‘It is
important to bear in mind,’ Feldman writes, ‘that castrations for
singing, beginning well before 1600, took place only in Italy,
geographic heartland of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.’
While London warmed to castrati, and paid them fortunes, the English did
not castrate their own. One contemporary of Handel’s commented on this:
‘You Englishmen complain that castrati are too costly, so that too much
money ends up in Italian lands, but if you want to make all this use of
them and [still] make savings, it’s amazing that for such a profit you
still can’t castrate there.’
Castrati, for Feldman, can be understood as the second sons of Italian families who, instead of goinginto the military or the church, took up singing, and in order to excel
had to make a sacrifice. She notes that castration arose at a time in
Italy when the eldest son got most or all of the inheritance. For one of
the others, getting castrated was a way to deal with the problem of
making a living. She writes rather well about this notion of sacrifice,
quoting Henri Hubert and Marcel Mauss, two late 19th-century writers on
the general subject of sacrifice. They wrote, according to Feldman, that
the victim ‘somehow has to be ravaged in a solemn but devastating way …
The end goal is to sanction the victim so as to authorise him for a
special purpose, removing him … from ordinary life … by radical
alteration that leads to a kind of rebirth. Thereafter the victim, now
improved, mediates between sacred and profane worlds.’