Thursday, March 31, 2016

States and taxes

Well, this potential tax reform is interesting because of the way it attracts both supporters and detractors from both sides of the political spectrum.

Andrew Bolt is against it, as are all of his cohort who now comment at Catallaxy, but it's hard to say how much of that is due simply to it being Turnbull's idea.  Turnbull hatred is a powerful force amongst the del cons . 

But amongst economics commentators, I see that both Peter Martin and Adam Creighton support it, even though they are not that often on the same page when it comes to economics analysis.

Creighton's column this morning is interesting because it raises one issue that Martin ignores:  how competitive tax regimes can lead to a race to the bottom.  (Not that Creighton wants to call it that.)

Of course small government types love the idea of competition tax regimes, because that suits their basic goal of seeing that government is strangled of ability to provide services.  But they don't like acknowledging that competition can lead to a race to the bottom.

It seems to me that it clearly can - with the best example being Kansas in America.  It's in serious fiscal trouble because of Laffernomics which Art promises will help them, eventually.  Maybe in 10 years?   Meanwhile, its universities lose funding.   So sorry, universities: Art says it'll all come good, one day.

Creighton notes a couple of things that happened under State competition in Australia:
But Egan sounds a note of warning. “I hope [this reform] wouldn’t mean states would compete their income tax rights away as they did with payroll tax,” he says.
Indeed, then prime minister William McMahon ceded states payroll tax in the early 1970s, to help restore their financial independence. But this was undone by an explosion of tied grants under the Whitlam government. Payroll taxes are theoretically efficient — broadly similarly to a consumption tax, in fact — but states progressively increased the turnover threshold to win votes from small businesses. This meant rate increased on a dwindling base — the very opposite of good tax policy. The same can be said for inheritance tax — a relatively efficient (and some would say fair) tax that Queensland premier Joh Bjelke Peterson effectively killed off in the 1980s. This prompted other states to follow suit.
In fact, states have access to the most efficient tax of all — land tax. They could in theory spurn all Canberra’s money and levy a flat rate percentage rate of tax on all land: business and residential.
Well, that land tax reform is unrealistically ambitious and isn't going to happen, but economists like to fantasize about efficiency.

But I will give credit to Creighton for noting these "race to the bottom" examples - even if he reluctant to name them as such.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Now for the nuance

Was Nixon's war on drugs a racially motivated crusade? It's a bit more complicated. - Vox

You can pretty much bet that any simplistic take on the history of the "war on drugs" is flawed; but pro-drug reformers love repeating them anyway.  

Such was my grounds for being suspicious of the internet story doing the rounds last week about Erlichman explaining why Nixon wanted the war.

As this article explains, it's not so simple, and Nixon's approach also encompassed a compassionate approach to funding rehabilitation for the drug addicted:
Let's start with what Nixon actually sought to do when he launched his war on drugs. The speech that started the formal war on drugs in 1971 did not focus solely on criminalization. Instead, Nixon dedicated much of his time to talking up initiatives that would increase prevention and treatment for drug abuse.

"Enforcement must be coupled with a rational approach to the reclamation of the drug user himself," Nixon told Congress in 1971. "We must rehabilitate the drug user if we are to
eliminate drug abuse and all the antisocial activities that flow from drug abuse."

The numbers back this up. According to the federal government's budget numbers for anti-drug programs, the "demand" side of the war on drugs (treatment, education, and prevention) consistently got more funding during Nixon's time in office (1969 to 1974) than the "supply"
side (law enforcement and interdiction).
Interesting.   And there's more:
Historically, this is a commitment for treating drugs as a public health issue that the federal government has not replicated since the 1970s. (Although President Barack Obama's budget proposal would, for the first time in decades, put a majority of anti-drug spending on the demand side once again.)
Drug policy historians say this was intentional. Nixon poured money into public health initiatives, such as medication-assisted treatments like methadone clinics, education campaigns that sought to prevent teens from trying drugs, and more research on drug abuse. In fact, the Controlled Substances Act — the basis for so much of modern drug policy — actually reduced penalties on marijuana possession in 1970, when Nixon was in office.
"Nixon was really worried about kids and drugs," David Courtwright, a drug policy historian at the University of North Florida, told me. "He saw illicit drug use by young people as a form of social rot, and it's something that weakens America."
So, treating it as a public health issue was high on Nixon's agenda.  As I have noted before, this was not unusual even within conservative governments in Australia - with the Bjelke-Petersen government having well funded methodone programs too, I believe.

Don't change, Japan

Let's discuss tourists and their tattoos | The Japan Times

The Japan Tourism Agency has asked spa operators to allow tattooed
foreign tourists into their facilities in a bid to get more overseas
visitors experiencing the nation’s onsen....

Akamichi said the current no-tattoo policy at many onsen
resorts had rejected people with tattoos indiscriminately, including
foreign guests who wear them for fashion, religious or other reasons.

The agency asked operators to take measures such as offering stickers
to cover tattoos and setting certain time frames for tattooed tourists
to bathe, so as to separate them from other visitors.
I think it would be a pity for one of the last reasons to give to children to never get a tattoo ("you'll never be able to enjoy onsen during holidays in Japan!")  passes.  Stay strong, Japan.

Krugman on global trade and politics

Trade, Labor, and Politics - The New York Times

As usual, he comes across as such a clear and balanced writer.   

Not going to go over well

Malcolm Turnbull says states should levy own income tax levels |

I can't see that the public is going to warm to the idea of varying levels of tax from State to State.   For one thing, it's easy for either side of politics to attack it, and hence Abbott has been against such ideas in the past, using the same arguments as Neville Wran, apparently*.  (Immediate reaction at Conservatives Who Think Sinclair Davidson is Nuts [Catallaxy] is also negative.)

Oh look - I've  found something useful at the IPA website about the history of this sort of proposal.

It's also a good sign that it should be rejected:  if the IPA is for something, it's a very safe rule of thumb that it's a bad idea.

* see link following.

Problematic study

Psychotherapy for depressed rats shows genes aren't destiny

I don't know:  it seems to me that what passes for rat "psychotherapy" is nothing much at all like psychotherapy in humans.

Still, I suppose that anything that shows beneficial changes to rats bred to be "depressed" can come from their environment gives encouragement to humans with a parent who suffers depression...

No wonder the studios make them

‘A stink bucket of disappointment’ – the most savage Batman v Superman reviews | Film | The Guardian

The link is to a handy list of some of the worst reviews of the movie, but the incredible thing is how superhero movies with high recognition characters are, to a large degree, impervious to poor reviews when they go out on global mega releases.  This one has almost made $500 million in a week.

One would hope the critical reaction might put a dint in the studio's enthusiasm for the genre, but all they can see is the money, I guess.

Still not at peak transgender...

Largest ever study of transgender teenagers kicks off : Nature News & Comment

Probably is about time they decided to study the effect of puberty blocking treatment in adolescents, if they are going to offer it.

You have to wonder though - some old cultures (Polynesian , for example) would have happily, in certain circumstances, let their effeminate boys dress and act as women, but there was no option for surgery in past centuries.  (Mind you, some boys were forced into the role, too, which was unlikely to please them.)

But if that group of genuinely "want to be a girl" boys weren't hurling themselves off cliffs because they were depressed about still having a penis, how has it become such a matter of crucial importance to Western men in the 20th century that it be whipped off ASAP?

(Sorry, my vast audience of transgender readers, no doubt I am not dealing with the topic sensitively enough.)

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

An Indian worry

Is India facing its worst-ever water crisis? - BBC News

Running out of ideas, Chris?

The democratic case for splitting Queensland in two - The Drum (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

The way I read this column, Chris Berg is having trouble finding anything worthwhile to write about.

Perhaps it's easier to ask: "what don't gut bacteria influence?"

GI tract bacteria help decrease stroke

95% a great movie

I saw 10 Cloverfield Lane over the weekend.

It's a taut psychological thriller with much to recommend it, and I don't want to put anyone off seeing it.

But - there are two or three bothersome plot points which I haven't seen discussed anywhere.  (I know that one is not mentioned in reviews because it completely gives away the ending.)

Before I get to those, it's the sort of smaller scale Hollywood movie that makes me wonder why small Australian movies can't be as good as this.   The budget could not have been high:  about 90% of the film is set in the bunker, which seems to take only about 3 or 4 different sets.   It's just great because of the acting and screenplay.

Now for the plot issues, in increasing order of seriousness:



1.   Why would the bunker be designed so that there is no way to get to the air filtering system for maintenance, or "reset", except via the narrow duct?   There could have been an explanation given - I suggested to my son that maybe Howard had intended having a Hazmat suit that would allow him to go out the main door and get to the vent via its window, but he had accidentally left it in house?  But there is no explanation given, and the need for our hero to go down the vent is very important, plot wise.  With no explanation, the design just makes no sense, at all.  It deserved an explanation.

UPDATE:   I should have known, someone on Reddit would talk about this and explain it, if there was something to explain.   Yes, I overlooked something - or rather, didn't understand properly what was happening - that the thing Howard was pulling on was an access point, but it was covered by something and couldn't be used.   They could have made that clearer than they did.

2.  At the end, is it her car that she is in, and finds the bottle of spirits that she then (implausibly) puts to good use?  If so, is it sufficiently bashed up, and why would Howard bring it there anyway?  This may well be clearer on a second viewing, so I am not sure if this is a problem or not.

Now, out of kindness, I'll even reduce the chances of the main issue ruining the movie for someone who might have accidentally scanned this post:

3.  Do aliens really design ships that forget the fire extinguishers?   Come on, at least in War of the Worlds it took a handful of grenades thrown into the gaping maw to bring down a tripod: that had a bit more plausibility than a flaming bottle of scotch.   I know it must have been hard to come up with a good idea for getting out of this, but still, I was not convinced that this was the best they could come up with.UPDATE:  I see from the Reddit discussion that the green gas the alien ship was spraying around was shown as being flammable, hence the inside of the ship blew up easily.   Hmmm.  Maybe adds some plausibility?

Further Update:   I should explain - I liked the "twist" in a general sense - it was sort of nightmarish in a pleasing way.    I just didn't care much for one detail of the twist. 

Engineers and terrorism

I see that the Chronicle of Higher Education recently ran a lengthy story looking at the matter of why engineers seem over-represented amongst terrorists.  No firm conclusions, but all very interesting.  There's much disagreement that follows in the comments, too.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Easter art

Everyone in the house has had a dripping nose and spluttering cough (except me, so far.)  Maybe I'll save my annual cold until it's actually cold - the days are still hot, humid and almost devoid of breeze in my part of the world.  (Well, OK, I started this post a couple of days ago now, and it was overcast and somewhat cooler yesterday - though still very humid.  I see we are in for another week of over 30 degree weather...)

In any event, I'm late to the party but it's Easter and I'm pretty devoid of religious commentary of late.

So let's do religious art instead.

Dali was a prime eccentric weirdo who made lots of money from cultivating that image.  Including, it seems, via endorsing an industry in semi-fake artwork.  From an article at The Independent:
According to Lauryssens – who was eventually tracked down by Interpol in the late Eighties and served two years in jail for selling forgeries – the more he indulged in fake Dali works the more he uncovered a world where fake prints, sculptures and lithographs were created by some of the people closest to Dali, even with the painter’s alleged approval. “From the 1960s everyone knew that Dali needed close to half a million dollars a month to fund his lavish lifestyle” he said. “He was living like a mini-maharajah.”

Dali himself frequently admitted he had made enormous sums of money by signing hundreds of quick sketches and lithographs which would then sell for thousands of pounds. He once famously remarked: “Each morning after breakfast I like to start the day by earning $20,000.” The existence of several hundred thousand Dali lithographs has encouraged a flourishing, parallel global trade in fakes while by the time Dali died of heart failure in 1989 his estate was left with $87m.
Nevertheless, a technically talented and evocative artist he definitely was, in his prime, and I like most of his religious works, which apparently came after a public return to Catholicism in 1949.  (Mind you, that didn't seem to stop his libertine life, if this story by Cher - yes, Cher has a Salvador Dali story to tell - is anything to go by.)

Anyhow, to get to the point:  Dali's The Sacrament of the Last Supper, this one:

is the subject of an interesting article entitled "Misunderstood Masterpiece" from a few years back in a Catholic magazine, America.

A couple of Protestant theologians really disliked it:
Theologians, like the Protestants Francis Schaeffer and Paul Tillich, have also weighed in. For Schaeffer, Dalí’s image was a clear example of Christian meaning being lost to a vague existentialism: “This intangible Christ which Dalí painted is in sharp contrast to the bodies of the apostles who are physically solid in the picture. Dalí explained in his interviews that he had found a mystical meaning for life in the fact that things are made up of energy rather than solid mass. Because of this, for him there was a reason for a vault into an area of nonreason to give him the hope of meaning.”

Tillich’s view of the painting, conveyed during a lecture on religion and art, was reported by Time magazine: “Tillich deplored Dalí’s work as a sample of the very worst in ‘what is called the religious revival of today.’ The depiction of Jesus did not fool Tillich: ‘A sentimental but very good athlete on an American baseball team... The technique is a beautifying naturalism of the worst kind. I am horrified by it!’ Tillich added it all up: ‘Simply junk!’”
I have to admit, when you look closely at Christ's face (see below), it does seem a tad "Donny Osmond", who especially leaps to my mind because I was watching him in long wig in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat a few days ago.  (Osmond was born a couple of years after the painting was completed, incidentally.)

Anyway, according to Michael Novak, the author of the above article, the headless torso is God the Father:
The Christ then directs our eye upward to the figure that would otherwise dominate the painting, a giant torso whose arms span the width of the picture plane. This figure is likely the intended focus because our eye is directed around the canvas to this spot; both figures are transparent. Christ gestures with his left hand toward himself and with his right hand points to the figure above. He looks like a visual representation of Jesus’ reply to his disciple Philip, who asked at the Last Supper, “Lord, show us the Father….” “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time?” Jesus replied, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (Jn 14:8-9).

The Father’s face is appropriately off the canvas; this is the transcendent God who warned Moses, “You cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live” (Ex 33:20). 
I haven't thought about the painting for a long time, but the outstretched arms of the torso tend to remind me instead of Christ's crucified, or perhaps resurrected, body.  Certainly, we're not really used to representations of God the Father with a youthful body, half unclothed, are we?  The Wikipedia entry on God the Father in Western Art made me think for a moment that Michelangelo had gone there, as they show this detail from part of the Sistine Chapel:

But, no, the full picture shows that He's showing off his buff torso with some form fitting gear:

And zoom out further, who exactly is the bare butt exposing figure?:

This is well accepted as being God the Father again from a different perspective.  The matter of why Michelangelo would have painted him as going commando, in the modern parlance, is the matter of some conjecture, but I see that at least one blog writer thinks it's possible to find a scriptural justification, based on God's encounter with Moses: 
“And the Lord continued, ‘See, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock; and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen.’” (Exodus 33:21-23)

The term “my back” poses linguistic and theological challenges.  In the Hebrew, the term rendered by NRSV as “back” is plural (אָחוֹר ‘achowr {aw-khore’}).  The third century B. C. scholars who translated the Hebrew Bible for the Septuagint retained the plural into Greek (τὰ ὀπίσω μου).  In the fourth century A.D., Jerome did the same when he put the text into Latin, posteriora mea.  In 1611, the translators of the King James version followed the prior plurals, “..and thou shalt see my back parts.”  Some nouns in various languages can be grammatically plural though logically singular, such as Los Angeles, which means “The Angels” but refers to a single city.  Perhaps these translators merely intend such an understanding, and the NRSV regularizes that to a grammatical singular.  I don’t think that’s right; I think that those translators were a very well educated group.  The Jewish scholars of the third century B.C. knew Greek and Hebrew equally well (they lived back then); Jerome was no amateur; and James’s scholars went back to the Hebrew for their version.  I think that Michelangelo agreed with the scholars who retained the plural, for he clearly represents the butt-crack of God, with the two globes of the buttocks vividly distinct.  The NRSV is just being prudish for their contemporary audience.
I digress.

I'm happy to accept the interpretation that Dali's torso is the Father, especially as we get the Holy Spirit in the picture, too:
The full presence of the Triune God is made complete by the inclusion of an illusory Holy Spirit dove perched on Christ’s left shoulder, composed of the lines of his hair and jaw.
It took me a while to see this again, but when I spotted it, I remembered that I had seen it before:

Surprisingly, it seems no one on the net has gone to the bother of outlining it.  So I'll try:

Well, I think I've got that right.   Maybe this was shown in an old high school art book of mine, I forget. 

The biggest mystery of the painting, though, may be why the other figures around Christ are almost, but not quite, mirror images of each other.  Novak doesn't really have an explanation:
Assuming traditional symbolism, we would identify those at table as the Twelve Apostles. A second look makes us question that assumption. For these are mirror images of one another: six sets of twins around the table, not the historical followers of Jesus. The figures painted here are not important for their personalities, but for their actions: their reverent prayer and worship.
So it is not meant to be a realistic portrayal of the Last Supper;  I think that is right.

Novak says that the painting is very popular, even though it doesn't take pride of place in its home at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC.    I think I actually saw it myself, on one of my trips to Washington in the 80's;  I remember being impressed once with seeing a real live Dali in a gallery, but whether it was this one I can't recall.  

In any event, it's been worth considering.   It also raises to my mind the question of the modern image of God.   Old tribal understandings of Gods as embodied (if shape shifting) superhumans at least gave artists something "solid" to work with.  The more modern feeling of God as a force or pure intelligence or some such (a trend which CS Lewis decried as wrong headed, but then again, he was writing before the computer age),  presents the artist with a difficulty, doesn't it.  How is disembodied, all pervading intelligence best portrayed artistically?   I have no idea, but perhaps should think about it....

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Ear worm noted

Strange as it seems
there's been a run of crazy dreams,
and a man who can interpret could go far
could become a star... 
Why do I like the first two lines so much?  I guess it's their combination with the music, but Tim Rice at his best really was a great and witty lyricist, no?  (Readers may think - what's so great about those lines? - but they are, for me, an incredibly persistent ear worm if I hear the song.  Which I just did.)

But, um, he does look unrecognizably old

Leave David Letterman alone: For a celebrity, “showing his age” means aging in public at all -

Nick Pope sounding more or less reasonable

BBC - Future - My time as a UFO investigator for the government

Liberal intellectuals and criticism of Islam

Paul Berman and Michael Walzer in Defense of Kamel Daoud – Tablet Magazine

Interesting in light of the terrorism this week, especially.

Ryan sneaks away from Rand

Paul Ryan's bizarre speech was a de facto endorsement of Donald Trump - Vox

As this article notes, it may be considered something of a "plus" for Republicans to have one of them coming out and admitting that analysing poverty using Ayn Rand terminology is wrong (and politically stupid, too); on the other hand, Ryan can't bring himself to denounce Trump's offensive language re women and race/nationality.

And this reminds me, Krugman ripped into Ryan the other day, too; although it was largely a matter of  repeating a complaint  he has made many times before.   

The likeable Pratt

Chris Pratt does come across as ridiculously likeable in this video made around the set of Guardians of the Galaxy 2.  Another reason to watch is to see how young and geeky the director looks.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Superhero dud?

I see that my least anticipated film of the year, that Batman/Superman CGI baloneyfest, is getting distinctly mixed reviews.Therefore, for one of my readers who knows who he is:

: )

Indonesia has rhinos?

Sumatran rhino sighted in Indonesian Borneo for first time in 40 years | Environment | The Guardian

I'm only vaguely aware of the type of mammals that exist through that part of the world, it seems.  

IPA director praises IPA mouthpieces

I didn't know Janet Albrechtsen was a Director at the IPA.   No wonder I sensed no reason to read her for the last few years.

It's funny reading her heaping praise on Paterson and Wilson as new Liberal Party recruits to Parliament, followed by a comment below:
Thanks Janet for the objective and inspired journalism.
Was Jon having a laugh?

More European terrorism

I can't think of much else to say about the Brussels terrorism attack, apart from repeating the sentiment I expressed after the Paris attack.  

I also see that it is, as usual, driving some on the Right nuts

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The latest from Katesland

It's very entertaining watching Steve Kates (whose reviews of kids films lead his grandchild to comment "Daddy, Grandpa is scaring me") ramp up the love for Donald Trump.  Today's entry:
For a change, a conviction politician in the mould of Margaret Thatcher, but someone, also like her, who can get things done and is every inch a conservative.
I wonder if Sinclair Davidson now avoids him in the staff room at lunch?

Disbelief in the ancient world

Battling the Gods: Atheism in the Ancient World review – disbelief has been around for 2,500 years | Books | The Guardian

This is quite an interesting topic:  the forms that doubt, agnosticism and/or atheism took in the ancient world.  Here are some extracts from the review:

Classical scholars may turn to Whitmarsh’s book, as I did, with
questions about whether the term “atheism” is really the right one for
discussing pre-Judaeo-Christian religious doubts and resistance to
religion. It is an academic commonplace to distinguish between the
“orthopraxy” of Graeco-Roman religion – the focus on collective rituals,
sacrifices and festivals – and the “orthodoxy” of modern monotheistic
religions. No ancient Greek or Roman ever recited a Creed. Besides, in
classical Greek, the word atheos (“not-god”) is usually used to
mean “godless” or “against-the-gods”, rather than a person who does not
believe that gods exist. But Whitmarsh builds a case that stories about
“battling the gods” are actually ways of articulating doubts about
traditional religious teaching. He argues that classicists have gone too
far in presenting ancient religion as primarily concerned only with
action, not faith. As he rightly notes, this historical claim relies
heavily on public sources, such as inscriptions, which may teach us a
lot about ritual practices but much less about what individual
worshippers thought was true and false. Public documents can only give
the “official, ideologically sanctioned versions of events”. For this
reason, much of Whitmarsh’s work is a careful teasing out of the
literary and philosophical sources, including those that exist only in
fragmentary form, as he searches for hints of people in antiquity who
questioned the gods’ existence.

The ancient Greeks certainly did not assume that the gods are likable or
lovable, and hostility to the gods is a familiar trope in Greek
literature. The Homeric poems
which were never treated with the reverence afforded to the holy books
of the Islamic or Jewish traditions, but which were by far the best
known texts of Graeco-Roman antiquity – depict anthropomorphic gods who
are very much of this world, and who interact with humans, even fighting
with them on the battlefield. Battling the gods was a common enough
trope in the Greek imagination that they had a word for it: theomachia.
One might think that stories about gods as threats to humans must imply
a strong belief in their existence. But Whitmarsh argues that theomachy
stories express “a kind of atheism, through the narrative medium of
myth”. One key example is the archaic tale of Salmoneus, who claimed to
be Zeus, demanded sacrifices to be offered to himself, and created
thunder by dragging kettles around behind his chariot. Whitmarsh
suggests that this story raises disturbing questions for believers in
the gods: “If gods can be fashioned by mortal imitation, how real can
they be?”
 (Go on Jason - you know you want to link to that review.)

What the heck?

The Australian reports:
Indigenous journalist and author Stan Grant has been in talks with the Liberal Party about running for the marginal western Sydney seat of Parramatta.
The move would be a coup for the Liberals and could prove a potential upset to sitting Labor MP Julie Owens, who has held the seat since 2004 but had her margin reduced to 1.3 per cent at the last election.
After watching Grant on Julia Zemiro's Home Delivery recently, I had intended posting about how intensely annoying I find him.  He's a bit like an aboriginal version of Michael Ware: so earnestly self-involved I have trouble listening to them for more than 10 minutes.

Is the Liberal Party on some sort of mission to recruit all of the most annoyingly self assured, but actually intellectually vapid, personalities in Australia? 

Tipping points are back?

Risk of multiple tipping points should be triggering urgent action on climate change

My impression is that concern about climate change tipping points has been out of fashion in the IPCC  for some years, and that those who have been worried about things being worse than they seem (such as Hansen with his papers) have been rather pooh-poohed by others.

But they are still possible, and still worth considering, even if I am again dubious about the attempt to economically value them.

Privacy and clean cars

The Atlantic has an article about how smart, self driving cars are likely to mean the final nail in the coffin of privacy.

The one thing they don't mention, though, in the context of a future fleet of shared self driving vehicles, is the matter of people doing rude things in them and how you could stop that without some serious privacy infringement.  (I'm sure I posted about that recently, but again Google is failing me.)   I sort of want to claim to be one of the first people to anticipate that problem; but then again, I'm not sure it's something to want to get credit for.   After all, it would appear that it has not yet occurred to American teenagers, since in a recent survey they don't appear all that keen on automated cars.

In other self driving car news - Wired has an article about infrastructure changes that self driving cars will likely need.  (It's not big a list, though.)

The persecuted Ted

This is the first clip I have watched of Samantha Bee on her new TV gig, and I'm not sure I like her delivery.  But nonetheless, this clip about how amazingly unpopular Ted Cruz is with his fellow Senators still has many funny bits:

Monday, March 21, 2016

A lovely piece by Jericho

I no longer see my daughter's Down's Syndrome, I only see a beautiful girl called Emma | Greg Jericho | Opinion | The Guardian

More Bolt than you could possibly handle

Andrew Bolt is going to do 4 nights a week on Sky News??   Gee, are there that many people willing to be interrupted in interviews to keep it going?   And bear in mind his TV audience couldn't really stay with him once a week over the long run, let alone 4 times a week.

A rather strange decision by a cable network I don't get to see anyway, and (I would guess), an unhealthy workload for Andrew.


Good Lord.  I think the world's foremost free market economist from RMIT (the one who knows that 95% of other economists don't understand the subject) may be on the verge of needing a compulsory rest in a peaceful white room somewhere.  Here's his reaction on viewing Disney's current hit animated animal film Zootopia:
It is impossible to describe how depraved this film is. In every way worse than I could have imagined. It makes you understand how Europe and America have ended up with civilian invasions for which there are almost no psychological defences across the culture. Here is the final line of the film which is its ultimate message, superseding even the often-repeated mantra that “anyone can be anything”. These words are the actual point:
“Trust – and make the world a better place.”
We are a generation of naive and guileless fools, and if you are looking for the evidence, the 99% critics approval with the audiences at 95% tells you a great deal about what you need to know.
Not recommended, although the 108 minutes passes easily enough if you are curious about understanding how intellectually defenceless and inanely stupid our culture has become.
Mind you, I haven't seen the movie yet.  Somehow, though, I can't see it provoking anything like the same reaction.

Testing the limits of my enjoyment

As readers might be able to tell, I like science.   Always have.  Read a lot of kids' science books in primary school, sometimes, for example, spending pocket money on buying a new "How and Why" book - remember those?  And people gave me children's encyclopaedias as a gift, or books about space.  (Happily, even in Year 8 I got a spacey book from school as some sort of achievement prize.  I think I'm remembering this right - I still have it on the shelf and should check.)

This is by way of background to explaining that I have taken particular enjoyment in helping my kids with their school science.   Honestly, for parents like me, I wouldn't mind if the school could just sent me the assignment and cut out the middle child.  (I'm joking - sort of...)

But this weekend, my patience on this was tested.  

My son had to a write up of an experiment on Newtons laws of motion (so far, so good); but the experiment set up was this:  rolling two different sized (different weight) marbles down a slope and measuring the time taken.  Not only that, but it was done on four different surfaces (carpet, wood, pipe, and some non slip mat.)

He did this at school, and got some results.  (I had to learn about Excels charting functions to make him do the bar charts better though.   Now we both know.)

But the problem is with the interpretation and discussion section.

Let me assure you, dear reader, that any time spent Googling the topic such as "does a heavier ball roll down a slope faster than a lighter ball" will quickly show you that this is a topic that causes massive confusion, and is actually very complicated and well beyond the simple "Newtons three laws of motion."   (If you think I'm exaggerating, go have a look.   It's a topic that is much worse than the more straight forward "why do objects fall at the same rate under gravity in a vacuum.")

It really drove me a bit crazy trying to work out what my son could legitimately and accurately say regarding this, given the relatively light exposure to Newton that a Year 10 student gets.  I think I came up with some useful suggestions, but did the silly teacher really have to complicate this further by the use of different surfaces? 

This is by far the worst science assignment my son's teacher had ever me work on, and I expect better next time!

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Well, that makes voting for Bill Shorten easier...

So, Wilson got pre-selection by 142 to 140 votes.   Reminiscent of the start of the Tony Abbott climb to the position of Most Embarrassingly Weird Prime Ministership since Federation, really.  I expect pretty much the same of Timbo's parliamentary career.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Watching Joan

Wow, that Luc Besson 1990's Joan of Arc (on SBS tonight) looks absolutely fantastic, and is very enjoyable in its over the top sort of way.   I see that Besson made it after the truly awful Fifth Element, yet it was that film which was his critical and commercial success.   How wrong is that?

A good, odd list

From the BBC, I learn that there is an annual prize for oddest book title of the year.  The shortlist for this year does sounds enticing:

Actually, that last one might have some information on something I find odd - the matter of medieval belief that witches would happily kiss Satan's infernal you-know-what.   (Oh look, it has a Wikipedia entry.)  Doesn't that seem a rather odd myth, and hard to fathom how it started?*   Now that I think of it, what does the (much less specific) "kiss my ass" derive from?

* But then again, how did any weird story about what witches could do get started.  I read about this one years ago:
 German clergyman Heinrich Kramer described the epidemic in Malleus Maleficarum (1486)—one of the most famous medieval treatises on witches—writing: “Witches ... collect male organs in great numbers, as many as 20 or 30 members together, and put them in a bird’s nest, or shut them in a box.” But the disembodied penises didn’t just hang around. “They move themselves like living members and eat oats and corn, as has been seen by many,” Kramer wrote.
 It's the little detail of "eating oats and corn" that really floors me as a bizarre thing to dream up.

The paranoid style in Australian politics

There's nothing like a stupid university student office invasion/demonstration/semi ransack to bring out the  "crack them over the head with batons/just shoot them" reaction from those who comment at Catallaxy.

And yes, of course it was stupid and pointless and damaging, and some arrests based on video identification would be well deserved.

But long time commenter CL, who has a paranoid streak a mile wide about how leftists are out to get Catholics, and gays are out to get the children, now thinks queer university students are out to kill conservative's wives, apparently:

Oh, and anti smoking campaigners - it's personal, didn't you know?:

I wonder if he's still a smoker.  It apparently contributes to paranoia.


I find it pretty distasteful the way Andrew Bolt and Tim Blair  (more or less) high five themselves when their media opposition downscales journalist jobs.  All tied up with their campaign against "leftists" generally, and the ABC for allegedly crowding out the news media here.

This argument is beloved of their aging, remarried boss; except that I don't see how it can account for the fact that American newpapers, without anything like a government funded media outlet competitor, have been suffering exactly the same decline for the last decade or so.

And let's face it:  apart from the basic news services, commercial TV here gave up serious domestic and international journalism decades ago in favour of magazine TV.   Was this due to ABC "crowding out"?  I doubt it. 

Still sounds 'orrible..

Dance yourself happy: the rise of the sober rave | Music | The Guardian

Tim and the pre-selection

Funny how The Australian and Andrew Bolt are coming out strongly in support of professional self promoter Tim Wilson in his pre-selection run.   Does Bolt's son still work for the IPA?   I almost feel he should make a disclosure of that before he does one of his puff pieces on how suitable ex IPA people are as Liberal politicians, because it will be only be another couple of years and Bolt the Younger will be making a run as well.  (I see wet behind the ears James Paterson's maiden Senate speech - which I haven't watched - included promoting an Australian embassy move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.  At last!  The really important issue that the citizens of Victoria have been waiting for their Senator to finally tackle.   They'll be dancing in the streets.)

Honest to God:  if Tim Wilson gets up in this preselection at the other end of the country from me, I'll have trouble voting for the Liberals for another decade at least.

Laughably, Bolt says of Wilson:
Tim Wilson has a long record of publicly fighting for Liberal values and has the scars to prove it.
Like the "scar" of a directly gifted Human Rights Commission job worth about $400,000 in salary and benefits?  What Bolt means is "Wilson supported me when the s.18C case was taken against me, which I could avoided by an apology and correction for mistakes, but instead decided to grandstand and lost.  Of course he's well suited to be a Liberal candidate in a safe seat, then."

Georgina Downey, on the other hand, may have had a bit of a charmed life as a daughter of a famous politician;  but I find it hard to credit that a person with this academic and work background outside of thinktank wankery is not smart and well qualified for political life:
Ms Downer is a lawyer turned diplomat who served in Australia's embassy in Japan for four years. The mother of two has a Masters in Public International Law from the London School of Economics and degrees in Law and Commerce from the University of Melbourne.  She is fluent in Japanese and French.
The Liberal Party needs to distance itself from the mystery corporate funded ideologues of the IPA, not get tied up with them closer.   If they go with Freedom Boy, it will be their loss.  

An interesting take on the Nordic system

Why Bernie Sanders Is Adopting a Nordic-Style Approach - The Atlantic

The basic message is that it's not that Nordic folk are more altruistic - it's that they see their style of socialism-lite is great for the middle class.  In other words, they support it because they are selfish.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Better than increasing, anyway

Global Carbon Dioxide Emissions Have Now Been Flat for Two Years Running

New data published by the International Energy Agency extends the surprising finding, discovered last year, that global carbon dioxide emissions have stopped growing despite continued economic growth. The latest data show the trend has continued for a second consecutive year, which the IEA says is a result of renewable energy accounting for 90 percent of new electricity generation in 2015. China’s slowing economic growth has played a key role in these figures as well, though, and with India and several other developing economies set to grow substantially over the next several years, it’s not clear how long we can expect this “decoupling” trend to continue.

More Alzheimers related research

Re-energizing the aging brain research on shows that the brain's energy reserves can be increased with a daily
dose of pyruvate, a small energy-rich molecule that sits at the hub of most of the energy pathways inside the cell. These results need to be replicated in human subjects, but could ultimately lead to clinical applications.

"In our new study, we show that long-term dietary supplementation with pyruvate increases the energy reserves in the brain, at least in mice, in the form of the molecules glycogen, creatine and lactate," says lead author Heikki Tanila, Professor of Molecular Neurobiology at the A. I. Virtanen Institute of the University of Eastern Finland.

Sounds serious

Drought and rising temperatures 'leaves 36m people across Africa facing hunger' | Environment | The Guardian

I've noted before that we don't get a lot of media attention in the West about droughts in other countries as they develop.   It seems to take shots of malnourished and starving kids from the subsequent famine before you see much publicity on TV.

I see that El Nino has not been kind to other parts of the world, too:

Months of below-average rainfall have conspired to produce the worst
drought in Vietnam in the best part of 100 years. It has been reported
that the Mekong River is at its lowest level since 1926.

The ongoing El Nino weather pattern is thought to be the main cause of the lack of rainfall affecting the country.

Vietnam is not alone in suffering drought. Neighbouring Cambodia, and
Laos, as well as Thailand and Myanmar, have been experiencing water
shortages as a result of the weather phenomenon.

Cringing for comedy

I didn't plan on watching the much publicised "Luke Warm Sex" last night; but I fell asleep near the end of The Weekly (still a good value show that Crikey seems oddly determined to dislike) and woke up 20 minutes later to find Luke McGregor about to nude up with a handful of typical modern nudists.  (By which I mean: aging with a fair share of rotund.   For whatever reason, social nudity is just not young folks' thing, now, apparently.   Nude in cyberspace, on the other hand, is near compulsory.)

I watched this last 10 or 15  minutes, and decided I can't handle McGregor, except in an acting role.

I thought he was good in Utopia, for example, where he wasn't playing himself.

But in last night's show, it was hard to avoid the feeling that he was not being himself, but acting out some intensely cringeworthy version of himself.   Or at least I think this is what was happening - I find it impossible to judge how authentic this guy is being when he is trying to pass himself off as himself.

And just as there's no dignity in comedians (usually female, these days) who want to talk about their vast sexual experience, there's also none in one wanting to talk about how little sex he's had.

Luke Buckmaster was not impressed.  Nor was I.

And speaking of Australian comedy, I never saw figures for how badly the last season of Please Like Me went.   It was shown at an odd time slot, started with very low ratings, and I would guess went downhill from there.   But apparently it got made because of American investment.  It must surely have ended its run now, though. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Talking about cities

For the last few years, it has seemed to me that inner city Brisbane has been a bit stuck in a developmental rut.   While there was a burst of apartment building there back about 10 to 20 years ago, it seems that much of it is really designed for the likes of visiting students and and the rich young, all of whom I would assume move away to bigger digs once they decide to have a baby.

I guess this is not unique to Brisbane - I suspect the same thing has happened in Melbourne.  Sydney, less so, because of the proximity of the older residential inner city areas to the centre.  

But in Brisbane, the result you get is an inner city area that is not quite alive after about 3pm on a weekday.

I occasionally am in the city at that time for work, and (if I have not been able to have lunch earlier), I always find it sort of depressing the way the myriad coffee and lunch outlets are shutting down by that time.   Must be good hours for the workers, I guess, but a city that feels like it is shutting down at that time doesn't feel fully lived in. 

Of course, you can still find places open if you go up to the Queen Street Mall, which is relatively attractive and busy as far as inner city pedestrian malls go, but the city as a whole just feels like it needs higher, lived in, density.

I'm not sure how you cure that, as I guess that even if you said that residential development had to be more spacious and attractive to families, the cost would still be prohibitively high, and they may figure they can get nicer outlooks at the city fringe (such as at Teneriffe - which is booming - but it is not a convenient walk to the city.)

Anyway, just my thoughts....

Update:   perhaps I am being a bit tough here.  I mean, I guess there are parts of most major inner cities (save for the megacities like Tokyo) which are only going to be populated during business hours.   And, I have to say, that South Bank, just across the bridge from the inner city, is (in my opinion) actually the most successful arts/culture/recreation precincts of the Australian cities.   Southbank and Grey Street are very popular;  the Performing Arts centre is well used and has attractive outdoor eating;  the Queensland Museum is a bit underwhelming, though.   But overall, it is very lively and inviting area any day of the week.

The problem though is the gaps between the areas - South Bank and Kangaroo Point are popular at night, but go across the river and there are several empty streets til you get to the Mall.  Same if you head down to the Valley.   I have read that high class dining, which used to be a reason to go to some of the back streets in the city at night, is pretty much dying in favour of more casual eating.   (I can understand why, too.)   So it may be just one of these things at the moment.   But yeah, I would like to see more low rise residential closer to the inner city to see if that gives it more life.

The very mixed bag that is Singapore

BBC - Capital - Why expats call this utopia

Interesting article about Singapore - low income taxes, but some pretty extraordinary duties on some items.  And it now has the title of world's most expensive city.

I take it they also think that putting enormous sculptures of a naked baby in a park might encourage their young folk have children? 

Catchy title

Climate Change and Conservative Brain Death -- NYMag

Speaking of climate (and weather):   Brisbane forecast is for 34 degrees on Saturday.

Everyone is complaining about the heat and humidity here of a long lasting summer.  Not that the upper temperatures are breaking records: just that it seems to have been muggy and relatively breeze-less for so many days (and nights) this summer.   Not much rain, but enough that the place still looks green.

Googling around, it seems that many parts of the Northern Hemisphere are exceptionally warm so far this March.  I wouldn't be surprised if the February giant leap in global temperature anomaly is beaten again in March.

Of course I have to post about this...

....the news of a fifth Indiana Jones movie, of course.

Reading the comments under The Guardian's story on this, there are (of course) many condemnations of Crystal Skull (lefty people seem, in particular, to despise it), and there are many attempts at funny, age related, titles.  But it seems to me that not many of them are very good.

Perhaps my favourite comment so far is this one:
 I'm not sure being dragged along under a mobility scooter is going to have quite the same dramatic impact.
As for me, I'll put out there (again - I think I have suggested this years ago here) my idea for a Grand Unification of Spielberg films - that it end with a very old Indiana Jones turning up as a formerly unseen astronaut entering the mothership at the end of Close Encounters.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Brain stimulation backlash, and shaking up Alzheimers

Neurostimulation: Bright sparks : Nature : Nature Publishing Group

I overlooked this interesting article at Nature about the current state of research into mild brain stimulation (of the kind that some people are doing at home with as little as a 9 V battery, apparently.)

As it explains, it seems that there is currently something of a backlash against initially promising results, but this of itself may be a swing too far in the other direction.

I'm hoping that it turns out to be useful for Alzheimers, as well as the surprisingly blunt instrument of using ultrasound to attack the plaques on brain cells that cause the problem. 

And look, with this extract from a press release I get to make a political statement against economists like Le Sloan, who routinely dismiss government investment in medical research:
Queensland scientists have found that non-invasive ultrasound
technology can be used to treat Alzheimer’s disease and restore memory.

University of Queensland researchers discovered that the innovative
drug-free approach breaks apart the neurotoxic amyloid plaques that
result in memory loss and cognitive decline.

Welcoming the findings today at UQ’s Queensland Brain Institute,
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said they could have a wide
impact for the community.

“The Government’s $9 million investment into this technology was to
drive discoveries into clinics, and today’s announcement indicates that
together with the Queensland Brain Institute, it was a worthwhile
investment,” Ms Palaszczuk said...

“We’re extremely excited by this innovation of treating Alzheimer’s without using drug therapeutics,” Professor Götz said.

“The ultrasound waves oscillate tremendously quickly, activating
microglial cells that digest and remove the amyloid plaques that destroy
brain synapses.

“The word ‘breakthrough’ is often mis-used, but in this case I think
this really does fundamentally change our understanding of how to treat
this disease, and I foresee a great future for this approach.”

Monday, March 14, 2016

Wilful blindness

Steve Kates, one of the "brains trust" at Catallaxy (excuse me while I snigger), wrote just today:
For me, belief in global warming is as clear a sign of anti-capitalist ideologically-driven wishful thinking as I would care to choose. It may be a reality, but it is one for which the evidence is virtually non-existent....
which is good for either a laugh, or some serious head shaking, depending on one's mood, given the wide publicity this graph is getting today:

 Of course the monthly peak will drop again within the year, but it's a mighty impressive peak, and the trend of that red line is in danger of growing steeper.

Clearly, an inadequate system

Germanwings crash: victims' relatives say Lufthansa should have stopped pilot flying | World news | The Guardian

I wonder what the situation is in Australia, and other countries, regarding notification doctors can give to an employer of a employee's psychiatric state.

While not every employer needs to be kept in the loop, surely for those employees who work in an industry with the safety of others in their hands should expect that their employer should know of their doctor's concerns that they have psychosis. 

Sunday, March 13, 2016

A weird place

Now, I don't care for snakes as much as the next city bred wimpy male who gets enough of a fright when seeing a blue tongue lizard head poking out from the undergrowth, but reading about this public festival of snake killing and skinning in Texas still made me feel queasy.    Are enthusiastic public tours of abattoirs a "thing" in Texas, too?

Saturday, March 12, 2016


Had a beer here this afternoon.  it's The Charming Squire, the James Squire pub in a corner of the Brisbane Convention Centre, opposite South Bank, and it's ridiculously, incredibly, popular.

 The James Squire range of beers is reliably good: it's the craft beer-ish style beer you have when you aren't really in a craft beer pub.  I've been to this pub a few times, and I would love to see how much money they bank each day. 

The company could surely not be more pleased with how it's going.

Oh look...the entrance to the Prime Minister's office while Tony Abbott had the job....

Friday, March 11, 2016

The confusion continues

Feminists should speak up about Credlin, and the creeps should close their mouths

Seems to me that Jacqueline Maley writes a column that makes sense until half way through, then goes off the rails.

She claims:
Call it a failure of the imagination, but it still seems we can only understand a woman's power over a man in terms of sex.
Oh, bulldust.   I'm sure Margaret Thatcher had a powerful sway over her (mostly male?) cabinet during most of her Prime Ministership, and no one thought she was sleeping with them.  

And this:
The former prime minister, so beholden to his Amazonian chief of staff,
the Wallis Simpson over whom he lost his reason, is somehow exculpated
from the enormously bad decision-making which characterised his tenure.
Double bulldust!  I reckon this is just feminist reading between the lines to work up something to be offended about.  It seems to me that in everything she says, Savva argues that it was Abbott's fault for not remedying the poisonous situation that everyone (from John Howard down) was bringing to his attention. 

The best looking McDonalds in the world, I'm guessing

McDonald’s on Paris’ Champs-Elysees gets an upscale makeover.

Look at the photos.  It's ridiculously gorgeous.

(I had a particularly nice "Create Your Own" last Saturday, too.  The only thing wrong with the stores now is the annoying way the menu screen cycles every 8 seconds before you've had a chance to read everything.)

Um, maybe she was just a terrible Chief of Staff?

It's pretty hilarious, really.

Andrew Bolt cannot understand why Liberal women are not rushing to defend Peta Credlin  as an unfairly "smeared" sister worthy of support.

Why does he refuse to believe what this plainly suggests:  that Credlin was a terrible Chief of Staff who everyone (bar Abbott) could see was causing massive harm,  and that it's not about sexism at all.

And having said that, of course Abbott can take prime responsibility for the situation, as he is clearly incapable of making good judgements about who to listen to.

[Bolt also runs with approval a patently silly piece from The Age in which it is noted that Tony Blair had the sort of relationship with his (male) chief of staff such that they would discuss things while Blair was in various states of undress, including nude apparently.   So, hey, why should Liberal MP's look askance at famous "man's man" Abbott slapping his COS on the backside, or watching her put her head on his shoulder?   If he had her in the bathroom while he was having a shower, nothing wrong with that because guys are sometimes nude in front of guys and what's the difference?    Really, Andrew, you're a dill being sucked in by feminist false equivalence.]

Blood pressure alert

Every time I see Simon Chapman's head appearing on an anti smoking article (today, at The Conversation), I imagine an unhealthy rise in the blood pressure of Sinclair Davidson, and a mad rush to find something in it to nitpick about in a post that no one will care about at Catallaxy. 

It amuses me, somewhat.

The complicated radiation story

Is Fukushima's exclusion zone doing more harm than radiation? - BBC News

At the end of this article, which has one expert questioning why the Japanese government is setting such a relatively low level of background radiation as being needed before residents can return to land around Fukushima, there is this caution:
Of course this is a ferociously complex issue, and many will argue that I
am ignoring the dangers of "hot spots" and from ingesting radioactive
Caesium particles in food or water or dust. But five years after the
meltdowns at Fukushima 100,000 people are still unable to go home. That
is a massive human tragedy.
Yes, it seems to me (without knowing anything concrete about this) that the matter of how a background radiation level is being maintained is important.  If you live in an area where the rocks and minerals around you are naturally radiative, but are in a more or less solid state, wouldn't that be better than being in an area with a lower background reading that's come from dust that descended from the sky?   Because I would have guessed that getting that dust into your lungs is likely to do worse damage than standing near (say) a block of granite that has a naturally high reading.

But how do scientists take this difference (assuming I'm making a legitimate point) into account when declaring an area safe or not for long term residence?   Surely it's hard to measure the likelihood of dust ingestion?

Textor makes some enemies

Liberal strategist Mark Textor seems to have no love for the IPA, so he goes up a notch in credibility:
Wide-ranging changes introduced by Tony Abbott, such as the potential deregulation of universities, were the result of a broken political system where considered and experienced policy wonks were overlooked, Textor argued.

“During the time of great estrangement during the Abbott years, the reality is people who are close to the machine like myself thought that many of the reforms ... we were getting were completely out of step,” he said. “Don’t assume the government’s agenda and the political agenda are the same because governments aren’t political parties and their agendas are quite different.”

Instead, “21-year-old pimply theorists from the IPA [Institute of Public Affairs] and the Australia Institute” with little real-world experience have been running the show, Textor said.
I'm guessing he must be grinding his teeth about James Paterson's grab of the top Victorian Senate seat then.

Satellite or surface temperatures

A really clear video here explaining why the surface temperature record is way more robust than the satellite record.   Information totally lost on the highly dislikeable Ted Cruz, of course.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Sounds promising

10 Cloverfield Lane Reviews - Metacritic

The story sounds a bit Twilight Zone-ish, and I think I want to see it.  (I've always liked John Goodman, too, so it's nice to see him being a lead actor with a lot of screen time.)

Runs in the family

Second Wachowski Sibling Comes Out as Transgender Woman - The New York Times

OK, surely we must be at Peak Transgender?

No, wait on...

When Donald Trump becomes President, and then uses an Address to the Nation to declare he cannot hide the truth behind his unmanly tiny hands any more, and he will forthwith be known as "Ms President Donna Trump" - then we will have reached the peak.


By rights, I should refuse to publicise this study.  On the other hand, out of respect and love for the work of Steven Spielberg, I have been thinking of having an "ET on a flying bike" tattoo, positioned so that my butt can look like the moon it's flying over:*
There's no known cure for the common cold, but receiving multiple tattoos can strengthen your immunological responses, potentially making you heartier in fighting off common infections, according to research by a trio of University of Alabama scholars. 
*  I may not be being serious.

Weird blindness of the Right

What fun it is to watch the outrage of frustrated Abbott lovers (and Turnbull haters - he believes in global warming, after all) over the Niki Savva book.   (Which, it would seem, has been selling like hotcakes.  I'm even tempted myself.)

Rowan Dean, about the most obnoxious of right wing warrior commentators in Australia at the moment, is quoted by Bolt as writing:
Moreover, in interviews Ms Savva has repeatedly trotted out the claim that Ms Credlin attempted to have herself and Peter van Onselen fired from the Australian (an irrelevance given they are both still there), as an excuse for not following the normal procedure of putting allegations of an affair to her two subjects prior to publication.
Um, it's more than "a claim":  in the Australian this morning she has the communication from then editor Mitchell confirming that not only had Credlin demanded it, but Abbott was on the case too!

And, quite frankly, your average person might think it is a pretty damn good reason for a writer not to bother asking them about an affair, especially when the claim in the book is not even that there were having one, but that a large slab of their own party thought it looked that way and that it was causing problems within the government.  (And Abbott's - and I think Credlin's? -  denials to the messenger is in the book too.)    Working up indignation about her not asking them is therefore just piffle.

As for the hypocrisy of all of this - a word Bolt is flinging around with his lack of insight - I thought Righties considered it an outrage when Gillard did her nut at The Australian for running a Milne piece which contained a claim that had previously been nixed by their lawyers as defamatory.   We don't know if she asked for his sacking, but he got sacked, and then this was supposed to be the biggest outrage to freedom of speech ever.

Now, clear evidence that Credlin (and possibly Abbott) was specifically telling Mitchell to sack Savva for her reporting unfriendly stories, and we're supposed to feel sorry for Peta??

Gillard, as her reward for being uppity about a report she didn't like, got a plethora of Right wing purely politically motivated witch hunting lasting years over allegations involving her love life  20 years ago, which had already been aired and denied about (I think) 12 years ago, and which Bolt chose to help re-publicise.   The end result was always predictable - if none of her internal enemies had evidence 12 years ago, they were hardly likely to turn it up now.  And the relevance of this to how she was doing her job now - precisely nil.   (The relevance of the Abbott/Credlin relationship - huge within his own party, right now.)  The only good thing to come out of it was the utter humiliation of Michael Smith.

The right wing pundits are absurd.   (Oh, and to be fair, so is Bernard Keane on this.  He's way off mark on this.)

Filming has started

Star Wars redux: Send in the Clones . . . to Donegal

It would appear that the filming for the next Star Wars has started on the island where the last one ended.

How unusually chronological of them, for movie makers...


US pro-gun activist mother shot - by her four-year-old son

She's not dead, so it's OK to laugh.

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Good Lord! Another columnist I wouldn't normally recommend... Miranda Devine, but her take on the matter of Credlin/Abbott/various Lefty, feminist commentators' complaint that this is a matter of sexist attack is actually pretty good.   Also a bit funny (unintentionally, I think) in part:
She has denied the rumours and that should be the end of speculation based on evidence amounting to no more than Credlin feeding Abbott off her fork, buying them matching Tumi luggage, holidaying together, and various other tidbits, mainly unsourced, which have swirled around Canberra for years.
Yes, because a male boss and his female chief of staff holidaying together with matching luggage is never a reason to suspect something going on...

Anyhow, the bits I more-or-less approve of:
Savva’s book documents the avoidable trajectory of his downfall, with on-the-record recollections which fill in details about Credlin’s questionable behaviour and dominance of Abbott.
Despite the damage she was doing, Credlin remained in her job. Her response to criticism was to play the gender card. Abbott’s indulgence of this nonsense was surreal as he castigated his colleagues as sexist. “Do you really think that my chief of staff would be under this criticism if her name was P-e-t-e-r and not P-e-t-a?” he asked the ABC in 2014.
The week after Abbott was dumped, Credlin spoke at an Australian Women’s Weekly event and also blamed criticism of her on sexism. She also made the extraordinarily self-aggrandising claim that she “got them into government, from opposition I might add.”
Credlin’s harshest critics were women, not because they are self loathing misogynists, but because men are cowed into silence by exactly the arguments she mounts. Criticise a woman and it’s sexism. Criticise a man and it’s criticism.
Credlin continued to play the gender card yesterday in a column, saying she wasn’t the first woman to be attacked about the “nature of her professional relationships, and sadly I doubt I will be the last”. Abbott’s not the first man either, so it’s hardly a gender issue.

What a farce

Turnbull heckled by own party as NSW Liberals vote for climate debates - Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has reportedly been heckled by parts of his party at a meeting where NSW Liberals voted for his government to conduct public debates about climate change and whether the science is settled.

An overwhelming majority voted in favour of the motion at the party's state council meeting on the NSW central coast following a speech by Mr Turnbull at the weekend, revealing the persisting level of climate change scepticism among the party, the Sydney Morning Herald reports.
I am reminded of John Quiggin's "Parallel Universes" post of yesterday, too.

I think the right side of politics here is caught in the sort of credibility crisis that Labor suffered in the 50's and 60's, when (if I understand history correctly), it was hard to support a party that harboured too many with an intellectual sympathy to communism.

The climate change skeptics have to be purged before the Coalition can regain true credibility for political judgement.   As many of them are IPA influenced, and the nearest party to that mob is the LDP, they should be told to go join Leyonhjelm's outfit and follow him into electoral oblivion.

A Trump comparison

Boy, it's been many a year since I've recommended a Bret Stephens piece from the Wall Street Journal, but I think he makes many good points in this anti-Trump piece "The Return of the 1930s", which starts this way:
In temperament, he was “bombastic, inconsistent, shallow and vainglorious.” On political questions, “he made up his own reality as he went along.” Physically, the qualities that stood out were “the scowling forehead, the rolling eyes, the pouting mouth.” His “compulsive exhibitionism was part of his cult of machismo.” He spoke “in short, strident sentences.” Journalists mocked his “absurd attitudinizing.”
Remind you of someone?
The description of Benito Mussolini comes from English historian Piers Brendon’s definitive history of the 1930s, “The Dark Valley.” So does this mean that Donald Trump is the second coming of Il Duce, or that yesteryear’s Fascists are today’s Trumpkins? Not exactly. But that doesn’t mean we should be indifferent to the parallels with the last dark age of Western politics.
Stephens then goes to note how the current period of economic problems do not go anywhere near matching those of the 1920's and 30's.  In fact, he goes on to point to the positives in the American economy, as a way of deflating the Trump fanbase's feelings that the country needs a new, quasi-fascist,  style of leaderhsip.

But - and here's the big but - why doesn't Stephens then go onto to acknowledge that the Republican's own hyperbola about the economic crisis Obama was allegedly causing was not well founded, and it is their own behaviour that has caused the rise of the Trump base?

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Typical Razer

Razer on Peta Credlin, Niki Savva and primordial female horror | Daily Review: film, stage and music reviews, interviews and more

This somewhat hyperbolic review of merely the extracts of Niki Savva's book displays all the qualities that I dislike in Helen Razor's writing style.   She's not even entertainingly bad, though:  she's just a self indulgent bore  whose clumsy sentences and allusions have to be re-read a couple of times to even try to follow her argument.   (Only to find it wasn't worth the effort.)

Does sound unusual for March

Mildura set to swelter - so supplier cuts power for scheduled maintenance work: Almost 200 households in Mildura will be without power on Tuesday thanks to scheduled maintenance work, despite temperatures forecast to hit 40 degrees for the eighth day in a row.

Age expired

I see that John Stone still writes trying to influence Australian politicians to cut, cut, cut:
That "fiscal path" comprised four components. First, "all ministers should now be put on notice that there will be no room for new spending proposals, no matter how 'worthy'". Second, existing spending needed to be cut hard. "The problem is not the absence of targets for cutting, but the government's faint-heartedness in approaching that task". Third, any and all tax increases should be firmly ruled out. Finally, as one carrot among these sticks, the government should legislate for a 5 (or preferably 10) percentage point cut in corporate taxation, introduced in five equal yearly stages beginning in 2015-16.

He seems to have been old forever, and indeed, I see that he is now 87.  Sorry, according to my rule of thumb, that is past the age where anyone is worth listening to.  (I'm really going to regret this age-ist approach when I'm 87 and still blogging - but by then I'll have had therapies that will mean 87 will be the new 67.  I hope...)

Anyhow, to stop being offensive about our elders, I suspect a 5% company tax reduction phased in over 5 years is probably OK.    But apart from that - the insistence that there is to be no new tax increases of any kind - that's just ideology put above good management. 

I wonder what he would have to say - if he was worth listening to - about the abject failure of the Laffer-isation of Kansas's finances.  That's working a treat.

Hedonism in the news, again

The poppers ban: will it criminalise gay users? | Society | The Guardian

I maintain my conservative line:  the self indulgent hedonism of artificial stimulation to increase the sensation of sex is not good for the individual or society overall.  

Dealer needed

Can very small doses of LSD make you a better worker? I decided to try it. - Vox

I see from the article, written by a man with a lot of previous drug experience, that all I need to beat an internet addiction is to "microdose" with LSD.  Huh.

Mind you, the article is probably best read to learn about some of the over the top pro-drug claims that are still made by later day versions of Thomas Leary.

The future of agriculture and climate change

Here are two stories that show how it's really hard to be confident as to what will happen to agriculture and climate change:

1.   A study looking at South America gives some concern:
The study, published in Nature Climate Change, focused on the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso, an emerging global breadbasket that as of 2013 supplied 10 percent of the world's soybeans. The researchers used variations in temperature and precipitation across the state over an eight-year period to estimate the sensitivity of the region's agricultural production to . Those historical comparisons can help in making predictions about the sensitivity of agriculture to future climate change.

The study found that, if the patterns from 2002 to 2008 hold in the future, an increase in average temperature in Mato Grosso of just 1 degree Celsius will lead to a nine to 13 percent reduction in overall production of soy and corn. "This is worrisome given that the temperature in the study region is predicted to rise by as much as 2 degrees by midcentury under the range of plausible greenhouse gas emissions scenarios," said Avery Cohn, assistant professor of environment and resource policy at Tufts, who led the work while he was a visiting researcher at Brown.
2.  An Australian study, on the other hand, notes some possible compensating effects:
Elevated atmospheric [CO2] can dramatically increase wheat yields in semi-arid environments and buffer against heat waves

PS:  don't tell the numbskulls at The Australian about that second one....

Transgender caution

Obviously, the politically correct name for sex change surgery is now "gender affirming surgery"

Still, the article at that link is worth reading to see that a guy/woman who has had it noting that it is not the cure all that some hope for.