Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Slow news day

Some days, the morning scan of the internet just doesn't bring up anything all that obviously blogworthy.

So, just a bit of conservative Catholic trolling instead:  this photo will irritate them:

The story, even more so:
Pope Francis awarded medals to George Clooney, Salma Hayek and Richard Gere in recognition of their contributions to a Vatican education project.
The Hollywood stars were in Rome on Sunday at an event for the Scholas Occurentes (Schools Meet) global educational initiative that Pope Francis launched.
Scholas Occurentes works in 82 countries with 400,000 schools and other education institutions, aiming to bring together children from different cultures and religions.

Funny, isn't it, how the cultural warrior, climate change denying, conservative Catholics are less concerned about wildly erratic Donald Trump becoming President than they are about Pope Francis.

Speaking of Trump (and breaking my own complaint that there are too many words being written about him), here's someone who finds that Trump's scattergun approach to avoiding answers reminds him of his late father's early Alzheimer's strategy.   I see that Trump is 70, but you get the impression he may have always blustered like that in private.  Still, I can see how his manner does look like the avoidance strategy of someone with early dementia...

Monday, May 30, 2016

Prediction vindicated

I made a very specific prediction in September 2014 about Helen Dale's future as a high profile staffer for Senator Leyonhjelm:
Update 2:   I'll make a prediction:  she will not be in the job for more than a year or two.
And so, it has come to pass, and not even via her losing her job if Leyonhjelm fails to be re-elected in the unexpectedly early election.  Having held the position for, what, 20 months, how more accurate could I possibly be?

Says Leyonhjelm:
"I'm disappointed [Helen Dale] chose to quit in the middle of a very intense campaign, but I expected her to leave after the election anyway," Senator Leyonhjelm wrote in the email dated May 28.

In maths news

Two-hundred-terabyte maths proof is largest ever : Nature News

Well, I didn't know this:
Computer-assisted proofs too large to be directly verifiable by humans
have become commonplace, and mathematicians are familiar with computers
that solve problems in combinatorics — the study of finite discrete
structures — by checking through umpteen individual cases. Still, “200
terabytes is unbelievable”, says Ronald Graham, a mathematician at the
University of California, San Diego. The previous record-holder is
thought to be a 13-gigabyte proof2, published in 2014.
And how big is a 200Tb proof?:
...roughly equivalent to all the digitized text held by the US Library of
Congress. The researchers have created a 68-gigabyte compressed version
of their solution — which would allow anyone with about 30,000 hours of
spare processor time to download, reconstruct and verify it — but a
human could never hope to read through it.

Out of sight, out of mind

The Philippines has 1.8 million abandoned children. Here's what keeps many from adoption - LA Times

It seems to me that the matter of extreme poverty in the Philippines does not get much attention in the Western media these days.  This story paints a very bleak picture of the problem there, right in Manila.

Weekend stuff

*  I reckon Jamelle Bouie at Slate is spot on about Trump:
All of this raises a question: If the media didn’t make Trump popular—if it’s actually done the reverse—then how did he win the Republican primary? One answer is that Trump has broken the rules of politics—he’s killed the dungeon master, changed the character sheets, rewritten American politics into a game of his own making. This isn’t just wrong, it buys into the myth of Trump as a force of will and power who can reshape reality to his liking.

The better explanation, the one that treats Trump like an important force but not a dispositive one, is that Donald Trump won the Republican primary because the Republican Party is broken. Years of disdain—for moderation, for compromise, for governance, expertise, and conventional qualifications—have merged with long-exploited currents of bigotry to produce an electorate primed for a man like Donald Trump. Republicans put a Trump-like figure on the 2008 presidential ticket, backed Trump-like figures in the 2012 primaries, and even solicited Trump himself for an endorsement that same year. It was only a matter of time before Republican voters clamored for the real deal.
If you trace Trump to institutional failure within the Republican Party, then it’s hard to say he can scramble the general electorate like he did the primary one. For all of its problems, the two party contest isn’t dysfunctional; Democrats will fight hard to stop Trump. CNN taking the bait and airing his bluster 24/7 isn’t going to help him.
*  The New York Times has people pointing out that Trump's "energy policy" is just empty sloganeering, with no attention to economic reality.  Apart from the matter of how long OPEC will make oil so cheap that its getting uneconomic to drill for it in parts of the US, there's the obvious contradiction of this:
One major consequence of the surge in domestic natural gas production has been a turn by electricity generators toward gas from coal. That has cost thousands of coal jobs. Yet Mr. Trump has both vowed to increase natural gas production even as he promises to restore coal jobs, scoffed Robert N. Stavins, director of the environmental economics program at Harvard.
“Trump will presumably support less regulation and other actions to encourage greater use of fracking. That would tend to lower natural gas prices,” Mr. Stavins wrote in an email. “And, therefore, Trump’s promised support of greater natural gas fracking would actually have the effect of lowering demand for coal, causing more mines to close.”
Mr. Stavins added, “He can’t have it both ways — talk up expanding natural gas supply when in North Dakota, and talk about bringing back coal mining jobs when in Kentucky!”
* As far as I can tell, Trump is getting more and more popular at Catallaxy threads - a sure sign that his appeal is to aging, sexist, white, mostly male culture warriors who are easily swayed by politicians for all the wrong reasons. 

Perhaps JC, who was getting all excited about the Trump "let the oil and gas flow" policy can explain here in comments the error in the NYT's article.

*  Speaking of stupidity at Catallaxy, here's lizzie, self confessed (actually, self proclaimed) trophy wife; nanny employing, continually jet setting mother for whom I think the term "the vanity press" might have been coined, following the Steve Kates' line:
In the popular mind, anthropogenic climate change, an unproven hypothesis, is looking less and less like a scientific proposition these days (not that it ever did to those with a critical eye), more and more like the green fable that it is.
Yes, even after "the pause" has ended quite spectacularly, Sydney having an unusually warm autumn, the Arctic ice cap looking set for a new record melt, and each year being globally hotter than the previous for - how years now? - it's more like a "green fable".   Nothing will convince her, short of her rich husband having a conversion.

*  It seemed that it was a unusual weekend for lightning in Europe, no?

Friday, May 27, 2016

The remote community problem

Just to further confound matters regarding the sad state of aboriginal affairs (particularly regarding Aurukun, which seems to have been on a long term descent into increasing dysfunction, despite much government attention), I was just listening to Warren Entsch - the straight talking Liberal with outback "cred" -  putting a lot of the blame on the education system that Noel Pearson has been championing.

Here I thought Pearson was a bit of a hero to the right side of politics, and his idea that kids finish their education at boarding schools sounds intuitively a good idea to us white folk down south.

Yet Entsch says that the kids don't have the educational and social skills to cope with the boarding school when they arrive, frequently run away and end up back in Aurukun in a more hopeless position than before.

Here's a summary of his take on the matter, from yesterday's news.

Pearson seems to be blaming other things, although I'm not sure what he expects.   Teachers up there to live in isolated camps with barbed wire around them?

But then I see today that his idea is to get many, many more kids out of Aurukun into work experience elsewhere, presumably with the (not so clearly stated) intention that they don't go back there to live:
The high-profile indigenous leader confirmed last night that in-community schooling was halted at Year 7 two years ago after his Cape York Academy was brought in to pilot welfare reform.
But Mr Pearson said there should be no going back to offering high school to Year 10, as was formerly the case in Aurukun, as this had been “extended child-minding” that had no value to stud­ents who didn’t want to be in class.
Instead, a scheme that has put eight Aurukun young people to work fruit-picking and in a South Australian abattoir should be widened to cover the “shadow group” of youths at the centre of a security scare that forced the evacuation of local primary school teachers for the second time in a month and the school to close.
“We just need to scale it up by 10,” Mr Pearson told The Australian. “Instead of eight, we need 80. And after six months of fruit-picking or on a harvest trail or in an abattoir … you will then have the basis for entry-level labourers to go on to work in a mine or in a fulltime job.
“Our problem and challenge is we have to scale up the number of youth who are taken out of an ­environment that is pretty toxic to them.”
Well, I guess this makes sense:  really,hasn't it always seemed logical that remote aboriginal communities that do not have any connection to economic activity are always likely to be full of social problems.   Put a bunch of unemployed white people in the same situation, and you wouldn't expect much different.

And even when there is just one economic activity near a remote community, such as one mine, or luxury resort, I get the impression that only a handful of the locals usually have the skill set and discipline to get a good living out of working for it. 

But Pearson's suggestion is a hell of an expensive way to try to encourage people away from living in such places.  And if they get the work experience, but end up back at Aurukun to be near kin, and just go back on welfare because there is no economic activity there, it would have been for nothing...

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Local custom enforced

Swiss region: Muslim boys must shake female teachers' hands - The Jakarta Post

Can't say I am feeling any sympathy for the Muslims concerned:
The Central Islamic Council of Switzerland accused the authorities of
"grossly overstepping their competency," saying such measures won't help
integration but rather contribute to a feeling of alienation among
Muslims. The council said it would take legal action against any effort
to apply the sanctions, and ignore any fines.
It's only a handshake, for goodness sake.

Update:  mind you, ultra Orthodox Jews can be unreasonable about the proximity to women, too:
In a similar case based on religious beliefs, media reports said an 81-year-old Jewish lawyer is suing the Israeli airline El Al after being asked to move on a New York- Tel Aviv flight in December when an ultra-orthodox Jewish man objected to sitting next to her. 

A very sarcastic piece on Thiel

How Can We Make You Happy Today, Peter Thiel? | WIRED

Buried within the story - the part the Republicans won't want to talk about

Hillary Clinton Is Criticized for Private Emails in State Dept. Review - The New York Times: The report found that while dozens of State Department employees used personal email accounts periodically over the years, only three officials were found to have used it “exclusively” for day-to-day operations: Mrs. Clinton; Colin Powell, the secretary of state under President George W. Bush; and Scott Gration, the ambassador to Kenya from 2011 to 2012.

While State Department officials never directly told Mrs. Clinton or Mr. Powell that they needed to end their use of personal email, the report found, they did do so with Mr. Gration, a lower-level diplomat who did not have the same political clout.

So I'm more Marxist than I knew?

I don't always find Yanis Varoufakis that good in interviews:  I sometimes find his economic advice a bit hard to follow.

But here in an article that shows us The Guardian as the wild mix of the silly and the sensible that it is (see my previous post),  Varoufakis calls himself an "erratic Marxist" and seems to me to make much sense.   (I thought Jason Soon respected his views - but I hadn't realised what a polar opposite of a small government proponent he is.)   Take this paragraph, for example:
“Because what Australians do not understand is that there is a major disconnect between the United States’ official ideology and its practice. The ideology is one of free market, but the practice is one of a state that is extremely activist, and is investing very heavily in whole networks of innovation and production: the military industrial complex, the medical industrial complex, even the prison industrial complex. They are investing heavily through the state to create networks of value creation, and actually producing things. And Australia is moving very rapidly into divesting itself of actual production.”
And how about this paragraph (which would mark him in the mind of Sinclair Davidson and the IPA as the economic Anti-Christ):
The idea that individuals create wealth and that all governments do is come along and tax them is what Varoufakis calls “a preposterous reversal of the truth”.
“There is an amazing myth in our enterprise culture that wealth is created individually and then appropriated by the state to be distributed.
“We are conceptualising what is happening in society as if we are an archipelago of Robinson Crusoes, everybody on an island, creating our own thing individually and then a boat comes along and collects it and redistributes it. It’s not true. We are not individual producers, we produce things collectively.”
 He sounds also as if he would be completely in favour of the Labor policy on negative gearing.

I like him more than I realised. 

Every time you think we've reached "Peak Guardian", it turns out wrong

Look, I'm a bit reluctant to give this publicity, but the reason the article is a new "peak Guardian" is not so much that it appears on their site per se, but the way the opening paragraph invites sympathetic understanding:
It’s easy to laugh at a grown man in a rubber dog suit chewing on a squeaky toy. Maybe too easy, in fact, because to laugh is to dismiss it, denigrate it – ignore the fact that many of us have found comfort and joy in pretending to be animals at some point in our lives.
As you might expect, though, the comments thread is very active, and very mocking.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Quantum saves free will - again?

New Age-ish books on quantum physics in the 70's and 80's, as well as the quantum mind theory of Penrose and Hameroff,* seemed to provide grounds to argue that, in one way or another, quantum effects could be key to consciousness, and even free will.

This likeable use of quantum theory (well, for those of us who think the concept of free will is important) has  become unpopular with modern physicists and hard nosed, atheistic, philosophers, with the likes of Sean Carroll, Sabine Hossenfelder, Sam Harris and a host of others arguing that, basically, you're a doofus who doesn't understand science properly if you think there could possibly be true free will, or "downwards causation" by the mind.

[And, by the way - I have my doubts that they are being consistent - or honest - when they argue that the lack of true free will does not mean you have to give up on notions of morality and socially important things like punishment for crime.  But that should be a matter for another post.]

Anyhow, this is all preamble to a link to a paper on arXiv which, as papers at that site go, is understandable for quite large sections, and argues that, properly understood, quantum mechanics does indeed mean there are emergent new properties, and "downward causation".

Now, I have read it through once, and do not understand every point.  Or perhaps even the key point, properly.

But it doesn't sound nutty - much of what they cover I have read enough to know is not nonsense - and it seems that the authors promise another paper specifically on free will.

I have to say this paper appeals strongly to me because of the frequent reaction I have to the anti free will physicists:  it's very odd that they are perfectly willing to ask me to swallow logs of intuitive nonsense (such as it being quite possible that there are continually created versions of me wandering off into non accessible multiple universes of the Many Worlds Theory) while at the same time calling me an idiot for believing the speck that is most naturally intuitive thing in the world - that I am free to choose whether to write this post, or not.   And yes, although it sounds paradoxical at first, but the wildly non intuitive results of quantum theory does seem to be the "natural" place where one might find something that feels intuitive, but on paper isn't supposed to be there.

Am I making sense?   (I wondered the other day, incidentally, whether the idea of the entire universe "downward causing" itself in a giant time loop that future intelligence creates - I am still fond of Tipler's Omega Point ideas - might have some implication for believing in more localised downward causation.)

Who knows:  this might be an important paper for the rehabilitation of free will amongst physicists, and those who doubt their own experience of life.

Here's the abstract:
We show that several interpretations of quantum mechanics admit an ontology of objects and events. This ontology reduces the breach between mind and matter. When humans act, their actions do not appear explainable in mechanical terms but through mental activity: motives, desires or needs that propel them to action. These are examples of what in the last few decades have come to be called "downward causation". Basically, downward causation is present when the disposition of the whole to behave in a certain way cannot be predicted from the dispositions of the parts. The event ontology of quantum mechanics allow us to show that systems in entangled states present emergent new properties and downward causation.
Now, I should re-read it to see if more sinks in... 

* Their microtubules and quantum effects theory is not, by the way, entirely dead yet.  See this report from 2014.

Will it last?

As more states legalize marijuana, adolescents' problems with pot decline: Fewer adolescents also report using marijuana -- ScienceDaily

Interesting to read that marijuana use amongst teens in America overall seems to have declined a bit from 2002 to 2013.  Is there a reason it has become not so cool to try or use it?

In any event, with the high profile change in State law in Colorado taking effect only in late 2013, and with other States following, it will be interesting to see if this holds up.


Spielberg to speak at 365th Commencement | Harvard Gazette

I'll be looking out for the Youtube of that...

Update:  and to further bolster my belief that he is a genuinely nice guy, as well as being the most talented  director who has ever lived, a comment from actor Mark Rylance, who has worked with him twice now:  

Sex and the law

I take it from this article that, with reform of Queensland laws, the effective age of consent in all Australian states will be 16, regardless of the type of sex involved.  No, wait a minute, it's still basically 17 in South Australia, apparently.  And Tasmania.

I see that some Australian States do have the sense to also have "Romeo and Juliet" laws, which provide a defence if the age difference is not more than 2 (or 3, or even 5[?!]) years.  (In fact, it is Tasmania with the high age of 17 that has laws allowing a defence if up to 5 years age difference.  Odd.)

Queensland doesn't, though.   Wouldn't that seem a sensible reform?   If even Texas has it, can't we?

On a related issue, I did feel sorry for the old guys who appeared in the report on 7.30 last night who attended the Victorian government's apology for past governments having criminalised homosexual sex.  From this point in history, it is a little hard to understand the intense interest in policing such activities in the mid 20th century.   I guess part of it may have to do with people hating the idea of public sexual activity, which is something still to be disdained; but the irony is, I suppose, that making it a crime even in private almost certainly encouraged secretive and opportunistic liaisons in public.    

We all love reading about ancient toilets, no?

From an interesting feature article at Nature News, about ancient toilets:

Asteroid uncertainty?

How Big Are Those Killer Asteroids? A Critic Says NASA Doesn’t Know. - The New York Times

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Can you imagine the Gamergate guys' reaction to this?

It's Bond, Jane Bond: Gillian Anderson throws hat into the ring to be next 007 | Film | The Guardian

Stop paying attention

My feeling is that there are way too many words being written about Donald Trump. 

He's a joke who was helped to get where he is with minimal spend because of the fascination of the media with how far a joke campaigner could go.  Now the media is full of "maybe he's not a joke after all!" semi-panicked writing from all and sundry, on the basis of a polling boost from winning the nomination.   (Even though American polling is fraught with complications and a post nomination boost is not unusual.)

All this attention gives him a de facto credibility he doesn't deserve.   Not only that, it feeds his attention seeking bad behaviour.

I would suggest pundits ignore him til the Democrats stop squabbling and settle on Clinton;  perhaps even longer, to see how he performs in a head to head debate with her. 

I remain very calm that there is no way he will become President.

Not very encouraging

Chinese banks sitting on $1.7 trillion debt time bomb - ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

At least, I suppose, in China you get a sense of active government involvement to head off any crisis.  In the West, it seems you don't enough economists even recognising the possibility of a crisis (and hence no government action) until it happens.

The IPA seeking fools, and their money

I won't post the video directly, but here, you can view it on the IPA's virtual blog.

A few observations:

*  does the IPA have some sort of grooming rules?   They tend to do their PR with young, very well groomed, men and women, with nary a hair out of place.   (Or, in the case of Sinclair Davidson, with nary a hair.)    Chris Berg is perhaps the exception - his slightly shaggy "do" puts him a bit on the outer.

*  I'd love to see the membership broken down by age - the video suggests a bit of a numbers gap in the middle age range.  The organisation is either for young, foolish, idealists (sort like the way the libertarian movement in the US attracts some of the college set, with some rebelling against their parent's views, no doubt), or the over 60's cashed-up-too-old-to-be-idealists-but-defiantly-foolish-despite-their-age set.

*  the video quite heavily promotes its credentials as a voice against climate change action.  When might the media (and which means the ABC, by and large) start  actively calling out the talking heads from that organisation for their involvement with an organisation that has spent years trying to persuade the public that climate change does not even exist?

I'm pretty sick of this:   as I'm sure I have complained before, why let the affable Chris Berg off the hook when he wants to present as Mr Reasonable Dry Right on matters economic and political when he is working for an organisation that has a position that is already completely unreasonable, if not down right evil, in terms of promoting the interests of the mining sector over humanity's long term interests?

Rise of the Kraken

Cephalopods like it hot, apparently:
Gillanders noted that after the El Niño and La Niña phenomena of 1997-98, for instance, warm Pacific waters apparently affected whole populations of Humboldt squid (also known as jumbo flying squid): unusually large Humboldts were found in large numbers swimming off Mexico, Peru and Chile.
The squid, which live longer than most other squid (two years, rather than one), can grow to nearly 5ft: after El Niño, they were found weighing between 25lb and 88lb.
More than a decade later, the long-lived squid were found to have adapted to the 2009-10 El Niño by moving 100 miles north of their usual territory. Others moved into the open ocean and began breeding much earlier than normal.

10 Degrees in Two Hundred Years?

I suppose a couple of cautions are in order:   I haven't seen any of the big names in climate science comment on this yet, and one of the authors is a Greens politician;  but still, this seems an interesting look at what may happen if you were to burn all fossil fuel reserves.  The abstract:
Concrete actions to curtail greenhouse gas emissions have so far been limited on a global scale1, and therefore the ultimate magnitude of climate change in the absence of further mitigation is an important consideration for climate policy2. Estimates of fossil fuel reserves and resources are highly uncertain, and the amount used under a business-as-usual scenario would depend on prevailing economic and technological conditions. In the absence of global mitigation actions, five trillion tonnes of carbon (5 EgC), corresponding to the lower end of the range of estimates of the total fossil fuel resource3, is often cited as an estimate of total cumulative emissions4, 5, 6. An approximately linear relationship between global warming and cumulative CO2 emissions is known to hold up to 2 EgC emissions on decadal to centennial timescales7, 8, 9, 10, 11; however, in some simple climate models the predicted warming at higher cumulative emissions is less than that predicted by such a linear relationship8. Here, using simulations12 from four comprehensive Earth system models13, we demonstrate that CO2-attributable warming continues to increase approximately linearly up to 5 EgC emissions. These models simulate, in response to 5 EgC of CO2 emissions, global mean warming of 6.4–9.5°C, mean Arctic warming of 14.7–19.5°C, and mean regional precipitation increases by more than a factor of four. These results indicate that the unregulated exploitation of the fossil fuel resource could ultimately result in considerably more profound climate changes than previously suggested.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Just don't do it

Three-person embryos may fail to vanquish mutant mitochondria : Nature News & Comment

Once again, I ask - why do this at all?   It's a bit sad that it's not safe for every mother to be able to have their own genes in their children, but with the ability to carry an embryo (via egg donation) with at least their partner's genetic heritage, they can still have the experience of carrying a child.

It's pretty much like the ultimate "First World problem", and I don't understand why medical science is so interested in fiddling with genetic material to solve it.

I still don't understand the dairy industry (and a segue into Heat In India)

There are two recent articles about the problems with the Australian dairy industry:   one in Fairfax by Peter Martin, and this one in The Conversation:  Murray Goulburn and Fonterra are playing chicken with dairy farmers, but I still don't really understand what is going on.

To do so, I need to understand more about dairy internationally. What happens to all the New Zealand exported dairy, for example? And I thought that to a large extent, New Zealand's recent financial success had largely been built on the back of their cows. If there are some international changes hurting the industry there, how will it affect their farmers, and budget bottom line?

It's funny, though, how it would seem that the sense most people have probably had for a few years now, that the price of supermarket milk just seems too cheap to be viable, may finally be being shown to be true.

Or, I could be wrong on that, too. I mean, I also find the price of carrots hard to believe; and have my doubts about how asparagus farmers in California, Mexico or Peru could find it worth their while to fly produce to Australia.  The economics of food seems full of surprises, to me...

Update:  by the way, which country do you think would be the world's biggest producer of milk?   According to the Times of India:
NEW DELHI: Dairy business provides livelihood to 60 million rural households in India and the country continues to be the largest producer of milk in the world, but global warming could result in adversely impacting the overall output in the coming years. 
 Speaking of India and climate change:  did you see the new all time record set last week of 51 degrees?   It's hard to believe that this is not killing hundreds of people there, but that aspect of the recent heat is not getting much publicity.  

Oh, here we go, a recent news story confirming the deaths caused in just one city:
NEW DELHI: Even Dante would’ve winced. Since the last week, with temperatures climbing  to 47 degree Celsius, Delhi is hot as hell. Around  350 have died on the streets. Water shortage of 7,949 lakh litres a day is dehydrating the city; a family uses 225 liters of water a day. Power outages are up to five hours daily as a result of a 20 per cent increase in demand up to 6,044 megawatts. But “no sweat” is the attitude of the Delhi government, which has no on the ground to handle the situation. In 2014, the Delhi High Court constituted a Joint Apex Advisory Committee (JAAC) to look into lack of summer shelter homes, but the committee has not held a single meeting in the last two years. The reason being Delhi government officials are too busy in “some other work” to even participate in any initiative to address the issue. But Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, who has promised to compensate those affected by unscheduled power cuts issued a threat to power companies and asked them to limit power cuts to two hours on Saturday. “I have copies of official communication from Delhi government where it has said that the JAAC meeting can’t be held as officials are busy in other work. It seems that government is not concerned about people dying on street because of heat,” said Sunil Kumar Aledia of Centre for Holistic Development (CHD).
A majority of heat related deaths were of the homeless, their bodies found on roads, pavements and other open areas like parks, says CHD. The organisation works with the state government’s Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board (DUSIB) for improving the conditions in shelter homes.
 I get the feeling that the lack of news reporting about deaths caused by heat waves may be explained by a couple of things - that it happens to some extent most summers, and also, the politicians don't like it to be publicised.

Weekend round up

*  Finally managed to bribe my kids to accompany me in seeing The Jungle Book, but only one of them so far is admitting that it was an enjoyable movie.  (The other is deliberately depriving me of the pleasure of saying "you were right:  I did like it.") 

It's hard to believe that anyone could really take a positive dislike to it - it has charm; looks great; the animated animals do such good animated animal acting (it really is amazing to think how much the people who create these in the computer must think about it - they sometimes just convey meaning through the slightest movement of the eyes, for example); and it has a certain gravitas that I like to see in children's movies.  If any reader does see it, you must also stay during the credits to listen to some good versions of the songs which play on over them.   I was very impressed.

*  Made good osso buco in the pressure cooker.  This is easy, but my special ingredient is - when frying off the meat (liberally dusted in seasoned flour) in the pressure cooker first, near the end throw in a teaspoon of fennel seeds, and maybe half a teaspoon or so of cumin seeds. 

The rest of the recipe:  take the meat out, then fry up some diced onion, celery and carrot, as well as cup or two of skinned diced roma tomatoes.   (I think fresh tomatoes give a nicer result than canned, but of course, they'll work quite well too).  Then put the meat back in, top up the liquid with some wine (a cup or so?), put the lid on and cook at pressure for 30 minutes or so.  Very tasty.

By the way, it was on some cooking show by an American Italian mother (I forget her name) that she recommended a bit of sugar when cooking tomatoes into a sauce.  Helps bring out the flavour, she said.   I tend to do that myself now, but on Saturday, I also used a not very dry rose for the osso buco - a somewhat sweeter wine than would usually be recommended for cooking meat.   But maybe that was why the sauce seemed to come out particularly nice this time?    I'm not sure...

*  Election round up - I heard it said on Insiders that polling for Labor in Queensland is not looking good.  Can this account for why the betting markets seem increasingly sure of a Coalition win, but Newspoll keeps showing a very close result, with national TPP in favour of Labor?

Why would the Queensland voters have turned strongly against Labor?   It's not as if any defence spending has been thrown Queensland's way, and how can Labor take the blame for Clive Palmer's failure to keep his plant open in Townsville?   I have long said that voters in Queensland are just weird and fickle.  They can never be properly understood.

Friday, May 20, 2016

What fool in the AFP made this decision?

It's absurd to think that it would have not have occurred to the AFP that conducting a "raid" on a Labor Senator and Labor staff on a matter not relating in any way to national security during an election campaign would be potentially politically damaging to the raided party.

And although the primary risk of political harm is to Labor,  there is a chance that Turnbull is also annoyed, given a risk of "blowback" due to suspicion that the government had a role in the timing, no matter how improbable that might be.

[Oh, I hear someone thinking - well, if the political risk is to both parties, then the AFP may as well go ahead anyway.   I would not agree - if the investigation is into a non urgent matter, not relating to national security, and has obvious potential to influence voter's perceptions no matter how it is explained them, then it is foolish of the AFP to be raiding any political party during an election campaign.]

I am curious as to what the Right wingers in the media will say about this.  I don't have high hopes - they are completely on side with Border Force bribing people smugglers on the high seas, and acting completely without public scrutiny under cloak of fake "operational matters" secrecy; but I could be wrong....

Update:  happily, I was wrong, in that even Andrew Bolt is questioning the AFP decision.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Oh dear

Henry Kissinger’s War Crimes Are Central to the Divide Between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders

I didn't realise when I mocked Trump saying he'd meet Kissinger for foreign policy advice that Hilary Clinton says she sought his "counsel" when she was Secretary of State!

I also had missed this part of the Kissinger sin (from the same article above):
Personal involvement in a plan to kidnap and murder a journalist living in Washington, D.C.
I see from Googling Hitchen's book on Kissinger, that this was to do with Greek journalist Elias Demetracopoulos, and it was a Greek government plan which, by virtue of some pretty strong indirect evidence, Kissinger had approved.  

A bit of a worry...

England’s chief medical officer warns of ‘antibiotic apocalypse’ | Society | The Guardian

Bohm may be back

Pilot-Wave Theory Gains Experimental Support | Quanta Magazine

I hadn't heard of this recent support for Bohm's approach to quantum physics until this article - but Bee tweeted it, so it must be OK.  

Stop thinking you are a computer

Your brain does not process information and it is not a computer | Aeon Essays

Good essay.

Yet more on Trump stupidity

The Know-Nothing Tide - The New York Times

This paragraph was interesting, in particular:

Speaking of Israel, Trump says, “President Obama has not been a friend
to Israel.” Right, he has not been a friend to the tune of over $20.5
billion in foreign military financing since 2009. He has not been a
friend by providing over $1.3 billion for the Iron Dome defense system
alone since 2011. He has not been a friend by, in 2014, opposing 18
resolutions in the United Nations General Assembly that were biased
against Israel; by helping to organize in 2015 the first U.N. General
Assembly session on anti-Semitism in the history of the body; and by
working tirelessly on a two-state peace, not least on the security
arrangements for Israel that are among its preconditions. He has not
been a friend by turning the other cheek in the face of what Nancy
Pelosi once called “the insult to the intelligence of the United States”
from Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

The parties' weakest members

An election campaign is generally pretty dull until you get to the policy speeches, and this one is certainly no exception.  But I thought I would list those characters who are obviously the most annoying from each party:

Liberals:   Peter Dutton wins hands down.  It's hard to imagine anyone liking him, no matter what side of politics, isn't it?  George Brandis perhaps comes in at a close second.  He seems to occasionally laugh at himself, however.  Dutton seems like a zombie.

Labor:  Stephen Conroy:  an annoying haircut, accent and general manner in a man who frequently lets his mouth run ahead of his brain.  Keep him off the airwaves as much as possible, Bill.

Nationals:  George Christensen.   An unpleasant, buffoony appearance in which the exterior matches the interior character.  Or so it seems.  Maybe he's a lovely man in private.  (Just kidding, it's too hard to imagine.)

Greens:  Adam Bandt:  just when the party gets a heterosexual, more or less reasonable sounding, leader, we still get reminded of the "preciousness" of a large part of the Greens whenever Bandt gets his head on TV. Sorry, I find him annoying. 

A genuine fool

Exclusive: Skeptical Trump says would renegotiate global climate deal | Reuters

The thing about him is that he is such an obvious fool, but he flip flops on most issues (save climate change, where he is continually wrong) that he well be malleable by advisers around him.  However, who could possibly trust his judgement about the quality of the advisers he would chose?

Not cheerful news

Scientists predict extensive ice loss from huge Antarctic glacier -- ScienceDaily

By studying the history of Totten's advances and retreats,
researchers have discovered that if climate change continues unabated,
the glacier could cross a critical threshold within the next century,
entering an irreversible period of very rapid retreat.

This would cause it to withdraw up to 300 kilometres inland in the
following centuries and release vast quantities of water, contributing
up to 2.9 metres to global sea-level rise.
 A full 300 km retreat may take "several hundred years", but still...

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

A dangerous precedent

Rodrigo Duterte’s Talk of Killing Criminals Raises Fears in Philippines - The New York Times

Reading about the trouble the Philippines has had with criminals and lawlessness in relatively recent history, it strikes me again as odd how some of the most overtly Catholic countries can have major trouble with gangs -  Italy's mafia, Mexico's drug gangs, and the Philippines with whatever their criminality has been about.

A very tricky issue

There's No Such Thing as Free Will - The Atlantic

This perhaps isn't the best article on the matter of free will, and the consequences of not believing in it, but still worth reading, I think.

As it happens, I noticed that the edition of Philosophy Now magazine  currently at my local newsagent had several articles on free will.  I haven't finished them all, yet, but I'll probably get around to mentioning one of them here, later.

[I keep thinking, incidentally, that the current way young folk in particular in Western society are thinking about gay and transgender issues is influenced not just by Freud, but by their increasing and almost unconscious acceptance that free will is not real, and our feelings are all determined by a dance of atoms that we have no control over.]  

An interesting result

Magic-mushroom drug lifts depression in first human trial : Nature News & Comment

As readers would know, I'm the last person to endorse recreation use of drugs (beyond alcohol), but persistent and deep depression is a very serious thing, and if one dose of a hallucinogen seems to be shown to help most people with the condition, it's worth considering.

The biggest buffoon to ever run for President

I had missed the "Trump complains about modern hairspray" story from last week, but here it is, covered by Colbert:

You would have to be seriously stupid to consider voting for this clown.

Oh look - Steve Kates is still making sympathetic posts about him.   (And a bunch of Right wing culture warriors still think he's great, 'cos he annoys "Leftists".)   I see that some anonymous contributor to the blog is also now re-posting items from a Fox News commentator about Hilary Clinton.   Seriously, the place has become so dire that you can feel it slowly sucking intelligence out of the universe. 

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Probably a bad thing...

If California legalizes marijuana, consumption will likely increase. But is that a bad thing? - LA Times: The data from Colorado and Washington, where voters legalized recreational marijuana in 2012, are still preliminary. We do know, however, that the number of Coloradans who reported using marijuana in the past month increased from about 10.5% in 2011-12 to nearly 15% in 2013-14. In Washington, reported use increased from just above 10% to almost 13%.

Given that both states' preexisting medical systems already provided quasi-legal availability, it is hard to imagine that commercial legalization did not account for at least some of these increases. (That said, other factors could influence marijuana use and it will be some time before researchers have enough data to conduct rigorous analyses. Some of the increase could also come from respondents being more honest now that marijuana is legal in their states).

But is an increase in marijuana consumption a bad thing from a public health standpoint? Not necessarily.
I didn't realise the increases were that large, but this article is from a pro-legalisation advocate.

On the matter of public health, the problem is partly the length of time it takes to work this stuff out.  The rate of increase in smoking in the relatively young is the major issue, but its full effect may take years to clearly establish.

Given that the worst possible health effect (apart from possible car accident death) is a really debilitating mental illness (schizophrenia), surely you don't need too much of an increase in the rate of that to say that its increased use is a real public health negative.

Good grief

Donald Trump to meet with Henry Kissinger on foreign policy.

I see that Kissinger is 92 now.  Mind you, his safe "use by" age was probably 40.

Viewing recommendations

Greece With Simon Reeve | SBS On Demand

This documentary/travel show about Greece (last night on SBS) was very good, if somewhat depressing, viewing.   From the (pretty obvious) environmental degradation of the Mediterranean sea around Greece, to the surprisingly nutty men of Crete, it was fascinating in a way I didn't quite expect.

After that, although I missed part of it, there was Matthew Evans' show What's the Catch, about where our seafood comes from.  This is a repeat, evidently, but I had missed it the first time around. 

Again, this was very eye-opening.   The fishing practices around Thailand, to make the fish meal that is fed to their cheap farmed prawns that I already refuse to buy at the supermarket, were a real worry.  The problem is, places like Dominoes pizza will source their prawns from countries with such dire environmental practices.

Anyway, all praise SBS and ABC, again: for running educational material you won't see on commercial television.

Looking at why evangelicals would support Trump

Trump’s success with evangelical voters isn’t surprising. It was inevitable. - The Washington Post

The short answer:  because the modern, politically engaged, American evangelical typically has views that are not really Biblically based at all - except when it comes to homosexuality, I guess. 

On the other hand, NPR has an article about some evangelicals who are saying they can't in good conscience vote for Trump.

Letting Laffer off lightly

Cutting taxes to balance the budget? You're having a Laffer - The Drum (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

It seems to me that when journalists here write about Art Laffer, they tend to let him off pretty lightly.   (Kansas rarely gets a mention, strangely enough.  How's it going?  - still terribly, I see - you have to go to somewhere like Forbes to find a "free market" proponent to run the Laffer line that it'll all work out for the good - just you wait and see; give it a decade or so.  Oh, and universities and highway funding - who needs them? It's all a "spending problem", not a revenue one.  Lol.)

But nonetheless, Ian Verrender's explanation of what's happened with low interest rates (companies are paying out big dividends, while simultaneously having earnings decline) was interesting.

My duty to note Spielberg

A Word With: Steven Spielberg - The New York Times

I will read, and usually post about, any Spielberg interview I find.   As usual, he presents as the smart, self aware, and very likeable man I've always perceived him to be.

I see that The BFG seems to have received enough positive reviews at Cannes (well, it seems to me the British press were kinder to it than the US media) to ensure it will be a success.  

Trust me, I'm a business man

So, a high profile business man is not only able to completely misrepresent and massively exaggerate about a Labor Party policy, but he's also able to completely and utterly backtrack on a former position? :

That's what self serving business men do, hey Symond?  

Monday, May 16, 2016


Peta Credlin suggests government lawyers said boat turnbacks were illegal | Australia news | The Guardian

I'm not surprised:  advice given to Labor governments about the likely illegality of the practice would not have changed.

In my opinion, Australian journalism has been far too supine in accepting the Coalition government's refusal to discuss "on water" or "operational" matters.  And unwilling to spend the money to find out the fate of some returnees. 

Deep thoughts for a Monday

Physicist Bee H tweeted a link to this interview, so I presume she found it interesting.  Here's the best part:
Seeing as you’re a physicist who has thought so deeply about Gödel’s theorem, do you think the absence of a theory of everything in mathematics suggests there might be no theory of everything in physics?
I totally think about that. Why should we think, since physics is so rooted in mathematics, that there is going to be a physical theory of everything? The way we usually think about the Big Bang is: The universe is born, and it’s born with initial data. There are laws of physics, and somehow the initial data is just… something else. We really are dishonest about where that comes from. What if the law of physics that describes the origin of the universe is something that has to make a claim about itself, which is a classic self-referential Gödelian setup for a tangle. [A Gödelian tangle is an unprovable, self-referential mathematical statement, such as, “This statement is unprovable.”] What if the laws of physics have to make a claim about themselves in such a way that they themselves become somehow uncomputable?
I’m also super interested in the idea that the initial data of the universe could contain irrational or uncomputable numbers. Then the universe could never finish computing the consequences of the initial conditions. Maybe we can’t predict what’s coming next because every digit of the initial data is a toss of a coin.
But it’s not enough if I only have words, and I’ve never found something to write down in math, so I’ve just kind of waffled. I think a smart thing to do would be to look at a specific Gödelian tangle that exists in mathematics and try to map that to fictitious laws of physics. Then you would have a universe in which there was a Gödelian tangle. There are constructive things to try.

Just plain nuts

TLS | Otter ego

Is this to be taken seriously?   Sounds more like an April Fool's joke.   But if not, seems to me that this piece would be more appropriate in The Guardian as an example of self indulgent eccentricity, but here it is in the Time Literary Supplement.  An extract:
The real novelty of Foster’s approach, however, lies in his second
instrument. Foster is going to inhabit – not just imaginatively but
physically – the landscape of his target animals. He exchanges
hallucinogens in the living room for adoption of the lives of the
badger, the otter, the fox, the red deer, and the swift.

Foster is not someone who believes in half-measures. To replicate the
life of a badger, Foster and his eight-year-old son live for several
weeks in a “sett” – more accurately a hole in the ground gouged by the
JCB digger of a farmer friend – in the Welsh Black Hills. Like badgers,
they sleep in this sett by day, and crawl around the forest on their
bellies by night, eating worms, grasshoppers (and lasagne provided by
aforementioned farmer friend), licking slugs and smelling their
surroundings (they even construct a scent map of the forest). Over the
weeks, the importance of vision, in this new, dark, ankle-high world
they inhabit, is progressively replaced by hearing and smell.

If anything, Foster’s approach to being an otter is even more
demanding. Spraint is otter dung – used to mark their territory and
often deposited in highly visible locations, such as the rocks beside a
river pool. Foster enlists the help of his children, encouraging them to
deposit their own “spraint” along the riverbanks of Devon. They all
then learn to identify, using their olfactory abilities, each other’s
spraint, assigning individual piles of it to individual persons. Foster
completes his inhabiting of the life of an otter by sleeping in storm
drains by day – nestled warmly in a bed of nappies and syringes – and
swimming in the rivers of Dartmoor by night, attempting, unsuccessfully,
to catch fish with his teeth.
Update:  Ha!   I just click over to The Guardian, and what do I find?   Another story, this one about a British guy trying his hardest to become "goatman"!:
Thwaites spent three days in Alpine meadows, doing his best to mix with a herd of goats. “No one was using that much energy, there weren’t wolves around, we weren’t being driven along a mountain path, but it was still difficult, especially going downhill,” says Thwaites. “After a while, the prosthetics started rubbing, and I got sweaty and cold.” This physical discomfort “encroached” on his attempts to think like a goat.

Is there something in the water over there that the government ought to be looking into?

On shifting the blame for Trump

I don't always care for Bill Maher, but in this clip about how some on the American Right are attempting to blame the Left for the rise of Trump as a presidential candidate, he is spot on:

Saturday, May 14, 2016

For those of us who can't get enough Wittgenstein anecdotes

Freeman Dyson in a review in 2012 (don't think I've linked to it before, although I certainly did refer to the book he's reviewing):
When I arrived at Cambridge University in 1946, Wittgenstein had just returned from his six years of duty at the hospital. I held him in the highest respect and was delighted to find him living in a room above mine on the same staircase. I frequently met him walking up or down the stairs, but I was too shy to start a conversation. Several times I heard him muttering to himself: “I get stupider and stupider every day.”

Finally, toward the end of my time in Cambridge, I ventured to speak to him. I told him I had enjoyed reading the Tractatus, and I asked him whether he still held the same views that he had expressed twenty-eight years earlier. He remained silent for a long time and then said, “Which newspaper do you represent?” I told him I was a student and not a journalist, but he never answered my question.

Wittgenstein’s response to me was humiliating, and his response to female students who tried to attend his lectures was even worse. If a woman appeared in the audience, he would remain standing silent until she left the room. I decided that he was a charlatan using outrageous behavior to attract attention. I hated him for his rudeness. Fifty years later, walking through a churchyard on the outskirts of Cambridge on a sunny morning in winter, I came by chance upon his tombstone, a massive block of stone lightly covered with fresh snow. On the stone was written the single word, “WITTGENSTEIN.” To my surprise, I found that the old hatred was gone, replaced by a deeper understanding. He was at peace, and I was at peace too, in the white silence. He was no longer an ill-tempered charlatan. He was a tortured soul, the last survivor of a family with a tragic history, living a lonely life among strangers, trying until the end to express the inexpressible.

Friday, May 13, 2016

That is weird

The Mothership of All Alliances: Scientology and the Nation of Islam | New Republic

I now know slightly more about Nation of Islam, and am particularly surprised to learn it's a science fiction religion, just like Scientology (which it is in the process of embracing):

Farrakhan himself has called white people “a race of devils” and the
Nation teaches that the apocalypse will involve a UFO, or “mother
plane,” that will eradicate all Caucasians.However, there are
some striking theological overlaps that might help explain how Farrakhan
came to adopt a religion invented by a white man. There is, of course,
the attachment to science fiction: Scientologists believe in an alien
dictator, Xenu; the Nation holds that the white race was created by a
mad scientist named Yakub.


Marvel-lous box office (even if I don't care for them)

Here I was, idly thinking "is it just me, or has this latest Marvel Captain America movie really not had much build up and media attention - are people getting less excited about these multi superhero movies, which increasingly all look the same?"; and then I decided to check the box office numbers.

Worldwide gross of $765 million, in about a week??   Gee.   (It has had generally good reviews too, so it might not burn out as fast that [Bat V Super] x man critical failure.)

Marvel fanboys and fangirls obviously still care - as so do some reviewers - for a genre I don't (much). 

A gay explanation?

Genetic tug of war linked to evolution of same-sex sexual behavior in beetles | EurekAlert! Science News

In this study the scientists looked for evidence to support the
theory that genetic links exist between SSB and other characteristics
which carry benefits in one sex but not the other. Thus, SSB in one sex
could occur because genetically linked traits are favored by natural
selection in the opposite sex - the genetic tug of war.

The scientists based their hypothesis on the fact that most genes
are expressed in both males and females and often code for more than one
characteristic. For example, previous studies have reported that the
same genes that code for SSB are also the genes that code for mobility.
Mobility is known to be costly to female seed beetles as they do not
need to range as far as males to mate.

To test their hypothesis, the team of scientists selectively bred
male and female beetles to display increased SSB, studying how this
affected their mobility and reproductive success compared to beetles
that had been bred to display decreased SSB. The scientists showed that
when a particular sex had been bred for increased SSB, siblings of the
opposite sex enjoyed an increase in reproductive performance. They also
showed changes in traits such as mobility and sex recognition after
selective breeding on SSB, providing evidence for genetic links between
SSB and these traits across the sexes, according to the researchers.

Not sure about the design

Inside the world's largest cruise ship, Harmony of the Seas | Travel | The Guardian

There's no doubt about it, these massive new cruise ships look awesomely, um, massive, and are surely marvels of modern engineering.

The waterslides look a bit scary, though:

And I have two other reservations:  the way these cabins look across the void straight into other cabins - not much privacy there without a closed curtain (although no doubt much better than being stuck in an windowless internal cabin):

And - I'm no marine engineer, but the whole ship looks a bit disturbingly top heavy, doesn't it?:

There's a hell of a lot of ship for a side on wind to blow against...

Dubious journalism continues

The Right is thrilled that a person who appeared on Q&A and made an entirely valid point about tax rate changes turns out now to have some pretty serious sounding criminal convictions, too.

I would have thought sensible people would at least have misgivings about national media giving front page treatment to this guy's past - is embarrassing a Liberal politician on the ABC enough grounds for the Murdoch press to do that?   But, there is the aspect that an Q&A producer had (unwisely) referred to him as a "national hero" in a tweet, and the fact that lots of people promised money to him when they didn't know the full story.   So I find it hard to say that his background is completely un-newsworthy; but surely it is still being handled disproportionately and with no regard to how it may affect Storrar and his family.

Of course, Storrar himself could help by, say, getting someone to agree to be trustee of the money on a trust set up for his daughter's education and benefit.  That is, if any of the money promised now materialises.

And my complaint about Sinclair Davidson (who thinks the ABC should be running around investigating the private live of everyone who has ever appeared on Q&A) remains:  he was calling this guy a "parasite" before any of this came out, and simply because he doesn't pay net tax.

Update:  it's been decades since I have seen it, but the movie Absence of Malice just came to mind.  I remember few details, except I'm sure it dealt with the journalistic ethics of printing stories that were technically newsworthy, but which carried a strong chance of "collateral damage" to people who were part of the story.    (I only remember one scene, which must mean it was really effective - the poor woman who, I think, had had an abortion after an affair with a politician? running around the neighbourhood in the early morning, trying to pick up newspapers delivered on the front step before they could read them.  I wonder if I have that right?)   Pretty much the same goes here.

Update 2:  I just checked the plot of the movie on Wikipedia - I was pretty close.

New summer melt record seems increasingly likely

People who follow these things closely are increasingly saying that early conditions are so below average for this time of year, a record summer Arctic ice melt this Northern summer seems on the cards:

Not sure I'd feel comfortable within 20 m of it...

They've been talking about the need to clean up the Ganges River in India for years, possibly decades, but here we have another lengthy article at the BBC about the dire condition it's in.  How's this chart, for example:

And after that appears the line:
Here in Varanasi it is sometimes more than 150 times the recommended safe level for bathing, yet vast numbers of people bathe away regardless.

Mice behaviour

Mice cooperate if they benefit -- ScienceDaily

I didn't know mice often have communal nests:
Female house mice can raise their young with other females in a communal
nest. Two or several females pool their litters in one nest and jointly
care for all offspring, even if litters differ by a few days in age. As
the females cannot tell apart between their own young and the offspring
of the other females, they indiscriminately nurse all pups in the
communal nest. If one female has more pups than the others, she invests
the same into nursing but weans more young and therefore has an
All a bit socialist of them...

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Help! Our cash reserves only went up $150,000 last year!

I love the way the IPA makes a call for membership/donations when there's an issue they think can motivate  the suckers  sympathising readers to part with their cash.

The reality is, as I'm sure I've pointed out before,  that the IPA already sits on a piggy bank of  cash that's been increasing substantially over the last 5 years.  Here, look at this page from their 2014/15 report:

Oh woe is them!  Cash reserves have only increased $1.14 million over the last 5 years. 

And for all of that, what did they get?   A Liberal PM who made promises directly to them that he didn't keep.    And even he's supporting the new PM in the superannuation changes the fight against which is supposed to be the rallying point for new membership.

If the IPA wants to run an advertising campaign supporting the ALP on this issue (lulz), why don't members (new or existing) tell them to use their growing cash reserves to cover it? 

Delcon dismay

The Delusional Conservatives who pine for the return of Tony Abbott as PM must be feeling some dismay at his lengthy support for the Turnbull changes to superannuation in the budget.

More skepticism on company tax cuts

Election 2016: The weak case for a company tax cut

Oh, so it's not just Crikey and Bernard Keane arguing that the benefits of cuts to company tax aren't proven.  Peter Martin now explains the reasons it might not be such a good idea, after all.

I find this issue confusing, partly because someone like Ken Henry, who was clearly perceived by some Right wing economists as being a soft headed friend of the Left, argued for it.  But as Martin says today:

And earlier plans to cut company tax were to be at least partly
funded by the companies themselves (Wayne Swan wanted to do it by
removing loopholes, the Henry review by a mining super-profit tax).
Turnbull's plan is different. It's give, without the take.

On the plus side he is cracking down on multinational tax avoidance, and to
some extent a lower company tax rate might itself make avoidance less

The centrepiece of his election campaign is far more than a thought bubble. It derives from serious economic modelling. But it might not yet have been completely thought through.
On the matter of the "Google tax", I heard on Radio National this morning that (based on Britain's experience, which Turnbull is copying), it's not really expected to raise much tax of itself, rather it is designed to encourage companies not to minimise their tax by their offshoring profit methods.  [Hence, it wouldn't do much to make up the loss in revenue that Martin explains today.]

Both sides take damage; but only one looks nasty

I didn't see Q&A on Monday night, but have been following the story about Mr Storrar, who argued that a tax change at the high end of the scale gives no benefit to people (like him, allegedly) with income at the bottom of the scale.  Fair enough argument, one would have thought, but he did paint it in a very personal light.

I take it that Kelly O'Dwyer (who, in my opinion, used to come across as very hard nosed and an economic dry, but has softened somewhat since having a baby) didn't counter convincingly.   Whereupon The Australian decided to follow up on Storrar's personal life not once, but two days running.  Meanwhile, a unionist set up a donation site which has led to much money being promised to Storrar, most of it perhaps by people who may not have realised he didn't live with his daughters and (from today's Australian) has an adult son who is estranged from him, claims he led him into drug problems, and is annoyed at the positive image his father got from his TV appearance.

Even before this morning's story in The Australian, Sinclair Davidson at Catallaxy was angry at this guy's "sense of entitlement" and quoting passages from Atlas Shrugged(!) at him.  In comments, he went as far as calling him a "parasite". 

As far as I'm concerned, the whole incident demonstrates three things:

a.  a certain gullibility on the Left to immediately accept appearances when it comes to "hard luck" stories;

b.  the somewhat creepy way The Australian has sought to attack government critics personally, whether they be statutory appointments (Triggs) or mere audience members on an ABC show.    Sure, they came up with the goods, so to speak, this time;  and perhaps they would not have thought it worthwhile were it not for the donations being sought for him.   But it still seems to me to have become an ugly, nasty paper, even with former editor Chris Mitchell leaving.

c.  the nasty and poisonous taint of Randian name calling that is just under the surface of part of the Australian Right.  That Sinclair Davidson, a man who seeks to be influential in Coalition policy, and is invited to talk at Liberal Party functions, should use "parasite" for someone who receives government benefits shows he has no idea how that language demeans himself in the eyes of the broader Australian public.  The extreme and eccentric views of Ayn Rand have never caught on here like they have amongst a certain political corner of America, and in our more egalitarian society they are never likely to do so.  As I have said before, the Liberals could only benefit by distancing themselves from the IPA, and him.*

So, I think both sides take some damage from this story, but only the Right ends up looking nasty.

* And why no ABC journalist ever questions him when he on TV or radio about statements he has made on his blog, but give him a clear run, is a bit of a puzzle.  Perhaps they need me to supply links?

Intersex issues

The spectrum of sex development: Eric Vilain and the intersex controversy : Nature News & Comment

A somewhat interesting article here about an intersex researcher who has had his share of controversy.

Here's one part (in the first paragraph) that I thought surprising, if true:
At Necker University Hospital for Sick Children in Paris in the
1980s, he says, doctors presumed that a child would be psychologically
damaged if he or she did not have normal-looking genitalia. In Vilain's
experience, that belief was so strong that doctors would take genital
abnormalities into account when deciding how hard to fight to save a
premature baby. “The unanimous feeling was that boys with a micropenis
could never achieve a normal life — that they were doomed,” he says.
(The paediatric-surgery department at Necker refused to answer questions
relating to past or current standards of care.)

DSDs occur in an estimated 1–2% of live births, and hundreds of genital
surgeries are performed on infants around the world every year1.
But there are no estimates as to how often a child's surgically
assigned sex ends up different from the gender they come to identify

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Of course they are right to worry

Packing Heat Onto College Campuses - The New York Times

Seems that there are a handful of sensible Republicans on guns:  such as this one:
The gun lobby’s relentless drive to arm students across the nation’s
college campuses ran into an unexpected hitch in Georgia last week when
Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed a measure that would have let students carry
concealed weapons to class. Mr. Deal scoffed at the rationale of fellow
Republicans in the legislature that arming students would increase their
safety. “It is highly questionable that such would be the result,” he
stressed in his veto message.
But the best paragraphs of this article are at the end:
And in July of next year, all six  Kansas state universities and dozens of community colleges and tech schools must allow their students to carry concealed weapons on campus, classrooms
included.  A poll of 20,000 Kansas college employees found 82 percent said they would feel less safe on an armed campus, according to National Public Radio. Two-thirds said the presence of guns would necessarily hamper their freedom to teach effectively. Critics of the move wonder, what if students get into a gun fight in class? And what happens to open discourse in a place tense with concealed carry?

The legislative majorities pushing this issue as a public safety necessity insist armed students and professors are the best way to defend against armed intruders. But a new study of federal firearms data indicates licensed and armed private citizens wind up harming themselves or others with their guns far more often than shooting attackers. The study by the Violence Policy Center, a gun safety advocacy group, found that over a three-year period ending in 2014, less
than one percent of victims of attempted or completed crimes of violence used their firearms to try to stop crimes. The notion of quick-draw self defense remains a macho fantasy for gun buyers.

He's got it all covered...or so he thinks

Backreaction: Book review: “The Big Picture” by Sean Carroll

Well, atheist physicist Bee thinks atheist physicist Sean Carroll's book is very good.

The comments following her review are likely to go on for some time, and be interesting, at least in parts.

I see one of them refers to Peter Woit's more skeptical take on the point of the book.  In fact, Woit's comments make for more interesting reading than Bee's review.

Legal cannabis and driving is a serious problem, after all

Fatal road crashes involving marijuana double after state legalizes drug: Foundation research also shows that legal limits for marijuana and driving are meaningless -- ScienceDaily

I always suspected that this would be a likely problem, but the evidence to show that it was really was seems to have been slow coming forward.  And the thing is, because of the way THC works and hangs around for a long time at detectable levels, it's a tricky one to respond to.   (Short of saying any THC in the test will result in a punishment, I guess.)

Update:  here's a story about a recent case in Australia illustrating the difficulties of making "drug driving" laws for THC.  I see that the Greens recommend following British laws where they also test for impairment - but I've always been doubtful about the reliability of roadside impairment testing. 

Perhaps not quite as bad as it looked

Nearly 90 per cent of Fort McMurray still intact; 2,400 structures lost - The Globe and Mail

I was interested in the comparison with the Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria in 2009, and (apart from the death of 173 people making it obviously a greater human disaster) here are the figures for structures lost:

So, Australia, we still do bushfire disasters way better than the Canadians. Yay, sort of.... (Sorry, is that too black?  Pun not intended either.)

When even the TLS likes it, I should see it

The TLS blog: The Jungle Book rebooted

I've been telling my (now teenage) kids that, even though they had no inherent interest in it (and nor did I), The Jungle Book has been such a critical and popular success* that we ought to see it.

Now that it is even the subject of a blog review at the TLS, I am further sure of my view.

$783 million globally.

Claustrophobia, anyone?

Here's an illustration from an article at Slate about how the Hyperloop designs are going:

Seriously, is no one thinking of the claustrophobic effects of being in a tube (with no windows) for even half an hour? 

So the IPA wants you to vote Labor? Ahahahaha

Disunity is meant to be death in politics, and surely the IPA's proposed campaign against the Coalition's superannuation changes is only going to hurt Turnbull and his government in this election.

Now, some might say that the sight of a think tank campaigning on the grounds "but think of the rich...the poor mistreated rich!" might actually encourage swing voters who might have leant towards Labor to go for Turnbull after all;  but I can't see it working that way.    No, I think the effect will be more along the lines that they won't vote for the side of politics which the rich think they can push around to get changes back in their favour.  

It's early days, but I suspect the Coalition must be feeling pretty nervous about the way this election campaign is going so far.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Good quotes

John Quiggin has posted quotes from Jennifer Rubin (herself a conservative) writing at the Washington Post about the need for conservative politics in the US to reform itself, and I have to agree with JQ that they are very, very sensible:
Somewhere in that mix are the contours of a platform that is contemporary and conservative and for which there is arguably a broader demographic and geographic appeal. It should not include (for there is no political appetite for these things, and they are unattainable and/or unwise from a policy standpoint): opposition to gay rights; large tax cuts for the rich; protectionism; expelling women from combat in a volunteer army; rooting gays out of the military; obsessing over bathroom assignments; fixating on local ordinances about wedding services; keeping the status quo on entitlements; cutting out (as opposed to reforming) the safety net; never, ever raising taxes on anyone; and mass deportation.

What follows will be different from 1980s conservatism because we are more than three decades removed from Ronald Reagan. Our problems are different — stagnant wages, resurgent and varied enemies, the withering of communal organizations, crumbling infrastructure. We have recognized that the old solutions — a rising tide lifts all boats (not if you have no skills) — are insufficient. However, Republicans should not sell snake oil. Telling working-class whites that the problem is immigrants is a lie. The economic data overwhelmingly show that immigration spurs growth, creates jobs and aids innovation, and no amount of junk statistics from zero-population Malthusians is going to change this. (There are solutions for the tiny segment of the workforce, usually the last wave of immigrants, that might be adversely affected.) Telling workers that millions of jobs went to China is a lie, too. The problems are real, and the solutions must be real as well. We need the world’s best and brightest workers, a humane society and methods to control borders and prevent visa overstays.

 Along with all of this, conservatives have to end their intellectual isolation and self-delusions. They need to stop pretending that climate change is not occurring (the extent and the proposed solutions can be rationally discussed) or imagining that there is a market for pre-New-Deal-size government. Conservatives must end their infatuation with phony news, crank conspiracy theories, demonization of well-meaning leaders and mean rhetoric. It’s time to grow up, turn off Sean Hannity, get off toxic social media and start learning about the world as it is. (Read a book authored by someone without a talk show, spend time with non-Republicans, take an online course in economics.) Confirmation bias has become pathological.