Sunday, July 31, 2016

Meanwhile, in Siberia...

There's been an anthrax outbreak, with a possible global warming connection:
Russian army biological protection troops called in amid warnings 'utmost care' needed to stop deadly infection spreading.

The concern among experts is that global warming thawed a diseased animal carcass at least 75 years old, buried in the melting permafrost, so unleashing the disease.

A total of 40 people, the majority of them children, from nomadic herder families in northern Siberia are under observation in hospital amid fears they may have contracted the anthrax. Doctors stress that so far there are NO confirmed cases.

Up to 1,200 reindeer were killed either by anthrax or a heatwave in the Arctic district where the infection spread.

Specialists from the Chemical, Radioactive and Biological Protection Corps were rushed to regional capital Salekhard on a military Il-76 aircraft.

They were deployed by Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu to carry laboratory tests on the ground, detect and eliminate the focal point of the infection, and to dispose safely of dead animals.

The move confirmed the seriousness with which the authorities view the anthrax outbreak, the first in this region since 1941. 

Nearly spring

I usually post some photos from the garden at this time of year; and the type of flower hasn't changed much recently.  But some - like this daisy - even if you've seen similar before, I just like the strong contrast with the black behind it:

And this bee may not be perfectly lined up against a contrasting background, but you try taking photos of bees and see how often they stay still for a shot:

And there's always a scruffy dog to try to get to stay still, too:

And finally for now: nothing too spectacular, but nice enough:

He really likes his soy sauce

Make sure you get to the last paragraph: 
'Kioke': The secret ingredient of soy sauce | The Japan Times: Shodoshima, the largest island in the Seto Inland Sea, is not only covered in thousands of olive trees, it also holds half of Japan’s remaining wooden soy sauce barrels. Though the island has produced olive oil for about 115 years, soy sauce has been made here for centuries — and has weathered many changes.

After World War II, soy sauce makers across Japan were encouraged to modernize their 1,000-year-old tradition by fermenting in stainless steel tanks rather than kioke (wooden barrels). But Shodoshima’s residents — like many islanders — don’t always do what they’re told by mainlanders. They decided not to use stainless steel, and today there are still 20 soy sauce makers on Shodoshima who ferment the old-fashioned way. Yamaroku Shoyu is one of them.

“In the hot and muggy summer, the shōyu moromi (soy sauce mash) becomes active, making gurgling sounds as the fermentation accelerates,” says Yasuo Yamamoto, the fifth generation head of Yamaroku. “When I walk the planks between the wooden soy sauce barrels, the moromi in each barrel becomes noticeably more active, as if it is talking to me, telling me it is happy to be in my presence. We have a mutual love for each other.”

The submarine cyber hacking we don't hear much about

America uses stealthy submarines to hack other countries’ systems - The Washington Post

This is pretty fascinating:
"There is a — an offensive capability that we are, that we prizevery highly," said Rear Adm. Michael Jabaley, the U.S. Navy's program executive officer for submarines. "And this is where I really can't talk about much, but suffice to say we have submarines out there on the front lines that are very involved, at the highest technical level, doing exactly the kind of things that you would want them to do."
The so-called "silent service" has a long history of using information technology to gain an edge on America's rivals. In the 1970s, the U.S. government instructed its submarines to tap undersea communications cables off the Russian coast, recording the messages being relayed back and forth between Soviet forces. (The National Security Agency has continued that tradition, monitoring underwater fiber cables as part of its globe-spanning intelligence-gathering apparatus. In some cases, the government has struck closed-door deals with the cable operators ensuring that U.S. spies can gain secure access to the information traveling over those pipes.)

These days, some U.S. subs come equipped with sophisticated antennas that can be used to intercept and manipulate other people's communications traffic, particularly on weak or unencrypted networks.
"We've gone where our targets have gone" — that is to say, online, said Stewart Baker, the National Security Agency's former general counsel, in an interview. "Only the most security-conscious now are completely cut off from the Internet." Cyberattacks are also much easier to carry out than to defend against,  he said. 

One of America's premier hacker subs, the USS Annapolis, is hooked into a much wider U.S. spying net that was disclosed as part of the 2013 Edward Snowden leaks, according to Adam
Weinstein and William Arkin, writing last year for Gawker's intelligence and national security blog, Phase Zero. A leaked slide showed that in a typical week, the Navy performs hundreds of so-called "computer network exploitations," many of which are likely the result of submarine-based hacking.

"Annapolis and its sisters are the infiltrators of the new new of cyber warfare," wrote Arkin and Weinstein, "getting close to whatever enemy — inside their defensive zones — to jam and emit and spoof and hack. They do this through mast-mounted antennas and collection systems atop the conning tower, some of them one-of-a-kind devices made for hard to reach or specific targets, all of them black boxes of future war."

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Rousseau and Trump?

I was enjoying this essay in the New Yorker which argues that the origins of the anti-elitism of Trump supporters can be found in Rousseau (although I would have appreciated an explanation as to how - apart from stupidity - they can pin their hopes on a member of the pretty elite club known as "American billionaires"), when this paragraph came out of the blue:
Rousseau’s denunciations of intellectuals may have acquired an extra edge from the fact that Voltaire exposed him, in an anonymous pamphlet, as a hypocritical proponent of family values: someone who consigned all five of his children to a foundling hospital. Rousseau’s life manifested many such gaps between theory and practice, to put it mildly. A connoisseur of fine sentiments, he was prone to hide in dark alleyways and expose himself to women. More commonly, he was given to compulsive masturbation while sternly advising against it in his writings.
This makes me want to re-read Paul Johnson's chapter about him in Intellectuals - where I am sure I would have read about his kids before, but don't know if it covered his, shall we say, sexual issues.  

Friday, July 29, 2016

Book sales hard to believe

Speaking as I was about Pauline Andrew Bolt, once again I raise the mystery of why there has been such an effort by him, and the IPA, to promote and sell his book, especially when it was simply a collection of his already published columns from a newspaper and magazine.  Why would you even expect that to sell well?  All the words have been read by his fervent followers before:  it's not as if there was any effort put into creating something with original content.

And some sites have been mocking its initial small sales, and say that it has been pushed onto newsagents  who didn't actually order it.

Today Hanson Bolt  is claiming that there are only "a few" left out of its initial print of 15,000 - and that it is being reprinted. 

This seems a very surprising result for a political book (and surely it would count as that) with no fresh content.  Sales of over 10,000 for any political book in Australia seem fairly rare - according to this list, there were three that sold over 10,000 last year, and one of those was only 12,000.

Given the previous articles about how slowly it initially sold, I strongly suspect something funny is going on here.  Has the IPA (with staffer Bolt Jnr) snapped up a large number to send out for free if memberships are renewed?  Did Gina Rinehart have a particularly large gap on her library shelves that she decided to fill up just to make it look like reads a lot?   That's two possible theories that immediately spring to mind.

I await some commentary to appear on these implausible sounding sales figure to appear in the media soon.    

About political panel shows

Jack the Insider: Why I quit TV

Here's an amusingly written piece by Jack the Insider about what it's like to appear on TV political panel shows.

The only thing is - while I do think that in principle that it's a good thing that different party politicians sometimes remain on friendly terms despite opposing policies, I'm in a way disappointed that panellists on these shows routinely do likewise.  The difference being that politicians are sometimes running positions that they feel they have to and may personally regret.   TV commentators, though, argue for stupid, immoral or otherwise odious positions completely voluntarily.   So they have less excuse, and overlooking their positions for the sake of a drink later seems a bit of a cop out. 

Or am I saying that just because lately I'd like to throttle Andrew Bolt?  OK, maybe just throw a sauvignon blanc at him.  

Australian Trumpkin nutjob watch

You can guess which blog has this comment about  Trump:
Yes, it’s uncanny – he’s right so often. Yet many here can’t see a real leader when they see one. Most comments on Trump matters here are about him being “the lesser of two evils” or “Klin Ton is worse”.
President Trump is a game changer, a paradigm shift, away from the degenerate Marxism that has infected the West.
Get real Cats&Kittehs – Trump is the only choice. If only we had someone in his image in this gay political backwater.

Don't export trouble

So, the government has been wondering whether to nominate Rudd as a candidate for UN Secretary General.

As a person who long picked Rudd as a dud before the rest of the nation caught up with the idea, I really cannot see why the government should hesitate in not nominating him.   Honestly, a politician dumped from the top job by his own party for having a disastrous  management style should have no reasonable expectation that his nation would nominate him for such a high profile job where management is a key issue.  That he got a second run at the top job was out of sheer party desperation as to how to resolve internal conflict, and not  due to any significant re-assessment of his talents.

Besides this, his actual performance when meeting world leaders when he was PM was embarrassing.

And furthermore, on recent media appearances, he has looked to me to be very pale and very puffy faced - and while I think Right wingers are often ridiculous and immature in honing in on odd personal appearance in a single photo, I genuinely got the impression that Rudd does not look very healthy (and we know he has had significant health problems in the past.)  In all honesty, despite any temporary hurt to his ego, Turnbull would probably be doing him a long term favour by not nominating him...

Update:  so Rudd doesn't get nominated, although it looks like Malcolm may have led him to believe he would be.

Big deal, Kevin:  do you know how much the public will care about this - not one iota.  So you may have wasted a year or two in flying around the world trying to schmooze the right people.   Meh - you had a hobby, and now it's ended.  Go do something full time for a charity, or learn to paint in watercolours, or anything:  we really don't care.  You're not short of a quid - but here's a suggestion:  find a hobby that doesn't depend on people liking you.

I also endorse Jason Soon's tweet on this:
Rudd's response to not being supported is a perfect example of why he should not be supported.  

Thursday, July 28, 2016

A good summary of what's happened with the conventions

Democrats have stolen the GOP's best rhetoric — and Republicans have noticed - Vox

It seems everyone, except Trumpkin nutters, can see that the Democrat convention got its mojo back (so to speak) on this third day of extremely well received speeches.

Hey Trumpkins: If the country is a disaster, why is Obama quite popular?

Obama Approval: Can it Help Clinton? - ABC News: President Obama will address the Democratic convention tonight from an unusually strong position; for the last two months straight he’s held the highest job approval rating in ABC News/Washington Post polls since early in his presidency. Fifty-six percent approve of his job performance, up from a career-low 40 percent just in advance of the 2014 midterm elections.

Obama’s in a particularly enviable position in comparison with George W. Bush at this time in his presidency: His approval rating was a dismal 28 percent in July 2008, a year in which Bush was perceived as a drag on John McCain’s unsuccessful effort to succeed him.

Scott Adams and his precious bodily fluids

In "what is nutty not-so-crypto Trump lover Scott Adams saying about US politics now" news:  he's worried that the DNC is having a bad effect on his hormones:
I watched singer Alicia Keys perform her song Superwoman at the convention and experienced a sinking feeling. I’m fairly certain my testosterone levels dropped as I watched, and that’s not even a little bit of an exaggeration. Science says men’s testosterone levels rise when they experience victory, and drop when they experience the opposite. I watched Keys tell the world that women are the answer to our problems. True or not, men were probably not feeling successful and victorious during her act.
Let me say this again, so you know I’m not kidding. Based on what I know about the human body, and the way our thoughts regulate our hormones, the Democratic National Convention is probably lowering testosterone levels all over the country. Literally, not figuratively. And since testosterone is a feel-good chemical for men, I think the Democratic convention is making men feel less happy. They might not know why they feel less happy, but they will start to associate the low feeling with whatever they are looking at when it happens, i.e. Clinton.
On the 2D playing field – where policies and facts matter – the Democratic National Convention is doing great. And when it comes to exciting women, it might be the best ever. But on an emotional level – where hormones rule – men have left the building…that they built.
 Is he still married?  Being recently dumped by his wife would explain a lot...

Update:  I just happened to catch much of Obama's pretty sensational convention speech - although some American writers are saying Biden was even better.  Can poor old Scott feel his hormones rising again, I wonder? 

Happy Stagflation Anniversary (and what it's an example of)

OK, so I am a day early:  but tomorrow will be the 5 year anniversary of the Sinclair Davidson stagflation warning.   I am reminded too that my lengthy post about this in 2013 attracted a comment from a Catallaxy reader (they're the only ones who address me this way) as follows:
You can wait Stevie, perhaps stagflation will happen, or not. Certainly there is a recession around the corner.

Maybe this won't affect you, but there will be about 1.5 million people who will be effected.
Not sure how long I have to wait to declare that prediction wrong too - how far away is "a corner" in economic terms?  

Anyway, how's inflation going?   It is very low. Now true, this might not be the best sign economically - but it is not "stagflation".   (I presume that the economic doldrums that do not incorporate high inflation would still be claimed by Sinclair to be "the consequence of pursuing Keynesian economic policy" - because that's the beauty of being ideologically committed to a view against government spending - everything's the fault of Keynesian economic policy!) 

Catallaxy also no longer features any posts by the Prof about the "pause" in the global temperature record - presumably because the long term temperature/modelling record now looks like this:

In fact,  his series of posts about "the pause"; his stagflation warning (which seems to have been inspired by a very short term bump in CPI);  his (more recent) attempts to decry tobacco plain packaging as a failure by analysing some post introduction short term data about tobacco consumption; and his blog's (though not his own) posts about the dire state of renewable energy because of a very high but very brief spike in South Australian electricity prices - all show up a clear pattern.   Namely, a continual rush to make claims out of obviously limited short term data.   But look at the longer term and the claims either have collapsed entirely, or look extremely wobbly.

Do the threadsters of Catallaxy appreciate this pattern?  Of course not.   Ideology and short term evidence trump long term results every day.  (Oh yeah, and speaking of Trump - most of them are on board with him being better than Hilary.   What a bunch of jokers.)

Is he still the GOP candidate?

Trump’s news conference was chock-full of outrages and lies - The Washington Post

Must be near full blown panic amongst establishment Republicans about how they can't stop Trump giving disastrous press conferences like that one. 

Bad Zika news

Florida investigates four mysterious Zika infections - BBC News

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Reasonable advice from a playwright I don't care for

David Williamson's advice to playwrights - write like a TV writer | Daily Review: Film, stage and music reviews, interviews and more.

I don't know that I have ever seen anything by David Williamson that I've really liked.  Yet, oddly enough, his comments in the talk at the link about the issues he sees confronting Australian theatre seem all pretty sensible to me.

The vague appeal to me of trying to write a play is that there are not that many words involved, compared to writing a novel, or movie script.  The difficulty of my doing so is that I freeze up with the thought that I don't really know how people talk when I'm not there.  (Actually, that stops novel writing stone cold, too.)   Does that make sense?

More on stupid Julian

At WAPO, an article about Assange's deliberately timed attack on Clinton includes this part:
In the interview, Mr. Assange told a British television host, Robert Peston of the ITV network, that his organization had obtained “emails related to Hillary Clinton which are pending publication,” which he pronounced “great.” He also suggested that he not only opposed her candidacy on policy grounds, but also saw her as a personal foe.
At one point, Mr. Peston said: “Plainly, what you are saying, what you are publishing, hurts Hillary Clinton. Would you prefer Trump to be president?”
Mr. Assange replied that what Mr. Trump would do as president was “completely unpredictable.” By contrast, he thought it was predictable that Mrs. Clinton would wield power in two ways he found problematic.
The first was to do with "freedom of the press" (because she wants Assange indicted):   yes I can just imagine Donald Trump being much more conciliatory towards those who partake in security leaks.

The second was to do with her being a "liberal war hawk":  in this respect, Assange would prefer to have someone who is "completely unpredictable", and who contradictorily promotes himself as a new strongman who will "smash" ISIS (in contrast to the "weak" Obama), while at the same time suggesting that the US should stay out of the Middle East (and, by the way, hints that some NATO countries may not get protection they were expecting, either.)

Assange is a twit. 

In Trump We Trust 2

Trump Time Capsule #57: Russia, and Taxes - The Atlantic

James Fallows argues that the media has been way, way too soft on the matter of Trump refusing to release his tax returns, especially in light of suspicion that Russians were involved in the Wikileaks hack.  (Assuming it was a hack, I suppose - I had first assumed it was probably a leak by Sander's sympathisers.  But no, it does seem to have been an outside hack into the system.)

In Trump We Trust

Those Freedom Kids Who Performed at a Donald Trump Rally Are About to Sue Him | Mother Jones

Product placement

Amidst the general news of death and mayhem in the world, let's pause to appreciate something relatively simple.

[I have a strong sensation of acting like one of those TV ads that purport to give information about a product when it's actually just an ad (what is that series in Australia with the terrible intro music? - can't remember) but here goes.]

My family and I are very impressed with the Zoosh range of salad dressings, and in particular, their aioli:

We're also enjoying the South East Asian salad dressing at the moment

Trust me, they're distinctively good.

Owners of Zoosh company - please send me money!

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Not great news

Global rate of new HIV infections hasn't fallen in a decade : Nature News & Comment

Mind control

Why did Iran destroy 100,000 satellite dishes? -

Some surprising information here about the Iranian government's determination to control television content.

Transplant gamble

‘I Can Do Absolutely Nothing.’ The First American With a Double Hand Transplant Wants Them Removed | TIME

Whether a hand transplant will give you a usable hand seems a very big gamble:
The surgeon who led the transplant in 2009, Dr. W.P. Andrew Lee, is currently at Johns Hopkins where he’s preparing to perform penis transplants for American veterans. Lee says the need for removal is uncommon and has occurred in six out of 100 similar transplants in the U.S. and Europe.

“Mr. Kepner’s transplanted hands do not function as well as those of other hand transplant recipients,” said Lee in an email to TIME. “Our team has performed bilateral hand/arm
transplants in four patients to date, including Mr. Kepner. The other three patients have had significant functional return in their hands and have been able to resume completely independent living, including driving, working, and going to school.”

“Complex surgery such as hand transplant do not produce uniform results in everyone,” Lee adds, “but we have been encouraged by the functional return in the great majority
of our recipients whose lives have been transformed by the procedure.”
I suspect medical science is better off pursuing robot hands.  

Putting a face to the voice

'Ghost' Soprano Marni Nixon, Who Voiced Blockbuster Musicals, Dies At 86 : The Two-Way : NPR

I've probably seen her face before, but I don't recall it.

Well, actually, I definitely had, just that I didn't know it:
After My Fair Lady was released in 1964, Nixon appeared onscreen in only one movie — The Sound of Music — as Sister Sophia, one of the nuns who sing "How Do You Solve a
Problem like Maria?" The film's star — Julie Andrews — didn't need any help in the singing department.

Yet more "Don't Panic" from yours truly

Trump versus Clinton polls: why the next 2 weeks of them will be basically meaningless - Vox

Interesting, though, that Julian Assange is on a revenge mission over Clinton.

Does he really expect that he, America, and the world, would do better under Trump?   Prone to fantasy, that boy.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Trump update

I am rather surprised that some on the Left are running around like headless chickens worrying that Trump's acceptance speech was evil but effective.   I'm not the first to notice, but the giant, angry, head of Trump put me more in mind of this, rather than anything else:

and the dark tone is surely recognized by a very large slab of Americans as an exaggeration, and a cynical one at that.

The Democrat email leaks don't even have me particularly worried - internal party politics can be very dirty, so why should anyone be surprised?  And Clinton has chosen a respected Democrat politician who speaks Spanish, and is Catholic but respects Roe v Wade - ticking quite a few boxes there for voter turnout.  (Speaking of Catholics - surely there are few Catholic bishops in the States comfortable with the idea of a Trump Presidency?)

I remain entirely confident that Trump will not become President.

Shell shock via rabbit

Rabbit Death at Manassas - Beachcombing's Bizarre History Blog

A mostly amusing story involving a rabbit, which despite the title, does not die.

How toys evolve

The History of Dollhouses - The Atlantic:

In the beginning, dollhouses had only two purposes: display and pedagogy. First built in the 17th century in northern Europe, primarily in Germany, Holland, and England, dollhouses were designed for adults. They were closely associated with wealth and served as markers of social class and status. As Faith Eaton explains in The Ultimate Dolls House Book, the German word dockenhaus meant not dollhouse but “miniature house.” And a miniature house was not a house to play with. In Holland, these exhibits of wealth were called “cabinet houses.” The front of the house opens like a china cabinet on hinges that can be closed and locked. Inside cabinet houses, people could both show off and conceal their collections of expensive miniature objects.

Beginning in the 17th century, “Nuremberg kitchens” might contain a hearth, cooking pots, a straw broom. These all-metal houses were designed without ornament, for purely utilitarian purposes. Used as teaching tools for girls, Nuremberg kitchens allowed mothers to show daughters how to set up and control a house. All about learning rules, a Nuremberg kitchen was the opposite of a dollhouse as a dream world of fantasy. It was a place where girls learned to manage not only the objects of the house but also its servants, where girls would learn to become the lady of the house.

By 18th-century England, the “Baby House” emerged. The Baby House was an exact copy of the owner’s home, a replica designed to showcase the owner’s wealth—a small, “baby” version of a real-life house. Unlike the Dutch Cabinet House, which might have miniature furniture but tended to be full of expensive or rare objects, the Baby House was full of
furniture in tiny versions of the owner’s rooms.

Changing definitions of childhood in the beginning of the 19th century shifted ideas about play. But it took the industrial revolution and the increase in mass-produced objects to make dollhouses and miniatures begin to be construed as toys. And it took until after World War II, when the U.S. stopped importing goods from Europe, for dollhouses to become mass-produced and affordable. Miniatures began to take on a second, different life.

More on Bolt

He's muttering about (I presume) defamation against Fairfax for Elizabeth Farrelly's recent column comparing him to Enoch Powell, and he's recently complained about The Australian's Paul Kelly and Chip Le Grand's concern about him, over the same issue.

Today he's defending Pauline Hanson against Chris Mitchell (!).

Gee, at some point, maybe Bolt will realise the problem is his complete alignment with the dog whistle (is that the right term when it's actually direct shouting and fearmongering?) politics of Hanson?

And further:   what is this complete entanglement with the IPA for the hyping of his book (containing just old columns)  all about?   I presume his son still works there, and I presume Roskam and Sinclair Davidson still consider him a "mate", but is that enough to tie the IPA so closely into promoting someone who has gone so Hanson right wing on immigration?  Isn't Davidson embarrassed by his blog entries?  Why does he say nothing?   Why is Bolt himself seemingly so desperate to promote the book?  

I find this all rather weird.

High temperatures noted

Heat and rainfall making headlines around the world | Official blog of the Met Office news team

Across parts of Iraq, western Iran, Kuwait and northern Saudi Arabia, extremely high temperatures have been recorded over recent days. On Thursday Basrah Airport, Iraq reached 53.4C, while Mitribah in northern Kuwait recorded 54.0C. Both of these temperatures, subject to confirmation, are new national records and the 54.0C recorded at Mitribah is among the highest temperatures ever recorded in Asia.

The highest ever temperature recorded globally was 56.7C at Death Valley, California, USA on 10 July 1913.

The high temperatures will continue today (Friday) with 53.6C recorded at 1200 GMT at Basrah Airport, Iraq, but the weekend should see a break from the heat as northwesterly winds bring cooler air to the region.
While it was worthwhile the article noting the all time global high, the significant difference is that no one has built cities, towns and airports in Death Valley, have they?

The Bolt descent continues

Maybe Bolt considers himself in the running to head Fox News?  He'd fit right in with his increasingly shrill and dumb posts which seem to now be in competition with the style of nutty and stupid exaggeration by the execrable Gateway Pundit. 

Look at this post about Obama - for a video that is supposed to be "bizarre" and "chilling" (all because Obama briefly cracks a smile when he realises he shouldn't personalise it too much)  - how come it's the Press in the audience that actually laugh at the fleeting incident?

Message to Bolt:  the media does not generally laugh at "chilling" comments made by a President. 

Also: he seems unable to contemplate the possibility that a report that the Munich teen killer was shouting "Allahu Akbar" was wrong.   The claim seems to be based on one witness? 

What a weirdo

Scott Adams continues his self branding as a Trumpkin who claims he isn't at his blog.  Or is he just doing it for publicity?  Who cares?

Recommended viewing

I very much enjoyed the BBC doco last night on the futuristic looking Halley Research station in Antarctica on SBS.

It can be watched on SBS on Demand for the next couple of weeks.

The (possible) wonders of aspirin

Could an aspirin a day keep depression away?

Saturday, July 23, 2016

The Thiel speech

I suppose one would not expect Gawker to give a glowing review of Peter Thiel's speech yesterday, but yes, they were underwhelmed.  (Something I noticed was that the Convention floor barely seemed to be paying attention for the first 2 or 3 minutes of a 6 minute speech.  He also is pretty terrible at teleprompter delivery.)

The Gawker article notes that Thiel makes for a peculiar libertarian, in that he longs for the days of some ultra big government projects such as Apollo.  But I see today that  he has said before that he's not ideological on the matter of size of government.  I suppose that should make me think he's at least an independent thinker, but actually it makes me think more that he's just a purely opportunistic, self interested one - he's a fan of space exploration generally, but because he has that odd idea that space colonies will, of course, establish a techno based libertarian utopia.  It probably comes from taking Heinlein too seriously, and I think it was a theme in Kim Stanley Robertson's Mars trilogy too?  (I only read the first book, though - I don't think he's that entertaining as a writer.)

Anyway, I just can't take Thiel seriously in light of his 2009 essay at Cato Unbound, where he dissed democracy, and regretted women got the vote because they're generally too pragmatic to be libertarian. (Well, you tell me what he meant if you think I'm being unfair.)  And in his postscript to that article, he wrote this, the first three sentences of which makes a joke of his support of a candidate who (with the one exception of not caring much about LGBT issues) is as intensely and deliberately divisive as possible:
I believe that politics is way too intense. That’s why I’m a libertarian. Politics gets people angry, destroys relationships, and polarizes peoples’ vision: the world is us versus them; good people versus the other. Politics is about interfering with other people’s lives without their consent. That’s probably why, in the past, libertarians have made little progress in the political sphere. Thus, I advocate focusing energy elsewhere, onto peaceful projects that some consider utopian.
He's also a fence sitter on climate change, although because nuclear power is all Gee Whiz technology, he still advocates for its massive expansion anyway.

I see that The Atlantic has a good article explaining his nonsensical positions, especially his Trump support.  Perhaps I should have just linked to that...

Update:   Vox criticised Thiel's speech and position, too, and included this paragraph:
It’s not just that Trump has a long string of business failures, from Atlantic City casinos to Trump steaks. Thiel himself described Trump as "symptomatic of everything that is wrong with New York City" just two years ago — he’s under no illusions that Trump is a great businessman.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Sounds about right

The Republicans waged a 3-decade war on government. They got Trump. - Vox

Paul Krugman noted this article, but points out that he called it much earlier on the Republicans, and cites the start of their intellectual downfall as being with the adoption of supply side economics.  

She writes well

I’m With The Banned — Welcome to the Scream Room — Medium

I don't know of Laurie Penny, and as a "queer feminist" I am I certain I would disagree with many of her views.

But this description of her meeting with Milo and assorted Republican hangers-on at the convention is very wittily written, and I strongly suspect explains him correctly.

Dream analysis not required

I certainly hope that dreams don't actually often mean that much, because last night I seemed to have a long one which involved getting a small tattoo from Pauline Hanson (!)   (It was actually to convert a large birthmark on my side - which does not exist in real life, btw - into a volcano.  But I did stop her after a short time, deciding it was a bad idea after all, and she wasn't very competent at it.  And please be assured, there was no erotic aspect - at all.)

And you thought an old white guy arguing with an empty chair was an embarrassing look for the Republicans...

Of course, there were many delusional Right wingers who thought Clint Eastwood's performance was a brilliant bit of biting Obama takedown, instead of the peculiar embarrassment that it was.  I wonder how many of that group think that this election's Republican convention is a success?   Surely even that group (with the catchy motto "United by Hate we Stand") has some within it that can see that this convention looks like a never ending disaster?

For goodness sake, even Charles Krauthammer thought the Christie led chants of "burn the witch" "lock her up" was a bad look.

As for Cruz:  one might almost say his position was principled, except no one seems sure whether it involved him lying about what he would say; and besides, it seems he genuinely is despised by about  95% of people who have had to work with him, which would suggest that his call that people should vote according to conscience means they would be right not to vote for him either.

Rich libertarian weirdo/eccentric* Thiel hasn't spoken yet, but I heard it speculated on the radio that he was going to call for the Party to get on board with gay rights?   I'm curious to see how that goes over...

Anyway, the Party is in the worst intellectual and moral position it has ever been, I reckon.  (Have a look at these bits of misogyny noted at Slate, as well as their story about the trainwreck that Trump is on foreign policy).  The Party blowing itself up like this might be a good thing, eventually...

*  aren't they all? - rich libertarians - or even just "libertarians", I mean

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Okunoshima - my part in its downfall (not really)

Just after I finish my posts about Okunoshima, I see that someone has done a study of some kind arguing that the rabbits are being loved to death.  Population explosion!  No vegetation left!  Bloating them with cabbage!
“There are now about 1,000 rabbits on this two-mile island,” DeMello said. “They’ve destroyed the ecosystem.” As a result of the lack of vegetation and the inappropriate food that tourists provide for the animals, the rabbits suffer from a variety of health problems and now have a life expectancy of just two years, DeMello and her fellow researchers found.
The findings were presented on Wednesday at the World Lagomorph Conference in Turlock, California.
Well, I didn't know the word "lagomorph" before - so that's something useful.

Look, not that I can claim expertise on rabbit health, but my recent day and night on the island just makes me skeptical of these claims:
On Rabbit Island, DeMello and her fellow researchers found that the rabbits are fighting over even the least nutritious food provided by tourists. “Of the 728 rabbits that we counted on the island, 28 percent had visible injuries or illnesses,” she reported. The percentage grew to 50 percent in the areas of the island closest to humans. “The more humans interfered, the sicker and more injured the rabbits appeared to be,” she said.
In fact, I had been prepared to see a fair few rabbits with obvious illnesses - some other blogging visitors sometimes commented on seeing sick looking ones - but as I noted here, I was actually pleasantly surprised by the generally healthy appearance of the great majority of the furry inhabitants.  Compared to what we occasionally see jumping across the road in Australia, the Okunoshima ones seemed particularly fine examples of rabbit-hood.

As for "destroying the ecosystem" - another pleasant surprise was to see that the island looks so well vegetated despite supporting hundreds of rabbits.  Perhaps it's because in Australia wild rabbits have such a environment destroying reputation that I would not have been too surprised if the island featured baron sections chock full of holes, with mangy, starving rabbits lolling about desperate for a feed.   Well, OK, sometimes they are very keen on a feed, but while there are a rabbit divots on the lawn in front of the hotel, it's not the scene of rabbit devastation an Australian might expect, at all.

And did I kill any by feeding them cabbage?:
The tourists, she said, often come bearing cabbage, one of the cheapest vegetables in Japan and a big part of the Japanese diet. Cabbage is a bad food choice for rabbits, as it causes dangerous and potentially deadly bloat. It is also low in fiber, something rabbits require for what DeMello called their “very particular digestive system.”
Hmm.  It's odd, then that there seem to be a few million websites on Google - including from vets - saying that pet rabbits can be fed cabbage, some (but not all) mentioning that some rabbits might get bloat and be a bit cautious in introducing it.

There may well be an element of truth in this report - I wouldn't be surprised if increased tourists numbers has led to a slight population increase - but even then, I know that on a weekday in July, the island was hardly teaming with humans.  (Access being available only by a ferry, there will always be a natural limit on the number of people there each day.) 

Overall, this report just smacks too much of environmental doomsaying from a well intentioned, but exaggerating, animal welfare advocate.  A bit like the American pro-koala advocate years ago who I heard (or read) saying that Australians were hearing the wailing of treeless, dying koalas at night.

The situation for the rabbits and the island may not be ideal, but it doesn't look to me to be as bad as these people claim.

Update:  I see from this website that most wild rabbits actually live less than a year (!), although pet ones can last 8 to 10.   If the Okunoshima ones live for 2, they're doing better than average, although I would have guessed they would get closer to the pet rabbit age.   There's lots of interesting wild rabbit facts on that website, incidentally.

Good riddance

Milo Yiannopoulos: Twitter banning one man won’t undo his poisonous legacy | Technology | The Guardian

To be perfectly honest, I didn't even know who Yiannopoulos was until his recent appearance on Andrew Bolt's show.  But reading that he took the "gamers" side on Gamergate (about which I had read enough to have a view), worked for Breitbart, and seemed to primarily be about vacuous self promotion in the "culture war", I soon enough had his measure.  (Why is it that Right wing gay men - such as him, Jim Hoft and - I think no one doubts it - Matt Drudge - seem to be amongst the nastiest and dumbest Right wing culture warriors around?  I find that odd.)

The linked article is not bad in explaining his poison, although I think she's unduly pessimistic about the benefits of his Twitter banning.

Update:  the Vox explainer on the background to his banning is pretty good.  Of course, that Bolt would have him on his show just re-confirms my re-categorisation of him  - "Gone Completely Stupid and Offensive".

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

My election vote justified

Matthew Canavan says there is 'uncertainty' around impact of climate change | Australia news | The Guardian

I actually don't know how Malcolm Turnbull justifies the political compromises he has had to make to keep the PM job.  It's not as if The Lodge is that nice a house to live in.

I live for the day when a Liberal PM will say to his [update - I would normally say "or her" - but this is the Liberal Party we're talking about] party room - "That's it, climate change deniers and lukewarmer 'we can wait another 30 years before we decide what to do' advocates.  You're wrong, you've been wrong since the start, and you're too stupid or ideological to see or admit it.   Not only that, you've set up the world for irreparable harm for many, many generations.  You'll have no influence on policy and get out and sit on the cross benches if you don't like it."

Somewhat amusing

I am usually surprised at how likeable "The Feed" on SBS 2 is when I watch it - it plugs away with a tiny audience, and yet people like me continually forget to watch.   Anyway, 7.30 was dull last night, so I switched over, and was somewhat amused by this:

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Movie critic noted

I should stop scanning Catallaxy, the blog for aging and generically angry sad sacks white men (plus the odd - and I mean odd - women who like that type).  But the occasional comment catches my eye, such as from long time Australian blogging identity CL, aka "The Only Man From the 1950's Who Was Born in the 70's."  Here's his comment on the new Ghostbusters:

I thought the clip was quite funny, as it happens.

Sounds to me like he'd fit right in at 4Chan...

Incidentally, the misogynistic outrage at remaking the movie with females was just the silliest controversy.  Apart from the loser dork-dom that fretting about women re-doing a film in their gender illustrates, as if it was worth dying on the barricades for the original movie in the first place.  It was just a mildly diverting, mildly entertaining movie, after all. 

Some people never change..

Gee. I reckon you can really see Sam the adult in Sam the boy...

The Okunoshima Post - Part 3

If I had paid more attention to what people said about Okunoshima (apart from "Rabbits!! - look at the rabbits!"), I would have realised before I got there that it is in a very scenic area, at the edge of the group of islands in what's called the Seto Inland Sea.  You'll start noticing how pretty the area is on the train (or bus) trip from Mihara to Tadanoumi, as it follows the coast line with lots of water and island views.  You can see this very large looking island spanning bridge in the distance, too:

[I see now that it is the Tatara Bridge, with towers 220 m high (!)]

So, I was pleasantly surprised by scenery such as this (all photos taken from the island):

It was foggy the next morning (in fact, it delayed the first ferry), but it made for a nice photo or two:

I think this is an old timer, enjoying the view too:

I read now that the larger islands in this area, being connected via bridges, are popular for cycling tourists.  Have a look at the photos from the bike path at this CNN Travel site.  I think this definitely looks like an enticing part of Japan to explore in more detail.

As for the hotel, here's a panorama pic of it on the foggy morning (if you click and enlarge it, you can try to count the rabbits, too):

The facilities are fine but certainly not top class.  In particular, the grounds had a "we're not ready for holiday season yet" feel, even though it was the start of July.  There is a pool, for example, which was closed and an odd shade of green; and although there are several tennis courts around the back, most looked shabby.   The grounds in front of the hotel are obviously a challenge to keep neat when there is strong competition for grass from 700 or so rabbits every day, but it didn't look like there was much attempt to tidy them up, either.

On the other hand, one of the cheaper ways to stay on the island is to camp on the quite tidy looking nearby camping ground with sea views, but still take your meals in the hotel.  The tent can either be your own, or even one supplied (and, I think, according to one internet account) erected for you by the resort staff.   I didn't see the amenities block, though. 

Not that it worries me, but I think nearly all rooms are Japanese style, which means sleeping on futons and a toilet in the room but no shower or bath, so it's off to the communal onsen style baths to get clean of an evening.

Did I mention before that the food in the buffet dining room is really pretty good?  Octopus is the local speciality, so expect it to turn up in various forms.

As for the other island's attractions:

* the small poison gas museum is worth seeing:  it takes the same "let this never happen again" polemic style of Hiroshima atomic bomb museum, not that there's anything wrong with that, of course.  Still, you'll only need about 20 minutes or so to read all of the english information available;

* the ruins around the island.  There are various bits of decaying infrastructure from the old poison gas days. 

They're a good reason to go on a bike ride. Put me in mind of the island being a suitable hideout for a small scale Bond villain.   It might be hard to keep up the evil aura while being followed by rabbits, however.

*  the nature education centre:  looks pretty new and is neat, but not much info in English.

But at the end of the day, it's hard to resist just wanting to be with the inhabitants:

A final note:  if the hotel sells rabbit food, I never saw a sign for it.  But I think the cafe might sell pellets?  In any event, they don't sell veges for rabbits, so buy some on the mainland before you get there, as per my previous post.

It seemed it was not only tourists who are besotted with the furry inhabitants (whose natural enemies, by the way, appear to be limited to crows.  My son and daughter, while bike riding, saw a crow threatening a baby  bunny, who escaped under a bush.)  There was an elderly Japanese (I think) couple who came over to the island with a huge bag and box of leafy vegetables.  I saw him perching them on a bicycle and heading off around the island to distribute his bounty.  I could happily imagine a retirement doing that, too..

Monday, July 18, 2016

The Okunoshima post - Part 2

First impressions on seeing the island are slightly marred by the huge power transmission towers that stand on it, but they're not so noticeable once you're there:

Nearly setting foot on the island now:

And finally, the welcoming committee:

The waiting bus takes you on the short-ish but slow (to avoid road rabbits - watching them a bit too casually getting out of the way causes anxiety to the newly arrived rabbit fans) drive to the hotel, where there's every chance more will be on the stairs near the entrance:

Now, of course I have scores of photos of happy rabbits being fed by my happy family, but privacy concerns prevent me putting them up; and besides, you can see heaps of similar photos elsewhere on the net so I won't bother - wait - who am I kidding, how can I resist?

Walk out in front of the hotel (they don't want you feeding them right at the entrance), shake your bag of pellets, and you'll be the centre of attention very quickly:

The websites say the origin of the rabbits is not known with certainty, but I do doubt the version that they are from the island's poison gas days.  They just look more like what I imagine they should from being from pet rabbit stock; and are, by and large, healthy looking and well behaved around people.  Signs indicate you shouldn't touch (or at least hold) them; but they are gentle and most are happy to be petted softly, as guests continuously do:

Hire a bicycle from the hotel and ride around the island (it's a pleasant, mostly flat, ride) and they're everywhere, often approaching if you stop. (Photo cropped for family privacy reasons):

This little guy, on the second day as it was getting hotter, lopped over to me even though I had no food, and promptly laid down between my feet for (I think) some useful shade:

How charming is that?

I didn't even see what rabbits are famous for doing to generate baby rabbits.  Maybe they leave that for the burrows?

If you have food, you'll easily get rabbits on your lap, if you want them there:

But - you do have to be sensible about not getting fingers too close to a hungry eating rabbit's mouth - my son somehow got bitten deep enough to bleed.   My daughter had a bite too, but not a bleeding one. Later I saw video from her phone where she was putting her fingers right up to a rabbit's mouth, it was like she was inviting it to have a bite.  They, rightly, did not blame the rabbits. 

As I say, they are generally well behaved, curious and lovely creatures.  The occasional bit of rabbit on rabbit fighting can be spotted, but by and large, it seems rabbit society is pretty orderly.

In the next part, I'll talk more about the island and hotel.

The movie review you weren't waiting for

Saw Spielberg's "The BFG" yesterday.

Positives:  looks terrific; the female lead is charming, as is Mark Rylance as the BFG;  well directed with all of Spielberg's talent with framing gorgeous shots and terrific (but not jarring) camera movement; makes allusions in various ways to his previous films, which keeps someone like me happy.

Negative:  it does lack narrative "push" in the middle section.  I read some reviewer saying the first 20 minutes were not that good - in fact, I would say they are great, but it slows down after that.  It then gains momentum and becomes pleasingly silly again in the last section when the Queen gets involved.

Overall I found it pretty charming, and felt it quite true to Roald Dahl (even though I haven't read the book).   But I do understand why it hasn't been a big commercial success - it is too long for the real young kids (although, it must be said, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was narratively languid in the same way and still seen as a success), and too kid fantasy-centric for broad success with teenagers and young adults.  (My own teenagers did see it with me, and grumbled afterwards about various aspects; but I don't doubt they were engaged and enjoyed much of it - it is a film of some depth that gives you much to talk about afterwards.  They just won't admit at school today that they saw it.  Especially my son...)

Speaking of CCBB - perhaps that is how the movie could have been improved - as the 1960's taught us, the addition of a handful of pleasing songs can help a long movie. 

I should add - although I don't consider it a complete success for the reason I explained, I did find it actually more interesting that the overly simplistic "Bridge of Spies".   I still say that while there was nothing really wrong with that movie, its narrative needed more complexity to be a great movie.   

Sunday, July 17, 2016

The Okunoshima ("Rabbit Island") post - Part 1 - getting there

One of the highlights (OK, probably the highlight) of the recent Japan holiday was an overnight stay at Okunoshima, the island somewhat famous for being full of friendly, wild, rabbits.  (I say "somewhat", because it  still not unusual to find Japanese people, even on Honshu, who have not heard of it.  Which is a bit surprising, given the number of Japanese TV shows showing hosts visiting parts of the country, although that is usually to eat the local delicacy and say "oishii!")

Some websites say it can be done as a day trip from Kyoto or Hiroshima, but really, I think the average human will find the place so charming that only a few hours on the island will be a matter of regret.  A day trip from Kyoto in particular would likely take about 7 or so hours of travel, so it would be a long day out!)

We made the trip from Kyoto.  Here's a map (from the rather useful JR Rail pass map) with my arrows showing the big picture from Kyoto to Mihara:

This looks like a very simple trip on the one Shinkansen line, but actually, we had to change at Fukuyama as the train we took out of Kyoto (heading to Hiroshima) did not stop at Mihara.  (On the way back  from Mihara, as we had to get all the way back to Tokyo, we had to change Okayama.)   A map to show Fukuyama:

Also, bear in mind that the JR Rail Pass, which many visitors use, is not valid for Nozomi class trains on that particular Sanyo Shinkansen line.  This, together with the matter of which trains stop where, makes the trip a bit more complicated than it appears from the map alone.  But from Kyoto to Mihara, even with the change, was supposed to take about 3 hours 20 min, although actually, due to power outages on the system, it took a bit longer.)

Anyhow, once you get to Mihara, here's the more detailed map showing the local Kure line to get to the ferry terminal town of Tadanoumi:

(The Kure line train was not running on our visit, again due to the power system problems - caused by recent bad weather - and there was a bus put on from the train station instead.)

Because I want to make the life of the traveller to Okunoshima as simple as possible, here's a marked up map showing you how to walk from the train station at Tadanoumi to the ferry terminal.   (I was expecting this to more explicitly signed for the foreign visitor, but it didn't seem to be.  Maybe there is a map inside the station somewhere, but I missed it because we got delivered there by bus?):

I do recommend going first to the next door Family Mart and buying the rabbit food packs they sell - you can get cabbage leaves, pellet food and carrot sticks - and you should buy plenty. (The carrot sticks get eaten really quickly though - cabbage is more easily stretched out.)  The ferry terminal sells tickets to the island, and also pellet food for the rabbits.

A recent copy of the ferry timetable is at this site (but whether it is still current, don't ask me), but as you can it does run pretty frequently during the day.   The trip over only takes15 minutes at most, and then you in the land of rabbits.  Oh, and the ruins of a poison gas manufacturing plant.  More in part 2.

Friday, July 15, 2016

He doesn't make a very convincing case

Why You Should Believe in the Digital Afterlife - The Atlantic

At least he details the complexity of doing adequate brain scans to be able to replicate its state in order to create a digital upload of one's consciousness.   This is always the vaguest part in science fiction scenarios, and you can see why...

Islam - again (and Japan, too)

Oh no.  News of yet another terrible radical Islamic inspired attack in France.

While in Japan recently, I kept thinking what a security nightmare that country could be if Islamic terrorism was a serious issue there.   There are now specific announcements on their train system that security has been upgraded, but whether that is due to a terrorism concern, or just worry about crime generally, I'm not sure.   But seriously, that country has been trusting its own people for so long, they have practices in place that would just make a terrorist attack so easy and they are slow to change.

For example, luggage lockers are extremely common around train stations and (I think) even at Narita airport;  I presume they're not much available in Britain or the US any more?   Maybe they aren't such a good spot for a terrorist to think about causing maximum danger, given that the locker itself would have effect on the blast, and there are not usually that many people milling around them, but still...

The most obvious issue is on Shinkansen, which are terrific but do not provide adequate space for large baggage.  The few people with large luggage (usually foreigners, as most Japanese use their incredibly efficient internal luggage or parcel delivery services)  often do have to leave them in the space behind the last row of seats and the wall in each carriage.   (It's a pretty big gap, and can you fit a few large suitcases/backpacks in there.  I doubt it's intentionally there for luggage, but in practice, that's what it gets used for.)  This means you are often sitting far from your luggage, sometimes mixed up with other people's.

The announcements say that you should tell staff if luggage not with you is yours, and there are conductors often moving through the train, seemingly only tallying up the number of occupied seats and bowing as they enter and exit the carriage; but I know from direct observation that they just don't worry about the luggage sitting at the end of the carriage spot.  (I never bothered trying to tell them; but I saw some other foreigners doing so, to a conductor who just smiled and nodded and moved on.) 

It is, in other words, the perfect spot for a terrorist bomb; and one which does not even involve suicide tactics, given that you can move freely between carriages.

Should I be making this observation out loud?   I don't know, but I'm sure I can't be the only foreigner who has thought about this...

Anyhow, I see from the Japan Times, which I don't normally expect to have much about Islamic terrorism concerns, that the Japanese do not waste time fretting too much about privacy rights when it comes to monitoring Muslims.  In fact, it's pretty extraordinary:
Qureshi, like almost all of Japan’s roughly 100,000 Muslim residents, is no stranger to police surveillance. However, the true extent of the systematic profiling and surveillance of Japan’s Muslim community only came to light in 2010, when over 100 internal Metropolitan Police Department documents were leaked online.
The leak revealed that the police had compiled detailed profiles on 72,000 Muslims, including personal information such as bank account statements, passport details and records of their movements. The leak also showed that police had at times planted cameras inside mosques and used undercover agents to infiltrate Islamic nonprofit organizations and halal grocers and restaurants.
The leaked documents, which were made available unredacted online and included the personal profiles of dozens of Muslims, were downloaded more than 10,000 times in the first few weeks.
A detailed breakdown of Qureshi’s life was among the documents, but he says he wasn’t surprised. He had known he was being followed for a long time.
There are some judicial limits, but the basic idea is still OK:
After the 2010 leak, 17 of the Muslims named in the documents sued the government and police in a bid to have the widespread spying ruled illegal. In 2014, the Tokyo District Court agreed that the leak had violated the plaintiffs’ right to privacy and awarded them ¥90 million in compensation, but it also ruled that the intelligence-gathering was “necessary and inevitable.”
The court sidestepped the issue of blanket profiling by religion, as did the Tokyo High Court in an appeal the following year.
Earlier this year, the group asked the Supreme Court to rule on the constitutionality of the lower court’s decision.
The leaked documents refer to all those profiled as “suspects.” Their lawyers argued that spying solely on the basis of faith, rather than any suspicious activity, breached their plaintiffs’ rights to privacy, equality and freedom of religion. The Supreme Court dismissed the case on May 31.
In another Japan Times article of recent interest, a writer looks at the historic reasons why Muslims often don't trust other Muslims.  It starts with an issue I did not even realise existed (well, apart from the fact that Sunnis and Shiites may well want to kill each other):
The mistrust that pervades Middle Eastern societies is hard to miss. As controlled experiments confirm, Arabs have substantially less trust in strangers, foreign or domestic, than, say, Europeans. This hampers progress on many fronts, from business development to government reforms.
Low-trust societies participate disproportionately less in international commerce, and attract less investment. And, indeed, according to the World Values Survey and related research, trust among individuals in the Middle East is low enough to limit commercial transactions to people who know one another either personally or through mutual acquaintances. Because of their lack of trust, Arabs will often pass up potentially lucrative opportunities to gain through exchange....
One potentially important clue lies in the difference between perceptions of Muslims and Christians. To be sure, there are no official data quantifying the deficit; in most parts of the Middle East, too few Christians are left to make meaningful statistical comparisons. But casual evidence suggests that the region’s shoppers, merchants, and investors generally consider local Christians to be more trustworthy than local Muslims.
 This historical source of this, according to the writer, go back some way:
My work with the economic historian Jared Rubin exploring Istanbul’s 17th- and 18th-century Islamic court records may offer insights into why.
At that time, Istanbul was a cosmopolitan city; around 35 percent of its local residents were Christian, and 6 percent were Jewish. According to Islamic law (Shariah), Muslims had to do business according to Islamic rules, and if they wanted to adjudicate a conflict, they had to use an Islamic court. For their part, Christians and Jews could do business under their own rules, though they were free also to follow Islamic rules and to use Islamic courts, if they so desired. But, of course, if they were involved in a case against a Muslim, that had to be handled in an Islamic court.
When a Muslim and a non-Muslim faced each other in a trial, the Muslim enjoyed significant advantages. First, the judges’ training predisposed them to give the benefit of any doubt to a fellow Muslim. Second, the court staff was entirely Muslim, which meant that testimony was viewed solely from a Muslim perspective. Third, whereas Muslims could testify against anyone, Christians and Jews could testify only against another non-Muslim.
But these advantages had a downside. Because the legal system made it easier for Muslims to breach contracts with impunity, they were more often tempted to default on their debts and to renege on their obligations as business partners and sellers.
Meanwhile, non-Muslims, whose obligations were enforced more vigorously, gained a reputation for trustworthiness. To reflect differences in perceived risk, lenders, who were predominantly Muslim, charged about two percentage points less for credit to Christian and Jewish borrowers than to Muslims (15 percent annually, as opposed to 17 percent).
So it seems that perceptions of trustworthiness in the Arab world are rooted, at least partly, in the uneven enforcement of commitments under Islamic law. The sectarian differences in legal enforcement did not last. In the mid-19th century, Islamic courts gave way to what were essentially secular courts, at least with respect to commerce and finance. The enforcement of commitments then became more balanced.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Pre-post announcement

About apartments

Rent report: Units play catch up to houses in housing-short Sydney, Domain says |

Not sure if it's entirely reliable, but this article indicates Sydney is not oversupplied with residential units, but Brisbane very soon will be.

The picture was different in Brisbane, where decade-low levels of
migration into southeast Queensland and the recent state budget boost
for first home buyers were weakening the rental market. Rents of units
fell to $375 from March's record $380 and houses slipped to $400 from
$410. While prices are still up, or equal to, their level of a year ago,
vacancy rates for both dwelling types have increased, suggesting rents
will fall further - especially given the large numbers of new apartments
due to settle in the Queensland capital, Dr Wilson said.

"The signs are all there for more supply than demand," he said. "It means downward pressure on rents in Brisbane."
One thing I have been meaning to say for a long time, based on my getting to see quite a lot of unit plans in my line of work, is that I am struck by the largely unimaginative design of apartments in Australia.  Now I know there is only so much you can do with a rectangular floor area, but it just seems to me that there is rarely anything particularly distinctive about Australian apartments.   Why do we so rarely see, for example, units with two internal levels (I always like the sleeping area on a different level from the living area, and I did recently see one unit, about 20 years old I would guess, that did do that.)  For units for single people, we rarely see built in space saving designs that are so common in Japan, or (for that matter) that you may see in an Ikea store.  

There is certainly a tendency in Brisbane for very large unit balconies now, at the cost of decreased interior size.  I know we have the weather for a lot of outdoor eating, or partying, but I still feel that trend has actually gone a bit too far in this city.  (Maybe I feel that way because I can feel slightly nervous being on balconies that are more than about 4 or 5 few stories about ground level, anyway.)     

And I have already blogged about the fashion for modern high rise units here to have floor to ceiling glass as the exterior walls, whether it be for bedrooms or living areas.  This can't be energy efficient, surely; and I just don't like the insubstantial feeling it gives a building.

Maybe everyone thinks they're an architect, but I do like to imagine that if someone paid me lots of money, gave me a year and told me to come up with something really innovative and interesting (but not over the top expensive, either) for Australian unit design, I could do it....

IS prepares for the end (of holding territory)

Islamic State readies for fall of 'caliphate'

It's pretty much gone as I expected.   They'll be dangerous for some time yet, of course, due to "off shore" terrorism.  (And within Iraq, of course.  Can you imagine the nightmare of policing a re-captured IS controlled city with a huge underground resistance?)   But a couple of other observations:

a.  the ABC has recently run a story with interviews of captured IS fighters in northern Iraq (all de-bearded and not looking like crazed killers at the moment) in which they complain that they were (and remain) motivated by their bad former treatment at the hands of the Iraqi Shiite controlled army.  This makes it all the more plain that with the overthrow of Saddam and the major revival within Iraq of the old internal Islamic sectarian conflict, the ultimate effects of the war were not containable within Iraq.  A reasonable sounding summary of the effect of the war appears today at Gulf News, actually:
Likewise, before they started the war, many policymakers believed that democracy would emerge quickly once Saddam was gone. Ensuring that such fundamental and consequential assumptions are tested by “red teams” — those not supporting the associated policy — should be standard operating procedure.

There is also the reality that removing governments, as difficult as that can be, is not nearly as difficult as creating the security that a new government needs to consolidate its authority and earn legitimacy in the eyes of the public. Creating anything like a democracy in a society lacking many of its most basic prerequisites is a task of decades, not months.

The report said little about the legacy of the Iraq War, but it is important to consider. First and foremost, the war disrupted the regional balance of power. No longer in a position to distract and balance Iran, Iraq instead came under Iranian influence. Iran was free not just to develop a
meaningful nuclear programme, but also to intervene directly and via proxies in several countries. Sectarian fighting poisoned relations between Sunnis and Shiites throughout the region. The alienation felt by soldiers and officers of Saddam’s disbanded army fuelled Sunni
insurgency and, ultimately, led to the rise of Daesh (the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant).

b.  How's the cyberwar against IS on line propaganda going?   Both the US military and private hacker  groups said they would be fighting them in cyberspace, but we hear very little about how that's gone.

Flicking the switch to vaudeville

Oh my.  The state of British politics seems to have become a comedy script instead of something serious, with David Cameron starting a jolly jape that backfired on him, and ultimately resulting in a clown becoming Foreign Secretary.   If such comedy themes continue to spread globally, he'll have another clown in the White House in November with whom he can exchange hair styling tips.

However, I half expect he'll have resigned for impregnating some young European foreign office staffer before then; and Trump: it's not going to happen.

Update:  has there been any support from any media outlet for the appointment of Johnson?   Can't say I've seen any anywhere:  the reaction seems to be universal disbelief.