Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Atomic irony

Scorsese's Silence and the Catholic connection to the atomic bomb

Yes, funny how the second atomic bomb fell on the most Christian (Catholic) of Japanese cities.  This post about the long lasting troubles of Nagasaki Catholics, and Scorsese's new film on the topic, is short but interesting.

Let's talk ironing

Steam irons are a bit of a pain.  They always seem to reach a point - it may take a couple of years or more, but they eventually get there - where they start randomly throwing the electrical safety switch on the power board, which means an annoying process of resetting the timer on many devices in the house.  I am told by an electrician that this is not an unusual problem.  

Which is where I am at with my latest iron.  I was very pleased with it, generally, until it started the old "throw the safety switch" trick, but I've found this electrical problem doesn't happen as long as it is used without water.  That is where the problem arises - water meeting internal heating element.

Which has led me back to trying spray on "ironing aid", a product I haven't used since I was attempting to iron when I was a much younger man living at home.

The popular Australian brand Fabulon is still around, but both Coles and Woolworths have a home brand which is about $1.50 a can and smells and feels exactly the same.   This strikes me as ridiculously cheap - and it's even made in Australia.

I had forgotten how smoothly it makes an iron glide.  In fact, it can be a bit annoying in that it makes shirts slide off the ironing board a bit too easily.   And, I recall from my childhood, if it gets on vinyl flooring, it makes it very slippery and dangerous underfoot.  But generally speaking, it is a pretty handy thing to use.

This also made me curious as to home based alternatives.   Lots of sites say you can make your own spray on starch using cornflower - which I find rather surprising, but in any event it is not the starching effect that I am really after.

So what makes the likes of Fabulon so slippery?   Dow Corning (and other sites) tell me that it is silicone emulsion:
Dow Corning® HV 495 Emulsion has demonstrated its effectiveness in ironing aid applications. Suitable for use in rinse-cycle fabric softeners and fabric conditioners and in spray starches and other spray-on ironing aids, Dow Corning HV 495 Emulsion:
  • Provides lubricity to the treated fabric
  • Reduces starting and sliding friction between the fabric and the iron
  • Makes ironing easier, saving time, effort and electricity
  • Adds softness without negatively impacting water absorbency
 I like the word "lubricity".  A good one to try to slip into conversation at a dinner party.  (Mind you, if you luck out and okra is on the menu, it would be very easy.) 

Monday, November 28, 2016

Big hangar

Dead zeppelins: Brazilian gravesite is airships' stairway to heaven | World news | The Guardian

So, there's still a Zepplin hangar standing in Brazil, near Rio.  Neat...

Still showing some promise

External brain stimulation goes deep : Nature News & Comment

How does the world deal with a "post truth" US President?

Trump makes baseless claim that he won the popular vote excluding 'millions' of 'illegal voters' | Business Insider

As fact checking sites have explained, this claim seems to have originated with one guy, who provided no evidence whatsoever; it then got attention at Infowars and the idiot Gateway Pundit's site; and now, if you can believe him, Trump believes it too.  Or, he is willing to use it if it suits his purposes.

I mean, seriously, what's worse? - a President who is dumb enough to be convinced by whatever appears on conspiracy sites; or a President so morally base in his "win at any cost" attitude that he will use conspiracy claims not caring if they are false, and knowing many of his followers will believe him, if they suit his purposes?  

Update:  Vox's commentary on this is worth reading, too.

For someone who used to work at Breitbart, seems relatively sensible

Ben Shapiro on Steve Bannon, the alt-right, and why the left needs to turn down the outrage.

I think he makes sense on the matter of Bannon and the alt.right generally.  Points out what a nut Milo is - that Bolt should have him as a guest just shows AB's poor judgement - again.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Wearing fur in the tropics

I was watching David Attenborough's Wild Singapore the other night and was surprised to learn about its (now) locally famous family of otters living in Marina Bay, right in the city.   

I had no idea that otters even lived in a warm climate.  Their fur always made me assume they were cold water creatures only.  But obviously I was wrong. In fact:
Otters are found on every single continent in the world except for Australia and Antarctica. They enjoy the freshwater but they are also known to live in the saltwater of the oceans as well.
There's even a species of otter to be found in the middle of Africa.

How did Australia manage to miss out on them??  Was there some ancient territorial war with platypus that our poison spurred local river inhabitant won?

Anyway, this site explains that the Singaporean otters were no where to be seen in the 1970's, but they've reappeared since the city cleaned up its waterways.

Another site says that if you count all of the know otter families around the island, there are perhaps 50 furry residents. 

The things you learn...

Chow mein cooked

Maybe it was just my family, but I remember the mainstay of takeaway Chinese food in the 60's and 70's was Chicken Chow Mein.  With the discovery in our pantry of a packet of friend noodles yesterday, I thought it was about time I tried cooking it myself.

I followed this recipe, which was pretty straight forward, and used pork instead of chicken.   (I also used a full onion - I remember most takeaway chinese uses a lot of onion in the vegetable mix.)

The result was pretty good.  Nothing fancy, but had that old childhood comfort food feel about it.

For my future reference:

Friday, November 25, 2016

I'm embarrassed to say I didn't know that...

Is Life on Earth Premature from a Cosmic Perspective?: Life as we know it first became possible about 30 million years after the Big Bang, when the first stars seeded the cosmos with the necessary elements like carbon and oxygen. Life will end 10 trillion years from now when the last stars fade away and die. Loeb and his colleagues considered the relative likelihood of life between those two boundaries.

The dominant factor proved to be the lifetimes of stars. The higher a star’s mass, the shorter its lifetime. Stars larger than about three times the sun’s mass will expire before life has a chance to evolve.

Conversely, the smallest stars weigh less than 10 percent as much as the Sun. They will glow for 10 trillion years, giving life ample time to emerge on any planets they host. As a result, the probability of life grows over time. In fact, chances of life are 1000 times higher in the distant future than now.
I am going to tell this to the kids over dinner tonight.   My daughter will respond "when are getting me a new mobile phone?"  and my son will say "hurry up, you have to drive me to the party."  But I try...

Update:  here's another brief explanation about the extraordinary longevity of red dwarf stars:
The smallest stars are the red dwarfs, these start at 50% the mass of the Sun, and can be as small as 7.5% the mass of the Sun. A red dwarf with only 10% the mass of the Sun will emit 1/10,000th the amount of energy given off by the Sun. Furthermore, red dwarfs lack radiative zones around their cores. Instead, the convective zone of the star comes right down to the cure. This means that the core of the star is continuously mixed up, and the helium ash is carried away to prevent it from building up. Red dwarf stars use up all their hydrogen, not just the stuff in the core. It’s believed that the smaller red dwarf stars will live for 10 trillion years or more. 

Just passing on an important message...

A ridiculous situation

Trump’s Kleptocracy Already Feels Like Old News

Because Trump is presumably still - for the moment, but who knows how many policy reversals it can bear - riding a wave of populism and "things gotta change" rhetoric, I would bet that most of his electors don't care if his businesses are not in anything like a blind trust and profit from his presidency.   Yet they were intensely interested in the Clinton Foundation.  Basically, this is pretty strong evidence that Trumpkins are not very bright.

An odd trend in Japan

As Japan Ages, More Of Its Elderly Are Becoming Petty Criminals : Parallels : NPR

An old problem

Doctor's overdose death prompts warning over misuse of anaesthetics | Australia news | The Guardian

I think anaesthetists using their own drugs has been a problem for a long time, no?  

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Claiming the credit

News today of another decrease in the rate of abortion in the US:
The latest report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, incorporating data from 47 states, said the abortion rate for 2013 was 12.5 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15-44 years. That's half the rate recorded in 1980.
It's mildly amusing watching pro-life organisations claiming all the credit for this.  While there are several articles around saying that there is no single factor at play, there are certainly good reasons for rejecting the pro-lifers "it's all our great work" claim.    Last year, for example, fivethirtyeight had an article arguing strongly that fewer pregnancies - almost certainly related to better access to contraception - is behind the lower abortion rate:
Although it’s impossible to attribute the decline to a single factor, the data shows that better contraception — combined with a bad economy and a falling teen pregnancy rate — is largely responsible. Abortion rates did fall in many of the states with new restrictions, but they also dropped in others, such as New York and Connecticut, where access to abortion is relatively unobstructed. In fact, some of the states with the biggest declines — Hawaii, Nevada and New Mexico — have enacted no new abortion laws in recent years, suggesting that something other than reduced access is spurring the trend.
Elizabeth Ananat, an associate professor of economics at Duke University who studies the economics of fertility, said the data also contradicts the notion that more women are rejecting abortion and choosing to stay pregnant. “If women’s attitudes were really shifting, we should see the birth rate go up,” she says. “Instead, birth rates are falling, too.” (The birth rate reached a record low in 2013, according to the CDC. It fell by 2 percent between 2010 and 2013, and by 9 percent between 2007 and 2013.) According to Ananat and other experts, the decline in abortions is a symptom of another trend: Fewer women are getting pregnant in the first place.
What’s behind the declining pregnancy rate is more difficult to pinpoint. One clear factor, said Joerg Dreweke, a spokesman for the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that supports abortion rights, is the teenage pregnancy rate, which has been falling steadily since the early 1990s. According to Dreweke, this is partially due to better contraceptive use among teenagers. Other research on teen fertility rates supports this: In a paper published earlier this year, economists Phillip Levine and Melissa Kearney found that other policy changes — such as sex education, whether it was comprehensive or abstinence-only — couldn’t explain the decline. Because the vast majority (82 percent in 2010) of teen pregnancies are unplanned, a reduction in teen pregnancy overall will have an effect on the abortion rate. Since teenagers account for only about 18 percent of abortions, though, their effect is limited.
With the distinct possibility that Republican changes to the health system will lead to more expensive contraception, and harder access to abortions, who knows what will happen to the rate in future.

But, to confound things further, I also note that, oddly, it may be that the abortion rate in Australia is now quite a bit higher than America, despite Medicare, easy access to contraception, and non religious sex education in schools.

Seems there is something we may not be doing right....  

Update:   Oh, and before any escapee from Catallaxy drops by and suggests that the higher Australia rate is evidence of the success of the much higher profile pro-Life culture in the US, I would point out that places like most of the the Nordic countries have rates either very similar to, or lower than, the new low in the US, and other corners of Europe, like Holland  have had a substantially lower rate for many years.    I doubt that the pro-Life movement has any significant profile in those countries.  In fact, the whole lesson of what happened in Eastern Europe (a dramatic drop in abortion rate after contraception became more available) is that contraception can massively reduce abortion.  

Surprise - a good environmental story

Mercury levels dropping in north Atlantic tuna

Neo Nazi murder

Far-right terrorist Thomas Mair jailed for life for Jo Cox murder | Politics | The Guardian

I had assumed that the guy who did this would turn out to be mentally ill.  But no, turns out he was a neo-Nazi who, it would appear, has no regrets about this murder done in the cause of Brexit, apparently.

Is it just me, or does it seem that the wingnut Right pays scant attention to murders when done by someone clearly on their end of the political spectrum?  

Killed four so far

Explainer: What is thunderstorm asthma?

Can't say I was even aware of this as a medical phenomena until the storm in Melbourne this week killed four people via the indirect route of asthma.   All a bit of a worry...

Sure...de-fund the most useful thing NASA does

Trump adviser says administration will eliminate NASA climate research.

Phil Plait is rightly furious at the claim by a Trump adviser that they will be de-funding NASA's climate science research.  Of course, given Trump's recent reversal track record, it's quite possible that in fact funding for it will end up increasing.   But I wouldn't bet on that one.

I suppose I should note, however, that there has been talk of a Trump administration telling NASA to forget about Mars and concentrate on going back to the Moon.  That would actually be a policy I would endorse, and may well again prove that even the worst administrations struggle to do absolutely everything wrong.  

Update:   Stoat says that maybe Plait shouldn't be so upset - it's not really obvious why NASA should be the body doing climate research anyway.  This leads to one cranky response, and one funny-'cos-it's-true, in comments:

 Eli Rabett
Idiot, what makes you think the pie won’t shrink to nothing?
The Republicans tried to take out NSF geoscience sciences last year along with cuts in NOAA and NASA climate sciences, Took a lot of work to hold the cuts in check. There is nothing holding them back this year and they are quite likely to try and shift programs without shifting money or people,
 And, the other one:

           Phil Hays
Amused and amazed.
I think you don’t understand Donald J Trump.
He has no idea about any subject, other than how great Donald J Trump is. And how Donald J Trump is going to win every time. And how everyone is going to love Donald J Trump.
Climate? Ideas will depends on who he is talking to. If he can see how Donald J Trump can win by supporting a carbon tax, he is for a carbon tax. If he can see how Donald J Trump can win with cap and trade, he would be for cap and trade. If removing regulations like soot emission limits from burning coal is a winning subject, he is for that as well. And for clean air, he is for that at the same time. If green energy technology is the wave of the future, and Donald J Trump can win by promoting it, he is for green energy technology. You can’t agree with or disagree with his views, as they change, sometimes in the middle of a sentence. He will be for or against the Paris agreement, depending on who he is talking to, where he is talking, the phase of the Moon, and probably other factors.
Don’t think his advisers know any better what he is going to say or do. Quoting them is a waste of bytes. Please don’t waste bytes.
As for should NASA be doing climate change research? Other than giving business to letterhead printing companies, I don’t see what possible advantage moving climate change research elsewhere would have.
Or stopping climate change research, for that matter. What we don’t know about can and will hurt us.

Conservatives in denial

“Fake news” hysteria just the latest form of elite paternalism � Hot Air

No, Hot Air.  There is no comparison between the lurid, often deliberately funny, front pages of the Weekly World News in the 1980's, and the gullibility of Trump voters on the matter of fake headlines about Hillary Clinton's alleged scandals.

I have argued for a long time that it is the internet which is behind the dogged persistence of climate change denialism - oddball and contrarian views were much, much harder to circulate in days when they had to rely on small run magazines and the odd mainstream article.  Now contrarians have an instantaneous direct line to their followers.

I am glad to see the problem with the dangerous propaganda enabling aspect of the internet finally being properly recognized.

Trump's taste on display

Donald Trump’s Love of Evita Says a Lot About His Presidency

I've never seen Evita, on stage or even the movie version.  I thought it wasn't really very highly regarded in the Lloyd Webber/Rice canon.  ("Canon" likely not being the appropriate word for them!)   But it seems Trump likes it, and as this article explains, it's consistent with his personality on display in the election campaign.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

[Singing] "Folks are dumb where they come from"

Education, Not Income, Predicted Who Would Vote For Trump | FiveThirtyEight
Yes, I'm being rude about poor, misunderstood, ignore-them-at-your-political-peril Trump supporters.
You do have to wonder though, with Trump apparently walking himself back from things like pursuing Hillary, and saying a fence is as good as a wall anyway, and health reform might incorporate keeping parts of Obamacare, are some of his dumber voters cottoning on yet that they elected a BS artist?

Would be sensational, if true...

Activists Urge Hillary Clinton to Challenge Election Results: Last Thursday, the activists held a conference call with Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta and campaign general counsel Marc Elias to make their case, according to a source briefed on the call. The academics presented findings showing that in Wisconsin, Clinton received 7 percent fewer votes in counties that relied on electronic-voting machines compared with counties that used optical scanners and paper ballots. Based on this statistical analysis, Clinton may have been denied as many as 30,000 votes; she lost Wisconsin by 27,000. While it’s important to note the group has not found proof of hacking or manipulation, they are arguing to the campaign that the suspicious pattern merits an independent review — especially in light of the fact that the Obama White House has accused the Russian government of hacking the Democratic National Committee.
Even if an audit did not show hacking across enough States to make a difference to Trump getting at least 270, it would be a sensational development if there were any hacking done to favour him. 

Message to Homer

My condolences on your recent loss.   (I would comment at your blog, but I have this problem with not being sure if my comment will lead to my Google + account..)  I saw Sinclair in comments at Catallaxy wanted to pass on the same message.

Seems selfishness always wins in libertarian land

Gee.  Could Sinclair Davidson possibly create a worse impression of the moral  and intellectual vacuum at the heart of small government/libertarian world view?:
Still missing the obvious after all these years. What about those of us who simply do not care if the planet is warming up, or cooling down, or going side-ways; we simply do not want to pay more tax. Or incur higher utility bills.
It has always struck me that this is the ultimate cause of so-called climate scepticism. Except few people want to say so. Lord Stern famously argued that if we don’t care about future generations, we won’t care about climate change. If we stop and think about how we treat other people living and breathing today, why imagine that we care about people who are yet to be born? Now this is a positive statement, not a normative statement. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t care about future generations, I’m suggesting that we don’t care about future generations.
As is not uncommon with SD, however, by the time you get to the end of an explanation, it can be hard to tell exactly what his position is... 

Bigger pupils means smarter person?

Pupil Size and Intelligence - Neuroskeptic

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

First of a three part series, apparently

The shifting sexual norms in Japan's literary history | The Japan Times

This is always an interesting topic - how sex and love has been viewed very differently in Japan over the centuries.   As the article says, though, it's easy to over simplify:

The homosexual bonds between samurai meanwhile, nurtured in the relationships between a wakashÅ« (adolescent boy) apprenticed to an older man, were considered ennobling to both and the foundation of lifelong friendships — and used to bolster existing power relationships, giving young samurai added motivation to lay down their lives for their lord. One of the most
famous examples, later depicted in the kabuki plays of writers such as Tsuruya Namboku IV, was the devotion of the 17-year-old youth Mori Ranmaru (1565-1582) to the brutal warlord Oda Nobunaga (1534-1582). It was so intense that he died alongside his lord — possibly by his own hand.
When wakashudō (the pursuit of young boys) fanned out to the more commercially minded and fun-loving middle class in the Edo Period, the number of male prostitutes soared and young kabuki actors often moonlighted as prostitutes, desired by both men and women.
There is a temptation though to see the sexual attitudes of this period as relaxed and open compared to later repressions of the Meiji Era. But it should not be forgotten that this seeming “liberalism” was operating within highly prescriptive power structures controlled by a patriarchy. Relaxed attitudes to sex and gender did not extend to anything that might have disrupted the social order — women were subservient to their husbands and adultery was a criminal offense
punishable by death (for both men and women).
The oppressive aspect of Edo Period morality is acutely depicted in the bunraku and kabuki plays of Chikamatsu Monzaemon (1653-1725). Also, the horrific consequences of adultery have been depicted in classic films, such as Kenji Mizoguchi’s “The Crucified Lovers” (1954), based on a 1715 Chikamatsu’s play.
During this period, so-called pleasure quarters were demarcated as the only acceptable areas for men to relieve sexual frustration and energy with prostitutes before returning to the fold of social conformity. Falling in love with an indentured prostitute often had fatal consequences — the plot of many tragic works including Chikamatsu’s 1720 play “Shinju Ten no Amijima” (“The Love Suicides at Amijima”).
In the name of order, the ruling shogunate watched these quarters closely to ensure they did not exceed certain bounds. The Edo Period saw a long stream of edicts by the shogunate proscribing immoral behavior, including the banning of licentious books and art works

A very curious finding

U.S. Dementia Rates Are Dropping Even as Population Ages - The New York Times


Rabett Run: And Then They Came for Richard Tol

I've posted before, I think, about the great concerns Brexit is causing for academics, who formerly (I gather) enjoyed a great freedom of movement between jobs in Europe due to Britain being in the EU.

Now Richard Tol is complaining about this too, which, given the political company he keeps, is pretty funny.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Cheer up, Adele

I understand that tickets for the singer Adele's concert in Brisbane next year go on sale today.

I half watched a replay of her "Adele Live" at the BBC show last week, and while I think she's certainly a talented singer and songwriter, has she ever written a song which has a simple "I'm in love and happy" theme?   I get the impression that a whole concert with her would be quite a downer.  

My daughter - soon to be 14 - half heartedly asked about seeing her, mainly in the context of her recent realisation that all of her friends have been to at least one blockbuster concert already.   I pointed out that a string of "it could have been great, but wasn't" failed relationship songs are not all teen girl friendly, really, regardless of the quality of her great vocals, and my daughter did not disagree.   Besides, the acoustics of a concert at cricket grounds would be pretty awful, I expect.    

Thin skinned weirdo

The President-Elect Can’t Stop Criticizing “Overrated” Hamilton, Insists on Apology

Yes, for those keeping count at home that’s the fourth time
the president-elect took to Twitter in a span of 24 hours to hit out
against a Broadway musical that has received lots of praise for, among
other things, bringing some much-needed diversity to a Broadway stage.
How the hell does anyone expect this weird President elect to be able to keep things in perspective?

Update:  Even Hot Air gets it:
Someone seriously needs to take away Trump’s iPhone or Droid and never let him touch it again. His demand of an apology from the Hamilton creators and actors is rather #headdesk inducing, because there’s no need for it. Trump is going to have to get used to being criticized or this is going to be a long four years for him. If anything, Trump’s thin skin and hyperbolic statements will only enhance the fear from his detractors that he’s some dictator in waiting, looking to crack down on dissent whenever possible. 
Actually, as it helps remind the world that it's dealing with an emotionally needy nitwit, perhaps it's best that he be allowed to continue to tweet.

Note the Parkes connection

Long-sought signal deepens mystery of fast radio bursts : Nature News & Comment

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Whales and cannibals

Here's another late review you never knew you needed.

Watched "In the Heart of the Sea" last night on Stan (the home of the "not quite A level" movie, it seems.)    You may or may not recall - this was the fairly recent box office flop of Ron Howard (and star Chris Hemsworth) based on (one of the) real life inspirations for Moby Dick:  the sinking of the whaling ship Essex after being rammed a couple of times by a whale.

First things first:   yes, it's a chance for me to whine about historical movies again, and whether or not I approve of what liberties they take with facts.

But, as far as how factual it was, I don't have too much to complain about:  it seems it was more or less accurate, with one notable exception.

Spoiler section:   No, the whale didn't pursue the survivors as the movie suggests.   This story element is understandable in a dramatic sense, but also a bit patently silly.   I think it should have been dropped, but true, it is hard to come up with dramatic highlights in a story of lifeboats drifting at sea.  End of Spoiler section.

But, apart from that, I have to say, it seemed a very good attempt at the general depiction of Nantucket whalers' lives at that time.   And the practical side of how whaling was done was, I'm pretty sure, quite authentic.   There are couple of articles linked below which certainly indicate this.

And while aware of the Essex story, I had forgotten about the cannibalism that was a large part of it;  the movie isn't gory in what it shows, but it doesn't shy away from the topic either.   The bit where the bones were strewn on the floor of the boat when the captain was saved was, apparently, accurate.

So, overall, I recommend the movie for this reason alone.

However, at the technical level, there were two very curious problems.

The minor one:   Chris Hemsworth did seem to have trouble with staying in the same accent.  Not that I'm sure what a Nantucket whaler from the 1800's should have sounded like, but his accent did seem to wander.  Did the voice coach give up?  Is Chris too big a star to correct?

The major one:  For a big budget movie with a famous director and star, it did have some really serious issues with the uneven quality of the special effects.   The land based look of the film is very fine - the recreation of Nantucket looks authentic.  But at sea, it is sometimes a very different matter.  As my son said during one of the worst looking sequences (when the ship first runs into bad weather), Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End  looked more convincing, even in fantasy like conditions. (I still feel that that movie is seriously underrated, by the way.)

Then there are later sequences where some shots look fine, but they are intercut with other shots which have the glow-y fake look that I've complained about in the Lord of the Rings movies and the Star Wars prequels.  The inter-cutting of variable quality shots in the one sequence makes it look very obvious, if you ask me.  

I would guess that two different effects companies worked on the shots which were then spliced together, and somehow they never got the "look" to match.  If I were Ron Howard, I would be rather upset about this.

Or am I imagining it all?  I doubt it.

Anyway, I don't want to put anyone off watching it for these reasons.   Because, well, the life of the seamen in those days was ridiculously tough, and the history of whaling from Nantucket is very fascinating.

To get a good summary, here's a lengthy article in The Smithsonian by the author of the book (Nathaniel Philbrick) that the film is based on.  It's a great read.

As for an article that talks more generally about how often whales sank ships, you probably can't do better than this one at Quartz.   Here's a key section:
In fact, nearly 200 years after the Essex went down, a huge mystery still hangs over the story: Was the sperm whale that attacked the Essex actually acting out of vengeance—and are these great animals even capable of such calculated violence?

Not just the Essex

It might seem that way given that the Essex was hardly the only whaleship to be rammed by a sperm whale. Others include the Pusie Hall in 1835, the Lydia and the Two Generals in 1836, the Pocahontas in 1850, the Ann Alexander in 1851, and the Kathleen in 1902 (all except the Pusie Hall and the Pocahontas sank). Another, the Union, went down near the Azores in 1807 after running into a whale in the night. These perilous encounters with sperm whales ended abruptly after the mid-1800s, thanks in part to the discovery of petroleum in Pennsylvania in 1859—a substitute for whale oil—as well as to rising wages, as Derek Thompson explained in The Atlantic. Another factor was that after 1850 most new ships were built not with wood but iron, which even an 80-ton whale can’t splinter. Tellingly, the last ship that sank due to a run-in with a sperm whale, the Kathleen, had been built in 1844, and was therefore made of wood.

The mystery of Mocha Dick

However, there might have been other sperm-whale attacks than just these seven—particularly if the legend of Mocha Dick is true. The story, first recorded by newspaper editor Jeremiah Reynolds, tells of a mammoth white whale near Isla Mocha, off the Chilean coast, that was famed for assailing whaleships. (As you probably have guessed, Melville took even more of his inspiration from the Mocha Dick legend than the story of the Essex.) The whale was said to have sunk some 22 whaleships between 1810 and 1830.
And as for cannibalism at sea:  this review in The Economist of Philbrick's book indicates he talks in detail about it:
With almost voyeuristic minuteness he has found out that when a body is deprived of water, the lips shrink as if amputated, the gums blacken, the nose withers to half its length, and the skin so contracts round the eyes as to prevent blinking. He has discovered that the fat on starving bodies turns to a “translucent gelatinous substance” and that the meat such a body could yield would be of doubtful nutritional value without fat to accompany it. He can tell us too about the psychological effects of starvation, and the descent into “feral” behaviour as evidenced by Auschwitz survivors. 
On that gruesome note, I'll end.

Friday, November 18, 2016

The frightening appointments begin....

Michael Flynn, Trump’s new national security adviser, loves Russia as much as his boss does - Vox

From the article, look what Powell thinks of him:
Colin Powell wasn’t pulling punches.
“I spoke at DIA last month,” the former secretary of state wrote
in a hacked email released this summer. “Flynn got fired as head of
DIA. His replacement is a black Marine 3-star. I asked why Flynn got
fired. Abusive with staff, didn’t listen, worked against policy, bad
management, etc. He has been and was right-wing nutty every [sic] since.”
Update:  wow, look at what CNN's reporting about the right wing social media nuttiness of Flynn's son, who works closely with Dad.

Update 2:  perhaps Flynn won't accept, because there are some real issues with his on line behaviour.  In July, the Jerusalem Post reported:
The former general– who GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump considered for his running mate, and who last week delivered a primetime speech to the Republican National Convention– was responding to accusations by the Clinton campaign that Russia was behind a hack of the Democratic National Committee, and a subsequent leak of e-mails, in order to help Trump's candidacy.

Flynn wrote that "the corrupt Democratic machine will do and say anything" to get Clinton elected. "This is a new low," he said, retweeting a message that read: "Not anymore, Jews. Not anymore."

He has since apologized for the retweet, calling it "a mistake."

Yellen speaks sense

Federal Reserve Chair Throws Cold Water On Trump's Economic Plan : The Two-Way : NPR

Let's wait for Trump to release his flying monkeys onto her.

A curious line

A curious line from the "yay for the coming break up of the EU - I don't like regulation, so I don't like it" column by Adam Creighton:
Not to mention the inflationary potential of Trump’s promised $US550 billion ($735bn) infrastructure binge financed by a huge tax cut.
Sarcasm?  With small government, libertarian-ish economists, and their fondness for Lafferism, it can be hard to tell...

About selfie deaths

Data Scientists Chart the Tragic Rise of Selfie Deaths: The team also found that the most common cause of death was falling from a height. This reflects the penchant for people taking selfies at the edge of cliffs, at the top of tall structures, and so on.

Water also accounts for a large number of deaths. And a significant number involve water and heights—things like jumping into the sea from a height and so on.

Interestingly, in India, trains feature significantly as a cause of selfie death. “This trend caters to the belief that posing on or next to train tracks with their best friend is regarded as romantic and a sign of never-ending friendship,” they say.

Another feature is the significant proportion of selfie deaths in the U.S. and Russia caused by weapons. “This might be a consequence of the open gun laws in both the countries,” the team suggests.

Because they were healthier in the first place?

Older Moms May Live Longer | TIME

Both do like labels...

The Link Between Autism and Trans Identity - The Atlantic

Sorry, still more Trump talk to consider

Megyn Kelly: Trump's lawyer threatened me, seemed OK with me getting physically hurt.

You should read it, to have an idea of the nastiness of (some) people supporting Trump.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Into the Right

Inside the Sacrifice Zone | by Nathaniel Rich | The New York Review of Books

Interesting review of a book by someone trying to understand the American Right by talking to them.

Too many things I want to copy, but I hadn't realised that Louisiana was another State that did the Lafferite thing and not have it work:

Louisiana’s governor is among the most powerful chief executives in the nation, a legacy that dates back to Huey Long’s administration, and under Governor Bobby Jindal’s dictatorship, between 2008 and 2016, the state’s prospects declined with unprecedented severity. After he reduced corporate income taxes and expanded the exemptions granted to oil and gas companies, the state’s revenue tumbled roughly $3 billion. He transferred $1.6 billion from public schools and hospitals to oil companies in the form of new tax incentives, under the
theory that the presence of oil and a robust petrochemical infrastructure were not incentives enough. (The Louisiana Legislature is not only soaked with oil and gas lobbyists—during a recent session there were seventy for 144 legislators—but many lawmakers themselves
hold industry jobs while serving in office.) Jindal fired 30,000 state employees, furloughed many others, cut education funding by nearly half, and sold off as many state-owned parking lots, farms, and hospitals as he could.

Despite these punishing cuts, he managed over the course of his administration to turn a $900 million budget surplus into a $1.6 billion deficit. National agencies downgraded the state’s
credit rating. The damage was so great that it helped to bring about one of the most unlikely election results in recent American history. Jindal’s successor is John Bel Edwards, a Democrat—the only one to hold statewide office. Edwards is vehemently pro-life and agnostic about climate change, but he is determined to hold the oil and gas industry responsible for funding their share of coastal restoration. He currently enjoys a 62.5 percent approval rating. Almost a year into his first term, however, despite several emergency measures, the state remains in arrears.
And yet I see that Louisiana just voted 58% to 38% for Trump!

Much of the book review talks about the conservative paradox - why so many people who vote Republican do so against their own interests.  The author comes up with a "deep story" that she thinks explains it best:

The deep story that Hochschild creates for the Tea Party is a parable of the white American Dream. It begins with an image of a long  line of people marching across a vast landscape. The Tea Partiers—white, older, Christian, predominantly male, many lacking college degrees—are
somewhere in the middle of the line. They trudge wearily, but with resolve, up a hill. Ahead, beyond the ridge, lies wealth, success, dignity. Far behind them the line is composed of people of color, women, immigrants, refugees. As pensions are reduced and layoffs absorbed, the line slows, then stalls.

An even greater indignity follows: people begin cutting them in line. Many are those who had long stood behind them—blacks, women, immigrants, even Syrian refugees, all now aided by the federal government. Next an even more astonishing figure jumps ahead of them: a brown pelican, the Louisiana state bird, “fluttering its long, oil-drenched wings.” Thanks to environmental protections, it is granted higher social status than, say, an oil rig worker. The pelican, writes Hochschild,

needs clean fish to eat, clean water to dive in, oil-free marshes, and protection from coastal erosion. That’s why it’s in line ahead of you. But really, it’s just an animal and you’re a human being.
Meanwhile the Tea Partiers are made to feel less than human. They find themselves reviled for their Christian morality and the “traditional” values they have been taught to honor from birth. Many speak of “sympathy fatigue,” the sense that every demographic group but theirs receives sympathy from liberals. “People think we’re not good people if we don’t feel sorry for blacks and immigrants and Syrian refugees,” one Tea Partier tells Hochschild. “But I am a good person and I don’t feel sorry for them.”

When Hochschild tells her deep story to some of the people she’s come to know, they greet it rapturously. “You’ve read my mind,” says one. “I live your analogy,” says Mike Schaff. She concludes that they do not vote in their economic interest but in their “emotional self-interest.”
What other choice do they have?
 All very interesting...

A typical story

Wired started a recent article with this anecdote:
In mid-October I wandered into a Trump field office in Youngstown, Ohio and met Coni Kessler, a kind 75-year-old Youngstown native with penciled-on eyebrows and a Women for Trump button on her Trump 2016 t-shirt. She sat me down in a chair just beside her, and for more than an hour, explained why she detested Hillary Clinton and was ecstatic to vote for Trump this year.
Clinton, she told me, is an atheist who wears an earpiece during debates so billionaire George Soros can feed her talking points. The day Clinton collapsed into the back of her van when she was sick with pneumonia? According to Kessler, the Clintons hired a young actress to run up and give Clinton a hug for a staged photo after the collapse. Kessler also said she’d seen videos of Bill Clinton raping an underage girl but that the video had mysteriously disappeared. She wondered why no one was talking about Bill Clinton’s illegitimate, half-black son. And she said that whenever she talks negatively about Clinton online, “they”—presumably the technology overlords—shut her phone down.
At some point, I stopped Kessler to ask her where she’d gotten all these stories, stories I knew were false Clinton conspiracy theories. Her answer: “It was on my Facebook page.”

Piketty on the Trump win

We must rethink globalization, or Trumpism will prevail | Thomas Piketty | Opinion | The Guardian

I think he makes quite a bit of sense.

His views will, however, be completely rejected by a large slab of the Right because, for tribalistic reasons, they will reject that he has any point about climate change, and will reject any talk of increasing taxes as "socialism".

How is that fundamental problem with the Right to be overcome?   

Is anything else happening in the world?

Keeping up with the anti-Trumpism is pretty exhausting, but how can you resist, really?

A few random thoughts:

*  as a customer, I would not be impressed if Trump turned up in the restaurant I was eating in.  Would you trust an undocumented waiter not to take a stab at him, or turn the gas on and leave pronto?  But, it seems, he had a few well wishers at 21 Club, and given a burger there costs $36, you can just tell that this was a audience which would get this benefit from his policies:
When our meal ended, we wandered over to the front bar room. An hour later, people lined up to see Trump and his family exit. (An NBC video would show him saying “we’ll get your taxes down” as he made his way out.) Only one or two people among the dozens clapped. Many of the others were frantically snapping pictures with their smartphones. One man nearby shouted “Thank you, Donald.”
 *  What's irritating about the Trumpkins complaining about the nation wide protests is that they would have to be fooling themselves (well, they already have, but go with me here) if they were to deny that if the shoe was on the other foot - Trump had lost but with 1,000,000 + of the popular vote - the pro-Trump protests would have been full of armed wingnuts in the streets fully primed by Trump's pre-election "the system's rigged" rhetoric.     The situation would have been a thousand times scarier.

*  There is, however, due to Trump's lack of transparency re taxes, business arrangements, and exposure to foreign lending, some added legitimacy to the campaign to not just wave him into the White House.  If ever there were people with damaging disclosures to be made about Trump in any respect, now is the time to make them.

*  I've noticed quite a few tweets in #Trump by people saying in response to Megyn Kelly's "Trump bullied me" line words to the effect "Hey you started it by bullying him with that rude first question you asked."   We're not dealing with normal people here, to put it mildly:  protective of their hero getting asked a clear and direct question about his history of extreme sexism is "bullying".  Dimwits.

Vox has an interview with a social scientist about why social media is so bad for democracy - a favourite theme of mine - and large parts are worth reproducing here:

Jonathan Haidt

... I’m a fan of the political scientist Karen Stenner, who divides the groups on the right into three: The laissez-faire conservatives or libertarians who believe in maximum freedom, including economic freedom and small governance; the Burkean conservatives, who fear chaos, disruption, and disorder — these are many of the conservative intellectuals who have largely opposed Trump.
And then there are the authoritarians, who are people who are not necessarily racist but have a strong sense of moral order, and when they perceive that things are coming apart and that there’s a decrease in moral order, they become racist — hostile to alien groups including blacks, gay people, Mexicans, etc. This is the core audience that Trump has spoken to.
That’s not to say that most people who voted for him are authoritarians, but I think this is the core group that provides the passion that got him through the primaries...

Sean Illing

What you’re describing sounds like an expansion of the culture war. Is it your view that culture wars have subsumed all of our politics and that policies are just props in this broader battle?

Jonathan Haidt

Yes, that’s right. There are existential questions at stake, and this election has felt really apocalyptic for both sides. The right thinks the country is crashing into a void and that Trump, while crazy, is our only hope. The left thinks Trump will bring about a fascist coup, a war with China, or a betrayal of our alliances.
So there is an apocalyptic feeling here. Sacred values are at stake. There really can be no compromise between these two visions....

Ok here's the part about social media:

Jonathan Haidt

We haven’t talked about social media, but I really believe it’s one of our biggest problems. So long as we are all immersed in a constant stream of unbelievable outrages perpetrated by the other side, I don’t see how we can ever trust each other and work together again.
I don’t know what we’re going to do about social media. I’m hopeful that future generations will learn social media responsibility and somehow manage to communicate without demonizing the other side.
We have to recognize that we’re in a crisis, and that the left-right divide is probably unbridgeable. And if it is, we’ll have to give up on doing big things in Washington, and do as little as we possibly can at the national level. We’re going to have to return as much as we can to states and localities, and hope that innovative solutions spring from technology or private industry.
Polarization is here to stay for many decades, and it’s probably going to get worse, and so the question is: How do we adapt our democracy for life under intense polarization?

Sean Illing

There are some who think we’re not quite as polarized as it seems. The idea is that what often appear to be deep divisions are really just products of people living in echo chambers, and that this amplifies differences and obscures commonalities. I’m not terribly persuaded by this, but perhaps it’s worth considering.

Jonathan Haidt

There’s certainly a debate among political scientists about this, but I’m a social psychologist, so I’m not looking at people’s views about policy; I’m looking at their views about each other. And if you look at any measures of what people think about people on the other side, those have become vastly more hostile. That’s what concerns me.
In the 1960s, surveys asked people how they’d feel if their child married a Republican or an African American or a Jew, and back then some people really didn’t want their kids to marry someone of a different ethnicity, but a different political party wasn’t as big a deal. Now the opposite is true.
So I’m quite confident that there is affective polarization or emotional polarization in recent years.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Can't she even Google?

So, Judith Sloan seems to be completely unaware that Prince Albert of Monaco has a conservation foundation in his name, and has taken particular interest in recent years in ocean conservation.

Now look, that information wasn't exactly in the forefront of mind either (although I have a vague idea I had read about his conservation activism before), but at least I know to Google a topic before shooting my mouth off.

Or does she just see words about conservation and immediately go "Bahh...what rubbish"?

With the Trump election, Right wing rudeness combined with ignorance must be at some global high watermark at the moment.

Update:   tone and style is the speciality of some of the women who comment at that blog:

It's like Australia's special little 4chan for people over 65 of both sexes.

Pretty much what you would expect with a Breitbart transition team

Career civil servants should not serve in the Trump administration.

After that article was written, the big news is that Eliot Cohen, a Never Trumper who was on the Douthat side of the "should good people serve Trump, or not" argument has now changed his mind:

A topical article

Can Steve Bannon and Breitbart News Be Both Pro-Israel and Anti-Semitic? - Israel – Forward.com

Short answer:  yes.  From the article:
Breitbart News isn’t the only place where anti-Semitism and Zionism
go hand in hand. Anti-Semitic attitudes abound in Poland, for example,
even as Poland has a strong diplomatic relationship with Israel.

This duality is a central component of “Trumpism,” said Yael
Sternhell, a Tel Aviv University professor of history and American
studies. Though Trump has flip-flopped on the Middle East, he has
professed an ultra-right view of Israel that would seem to outflank even
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He also has a Jewish
son-in-law, and a daughter who converted to Judaism. At the same time,
many of Trump’s followers spout anti-Semitism.

“As long as Jews are in Israel fighting the ‘good fight’ with the
Arab world as a bastion of American ideals and values in the Middle
East, then they are very useful and admirable allies,” said Sternhell.
“Once they are home demanding a multi-cultural democracy, demanding that
the country accommodate their religion, their belief and their custom
that is a different story.”
And more:
Some on the alt-right, the emerging group of racist activists who
support Trump, oppose the close U.S.-Israel relationship as part of a
broader critique of U.S. interventionism abroad. Yet they admire Israel
as a “model for white nationalism and/or Christianism,” according to the
right-wing online encyclopedia Conservapedia. Some also see Jewish
immigration to Israel as helping their cause of a Jew-free white

The coexistence of anti-Semitism and right-Wing Zionism “in Trump’s world
make sense,” said Todd Gitlin, the Columbia University sociologist and
cultural commentator in an email to the Forward.

“Anti-Semitism and right-wing Zionism are varieties of ultra
nationalism, or, to put it more pejoratively (as it deserves to be put)
tribalism. They both presume that the embattled righteous ones need to
bristle at, wall off, and punish the damned outsiders. They hate and
fear cosmopolitan mixtures. They make a fetish of purity. They have the
same soul. They rhyme.”

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Yes, pretty stupid

Group of U-Va. students, faculty ‘deeply offended’ by Thomas Jefferson being quoted at school he founded - The Washington Post

Talk about playing into the hands of the Trumpian anti-political correctness overreaction.   Although, as someone in comments says, the university does have 20,000 students and "only" 469 signed the letter; so is it a case of the media playing up university level immaturity?  To an extent, probably; but there were faculty members signing too....  

Mary Beard on the Trump election

Her article about how she missed the late night drama of the Trump election is both witty and serious.  Her last paragraphs:
Trump and Trump’s policies are truly ghastly, but you have to face the fact that a very large number of people actually voted for him. What is more, resentment at “the elite” has morphed into a proud contempt for truth, expertise and knowledge – not unlike Michael Gove’s jibe at “experts” before the Brexit vote. And in the broader context of political rhetoric, the idea that he won’t be as bad as he claimed is more, rather than less, worrying. I thought that the conciliatory speech was the worst thing I had heard all evening. The idea that he could be thanking Clinton for her service to the country (“I mean that very sincerely”) and be speaking of “binding the wounds of division” – when only the day before he’d promised to impeach her and poured salt into the very wounds he was now promising to heal – beggars belief. It has nothing to do with being “gracious” (as the television pundits had it), and everything to do with words not meaning anything. It was precisely what ancient rhetorical and political theorists feared almost more than anything else: that speech might not be true, and the corrosive effect of that on popular power.

So if we have a big job in a Trump (and Brexit) world, it is not simply to limit the damage. It is also to restore the place of knowledge as necessary for the political process, and not as something that merely reeks of privilege – and to revalue the nature of rhetoric, from “Crooked Hillary” to “taking back control”. Politicians may always have lied, but at least the Greeks and Romans worried about that. We have come almost to take it for granted.

Swamp not drained - actually being replenished with filthier water

Donald Trump’s Great Bait and Switch - The New Yorker

Obama's right

I just saw a clip on the new of Obama saying regarding Trump something close to this:  "I don't think he's ideological, really.  He's more of a pragmatist, which can be a good thing.  It depends on the people he surrounds himself with.  Am I worried about his administration - of course I am."

Yes, it's Obama being generous, and assessing Trump right.  I mean it's abundantly clear, the number of times Trump contradicts himself, that he has no well thought out ideological positions.  He tells the audience what he thinks they need to hear in order to advance his own self interest. 

To take a skerrick of "looking on the bright side" on Trump*, there is a case to be made that a Cruz presidency would have been more dangerous, because you can't imagine him ever changing a position based on pragmatism winning over ideology.  He would be absolutely impervious to contrary advice.

The crucial thing with Trump, though, is that with the appointment of Bannon as adviser, and a likely cabal of ideologically driven AGW deniers/lukewarmers and economic Laffer-ites around him, there is virtually no reason to believe he will get sound advice.

* although this may end up being as fruitless an exercise as asking whether Mussolini, if he were German, would have made a better leader for pre-war Germany than Hitler.

About banking regulation

Trump Should Repeal Frank Dodd - And Replace It With Obama And Clinton's Sensible Alternative

This isn't a topic I devote time to studying, but news of soaring bank stocks due to their anticipation that they'll be less regulated under Trump should, I would have thought, make anyone with more than a goldfish memory when it comes to financial crises a tad nervous.

Tim Worstall makes a reasonable sounding suggestion here, but it involves a new tax, and what hope is there that the GOP would run with that?

Update:  I was just looking at other columns by Worstall, and noticed in comments to one in which he sites a "ridiculous EU regulation" story, it is noted that he is a UKIP supporter.   I had overlooked that before.   His credibility just took a large hit.

Wow. Filipino crazy leader more reasonable than the GOP

Philippines to ratify climate pact
The Philippines will ratify a global pact aimed at taming climate change,
President Rodrigo Duterte said Monday, reversing his opposition to the
historic United Nations agreement he previously dubbed "crazy".
In announcing the decision to sign up to the Paris Agreement, Duterte said he still
had misgivings but his cabinet members overwhelmingly disagreed with

"After so much debate, the (agreement), I will sign it because it was a unanimous vote except for one or two (in cabinet)," Duterte told reporters.
What's it say about the Republicans that nutty and dangerous Duterte accepts this better than they seem able to?

The Sun is cooler, but not the Earth

Record heat despite a cold sun  - RealClimate

An important post here at Real Climate, showing how the temperature is going up despite the sun being slightly cooler.

Make sure you read to the end, where you can read of the failed predictions of Australian skeptic Archibald in 2009.

Interesting conflicts

The massive conflicts of interest in Trump's business empire

Reasons I find it hard to blame Hillary Clinton for her loss

It's not that I am exactly a fan of Hillary Clinton, but I couldn't really see the aged Bernie Sanders doing well in this election either; and I don't really know why the Democrats could not come up with a third, younger alternative.   But all of this post election analysis makes me feel sorry for Clinton when people start pointing the finger at her, for the following reasons:

*  as people now realise, the vote for Trump was not huge - it just happened in the right States;  

*  when it comes down to a matter of 100,000 or so votes in 3 states, then Clinton probably can plausibly site the Comey late intervention as a key factor - it clearly did influence polls close to the election; it may well have energised the turnout for the Trump vote, and suppressed the turnout for Clinton, just enough to swing it Trump's way;

*  by election eve, the near universal media opinion that, despite the FBI situation, Clinton was going to win may also have suppressed her voter turnout just enough to swing the election, too.  Why vote if she looks a certainty anyway?

*  it's not Clinton's fault she came down with mild pneumonia, sufficient to give the Right wing conspiracists video with which to run their ridiculous "she's about to die" propaganda.  The effect of Right wing media/social media information bubble is so important to where American politics are at the moment, and no one really knows how to overcome it.

*  the "deplorables" comment was not as bad as it was made out to be when the full context is read.  It was a mistake, but I find it hard to condemn her for it, given that the true argument is really only over the exact percent of deplorables in the Trump camp.

Things you probably didn't realise about the white female vote in the US

White Female Voters Continue to Support the Republican Party - The Atlantic

The flood of post-election analysis we are seeing is turning up some interesting stuff - such as the point made in this article that no one should really be surprised that white women didn't rush to support Hillary.  The fact is, as a group, they've been leaning GOP for a while now.

An interesting bit of activist journalism here

Do You Have Information About Abortions Trump May Have Paid For? Let Us Know.

Many people read Trump's non- answer to Maureen Dowd earlier this year as strongly indicating he has paid for a girlfriend, or wife, to have an abortion.  If he has, and a huge slab of his voting base were vehement pro-lifers, I think we have a right to know whether he has or hasn't, especially in light of his policy to now assist the restriction of abortion.

I suppose his dimwit followers might just forgive him, just as they have his history of adultery and fornication.  But Democrats forgive sexual indiscretion in politicians, too.  Maybe both sides take hypocrisy on abortion more seriously?

Krugman predicts

Interesting to note that Paul Krugman warns, as he did with Brexit, that people should not expect the US economy to tank in the short term just because of the Trump election.   In the long term - yes, sure, his policies are terrible in virtually all respects. 

But it can take a while for bad decisions to fully kick in with their economic effects.

Monday, November 14, 2016

So easily swayed

What a ridiculously gullible fellow Adam Creighton proves to be.  Heaps of empathy for women too, obviously.  (It's not the first time I've noticed his empathy issues, too.)

He's most interested in the one about the 11 herbs and spices...

Donald Trump is about to learn all of America's 'deep secrets'

(I bet I didn't get to make that joke first.)

Needs more analysis

I see that Right wing sites, and conservative Catholic blogs are crowing about Trump doing well with Catholics, although the current analysis is based on exit polls which, I thought, had been shown up again as not that accurate.  Anyway, this is despite evidence from before the election that Trump was not doing well with Catholics.

The Tablet provides a little bit more perspective - pointing out that Trump did well with white Catholics:

Actually, he did as well as Romney did with the white Catholic vote - something that I hadn't realised before.

But Hispanics - still a long way to go to convince a majority of them.

The Tablet also notes in another article that, when it comes to "liberal" referenda which the Church was against, they were still nearly all passed, which suggests that the power of the conservative Catholic vote is  not what Conservative Catholics think it's cracked up to be.

So, there is this ongoing difficult question of whether this Catholic vote is coming from mere "cultural Catholics", or actively practising ones.   There is strong evidence, of course, that a small minority of even Mass attending Catholics adhere to the Church's teaching on reproductive health;  despite pockets of Conservative Catholic leadership (Cardinal Burke has announced his pleasure at Trump's win, for example), there is a pretty good case that the congregations are quite liberal.   But it is not that easy to find research which differentiates between types of Catholics.

Hence, I would be interested to see more research on this topic. 

And on a final note:  look how consistent the Jewish vote is for Democrats in that graphic above.   Jewish neighbourhoods in the States are not going to be happy at the moment.  

A more modest suggestion for some on the electoral college

So, some on the Left seem to think they have a chance of convincing the Electoral College to not vote in Trump.  Vox explains in detail why this just won't happen - well, short of Trump doing his long mooted  shooting of a person in the street, I suppose; even then, who knows?   If it was a protester, his followers would probably forgive him.

Anyway, instead of trying to convince Electoral College members to refuse to vote him in, perhaps the Left should try to convince them of something less dire, but important to transparency in government.  That is, withhold their vote in the college unless he has first disclosed his tax returns.

Still pie in the sky;  but slightly less pie in the sky than what some want now.

Quantum consciousness, revisited

Can Quantum Physics Explain Consciousness? - The Atlantic

The shock election of Trump made me miss a pretty good article here looking at a relatively new suggestion (apart from the Penrose line) about how quantum effects could work in the brain. 

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Weekend Photo 2

She had a bit of a dig in the garden this morning....

Weekend photo 1

The explanation:  I was having a beer at the Pig N Whistle yesterday, and spotted Thor at the bar.  Dr Strange was also there, but I didn't get a pic.

By way of further explanation:  the Supernova nerdfest was on at the Convention Centre next door.

An important point to remember

The electoral college system means that Trump actually won by the barest of margins.  As the Washington Post explains:

Saturday, November 12, 2016

A tale of two movies

The election of Trump has made talking about movies seem like unimportant trivia; but I said in my 10,000th post that I wanted to write about two I saw last weekend.  And I should try to distract myself.  So here goes:

1.  Interstellar.

Look, I admit - with Matthew McConaughey (an actor I have never liked) in the lead, there was every chance I wouldn't like it.

But I was completely unprepared for the awfulness of this movie in every respect:

a.   (and this is where the main blame has to go) The Worst Script Ever Written For What Was Meant to be Serious, Adult Science Fiction.   I can just imagine the actors saying to their agent "Christopher Nolan?  Big budget outer space adventure?  Sign me up!", and then despairing when they actually read the lines they were supposed to deliver.

The dialogue was terrible, undeliverable in an convincing fashion by any actor - but with McConaughey doing his Texas drawl turn, it was unbearable.

And look, I'm no cynic about "love talk" in movies, and emotional scenes - I'm a Spielberg fan after all, and the endings of Ghost, ET and even Shakespeare in Love  reduced me to tears;  but the whole relationship stuff in this movie just rang false from beginning to end.

b.   apart from the lines, and clunky exposition (seriously, the old pencil through folded paper explanation for a wormhole just before they are about to enter the wormwhole?  Is Nolan surrounded only by Yes men?)  the whole concept of the story was so derivative and underwhelming.  It's a cross between 2001: A Space Odyssey and Dr Who, but with none of the awe of the former and none of the emotional resonance of at least some of the Tennant episodes of the latter. 

c.  good direction?   I couldn't detect anything special.  Good visual effects?:  I was much more impressed with Gravity than anything in this.  Good music?:  it was continually invasive and preaching a seriousness that the story itself was failing to hit.

d.  Improbabilities in the story?  Well, I want to make the point that I am not really even emphasising these - I don't usually engage in hypothetical logic challenges to movies - such as why didn't they send in more probes instead of humans; and the whole "by his bootstraps" paradox of time travel.  That didn't matter to me - the movie was still bad enough on every other level that I am utterly surprised how it got any good reviews at all.

Jason Soon - didn't you make a positive comment about this movie?   It's off to the cinema re-education camp for you if you did.

2.   Dr Strange

Great fun.

As I expected, Cumberbatch and Swinton are just terrific.

I wanted to note in particular that I find Swinton almost mesmerising, at least in this type of role.  (I haven't really seen her in any lengthy part where she plays a normal woman - but as with her White Witch in the first Narnia movie, there is just something about her elocution and the features of her smooth, alabaster face that means I can't take my eyes off her for a second.) 

The script is very witty, the visuals are impressive (yes, Jason, even if Nolan first did folding cities first - he didn't do them in such an exciting fashion), and I liked how one oft-repeated effect - the portal with the residual fire sparks that would fall to the ground - was rather like how you would expect old fashioned magic to look - a bit different from the normal glowing rocks and holographic style effects.

As with Guardians of the Galaxy, parts of the movie had that retro 70's science fiction book cover palate about them, and I also liked the cleverness of the final battle being the reverse of (what I take to be) the typical ending of a Marvel movie.

The movie started very strongly in America, and around the world, although I wonder if depression at the Trump election might cause a bigger drop off in box office this week end than would otherwise happen?

And God knows, if the nation ever needed a real time bending superhero, it is now. 

In an attempt to cheer me up: rat tickling, revisited

What fun to be a rat-tickle researcher, hey?  As reported at NPR:
That's a part of the brain that processes touch, and when Ishiyama tickled the rats, it caused neurons in that region to fire. The rats also seemed to giggle hysterically, emitting rapid-fire, ultrasonic squeaks. Earlier research has shown rats naturally emit those squeaks during frisky social interaction, such as when they are playing with other rats.

Next, Ishiyama pretend-tickled the rats by moving his hand around the cage in a playful manner. Rather than withdraw, the rats sought more contact. Again, he saw the neurons in the somatosensory cortex firing, even though the rats weren't being touched. This suggested to him that anticipation of tickling could trigger the region of the brain that responds to touch — even without the physical stimulus.

Finally, Ishiyama stimulated the somatosensory cortex directly, by sending an electrical signal directly into the brain. The rats squeaked the same way, suggesting that this region really is the tickling epicenter of a rat's brain.

Actually, given that the research involved electrodes being stuck in their brains, I'm not sure if I should feel sorry for the rats.  Now I'm feeling depressed again...

Excuse me while I talk to monty, again...

Monty, has this convinced you yet that you can only talk to unpleasant fools for so long before it makes you foolish for engaging with them - at least if the engagement is on the basis that you think you have any hope of changing their minds?

Look, I know you like to see some good in everyone, and there (nearly always) is.   But when pointing out their wilful foolishness is met with mere rudeness, disdain and a repetition of tribalism, there is no point.  It is no accident that any Left leaning or even centrist commenter gave up on the site years ago. 

I could go on and do yet another summary of how the blog is deeply offensive, if not dangerous, from the top down.  But you and my handful of long time readers have heard it all before.

What prompts me to write this time is that I reckon the reaction to Trump at the place should be seen as a reason why no right minded person can in good faith engage with them further.  There is, to my mind, simply no way to usefully engage with fools who, for mere tribalist reasons, are willing to overlook the character, behaviour and proposed policies of Trump.   This is unforgivable foolishness of a magnitude I could not formerly imagine - particularly coming from anyone (as many at the blog do) who professes a Christian faith.

We know the American Right was divided over Trump, and we have to give credit to those columnists who are now likely just as gobsmacked as you and I.  But the threads of Catallaxy are full of non-serious tribalists - long fooled on climate change; gullible on economics; sexist if not misogynistic; bigoted.   They are not for turning - or engaging with - if they cannot see the danger and foolishness of Trump and his policies.

Attack them by all means in other ways - but the one on one engagement - forget it, I reckon.

Friday, November 11, 2016

A Creighton fail

Global banks back in the firing line

Adam Creighton tries here to explain an important thing US Republicans are likely to do - reform banking regulations - but I honestly think he does a really poor and jumbled job of it.  

A genuine worry

It's really quite painful watching passionate, intelligent liberals on American TV, such as Stephen Colbert, trying to process how such an offensive man as Trump could win enough support to get over the line.  (Although remember, he did not win the popular vote: especially if you take the third party vote into account, a substantial majority of those who did vote were against Trump:
Nationally, third-party candidates did relatively well in this election. With most of the ballots now counted, Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson gained over 3% of the popular vote, and the Green party’s Jill Stein got 1%. Altogether, candidates who did not represent either of the two main parties got around 4.9% of the popular vote (in 2012, third-party candidates only managed 1.7%, and in 2008, 1.4%).

It’s easy to see why people point the finger at third-party votes. In Michigan, where the election was so close that the Associated Press still hasn’t called the result, Trump is ahead by about 12,000 votes. That’s significantly less than the 242,867 votes that went to third-party candidates in Michigan. It’s a similar story elsewhere: third-party candidates won more total votes than the Trump’s margin of victory in Wisconsin, Arizona, North Carolina and Florida. Without those states, Trump would not have won the presidency.)
Anyway, I was watching this lengthy clip from Colbert's first post election show, and its clear he is emotionally upset about it all.  While there are many laughs to be had (I particularly like God's cameo near the end), watching it made me feel more anxious and depressed in sympathy with Colbert, even if, by confirming that the whole of the country hasn't gone nuts, it shouldn't:

Thursday, November 10, 2016

I'm not the only one who blames Fox News

Simon Wren-Lewis writes:

mainly macro: Trump: Misleading the People
The story is in fact told better than I ever could by Bruce Bartlett, who worked in the Reagan White House and for George HW Bush, so I’ll just summarise it here. The story starts under Reagan, who provided pressure to withdraw the Fairness Doctrine, which was similar to what keeps UK broadcasters from being partisan. Initially that allowed the rise of talk radio, and then Fox News. Gradually being partisan at Fox meant misinforming its viewers, such that Fox viewers are clearly less well informed than viewers of other news providers. One analysis suggested over half of the facts stated on Fox are untrue: UK readers may well remember them reporting that Birmingham was a no-go area for non-Muslims.

But why is this causal, rather than simply being a mirror on the rightward drift of the Republican base? The first point is that there is clear evidence that watching Fox news is more likely to make you vote Republican. The second is that, like the tabloids in the UK, this propaganda machine can turn on party leaders and keep them from moving left. The third is that it is also a machine for keeping the base angry and fired up and believing that nothing could be worse than voting for a Democrat. It is Fox News that stops Republican voters seeing that they are voting for a demagogue, conceals that he lies openly all the time, incites hatred against other religions and ethnic groups, and makes its viewers believe that Clinton deserves to be locked up. Just as UKIP (and perhaps now the Conservative party) is the political wing of the tabloids, so Trump is a creature of Fox news.

Also worth remembering...

....don't bother, they're heeeeere

I knew a columnist would soon enough write along the lines of "if, like an arrogant teenager, the American GOP voting public thinks they know what's best, sometimes it's better to let them learn for themselves that they don't."  And here is that column from the Washington Post.

Of course, the thing that freaks out parents, half of Americans, and about 80% of the rest of the globe, is how much grief said teenager will cause everyone  in the process.

For a solid dose of pessimism, of course we can drop in on Andrew Sullivan, whose column "The Republic Repeals Itself" is as depressed as you would expect, but even he points out the obvious:
The only sliver of hope is that his promises cannot be kept. He cannot bring millions of jobs back if he triggers a trade war. He cannot build a massive new wall across the entire southern border and get Mexico to pay for it. He cannot deport millions of illegal immigrants, without massive new funding from Congress and major civil unrest. He cannot “destroy ISIS”; his very election will empower it in ways its leaders could not possibly have hoped for. He cannot both cut taxes on the rich, fund a massive new infrastructure program, boost military spending, protect entitlements, and not tip the U.S. into levels of debt even Paul Krugman might blanch at. At some point, a few timid souls in the GOP may mention the concepts of individual liberty or due process or small government or balanced budgets. At some point even his supporters may worry or balk, and his support may fade.
Actually, given that you can never tell what a bullshit artist like Trump is really thinking, and that the reality of the difficulty of governing is about to hit him like a bus (I thought he even had a look of worry on his face in his victory speech - his Ritchie Rich son* looked definitely regretful), I fully expect disappointment amongst his supporters to start building very quickly.   This is usually the case with politicians who are light on policy, but big on "hope and change".  (Yes, OK, Obama pretty much fitted that category, but did manage to be a competent and a good president.  But he was, at least, a politician who knew the ropes.   There is obviously no real reason to expect that the Hollywood scenario of an accidental president turning out to be great in the role and beloved of the people could happen with this buffoon.)

Perhaps the biggest worry, apart from Generals having to wrestle the nuclear codes out of his tiny fingers when an Islamic President mean-tweets him, is the likely clownish quality of the advisers and administrators he surrounds himself with.   But, I guess, as with Boris Johnson in the UK, give clowns actual responsibility and at least some of them have to change their rhetoric fast.  

And at the end of the day (gee, how am I managing to be quasi optimistic?) what everyone has to keep reminding themselves - both the doomsayers and the gloaters - is that in terms of popular vote, pretty much exactly half of the country rejected Trump.    Which doesn't seem to me to say much for fool Scott Adams - if being a "master persuader" means just influencing the small percent of the voting public that ever moves from one side to the other, it doesn't seem to be such an awe inspiring thing at all.  (Oh, and Scott, your young girlfriend is going to dump you soon enough, and you can go back to the comfort of your money and 4chan pals.)

* Didn't Trump indicate he would be in charge of cyber-security in his administration?