Friday, July 28, 2017

Warning sign

In a remarkable series of leaked comments, all the incredible infighting in the Trump administration is set out by that Scaramucci character, whose opinion of Trump turned around even faster than an ex-IPA staffer grabbing a government job.

But perhaps the biggest sign that he's an annoying idiot - he refers to himself in the third person.

An unfortunate head

Peter Dutton's head, with the additional loss of hair in recent years, seems to have taken on a profound roundness, particularly in the top half:





I have kept feeling that it's reminding me of something, but couldn't put my finger on it.  I think it might be this:


In a dumbed down version, of course.

Coal for the poor

I've always thought that the argument beloved of climate change denialists that being anti coal was condemning the poor to stay poor was a bit of a crock.  Here, in a good article by David Roberts, is the explanation as to why:
The energy poor fall in two basic categories. Around 15 percent of them live in urban areas, in close physical proximity to power grids, but they aren’t reliably hooked up to those grids.

Both technical and political barriers prevent connection. Those households tend to be dispersed and consume very little energy, which means connecting them is a money loser for utilities. And in many poor countries, utilities are not under social pressure to provide universal access; indeed, they are often centers of patronage and corruption.

Building more coal plants and hooking them to those grids won’t help these households at all. Indeed, in countries like India where this is a serious problem, there is already excess coal capacity on the grid, so new plants are likely to sit idle.

Hooking these households to the grid requires better governance, better financing for the upfront costs of connection, and reform of electricity subsidies and tariffs.

The other 85 percent of energy-poor households are rural, distant from any centralized grid, mostly in Africa, India, and the rest of developing Asia. Putting more coal power on those centralized grids is obviously not going to help them.

EAS Sharma, former Indian minster of power, notes that some 6 million urban and 75 million rural Indian households lack electricity access. "These figures have not changed appreciably since 2001," he writes, "though around 95,000 MW of new largely coal-based electricity generation capacity was added during the intervening decade."

New coal plants are not targeted to areas with poor electricity access. Why would they be? Those households are poor! There’s no money there. Instead, coal gets built where there’s large-scale commercial or industrial demand.
Go read the whole thing, and email it to Sinclair Davidson, Henry Ergas et al ...

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Scratch that off my potential holiday destinations

I thought Sri Lanka was supposed to have some nice enough parts, but they sure have their problems with the nasty dengue fever:
Sri Lanka celebrated its eradication of malaria last year. But now the country faces another mosquito-borne illness: dengue fever. It's also sometimes known as "breakbone fever" because of the severe pain it can cause.
A dengue outbreak has left some Sri Lankan hospitals so full that they're turning away patients, says Gerhard Tauscher, an operations manager with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. He is based in Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka.
More than 107,000 suspected cases of dengue have been reported so far this year, according to Sri Lanka's ministry of health.
That's almost twice the number of people diagnosed with dengue in Sri Lanka last year. The death toll from this outbreak is about 300 people, the IFRC says.




Electric highways

I didn't even know they were a thing:
Queensland will have a 2,000km network of electric vehicle charging stations that make up one of the world’s longest electric vehicle highways within six months.
The state government announced on Thursday it would build an 18-station network stretching along Queensland’s east coast from Cairns to Coolangatta and west to Toowoomba.
The stations, which recharge a vehicle in 30 minutes, will offer free power for at least a year in what the environment minister, Steven Miles, said was a bid to boost the number of electric cars on Queensland roads, currently about 700.
I had no idea electric cars were so well catered for in the US:
Queensland’s “electric highway” will span a comparable distance to the “west coast electric highway” in the US, which runs from California to Oregon and Washington state. However it is dwarfed by the Trans-Canada EV highway, which, at about 8,000km, is the world’s longest.
But the US in total now boasts 16,107 stations and 43,828 charging outlets, according to the US Department of Energy. Tesla drivers can reputedly make journeys of 20,000 km.

Flying over Dunkirk

I'm still thinking about Dunkirk - always the sign of a good movie.

One thing I did particularly like was the flying in the film.   (In fact, the portrayal of the relative intelligence of the 3 services indicated in the film pretty much matched my own biases, based on past experience.)

Here's an Air and Space article on the filming of the flying sequences.

No politics today

Instead:

*  I think this article at the Catholic Herald looking at the history of the 20th century splintering of the Anglican Church (and warning that the Catholic Church could well be heading towards the same path) was interesting.   I hadn't heard of these categories before:
For most of the 20th Century this diversity was even viewed as its strength because, thanks to a shared pension board and the clever use of ambiguity in official statements, the three main factions with Anglicanism – which one wag labelled ‘high and crazy’, ‘broad and hazy’ and ‘low and lazy’ – were happy enough to rub along together despite their radically different set of beliefs. It seemed as if the Nicene Creed, a very loose application of the 39 articles and strong civic approval gave just enough common ground to hold the show together.
But the question as to how Catholicism is going to handle the same pressures is far from clear.   I can see how very liberal churches essentially lose their raison d'etre, and become more or less just purely Left wing social clubs; but I also see how the highly conservative Catholics are now extremely uncharitable and  unpleasant Right wing culture warriors who are amongst the worst examples of religious devotion.  It's hard to see how the Church is going to keep weaving a path between the two extremes...

Pop philosophy apparently is big in Germany at the moment.   Who knew?:
Philosophie Magazin now has a circulation of 100,000, proof that Eilenberger’s approach paid off. Indeed it would appear there is a new demand for ideas in Germany, one ripe for the plumbing. In 2017, philosophy in Germany is booming. Student enrollment in philosophy courses has increased by one-third over the past three years. Its leading practitioners are giving TED Talks and producing best-selling books, top-ranking TV shows, and festivals such as phil.cologne, which attracts more than 10,000 visitors to the German city each June.

*  I care little for poetry (by which I mean, I care not at all), but this book review talking about an apparently famous Polish one still seemed interesting.

*  And as for science - Nature explains how scientists are really fretting over what are appropriate P values for different disciplines.   Seems it took an awfully long time for this problem to be recognised.



Wednesday, July 26, 2017

What an utter shambles

To Reader JC:  as usual, your political judgement is guided by testosterone, gullibility and believing only Right wing spin on Clinton or Obama stories.  No one in their right mind thinks that Trump's threats to Sessions for doing an ethical thing, when Sessions was loyal from the start, makes moral or political sense.   Even that other regular blowhard at Catallaxy, Fisk, understands that.   As for going after Clinton when the FBI has already determined there is no point?   You actually want the American Presidency to look like a vengeful tin pot dictatorship that tries to jail its enemies, do you?   Yes, because "winning", or some such idiocy.

And as for those at that other blog who can't even see the inappropriateness of Trump giving a campaign speech to a boy scout jamboree - as I have said before, this is, in miniature, what it must have been like during the popular rise of Hitler - normal people not being able to make sense of the developing cult status around a weirdo figure.   (Actually, if anything, I suspect if I had shared the problems Germany faced, I would find the Hitlerian appeal easier to grasp - he probably worked ten times harder than Trump, for one thing.)   In any event, polling shows that he is not doing well with the population overall - which just make the pockets of undying devotion to him, like Kates and Catallaxy, just the stupidest places on the planet.

There has never been anything like the incredible infighting and leaks from within the White House from day one.   I see there are rumours that Tillerson wants to resign, and who could be surprised at that?    Environment and science positions are filled (when they are filled at all) by people who are antagonistic to both:
In the past  month, the last few scientists have exited the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy’s (OSTP) Science Division. The OSTP is staffed at approximately a third of the level it was during the Obama administration; President Trump has yet to name a head of the office. Last week, the State Department’s top science and technology adviser, Vaughan Turekian, resigned amid a swirl of rumors that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was planning on shuttering his entire science and tech operation. There have been a number of non-scientist appointments in posts with major scientific elements, including the appointment of Samuel Clovis to be undersecretary in charge of the Agriculture Department’s research, education and economic efforts. Clovis, who has virtually no science background, will oversee efforts on vital issues ranging from the spread of diseases to the effects of pesticides...

Speaking of the need for qualified scientists in top jobs, Arati Prabhakar, the former head of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), put it succinctly when she told me, “These positions demand deep expertise and thoughtful leadership. Anything less risks the future.”
Of course, it is not just science under siege. More broadly the administration attacks facts and evidence wherever they do not suit their policy views. All evidence-based communities are under attack — the intelligence community, law enforcement, think tanks and journalists. Attacks come in all forms — disregard for data, ad hominem attacks on the messengers and their motives, deflections and false analogies.
Trump's downfall will ultimately be his narcissistic complete lack of loyalty to anyone other than his immediate family, as well as his utter unreliability on any issue and lack of judgement, due in large part to his most trusted source of facts being morning show sycophants on Fox News.  If smarmy suck up Steve Doocy said he thought a nuclear strike on North Korea was a good idea, Trump would be picking up the phone to the Pentagon. 

His departure can't come soon enough.



  

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The NBN - works for me

I know there are lots of horror stories about people having technical troubles when moving over to the National Broadband Network, but (at great risk of jinxing it), my change over from ADSL to NBN whatever-it-is-I-dunno seems to have gone very smoothly.

My house did have Foxtel cabling already (put in by the previous owners, and used by us for a while, but we stopped with the stupidly priced Foxtel maybe 5 years ago.)  The NBN box just plugged into that cable, which sits besides the TV, and a broadband connection was made immediately.  The modem plugs into that.   I did have to ring the service provider to check where the password for the modem was, but I got onto someone immediately.  In fact, I rang them in total 3 times today, and each time spoke to someone immediately each time.   The company - Exetel.   So far, I am impressed.

As for the speed test - on ADSL, the best download was about 9 Mbps (with a truly erratic upload speed of 1 or 2 Mbps);  checking today on the NBN it was downloading at about 22 Mbps and uploading at a steady looking 5Mbps.  I had paid for the mid-range speed service with "up to" 25 Mbps speed.  So 22 is pretty good.  

What's more, for the ADSL service, I think I was paying $40 a month for it, with 150 Gb a month download limit (not that we were ever using all of that, even with four people in the house each with their mobile devices browsing the net), but I was also paying around $40 a month for the Telstra phone line and calls from it.

With the Exetel plan I'm paying $80 in total per month, but with more than twice the internet speed, unlimited download, free phone calls, and free phone calls to several overseas destinations (in Exetel's case, including Japan.)  

So, all in all, provided it continues to work properly, the NBN has been a valuable upgrade to my internet and telephone service.  

I feel I ought to be putting myself forward for some advertising endorsement for either Exetel, or the NBN.   Especially if they pay me!

Anyway, I will advise in future if the service goes bad.   Let's see.

Drinking to remember, not to forget

Do not tell any university student you know, because going out for drinks the night before an exam may become rather more popular, if they believe this result:
Drinking alcohol improves memory for information learned before the drinking episode began, new research suggests.

In the University of Exeter study, 88 social drinkers were given a word-learning task. Participants were then split in two groups at random and told either to drink as much as they liked (the average was four units) or not to drink at all.

The next day, they all did the same task again -- and those who had drunk alcohol remembered more of what they had learned.

The researchers are keen to stress that this limited positive effect should be considered alongside the well-established negative effects of excessive alcohol on memory and mental and physical health.

"Our research not only showed that those who drank alcohol did better when repeating the word-learning task, but that this effect was stronger among those who drank more," said Professor Celia Morgan, of the University of Exeter.

"The causes of this effect are not fully understood, but the leading explanation is that alcohol blocks the learning of new information and therefore the brain has more resources available to lay down other recently learned information into long-term memory.

Finally, we're at the "Trump Youth" stage

I find it hard to conceive of a man in America less likely to be a good role model for the Boy Scout movement than Donald Trump - and his biggest experience of the outdoors in his life seems restricted to being on golf courses. 

But there are lots of reports of what sounds like a bizarre campaign style speech being given to a Boy Scout Jamboree, and the (apparently easily manipulated) youth going rah! rah! for Obamacare repeal!

The sub-Hitler comparisons are obvious, and frankly, unavoidable.

Next up:  night time, fire torch lit rallies on the streets of some city or other, with copies of  the NYT and WAPO being thrown onto a bonfire.  Burn Fake News!  Burn Fake News!

Not just my imagination - intense rainfall is increasing in Japan

Floods and record rainfall in Japan in summer don't seem to attract all that much attention internationally, but my feeling was that "record rainfall" has become a near routine summer headline in the Japanese news.

And yes, Googling "record rainfall Japan" does seem to bring up on the first page stories headed that way from 2012, 2014, 2015, 2016 and now 2017.

The most recent cases -

15 were killed in floods earlier this month, and the damage looks large

*  Just a day or two ago, reports of rainfall in the Akita area (which I visited on my last trip) also used the word "record".  No one killed, but 12,000 told to evacuate and 500 houses flooded:
According to the Meteorological Agency, one part of the city of Akita had received a record 340 mm of rainfall during a 24-hour period that ended at 7 a.m. Sunday.

Record amounts of precipitation were also recorded in several other parts of the prefecture, with some areas breaking their monthly rainfall records for July, it said.
OK, and here is a report less than a day old, wherein the Japan Meteorological Agency, clearly a part of the Chinese/UN/socialist international conspiracy about climate change (sarc), confirms the impression:
The number of times it rains cats and dogs in Japan has jumped alarmingly in the last 10 years compared to when records of rain intensity began to be compiled.

The annual occurrences of a heavy downpour exceeding 50 millimeters in one hour has increased by a whopping 34 percent nationwide in the last decade compared with that in the 10 years from 1976, according to observation results by the Japan Meteorological Agency.

This means that repeats of the torrential rain that caused enormous damage to northern Kyushu at the start of this month are likely in the future.

Rainfall exceeding 50 mm per hour is often described in Japan as "rain falling like a waterfall," which signals a time when one should think about evacuation.

Most of drainage facilities in urban areas are designed based on that amount of rain, but when it exceeds 50 mm in an hour, water could gush into underground shopping complexes and other places.

The annual number of occurrences of heavy rainfall exceeding 50 mm per hour in the 10 years from 1976, when the agency started its observation, totaled 1,738. In the decade from 2007 it totaled 2,321, increasing 1.34 times, according to data collected by the agency’s Automated Meteorological Data Acquisition System, known as AMeDAS.

Monday, July 24, 2017

TV noted

*  I've never watched Masterchef before, but I did have a look at it this year when they came to the Japan week episodes, given that I figured that the locations and food there could be particularly interesting.  

I have to say, the skills expected of the contestants seem a bit ridiculously over the top.  None of this home cooking by people who have had a few successful dinner parties of My Kitchen Rules.  And the personal drama and personality foibles are kept to a minimum too, unlike MKR, where their manipulation is key to the show.  The hosts are serious but personable, and presumably none comes close to the nuttiness of Pete Evans' private views on food and health.  

Yet despite this, I can't say that I warmed to the show.  The cooking and skills are too technical, and the tasks too daunting.  The show is not trashy and manipulative, as MKR routinely is, but it's not much fun, either. 

Ninja Warrior will finish its short season this week, but I am very puzzled as to the decisions made when putting this show together.    Each episode is too long, but even then, they make strange decisions as to which contestants to show and which to shorten.  

Often it seems a case of coming back from (one of the many) commercial breaks to be told that one or two guys have succeeded on the course, and you get to see them celebrating for 10 seconds, followed by showing the run of some person having a doomed run that ends half way through.  If I were one of the successful contestants, I'd be pretty annoyed about having my achievement barely acknowledged in the final show, after busting a gut like that.

If it's rating spectacularly well, why don't they make it into one hour episodes, say, 4 or 5 days a week, stretching the season out instead of a odd rush to finish, and show all of the successes.  It's the failures that you can afford to cut, I would have thought.  They could well do with fewer contestants too, I think...



Over mall-ed?

Time magazine talks about the death of American shopping malls, and someone quotes some figures about which I would love to know the Australian equivalent:
Some of the great mall die-off is what economists refer to as a market correction. "We are over-retailed," says Ronald Friedman, a partner at Marcum LLP, which researches consumer trends. There is an estimated 26 sq. ft. of retail for every person in the U.S., compared with about 2.5 sq. ft. per capita in Europe. Roughly 60% of Macy's stores slated to close are within 10 miles of another Macy's.
I've commented before that the shopping centre/mall nearest me seems to be having a sudden downturn in tenants, making their last expansion now look ill considered.   Certainly, my feeling is that centre owners in this country have become ridiculously greedy in terms of rent increases, and it seems they are hurting themselves in the long term by doing so.

But three of the largest suburban shopping centres in Brisbane - Indooroopilly, Chermside and (particularly) Garden City - always seem very busy.  They have large cinema complexes that I think help support their food outlets, at least.  

Update:  have a look at this Axios article too, about the plunge in a lot of commercial real estate valuations in the US, particularly in regional areas.  Here, I'll cut and paste part of it:
The shift to on-line shopping is now striking at the underlying value of malls, and commercial real estate as a whole.
  • About $120 billion in U.S. commercial mortgages mature this year: Borrowers went delinquent on about $2.4 billion of it in June alone, according to Trepp, a real estate data provider, quoted by the WSJ.
  • It was the largest rise in delinquencies in six years, according to Fitch, the rating agency. Fitch's silver lining: it's not as bad as it expected at the beginning of the year.
  • Still, more defaults are coming: The credit industry expects delinquencies on such debt to escalate over the coming year, according to a new poll of portfolio managers, and to spread globally.
  • Look at this number: In the FT, Blackstone executive Nadeem Meghji said the value of regional malls in smaller cities may be down 40% on average over the last two years.

Flying Harry

Having seen Harry Styles in Dunkirk yesterday gives me an excuse to post his pretty remarkable video for Sign of the Times.  (I saw this a few weeks ago and had meaning to post it here since then.)   As with Dunkirk, it looks in large part to have been made with "practical effects", and is all the better for it:




The Greenlight Zone

The video parody that appeared on Insiders yesterday was particularly funny:

Sunday, July 23, 2017

A few Dunkirk comments

Saw Dunkirk today and was suitably impressed.

I tried not to "over review" myself about this movie before I saw it, but I did see enough from them to agree with these observations that have already been made:

*  it's very Nolan, with its use of different narrative time lines cut together;

*  If comparing it to the work of another director, Kubrick does come to mind, partly because of the very innovative score (as with Kubrick's crucial use of music in 2001), but also because of a certain emotional coolness that comes with how they both handle character.  I think in both directors there is always something of an awareness that the characters are mainly to serve a story, rather than to be an emotional anchor for the viewer.  (Some critics somewhere will have explained this clearer, but that will do for now.)   This is not necessarily a bad thing in a movie, although I would say it is entirely the reason I thought Full Metal Jacket was terrible.  It's more of an observation - a Kubrick movie can be fantastic and memorable regardless (2001, The Shining.)

* Perhaps the very best thing about it is that which attracted everyone's attention as soon as the first trailer appeared - the realism that comes with using real boats, ships and planes.  It looks for all the world like a film made with nearly no CGI effects, and it's a great reminder of how that be can be a fantastic thing in a movie. 

I was also pleased to read the Slate article about its historical accuracy after I saw it, and found that there is very little that is objectionable from a historical perspective.     (There was one minor detail that I found jarring, but I won't mention it here just in case it bothers someone reading who hasn't seen it yet.)

But, yeah, a pretty great film, and I hope it gets rewarded with generous box office success.

Lego movie worry

I thought the first Lego movie was enjoyable enough, without being as great as some people seemed to think.

But last night we watched the Lego Batman Movie, and things have taken a worrying turn for the worse.

Look, it's a funny concept: Lego Batman as a lonely jerk version of the modern brooding Batman, but I thought the execution was terrible. 

The main problem is that visually, the movie is just ridiculously "busy" and cluttered - virtually ever single shot ridiculously full of, well, things.   And as for the extremely rapid action and editing - I saw someone on Rottentomatoes say that it was like Fury Road for 5 year olds,  and that's a pretty good way of putting it.  Maybe the directors (different from the guys who did the first movie) thought they would appeal to the un-medicated ADHD audience, or something, but by half way through I was finding it tedious.   And despite one great idea in the second half (all of the various franchise villains in the Forbidden Zone), it does get less funny as it goes along.

I reckon the Lego team needs to sack whoever was involved in this project (which made $310 million internationally compared to $470 million for the first Lego movie) because I suspect this one mainly gave a headache to parents accompanying their kids to it, and they may well take some convincing to see the next one.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Whoops

Did a Glowing Sea Creature Help Push the U.S. Into the Vietnam War?

News from the war front

Your Saturday dose of paranoia from Catallaxy, where "struth" is one of the most overwrought inmates:
The insanity that we are seeing now will only become worse as those repeated left wing lies are gradually believed (from stolen generations to white privilege, to there being more than two sexes) and then they build on those.
It won’t end until there is a bloody revolution.
Right now, the defenders of the west (men , and mostly white) are being set up as the enemy.
Blah, blah de blah.
We all get this.
We get that they are using a captured institution to do this, the education system.
There is nothing for it except to fight.
The right must realise that this is going to get much worse, and end up with violence and death poured upon us.
You will be pulled from your houses kicking and screaming and will not be heard from again.
This shit doesn’t take a century to occur.
It will be you.
Especially cat commenters.
He's great company at dinner parties, I bet.

6,700 flights per day??

Science magazine has a short article this week on the geoengineering idea of spraying sulphur in the atmosphere to counter global warming.   But read this extract:

Gosh. Is that number of flights correct?



Friday, July 21, 2017

Floating power

This is an impressive photo, from a Time magazine story on China and renewables:
























And how's this for the symbolism:
....the world’s largest floating solar farm on a lake formed on top of a collapsed and flooded coal mine just northwest of Anhui province’s Huainan city. A tapestry of 166,000 glistening panels bob and bask below an ochre sun, producing almost enough clean energy to power a large town, as fish break through the inky water all around.
Other photos in the story show that its construction is pretty low tech - the solar cells are on simple plastic floats.

I would have thought that this is a pretty good idea for water storage dams in Australia - I'm sure I've suggested this here years ago.  I don't think there is any substantial risk of polluting the water if some sink, is there?  Furthermore, in a hot area, the coverage might help reduce evaporation, I would have thought.

When am I going to see this on , say, the Wivenhoe dam near Brisbane?

Because sometimes, even stupid arguments have to be answered

It's one of the golden oldies by climate change denialists:  "The climate has always changed.   Nothing to see here - move on."

It has never made sense as an argument, and it can be taken as a reliable sign that any person promoting it has never tried to read about the issue seriously and it will be pointless arguing with them.  

But, just in case you know a denialist who is not beyond reason, and who you can forgive for not already realising how vapid the argument is,   Stefan at Real Climate has set out the detailed rebuttal.  

How women are murdered in America

Again from The Atlantic, some startling figures about women as murder victims in the US:
The CDC analyzed the murders of women in 18 states from 2003 to 2014, finding a total of 10,018 deaths. Of those, 55 percent were intimate partner violence-related, meaning they occurred at the hands of a former or current partner or the partner’s family or friends. In 93 percent of those cases, the culprit was a current or former romantic partner. The report also bucks the strangers-in-dark-alleys narrative common to televised crime dramas: Strangers perpetrated just 16 percent of all female homicides, fewer than acquaintances and just slightly more than parents.

About a third of the time, the couple had argued right before the homicide took place, and about 12 percent of the deaths were associated with jealousy. The majority of the victims were under the age of 40, and 15 percent were pregnant. About 54 percent were gun deaths.

Black women were most likely to die by homicide of any kind, at 4.4 deaths per 100,000 people, followed by Native American women, Hispanics, and finally whites and Asians. Data from earlier reports suggest a far smaller percentage of men—around 5 to 7 percent—were killed by intimate partners.
I'm pretty sure the way women become murder victims is not dissimilar in Australia.

Economics and babies (or lack thereof)

Quite a convincing argument put forward at The Atlantic that all of the "employment flexibility" beloved of the parts of the Right, and which has caused major changes to the way men (in particular) work in Japan, is behind that country's dramatic drop in marriage and making babies.

Update:  I think it's often fair enough to be cynical  of the way Australian unionists and Labor politicians talk about the importance of strongly enforced workplace laws so that workers can have a work/life balance, as well as penalty rates fairly compensating workers for time away from family on weekends, etc.   They can over-egg the argument.

On the other hand, if you look at a country where companies can get away with extraordinary pressure on workers, and implement policies that maximise profit, you can see the harm that removing all sense of employment fairness entails.  


Thursday, July 20, 2017

Police shootings in the US

It's common sense to just about all Australians who aren't libertarians that the large number of police shootings in the US is in substantial part due to police having to be always on edge there that they are dealing with an armed person, whether they be legally armed, or not.  But the international comparisons between US police shootings and that in other countries is even more surprising than I expected:
Police officers in the US shoot and kill nearly 1,000 people a year, according to the Washington Post’s database — far more than other developed countries like the UK, Australia, Japan, and Germany, where police officers might go an entire year without killing more than a dozen people or even anyone at all.

For example, an analysis by the Guardian found that “US police kill more in days than other countries do in years.” Between 1992 and 2011, Australian police shot and killed 94 people. In 2015, US police shot and killed 97 people just in March. These differences are not explained by population, since the US is about 14 times as populous as Australia but, based on the Guardian’s count, has hundreds of times the fatal police shootings.

Low carb not so important as Taubeians claim

For all those who are dedicated believers in Gary Taubes's diet ideas, where carbs are basically evil and you just can't get enough fat and protein in your diet if you want to be healthy, this article at Vox talks about a very rigorous study that indicates that his theory about how low carb diets are supposed to work doesn't really hold up.

I think it's pretty simple:  breads and a lot of other carbs are pretty delicious and part of human diet for so long it's a bit silly to think they are evil.   Just don't eat too much of them.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Blasphemy in the Gulf (again)

At Gulf News:
A businessman, who threatened his former partner and sent him blasphemous and offensive SMSes over a financial dispute, has been fined Dh500,000.
The 39-year-old Lebanese businessman was involved in a business partnership with the Emirati man before they had a financial dispute in October.
After the two men failed to reach an amicable settlement, the Lebanese man sent several SMSes in which he cursed God and threatened the Emirati man.
The 39-year-old sent to the Emirati’s mobile three SMSes in which he offended the latter, threatened to harm him and cursed God as well.
The fine equates to about $172,000 Australia dollars, I think.

Taking offence on campus, revisited

The current problem on (mainly*) American campuses regarding offensiveness is given a going over again at the Atlantic: Why It's a Bad Idea to Tell Students Words Are Violence,  and it puts up a very good argument.

The only misgiving I have about this issue is that I hate the way that the Wingnut Right takes a bad argument by the too-precious-for-reality Left as justification for complete incivility in debate, and for genuinely offensive claims to be made  - it's like the opposite of a virtuous circle. (Which I see Google says is a "vicious circle/cycle.")

* you could say that the recent silliness of the QUT case is an illustration of the same disease, but at least we rarely have riots here of the kind you see in the US over controversial speakers on campuses. 

Beachfront land as a long term investment

Nature reports that the reason for some sea level rise discrepancies in the satellite record has been identified, and indeed, the rate of sea level rise is accelerating:
“The rate of sea-level rise is increasing, and that increase is basically what we expected,” says Steven Nerem, a remote-sensing expert at the University of Colorado Boulder who is leading the reanalysis. He presented the as-yet-unpublished analysis on 13 July in New York City at a conference sponsored by the World Climate Research Programme and the International Oceanographic Commission, among others.

Nerem's team calculated that the rate of sea-level rise increased from around 1.8 millimetres per year in 1993 to roughly 3.9 millimetres per year today as a result of global warming. In addition to the satellite calibration error, his analysis also takes into account other factors that have influenced sea-level rise in the last several decades, such as the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines in 1991 and the recent El Niño weather pattern....

 If sea-level rise continues to accelerate at the current rate, Nerem says, the world’s oceans could rise by about 75 centimetres over the next century. That is in line with projections made by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2013.


Obamacare as a qualified success

I think Ezra Klein makes a lot of sense here - the only way you can make sense of consistent polling finding that Americans are not approving of Republican plans to replace Obamacare is because it basically works well enough in enough States to make it popular.    (Which is not to say that it is not without its problems.)

Now to an unpleasant subject

Antibiotic resistant gonorrhoea (gosh, it's hard to remember how to spell that word) has been in the news a lot lately, including in the top story on The Age's website (about the number of worrying cases in Australia.)   

As it happens, I also heard the Health Report on Monday evening, which a story about a trial of the use of mouthwash to reduce transmission.   I had heard about that before, but the most surprising thing was this discussion about transmission:
And then there was a second observation that led us towards this mouthwash issue, and that was we saw that gonorrhoea was really common in young gay men but not very common in older gay men. So there must be something different that young gay men were doing, so that led us to a separate study to try and work out what that was, and it was kissing. So young gay men kiss a lot more individuals and don't have sex with them. And when they have sex with them they seem to kiss more than older gay men. And so we thought perhaps it's the throat. And that led us to think, well, if gonorrhoea is being transmitted from throat to throat, perhaps there's something we could do to attack that. And that led us to do some laboratory work on mouthwash.

Denton Callander: So wait a second, are you saying that kissing can transmit gonorrhoea?

Christopher Fairley: It's very hard to work out exactly what act transmits gonorrhoea because they all tend to happen at the same time, but yes that's exactly right. So we can grow gonorrhoea in almost all individuals who've got it in their throat in saliva. So yes, we think that the transmission of saliva through kissing might well transmit gonorrhoea.

Denton Callander: So you're saying, and correct me if I'm wrong, the throat seems to be a key anatomical site when it comes to gonorrhoea.

Christopher Fairley: Absolutely right. And this is flying in the face of what everyone else has always thought. They've always thought that you transmit gonorrhoea principally involving the penis, putting it into the throat or the vagina or into the anus and that's how it is transmitted, but we think probably that's not the case with sex between men, that it's saliva in the throat that is the key driver of infection.
Bugs really are out to get people, aren't they?   And it would appear that, until now, no one thought that this particular bug was probably being spread in this "safe sex" endorsed way. 

Although the trial is not yet finished, I reckon buying shares in mouthwash producing companies is probably a good idea at the moment.


Why people should worry while Trump is President

I'll copy this Axios post in full, because of the way it illustrates how a dysfunctional White House under a gormless President works:
The Trump administration re-certified yesterday that Iran is in compliance with its nuclear deal, preventing Congress from having to decide whether to levy additional sanctions or scrap the deal in its entirety.
  • But it was only after a day-long drama featuring the president's advisers trying to get him to change his mind, I can independently confirm, as reported last night by Peter Baker at the New York Times and this morning by Eli Lake at Bloomberg View.
  • The vast majority of the principals — led by National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster — were in favor of the U.S. staying in the deal. But Trump hates the deal, and the decision goes against Trump's gut instincts.
  • Why it matters: It's not just the media that Trump keeps in suspense — he frequently keeps his top advisers guessing on consequential decisions until the last minute. Yesterday's decision shows he's willing to go against his gut instincts, but not without giving his team serious heartburn. Trump re-certified again, but his top advisers are far from confident he'll do it again the next time.
What a worry...

Update:  a lot more detail on why Trump more or less had to give in on this is in this article at Slate.
The campaign promises and claims are falling by the wayside at a pretty fast rate at the moment.  

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Sure has that feel about it

The man who crosses Tim Blair's mind every 5 minutes is right:


It's hard to work out what is going on with the Liberals and Coalition at the moment.

For example, Barnaby Joyce has definitely swung in behind Turnbull, as has (I think) former Abbott hard man Morrison.   Yet Barnaby's previous form with Malcolm was precarious, to say the least, as indicated in this extract from an interview that appeared in Fairfax yesterday:
Joyce has also gone toe-to-toe with Malcolm Turnbull which also almost came close to ending with an urgent dentist appointment.
"[We] had a huge blue in the past over the carbon tax. And...Oh, god. Furious argument. Absolutely furious. Shouting, screaming, the whole lot," Joyce said.

"Other people kept a cap on it by getting me out of the room. Bundling me out like I used to do folks [as a bouncer] at the Wicklow. So after that, it was raw but now we respect each other. We work well together. He completely trusts my confidence and I trust his."
My impression is that Turnbull already didn't need to do the Abbott hairy chest imitation with Defence and security to defeat the conservative forces in his party.  But he has anyway.

All a bit strange.... 

Revolutionary rubber

A bit of historical clickbait here at the NYT:

How German Condoms Funded the Russian Revolution

(Actually, the condoms don't feature much in the complicated story of Lenin bouncing around Europe and trying to get himself and funds back into Russia.)

Water music

A short account here at NPR about King George I and his barge trip on the Thames for which Handel wrote his Water Music.  (It's the 300th anniversary of the outing, hence the article.)

It's a wonder it hasn't been recreated for some movie or other.  Or has it?

[Instead of showmanship in front of the military, why doesn't Malcolm Turnbull try a similar exercise on Lake Burley Griffin?   He's got the spare change to pay a composer, too.]

Mark Latham - on board with Trump

I see that Mark Latham is getting rave reviews from the Catallaxy commenters for a column today in which he repeats so many of their favourite themes that  he could replace all of that mob using half a dozen aliases and no one would notice any difference.

It's all there - the Leftist "march through the institutions", cultural Marxism, the glorious Trumpian fight back as an outsider and populist who takes his message directly to the people, the complete disdain for civility in debate (because "they started it").   He even praises Trump for dumping the Paris Accord, when he (Latham) used to be adamant that politicians were foolish to reject climate change.

Getting caught up in the culture wars (which, in reality, has become a grand conspiracy theory believed in on the wingnut side) corrupts good sense and judgement, and Marks's a prime example.

No mention of the chronic lying and repetition of falsehood by Trump;  no mention of his political rise on the back of birtherism and climate change as a Chinese conspiracy;  no concern about repeat stories about how hard it is for anyone to give detailed explanations to him on complex issues; nothing about his less than useful contribution to health care reform; his simplistic understanding of tax, trade and economic policy; his dogwhistling to racism;  etc, etc.

Trump is personally obnoxious to opponents (which essentially means, anyone who criticises him) and on his side in the culture wars, and that's good enough for Mark.

What a loser.

Will see

Dunkirk is getting very good reviews, like this one, although I also keep reading reviewers warning that some audience members might not warm to it because it doesn't follow a straight narrative or spend much time on character.  I see it currently has a 97% rating on the (unreliable but I still need to check it) Rotten Tomatoes scale.

I am feeling keen to see it.

It won't wash, Malcolm

I have to admit, if it was Tony Abbott yesterday using the Defence Force in the most obvious "I'm a tough guy, look at my military behind me" way, I would have been condemning the tinpot dictator look immediately.

So I am a bit slow to join the criticism of Malcolm Turnbull for doing the same - but he really does deserve it.   And, to be honest, poor old Binskin (looking very unhappy behind the PM) should have said "no", and worn the fallout.

I think Malcolm may need to be told by someone that trying this tactic to appeal to conservatives isn't going to work:  if Catallaxy is any guide, it will do nothing to turn around their hatred of him, and instead their conspiracy prone minds are more likely to worry that he is signalling to use the military to put down the forces of righteous conservatism, or something.  (Yes, they are that nutty.)

And, of course, moderates and Lefties hate the use of the military as such an obvious power prop, too, so he ends up impressing no one.

So Malcolm, you really need to stop trying to impress the conservative wing. 

And speaking of Catallaxy, I see that one of the nuttier, most obnoxious grand-analyst-in-his-own mind of history (and also plagiarist) is back commenting in his fruity style, and this was part of his contribution yesterday:
The elites are stupid enough to think they can control everything. They are deluded.
The kumbaya rednecks of the left become real dead real fast when this happens, because they absolutely depend on high-trust societies which do NOT retaliate against their particular brand of destructive idiocy.
A thought experiment: How long would the Australian Greens last as a political group if a decent percentage of people whose elderly relatives died this winter due to Greens policies conducted retaliatory revenge and killed a couple of them for each death?
yet those same Greens are Gramscian socialists who cannot even conceive of the possibility of being held personally accountable, in blood, for the outcomes of their actions even when they result in deaths.
Even though that’s a near-guaranteed social outcome over time.
Studying this is not pleasant. I don’t like any of the trends we are seeing.
The blog is retirement/nursing home for ex military types who are always seeing conspiracy and warning of the coming crisis - this guy in particular used to thrill himself by reading wingnut fantasies from the US about armed militia making sure Obama won't get away with disarming the nation, or establishing hereditary rule, or some such nonsense.   Now he's having Roger Franklin style Lefties being shot for their policies fantasies.

(Of course, he would be completely dismissive of actual conspiracy, of the Trump team trying to get their hands on Putin sourced dirt for political advantage kind.)

There's another Catallaxy controversy going on at the moment, which I might post about later.  Too much stupid in one day might be too much. 

Monday, July 17, 2017

Practical athletics

I'm pleased enough to see that the Australian version of Ninja Warrior is rating very well.  (We used to watch the Japanese version when it was on SBS.)

I don't worry about watching it every night, but as a Sunday night, family friendly time filler, it's pretty good.

On last night's episode, the rock climbers were all ridiculously talented; and on the last week's Sunday night show, the Brisbane parkour twins were also scarily good.    (I noticed that their parents were not there - do they freak out about the routinely dangerous nature of parkour, I wonder?)

I think the show works because of the very practical nature of the athleticism on display, more so than watching a bunch of gymnasts flipping on rings, for example.

And finally - one thing I was noticing last night.   If they  get themselves into situations where they have to swing their legs to get momentum going, I kept on feeling like getting my legs moving in sympathy, too.    It was a funny sensation.

A discussion that can wait

I'm rather sick of reading about the supposedly soon to arrive brave new world of "sex robots".  Even Nature had an editorial about them!

I strongly suspect that it's going to be a very long time before they resemble anything other than a high quality sex doll, and having removable bits for men to rinse under the tap between uses is going to be a bit of a fantasy breaker, if you ask me.   Of course they'll be men who would use them, but as for the vast majority of people thinking of those guys as other than lonely weirdos who are willing to spend a fortune on an advanced sex toy - I think that is far, far away. 

There was one line in the Nature editorial that interested me, though:
And bonds will form, even though unrequited. (Soldiers have been shown to develop emotional attachments to bomb-disposal robots.)
Hadn't heard that before...

The Middle East mess, continued

There's a very interesting and lengthy report at the NYT about how Iran is now exerting great influence over Iraq. 

Not exactly the outcome the US was expecting.

A woman won't help; a man leaving might

I reckon Steven Moffat's departure from Dr Who is likely to be more important for changing (and possibly reviving) the show than having a female doctor.  But basically, I still say that the show has run out of decent ideas and needs to given a rest again for a decade or so.  

Yes, nefarious

Hot Air has some decent speculation on what might have happened at the Trump team meeting with some Russians.

There is also the matter of the mystery 8th person present, which will apparently soon be revealed.

And by the way, don't all of Team Trump's lawyers look like they have stepped out of a 1980's TV show - I'm thinking LA Law, perhaps.  They just all have something in their looks that seems not of the current style.   I find it rather odd.

Stephen Colbert's first monologue on the meeting was often very funny - I just caught up with it on the weekend.  Here it is:


In other science fiction news

*  I see that old Galaxy magazines are available to read on the internet now.   Might be stuff of  nostalgic interest in there, but reading quaintly out of date predictions of the future does seem an exercise not really worth devoting too much time to.

* There was an interview with author Neal Stephenson in Vanity Fair recently that I forgot to link to.  I've never read him, but he apparently is given much credit in Silicon Valley for predicting things:
In an interview, Stephenson told Vanity Fair that he was just “making shit up.” But the Metaverse isn’t the only element of Snow Crash that has earned him a reputation as a tech Nostradamus. He’s credited with predicting everything from our addiction to portable technology to the digitization of, well, everything, and you can thank him, not James Cameron, for bringing the Hindu concept of “avatar” into the everyday language. Google Earth designer Avi Bar-Zeev has said he was inspired by Stephenson’s ideas, and even tried to get the author to visit his office when he was working on Keyhole, an app suite that later served as a basis for Google’s mapping technology. “He wasn’t interested in visiting Keyhole, or didn’t have time. My best guess is that he was somewhat tired of hearing us engineering geeks rave about Snow Crash as a grand vision for the future. That may have something to do with Snow Crash being a dystopian vision.”
The interview is short, but of interest.

*  The Disney Star Wars additions to their theme parks do sound like they will be fun.  

*  One of the more intriguing sounding science fiction movies due out later this year is God Particle, written by JJ Abrams and (apparently) part of the Cloverfield franchise - even though the synopsis at Wikipedia makes it sound rather unrelated.   One of the most surprising things about it - Chris O'Dowd stars.  (As an astronaut, I presume.  Hard to imagine!)

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Don't Choose Life

Foolishly assuming that a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 68% meant that it was worth watching, we viewed the very recent science fiction movie Life last night.

In case you didn't see the trailer, which made the story very clear, it's like a mash up of Alien and Gravity, each of which were better movies by an order of magnitude.

Life is terrible on all sorts of levels, and I am at a loss to understand how it got any good reviews.  (By the way, this is again a case where Metacritic is a more reliable guide than Tomatoes, as it got a much more acceptable rating there of 54.  But even that, by my reckoning, is 5 times more generous than it should be.) 
My key complaints:

*  if you know anything about astronautics, the ISS, orbits and such like, and you felt you had to forgive Gravity for a fair few inaccuracies for the sake of the story, let me assure you that Life takes "dramatic licence" into the absolutely, 100%  unforgiveable "crimes against reality" range.   I would have thought, for example, that at least some critics might question using something resembling an improvised flame thrower not once, but several times, on board this futuristic version of the ISS might be a tactic that would throw everyone on board into a panic, but no - it's like the first line of defence in this movie, and no one screams to the astronaut in question "are you trying to kill us all?" 

*  the dialogue is life-less (ha, a pun), and no character feels real.   One line in particular is just outright embarrassing - even my son recognised it as such.  I don't understand how the actors didn't recognise the dubious writing, from a character point of view.  Or did it look better on the page, and just got stuffed up somehow in transition to the screen? We'll never know.

*  it's often not very clear what is going on, or why certain things are happening.  Yeah, there's some rushed and shouted attempts at exposition, I suppose - but honestly, a good movie can manage to make it clear enough even while battling monsters.

*  My son also guessed the ending, and the choice of the upbeat end credit song seemed just out of place.

Yes, a terrible movie all round.  And it's a bad sign for Jake Gyllenhaal - who I basically like - as it appears to confirm that he is in the category of "good actor, but puzzlingly terrible at picking screenplays." 

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Rubin speaks the truth

Some people in comments are criticising Rubin for her being (apparently) a former pretty strong Obama critic, but many others are praising her for stepping into the light. 

Her column "The GOP's moral rot is the problem, not Donald Trump Jr" is great, from the opening paragraph:
The key insight from a week of gobsmacking revelations is not that the Russia scandal may finally have an underlying crime but that, as David Brooks suggests, “over the past few generations the Trump family built an enveloping culture that is beyond good and evil.” (Remember when the media collectively oohed and ahhed that, “Say what you will about Donald Trump, but his kids are great!”? Add that to the heap of inane media narratives that helped normalize Trump to the voters.) We now see that, sure enough, the Trump legal team (the fastest-growing segment of the economy) has trouble restraining its clients, explaining away initial, false explanations and preventing self-incriminating statements. (The biggest trouble, of course, is that the president lied that this is all “fake news” and arguably committed obstruction of justice to hide his campaign team’s misdeeds.)

to the key section (my bold):
Let’s dispense with the “Democrats are just as bad” defense. First, I don’t much care; we collectively face a party in charge of virtually the entire federal government and the vast majority of statehouses and governorships. It’s that party’s inner moral rot that must concern us for now. Second, it’s simply not true, and saying so reveals the origin of the problem — a “woe is me” sense of victimhood that grossly exaggerates the opposition’s ills and in turn justifies its own egregious political judgments and rhetoric. If the GOP had not become unhinged about the Clintons, would it have rationalized Trump as the lesser of two evils? Only in the crazed bubble of right-wing hysteria does an ethically challenged, moderate Democrat become a threat to Western civilization and Trump the salvation of America.
and right to the end:
Out of its collective sense of victimhood came the GOP’s disdain for not just intellectuals but also intellectualism, science, Economics 101, history and constitutional fidelity. If the Trump children became slaves to money and to their father’s unbridled ego, then the GOP became slaves to its own demons and false narratives. A party that has to deny climate change and insist illegal immigrants are creating a crime wave — because that is what “conservatives” must believe, since liberals do not — is a party that will deny Trump’s complicity in gross misconduct. It’s a party as unfit to govern as Trump is unfit to occupy the White House. It’s not by accident that Trump chose to inhabit the party that has defined itself in opposition to reality and to any “external moral truth or ethical code.”

Friday, July 14, 2017

Lack of interest noted

I see that the latest Planet of the Apes movie is getting great reviews.

I can't really put my finger on why, but I just don't care about these films.  I saw a fair bit of the first one, and (of course) as a young teenager I saw the original series of movies on TV (and the so-so TV series) and enjoyed them in their somewhat gimmicky way.   But seeing these new ones - just don't care, in the same way I don't care about the Tolkien films.   Maybe it's my dislike of motion capture technique, which features heavily in both series (and with the same actor, too.)

Anyway, count me out.   


Poor Tony

It is with much amusement that I read of Fox-lite Sky News host Paul Murray getting a surprise:
That moment of truth emerged on Wednesday night when one of Mr Abbott’s most ardent supporters, Sky News’ late night host Paul Murray, asked a live audience in Townsville about the former PM.
The audience was made up of Paul Murray’s regular viewers, so it was representative of nothing more than the 50,000 or so people who tune in to Paul Murray Live each weeknight. To call this bunch right-wingers or conservatives would be an extreme act of understatement.

So Mr Murray was probably expecting a different answer when he polled the audience by a show of hands to indicate their views of Tony Abbott. It started out well, with much of the audience indicating support for Mr Abbott to stay in parliament. A smattering less than that thought the backbencher should “be promoted”.

But to Mr Murray’s demonstrable surprise, almost no-one in the room wanted Mr Abbott to be returned to the prime ministership.
So who are the anti Turnbull conservatives in the Liberals thinking they could turn to?  Charmless, he should have been an undertaker, Dutton? 

No wonder the nursing home of Catallaxy is so depressed and angry lately.   (Well, they've always been angry.)  No one to turn to in their time of "need".   I recommend anti-depressants and sedation.  And getting a clue.

Teaching and Confucius

Interesting article at Japan Times about the influence of Confucius in modern education:
Unlike religious traditions like Buddhism, Confucianism did not weather the transition to modernity very well. By the 14th and 15th centuries, classical Confucian texts had taken center stage in examination systems selecting officials to staff bureaucracies in China, Korea and Vietnam. Neo-Confucian academies educated samurai for bureaucratic jobs in early 19th-century feudal Japan, though recent research has shown that their examinations were less meritocratic, and less focused on Confucian texts.
Generations of Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese youth rote-learned the Confucian classics and endured a grueling regimen of provincial, regional and national examinations to qualify for bureaucratic office. Confucian values were also central to imperial court rituals. These Confucianized political, ritual and educational cultures were swept away by education reforms, political revolutions and colonization in the early 20th century.
However, Confucianism has survived in other forms. Today it’s making a popular comeback in China, and the Communist government has acquired a taste for Confucian slogans. But Confucian revivalism dates back to the late 19th century, when Japanese scholars such as Inoue Tetsujiro used their European philosophical training to revamp Confucianism as an academic philosophy, and as a constituent part of a national morality distinct from “Western individualism.”
Political leaders in late 19th-century Japan and in postwar Taiwan and South Korea were also keen on developing mass education systems to make their citizens literate, obedient and disciplined enough to fulfill national industrialization goals. These leaders — aided by scholars like Inoue — superficially preached Confucian values such as harmony, loyalty and filial piety to instill nationalist sentiment in schoolchildren and army conscripts.
At least some of the behavioral traits claimed for East Asian students, including strong deference to teachers and lack of critical thinking, likely have a shallow 20th-century heritage in the modernized mass education systems of Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and China. Still, it’s worth pointing out what’s wrong with suggesting that Confucianism provides the cultural programming behind such behavioral traits.

But, the writer then suggests that Confucianism is not, historically really rooted in conformity as much as people think:
Early Confucian texts record lively dialogues between students and their masters, and students were not afraid to speak up if they disagreed with their masters. Confucians disagreed with each other and they also came in for philosophically sophisticated criticism from rival thinkers such as the Mohists, Legalists and Daoists. Another early Confucian, Xunzi, recommended the study of persuasive speaking for princes eager to combat these “heretics.”

Even in later eras when Confucianism was reinvented as a state doctrine and rote-learned by students, there was room for dissent. So the 16th-century scholar Wang Yangming famously accused this scholastic Confucianism of being an obstacle to moral self-knowledge. As political philosopher and Confucian scholar Sungmoon Kim told me, “The entire history of Confucianism was propelled by critically minded thinkers.”

An American in Paris

A funny/tragic bit in Kaplan's piece on Trump in Paris:
Macron may have been amused when, during his opening statement, Trump said, “France is our oldest ally,” then—in an apparent departure from text—looked up and said, “A lot of people don’t know that.” Of course, everyone who knows the slightest thing about the American Revolution—or who has ever heard the soundtrack of Hamilton—knows that. When Trump says a lot of people don’t know something, it usually means that, until he read it in the speech before him, he didn’t know it.

The placebo diet?

An article at Slate talks about some rather surprising studies:
But as I said before, the best placebo studies involve a little trickery, and thank God a few scientists are willing to go there. The landmark study comes from Alia Crum at Stanford. As a grad student, Crum did an experiment where she found that just telling hotel workers how much exercise they were getting at work could have positive effects on their health. So in 2010, she took the next logical step. She passed out two types of milkshake—a 620-calorie version and a 140-calorie one, complete with labels that claimed they were either indulgent or diet—to two separate groups. As one might expect, the people’s gut chemistry behaved very differently depending on which shake they got, with their hunger hormones (which are also involved in metabolism) dropping much more with the fatty shake.
Except the thing is that she lied—both the shakes were 380 calories. In other words, their bellies responded not to what they were eating but to what they thought they were eating. The following year, a team at Purdue told patients they had invented special solid foods that turned to liquid once in the stomach as well as liquid foods that turn to solid. Some people got actual solids and liquids while others received the magical stomach-changing kinds. Of course, they were actually the exact same meals, and all had the same number of calories.
Naturally, people could feel the nonexisting transformations. The nontransforming-liquid drinkers were all quickly hungry, while the people drinking the “liquid-to-solid” said things like, “I could barely swallow the liquid it was so thick,” “I am so full I can barely finish the glass,” and my favorite, “It came out like a solid, too.”
Meanwhile the people eating the real solid could barely finish them all while those eating the “solid-to-liquid” said, “It hardly feels like I ate anything,” “It feels like I drank a bunch of liquid,” and “It immediately went away when the cubes turned to liquid in my stomach.”
Giggle all you want, but can you really be sure that given the same situation you wouldn’t feel exactly the same thing? The subjects in an experiment like this aren’t chosen because they are morons; they’re chosen because they are us.
But here’s the stranger bit: Their bodies’ physical chemistry responded accordingly, too. The people who thought they were eating liquids passed them through their systems like liquids. Their hunger hormones, insulin, and other metabolic hormones fell in line with what they expected, not what they ate.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Circular phobia

Never heard of this before:
Some people experience intense aversion and anxiety when they see clusters of roughly circular shapes, such as the bubbles in a cup of coffee or the holes in a sponge.
Now psychologists at the University of Kent have found that the condition -- known as trypophobia -- may be an exaggerated response linked to deep-seated anxiety about parasites and infectious disease.
Previous explanations for the condition include the suggestion that people are evolutionarily predisposed to respond to clusters of round shapes because these shapes are also found on poisonous animals, like some snakes and the blue-ringed octopus.
Now new research, led by Tom Kupfer of the University's School of Psychology, suggests that the condition may instead be related to an evolutionary history of infectious disease and parasitism that leads to an exaggerated sensitivity to round shapes.
Update:  I mentioned it to my kids, and my daughter said she has a friend who doesn't like sponges because of the holes.  How odd.

She's a lightweight

I've never trusted Deirdre McCloskey on economics:  for one thing, Sinclair Davidson and Steve Kates think she's pretty good, so there's a warning sign there.

But I reckon this piece in Reason, about how economists who have started to worry a lot about automation and unemployment are wrong, pretty much confirms she's a lightweight.  There's really no serious argument put forward, and she just falls back on her general theme about how free market capitalism and technological advance has been historically great, and (by implication) nothing's ever going to change.  Oh, and unionists are bad.

Count me as unconvinced.

When you try to be polite, and regret it

U.S. President Donald Trump is traveling to France Wednesday evening to meet new French President Emmanuel Macron and to celebrate Bastille Day. 
Apparently, Macron invited him during a phone call before the G20 summit.  I wonder if he's kicking himself because it was accepted.

It's hard to imagine two world leaders with greater difference in image, let alone policy:  one with that of French sophistication; one eats KFC because "you know what's in it".  

Douthat is about right

Douthat's pretty reasonable take on the Trump Jr meeting:
As the hapless Don Jr. — the Gob Bluth or Fredo Corleone of a family conspicuously short on Michaels — protested in his own defense, the Russian rendezvous we know about came before (though only slightly before) the WikiLeaks haul was announced. So the Trump team presumably assumed that it involved some other Hillary-related dirt — some of the missing Clinton server emails that Trump himself jokingly (“jokingly”?) urged Russian hackers to conjure and release, or direct evidence of Clinton Foundation corruption in its Russian relationships.

With that semi-exculpatory explanation in hand, you can grope your way to the current anti-anti-Trump talking point — that Don Jr. and company were just hoping to “gather oppo” to which a foreign government might happen to be privy, much as Democratic operatives looked to Ukraine for evidence of the Trump campaign’s shady ties.

But even if accepting oppo from a foreign government is technically legal — it probably is, but I leave that question to campaign finance lawyers to work out — this talking point takes you only so far. I am not a particularly fierce Russia hawk, but the Russians are still a more-hostile-than-not power these days, with stronger incentives to subvert American democracy than the average foreign government. So taking their oppo has a gravity that should have stopped a more upright and patriotic campaign short.

Second, if the Russians had been dangling some of Hillary’s missing 30,000 emails, those, too, would had to have been hacked — that is, stolen — to end up in Moscow’s hands. So Don Jr., Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner should have known going in that if the offer was genuine, the oppo useful, it might involve stolen goods.

But on the basis of the emails, the younger Trump went in not skeptically but eagerly (“if it’s what you say I love it”), ignoring or simply accepting the weird formulation about Russian support for Trump’s campaign.

Lies and consequences

Matthew Yglesias makes an obvious point:   one of the key problems with the Trump administration has been the willingness of many in it to lie about Russian contacts, when the Russians know they are lying, setting up potential blackmail material.

The only counter to that argument is that Trump is virtually un-blackmailable to his rusted on supporters - they're too stupid and uninterested in ethics to care about Putin.   Conservatives both in America and here think he's cool because he's down on Muslims and gays - he's a tough man who get things done -  they're not going to dump Trump even if they knew Trump personally had secret contact with Putin and was lying about it.   They would just say "Obama and Hillary did just as bad." 

As for Jason Soon's (hi there) cavalier attitude to Russia, Putin and (apparently) political murder - here's a couple of things for him to consider (apart from psychoanalysis to make sure there really is no subconscious Putin man-crush going on there)

*  a couple of articles, such as this one, have noted that for a few years now,  RT has developed a very friendly attitude to American libertarians.  Not hard to see the Kremlin's interest there, if libertarians are true to their American isolationist views.

*   Reason, on the other hand,  has a recent article "Russia's Global Anti-Libertarian Crusade" making the very reasonable argument that Putin's geo-political interests and philosophy are certainly against libertarian, liberal, principles on how governments should conduct themselves, and gives recent examples of Russian interference in the Balkans, etc.  

Here are two key paragraphs:
One of the surreal twists of the past year in American politics has been the rapid realignment in attitudes toward Russia. Democrats, many of whom believe that Russian interference was key to Donald Trump's unexpected victory last November, are now the ones sounding the alarm about the Russian threat. Meanwhile, quite a few Republicans—previously the keepers of the anti-Kremlin Cold War flame—have taken to praising President Vladimir Putin as a strong leader and Moscow as an ally against radical Islam. A CNN/ORC poll in late April found that 56 percent of Republicans see Russia as either "friendly" or "an ally," up from 14 percent in 2014. Over the same period, Putin's favorable rating from Republicans in the Economist/YouGov poll went from 10 percent to a startling 37 percent.
 and:
Nonetheless, there is a real Russian effort to counter American—plus NATO and E.U.—influence by supporting authoritarian nationalist movements and groups, such as Le Pen's National Front, Hungary's quasi-fascist Jobbik Party, and Greece's neo-Nazi Golden Dawn. Today's Russia is no longer just a moderately authoritarian corrupt regime trying to maintain its regional influence. Cloaked in the mantle of religious and nationalist values, the Kremlin positions itself as a defender of tradition and sovereignty against the godless progressivism and the migrant hordes overtaking the West. It has a global propaganda machine and a network of political operatives dedicated to cultivating far-right and sometimes far-left groups in Europe and elsewhere.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Assume the position

I presume the fallback position for the Trumpkins is going to be "No, no, there's still no proof the Trump campaign actually colluded with the Russian government.   They only tried to collude with the Russian government.  What's the big deal with that?"

Update:  Gee, aren't the Blair and Bolt blogs showing a lack of curiosity about this story?   Yeah, for Blair it's all "frightbats" and Lefty Turnbull is going down, and (any minute now) "Jonathan Green was wrong 10 years ago, ahahahaha".   With Bolt - Lefty Turnbull is going down; immigration, grrr; Muslims, and climate change, ha!

Update 2:  Over at the Catallaxy open thread:  "What story about 3 key members on Trump's campaign going to a meeting hoping to be fed damaging intelligence on Hillary Clinton from the Kremlin?  I must have missed that.  Oh look - someone is talking about a car tax.  Ahhhagggg, Turnbull is evil."

Update 3:  Vox notes that John Oliver got it right a few months ago:
On March 5, the host of the HBO comedy show Last Week Tonight started a segment called “Stupid Watergate,” which he described as “a scandal with all the potential ramifications of Watergate, but where everyone involved is stupid and bad at everything.” 
Update 4:  Yes, as expected, the Self Inflicted Culture War Blindness (incurable) has made an appearance at Catallaxy.










Sad what stupidity and hypocrisy being a Culture Warrior brings, hey?

Update 5:  And here's my sometimes visitor, apparently suggesting that if Trump responded like a third world dictator and organised a distracting show trial, it would all be Hillary's (or "the Left's") own fault.  What a weird comment:




Tuesday, July 11, 2017

A tasty medicine?

Strawberries!  They are now so cheap for so much of the year that I'm starting to worry how farmers can possibly be making money out of it without exploiting poor backpackers.

But a compound in them may be good for Alzheimers:
Salk scientists have found further evidence that a natural compound in strawberries reduces cognitive deficits and inflammation associated with aging in mice. The work, which appeared in the Journals of Gerontology Series A in June 2017, builds on the team's previous research into the antioxidant fisetin, finding it could help treat age-related mental decline and conditions like Alzheimer's or stroke.

The Salk team fed the 3-month-old prematurely aging mice a daily dose of fisetin with their food for 7 months. Another group of the prematurely aging mice was fed the same food without fisetin. During the study period, mice took various activity and memory tests. The team also examined levels of specific proteins in the mice related to brain function, responses to stress and inflammation.

"At 10 months, the differences between these two groups were striking," says Maher. Mice not treated with fisetin had difficulties with all the cognitive tests as well as elevated markers of stress and inflammation. Brain cells called astrocytes and microglia, which are normally anti-inflammatory, were now driving rampant inflammation. Mice treated with fisetin, on the other hand, were not noticeably different in behavior, cognitive ability or inflammatory markers at 10 months than a group of untreated 3-month-old mice with the same condition. Additionally, the team found no evidence of acute toxicity in the fisetin-treated mice, even at high doses of the compound.
Speaking of Alzheimers, last night's Four Corners was a sad case study of a few examples of people living with it in Australia.  It is a terrible disease, especially with the early onset variety.