Monday, November 20, 2017

That doesn't seem very sporting of God

Some researchers have studied flu infection rates in Middle Eastern countries with the timing of the Hajj in Saudi Arabia, and Hanukkah in Israel, and the results look very clear:

You'd think they would have done this sort of study before, but apparently Saudi Arabia doesn't like to play ball by providing its figures.  So this is for 6 neighbouring countries, plus Israel.


How ludicrous can he get?

I refer to Steve Kates, Trump cultist, who seems to honestly believe that as soon as the Presidency changed, every economic indicator was obviously due to incredible awesome powers of Trump.   And that everything under Obama was crushingly bleak:
The parlous state that Obama left the American economy in will require an astonishing amount of luck combined with a great deal of very well constructed policy to move past. You do know that in the entire eight years Obama was president, the US economy on not a singe occasion achieved a growth rate as high as 3%. Trump has now achieved it twice, with more to come. Obama even inherited the recovery phase following the GFC which is almost invariably an economy’s period of strongest growth since part of what happens is the recovery of ground lost during the recession. Instead, there were eight years of low growth and stagnant employment. There is not an economic story to tell to his credit, even with interest rates at near zero and public spending at an all-time high, which in standard economic theory are a good thing. Of course, both are harmful to an economy’s prospects but don’t expect your friend to know it or believe it if you tell him.

But why take my word for it. Here is Conrad Black pointing out that Trump is already the most successful U.S. president since Ronald Reagan. And as you can see from the beginning of this excerpt, he is not PDT’s greatest admirer, but even so:
Conrad Black!  Kates is outsourcing his economic analysis to the ex con who been writing odes of  praise for Trump for, what, years? 

monty:  how can you resist not telling Kates he's an embarrassment to his profession?

Sunday, November 19, 2017

A New Zealand themed post

*  SBS on Demand has the popular New Zealand movie Boy, made by writer/director/actor Taika Waititi, available for viewing at the moment.  I had not seen it before.   There's a lot to like about:  it looks great for a small budget film; the child actors are excellent and quite charming; and it has a real sense of place.  On the downside, the story doesn't have much propelling it forward, and a clearer change in Waititi's character by the end might have been welcome.  But overall there's something about some of its imagery, scenes and music that made it rattle around in my dreams, and in my mind throughout today, after watching it last night.   That's always a sign of a good movie - when it clings to your brain, even if you don't quite understand why.

* Taika Waititi is, presumably, very happy with how many people have seen and liked Thor: Ragnarok.   it's been out for all of 16 days and will probably have taken over $700 million internationally.   I wonder if he gets a percentage of the take? Incidentally, I was surprised to see in Boy that there is a section where his character talks about the Incredible Hulk, which seems quite prescient.

I am happy to read that he is wanting to make a spinoff to What We Do In the Shadows, concentrating on the werewolves (not swearwolves.)   A clip of the vampire/werewolf confrontation, which amuses me more than it probably should, is here:



*  Well, that's a bit sad:  I see on IMDB that James Rolleston, the lead actor in Boy, made a couple of other movies, but was in a serious car accident in 2016 which involved some pretty major brain injury.   New Zealand media says that he has had to undergo a lot of rehabilitation, which sounds like is ongoing.  He was only recently sentenced for a dangerous driving charge from the indicent.Sounds unclear as to whether he will make a full recovery.

*  On a more serious note, Ed Yong writes at The Atlantic about how New Zealand conservationists who want to try to eradicate all rats and other introduced mammals are very keen on a kind of scary CRISPR technique called gene drives to spread extinction causing genes (for infertility, for example) throughout the rat population.  

I don't know:  getting rid of stoats I can understand; rats I feel sorry for, even if they like bird eggs.   I just can't see that it is worthwhile using gene modification techniques that could risk accidentally eradicating rats worldwide.  That would make for some major ecological changes, surely.   


Saturday, November 18, 2017

A fake, I'd say...


On the public's understanding of Brexit

The SMH has a report about how badly Brexit is going, with experts complaining that the public, which apparently in polls still narrowly supports it, just don't understand what's involved:
Menon says the public wrongly equate a "no-deal Brexit" with the status quo. "They think 'no deal' is going to buy a car and you don't like the car so you come back with the car you have. They don't think it means they blow you up inside the old car."

Friday, November 17, 2017

Now this is disgusting

I've been meaning to post about this for some weeks, after I saw a bit of NRA TV on some site or other, with a talking head woman going on about this topic, as Time explains:
The overriding message is that the NRA identity is under attack. There’s a tone of simmering indignation and a sense of persecution that curdles into hostility toward government, media and other cultural institutions. “Their hateful defiance of [Trump’s] legitimacy is an insult to each of us,” Loesch says in one video. “But the ultimate insult is that they think we’re so stupid that we’ll let them get away with it.”
Yes, the NRA is encouraging people to arm themselves because Trump is "under attack" - it seemed as clear as day to me that it was a call for people to arm themselves for a coming civil war, except they are careful enough not to use the words "coming civil war".    And yet the danger of this pandering to armed paranoia is largely ignored by the media and politicians.

The liberals in America ought to be calling this out as dangerous and disgusting.

Getting a bit hysterical now

I've never followed the career of Al Franken closely:  I think as a comedian I probably would not have liked him - just a hunch, really.

But it seems to me that the reaction of liberal outlets Slate, Vox, Axios (many stories on it making it seem the biggest sex scandal that has ever hit Washington), and a columnist at Wapo,  is a bit hysterical.

In short - it isn't 100% clear that his fingers are actually touching her breasts , in fact, given the risk of her waking up if touched, I would say it's more likely they weren't.   It's a poor taste photo "joke":  it's not clearly sexual assault.

As for the kiss - her key complaint is that, in a public venue (backstage, where presumably there was little  risk it could advance to any further form of sexual advance without anyone seeing it), he pestered her into a kiss rehearsal and then used tongue.

Look, forced tongue would obviously be gross and unsettling; but it's also true that there are degrees of tongue and who knows whether it was fully engaged as she claims.  

She says she pushed him away and was upset and told him never to do it again.  Good.

Of course such behaviour (let's assume a clearly engaged deep tongue) is not "acceptable";  at the same time, it's getting a bit out of hand when commentators immediately call for resignation when a woman claims too much tongue in her mouth 10 years ago in a rehearsal.  This is not the same as the office staff suddenly been put upon by the boss.  As she explains:
Franken had written some skits for the show and brought props and costumes to go along with them. Like many USO shows before and since, the skits were full of sexual innuendo geared toward a young, male audience.

As a TV host and sports broadcaster, as well as a model familiar to the audience from the covers of FHM, Maxim and Playboy, I was only expecting to emcee and introduce the acts, but Franken said he had written a part for me that he thought would be funny, and I agreed to play along.
Get a grip, people. 

Look, what will happen if Franken is a general sleeze who has forced himself onto women repeatedly is that there will be other women coming forward, and that's when it will get to "call for immediate resignation" territory.    And I appreciate that Franken has brought this upon himself by being the liberal hero on allegations made against Republican figures.

But still, I say the reaction to this incident alone is going over the top.




The peculiar story of modern Japanese housing

I've occasionally talked about this to Australian friends (how the attitude to domestic housing in Japan is very different from that in Australia, and perhaps most other countries), and it's good to see that my understanding was correct, as all explained at length in this very detailed article at The Guardian:
Most of those houses built in the 60s are no longer standing, having long since been replaced by newer models, finished with fake brick ceramic siding in beiges, pinks and browns. In the end, most of these prefabricated houses – and indeed most houses in Japan – have a lifespan of only about 30 years.

Unlike in other countries, Japanese homes gradually depreciate over time, becoming completely valueless within 20 or 30 years. When someone moves out of a home or dies, the house, unlike the land it sits on, has no resale value and is typically demolished. This scrap-and-build approach is a quirk of the Japanese housing market that can be explained variously by low-quality construction to quickly meet demand after the second world war, repeated building code revisions to improve earthquake resilience and a cycle of poor maintenance due to the lack of any incentive to make homes marketable for resale.
The article notes that there is a bit of a movement towards renovation rather than demolition now, but it's still nothing like the renovation industry in other countries.

The good thing about this peculiar aspect to housing is that, for the Western buyer who isn't so fussed about the age of a house, and provided they don't need to live in one of the large cities, you can buy houses very, very cheaply in much of the country.  That's assuming you want to use in it yourself, I suppose, as you don't really buy them as an investment.




Thursday, November 16, 2017

Cow wars

More on the situation with "cow vigilante" groups in India at Reuters:
A Reuters special report this month investigated the vigilantes, who snatch cows from Muslims whom they are convinced intend to slaughter the animals. It is an accusation that inflames passions in a Hindu majority nation, where many consider the animal sacred and killing cows is outlawed in most states. 

The reporting process revealed some fresh details about a rising tide of religious nationalism in India, beyond the country’s booming stock market and rising direct foreign investment. Interviews with just two of the Hindu-led groups found they’d seized some 190,000 cows, at times working with police, since Modi took office. 

Relations between right wing Hindus and Muslims is not great, it seems:
As reporter Zeba Siddiqui interviewed a local head of a right-wing Hindu group, the man paused and asked: “You’re Muslim, right?” Siddiqui said she was. 

The man began to rant: “It is in their religious books that you should kill non-believers, and that you should kill and eat animals. What kind of holy book says that? The Gita (a Hindu holy scripture) doesn’t. I don’t have a problem with the religion, but the people who follow it.” 

Siddiqui asked whether the man was saying he disliked all Muslims. He did not answer the question.

Stuck in the 1970's

This analysis by Yglesias at Vox about the problem with the Republican tax plan debate sounds basically credible to me:
The tax reform debate is stuck in the 1970s

Tax reform is lining up like this: Republicans want big, business-friendly tax cuts to spur savings and investments while Democrats complain it’ll blow a hole in the deficit. These terms of debate made sense 30 to 40 years ago. Back then, the economy was stuck in a particular kind of rut. With inflation high and profits low, companies weren’t investing and creating new jobs even as a torrent of new workers was flooding the labor force. Very high interest rates lurked in the background. 

Both Republicans and Democrats agreed this nexus of issues was a problem, so they had a debate over what to do. There were ideological disagreements about the prescription but consensus on the diagnosis. In his first term, Ronald Reagan implemented the conservative prescription. In his second term, the much-lauded bipartisan 1986 tax reform bill represented a reasonable high-minded compromise of the two poles of the debate. 

But today is different. Corporate profits are high, not low. Inflation is low, not high. The workforce is growing slowly, not quickly. Borrowing is cheap, not expensive. 

Everything about the situation has changed— except the tax policy debate. And the result is that Congress’ No. 1 priority has almost nothing to do with the biggest problems facing the country.

So there was some sort of survey result yesterday?

 Some quick observations:

*  participation rate was higher than I expected.

* that means it was pretty accurate, and it did match polling quite closely.     Newspoll in September had this result:
The proportion of voters who support same-sex marriage now stands at 57 per cent, compared to 63 per cent in August and 62 per cent in September last year.
The no vote has lifted to 34 per cent, from 30 per cent in August and 32 per cent a year ago.
About nine per cent are uncommitted.
So, the Australian government spent $100 million to work out that Newspoll is pretty accurate.   Congratulations...

*  I wonder how the 20% who didn't vote would have gone if voting had been part of compulsory election voting.   Very hard to say - this article at The Conversation talks about that.

*  Further on that theme:  it's funny how non compulsory voting enables a different slant on things, isn't it?  The "best" that the conservatives/cynics on this issue (like me!) can argue is that of the total eligible voting population, it was actually only about a 49% yes vote and a 30% no vote.    Yet a 60/40 split in those who did vote enables people to call it an "over-whelming" yes vote.   (You see the same in government elections overseas, of course.)   Admittedly, you would have to say that compulsory voting would have sent the yes vote well over the 50%, but still, let's not get too carried away with the "overwhelming" adjective.   For me, for something like this, I would hold back "over-whelming" for something like a 65 plus vote.  

*  I think everyone is surprised by the strength of the No vote across a swathe of Western Sydney electorates.  What a divided city.   Fortunately, we live in a country where riots over social issues rarely happen.   So a bunch of Labor politicians are at some risk of annoying their electorates by voting Yes.   I suppose they can always say "look, doesn't make any practical difference if you were to say that all members should vote according to their electorate result, as if we did that, it would still mean only 17 No votes in the House.   Just live with it."  

*  Kind of amusing anyway how many, many National Party electorates went for "Yes", though.   Queensland was different in that regard, with two huge outback electorates going "No".    It does just confirm that Queenslanders can be very "different" in voting  patterns; but in most respects, not in a good way.  (I'm talking the ridiculous prospect of One Nation getting some power in Queensland parliament again in the next election.  High temperature just does something to the voting brain, I am sure.)



Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Fundamentalist dating theory

Slate notes that there is one corner of American faith for which Roy Moore wanting to date teenage girls was not an unusual idea:
But there’s a group of Moore’s allies for whom the basic idea of an unmarried older man “courting” a teenage girl is not anathema at all—fundamentalist home-schoolers. Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson, who endorsed Moore in the contested Republican primary and has spoken at his rallies, told an audience in 2009 that girls should marry when they’re “about 15 or 16.” Moore has appeared several times on a radio show hosted by Kevin Swanson, an ultra-conservative Colorado pastor who defended Robertson's notion that girls should be marrying at 15 because it helps them avoid sexual sin.
Moore has an even deeper relationship with Doug Phillips, a disgraced leader in the “Biblical patriarchy” movement. Phillips was president of Vision Forum, a Texas-based organization devoted to the “restoration of the Christian household.” In Phillips’ world, men ought to be self-sufficient by the time they marry, but women live under their father’s authority until they marry. Ideally, in fact, a woman would live under her father’s literal roof until her wedding day. Phillips promoted the concept of “stay-at-home daughters,” in which girls live at home until they marry, often forgoing formal education and focusing on homemaking skills. Independence is essentially a flaw in a Christian wife, who, Phillips taught, should be willing to call her husband “Lord.
Gee.  

Of general interest

*   From an interview at NPR, here's the charming explanation of the Duffer Brothers (the creators and sometime director/writers of Stranger Things) of how they co-write:
Matt: A lot of our work is actually done on Google Docs, and so we don't speak to each other. It's a really weird thing where we're both on headphones, not talking, and just typing on the same document at the same time.

We're in the same room, same office. We have separate desks. We're not, like, literally right next to each other, because we'd probably punch each other every once in a while, so it's good there's a little bit of physical distance.

We'll get into Google Doc wars, where I type a line of dialogue or an idea for the scene — he'll delete it. I'll go write it back in — he'll delete it again. And then the headphones come off and then we actually have to have a conversation about it. So it's a little ridiculous.

* The BBC has an item about a small Siberian (I think) town which apparently has the record  for the highest temperature range (-68 degrees C in winter to 37 degrees in summer), but my impression is it spends a lot more time frozen than hot.  Here's how they live:
Blocks of ice are cut from the river and delivered to villagers for water.
Each house has its own stock of water stored outside in stacks of ice blocks.
The blocks are then melted inside the house.
Running water, which moves at very high temperatures to prevent the pipes from freezing, is not drinkable.
Temperatures are so low that some details of daily life take another dimension here:
  • batteries last only a few minutes
  • pen ink freezes before writing
  • it becomes dangerous to wear metal glasses
The locals also let their cars run all day, afraid they might not restart until spring.
Armed with thick fur and a layer of fat grown during the autumn, the horses and the dogs of the village spend the winter outside in these freezing temperatures.
The yakut horse is small and resistant, little domesticated and raised mainly for meat.
It holds a great place in the life, economy and spirituality of the Siberians.
There are lots of photos, and the town looks about as bleak as you might expect.   

*  The Guardian talks about the financial failure of Blade Runner 2049, and lots of readers comment about whether they enjoyed it or not.   Some did, but I think the majority has issues with it, as did I.

*  There seems to be some suspicion that Justice League is not going to be very well reviewed.  I thought it looked pretty awful on the trailer.

A pill that tells your distant doctor via your mobile phone that it's been taken?  And it's an anti-psychotic?   Um, doesn't the very concept seem likely to encourage paranoia in those who already fear they are being secretly monitored?


Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Koch history

I just was doing a Google of the Koch Brothers, and turned up this bit of history.  (Perhaps I had read about it before, but forgotten):
The Kochs may be following in the footsteps of their father Fred Koch.  As New Yorker journalist Jane Mayer has detailed, Koch Sr. made the family fortune by working for Stalin helping to build 15 Soviet oil refineries. The experience made him virulently anti-communist and anti-“big government” in general, but these beliefs did not seem to stand in the way of making money.

Fred Koch would later go on to help Hitler’s Third Reich build an important oil refinery that had to be taken out by the U.S. Army Air Corps in World War II.
Going to the New Yorker article from 2010, I see that Fred Koch went from helping one of the worst Communists in history to being a anti communist to a nutty degree at home:
In 1958, Fred Koch became one of the original members of the John Birch Society, the arch-conservative group known, in part, for a highly skeptical view of governance and for spreading fears of a Communist takeover. Members considered President Dwight D. Eisenhower to be a Communist agent. In a self-published broadside, Koch claimed that “the Communists have infiltrated both the Democrat and Republican Parties.” He wrote admiringly of Benito Mussolini’s suppression of Communists in Italy, and disparagingly of the American civil-rights movement. “The colored man looms large in the Communist plan to take over America,” he warned. Welfare was a secret plot to attract rural blacks to cities, where they would foment “a vicious race war.” In a 1963 speech that prefigures the Tea Party’s talk of a secret socialist plot, Koch predicted that Communists would “infiltrate the highest offices of government in the U.S. until the President is a Communist, unknown to the rest of us.”
What a family dynasty, hey Jason?   His sons have more moderate views than their father - all they want to ensure they is that they can make money before their oil burning puts Florida, New York, Bangladesh, etc under 10 m of water....  



*A reference to their recent investment in a Chinese company, which is what the article is mainly about.

The culture wars have become very, very weird

I refer to two things:

*  Milo Yiannopoulos and his Australian tour, which I see is presented by Penthouse (Australia and NZ).   (Why?)   This is a screenshot of his sales site:



Who on earth would pay $90 plus, let alone $295, to meet this twit?    And the meet and greet starts at 11.45 pm.  ? 

I like the way the venue is secret 'til a week out, meaning that the "sold out" shows may be the 30 seat conference room in the back of the CBD Ibis Hotel, for all we know.

And yet, because he talks about how terrible "SJW's" and feminists are, he has the support of crossover conservatives/alt.righters, and Andrew Bolt, regardless of his apologia for older gay men who "mentor" young teen gay guys, as he plainly did in the now infamous interview that took an unusually long time to be publicised.  (Not that he's apologising for that any more, as far as I can tell.)

* Roy Moore in the US.   It seems hard to credit that there could be more evangelical support for him, after the first round of allegations about his unusual habit, as a 30 something year old, of dating/sexually assaulting teenage girls.   Maybe, after the latest claim, from a woman who says she is a Trump voter, they will actually start to wonder?    Or is it more that, the ways things are currently perversely working, a sex video of him with a 16 year old could only help strengthen evangelical support?    (After all, the Lord's mother might have only been that age, I can hear them say.) 

Talk about a religious group shooting their moral credibility in the foot over the last couple of years.

Axios says Rand Paul is the only Senator still endorsing him (!).   Maybe he has concussion or something affecting his judgement, or is it just a example of why libertarians can't get much of a foothold in the US government when their figureheads are lacking common sense?

The funniest thing was the report a day or two ago that Breitbart (read "Bannon") sent out two reporters to Alabama to try to discredit the claims, when in fact since then the reports have become worse and worse.

Fail, Bannon.   A complete fail.




Yet more disarray

Another Senator gone (Lambie). 

I think an election clean out of the entire Parliament is feeling more warranted every day...

Today's Freudian trivia

From a very short book review in Nature:
Sigmund Freud's first paper involved the dissection of eels in an attempt to locate their testes. To his frustration, Freud failed to find any.
I encourage all readers to attempt to slip that into workplace or household conversation today.

Update:  because I'm curious, I had to look up more about Freud's hunt for (eel's) testicles.  Here it is:
As they say with young people, Freud may not have known enough to know how futile this task would be when employed by a nondescript Austrian zoological research station. It was his first job, he was nineteen-years-old, and it was 1876. He dissected approximately 400 eels, over a period of four weeks, and he worked in an environment that the New York Times described as “Amid stench and slime for long hours”. His ambitious goal was to write a breakthrough research paper on the animal’s mating habits that had confounded science for centuries. One has to imagine that a more seasoned scientist may have considered the task futile much earlier in the process, but an ambitious, young nineteen-year-old, looking to make a name for himself, was willing to spend long hours slicing and dicing these eels, hoping to achieve an answer that could not be disproved.

Unfortunate for young Freud, and perhaps fortunate for the future of Psychology, we now know that eels don’t have testicles, until they need them. The products of Freud’s studies must not have needed them at the time he studied them, for Freud ended up writing that his total supply of eels were “of the fairer sex”. Freud did write that research paper over time, but it detailed his failure to locate the testicles. Some have said that he correctly predicted where the testicles should be, and that he argued that the eels he received were not mature eels. The result was that he did not find the testicles, and he moved onto other areas as a result. The question that anyone reading the psychological theories Freud would write later in life, has to ask, in conjunction with this knowledge, is how profound was this failure on the rest of his research into human sexual development? 
 The blog writer goes on with a lot of questions about whether Freud's obsession with human psycho-sexual development was a case of unconscious over compensation for being unable to locate eel's testicles.   It's an interesting thought...

Monday, November 13, 2017

A lyric misheard for a very long time

Something else happened on the weekend - after hearing someone singing it live, I realised that I had misheard the chorus and title of a rather popular pop song as "Valerie" instead of "Out of Reach".  The song's only been out since 1999, give me a break.   I thought it sounded an odd way of singing "Valerie" but I genuinely had no inkling that it was actually 3 words, not one.   

I see that at least one other man in his 50's had been hearing it the same way.   Maybe it's a Dad thing.

The great inconsistency

It occurred to me over the weekend:   don't zombie cultist Trump worshippers, like Steve Kates, find that their simultaneous beliefs that:

a.   Trump is right and doing God's work in wanting a better relationship with Russia (well, Putin) because Russia/Putin and the US could do good work together;  AND

b.   that Hilary Clinton and the FBI and Obama did the worst possible thing in the world and should be locked up because they let the Russians get control some (overinflated) amount of US uranium

are not exactly consistent, at least with respect to the view of Russia inherent in those positions?

I hope that's a real tweet..


I suppose that, as the world ends, at least we'll be laughing grimly about how it happened...

Update:  so sue me, I hadn't been following this fake twitter thing closely.  Still pretty funny.

Just vote Liberal Democrats and shut up

Another day, another Tim Blair whine about the ABC operating on government money.

Look, there is at least one Party with pretensions to power that wants the ABC privatised as soon as possible - the Liberal Democrats.   Given that the fact that ABC funding support is seemingly the most important, gut wrenching issue in the daily life of Tim Blair, why doesn't he just continually support the Leyonhjelm outfit for this reason alone (if not others - Blair really wouldn't seem to have any issue with that party's policies, I reckon), and blog about something else.   

Can't we just start over again?

News this morning that, as usual, One Nation (seems the party motto should be:  "You don't have to be nuts to run for us; but if you're running for us, you're nuts") is cracking up due to internal conflict just helps confirm in my mind that the public likely thinks this Parliament is such an enormous mess it really needs an election to sort it out. 

First, what went on in One Nation, from the Australian, so I probably can't link to it:
One Nation’s newest senator Fraser Anning has defected within hours of being sworn-in, causing a major upset for Pauline Hanson who now has just three votes in the chamber.

Senator Anning’s shock move follows weeks of internal party tensions and revelations Senator Hanson had wanted him to resign to allow for the return of Malcolm Roberts.

A long-time supporter and friend of Senator Hanson’s, Senator Anning replaced Mr Roberts as a Queensland One Nation MP after the High Court found last month that the latter was ineligible to sit in parliament because he was a dual British citizen when he nominated.

Liberal Democrat senator David Leyonhjelm, who with Australian Conservatives senator Cory Bernardi escorted Senator Anning into the upper house this morning for his swearing in, said he was aware Senator Anning had been “under pressure to resign” to make way for Mr Roberts.

If Senator Anning had resigned, he would have created a casual vacancy that could have been filled by Mr Roberts.
Secondly:   Turnbull is copping the fallout of the citizenship issue, and I suspect it's because sounding aggro about it when you already are not polling well is not a great look.

He would, it seems clear, lose any election held now, and perhaps by a reasonably wide margin; but if he is interested in how history may view him more favourably, as a PM who selflessly let the public sort out the mess via a new election with candidates who are all unequivocally entitled to be there, a trip to the Governor General to call one would be the way to do it.

Weekend events

Good and not so good news from the weekend:

*   we've had an Emile Henry ceramic tagine - one of these -


for a couple of years, and while they are not cheap, I realised yesterday (when I finally got around to cooking in it - instead of my wife) that they are a real pleasure to use.    It fries off like a nonstick surface, and I'm not sure why (very even heat conduction?) but there was very little heat sticking of stuff on the bottom even when it has been on the gas burner for 50 minutes without stirring.  (I didn't really mean to not stir for that long, but anyway...)

The recipe for a Moroccan style lamb tagine worked out really well too, based on a Jamie Oliver version on a Tefal website.  I adjusted a bit and record it here for my future reference:

About 400 - 500 g lamb shoulder diced
One teaspoon each of ground cinnamon, cumin and coriander
One big onion - red, brown, I doubt it matters much (diced of course)
Couple of garlic cloves sliced
A fresh red chilli sliced
Tablespoon of honey
Can of tomatoes
Can of chick peas
About 30 g of dried apricots (it's only about 4 or 5 whole dried ones)
40 g of black olives
Vegetables - I used a carrot and a capsicum, both cut into big chunks, but his recipe used eggplant.  Whatever.  I think anything is going to work.
Italian parsley (I didn't have any, but Jamie's recipe involves some cooked in it, and some on top as garnish)

Method:  lamb gets mixed with the spices and honey (and some salt and pepper), then fried off in some olive oil to brown in the tagine  Add onion,  chilli and other vegetables and cook off for another 10 or 15 mins or so.  Add tomatoes, a tomato tin full of water, the chickpeas (including some of the liquid from it - I used perhaps half.) and tear up the apricots and throw them in, with the olives too.  Check salt level and add a bit more (probably).

Simmer covered for about 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Served with couscous with roasted flaked almonds and some finely cut up dried apricot and lemon juice through it.

It was really nice.  But then again, everything cooked in this thing seems to come out nice.  Maybe tagines share the magical powers of wood serving platters, which make all food taste better.   They just do, OK?

Update:   out of curiosity, I had a look at a "products review" website for this brand of ceramic tagine, and found quite a few people complaining that it suddenly cracked and was thereby rendered useless.   Hope ours doesn't suffer that fate.

*   I've praised Mark Dapin as a magazine features writer before, and his article in Good Weekend on Saturday was particularly interesting.   He meets up with an old university friend who has finally revealed his sexual abuse at the hands of a Catholic priest/teacher as a teenager.

It's really remarkable,  the way the stories of the life ruining effect of teenage sexual abuse are so often so similar: the subsequent drug or alcohol abuse, depression and relationship problems, etc.   Mark's friend's explanation of the ambiguities of the emotions at the time adds another aspect I hadn't really realised - as a smart, sensitive teen, he actually liked being groomed, as it involved making him feel special and warranting the attention of someone intellectually sophisticated and part of the adult world.   That makes sense, I guess, although not every abuse victim is groomed in exactly that way, of course.  And it doesn't stop it from causing decades of later turmoil, perhaps with that irreconcilable ambiguity and conflict of emotions being the thing at the heart of why it is so often so psychologically damaging.   I think it's an interestingly complicated issue, this matter of how exactly it is that such experiences have such long lasting, detrimental psychological effects, and I wonder if  abuse victims might be particularly suited to the one of the schools of psychoanalytical "talking therapies".   

*  Watched Korean zombie movie Train to Busan on Saturday night.    The zombies are definitely in the World War Z style of more-or-less instant conversion as soon as bitten, which is kinda silly even in the fictional universes where zombies exist, I reckon.   But I got over that and enjoyed World War Z more than I expected, but enjoyed Train less than I expected.   Too much traumatised child at the end; and one thing bothered me - modern trains don't go so dark inside when going through tunnels.  That was a plot contrivance that was not realistic, if you ask me.   (Yes, here I am, being pedantic over realism in an "instant zombie" movie.)

South Korean ways of living seem so, so similar to those in Japan don't they?   I found it interesting from that point of view.

* I seem to have one eye ageing unusually rapidly - so much so that it already is developing a cataract, and quite quickly too.   Will be booking in to see a specialist ASAP, as the hazing effect of the cataract is already noticeable and there is no point in getting new glasses until that is fixed.   The optometrist asked if I had ever injured that eye, as the type of cataract at my age is more often from injury; but no, I don't recall ever getting punched in that eye, or any other injury.  Just one of life's mysteries.

I've also learnt that looking at images of cataract surgery makes it look remarkably unpleasant, for something done so routinely (and in day surgery.)




Friday, November 10, 2017

Where is the dark matter?

Well, it really is a bit of a depressing time to be a research physicist, it seems.  From Nature News:
Physicists are growing ever more frustrated in their hunt for dark matter — the massive but hard-to-detect substance that is thought to comprise 85% of the material Universe. Teams working with the world’s most sensitive dark-matter detectors report that they have failed to find the particles, and that the ongoing drought has challenged theorists’ prevailing views.

The latest results from an experiment called XENON1T at the Gran Sasso National Laboratory in Italy, published on 30 October1, continue a dry spell stretching back 30 years in the quest to nab dark-matter particles. An attempt by a Chinese team to detect the elusive stuff, the results of which were published on the same day2, also came up empty-handed. Ongoing attempts by space-based telescopes, as well as at CERN, the European particle-physics laboratory near Geneva, Switzerland, have also not spotted any hints of dark-matter particles.

The findings have left researchers struggling for answers. “We do not understand how the Universe works at a deeper and more profound level than most of us care to admit,” says Stacy McGaugh, an astrophysicist at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio.
The article explains some of the details of the searches, then gets to this point:
Future generations of detectors based on the same principle as XENON1T are already in the works, and will be needed if physicists are to finally close the window on WIMPs. But the particles’ continuing no-show is making theorists more open-minded and has allowed other theories to gain prominence, says Hooper. Perhaps dark matter consists of exotic axion particles, which are akin to strange, massive photons. Theorists are also looking at whether dark matter might not interact with known particles at all, but exist in a “hidden sector”, he says.
 The "upside down world" of Stranger Things, perhaps?

(There's always  MOND theories of gravity, but they have their problems too, apparently.)

Something I didn't see coming...

No pun intended in that post heading:  it really is surprising, isn't it?, this outpouring of people prepared to speak out now about the bad, unwanted, sexual conduct of Hollywood and media stars, the most recent being a high profile comedian and a Senate candidate.   (I have never seen Louis CK apart from briefly on some chat shows - I have no idea whether his comedy would appeal to me or not, although I have always suspected the latter - and now I feel I don't have to spend time checking.)

I trust Steven Spielberg never gets caught up in this.

Speaking of possibly the last nice guy in Hollywood who never put the hard word on a starlet (I'm hoping!), the trailer is out for his new, hurriedly made movie.   I haven't watched it with the sound on yet, so I don't know what I think:

 

Thursday, November 09, 2017

This man teaches at a tertiary institution..

I see that Steve Kates says he gave a "presentation" on the first anniversary of Trump's election.    Not sure where, but I presume it looked something like this:




And here's a pic Steve's wife took of him before he left to go give his little talk:



He's put his speaking notes up at you-know-where, and I'll extract some highlights:
Who are the enemies he is dealing with and what are the central issues?

fanatical and ignorant opposition
• SJW are far left anti-capitalist, anti-free institutions
• the left in the US and across the world is no longer about provisioning the welfare state but is out and out communist and totalitarian
• Antifa is representative of the mindset
I wonder if he was stocking up on canned beans and bottled water for the collapse of civilisation last weekend went Antifa brought down the United States?

Anyway, here's more of his insights:
far-far left media
• malevolent, ignorant and totalitarian at heart
• utterly oppositional in everything they say or write
• stand for nothing other than a series of empty clich├ęs
• tweet-storms is Trump’s modern means to outflank the media
 Yes, Kates genuinely believes Trump tweeting is a clever thing for him to do to "outflank" the malevolent, ignorant, media.   Paranoid much.

And finally:
personal qualities
• tough minded and clear headed
• understands business and the operation of a market economy
• a strong believer in education and learning
• has a high regard for the study of history
I keep saying he's an out and out cultist - and a nasty one who thinks those who disagree with him on politics are e-vil.



Aren't they just a tad embarrassed?

I see that via Hot Air that there was much right wing mocking of USA Today putting up an infographic about the AR15 showing that, amongst other various modifications (a 100 round drum magazine, for God's sake), there were also other rare ones, such as a chainsaw bayonet.

Allahpundit himself thought this was all very funny.   But he then ends the post with the realisation (and a Youtube video that confirms it) - the chainsaw bayonet really exists.  

Kingdom revisited

I think this is a scene from Helen Dale's Kingdom of the Wicked:


[Actually, I saw that movie, with my father, surprisingly, at the cinema when it came out in 1973.  He didn't mind it, too, despite its somewhat hippy vibe.]

More taxes

Robert J Samuelson in the Washington Post:
The truth is that we can’t afford any tax reduction. We need higher, not lower, taxes. What we should be debating is the nature of new taxes (my choice: a carbon tax), how quickly (or slowly) they should be introduced and how much prudent spending cuts could shrink the magnitude of tax increases.

To put this slightly differently: Americans are under-taxed. We are under-taxed not in some principled and philosophical sense that there is an ideal level of taxation that we haven’t yet reached. We are under-taxed in a pragmatic and expedient way. For half a century, we haven’t covered our spending with revenue from taxes.

Of course, there are times when borrowing (that is, budget deficits) is unavoidable and desirable. Wars. Economic downturns. National emergencies. But our addiction to debt extends well beyond these exceptions. We have run deficits with strong economies and weak, with low inflation and high, and with favorable and unfavorable productivity gains.

Since 1961 — and I admit to having reported this fact before — federal budgets have been in surplus in only five years. And these surpluses have invariably coincided with long economic booms that swelled government tax revenue: 1969, following the long boom of the 1960s; and 1998 through 2001, reflecting the “tech boom” of the 1990s.
We resist the discipline of balancing the budget, which is inherently unpopular. It’s what Eugene Steuerle of the Urban Institute calls “take-away politics.” Some programs would be cut; some taxes would be raised. Americans like big government. They just don’t like paying for it.

Borrowing is easier. It’s largely invisible to most Americans, creating the illusion of “something for nothing.” This liberates Republicans to peddle more tax cuts. Their tax cut would add $1.5 trillion to the debt over 10 years. A more realistic figure is $2.1 trillion, claims the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.

Democrats are little better. They advocate more entitlement spending, despite CBO’s estimate of $10 trillion in deficits under existing policies over the next decade.

This blog needs a photo

Seems to me there are too many words without enough graphic relief here lately.

So here, found via Reddit's Earth Porn thread, an unusual landscape in Peru:


There's an article in Forbes about this place.  

Makes the "coloured sands" on the beach north of Noosa in Queensland look inadequate...

Update:  I see from this travel site that these mountains have become a tourist destination only in the last couple of years, and the guy writing the post says to be very aware of photoshoped photos,  and that it is a terrible place to visit.    He sounds traumatised by his experience, just about.


Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Not all gun nuts...

This thing about assault weapon bans in the US:   regardless of how functionally it may be difficult to define an assault weapon, I reckon if it were any country other than America, no one would complain about a government that took a completely visual, somewhat arbitrary approach and had a committee that looked at photos of semi automatics and said "yes, that one looks so much like a military weapon - it's banned from future sale.  This one - functionally the same, but looks like a hunting rifle - can be sold with max magazine of 10".   Or for that matter, had the ability to ban gun makers from advertising weapons in such a way that their look appears military. 

Oh boo hoo, it would interfere with gun manufacturers right to make money by selling guns on the basis that they'll let the owner look like a pretend soldier.   I mean, look at some of the advertising, it's absurd.

And it's good to be reminded that some Americans with a military background think so too:
One of President Donald Trump’s nominees for a top Pentagon job just said he thinks it’s “insane” that civilians can buy assault rifles — just like the shooter in Sutherland Springs, Texas, was able to do.

“I’d also like to, and I may get in trouble with other members of the committee, just say how insane it is that in the United States of America a civilian can go out and buy a semiautomatic assault rifle like an AR-15,” Dr. Dean Winslow, the nominee for the Department of Defense’s top health affairs job, said during his confirmation hearing in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee today....

Trump’s feelings go against those of some senior retired generals. In 2013, retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal — who commanded America’s elite troops worldwide and troops in Afghanistan — came out in support of gun control. "I think serious action is necessary," he told MSNBC’s Morning Joe in 2013. 

"Sometimes we talk about very limited actions on the edges and I just don't think that's enough,” he continued. “The number of people in America killed by firearms is extraordinary compared to other nations. And I don’t think we’re a bloodthirsty culture, and so I think we need to look at everything we can do to safeguard our people.”



Kingdom not come?

 I have been trying to follow the success or otherwise of Helen Dale's recently published alternative history (Jesus as terrorist in technologically advanced Roman world) novel "Kingdom of the Wicked".    Must be about a month since her Australian book tour, duly attended by her libertarian,  and not so libertarian, pals (Mark Barnisch seems to be under her spell, when he's not busy tweeting like a teenager about having meals and drinks on his returns to Brisbane); and she got some free publicity in the media too.

I have not yet been able to find any mainstream media review, which I find a little curious.   But maybe they have a backlog of reviews to get done and it's coming.

On Amazon, there was an initial review by someone who said he read it quickly, and liked it, but it did contain qualifications, such as it being very lewd in parts (a nice, old fashioned word that makes me think the reviewer is over 60), and this:
The names and titles are also a bit cumbersome to someone not especially familiar with the language. That said, even without the glossary, most meanings are evident from context. Finally, the story is quite complex, and readers with attention issues will probably have trouble enjoying the story if they are unable to follow it.
That was the only review for the first few weeks, but now one has appeared by Katy Barnett - the legal academic, long term friend and co-blogger of Dale.  Unsurprisingly, it also gives the book 5 stars, and while it does admit that she was a "beta reader" of the book from the start, her review contains some curious qualifications too:
It follows that this is not an *easy* read, although it is compelling. If you are likely to be offended by the idea that Jesus could be arrested as a terrorist, or by sexually explicit or violent scenes, this is probably not the book for you. However, if you are interested in law, history, questions of morality and in being challenged, you will enjoy this book. My husband found the names and concepts confusing, but I did not have any problems as I am a lawyer and a history graduate.
Look, I think it's telling if the two 5 star reviews - one by an enthusiastic friend who has encouraged the author from day one - both have to warn people that it's not an easy story to follow, and having two degrees is an advantage to understand it!   This does not augur well for the general reception of the book, it you ask me. 

It's a wonder Sinclair Davidson hasn't gushed about the novel yet, given he seems to consider Dale to be a literary goddess and all round genius.   A David Leyonhjelm piece at Catallaxy in which he spoke about the book went over like a lead balloon in that conservative dungeon (Jesus as terrorist doesn't play well with them - not that I can really blame them for their skepticism about that).  But at least it gave forum to some anti Dale visitors, one of whom obviously doesn't follow the recent career path of her and Leyonhjelm closely:
I went to uni with Helen and knowing she was your staff member has just lost the last shred of respect I had for you.
BTW Helen claimed to have a lot of ‘degrees’ and expertise in things back in those days too. 
Anyhow, I await a review to appear somewhere other than Amazon to see whether my impressions from the first two are widely shared...

Update:  just after I post that, I notice that young economist Mark Koyama has said the book is "highly recommended".     We'll see...

The hypocrisy

Yeah, so Trump (and a bunch of Republicans) want to talk about mental health being the problem, not the country being full of semi automatic guns available for the mentally unwell to buy (background checks from private sellers are not necessary in more than half of the States).

What was that early thing Trump did that eased up on the mentally unwell not getting onto the national system?  This:
President Donald Trump quietly signed a bill into law Tuesday rolling back an Obama-era regulation that made it harder for people with mental illnesses to purchase a gun.

The rule, which was finalized in December, added people receiving Social Security checks for mental illnesses and people deemed unfit to handle their own financial affairs to the national background check database.

Had the rule fully taken effect, the Obama administration predicted it would have added about 75,000 names to that database.

President Barack Obama recommended the now-nullified regulation in a 2013 memo following the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, which left 20 first graders and six others dead. The measure sought to block some people with severe mental health problems from buying guns....

Trump signed the bill into law without a photo op or fanfare. The president welcomed cameras into the oval office Tuesday for the signing of other executive orders and bills. News that the president signed the bill was tucked at the bottom of a White House email alerting press to other legislation signed by the president.

The National Rifle Association “applauded” Trump’s action. Chris Cox, NRA-ILA executive director, said the move “marks a new era for law-abiding gun owners, as we now have a president who respects and supports our arms.”

Just one random thought today

You know how awesome I think smartphones are?   No?, well, they are incredible pieces of technology and everyone should say that aloud to their family over dinner at least once a week - I try to.   (I don't like incredible technology going unappreciated.)

On a "not quite as stunning as a mobile phone, but why don't more people think about this" note:   why aren't people more amazed at how far the remote garage door opener on their keyring can send a signal to the opener?   I mean, gosh, look at the tiny battery that's powering the thing, but when I'm walking the dog I am often approaching the house from the front from quite a distance (there's a park there), and it's very surprising how far the tiny, tiny energy of the radio "ping" can be picked up at the garage.   I've just checked using Google Maps (right click where you want to measure from, and chose "measure distance"):   70 m!

And it does this heaps of times before the battery dies, and you pick up a new one that comes from China on Ebay for 9 bucks or something.

All amazing...


Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Cat amongst the physicists

Oh - Backreaction has a post up about Popper and particle physics and how it's all gone wrong.

Good read, even if she has an unreasonable dislike of phys.org as a website!

More thoughts random

*  I'm pretty busy this week, but I get the impression from Twitter and scanning the press that the Texas church shooting is not causing as much national grief in the US as from other mass shootings because:

a. American Conservatives have the idea that it's sort of holy to be shot during Church, and
b.American Progressives have the idea that it was probably a bunch of white folk who all supported the gun accessibility that led to their deaths,  so meh.

I could be wrong...

The Atlantic notes how Google publicises fake news and hoaxes after mass shootings.  Yes, finally, the world realises after the election of Trump, we have a misinformation problem.  

Honestly, I'm starting to feel at least half sympathetic to  the Chinese solution to misuse of the internet.   And if Alex Jones were locked up in jail until he promised to stop making absurd inflammatory claims - I for one would not shed a tear.   

*  I see that poor old Tom at Catallaxy thought it was a dead cert that the Texas killer was antifa.  Yet he thinks he knows so much more than the "leftard" media.  Gullible means never having to say you're stupid.

* I also see some pretty strong snark from Sinclair Davidson in a comment to a Steve Kates post about free trade and Trump.   It's time the whole blog was shut down, really. 

*  Oh, Tom at Catallaxy writes:  
JC, big slabs of the FBI are still Deep State never-Trumpers appointed under Obambi. FFS, Mueller as FBI director was the Clinton bagman who buried the investigation of Uranium One.
Everything I’ve seen in the past month tells me the FBI’s investigation of the Las Vegas shooter is a sham.
Uhuh.  Internet, paranoia, wingnuts.  It's a dangerous combination.  Good thing Tom keeps himself locked away in a shed and gets up at 3 am every day to find right wing cartoons for his fanclub.   What a life...




Monday, November 06, 2017

Random thoughts

*   Who invented crispbread, and it is old or new?   This crossed my mind as I enjoyed some from Germany on the weekend.   Wikipedia indicates that it's a Nordic thing, either 500 or 1500 years old (the article is confusing),  but the oddest thing is this:
It was made as round wafers with a hole in the middle so the bread could be stored on sticks under the roof.[4]
Why under the roof??

*  Steven Kates is like the perfect example of my rule of thumb:  do not trust anyone's judgement if they used to be a rabid Left/Right winger and subsequently became a rabid Right/Left winger.   His cult membership of the Church of Trump now leads him to see nothing wrong, nothing wrong at all, with a President insisting that his Justice Department must prosecute his former political opponent (the chants of "lock her up" during the campaign - and after - presumably don't bother him at all).   He is completely gullible to anything he hears via Fox News or Breitbart, clearly does not look deeply into issues, and has no qualms if the US ends up a tinpot dictatorship, as long as it is Trump's.

Slate runs an opinion piece by someone arguing that the gay community condemning Spacey for using his "gay" disclosure when he apologised for what might have happened (OK - what almost certainly did happen) many years ago to the 14 years old who (unwisely) went alone to his party are actually feeding an unwarranted "gay pedophile" panic that used to just be confined to the heterosexual side.   That's a brave opinion, but I suspect it is more or less right, although complicated by the fact that further disclosures have indicated that Kevin has had appalling workplace gay sexual harassment history anyway, so he is far from deserving sympathy for anything.   But in the big picture, while there are probably figures out there somewhere, as I have said before, I suspect that the normalisation of the gay lifestyle in the West has probably lessened the amount of predatory behaviour towards youth, not increased it.   But, who knows, it could be a wrong guess.  (I mean, it sure could be argued that the sexual revolution obviously did nothing to decrease workplace sexual harassment in at least Hollywood through the 70's, 80's and 90's.   But is media a business especially prone to power plays in sex?)

*  Texas would probably be the State most likely to resist gun law changes regardless of the number of mass shootings that happen there.   It's sad and tragic, but I am sure there will be some sentiment around to the effect "well, what did you expect?"    And wingnuts will freak out about how insensitive it is to say such a thing.   The NRA will come out with a proposal for a new scheme for no sales tax for Churches buying guns for self protection, or some such thing...

Update:  what did I say about Texas?:
Asked by Fox News what can be done to stop the insanity and carnage that is happening time and time again in multiple shootings, Paxton  [Texas Attorney General] replied:
“This is going to happen again.”
I wish some law would fix all of this.”
“All I can say is in Texas at least we have the opportunity to have conceal carry,” he explained. “And so … there’s always the opportunity that gunman will be taken out before he has the opportunity to kill very many people.”
I see that it is reported that a local armed resident did fire at the guy - after he walked out of the Church leaving bodies everywhere.   Yeah, that helps:

Texas officials just held a press conference about the deadliest mass shooting in the state, and revealed that a local resident fired back at the shooter who killed 26 people at a small town church ... and then gave chase before the gunman was found dead.
A rep for the Texas Department of Public Safety gave a blow-by-blow account of what went down Sunday morning in Sutherland Springs, TX where a gunman opened fire at the First Baptist Church.
He says the gunman, reportedly ID'd as Devin Kelley, was dressed in all black tactical gear when he opened fire on the church -- using an AR assault-style rifle -- from the outside and then continued inside. When he walked out again, a local resident engaged him with his own rifle, causing the gunman to flee.



Sunday, November 05, 2017

Thor viewed

Not being a fan of the more serious Marvel movies, I haven't seen the first two Thor movies.  (Well, I once  caught a bit of the first one on TV, and it seemed dull to me.) But Marvel comedy can be a lot of fun, and so it was off to see Thor: Ragnarok yesterday with my son.

We both liked it a lot.

The most surprising thing, really, is that the studio let director Taika Waititi have his way so completely in the use of his very distinctive voice, accent and humour in the character Korg.   I see from this article that Korg didn't actually have that much to do in the original script, but his role kept getting larger.  He is, without doubt, the funniest single thing in the movie.   (Funnier than the Goldblum role, actually.)

I liked the movie's visual style too.  It's not that I'm a fan of trippy fantasy art of the type sometimes found on surfer dudes vans in the 1970's (I think more than one review has referenced that style), but when it's done well in cinema, as it is here, it can be distinctive and memorable.  (The dreamy, short remembrance of the Valkyries on flying horses fighting Hela is perhaps a highlight of impressive CGI.)   And for all of the comedy, it did have some heart towards the end, rather in the same way the first Guardians of the Galaxy felt surprisingly serious in its opening with the death of Peter's mother.

So yes, a pleasing film that will be a major hit for all of the right reasons.

It also goes to show that you can film CGI heavy films anywhere - in this case,  the Gold Coast and Brisbane.  It is remarkable how little physical set needs to get built (see this article), but I  also wonder at the end of these movies about how much each special effects artist gets paid - hundreds scroll by, and even with a one or two hundred million dollar budget, it must get split up into pretty small fractions. 

As for the way Marvel has been not afraid to go into comedy, whereas DC Comics movies have such a dark reputation, I was amused by this in Christopher Orr's review:
...we now have Thor: Ragnarok, which is perfectly acceptable as an action movie but moderately inspired as a comedy. (This may well be the future of the entire superhero genre—see also: Spider-Man: Homecoming—which means that DC Comics and Warner Bros. will probably catch on in about five years.)
Having seen the shorts yesterday for the coming Justice League movie, it looks dour and only with the slightest laughs, as usual.   I have no interest in seeing it at all...

Friday, November 03, 2017

Trolleys and embryos

I see via And Then There's Physics, which led me to Michael Tobis's blog, which linked to another blog called Scary Mommy, which noted in a series of tweets in October by a science fiction writer called Patrick Tomlinson, that he had posed a trolley problem scenario with the alternatives being saving a 5 year old child or a vat of 1,000 frozen embryos.   (It's not exactly the same as the classic "trolley", since it just a question of which you save from the burning fertility clinic, given that you can't carry both.   It removes the issue of taking a positive action - throwing someone off the bridge, or hitting the switch to divert the train from one track to another - that will lead to the sure killing.)  The point is to show anti-abortionists that, at heart, they surely can't perceive embryos as every bit as worthy of "life" preservation as a person already living as an independent human.

I just mention this because I first thought "hey I came up with that idea maybe 4 or 5 years ago."  I noted here in 2015 that I had put the argument up at Catallaxy perhaps a couple of years previously.

But then I went back and noted that Tomlinson said he has been using the argument for about 10 years.  Oh well.  Another case of originality fail.

I still think it's a great argument.  

I don't like abortion, instinctively.  But I can clearly see that the religious argument that it is a case of life from fertilization that warrants the same protection as all human life makes no intuitive sense, too. 

Modern humans have been around a while

I don't find this topic all that interesting (it's a tad too complicated and rubbery, and I'm under no obligation to find every branch of science interesting, am I?), but a new paper in Science suggests an age range for modern humans that means they were stumbling around the place before building much for quite a long time:
Southern Africa is consistently placed as a potential region for the evolution of Homo sapiens. We present genome sequences, up to 13x coverage, from seven ancient individuals from KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. The remains of three Stone Age hunter-gatherers (about 2000 years old) were genetically similar to current-day southern San groups, and those of four Iron Age farmers (300 to 500 years old) were genetically similar to present-day Bantu-language speakers. We estimate that all modern-day Khoe-San groups have been influenced by 9 to 30% genetic admixture from East Africans/Eurasians. Using traditional and new approaches, we estimate the first modern human population divergence time to between 350,000 and 260,000 years ago. This estimate increases the deepest divergence among modern humans, coinciding with anatomical developments of archaic humans into modern humans, as represented in the local fossil record.
I see from various websites that the previous estimate was a mere 200,000 years, so this pushes it back somewhat. 

So, this is how the world ends?

Geez, I don't like sound of this:

Mail-Order CRISPR Kits Allow Absolutely Anyone to Hack DNA

Experts debate what amateur scientists could accomplish with the powerful DNA editing tool—and whether its ready availability is cause for concern
It's from Scientific American, and ends with an unknown number of DNA hacking scientists saying it's nothing to be to be too worried about: 
Finally, what about the nightmare scenario: Is CRISPR so easy to use that we need to worry about biohackers—either accidentally or intentionally—creating dangerous pathogens? Carroll and others think that the danger of putting CRISPR in the hands of the average person is relatively low. “People have imagined scenarios where scientists could use CRISPR to generate a virulent pathogen, ” he says. “How big is the risk? It’s not zero, but it’s fairly small.” Gersbach agrees. “Right now, it’s difficult to imagine how it’d be dangerous in a real way,” he explains, “If you want to do harm, there are much easier and simpler ways than using this highly sophisticated genetic editing technique.”
Scientists in fields like this have an incentive to downplay risk, so if they actually use words like "relatively low", it doesn't exactly fill me with confidence...

Won't be on the talk show circuit for a long, long time

Yet more details of workplace predatory harassment of (now former) talk show darling Kevin Spacey has come out:
Eight current and former employees of Kevin Spacey's show "House of Cards" have accused the actor of sexual harassment and, in one case, assault, CNN reports. A former production assistant alleges that Spacey sexually assaulted him during an early season of the show. Other accusers told CNN Spacey's behavior, including inappropriate comments and nonconsensual touching, was "predatory" and caused a "toxic" work environment.
I've never watched House of Cards, and I can't say that I have ever found Spacey an appealing screen presence (not just because he plays a bad character, either), so it's not as if this is shocking because I liked him before.   But he has been a popular figure with the audience whenever appearing on the likes of Colbert or other late night chat shows.  I expect it will be some years before we see him on one of those again.

But what does feel kind of shocking is that such behaviour, which has become so verboten in your average workplace for decades now, has not been addressed in such a high profile and (yes) largely liberal by reputation industry.   (Mind you, the culture around key figures at Fox News was clearly toxic as well, and so well tolerated that million dollar contracts were renewed.  Conservative media does not really have grounds to gloat.)   

It's just odd to think that, when young Ms Smith from accounts at a small company 30 years ago could (and often did) deal effectively with her predatory boss if she wanted to, entertainment industry folk have been putting up with it for many decades since then.

Gone, the revolution

I don't think there has been as much written in the media about the centenary of the October Revolution as I expected.

There wasn't a bad interview with a couple of experts on Radio National last night - but I am not sure who's show it was on.

There was one Guardian column about it a few days ago, but I can't quickly find it again.  I was sort of expecting that outlet to be overrun with quasi sympathetic articles , but it hasn't really happened.

I see that Henry Ergas has a column in The Australian:  I doubt it's all that interesting.  The Weekend OZ may well be full of conservatives decrying it:  we shall see.

So I'm down to noting a very lengthy review of Kotkin's two volume biography of Stalin in The New Yorker, which covers the Revolution succinctly, as well as Stalin's later actions, and it's a very good read.

One minor detail amuses, in the section which discusses signs early on that Stalin would become (shall we say) a problem:
They had had some intimations: they knew he could be rude, and they even knew he could be psychologically cruel. During his Siberian exile, he had briefly lived with Yakov (Yashka) Sverdlov, a fellow-Bolshevik and later the titular head of the Soviet government, but the two broke up house because Stalin refused to do the dishes and also because he had acquired a dog and started calling him Yashka. “Of course for Sverdlov that wasn’t pleasant,” Stalin later admitted. “He was Yashka and the dog was Yashka.”
 There are many bits of information in the review which I either didn't realise, or had forgotten when I last read a long review of a book on Russian history.   For example, after a brief summary of the Terror of the late 30's..:
The numbers are hard to fathom. According to the best current estimates, Stalin was responsible for between ten and twelve million peacetime deaths, including victims of the famine. But the most hands-on period of killing was the Terror of 1937 and 1938. At its height, fifteen hundred people were being shot every day. Most of the victims were ordinary citizens, caught up in a machine that was seeking to meet its quotas. But the Communist Party, too, was devastated—in many provinces, first secretaries, second secretaries, third secretaries all gone. Entire editorial staffs were erased. The officer corps of the Army was devastated. Five hundred of the top seven hundred and sixty-seven commanders were arrested or executed; thirteen of the top fifteen generals. “What great power has ever executed 90 percent of its top military officers?” Kotkin asks. “What regime, in doing so, could expect to survive?” Yet this one did.
there is this:
In addition to everything else the Terror did, it greatly weakened the country’s international position. Stalin’s justified fear of the coming war made this war only more likely. The French and the British, contemplating a stand against Hitler over Czechoslovakia in 1938, did not feel they could count on the now depleted Red Army. Worse still, the Terror made Stalin an unacceptable ally for the British in 1939. Kotkin shows that Stalin’s first choice in the months before the war was not Hitler but Chamberlain. He sent detailed terms to Britain for a military alliance. Chamberlain was not interested, and Kotkin, refusing the benefits of hindsight, doesn’t blame him. Stalin had just murdered hundreds of thousands of his own citizens, staged show trials of his former comrades, and carried out purges of putative socialist allies in Spain. Hitler would eventually overtake him, but as of 1939 Stalin had killed more people by far. He was, as Kotkin says, “an exceedingly awkward potential partner for the Western powers.”
I didn't know about the approaches to Chamberlain.

The 20th century had a lot going on, to put it mildly...

Researching the vampire cure

Nature reports that a small study on infusing young blood into people with mild to moderate dementia has finished, and found some possible benefit, but it seems pretty slight.

The offspring remain safe from requests for blood, for now.  

Seriously...

Headline at Vox:
Rick Perry actually tried to argue that fossil fuels can help fight sexual assault

This is not the Onion.

Thursday, November 02, 2017

Gay in Egypt

An interesting take on the matter of gay sex and gay identity in Egypt, and in Islam more generally, has appeared in The Spectator.  He starts by talking about the recent police arrest there of 60 allegedly gay men, found by scanning social media, and continues:
Obviously, that’s 60 too many. We should recall, though, that Egypt is a country of 95 million people, and those arrested mostly deny being gay. So either the police were not making much of an effort to round up the queers, or — more likely — there are in fact almost none in Egypt.

Of course, that’s not the same as saying that there are no Egyptian men who engage in gay sex.As someone who lived in the country for more a decade, is fluent in Egyptian Arabic and has written a book on the country that includes a chapter on male prostitution, I can testify quite emphatically that the exact opposite is true. And therein lies the rub, as it were.

Western correspondents filing dispatches about gay persecution in Egypt and the wider region are ignoring the more nuanced reality. Just as predictably, bigots determined to show how Islam restricts sexual freedom are also having a ball. But the latter especially are wide of the mark. The Koran singles out sex between men as a transgression, but uniquely in the Islamic holy book, proscribes no punishment. And there must be four independent witnesses to the act of anal intercourse (all other forms of gay sex seem to have escaped Allah’s attention). So it’s just a warning not to have sex in the middle of the street. Even then, for those caught, social rehabilitation is encouraged.  

Not sure if the author counts himself as bi or gay, but he certainly gives the impression that he thinks the far from unusual inclination of young arab men to want to bed attractive young guys (while simultaneously chasing women) is quite OK:
In Tunisia, two friends came round for dinner. A Justin Bieber special started on the cable TV channel, and I reached for the remote to turn it off. ‘What are you doing?’ one of them screamed. ‘Leave it on — that boy is so do-able.’

As with the Saudi, the Tunisians had not given any indication that they were ‘gay’. In fact, they spent the rest of the evening using my computer to chat with a French women one had hooked up with a few months earlier when she was holidaying there. Like most of the young, unmarried Arab men I befriended over the decades, they knew a gorgeous boy when they saw one, but would have considered it absurd to attach to such desire an all-consuming social identity symbolised by the rainbow flag.....

The commotion will blow over and Egyptian boys, like Arab boys everywhere, will get back to banging each other like rabbits as they have been doing for millennia. It would take more than the rantings of an MP to eradicate such a deeply entrenched tradition. The golden rule, though, will remain: discretion is the name of the game. And that’s the lesson the rainbow flag activists should now take on board.
 I'm sure that this pragmatic attitude (you can do gay stuff, but just keep it discrete) is considered appalling by Western gay activists who are all consumed with the importance of gay identity.  And I can understand the objection when gay identity can mean risking jail.    But I wonder if, in the long run, there will be a move back in the West towards the more ancient view that gay sex didn't have to equate with gay identity?