Monday, September 25, 2017

Many laughs were had

I chose a few things to watch with my son over the weekend, and they were all a success:

What We Do in the Shadows:   probably the last thing I will view on Stan before un-subscribing.  (Netflix conquers all.)   This New Zealand mockumentary from a few years ago about a group of vampires flatsharing a house in Wellington got better reviews than I realised, and it is very enjoyable in its silly way.   I don't know why, but the line "Remember, we're werewolves, not swearwolves"  delivered by Rhys Darby struck me as particularly memorable.

The Good Place:   a Netflix sitcom that good reviews, and from the first episode, I can see why.   The set up:  a woman who has led a less than exemplary life ends up in heaven, but realises she must have got there by some sort of mistake.  What to do about it?   Looks like a sizeable budget and charming acting by all concerned.  

Mystery Science Theatre 3000:  the Netflix revival of a popular US show from the 80's and 90's which I never saw.     (I don't think it ever got a run on Australian television, and I forget where I did see a bit of a episode but not enough to understand why it had a following.)   I see now that there are lots of the old episodes on Youtube.

Look, it's all a bit hit and miss, the quips made while watching atrocious old science fiction movies, but the ones that hit can make you laugh a lot, and the stunningly poor quality of the movie featured last night ("Reptilicus", a Danish [!] 1961 monster movie) was a sight to behold.

My son found the framing comedy in the space station very cringeworthy (some of it sort of is), but he ended up admitting that overall it was pretty funny.   I think it might be even funnier under the influence of just the right amount of alcohol:  future experiments may be held in that regard.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

In more recently viewed Colbert

I hadn't really bothered to follow the Equifax hacking scandal in the US, so if you are like me and didn't realise how bad the company had behaved, do yourself a favour and what the very funny Colbert explanation:

Now for a nice post about same sex marriage

I have to say, if one is inclined towards making out the conservative case for same sex marriage, this recent video of gay actor Jim Parsons talking to Colbert about how getting married to his partner of 15 years did make him feel different is pretty good stuff:

Colbert himself is always charming when talking about his marriage and family (there's a video out there where he tells his studio audience, before taping a show, the story of how he met his wife, and it's really good.)  

Going back to Parsons, what he says does match with something that I heard from a relative who did some work as a civil marriage celebrant for a while after she retired from her full time job.  She said when marrying couples who have been living together for some time (as most are these days), it was often the partner who claimed to be the most nonchalant about the significance of getting married who turned out to be the most emotional on the day.  

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Bashing Tony Abbott, and Tim Blair

Gee, if it weren't for the ABC and immature Lefties to complain about, Tim Blair would have trouble finding fodder for more than a couple of blog posts a week.  He's managed to get 4 posts out of the not terribly effective attack on Tony Abbott by the weirdo anarchist:  yes, the Left is crammed full of violent ratbags cheering on horrendous violence on the just and righteous Right, which doesn't have a violent bone in its body.

He seems to overlook that people mightn't feel all that much shame in finding this incident just a bit funny, because:

a.  it's not as if there was any sign of actual injury on Tone's face the next day - which isn't to say that the attempt to do him worse injury wasn't an action to condemn (as every politician from any side of politics immediately did) - but it did mean that the Tweeters that have stirred Blair weren't making fun of an incident that clearly cause the victim much pain.  One suspects that if it involved blood, stitches or a black eye, fewer people would be game to tweet in support of the attacker;

b.  the funniest thing - because it is so unexpected - is that a weird, scary looking assailant goes on TV, admits to the crime and indicates he regrets not doing a better job.    I mean, come on, he's an idiot.  Idiots acting out with no sense of what's in their best interest are pretty funny.

Anyway, what's become pathetic about Tim Blair (and this goes for Bolt too - in spades) is the pure unadulterated one sidedness of his chosen role - regardless of whether he was on holidays or not, not a word on his blog about the great visuals of a torch bearing march of (mainly) white dudes at Charlottesville, armed militia wandering the streets of the same town and worrying the local Synagogue, followed by a President who was mainly concerned about blaming "both sides"; but some twits on Twitter support an idiot who tried to head butt a politician here, and this is meant to show that the problem with political violence is all a Leftist one?

As I have noted many times, including yesterday, the pure Right threads of Catallaxy have for years had some regulars opining that its going to take an armed uprising to set things aright in this country, or the US.   Jokes are routinely made about how many people it would take to be shot to get small government and low taxes in place, and no one blinks an eye. 

Yeah, yeah, we get it Tim:   you can find hypocrisy and idiots on the Left side of politics.

Why don't you look at the morons and the objectionable comments they make your own side for once, instead of just standing by and making a buck by pandering to them?

Friday, September 22, 2017

A peculiar piece

There's an article at the New York Times written by a black gay man entitled My struggle to take Anti-Hiv medication.    I think people should find it odd.

First, there's no doubt that he's had much misfortune in his life:
My father was convicted of manslaughter and sent to prison in 1989, where he contracted H.I.V. No one in my family is exactly sure how. In 1991, six months after he returned home, he died. Less than two years later, my mother also died. I was only 7.

I don’t remember my parents in any great detail, but I do remember that people in our rural South Carolina community ostracized my sister and me once they learned our parents were H.I.V. positive. One parent even transferred her daughter out of my second-grade class.
He goes on to explain that he was put off asking for this HIV prophylactic drug by the first doctor he asked:
I was 27 when I first worked up the nerve to ask my doctor for a PrEP prescription. I was there for my fifth annual H.I.V. test, and I’ll never forget the look of disgust on her face as she told me why I wasn’t a candidate for the drug: I didn’t engage in “reckless sex” and I wasn’t a “druggie.” She was white and her tone was so thick with judgment that it made my skin crawl. I quickly dropped the subject. 
Five years later, with a more sympathetic doctor, he did go on it, but this is where it gets odd:
Instead of telling me why I wasn’t right for the drug, we spent the time talking about why I felt that I needed it. I had promised my parents that I would take every precaution against H.I.V., so I put enormous pressure on myself to take it. Plus, it let me be extra cautious about my health and my partner’s health. After our conversation, he tested me for H.I.V. and wrote me a prescription.
Promised his parents posthumously, I assume he means?  Anyway, having obtained the drug:
My first few weeks on PrEP, I felt fine. Every morning at 8 a.m. my cellphone chimed with a reminder for me to take my pill. I even began to develop a subtle sense of pride in knowing that although I was having sex only with my partner, I was upholding my word to my parents.

But as the one-month mark approached, I began to have serious doubts about why I was taking PrEP. After all, I wasn’t having sex with men other than my partner; same for him. We still used condoms, despite having been together for several years.

I recognize that PrEP is effective and agree that it should be available to people who want to take it. But after about a month of taking it off and on, I just stopped. I couldn’t get over the psychological barrier that somehow I was weakening my body by training myself to rely on pills. Instead, my partner and I decided to take the precautions we’re comfortable with.
Um, unless his partner was already HIV positive (or on medication for it), and this is never stated as being the case, the only implication seems to be that he took it because he cannot trust his partner to be true to his promise that he isn't sleeping around with other men.  Or, perhaps, that he couldn't keep his own promise to his partner - who he has been with for several years?

He points out that blacks have historical reasons to be wary of the medical establishment, and notes:
Retention rates for PrEP are deplorable — one study showed usage in Mississippi dropped by 15 percent over a three-month period — and it’s clear to me why. I had guilt and carried emotional baggage. I also felt alone in my journey. There was no PrEP community that I could find with which I could share my anxieties, no PrEP “sponsor” to call and discuss my night terrors or fatigue.
Is it possible that low retention rates indicate confidence that a partner found is HIV negative and faithful?   Not after 3 months, I guess.

Really, the article just seems to re-enforce something about the expectations of a gay lifestyle - that they have very low expectations of their partners - or themselves? - managing to have sexually exclusive relationships even if they promise to do so.

The conservative case for gay marriage is supposed to be about treating gay men similarly to how straight men behave - but honestly, how many heterosexual men (or women) have the expectation that they are at risk of contracting an STD from a steady girlfriend or boyfriend if they have started sleeping together (and assuming they don't have one from the start)?   Very, very few, I would say.   It's pretty much a natural expectation of fidelity that does not even need stating.  But in the gay community, it seems that it is quite the reverse, and few people think that is unreasonable.

The matter of exclusivity in relationships is one where a vast difference still lies between the heterosexual and homosexual communities.

Decline and Fall

(Before I start - Jason, I wouldn't have picked you for a Waugh fan.  I was quite surprised.)

Anyway, Crikey has an amusing free article up noting the descent of Mark Latham, who I was annoyed to see turning up on Sunrise this morning.  

The entertainer, part 2

Look, perhaps JC, who visits here sometimes, can try telling "struth" to get on the antidepressants, or take some professional counselling, or something.  Here's part of his unhinged performance for today:

JC, stop ignoring these paranoid, depressed twits who share forum space with you and only find solace in imagining that an armed uprising will set Australia back on the path of true righteousness and wealth.   It's a very unhealthy place if you let them encourage each other that they aren't nuts.

Stop motion Wes

I've said before that Wes Anderson's artistic sensibilities seem best suited to a cinema medium where he can control absolutely everything - stop motion animation.   (I haven't seen all of his films, but Fantastic Mr Fox remains my favourite thus far.)

Here's his next stop motion effort, which looks good, but has that slightly concerning aspect of whether he will do Japanese culture justice:

Reason not to trust competitive swimmers

Via NPR, I was linked to an article in Chemical and Engineering News, talking about the smelly and unhealthy disinfection by-products (DBPs) of chlorinated swimming pools:
But the biggest contributor to DBPs in pools is urine. Researchers estimate that swimming pools contain an average of 30 to 80 mL of urine for each person that’s jumped in. Some of that is released accidentally or without the person realizing.

But for elite swimmers, peeing in the pool is an accepted part of the culture. Eldridge, the Masters swimmer, confirms that peeing in pools is commonplace in elite competitive swimming. It’s a frequent topic of conversation and joking among swimmers.

Practices can last for hours, Eldridge says, and swimmers chug water during stops between intervals. Swimmers rarely leave the pool during that time. “Do you really think that all these people in the pool, exerting at the level they are, drinking as much as they are, don’t have to pee in two hours?” she asks.
Olympic swimmers Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte have both been captured on video admitting to peeing in the pool and seeing nothing wrong with it. A quick YouTube search turns up multiple such videos highlighting their cavalier attitudes.

Hero Jimmy

I just got around to watching the Jimmy Kimmel videos in which he attacks Senator Cassidy for his claims about what he would insist on in Obamacare repeal, and it is a very impressive performance.

The follow up, where he puts the boot into that Fox News host is equally refreshing.

You can watch the first video with some commentary at Slate, and the follow up also is also there.

It is incredible, from here, to see how dire Republican politics has become in the United States.   How can they be so hell bent on repeal of such a key area of government policy with so little care for the details of what it is being replaced with? 

Kimmel is being praised all over the mainstream media for his stance, and he deserves it. 

Who would have thought, watching him years ago on the Man Show (which presumably made more than a few feminist liberals grind their teeth - although I think it was, basically, good natured) that he would become such a liberal hero?   

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Modern reproduction

Well, this is news to me.   Via an article from QUT entitled
What motivates men to donate sperm online?
 (no, the answer is not pornography), I've learnt that such do it yourself on line services exist.  (Sure, sperm banks have been around for a long time, but we're talking about a non commercial system here.)

This one, Pride Angel, is English based, and as the name suggests, seems designed mainly to cater to gay and lesbian couples who want to reproduce but don't have all the right equipment at hand, so to speak.  Single women can use it too, though.  They'll sell you the "insemination kit", too.

I have no doubt that gay couples can be good parents, and I feel that those who adopt or foster any child with health or behavioural problems who are difficult to place with families are positively praiseworthy.

On the other hand, it will be a long time before I can see that the commodification of child creation by gay, lesbian, or straight people via these methods as normal and unobjectionable.

Update:  didn't I once write here that the image of the stork delivering babies was a premonition of the future in which semen would be flown around the cities by drones for immediate use for people using a service like this?    I think I did...Yes, I did back in 2013.  (I've been having odd thoughts for longer than I remembered.)

A familiar title

Helen Dale's apparently going to get her ex-boss David Leyonhjelm (Mr Glum now that he doesn't swing as much power as he used to in the Senate) to launch her new book The Kingdom of the Wicked in a couple of weeks' time.

Googling the title to see if there were any early reviews (there aren't), I was suddenly reminded that it shares the title with a (not very widely read, I think) later novel by Anthony Burgess, also set at the time of Christ, and which I actually once started to read, but quickly abandoned as not being to my taste.

I guess it is a generic sounding title for a Roman historical novel (or an alternative history one - which I think her's is), and it does have a subtitle (threatening that it's a series), but I still think a different title might have been a better idea given some of the literary controversies in her past...

To someone who never visits...

Happy birthday, apparently, to:

Philippa Martyr, whose photo here I took from her own blog, so I assume it's up to date...

(I shouldn't be rude, given she recently nearly met her Maker, were it not for the government funded medical care which she now, as a self identifying Catholic libertarian* - excuse me while I roll my eyes - presumably thinks should have been a private facility.) 

*  secular libertarians are annoying enough;  Catholic libertarians are even bigger fantasists who I find all the more annoying.

An updated graph of some consequence

Endorsement by reliable idiot is a sign of a bad movie

I've never watched the first Kingsman movie - the enthusiasm with which it was endorsed by wingnuts for its political incorrectness was a good warning sign, as well as several reviews which indicated to me that I really would not like anything by its director - so I am somewhat pleased that the second is receiving a lukewarm response from the critics. 

And here is more confirmation than I would have thought possible that it must be objectionable on all levels - a thorough endorsement by Breitbart's British village idiot James Delingpole, whose science comprehension level of a 12 year old naughty boy who wasn't paying attention in class indicates taste in movies of a similar immaturity.  

Indian rubber

The BBC has a story about a festival in India, and its connection to increased condom sales:
Many years ago, a young woman who had just moved from the Gujarati city of Ahmedabad to Delhi, told me about the "fun" they had during Navratri - the festival of nine nights.

It's a time when even the most conservative parents adopt a somewhat relaxed attitude and teenagers and young unmarried men and women are allowed to stay out until late in the night, participating in the traditional garba dances held at hotels, banquet halls, parks and private farmhouses.

Since the late 1990s, there have been reports that during the festival, youngsters often throw caution to the wind, indulge in unprotected sex, and two months later, there's a spike in the rate of pregnancy and many land up at clinics seeking abortions.

Although many long-time residents of Gujarat insist that these reports are hugely exaggerated and maybe even a figment of overactive imaginations, the fact remains that over the years, doctors and health workers have flagged up the issue and state authorities have expressed their concerns.

There have been attempts to encourage young people to practice safe sex and reports say that revellers, in many cases girls or young women, are shedding their inhibitions to buy condoms.

Jaswant Patel, chairman of the Federation of Gujarat State Chemists and Druggists Associations, says over the past 10 years, he's seen the sale of condoms go up by at least 30% during the festival period.
"Condoms are sold not just at chemists and general stores, they are stocked at even corner shops that sell paan (betel leaf) and most of the buyers there are teenagers and college students," Mr Patel told the BBC.

But despite the increase in condom sales, Dr Ruby Mehta, a gynaecologist who's run a clinic in Ahmedabad for the past 20 years, says a spike in teenage pregnancies after the festival has continued.

The expected clarification

The authors of the "1.5 degrees is still possible" paper should have been more careful in their PR about it - the misrepresentation was entirely predictable.  But here's their response to some of the media coverage anyway:
A number of media reports have asserted that our recent study in Nature Geoscience indicates that global temperatures are not rising as fast as predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and hence that action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is no longer urgent.

Both assertions are false.

Our results are entirely in line with the IPCC’s 2013 prediction that temperatures in the 2020s would be 0.9-1.3 degrees above pre-industrial (See figures 2c and 3a of our article which show the IPCC prediction, our projections, and temperatures of recent years).

What we have done is to update the implications for the amount of carbon dioxide we can still emit while expecting global temperatures to remain below the Paris Climate Agreement goal of 1.5 degrees. We find that, to likely meet the Paris goal, emission reductions would need to begin immediately and reach zero in less than 40 years’ time.

While that is not geophysically impossible, to suggest that this means that measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are now unnecessary is clearly false.

Poor Mexico

Mexico is having a rough, what, 40 years, isn't it?   A country particularly prone to natural disasters, as well as the misfortune of being next door to rich and callous drug dealers and users of the United States, I've been feeling sorry for the place for some years now. 

I've also been increasingly interested in visiting it, as the TV shows I've seen over the last year or two make it look particularly interesting, from the spectacular ruins to the lively version of Catholicism.  Does this sound odd - but I've also noticed how much I like Mexican characters when used as comic sidekicks - Guillermo on Jimmy Kimmel's show, for example; or Pedro in Napolean Dynamite.  I think it's the comic use of stoicism that appeals.

And it's stoicism that they really need a lot of at the moment.

Come on, how can this be avoided

Look, you don't have to be a woman or gay man to observe that when Melania Trump turns up on TV with an outfit like this:

or, from early on in her current role, this:

it's an unavoidable conclusion - she has terrible fashion sense, and (I would guess) just lets designers convince her that wacky is good.

And as for the weird behaviour between Donald and her - if anything like this had happened between Obama and Michelle, you would not have heard the end of it for a month on the wingnut sites:

Alternative nostril stuff

A doctor at The Atlantic cast a somewhat cynical eye at Hillary's promotion of alternative nostril breathing, but ends on a non judgemental note:
I don’t believe that antianxiety rituals need sound physiologic rationale. CNN later dove into the “studies” that have been done on alternate-nostril breathing, which mostly involve 20-some subjects and are published in places like International Journal of Yoga, which conceivably has some degree of pro-yoga bias.

These sorts of rituals work because we believe they work. Alternate-nostril breathing affects the circulatory system by way of the nervous system—by calming a person down through distraction and a sense of control. In the case of Clinton, the control is over a body that was falsely said to suffer from illnesses by conspiracy-minded “doctors” who swore that she had Parkinson’s disease, and judged by a nation for her clothing and appearance and smile or lack thereof, while her male opponent was allowed to never smile and to brag about using his status to coerce women to “let” him assault them, and the news dismissed it as “explicit sex talk,” and even evangelical Christian leadership said it “ranks pretty low on their hierarchy of concerns.”

And so it helps to breathe in through one nostril, and then exhale, and then breathe out through the other. And then repeat. It helps if your eyes are closed.
Which reminds me - has any wingnut doctor, or commentator, ever apologised for the relentless on line rubbish they pushed during the campaign that Clinton was virtually at death's door?  

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Credibility completely blown

Nassim Taleb needs help, not only for his hyper aggressiveness on Twitter, but for his extraordinary lack of fashion shame, too:

The entertainer

I've noted before, this paranoid regular at Catallaxy is (from what I can gather) an outback pub entertainer.  I trust that he doesn't tell jokes as part of his act.   Probably plays the guitar and looks to have a drink afterwards with any local redneck who'll listen to him complain about how completely and utterly stuffed is the country that hasn't had a recession for 26 years:

The Rudd/Gillard wars all over again

It's kind of incredible that the Coalition is undergoing the same destabilising turmoil that happened with Rudd and Gillard - with the only difference being that Abbott is so thick he doesn't seem to realise that the public doesn't want him back:
Former prime minister Tony Abbott has threatened to cross the floor of Parliament and vote against any move to introduce a clean-energy target, describing as "unconscionable" any move to wind back support for coal in favour of renewables.
Given that the Turnbull government, due to that pesky constitutional problem, is hanging on by a thread anyway, it must seem particularly odious to him that Abbott would be talking up instability in his own government.

Abbott's reputation as a PM is already near rock bottom.  This is only making it worse, if that is possible.

Hearing the completely wrong message, of course

Hey, JC, you are completely wrong, of course.

It was predictable that any paper that says "maybe we can still limit global warming to 1.5 to 2 degrees because it seems to us that models have been running a bit 'hot'" would be interpreted by twits like you as "the models are all wrong, and this is fantastic everything is going to stop at 1.5 degrees".

Are you typical of traders?  Because if so, it seems to show that traders can have the analytical abilities of a 10 year old and still be able to make a living. It's quite surprising to me, in a way.

Anyway, to better educate yourself (yes I know - as if) on what the paper means, try reading ATTP with his succinct list of doubts about the paper, which will no doubt be expanded upon by others over the next few days.  Many scientists in the field are skeptical about the methods used to reach their conclusion, and it's actually not hard to understand why, even at this stage.  

Then try David Roberts at Vox on this, and his explanation of how the new paper, even if correct, is like this:
It’s like we’re starting a 100-mile marathon, and we’ve got to read a book while we’re running, but we also need to build upper-body strength, so we’re holding the book with one hand and lifting a barbell with the other, and by the way, we’ve never run farther than 10 miles.

Now, along comes this new paper that says, effectively, “Hey, the marathon is only 99 miles!”

That’s ... nice and all. It’s great that what we need to do is not geophysically impossible, merely more difficult than anything humanity has ever done before, by multiples.
I reckon the reason the authors of the new paper might like to sound optimistic of the implications is because they recognise that one lukewarmer argument is the defeatist one that it is already too late to do anything about emissions, and we may as well forget about them and work out how to do geoengineering as the only possible solution.

But always, always, the danger in any paper revising in any way what they think the models mean is that people like you will say "see, the climate scientists were always wrong and now admit that it's all rubbish and everything is going to be fine".  It's the completely wrong message to take, but you're ideologically motivated to hear it wrong. 

As it happens, everyone else at Catallaxy is too high on the red cordial of Trump at the UN, so they don't seem to be showing much interest anyway.  

Truly, the Right of politics has never been more globally dangerous.

Update:  And here is the proper perspective, from some of the new paper's authors (my bold, to make it easier for comprehension challenged traders to follow):
In a study published in Nature Geoscience, we and our international colleagues present a new estimate of how much carbon budget is left if we want to remain below 1.5℃ of global warming relative to pre-industrial temperatures (bearing in mind that we are already at around 0.9℃ for the present decade).

We calculate that by limiting total CO₂ emissions from the beginning of 2015 to around 880 billion tonnes of CO₂ (240 billion tonnes of carbon), we would give ourselves a two-in-three chance of holding warming to less than 0.6℃ above the present decade. This may sound a lot, but to put it in context, if CO₂ emissions were to continue to increase along current trends, even this new budget would be exhausted in less than 20 years 1.5℃ (see Climate Clock). This budget is consistent with the 1.5℃ goal, given the warming that humans have already caused, and is substantially greater than the budgets previously inferred from the 5th Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), released in 2013-14....

The emissions reductions required to stay within this budget remain extremely challenging. CO₂ emissions would need to decline by 4-6% per year for several decades. There are precedents for this, but not happy ones: these kinds of declines have historically been seen in events such as the Great Depression, the years following World War II, and during the collapse of the Soviet Union – and even these episodes were relatively brief.

Yet it would be wrong to conclude that greenhouse emissions can only plummet during times of economic collapse and human misery. Really, there is no historical analogy to show how rapidly human societies can rise to this challenge, because there is also no analogy for the matrix of problems (and opportunities) posed by climate change.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

We need better quality conservatives

Do you remember that when same sex marriage was being debated in France in 2013 there were sizeable street protests?   I see from this rather fascinating piece in The Economist that it has only just gone through Germany's Parliament, and an Archbishop was able to make this (to my mind, quite reasonable) statement:
AS YOU might expect, Germany’s Catholic hierarchs were less than thrilled when legislators voted on June 30th, by 393 votes to 226, to legalise same-sex marriage. Archbishop Heiner Koch of Berlin was one of many top clerics who voiced the church’s view that a distinction between civil partnership, for gay couples, and marriage, for heterosexual ones, ought to be kept. The decision to do away with it, he grumbled,
abandons the differentiated perception of various forms of partnership in order to stress the value of same-sex partnerships...Differentiation isn’t discrimination, and same-sex cohabitation can be valued through other institutional arrangements without opening up the legal institute of marriage.
The article goes on to note the differences in conservative issues between the two countries:
The very fact that German bishops insist they see some value in same-sex partnerships (so long as they are not described as marriage) might be surprising to an American who is accustomed to tooth-and-nail culture wars.

In France, gay marriage became law in May 2013. Street protests by social conservatives, including four huge rallies in Paris within six months, failed to stop the change. But they made history nonetheless, as unexpectedly large social and political phenomena.

True to the movement’s name—Manif pour Tous (Protest for All)—the French gatherings brought together a broad coalition. Some came from the political right and far-right: there were well-heeled Catholics from posh parts of Paris, poorer ones from the provinces and some Muslims. Some supporters even spoke the language of the anti-capitalist left, arguing that gay adoptions and surrogacy might lead to a heartless market in embryos. To some extent, the movement simply capitalised on the general unpopularity of François Hollande, then the Socialist president.
Germany, too, has seen street demonstrations in imitation of the French ones, under an identical banner, Demo für Alle. As in France, the rallies have received discreet encouragement from politicians and clerics. But the German assemblies (focused in particular on moves to liberalise education about sex and gender) have been smaller, and they have drawn counter-demonstrations. It is still possible that same-sex marriage will be contested in Germany, on grounds that it violates the constitution. But the argument will be conducted in the courts, not on the streets.

This Franco-German contrast seems paradoxical. Although each country comprises a wide spectrum of opinion, German social norms are in some ways more conservative than French ones. (Take the issue of abortion. Although both countries have quite liberal regimes for terminating a pregnancy up to 12 weeks, the German one lays down that women must have counselling—in which they are told that fetuses have rights—before undergoing the procedure. That would be hard to imagine in France.)
Some reasons for the French-German difference are clear enough. Any popular street movement that shades into the far-right feels toxic in Germany, more so than in France, for the obvious historical reasons.
The differences in how social conservatism manifests in both countries are interesting, but my broader point (admittedly made from afar and without direct knowledge of how conservative spokespersons present in the media there)  is that it seems to appear in not only a more aggressive, but also a more articulate and less embarrassing form, over there than it does here. 

I should  make allowance for the lack of direct knowledge, and as this article makes clear,  France  on the issue was politically in its own peculiar world.   But I still get the feeling that I am onto something here. 

For me, of course, (but really, how can any intelligent person disagree?) a key reason why I can't respect the social conservatives here more broadly is the stupidity with which they follow the lead of those in the US who are determined to disbelieve in climate change and resist a sensible economic response to it.  If you can't be sensible on that matter, how can you be seen to be sensible on anything?  

And it's true - the "no" case here is being largely built on overblown moral panic over things like Safe School program,  and the current over-reaction in Anglo culture towards uncritical acceptance of what anyone says (at any age) is their "true" gender.  

Much of the French pushback, based more directly on not wanting the government to be endorsing a move away from the natural order of children preferentially being raised by their genetic parents, is a much more solid ground on which to question same sex marriage;  yet it seems to me that the "no" case here handles that poorly too. 

First, they are on a hiding to nothing by claiming that kids growing up in gay households per se are going to do worse than kids from straight relationships.   Most gay households using surrogacy or insemination to make kids are going to be middle class and well educated, and will have deliberately planned the pregnancy.  Of course, they are going to look like their families are doing fine, for now.   And those gay families who have kids from their failed straight marriages - of course they should be able to raise kids too, and in most of those cases, the children are still going to know and spend time with their biological parents.

But none of that means that conservatives should not be able to mount a reasoned case that the matter of making same sex marriage the same as heterosexual marriage reads as endorsement for "anything goes" as far as reproduction is concerned.

It is a difficult argument to make, however, unless you are going to out on a limb against modern standards as to what heterosexual couples may do to make a baby too.   I personally don't have a problem with doing that - I think that surrogacy for anyone is a bad idea, and I find it remarkable that those on the progressive side make no acknowledgement at all that what they think is clearly reasonable in reproductive matters is demonstrably something about which opinion can change against them - the prime example being the idea that protecting the anonymity of sperm donors was something a government should do, to a complete reversal once those kids as adults questioned what politicians thought was "obvious" only two or three decades ago.

Anyway, my point is that we need a better class of conservative here - ours are an unimpressive lot who are doomed to failure on nearly all social issues.

A likely sounding analysis

Noted at The Conversation, the effect of having an optional survey on same sex marriage:
Last week’s Essential had Yes leading 69-28 among the 62% who will definitely vote, and 59-31 among the overall sample. Yes supporters are more likely to vote than No supporters, more than compensating for lower turnout among the young.

Furthermore, as Peter Brent writes, if everyone had to vote in the plebiscite, people who were grumpy about being dragged to the polls for something they perceived as trivial would be likely to vote No. With optional voting, these people are likely to toss the voting material in the bin.

With such strong support for Yes, No’s only hope is to persuade people to vote about different issues, such as safe schools and political correctness. These issues have little relation with same sex marriage, but the No campaign will highlight them in an attempt to persuade people to vote on these issues.
So, a potential 10% discrepancy by having it as an optional postal survey.  On the other hand, is it possible that younger folk, being more mobile in where they live than older families, might be more likely to not get their survey letter?   That might offset things by a few percent, I would guess.

But the point remains - this is a hopelessly inaccurate way of gauging genuine population support for such a matter.


Chinese sex doll rental service suspended amid controversy

Right up Sinclair Davidson's alley

The new economy of excrement 

Entrepreneurs are finding profits turning human waste into fertiliser, fuel and even food.
Well, he'd be the richest man in the world, given the mountain loads of it available to him at Catallaxy.

That's a heck of a lot of S

I clicked onto Nature News and a Springer publications alert suggested I might like to see this article, at arXiv.  (Not sure why it would refer me to arXiv, but whatevers.)   Anyway, no time to read it yet, but here's the abstract, brought to you by the letter "S":
This paper uses anthropic reasoning to argue for a reduced likelihood that superintelligent AI will come into existence in the future. To make this argument, a new principle is introduced: the Super-Strong Self-Sampling Assumption (SSSSA), building on the Self-Sampling Assumption (SSA) and the Strong Self-Sampling Assumption (SSSA). SSA uses as its sample the relevant observers, whereas SSSA goes further by using observer-moments. SSSSA goes further still and weights each sample proportionally, according to the size of a mind in cognitive terms. SSSSA is required for human observer-samples to be typical, given by how much non-human animals outnumber humans. Given SSSSA, the assumption that humans experience typical observer-samples relies on a future where superintelligent AI does not dominate, which in turn reduces the likelihood of it being created at all.
Sounds rather silly to me, actually, but perhaps I should read it first.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Comparing infinities

The somewhat mind boggling issue of comparing the size of different infinities is dealt with in more-or-less clear fashion in this Quanta article.  (It's about a recent mathematical discovery in this field.)

For the paranoid

Researchers have demonstrated for the first time that devices that run on almost zero power can transmit data across distances of up to 2.8 kilometers -- breaking a long-held barrier and potentially enabling a vast array of interconnected devices.
Quite interesting, actually.  From Science Daily.

Movie noted

Hey, back in the 1980's I read a biographical book about Tesla (I'm not sure which one now, there have been so many), but I do remember thinking that the great AC/DC current wars between him and Edison could make for a pretty fascinating movie.

Today, I see that it has been done - with Benedict Cumberbatch playing Edison.

Of course, this is just the sort of movie that is likely to send me into great reveries about whether its historical inaccuracies are justifiable or not, but still, I hope it's good.

Something to look forward to

Alcohol Abuse Is Rising Among Older Adults

New word needed

I think there needs to be a specific word for the unpleasant feeling of half waking up from a dream in which you have missed an important deadline,  and not being sure if it was a dream or something from work a dream has alerted you to.  

Tim, I think this is up your alley.   Perhaps a German word combination?

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Some Cold War history for a Sunday

I didn't know this:  the BBC ran a radio show up to 1974 (not sure when it started) in which they would read out letters from unidentified people in East Germany, detailing their life and suffering there.  This sent the East German secret police nuts, who went to extraordinary lengths to track down the writers:
The Stasi not only viewed the BBC as an enemy broadcaster, they specifically saw this programme as a form of psychological warfare aimed to destabilise the regime and incite resistance. They were convinced Harrison was an undercover spy, wooing agents in East Germany.

In the end it was the letter writers they really knuckled down on, and the Stasi were extraordinarily fastidious in their pursuit.

They took saliva samples from the licked envelopes to identify blood groups which they cross-checked with doctor's records. They traced fingerprints on the paper, sourced the ink and collated an extensive archive of handwriting samples. 

It was his handwriting that caught out Borchardt.

"It just seemed like an ordinary piece of homework," he says, when the pupils in his class were asked to write an essay describing themselves and their later goals in life.

"The thing is, my father thought I had such terrible handwriting he wanted my sister to write it up for me. He nearly got his way."

As ordered, the school passed the essays on to a Stasi agent. Documents show a painstaking analysis of every curve and stroke of Borchardt's pen, comparing it to the intercepted letters from the anonymous schoolboy.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Good news about our coming overlords

Clear your browser history and go read the Washington Post's lengthy story about the apparent turnaround in China getting most of its transplants from "volunteer" prisoners:
Thousands of organs were being harvested from executed prisoners every year, but over the course of a decade, Huang has garnered support at the highest levels of government and succeeded in pushing China’s medical establishment into dropping the often-lucrative practice.

Since 2010, Huang has slowly built the register of voluntary donors, who now meet the needs of patients who require transplants. Such a register is a breakthrough for China....

In true modern Chinese fashion, donors can sign up through a link and app available through the ubiquitous Alipay online payment system. More than 230,000 people have done so, and a computerized database matches donors with compatible potential recipients, alerting doctors by text message as soon as organs become available. 

Friday, September 15, 2017

Catholicism, but not as we know it

Oh look, an interesting post from Club Troppo.  (Doesn't happen often enough, these days.)

Paul Frijters looks at the demographic health of the Catholic Church, noting the decline in Europe and Australia, but the surprising growth in Asia and Africa.
According to the Catholic Church itself (which measures things partially on the basis of baptisms), its followers numbered 1.3 billion adherents by 2014 making Catholicism the largest religion on the planet and the largest branch on the tree of Christianity that holds about 2.2 billion adherents. Its strongholds in Latin America and Southern Africa are looking rock-solid, and conversion rates in the new centers of Asia (China, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, etc.) are looking very healthy indeed. Catholicism is by far the biggest and probably fastest growing of the Christian faiths.
This is all rather interesting for what it means about the future of the character of the Church.   I think African priests, coming from societies where belief in supernatural influence in daily life has not become foreign as it has in the West, are nearly always very conservative and very "by the book", in the way the Church used to be here prior to the 60's.  

What I am not sure about is the likely doctrinal character of Asian priests, particularly Chinese.   I don't think they are likely to be quite in the same ballpark as African ones, but I could be wrong.

Paul notes this about them:
It is, speaking as a pure outsider to these religious games, very interesting to see how successful the Catholic\Christian message is amongst the Chinese in Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong, and even in China itself. In Singapore, the proportion of Christians went up from 10% in 1990 to around 20% now, and a little under half of them are Roman Catholic.
 The multicultural aspect of Catholic congregations in many parts of Australia is something that I personally find very appealing about it.   But the cultural conflict between the doctrinally conservative and more liberal wings in Western countries is only likely to be exacerbated by the use of Africa (and possibly some Asian) priests here.

Suffer wingnuts

NPR on the big, big confusion and dismay from the wingnut Trumpsters as to whether Trump is really on their side or not.

Kind of a fun show, if he weren't already irredeemably the worst President the country has ever had.

Bad news

North Korea is ramping up the anti-Japan rhetoric while sending another missile over it.

South Korea is thinking about assassination - but the big mystery I guess is whether Kim's underlings would fight back hard in revenge, or give a sigh of relief that they have a chance at a less nutty leadership.

I'm very fond of both Japan and Samsung products.  We need to find a way to keep both.  

Ridiculously open to manipulation

According to the media, quite a few people are saying that they have received multiple same sex survey forms from ABS, because of previous residents who have failed to update their address on the electoral roll.   A fairly obvious problem with this ridiculously flawed idea.

Does anyone doubt that the greatest enthusiasm for participation in this exercise is from the "yes" side?   Hence I would expect that any potential to exploit flaws is more likely to be come from that side too, and for the results to be skewed "yes" for that reason.

That said, I do expect a properly done survey - like the government could have got Newspoll to do at a tiny fraction of the cost - would also come up with a Yes win - and probably by clear 5 to 10% margin.   (That's my guess, anyway.)

But honestly, there is really zero reason to think that this postal survey idea is going to be accurate, and no one will have any idea as to how accurate it is (apart from comparing it to existing polls - making the exercise completely wasteful.)

Peak pansy

Yes, we've all heard elements of this story before - drag queen balls in New York, gay nightclubs in Berlin and Paris - in the 1920's and into the 30's.   But this account of what the media (and participants) called "the pansy craze" is still pretty interesting.

I don't think I had heard of this particular song before:
Like New York, Berlin’s regular drag balls made it a popular destination for LGBT tourists. Yet many regarded this tolerance as a sign of the country’s decadence, and Hitler’s rise to power saw countless bars, clubs and cafes closed. Nazi stormtroopers tore the heart out of Berlin’s cabaret scene, arresting anyone deemed entartete: degenerate. Max Hansen, who recorded War’n Sie Schon Mal In Mich Verliebt? (Weren’t You Ever In Love With Me?), in which a drunk Hitler made passes at a Jewish man, had to make a quick exit from Germany, and other cabaret stars either followed or went back into the closet.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

(American) Doctors and their dubious drugs

Interesting article at Business Insider:

The most respected medical journal in the US just eviscerated a drug that's cost taxpayers over $1 billion

I hate everyone

This same sex marriage issue, it continues to have the perverse effect of making me dislike everyone.  The latest:

*  I was calling the kerfuffle about the Safe Schools anti bullying program a moral panic from the Right last year, before Benjamin Law got around to writing his essay on the same theme and being treated like a rock star on Twitter for doing so.

* Despite it being a moral panic, that Roz Ward exaggerates massively on the issue and is a bit of a Marxist nutter who just helps feed the equally stupid Right wing conspiracists who think Marxists are the ones who have brainwashed everyone under 30 into no longer fearing or deriding homosexuals, as all right thinking people used to do.  (There's sarcasm in there.)   Does Law cover the exaggerations of Ward in his essay?  (Maybe he does.  If so, sorry.)

* I don't like the way people like Law make polite language and argument in one forum, then on Twitter or elsewhere on the net use use language or make poor taste jokes that, if you're going to use them at all (and it doesn't speak well of you if you do) should be kept private - because they should be seen as embarrassing.  

* I still think Law is way over rated as a writer of his TV show.  It's just not that good.

* I think both Pauline Hanson and Penny Wong are making massively self serving exaggerations in this report.  Pauline's just an annoying, dumb twit;   Wong is trying to shut down any argument from conservatives that, yes, they do rather think that its preferable for kids to know both of their genetic parents - and much of their objection to same sex marriage is motivated by the normalisation of the deliberate use of reproductive technology by gay couples that will in many cases involve the disconnect between kids and one of their biological parents.  That's not to say that Wong's kids will turn out bad - they have well off, smart middle class parents, they'll almost certainly be OK - and for that matter, it may well be that the fathers are in contact with the kids - but laws are about society wide preferences, not just those of individuals.    

Sounds a bit harsh

From The Japan Times, an article headed Nagoya: The most boring city in Japan sounds a bit harsh.  I'm not sure the writer has ever been to Akita, for example.  (I'm just teasing - sure, it's remote and has a very ageing population, but my wife and I also each ate an oyster the size of my fist at the fish market, as well as a big scallop grilled in butter and soy, and I liked the central park and giant mural, so I don't regret a day trip there.)

I've never stopped at Nagoya, but I work on the theory that any town or city (well, above a certain population threshold - perhaps 20,000?) is interesting at least for a day.

The energy issue

The fact that Steve Kates (and Sinclair Davidson) work at RMIT makes me deeply suspicious about the entire staff at that institution, but this other guy who is a "Senior Industry Fellow" (?) there is about 180 degrees from them when it comes to energy policy, and he makes this reasonable sounding point today in The Conversation:
Solar power is driving down daytime prices – which used to provide much of the income that coal plants needed to make a profit. Energy storage will further reduce the scope to profit from high and volatile electricity prices, previously driven by high demand and supply shortages in hot weather, or when a large coal-fired generator failed or was shut down for maintenance at a crucial time.

There is now plenty of evidence that the diverse mix of energy efficiency, demand response, energy storage, renewable generation and smart management can ensure reliable and affordable electricity to cope with daily and seasonal variable electricity loads. New traditional baseload generators will not be financially viable, as they simply won’t capture the profits they need during the daytime.

The government is now focused on AGL and how it will deliver 1,000 megawatts of new dispatchable supply. In practice, appropriate policy action would facilitate the provision of plenty of supply, storage, demand response and energy efficiency to ensure reliable supply. But the government is unable to deliver policy because of its internal squabbles, and AGL looks like a convenient scapegoat.

Some Florida Keys photos, at last

Finally, we're starting to get more photos of damage to the Florida Keys area.  Seems to have taken a while.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Bannon as wannabe fascist

I haven't watched the Bannon 60 Minutes interview, but I reckon Slate's William Saletan has got his measure:
Bannon fancies himself a teacher of history, policy, and strategy. But what he really teaches, by example, is the psychology of the fascist intellectual.

The term “fascism” is thrown around too casually by the left, as “socialism” is by the right. But fascism has a genuine meaning based on past cases, and you can see its themes in Bannon’s interview. Fascism’s core idea is allegiance to a leader in the name of national greatness. What distinguishes fascism from republicanism is how he responds to conflicts between the leader and countervailing principles or institutions. A republican welcomes such conflicts as ways to challenge and check the power of the executive. A fascist, perceiving these conflicts as obstacles to national unity, seeks to obliterate them and to consolidate power.

Bannon takes the latter approach.
Also at Slate, I reckon Jamelle Bouie is also right:
Steve Bannon’s Intellectual Reputation Is a Charade

His erudite-sounding arguments ignore facts and revise history to coincide with his nationalist worldview.

Jerry Pournelle noted

So, science fiction writer Jerry Pournelle died a few days ago.  

By way of The Mote in God's Eye, which (unusually) my mother bought for me as a birthday gift when I was 16 or 17 on the recommendation of someone in a bookshop, I got back into reading science fiction as a young adult and that continued for a good decade or so.  I did follow Jerry Pournelle in that period, and think I have A Step Further Out, his collection of science fact articles, on my shelf.   It was a good example of relatively realistic techno optimism of the period. 

That said, I think his fiction really did reach an early peak with Mote, and unfortunately (at least after Inferno, which I also enjoyed)  I found myself increasingly dissatisfied with his collaborations with Niven, even the ones which were commercially successful (Lucifer's Hammer, for example.)   I forget the last one I tried, but I have never picked up the sequel to Mote, out of a fair degree of certainty that there were no grounds to be optimistic that they were suddenly good again.  His own novels were rather staid and not memorable.   Some of his anthology collections he edited were OK, though.  I remember enjoying one on black holes, when they were all new and the talk of science fiction.

As for his politics:   they were right wing, although where he fell on the libertarian/conservative spectrum was always a bit unclear.   He was a practising Catholic, I believe, but there was never any softening towards the Left as he aged.   Unfortunately, he did show clear signs of culture warrior sclerosis of judgement, as in the last decade he was easily persuaded by the pseudo skeptics of climate change, and seemed to me to be very soft on Trump.  Still, he contributed to quite a few years of science fiction enjoyment when I was a young man, and I thank him for that.

Yeah, thanks Putin

An article  at The Atlantic here, explaining the economic ties between Russia and North Korea, and Putin's reason why he's soft on the country.   (Basically just a "You try to push me around, and I'll stuff up your attempts to push them around.")

Not every idea from Japan is great...

In Japan, you can now get Coca-Cola pre-mixed with coffee

More Bitcoin skepticism shared

From Axios:
JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon slammed bitcoin Tuesday, calling the digital currency "a fraud," per CNBC. He said it's "worse than tulip bulbs” — a reference to the 17th century economic bubble.

"It won't end well. Someone is going to get killed," Dimon said at a Barclays banking conference. "Currencies have legal support. It will blow up."

Why it matters: Dimon has been pessimistic about bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies in the past, and has argued that there will never be a currency "that gets around government controls." And Dimon isn't the only critic. Other analysts have argued that bitcoin is nothing more than a fad with no value, and have warned that the currency's current market success could create an economic bubble.

Odd lack of images

Is it just me, or has it seemed to everyone else too that video or photos of damage to the Florida Keys, which is reported in words to be pretty extensive, is oddly slow to appear in news from America?

Opioids and libertarians

Well, I've been saying since at least 2014 that surely the opioid (and related heroin) problem in the US is an indication that the libertarian idea of drug legalisation is fanciful and misguided, at best.  (I could use stronger words, but I'm feeling generous today.)

I see that one German Lopez at Vox has explained at length why he would now agree with me, in his article entitled:

I used to support legalizing all drugs. Then the opioid epidemic happened.

Maybe in 10 years time he'll change his mind about marijuana legalisation, too.   

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Happy driving

I must admit, I hadn't thought of this aspect of driverless cars before (I had only thought of the icky problem of people having sex in driverless cabs):

I wonder if the problems of bad behaviour in driverless taxis will mean that driverless cars remain mainly a privately owned thing, in which case, if there is to be some emergency override, would it still remain an offence to be drunk while in the potential driver seat? 

Vegetarian and depressed

Not sure that too much should be made of this (the number of vegetarians involved seems not very high to me), but still:
Vegetarians are at higher risk of suffering depression compared to those who eat meat and consume a conventional balanced diet, according to a new study. 

A Bristol University study of almost 10,000 people from southwestern England discovered that were almost twice as likely to develop depression because of vitamin and mineral deficiencies that can negatively impact their mental health.

The 350 committed vegetarians who participated in the study had a higher average depression score when compared to the meat eaters, according to the study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders.

Without meat, a vegetarian's diet tends to have less vitamin B12 consumption, as well as greater intake of nuts that contain , which have been linked with an increased risk of problems.

In addition, roughly 50 percent of vegans and 7 percent of vegetarians have a vitamin B12 deficiency. Vitamin B12 can be found in red meat and plays an important role in affecting an individual's mood
What's this about nuts being linked with nuttiness, too?  That was something I don't think I have heard before, but yes, there are many links - like this one - about the Omega 3 and Omega 6 ratios and mental health.

On George Benard Shaw, Stalin, Russians

There's a good essay at the New York Times:  Why George Bernard Shaw had a crush on Stalin.

Here's a part:

In part, too, Shaw’s insistence on seeing the Soviet Union as the harbinger of the great socialist utopia can be explained by the disappointments of democracy. He had fought for decades to establish universal adult suffrage, especially for women and the working class. Like many radical intellectuals, he was dismayed to find that many of these new voters preferred king-and-country conservatism to the socialism they were supposed to support. Especially as the Great Depression took hold, parliaments and political parties seemed utterly ineffectual. Stalin’s apparent ability to move mountains and transform society with triumphant five-year plans offered an antidote to his impatience with the frustrations of democracy.

But underlying all of this, there was an even stronger impulse: the fantasy of Russia itself. Long before the Bolshevik Revolution gave the dream a very particular political content, Shaw was primed to expect a global spiritual resurrection that would begin in Russia. This hope was not as fanciful as it may now seem: In the late 19th century, when Shaw’s political and artistic consciousness was being formed, Russian music, drama and literature were at the leading edge of modern Western culture. As he later wrote to Maxim Gorky, “I myself am as strongly susceptible as anyone to the fascination of the Russian character as expressed by its art and personally by its artists.”....

Above all, Shaw was caught up in the great wave of enthusiasm for Tolstoy that broke over the English-speaking world in the mid-1880s when “War and Peace,” “Anna Karenina” and most of his other works appeared in translation. Shaw called Tolstoy “the master.” His own insistence on the didactic purpose of art and his forging of a sage-like persona are pure Tolstoy.

This was not just a matter of artistic influence. Russia became, for Shaw, a kind of alternate universe, an imaginative field in which grandiosities that he would otherwise have delighted in puncturing were given free rein. He would have made devastating fun of anyone writing about “the Irish soul,” or “the English soul,” but he was happy to write without irony of “the soul of the Russian people.” When Kropotkin’s daughter told him that “the Russians would give the world back its lost soul,” Shaw did not scoff.....
Shaw’s infatuation with Russia became a full-on love affair with a Soviet autocrat, whereas the Trump bromance with President Putin appears unconsummated. But they share a fatal attraction that both preceded and survived the Soviet Union: the allure of a faraway place where the great leader is obeyed because he embodies a people’s soul.
Apart from Right wing conservatives currently having an infatuation with Putin for all of the wrong reasons, I reckon its hard to see anyone in the West recovering a sense of admiration or sympathy for for "the Russian soul."     Maybe we need more exposure to nice Russians, but am I wrong to think they currently have the reputation of being amongst the least humorous or friendly people on the planet?    The Russian Orthodox Church looks equally dour - unlike the sense of enthusiastic engagement with life you get in the some of the Catholic Church's traditions in countries like Italy, Mexico, or (I imagine) the Philippines.   And while some countries have a reputation as happy drinkers (Ireland - I think), you can hardly say the same about the Russians, with their spectacular rate of alcoholism.  Speaking of which, this short history of alcoholism in Russia is pretty interesting.  I don't recall this:
In 1223, when the Russian army suffered a devastating defeat against the invading Mongols and Tartars, it was partly because they had charged onto the battlefield drunk, Brown wrote.

Ivan the Terrible established kabaks (establishments where spirits were produced and sold) in the 1540s, and in the 1640s they had become monopolies. In 1648, tavern revolts broke out across the country, by which time a third of the male population was in debt to the taverns. In the 1700s, Russian rulers began to profit from their subjects’ alcoholism, as Brown, who spent 10 years covering Russia for Forbes magazine, explained. “[Peter the Great] decreed that the wives of peasants should be whipped if they dared attempt to drag their imbibing husbands out of taverns before the men were ready to leave.”

Peter the Great was also, according to Brown, able to form a phalanx of unpaid workers by allowing those who had drunk themselves into debt to stay out of debtors prison by serving 25 years in the army. 

The sensible take on Ridley

There's been this odd libertarian optimist take on the recent American hurricanes along the lines of "look at how well America will recover from this - because it's rich.  Rich countries always recover from disaster well, much better than poor countries, where more people die too.  So the answer to climate change is - don't do anything that will make people less rich.  Nothing.  Don't touch a cent.  That means burn more coal and make more electricity.  We need to be as rich as possible."

See Matt Ridley's article that appeared in the Murdoch press internationally yesterday for an example of this argument, but I had seen raised last week elsewhere, too.

That this is a shallow, shallow take on the matter of climate change and all of the research on it seems very obvious to me, and it's curious how it is so often put by the already rich.   But sometimes the obvious still has to be stated for the thick of head out there.   I think a reasonable, simply worded, response is at And Then There's Physics, from which I quote:
There’s however, in my view, a bigger issue with Ridley’s argument. It essentially seems to be that we should mostly ignore climate change, just get richer, and that fossil fuels are mostly better than any alternative. The problem is that if we drive economic growth through burning more and more fossil fuels and pumping more and more CO2 into the atmosphere, then the climate will continue to change and the impacts will get more and more severe.

If we were confident that economic growth would always outpace climate damages, then this might be a reasonable suggestion (although, maybe don’t suggest it right now to those who live on Caribbean islands). However, this is almost certainly not going to be the case. There is almost certainly a level of warming above which the impacts would be utterly catastrophic. We may not be able to define it precisely, but it is almost certainly within reach, either because we simply pump all the CO2 we can into the atmosphere, or because our climate is sensitive enough that we get there even if we don’t emit as much CO2 as we possibly could.

Given this, there must be an even lower level of warming at which cimate damages start outpacing economic growth. So, suggesting that we can just grow our way out of trouble simply seems wrong. If people don’t like the current policy then the solution (in my view) is not to argue that we should essentially ignore climate change and simply grow, but to argue for something like a carbon tax.

There is much more to be said about Ridley's argument, including the implausibility of thinking that the only thing holding back poor countries (or countries with lots of poor people) from becoming rich overnight is a lack of coal powered electricity, but that will do for now.

Monday, September 11, 2017

A bit of exaggeration

I don't look at Boing Boing very often anymore, and I was rather surprised to find this heading for a post there over the weekend:
Australia's housing bubble is built on a deadly, about-to-burst credit bubble


Even the explanation in the post sounded, shall we say, a tad inaccurate in the current circumstances?:
If you buy a house in Australia -- where housing prices are out of control, even by global standards -- you can wait a couple months for the house's book value to go up, and then borrow against that "unrealised capital gain" to buy another house...and then you can do it again.

 This is how so many speculators in the Australian property market have come to own several homes whose rental income can't pay the mortgage, but who are still able to borrow on those unprofitable properties to buy more unprofitable properties.
We have some problems, but I didn't think this explanation sounds at all accurate.... 

A not very complimentary take on "comic book films"

At the TLS, a look at superhero films and why they are looking more homogenised. 

I sometimes feel guilty for dissing Marvel, when I can go and quite enjoy the ones that are funnier or more off beat than their average stuff.   (As it happens, this morning, for some reason, I had Blitzkrieg Bop as used Spiderman Homecoming going through my head while shaving.  But yeah, I am completely uninterested in stuff like The Avengers.) 

Maybe it wasn't worth posting, as the points made are pretty obvious...

Standing with Barnaby

Barnaby Joyce was on Radio National this morning talking about various things, including the same sex marriage survey thingee.  I actually share his view:   I am not convinced that politicians participating in the debate is actually all that helpful to whichever side they are arguing for.   Joyce has a pragmatic view that its a social issue on which not that many people are open to changing their minds, and the very nature of the issue makes it more likely that people can be easily put off by the tone of those who are trying to convince them.  

Barnaby sounds like me - finding both sides on this pretty irritating:   the "yes" side with its attitude that they are so obviously right they can't comprehend why anyone reasonable would disagree, a view which is as ahistorical as it is possible to be;  the "no" side too easily wants to portray the nuclear heterosexual family in some sort of Norman Rockwell glow which is not very realistic in its own way, as well as often displaying a lack of appreciation about how bad things used to be homosexuals.     (There are other aspects of how both sides argue that get up my nose, but I won't bother running through them now.)

Joyce just quietly says he will vote no, because he just thinks that the way things are has served society well, and I actually agree that this is about just as much as the "no" voting politician need say.   Similarly, a modest acknowledgement of the "yes" vote that marriage is something that some gay relationships want to participate in, and not encouraging a victimhood mentality if they don't get it, would be appreciated.  

But I would not be surprised if the perverse outcome of more debate about it is less participation, not more. 

Maybe there's a reason I don't read Stephen King

King's presumably not a bad author as such, given how many people have followed his career closely over decades.  (Then again, no one should accuse Dan Brown of being decent author based on number of readers.  I've tried reading both of them, but not for many pages.  I didn't care for the style of either, although I think Brown may be in a category of awfulness all of his own.)

But regarding King, that I had never heard before of the controversy about a very strange part of his  novel It, currently being discussed because of the new movie which I would probably watch on Netflix, but not pay money for at the cinema.

It (ha, a pun) makes me glad I never tried to read the book, because It (ha) sounds very, very silly.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Magnetic brain fiddling to control cocaine addiction

Here's the summary, from Science:
Among the major addictions, cocaine is the only one without a therapy approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. It is a wicked habit to kick without help, as some 1 million people who are dependent on the drug in the United States can attest. A noninvasive method now being tested in clinical trials by a small cadre of researchers may at last offer help. Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), applied by running electric current through a coil held near the scalp, is thought to tweak the out-of-whack brain circuits that define cocaine addiction. TMS is already approved for treating depression. But the researchers testing TMS today in people addicted to cocaine are aiming to strengthen impulse control and to restore to normality a reward circuit that is abnormally active when users are presented with cues like photos of cocaine. Although the therapy has been used in an uncontrolled setting on hundreds of cocaine users in Italy, the trials now underway will provide the first rigorous, blinded tests of whether it works.
Seems you can view the whole article, too.

Netflix reviews

There's a lot of viewing of Netflix going on in my new-to-Netflix household at the moment.  To update the one or two people (maybe I am being optimistic) who think my media reviews are worth reading:

Stranger Things (cont.):   nearly at the end of the first series, and I have to upgrade my opinion of it.  Something clicked in episode 5 about how much I was finding the acting of everyone involved very convincing and likeable.  The four child leads are really good, but the teenagers and all of the adults - they're just great too.  The Spielbergian mash up aspect of the scenario has stopped bothering me as I have realised that I just like being in the show's universe anyway.

I fear that there is a big danger that series 2 will disappoint - in fact, I think it quite possibly might follow a Twin Peaks spiral.   (Truth be told, I don't really recall anything about series 2 - I think I may have not watched it based on bad reviews coming out of the US.)   But let's hope not.

Norsemen:   who knew Norwegians could be this funny?   Have only watched the first episode, but there is a lot to like about its mocking of Norse cultural extremes.   It's a bit Monty Python and the Holy Grail (although more witty than absurdist); a bit Blackadder; even a bit The Office (according to someone on Reddit - I still have never watched either incarnation of that show despite its reputation.)   It can be gross and violent, but really, the writing is very amusing and unexpectedly good.  (Sorry, but I just didn't imagine the teeth chattering climate of Norway as an environment for producing good comedy.)

The show is made by Norwegians and shot in both English and Norwegian, and hasn't even been on Netflix in the US for long.   I strongly suspect it will develop a cult following.

The Babadook:    I knew this low budget Australian film, which I am not sure even got an Australian cinema release, was surprisingly well received by many American reviewers.  So, despite my quite intense, but readily justified, dislike of my own nation's cinema efforts, I gave it a go.

Let's just say, the reputation of Australian cinema remains for this viewer lower than a wombat's burrow.  (Go on, make up your own witticism, then.)

The movie exemplifies a couple of things that I have always disliked about Australian cinema:

* the low budget emptiness:  cheaply made movies in Australia somehow, more than low budget features from anywhere else on the planet, always manage to make the settings seem empty, lifeless and underpopulated.  Sure, you'll occasionally see some extras in this film, but it still manages to make everywhere look unrealistic due to a lack of, I don't know, normal people in the background doing normal things?  It's almost like a perverse special talent of Australian film makers:  do they never try to film secretly in a natural setting so that, for example, you actually do see streets or buildings with more than a handful of people in them?

* some arch, almost campy, acting.  Most of the supporting actors don't do well, in my opinion, and fall into some stereotypical (for Australian cinema) close to camp acting that doesn't ring true.  In this case, I point the finger at the Childrens Services couple, the police officers, the boss at the aged care home, the sister's friends.  But even the female lead, who has to carry the film, increasing struggles with the material, and becomes unconvincing in what is meant to be the scary climax.  As for the boy - he really is too irritating to be sympathetic for the first half of the movie, and his conversion to being the sensible one in the house for the second half doesn't make much sense.  (Nor does his precocious mechanical talent - no attempt to explain where that comes from at all.)

Which leads to my biggest complaint - the story just doesn't make psychological sense. It's presumably meant to work like a version of The Shining (one made with on a credit card budget in a friend's big old house,) in that it has deliberate ambiguity as to what is going on - just madness and mental health issues, or something supernatural, or a combination of both.   But at least in Kubrick's film there was some information of trouble in the father's past - alcoholism, domestic violence, perhaps a less than successful career - which you could see that, either through generic madness or a supernatural evil, were the seeds of his turning on his family.  In this film. there's nothing like that at all.

[Spoilers if you continue].   There is nothing to indicate the mother had a troubled relationship with the dead father - quite the opposite in fact.   And nothing to indicate why the father (if the babadook is him in some guise) would want to threaten the son who he never met.    If, as many reviewers say, the supernatural creature is a metaphor for grief,  I just don't see why grief would manifest in psychotic hatred for the son.  Sure, he was annoying at the start, but not so annoying that Mum would want him dead instead of getting him into counselling.   At one stage, I thought that the script was setting up for a split personality scenario, with the mother herself being the author of the book that is frightening her.  (She tells her sisters friends that she was a writer who had done some work for children.)   But that possibility goes no where - there are no further hints along this line - and if it was the old dissociative personality under stress situation, it doesn't really fit in with the possession by the babadook scene in the bedroom.

If it is meant to be taken as a supernatural cause, there is no hint as to why it is in the house - no hint of past violence there, for example.  Again, Kubrick gave enough (with the son's apparent psychic ability, the talk of past murders, not to mention the famous last shot) to give some reasons as to why there might be supernatural presences in the hotel.  In this movie, we have a boy who is having nightmares and worries about monsters under the bed - but we see nothing of what he is seeing. 

The final sequence of this movie continues the ambiguity but in an oddball, unsatisfying way.  Sure, use it as a metaphor for the Mum successfully taming but never banishing entirely rampant grief/psychosis, but how does feeding it work into that metaphor?   I don't think it does.  And if it is meant to indicate a real supernatural being of some kind - as I said before, where it came from remains completely opaque.

So - contrary to what a slew of American reviewers seem to think, I thought the story was a complete unconvincing mess from a psychological perspective.  It's not that I expect things always have to made clear in such a film (I love the discussion The Shining generates), but the film has to have enough in it to make possible interpretations plausible.  That's where this one fails utterly, if you ask me.

It's also, in my opinion, not even very scary.  My son watched it with me, and he is easier scared by ghost stories than me, but he also was underwhelmed.

So, no chance of me changing my mind about Australian cinema based on this.  No surprises of any variety, actually.