Tuesday, January 31, 2017

More authoritarian dysfunction

As I say, if you can't see the danger and dysfunction in the way Trump and Bannon are trying to run the White House, you're a complete fool.

Message to monty:  why do you continue to comment at a blog full of complete fools?   Seriously, they are too stupid and (in most cases) obnoxious to be seen with in the same room. 

China benefit from Trump

The point made here seems quite plausible, doesn't it?:

Donald Trump Is Handing China the World 
President Donald Trump wants to build up the U.S. Navy, a move that could help the United States counter China’s aggressive expansion into the Western Pacific.
But the new, bigger fleet will come too late to save America from a rising China. That’s because Trump’s other initiatives—rejecting foreign alliances, throwing up barriers to global trade and withdrawing from efforts to combat climate change—are creating a power vacuum that China naturally fills.
I wouldn't be surprised if nearly all of the world moves towards the view that they'd prefer China just to have the South China Sea islands they're building, rather than an outbreak of fighting with a man-child as President who you don't want to see contemplating use of nuclear weapons.

Questions about his mental health

This article from the Daily News:

President Trump exhibits classic signs of mental illness, including 'malignant narcissism,' shrinks say 

is not as over the top as you might think.   Its explanation of what happened with Goldwater is a bit of history I didn't know, too.

What is somewhat interesting, in a way, is the matter of who is using who in the White House at the moment.   Or does the inner circle (which seems to be a mere handful) share Trump's delusions so much that they genuinely share his alternative reality and have no concerns about it?

The psychological trick, that I've noted before, is that if you pretend something is true for long enough, you can inadvertently start to believe it.   That might be what is happening there at the moment, but who knows?  Lots of good insider books to come out in the future, at any rate...

What's it like in the White House at the moment?

I wonder how long it will take before Trump and his White House controllers will admit making a mistake?   Because it seems their "alternative fact" reality-in-their-mind is that the immigration executive order implementation went swimmingly, with the main problem being the media. 

A post at Axios, though, cites someone with inside knowledge summing up the situation realistically:
Despite the bravado, others who are high-up inside the administration worry that the ham-handed handling of the ban and its rollout are indicative of bigger problems ahead. These sources say:
  • Big decisions, and edits to crucial documents, are made in the dark of night, with scant input beyond the inner circle. "There are a few guys who keep everything to themselves," said a top official.
  • The insular inner circle is getting more insular, as it amasses more power.
  • No force within the West Wing is a sure-fire counterweight to Bannon/Miller.
  • The inner circle, resentful of leaks, seeks little input from the Cabinet, outside allies or Hill leaders. A leadership aide told us yesterday afternoon: "Congressional leaders had no hand in drafting this and haven't been briefed from the White House on how it works."
  • Trump is showing no signs of WANTING order: He loves the competing views, internally and externally, allowing him to be the (usually last-minute) decider.
  • The place oozes paranoia. So every bad move is simply chalked up to media-hate.
I can't see an obvious way to link to individual posts at Axios, which is a pain.

A great cover

I happened to watch Late Night with Colbert through to the end last night (the inauguration day episode, where his opening monologue was funny and heartfelt), and so caught this band (The Avett Brothers) who I see have been around for a while and have quite a following in the US.   This is,  I think, a lovely cover of the George Harrison song, and they would have to be the coolest looking folky/bluegrassy band around:

Monday, January 30, 2017

Shorter Kellyanne:

"President Trump can invent facts as much as he likes because none of the mainstream media predicted he would win.  And they're mean.  They should resign and if they don't, be sacked, and leave it up to Fox News."

Link. No absurd and quasi-despotic sense of entitlement there, at all...

Having it all ways

David Frum does seem to be trying to have a bit both ways, criticising Trump but also blaming the Left for more-or-less provoking unreasonableness.   (This is a common tactic by those of the Right who don't want to fully endorse Trump - blame the Left for being silly or nasty in their identity politics and trying to "shut down debate" on all sorts of matters.  It is an unconvincing argument that seeks to justify people being stupidly ignorant of facts and adopting policies that make no sense by saying "well, you drove them to their stupid position."  Nah, sorry.   The answer to a bad policy is a better, well argued, policy.)

Trump and security

A good article here by Fred Kaplan at Slate, noting that there's at least one General who hates Trump's visa ban, and that rearrangements regarding the National Security Council are being driven by personalities and make no sense.  Here's a part:
On the other hand, the director of national intelligence has been a permanent member ever since the post was created in 2005, and before then, the director of central intelligence was a member. It makes no sense for the secretaries of state, defense, treasury, and other Cabinet heads to meet in the White House with the national security adviser (and sometimes with the president) to discuss and make policy without the nation’s top intelligence officer—the coordinator of the nation’s 17 intelligence agencies—being part of that discussion.

The backstory here is that Trump’s national security adviser, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, has floated the idea of abolishing the DNI and having all the intel agencies report to him. It is pertinent to note that a few years ago the outgoing DNI, retired Lt. Gen. James Clapper, fired Flynn from his last job in government, as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency—a move that has since embittered Flynn against the DNI and against much of the intelligence community, which disagreed with him on a number of issues. The removal of the DNI from the Principals Committee suggests that Flynn’s broader plan may be in the works.

Another new and senseless feature of this executive order is putting the president’s political strategist onboard. Karl Rove never attended NSC meetings during George W. Bush’s presidency, as important an adviser as he was on all sorts of issues. David Axelrod sat in on some NSC meetings during Barack Obama’s tenure, though he always sat along the wall, along with a few other aides and deputies; he never sat at the table or said a word.

As the president weighs national security matters, he can mingle his own political interests and instincts with the advice of Cabinet heads and the chiefs of the military and intelligence agencies; in fact, it’s his job to do just that. But the advice of this council should be rooted in U.S. national security interests; that’s why the group is called the National Security Council. Giving the president’s political strategist a seat at this table—elevating him to the same level as the secretaries of state and defense—is bound to inject a perspective that these meetings are expressly supposed to avoid. And given the inclinations of this particular strategist, Steve Bannon, the injections may sometimes be toxic.

Not the party of Reagan

Further evidence, if you needed it, that the Republicans have veered to the Right of Reagan. 

As readers know, I was no fan of Reagan, and think he lucked out more than anything, but I would still say he had more common sense and decency than Trump.  Then again, almost anyone does...

Muslims, Christians, Trump

Here, at NPR.

I see that the Right wing media is arguing along the lines of "Hey - Obama put a halt on Iraqi visas for 6 months in 200911 and no one freaked out.  Why freak out over Trump doing something similar?"

The reasons:

*  the fact that most people had forgotten Obama's action indicates that, unlike Trump, Obama wasn't throwing it out as red meat to his base, and drumming up their fear and despising of all Muslim refugees.  What's more, he had a specific reason for his actions.  Trump, as we well know, even conflates terrorism from Muslims born in America with the risk of terrorism from refugees - a dishonest and stupid thing to to.

* Recent attacks show the issue of "self radicalised" terrorism is a real problem.   Going over the top with publicising actions readily interpreted as attacks on Islam generally is, if anything, likely to make the home grown problem worse.  From the NYT:
“In my opinion, this is just a huge mistake in terms of counterterrorism cooperation,” said Daniel Benjamin, formerly the State Department’s top counterterrorism official and now a scholar at Dartmouth. “For the life of me, I don’t see why we would want to alienate the Iraqis when they are the ground force against ISIS.”
At home as well, Mr. Benjamin said, the president’s order is likely to prove counterproductive. The jihadist threat in the United States has turned out to be largely homegrown, he said, and the order will encourage precisely the resentments and anxieties on the part of Muslims that fuel, in rare cases, support for the ideology of the Islamic State or Al Qaeda.
“It sends an unmistakable message to the American Muslim community that they are facing discrimination and isolation,” Mr. Benjamin said. That, he said, will “feed the jihadist narrative” that the United States is at war with Islam, potentially encouraging a few more Muslims to plot violence. 
For an action aimed at terrorism, the order appeared to garner little or no support among experts and former officials of every political stripe with experience in the field. Jonathan Schanzer, the vice president for research at the conservative Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, said that if the temporary visa ban was used to review and improve immigration vetting procedures, it might be justified.
But he added that he knew of no obvious problems with those procedures, and no specific plans to address such issues over the 120-day ban. “The order appears to be based mainly on a campaign promise,” he said.
Update:  the Washington Post deals with how the Obama response to the Iraqi visa issue in 2011 is completely different to Trump's pandering to his base, and refusing to help Europe with the Syrian problem.

Someone else would do it better, no doubt...

Sunday, January 29, 2017

A lack of moral seriousness

Yeah, it's all just a big culture war game to the likes of Tim Blair and Andrew Bolt.

Blair writes of Trump's refugee (temporary) immigration ban:  "Leftist media will be entertaining today."   Yes, that's what really matters for a writer whose sole output is anti-Left wing snark.

Bolt gets obsessed with media calling it a Muslim ban, and gets totally on board with the claimed justification - to work out better "vetting procedures" from certain countries - while not showing any interest at all in what the current procedures are, or wondering how it could be at all possible to get perfect vetting from a war torn nation, or for people who have come (for example) via living in a tent in a desert refugee camp for the last 3 years.   He is completely in the tank for Trump on this, because it aligns with his own contemptuous disregard for refugees, despite the West's role in helping generate more globally by its attempted Middle East interventions.

Bolt is the most dishonest and disgraceful writer on immigration matters in Australia today - continually blaming government for letting in thoroughly deserving refugees (be they Muslim or not) in the event that any of them, or their children, commit a crime even years after their arrival.  Governments are supposed to be able to tell which 10 year olds will be a 17 year old thief, apparently.

Neither of them are morally serious on this, or indeed on climate change, another topic of long term consequence on which they prefer to play the short sighted fool and culture war warrior.

La La Landed

My wife and I saw this much talked about movie yesterday.

I think it's very good for 3 main reasons:

1. Emma Stone is utterly charming and fantastic and they should just send her to Oscar now and tell the other contenders there is really is no point in them coming to the ceremony.  

2. It's very pleasingly directed, and avoids, in large part, the annoying over-editing of dance sequences that has afflicted modern musicals for so long.  I only read up on director Damian Chazelle after seeing the movie - 32 years old and obviously very talented.  (He co-wrote 10 Cloverfield Lane too - quite a genre difference there!)

3.  The dancing is just right for this type of movie, in that it doesn't overwhelm with technical virtuosity in the way that Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly always seemed to be dancers trying to act (this movie is the reverse), and it shows how well non professional dancers can do if they practice enough.  I think it makes the viewer feel capable of sharing in dance, too, even if it's never attempted.

It's not a perfect film - personally, I think the final interaction between Stone and Gosling should have been more intense, and some of the music tends to the bland.  Would I have been happier with a less melancholy story?  Perhaps, but it is what it is, to quote from the recent episodes of Sherlock.

It's well worth seeing.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

More leaking - like a sieve

Isn't it truly remarkable that a recording of a behind closed doors Republican meeting (dealing with the huge practical difficulties of repealing Obamacare) should be leaked to the Washington Post, so early in this administration?

There is some internal turmoil going on in that party, the extent of which will no doubt be the subject of many future books.

The last Sherlock

We watched the last Sherlock last night.

Many readers from The Guardian didn't like it.  I thought it wasn't too bad, actually.  Rather too James Bond in the settings (both the prison island, and then the house surely reminded people of Skyfall?). Thematically, it reminded me a bit of a minor Graham Greene novel too - Doctor Fischer of Geneva.

It was all very improbable all round, of course, but improbable done with good intensity and directorial flare, most of the time.   (The shot of the jump out of the Baker Street flat was very poor, though.)

I would be happy to see the show continue, actually, now that its biggest mistake - the silly story arc of Mary - is well and truly gone, as is Moriarty.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Only took a week...

I'm a bit surprised that the Trump sit down interview of a couple of days ago, in which he continued obsessing about his popularity, has not gained more immediate international attention for the worrying signs it displayed about Trump's basic psychological state.  Obviously, you don't want a guy with control of a stockpile of nuclear weapons to be one who is impervious to facts and capable of such self aggrandising obsessions.

But it's clear that a huge part of the problem is the people around him - particularly the unhealthy looking Stephen Bannon, who is obviously either behind, or completely supportive of, Trump's paranoia with how the media presents him.  Here he is, quoted by the NYT:
“The elite media got it dead wrong, 100 percent dead wrong,” Mr. Bannon said of the election, calling it “a humiliating defeat that they will never wash away, that will always be there.”

“The mainstream media has not fired or terminated anyone associated with following our campaign,” Mr. Bannon said. “Look at the Twitter feeds of those people: they were outright activists of the Clinton campaign.” (He did not name specific reporters or editors.)

“That’s why you have no power,” Mr. Bannon added. “You were humiliated.”

“The media should be embarrassed and humiliated and keep its mouth shut and just listen for a while,” 

“I want you to quote this,” Mr. Bannon added. “The media here is the opposition party. They don’t understand this country. They still do not understand why Donald Trump is the president of the United States.”
Yes, just what you want.  An unstable, vindictive culture warrior who won't accept that the Trump victory was, in fact, very narrow, advising a vain, insecure man-child who stumbled into a presidency he didn't really expect.

Are Republican politicians worried about Trump?  According to Carl Bernstein, some are:
Bernstein said discussions going on in Washington this week were “unlike anything I have seen in 50 years as a reporter”.

“I am hearing from Republicans, and other reporters are as well, that there is open discussion by members of the President of the United States’ own party about his emotional maturity, stability,” he said.
Are Right wing commentators in Australia commenting about this at all?   Of course not - the likes of Andrew Bolt and Tim Blair are still just concentrating on how bad Lefties are for the extremely low level of protest violence and making some nasty signs about the Pres.   God knows how they would have coped in the truly violent hothouse political and social environment of the US in the late 60's and 70's. 

I have been writing for years that, as a pretty safe rule of thumb,  if anyone remains a climate change denialist, their judgement on pretty much anything else can't be trusted.

Well, this has been supplanted by a even more reliable rule:   if a person can't see the danger in Donald Trump's behaviour and statements, he or she is just blinded by culture war foolishness and is completely unreliable on all matters requiring sound judgement. 

Thursday, January 26, 2017

My suggestion for a new Australia Day date

I'm starting to think that, like 1950's Catholic CL, Sinclair Davidson is man living in the wrong era - he's a throw back to somewhere, probably pre-war England?  (Don't get me started on dover beach - he's an escapee from the 13th century.) 
I say this because the way he writes, he seems regretful about missing out on historical chances to physically be able to put the boot into Leftists; perhaps he's a re-incarnation of some upper middle class Englishman in a suit, out on the street to try to wallop unionists during the General Strike.

Not for the first time, I also find his meaning unclear.   Writing on Ian McFarlanes' opinion that we should just go and change the date we celebrate Australia Day, he says "caving in to lefty demands is always and everywhere a mistake" while simultaneously acknowledging there are some good arguments for moving it.   So good arguments should never win if they are held by "Leftists" who will be seen to be getting their way if you agree?  He probably doesn't mean that, but his clarity is, as is often the case, missing.

In any event, his silly post has encouraged me to look around at potential alternative dates for Australia Day, and there is a list at SBS of various dates that have been proposed, and their reasons.

Of course, the obvious one (1 January, when the nation became official) is out for the simple of expediency of it already being a holiday, and one with too many hangovers to do any nationalistic ceremonies.

But it has occurred to me - if Anzac Day is now considered a remembrance of the day the nation first felt all grown up, but it of itself cannot bear a further burden of celebration, why not just make the next day - April 26 - a follow up holiday where we celebrate the nation that it had become?  (I see that candy at Catallaxy has come close to that - suggesting that Anzac Day be beefed up into also being Australia Day - but I can't see that working.)

As far as I can tell, there is nothing of particular significance one way or the other to make people question the date for having a particular partisanship to one group or another  - which is the problem with going for things like changing it to the date that aboriginals got certain rights.

The benefit - we get two public holidays in a row - this alone will convince many it is a worthy change.

The only downside - it may fall too close to Easter some years.  But hey, we can handle that.

...makes it harder to believe she won't be around

The post title refers to both:

a.  the current use of a slowed down version of "Flame Trees" on a road safety ad on TV here at the moment.  I can't find a link to it, which is odd.  Are all songs capable of haunting melancholia if the tempo is slowed appropriately?   I don't know - but I think it's remarkably effective.


b.  the death of Mary Tyler Moore.    I've long said her 70's show is the best long running sitcom  ever made,  both funny and endearing because of the realism of the characters.  (OK, Ted pushed the boundaries of realism, although I am sure I have read of media insiders who disagree.)   It also showed a sense of balance about how life was changing - I thought the way in which Lou Grant's wife left him, not out of anything he had done wrong, but just out of a feeling that for her own growth she needed it, was a particularly poignant example of the more-or-less unintended hurt that women's inevitable increasing independence could cause.  And Mary herself could be a bit depressed about her lack of long, deep relationships - do you remember the scene where she did a mental calculation of the huge number of "dates" she had been on since she was 17?  I wonder though - that obit from the NYT I linked to calls her character "neurotic":  I wouldn't say that, and I wonder if the obit is attracting criticism for it?

I only have the vaguest memories of her on the Dick Van Dyke show, but it was a popular in our household in the 1960's, and I do remember enjoying it. 

With the importance of her shows from a feminist perspective, it's some sort of irony that she has died at the start of a period of retro anti-feminism  under Trump and Republican dominated congress.   I'm not impressed by the crassness of some young comedians (or aging rock stars) who give the impression that  sexual promiscuity is to them to be the most important aspect of modern feminism, but I hope Moore took some encouragement from the women's marches last weekend.   (I assume she was a Democrat voter - I would be dismayed if she wasn't!)  I also hope she can come and haunt the ghastly Kellyanne Conway, whose role in Trump promotion is a betrayal to her gender, not to mention Catholicism.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Leaks and lies

Yes, it isn't surprising that there is confirmation that Trump himself pushed his press secretary to come out lying about how many people were at (or watched) the inauguration;  but what is surprising is the apparent number of White House insiders who have been leaking to the media so soon after the inauguration.

 As for the reason Trump would do this - Tyler Cowan's Bloomberg column is getting a lot of attention, and deservedly so:
By requiring subordinates to speak untruths, a leader can undercut their independent standing, including their standing with the public, with the media and with other members of the administration. That makes those individuals grow more dependent on the leader and less likely to mount independent rebellions against the structure of command. Promoting such chains of lies is a classic tactic when a leader distrusts his subordinates and expects to continue to distrust them in the future.

Another reason for promoting lying is what economists sometimes call loyalty filters. If you want to ascertain if someone is truly loyal to you, ask them to do something outrageous or stupid. If they balk, then you know right away they aren’t fully with you. That too is a sign of incipient mistrust within the ruling clique, and it is part of the same worldview that leads Trump to rely so heavily on family members.

In this view, loyalty tests are especially frequent for new hires and at the beginning of new regimes, when the least is known about the propensities of subordinates. You don’t have to view President Trump as necessarily making a lot of complicated calculations, rather he may simply be replicating tactics that he found useful in his earlier business and media careers.
 But read the whole thing...

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Against pill testing

Those of a libertarian bent tend to support the idea of pill testing at places where youth gather to do things like listen to doof doof  music so tedious that they must take mind altering illicit drugs in order to enjoy it for more than 10 minutes.  

Yet, as I have seen argued before, this is a position motivated more by ideology than evidence that pill testing is effective.  [I'd link to my previous post about it, if only Google wasn't so pathetic in its erratic indexing of this blog.]

The latest article explaining this was at the SMH today.   Basically, the testing is far from being very accurate, and even if does identify a substance that is safe at small doses, it can't tell what the dose is.

Sounds pretty convincing to me, even if I have an ideological position against recreational drugs generally.

Silly trivia

On the one hand, when we went through an election campaign in which Trumpkin wingnuttery was full of things like slowed down video of Clinton allegedly having seizures, and a minder who was supposed to be walking around with an injector in hand, ready to sedate her at a moment's notice, I'm inclined to cut the anti Trump side a bit of slack when it comes to their now obsessing over silly things like Melania Trump's facial expression at one point of the inauguration.

But really, to be overanalysing her, and young Barron Trump, is really below the media, including Slate, isn't it?

If he didn't hold the fate of the planet in his hands, I would agree that maybe he is worth the comedy

Monday, January 23, 2017

The double slit with a twist: an important quantum experiment?

Just browsing through arXiv, as you do when there is not much on TV, and found a paper from last week by a group of Chinese researchers which sounds very significant.  Here's the abstract:
Are quantum states real? How to think about this the most important, most fundamental and most profound question in quantum mechanics still has not been satisfactorily resolved, although its realistic interpretation seems to have been rejected by various delayed-choice experiments. The heart of the matter comes down to what can describe physical reality if wavefunctions cannot. Here, to address this long-standing issue, we present a quantum twisted double-slit experiment, in which orbital angular momentum degree-of-freedom is employed to 'mark' the double slits (mimicked by spatial light modulators). Besides providing a which-slit observation interface, by exploiting the variable arrival time ascribed to the subluminal feature of twisted photons, the behavior of a photon during its time in flight is revealed for the first time. We found that the arrival time of photons does not accord with the states obtained in measurements, but agree well with the theoretical predictions calculated from their wavefunctions during the propagation. Our results demonstrate that wavefunctions describes a realistic manner of quantum entities' existence and evolution rather than only a mathematical abstraction for only providing a probability list of measurement outcomes. This finding makes an important update in understanding the role of wavefunctions in the evolution of quantum entities, inspires a new insight on nonlocality and wave-particle duality, and reminds us there is a neglected powerful resource for quantum science needing revisit.
As is common in such papers, the introduction and (this time) even the conclusion are fairly comprehensible, and you don't have to follow the maths in between.  Here's their surprising conclusion:

The cartoon they refer to is this:

I'm guessing that there might be a dispute over their interpretation of their experiment, but we'll see.  I'd be a bit surprised if this doesn't make it into science journalism soon...

Inadequate Google blog searching, revisited

Why does this happen???

This morning I noted how I couldn't find a post I was sure I had made here using Google Advanced search (wherein I searched the word "tempura" in my blog site - both www.opiniondominion.blogspot.com  and www.opiniondominion.blogspot.com.au.  I also dropped the "www", in case that made a difference.  I tried other words I thought likely in the post too, such as "batter").

Nothing came up.  Nothing came up when I tried it last night, too.

Nothing came up trying Bing.

I had to resort to doing a word search in a backup copy of the entire blog (opening the .xml backup file in Notepad.)

And here it is:   the post from 2015 - a fairly lengthy post which uses "tempura" many times, even in the title, not to mention "batter".

Having found the post on the backup, I even tested Google Advanced Search by cutting and pasting the short sentence  "The history of tempura as a Japanese mainstay is interesting" and told it just to search the blog address - and still nothing.

Why does this happen??

I still see in a site counter I sometimes check, for example, that someone has visited the blog because they searched "lucky snakes", and I had a post of that title many years ago.   I can also Google (not even Advanced Google) for "ox tail opinion dominion" or similarly for "paella" and I can get the posts I made where I have recorded recipes.

So why is Google so erratically unreliable about search within a Blogger blog?   Even using Advanced Search???

I've been complaining about this for years - and I am puzzled as to why it happens.

Very witty

Following on from the lying (and pro-Life Catholic - the prime example of the disgraceful low standards of conservative Catholics in supporting Trump) Kellyanne Conway's  comments yesterday,  this has appeared on twitter:

Cleaning up the vomit story

I did enjoy this lengthy explanation of the rise of the belief that Ancient Romans would use a "vomitorium" while feasting.

Pet rat problem

Eight people who worked at several rat-breeding facilities in Illinois and Wisconsin have been infected with a virus not commonly found in the United States, federal health officials said Friday. This is the first known outbreak of Seoul virus associated with pet rats in the United States, although there have been several outbreaks in wild rats, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Seoul virus is a member of the Hantavirus family of rodent-borne viruses and is carried by wild Norway rats worldwide. Most rats infected with the virus do not appear sick.

People typically become infected when they are exposed to body fluids (blood, saliva, urine) from infected rats or are bitten by them. People can't get the virus from other people or from other types of pets, the CDC said in a news release.

Symptoms of Seoul virus infection in people include fever, severe headache, back and abdominal pain, chills, blurred vision, eye redness and rash. In rare cases, infection can lead to kidney disease. Most people infected with the virus recover, according to the CDC.
Link:  8 people infected in rare U.S. outbreak of rat virus

Update:  in defence of rats, don't forget how many people are seriously affected by cat scratch disease in the US each year:
...although it was extremely rare, each year about 12,000 people are diagnosed with cat-scratch disease, and of these, 500 require hospitalization. These incidences were highest in the U.S. southern states and in households with children aged 5 to 9. 

The lost post

I'm curious - do any of my vast number of regular readers (ha) remember a post here in the last 18 months or so in which I talked about cooking tempura for the first time?   I feel certain I posted about it - including the simple recipe I ended up following despite the many variations on the net.

Yet I can't successfully find any reference to tempura here via Google Advanced Search, blog search, or even Bing.

I tried tempura again last night, and it was not as successful - I blame not being able to find my own post about it.

Not right in the head - in three parts

1.  Dimitrious Gargasoulas, the guy who went on the shocking killing rampage on Friday in his car in Melbourne.   The Daily Mail has a run down on his recent Facebook entries, all of which indicate he had been ranting and obviously mentally unwell for sometime.  Friends are quoted saying he was seriously drug addled by ice; the police knew him from a violent past.  The Facebook entries indicate some religious element to his derangement, but none of the entries indicate it was Islamic.    If anything, they in fact indicate he thought he was following an esoteric Kurdish, pre-Islamic religion.

2. The people who comment at Catallaxy.   If a random attack first appears that it might be Islamic terrorism, there is no persuading them, ever, that it wasn't.   Their compelling evidence - the one tourist witness who was on video saying that Gargasoulas was yelling "allah akhbar" from his car.   Oddly, it seems no other witness has come forward to confirm it, nor is there any phone video around to back it up.  Gargasoulas was yelling and ranting, and his actions did resemble some recent overseas Islamic terrorism: doesn't it seem to reasonable people at least possible - maybe even likely - that the tourist mistakenly thought he heard the phrase?  The only other evidence - a friend quoted by the Daily Mail saying that Gargasoulas had recently "converted to Islam."   Yet, the Facebook rants don't support that, at all. There has been no one saying he has ever stepped foot into a mosque.

But the high functioning fools of Catallaxy - for that is what most of them are - latched onto "it's Islamic terrorism" and won't let go.   Even the weirdo Fisk - who I have not been able to make sense of for years - is seeming to play some sort of anti-immigration game with this.

In any event, even if it were later proved that he had yelled what the tourist thought he did -  if every religion is supposed to be responsible for the killings of its clearly mentally ill so-called converts, I'd like to know how many Christian or Catholic "terrorists" there have been over the years.  

3.  David Leyonhjelm:  I've said before he seems to me to be kind of depressed since the last election, probably because all of the Senate balance of power attention has switched to One Nation and Xenophon.  But he is a deeply foolish man - one who doesn't have normal sensibilities and constantly seems to seek controversy for the sake of attention - to do what he did on Friday

When China sounds more reasonable than America

A short post (well, they are all short) at Axios noted that Steven Bannon thought it a good idea to compare Trump's speech to that of China's president Xi Jinping at Davos.

Who knows why he thought that, when Xi sounds like the one being modern, reasonable, and moral:

Here's Trump today:

For many decades, we've enriched foreign industry at the expense of American industry; subsidized the armies of other countries while allowing for the very sad depletion of our military; we've defended other nation's borders while refusing to defend our own; and spent trillions of dollars overseas while America's infrastructure has fallen into disrepair and decay. We've made other countries rich while the wealth, strength, and confidence of our country has disappeared over the horizon. One by one, the factories shuttered and left our shores, with not even a thought about the millions upon millions of American workers left behind. The wealth of our middle class has been ripped from their homes and then redistributed across the entire world.

And here's Xi on Tuesday:

We should commit ourselves to growing an open global economy to share opportunities and interests through opening-up and achieve win-win outcomes. One should not just retreat to the harbor when encountering a storm, for this will never get us to the other shore of the ocean. We must redouble efforts to develop global connectivity to enable all countries to achieve inter-connected growth and share prosperity. We must remain committed to developing global free trade and investment, promote trade and investment liberalization and facilitation through opening-up and say no to protectionism.
And by the way: isn't it very odd that Republicans (or at least, Trump Republicans) should be concerned about infrastructure, when it's their combination of lower taxes and "must balance the budget" that set up the country for decreasing spend on infrastructure in the first place?  (OK, I am assuming that's the story here - I don't have the links at hand to prove it. Oh alright, I'll Google it for this piece last year in The Atlantic:
To get a sense of Ryan’s pre-election view of the infrastructure question, however, consider his response when The Atlantic’s Ronald Brownstein asked, during the Washington Ideas Forum in late September, whether he would help Trump pass “a $550 billion, or more, infrastructure program.” Ryan laughed loudly and slapped his hand on the arm rest of his chair. “That’s not in the ‘Better Way’ agenda,” the speaker replied, referring the six-point plan he and other House GOP lawmakers unveiled earlier this year as their campaign platform. “Just so you know, we just passed the biggest highway bill since the 1990s.”

After years of delays and stopgap bills, Congress did approve a six-year, $305 billion highway bill last December, but the Obama administration and advocates for infrastructure investment considered the legislation woefully short of the amount needed to bring the nation’s roads and bridges into good repair. Before the 2009 stimulus, infrastructure had enjoyed mostly bipartisan support on Capitol Hill. But while there remain a solid number of Republican lawmakers who want to increase spending on transportation and other upkeep, the hurdle in recent years has been finding a way to pay for it. Congress has not raised the gas tax in more than two decades, and ideas to finance infrastructure in other ways have not gone far.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

New media outlet worth watching

I see that new American on line news outlet Axios has started.  (It only came to my attention via noticing Jonathan Swan on twitter said he was starting there.)

The background to this start up is here.  I like the description: 
What Axios is trying to do is occupy the space that VandeHei feels The New York Times and The Economist could have commanded if they weren’t tethered to their old print roots. He has joked with potential investors that Axios is best described as what you get if the “Economist mated with Twitter,” and “smartly narrated all the good stuff its own reporters missed,” according to someone familiar with the conversation.
The article notes that the plan is ultimately to make money from subscriptions, but it's all free at the moment.

Worth following, I think...

The bad reviews are in

For the inauguration, of course.   Some of the columns are pretty good:

*  George Wills' review in the Washington Post had perhaps the most succinct title:

And I thought it was pretty witty in its withering assessment:
 Living down to expectations, he had delivered the most dreadful inaugural address in history.

Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s White House counselor, had promised that the speech would be “elegant.” This is not the adjective that came to mind as he described “American carnage.” That was a phrase the likes of which has never hitherto been spoken at an inauguration.

Oblivious to the moment and the setting, the always remarkable Trump proved that something dystopian can be strangely exhilarating: In what should have been a civic liturgy serving national unity and confidence, he vindicated his severest critics by serving up reheated campaign rhetoric about “rusted out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape” and an education system producing students “deprived of all knowledge.” Yes, all.

But cheer up, because the carnage will vanish if we “follow two simple rules: Buy American and hire American.” “Simple” is the right word.
*  For a much less amusing, but very worthy take down of Trump, I strongly recommend William Saletan's article at Slate:

Saletan starts by noting the ridiculous tweet by Trump, trying to look serious, pretending he is writing the inauguration speech:
He writes:
A normal president doesn’t do this. He doesn’t assert authorship of speeches and fake a picture of himself writing them. At what ought to be the apex of his popularity and grace, Trump is still groping for praise, even for a speech that was supposed to be about other people.
But the real reason the column is so good is because of the comparison Saletan makes with the inauguration speeches George W Bush gave after he won against Al Gore.  Given that I have some history of defending the character and actions of Bush, it pleases me to be reminded why I thought Bush was a decent man:
Bush continued this emphasis on humility in his inaugural address. He introduced America as a “slaveholding society,” a land of “flawed and fallible people united across the generations by grand and enduring ideals.” He warned of the persistence of “hidden prejudice.” He praised mosques for cultivating humanity. He said America’s role in the world was to “protect but not possess, to defend but not to conquer.” He rejected the notion that “our politics can afford to be petty.” He stressed the importance of “private character,” “civic duty,” and “unhonored acts of decency.”
Trump’s week has been nothing like that. On Twitter, he insulted NBC, CNN, “the Democrats,” and the director of the CIA. He branded Hillary Clinton a criminal. He called Rep. John Lewis, who was beaten for his courage in the civil rights movement, a liar who’s “all talk … no action.” (Trump also said Lewis should stick to fixing “crime infested inner-cities.”) Meanwhile, Trump retweeted a picture of himself as “golfer-in-chief” and quoted a supporter who said it’s not Trump's fault that America is divided.
Saletan ends with these withering (sorry to repeat the adjective, but there is hardly one better) paragraphs:
On Friday, a morally empty man gave a morally empty speech. There was no talk of humility, no acknowledgment of enduring prejudice, no plea for decency. Instead, Trump railed against foreigners and “a small group in our nation’s capital” that “has reaped the rewards of government.” In place of Bush’s praise for mosques, Trump spoke of Islam only as a source of terrorism. The man who ran on a platform of “take the oil” fumed that American wealth had been “redistributed all across the world.” He accused countries of “stealing our companies and destroying our jobs.”
This is why Trump is unworthy of your respect. It’s not because he didn’t win the popular vote. It’s not because of his party or his policies. It’s not because of Russia. It’s because of who he is. For all his faults, even those that turned out to be disastrous, Bush was a decent man. He believed in something greater than himself. Trump doesn’t.
 *  For a bit of snarky comedy, you can then read an account of the apparently poorly organised inaugural balls, also at Slate.  For exampe:
So what did I learn about Donald Trump’s inaugural balls after two hours’ worth of circling around outside of them? As I suspect will soon become a theme of Trump’s presidency, they overpromised and underdelivered. And they didn’t even really overpromise! Any ball that starts at 7 p.m. and features Tony Orlando cannot be said to have overpromised anything. I cannot confirm that the balls themselves were lame, but the lines were certainly long, and the people standing in them were cold and angry, though that also might just be their resting state.
*  Trump is today taking a pounding for his rambling, inappropriate comments to the CIA:
Trump then rambled—as if this were a campaign rally instead of a morale-boosting speech in front of the agency’s most sacred spot—about how smart he is (citing as proof the fact that a brilliant uncle taught at MIT) and about how he’s been on the cover of Time magazine more often than anybody. (In fact, the title is held by Richard Nixon, which says something about what gets a president on a lot Time magazine covers.)
He also said things that must have baffled many of the 300 CIA employees who gathered for the visit, came in on a day off to see their new boss. He repeated the line, which he’d uttered many times during the campaign, that we should have “taken the oil” in Iraq (a notion that is politically daft, economically unnecessary, and militarily all-but-impossible) and that maybe we’ll have the opportunity to do so now. He also said that he suspected most of the people in the room voted for him in the election—a comment that, whether true or not, is appallingly inappropriate to make to intelligence analysts, who pride themselves on their independence and fear political encroachment above all else.
He's off to a flying start, to his failure, then...

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Diagnosing America

I see that the erudite Peter Whiteford has re-tweeted about the Niskanen Centre, indicating that he agrees that it's a good site for "bleeding heart" libertarianism.  I have looked at something there before, some time ago, but can't remember what, and thought it looked OK.  I think it was on climate change, now that I think of it.   But it does call itself "libertarian", so I'm sure it's objectionable in one way or another.

Anyway, another specific link to it by Whiteford is to a lengthy piece by Will Wilkinson looking at the various explanations for social and political division in America at the moment.  I think it's not bad, but I have some reservations.  The best paragraphs are these:
It has become conventional wisdom in some circles that “the elites” and “the people” are divided by cultural and informational “bubbles” that offer incompatible perspectives on the facts of the world and the nature of a good society, and thus regard each other with mutual distrust and contempt. All this demographic complexity aside, the conventional wisdom that there is a widening cultural gap between “the people” and “the elites,” and that the rise of populist nationalism is due to backlash against “the establishment,” contains more than a grain of truth. But we need to get much clearer about what exactly that truth is. 
Because “the establishment” (including the Republican political establishment) is relatively cosmopolitan and liberal (in the broad sense), an outpouring of populist anti-establishment sentiment is going to assume a nationalistic, illiberal form more or less by default. The good news is that anti-elite anybody-but-Hillary-ism doesn’t really imply serious public appetite for anything like alt-right authoritarianism. The bad news is that the liberal-democratic capitalist welfare state and the so-called “neoliberal” global order is far and away the best humanity has ever done, and we’ve taken it for granted. We could very well trash it in a fit of pique, and wind up a middle-income kleptocracy boiling with civil strife and/or destabilize the global order in a way that ends in utter horror.

It is very important to keep this from happening!
Further down in the article, Wilkinson relies a lot on the Cato Freedom index (which actually ranks Australia very highly internationally - take that, whining Australian libertarian types); but to be honest, I don't know how reliable that index really is.   I tend not to trust anything from Cato.

Wilkinson also looks briefly at rising inequality in America, and he seems to have a somewhat more nuanced view than the average libertarian (who doesn't give a toss) in that he says that rising inequality per se is not a problem, as long as poverty is being lifted by deliberate policy action at the same time.  (I think that's where he differs from other libertarians, who may argue that the rising tide lifts all boats anyway.  Wilkinson seems realistic enough to not trust that unfettered capitalism works that way - government policy is needed too.)

That seems to be his position, as he links back to an 2009 piece he wrote which says:
There is little evidence that high levels of income inequality lead down a slippery slope to the destruction of democracy and rule by the rich. The unequal political voice of the poor can be addressed only through policies that actually work to fight poverty and improve education. Income inequality is a dangerous distraction from the real problems: poverty, lack of economic opportunity, and systemic injustice.
 What I don't see there is reference to social mobility:  that was supposed to be the deal with America, wasn't it? - they have a system with pathetic minimum wages, for example, but everyone knew that they were just the first stepping stone that people used to build up to a comfortable life income.   But as been noted recently, this isn't happening so much in the US any more.  In The Atlantic:

It’s not an exaggeration: It really is getting harder to move up in America. Those who make very little money in their first jobs will probably still be making very little decades later, and those who start off making middle-class wages have similarly limited paths. Only those who start out at the top are likely to continue making good money throughout their working lives.

That’s the conclusion of a new paper by Michael D. Carr and Emily E. Wiemers, two economists at the University of Massachusetts in Boston. In the paper, Carr and Wiemers used earnings data to measure how fluidly people move up and down the income ladder over the course of their careers. “It is increasingly the case that no matter what your educational background is, where you start has become increasingly important for where you end,” Carr told me. “The general amount of movement around the distribution has decreased by a statistically significant amount.”
 And here's another article from The Atlantic in 2015:

America Is Even Less Socially Mobile Than Most Economists Thought

Maybe Wilkinson has written about social mobility before (and I admit, I haven't read his 2009 article.)  But unless he does, I'll be a bit skeptical about his thoughts on inequality.  

Finally, one graphic in the Wilkinson article is really good, I think.  It shows economic output according to regions.  Here it is:

Interesting how the highest economic output is clearly from such Democrat dominated regions.  The highlight of Republican low tax, low regulation policies seems to come down pretty much to only Texas.   The importance of Republican policy to regional (and national) economic health looks particularly weak, when you look at it that way...

Prisma shows its feelings about Trump

The effect is rather "David Icke", no? Feels true to his inner character, though...

Friday, January 20, 2017

The Chinese threat

...to the big mobile phone manufacturers, that is.

The Australian had a bit of a puff piece this week about the increasing success of a few Chinese mobile phone makers - Oppo, Huawei and ZTE.   I'm interested in Oppo, because I brought my daughter an Optus F1s at Christmas (for $249 - they cost $318 unlocked) and she is very happy with it.  I can barely pry it out of her hands, but from what I can see, it is good, especially at the price. 

Here's what the article said:
Having topped China’s smartphone market for the first time in mid-2016, Oppo rides high. The Shenzhen-headquartered phone maker launched here in late 2014, selling a paltry 3000 units. In 2015 it sold 30,000, and last year more than 150,000. It’s small when compared to Apple, but Oppo sees the momentum working for it. It says its Australian market share last year had climbed to 1.7 per cent, up from 0.3 per cent in 2015.
As long as you don't mind the Chinese government listening in on all of your calls (I'm joking), their phones are going to continue increasing market share, I think.

As for my allegiance to Samsung - I am still finding my TabS from a couple of years ago to be flawless, and it makes all other screens look pretty pathetic, even on their newer cheaper Tab A's that they sell as an entry tablet.  But in mobile phones, they really do seem to be bringing out too many models, if you ask me. 

More For the Record

Comes from here:
It really shows up Tillerson's "we don't really know what models we can rely on - they predict different things" line as being a pure lukewarmer avoidance tactic. (Even though he does say that Exxon had decided there was a serious risk.)

Neat graphic

I just saw this on twitter - don't know who created it; don't know if it's true.  But I'll take the risk on this one:

How many liberals are feeling today...

Climate change and tobacco, again

Remember back in September I posted about a famous statistician who went to his grave arguing against the (then recent) medical conclusion that smoking caused lung cancer?   No?  - well you should go read it.

I noted at the end how Fisher's story reflected very much what had happened with climate change:  
A science consensus emerges and is widely publicised - a mere handful of credible scientists (well, I assume Fisher might have had some supporters) spend the end of their careers arguing that everybody else is wrong; it's not proved; it could be something else no one else has conclusively ruled out, etc.   Then cranky contrarians die, and everybody else gets on with what was always correct.
Which leads me to a lengthy blog post that talks about the criteria the tobacco researchers used to conclude that smoking really was the cause, not just a co-relation, of lung cancer.

I don't recognize the name of the author - Seth Miller - but he tells a really convincing story here:

What climate skeptics taught me about global warming.   Do read.

Of course, as usual, I expect that the people who most need to read it will not.   

Thursday, January 19, 2017

About China

I've stumbled across a few different articles about China today:

a review of a book (by a Chinese author who stumbled across the story) recently translated into English  about one appalling (and little known) massacre during the Cultural Revolution: 
For several weeks in August and September 1967, more than nine thousand people were murdered in this region. The epicenter of the killings was Dao County (Daoxian), which the Xiao River bisects on its way north. About half the victims were killed in this district of four hundred thousand people, some clubbed to death and thrown into limestone pits, others tossed into cellars full of sweet potatoes where they suffocated. Many were tied together in bundles around a charge of quarry explosives. These victims were called “homemade airplanes” because their body parts flew over the fields. But most victims were simply bludgeoned to death with agricultural tools—hoes, carrying poles, and rakes—and then tossed into the waterways that flow into the Xiao.

In the county seat of Daozhou, observers on the shoreline counted one hundred corpses flowing past per hour. Children danced along the banks competing to find the most bodies. Some were bound together with wire strung through their collarbones, their swollen carcasses swirling in daisy chains downstream, their eyes and lips already eaten away by fish. Eventually the cadavers’ progress was halted by the Shuangpai dam where they clogged the hydropower generators. It took half a year to clear the turbines and two years before locals would eat fish again.

For decades, these murders have been a little-known event in China. When mentioned at all, they tended to be explained away as individual actions that spun out of control during the heat of the Cultural Revolution—the decade-long campaign launched by Mao Zedong in 1966 to destroy enemies and achieve a utopia. Dao County was portrayed as remote, backward, and poor. The presence of the non-Chinese Yao minority there was also sometimes mentioned as a racist way of explaining what happened: those minorities, some Han Chinese say, are only half civilized anyway, and who knows what they might do when the authorities aren’t looking?

All of these explanations are wrong. Dao County is a center of Chinese civilization, the birthplace of great philosophers and calligraphers. The killers were almost all Chinese who murdered other Chinese. And the killings were not random: instead they were acts of genocide aimed at eliminating a class of people declared to be subhuman. That class consisted of make-believe landlords, nonexistent spies, and invented insurrectionists. Far from being the work of frenzied peasants, the killings were organized by committees of Communist Party cadres in the region’s towns, who ordered the murders to be carried out in remote areas. To make sure revenge would be difficult, officials ordered the slaughter of entire families, including infants.
* An interview with the author of the book indicates he has had his eyes open about the nature of the Chinese communism:
To speak frankly, in the past I didn’t really understand the Communist Party and its peasant revolution. It was like a blockage in my thinking. But suddenly in a short period of time my thinking became clear.

What triggered this understanding?
I’d kept asking one question: Had any one of the 9,000 people killed in the region been planning a counterrevolutionary event or said something unlawful? In the end the answer was: No.

Not one?
Not one. There wasn’t one who was counter-revolutionary in thoughts or deeds. Not one said anything against the revolution. They found a lot of cases of “counterrevolutionaries” and they killed them all, but they were all fake. When I understood this, I was heartbroken. I began to realize that the Party had a history of violence. Already in 1928 it organized violent peasant revolts that killed masses of people. And land reform [shortly after the Party took power in 1949] was incredibly violent. It was one mass killing after another. All of a sudden it became clear. There was no justification for what happened. It was just terror. 
So I felt that situation really needed me. I had to write it. All those people [survivors, family members, and reform-minded government officials] who gave me information, I had pledged to them that I wasn’t taking this for personal gain, but for our children and grandchildren’s descendants—so that a massacre wouldn’t happen again.


The killers were all young. You wrote that most were in their twenties. Were they brainwashed by the Maoist propaganda?
Yes. The young people kept talking about exploitation by the landlord class. But for all this talk, all the exploitation was by the same four landlords: Huang Shiren, Zhou Bapi, Liu Wencai, Nan Batian. [Four landlords whose alleged crimes were constantly repeated by Communist Party propaganda across the nation in movies, posters, and textbooks.] And it turned out that their crimes were all fake. But this is all they knew and they thought that anyone who owned any land in China was a horrible landlord who deserved to die. In fact, the people who owned land were mostly just the country’s middle class. Especially in Hunan, big landlords were very rare. But they were all classified as landlords. They were declared to be subhuman, and when the orders came down, people found it easy to kill them. They had been conditioned to think of them as not human.

But this is all half a century ago. Things have changed.
No. It is rooted in this soil. Around the time of the [1989] Tiananmen Square massacre I raved about this at a meeting and put it like this: I said that according to my research the Communists were triumphant not because the Nationalists [their opponents in the civil war] were backward; it was because the Communists were even more backward. Their brutality and backwardness allowed them to succeed. The Nationalists still had a few enlightened ideas so they lost.
*  Finally, a philosophy professor talks about Confucianism's rejection and its partial revival in China:
In China, Confucianism was devastated by the Cultural Revolution, which was very much anti-Confucian, even though now they try to restore some Confucian values. I don’t think xiao [filial piety] is included in socialist core values. But it is coming back in civil society in terms of parental relationships.

In your view then, it’s not a case of Orientalist thinking to attribute Chinese behavior to Confucianism?
If we look at the world in terms of value orientations, then not only China but also the rest of that region has been characterized as the Confucian world. Although in Japan, the idea of loyalty is much more pronounced than that of filial piety.

Precisely because China was obsessed with the idea of being overwhelmed by Japan aggressiveness, China wanted to become wealthy and powerful, and many believed that getting rid of Confucian tradition was a precondition for becoming powerful. The discourse was that Confucianism is incompatible with modern ideas of ethics or the dignity of individuals. And the revolutionary Red Guards attacked Confucianism time and time again, though it continued to be developed in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, Japan, Korea. But this has all changed now, and we’re entering a new era where many of the positive Confucian values can be underscored. Right now, there’s this new view that China is going through a kind of Confucian revival. A revival is a double-edged sword that can very easily be politicized by the government as a method of political control, but it also has much broader implications as well.

Why do some people think Confucianism is incompatible with progress?
That is a tradition that started in 1919, with the New Cultural Movement, and what I call all these Enlightenment values of the West, even though there’s a lot of debate about the abusive use of some of these values. We have Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, and Confucian values, and the argument was that religious forms are not compatible. But I think that phase is already over, and people today have more sophisticated ideas about human development, that it’s not just a matter of having a higher GDP. So right now in China, very few insist that the Confucian tradition is incompatible with progress. As properly understood and properly practiced, Confucian values become even more congenial to human development. Some narrow and nationalistic ideas have also surfaced based on this. My view is that Confucianism must adapt itself to human values, and that the abusive use of power by neoliberal economies could be corrected by a much broader vision of human flourishing. Issues of proper governance, moral order, and the financial regulatory system are all a part of the story. The role of government, for example, the role of leadership, all these are relevant issues.

Population increase

Hey monty - I see you have a new baby.  Just like my family - a son and a daughter a couple of years apart. 

Congratulations - the second one is easier, too.

Re-calculation requested

With the figures for 2016 in, I am reminded - I don't think that Sinclair Davidson has done the "Phil Jones" test on global warming since 2013 on his climate change denial site Catallaxy.  

Not that the test was ever important - it was always a clear cherry pick latched onto by climate change denialists - but it would indicate a degree of honesty if the good Professor would update us on the exercise that he used for propaganda purposes for (I think) several years...

Or would it throw him out of the Catallaxy culture club to do so?  (Yes, it would.)  

Yes, wealth disparities are pretty big

I haven't paid too much attention to the Oxfam claims about wealth distribution (you know, that 8 men control the same wealth as the poorest 50% of the world), but Peter Whiteford has looked at the criticisms of the methodology and notes this:
Critics of these figures point to two main issues. Firstly, the Credit Suisse figures calculate wealth as assets minus debts, so the bottom 1 per cent of the world wealth distribution actually have a negative net worth.

But people with negative net worth can include students, with student debts but who are about to enter a high paying job and people who have just purchased a house and whose equity is less than the mortgage outstanding. Should these people be counted as impoverished?

Oxfam directly addresses this issue, pointing out that if you take out net debt then the wealth of the bottom 50 per cent rises from around US$400 billion to US$1.5 trillion. This means the wealth of the bottom half is roughly equal to the richest 56 individuals in the world.

While this figure is not as dramatic as focusing only on the richest eight people, it still shows enormous disparities in wealth.
Update:  The Onion makes this contribution to the story:

For the record

You know it's true...

Yeah, I need lessons...
Update:  Here's a second attempt:


Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Wig heists in history

An amusing read here about a theft problem of C18th England - those stupid wigs of the era were the target of thieves.

Worse than Nixon

Former Nixon White House Counsel John Dean says the coming Trump presidency has literally been giving him nightmares:
He would wake in the middle of the night, agitated and alarmed, struggling to calm his nerves. “I’m not somebody who remembers the details of dreams,” he told me in a recent phone call from his home in Los Angeles. “I just know that they were so bad that I’d force myself awake and out of bed just to get away from them.”
He thinks Trump will be much worse than Nixon:
Dean’s near-panicked take on the incoming president is shaped in large part by his years in the Nixon White House. In Trump, Dean says he has observed many of his former boss’s most dangerous traits—obsessive vengefulness, reflexive dishonesty, all-consuming ambition—but none of Nixon’s redeeming qualities.

“I used to have one-on-one conversations with [Nixon] where I’d see him checking his more authoritarian tendencies,” Dean recalled. “He’d say, ‘This is something I can’t say out loud...’ or, ‘That is something the president can’t do.’” To Dean, these moments suggested a functioning sense of shame in Nixon, something he was forced to wrestle with in his quest for power. Trump, by contrast, appears to Dean unmolested by any such struggle.
He also puts up a case to be pessimistic about  Trump being brought down by impeachment:
Those hoping Trump’s presidency will end in a Watergate-style meltdown point to the litany of scandals-in-waiting that will follow him into office—from his alleged ties to Russia, to the potential conflicts of interest lurking in his vast business network. Dean agrees that “he’s carrying loads of potential problems into the White House with him,” and goes even further in his assessment: “I don’t think Richard Nixon even comes close to the level of corruption we already know about Trump.”

Yet, he’s profoundly pessimistic about the prospect of Trump facing any true accountability while in office. In the four decades since Nixon resigned, Dean says, the institutions that are meant to keep a president’s power in check—the press, Congress, even the courts—have been rendered increasingly weak and ineffectual by a sort of creeping partisan paralysis. (Imagine, if you dare, the Breitbart headlines that would follow Woodward and Bernstein’s first scoop if they were breaking their story today.)
He may have a point there.  The problem being that hoping for impeachment relies on the American Right not being nuts.   There's not much sign of that at the moment.