Tuesday, February 28, 2017

A radiation spike

Well, I didn't know planes were sent to sniff out radiation spikes to see if they can tell where they're from.  Currently one may be sniffing around Europe.

Interesting post at Atlas Obscura...

Yet another "bad father" story

Just when you think you might have heard every gobsmacking story about what a terrible father Evelyn Waugh could be, out comes another book with another one:
In 1958, while on military training in Cyprus, Auberon Waugh accidentally shot himself in the chest with a machine gun. He was nineteen. Over the next ten days he fought for his life, having lost a lung, two ribs, part of his hand and his spleen. His mother Laura flew out immediately to be by his side. His father, Evelyn, preferred to remain at home. “I shall go out to travel home with Laura if he dies”, Waugh wrote detachedly to his friend Lady Diana Cooper. In the event, this was unnecessary; Auberon was brought back to England and installed at the Queen Alexandra Military hospital. Even so, it was a further week before Waugh managed to go and visit his son. By this point, Auberon had developed a chest infection due to a back abscess and again feared that death was near. “Dear Papa”, wrote Auberon on what he thought would be his deathbed. “Just a line to tell you what for some reason I was never able to show you in my lifetime, that I admire, revere and love you more than any man in the world.” The next month, with Auberon still too ill to be operated on, Waugh stopped his allowance of £25 a month. Auberon wept “bitter tears of rage”.

A few minor Oscar observations

*  Jimmy Kimmel was likeable enough as a host.  I'm not sure why they let TV hosts put their same segments from their TV show on the Oscars, though.

*  Meryl Streep seems to have plateaued in the ageing process.  I think she has looked the same for the last 15 years.  Nicole Kidman, on the other hand, seems to be going backwards in age.  Much "work" involved, I suspect.

*  Shirley McLaine, to her credit, seems to spend little or no money on face work;  she's 82 and still pretty funny, if somewhat loopy.

*  Steven Spielberg not spotted in the audience, for once.  :(


Corporate tax cuts aren't magic

Found via Axios, Stephen Roach with an argument against the Trumpian take on corporations and tax:
Corporate tax cuts are coming in the United States. While this push pre-dates last November’s presidential election, President Donald Trump’s Make-America-Great-Again mantra has sealed the deal. Beleaguered US businesses, goes the argument, are being squeezed by confiscatory taxes and onerous regulations – strangling corporate earnings and putting unrelenting pressure on capital spending, job creation, and productivity, while sapping America’s competitive vitality. Apparently, the time has come to give businesses a break.

But this argument raises an obvious question: If the problem is so simple, why hasn’t this fix already been tried? The answer is surprising. 

For starters, it is a real stretch to bemoan the state of corporate earnings in the US. Commerce Department statistics show that after-tax corporate profits (technically, after-tax profits from current production, adjusted for inventory and depreciation-accounting distortions) stood at a solid 9.7% of national income in the third quarter of 2016.

While that is down from the 11% peak hit in 2012 – owing to tepid economic growth, which typically puts pressure on profit margins – it hardly attests to a chronic earnings problem. Far from anemic, the current GDP share of after-tax profits is well above the post-1980 average of 7.6%.

Trends in corporate taxes, which stood at just 3.5% of national income in the third quarter of 2016, support a similar verdict. Yes, the figure is higher than the post-2000 level of 3% (which represents the lowest 15-year average tax burden for corporate America since the 2.9% reading in the mid-1990s); but it is well below the 5.2% average share recorded during the boom years of the post-World War II era, from 1950 to 1969. In other words, while there may be reason to criticize the structure and complexities of the US corporate tax burden, there is little to suggest that overall corporate taxes are excessive. 

Conversely, the share of national income going to labor has been declining. In the third quarter of 2016, worker compensation – wages, salaries, fringe benefits, and other so-called supplements such as social security, pension contributions, and medical benefits – stood at 62.6% of national income. While that represents a bit of a rebound from the 61.2% low recorded in the 2012-2014 period, it is two percentage points below the post-1980 average of 64.6%. In other words, the pendulum of economic returns has swung decisively away from labor toward owners of capital – not exactly a compelling argument in favor of relief for purportedly hard-pressed American businesses.

Update:  and on the Australian scene, Greg Jericho sums up the Grattan Institute's report that lowering the corporate tax rate is going to hurt the budget bottom line significantly, with any expected benefits taking too long to arrive to avoid that.  

Sounds quite plausible to me.  

More than neurons

Ed Yong has stopped writing his blog, but here he is at The Atlantic, with a good article about some neuroscientists getting sick of the approach of other neuroscientists.  A sample:
John Krakaeur, a neuroscientist at Johns Hopkins Hospital, has been asked to BRAIN Initiative meetings before, and describes it like “Maleficent being invited to Sleeping Beauty’s birthday.” That’s because he and four like-minded friends have become increasingly disenchanted by their colleagues’ obsession with their toys. And in a new paper that’s part philosophical treatise and part shot across the bow, they argue that this technological fetish is leading the field astray. “People think technology + big data + machine learning = science,” says Krakauer. “And it’s not.”

He and his fellow curmudgeons argue that brains are special because of the behavior they create—everything from a predator’s pounce to a baby’s cry. But the study of such behavior is being de-prioritized, or studied “almost as an afterthought.” Instead, neuroscientists have been focusing on using their new tools to study individual neurons, or networks of neurons. According to Krakauer, the unspoken assumption is that if we collect enough data about the parts, the workings of the whole will become clear. If we fully understand the molecules that dance across a synapse, or the electrical pulses that zoom along a neuron, or the web of connections formed by many neurons, we will eventually solve the mysteries of learning, memory, emotion, and more. “The fallacy is that more of the same kind of work in the infinitely postponed future will transform into knowing why that mother’s crying or why I’m feeling this way,” says Krakauer. And, as he and his colleagues argue, it will not.That’s because behavior is an emergent property—it arises from large groups of neurons working together, and isn’t apparent from studying any single one.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Oscars for movies barely seen

Given the odd backlash against La La Land, and the hosting by Jimmy Kimmel, I was curious to watch the Oscars this year.  (I think we have last year's show recorded on a hard drive, but I haven't watched it.)

Now that I know the results in the "sorry about that mistake, La La fans" climax, I have to make the observation, as many others no doubt will too, that the Best Picture Oscar for years now seems to go to critical favourites which have next to no appeal to a wide audience.

Moonlight might be fine film, but how much appeal can an episodic  film about an American black man coming to terms with being gay and living in crime affected Miami hold for a wider audience?  I see that the movie has made $22 million in the US - that's good for an arthouse flick, but it's not a lot of tickets.

Seems to me that the last, broadly popular, movie that won Best Picture was The King's Speech in 2010.  (In 2012, Argo did a respectable enough $136 million in the US, but only made $96 million overseas.  King's Speech made $414 million globally.)

Shockingly, I see that the 2009 winner, The Hurt Locker, made only $17 million in the US.  That's tiny.  Even The Artiste from 2011, which I would have guessed was the biggest Best Picture Box Office bomb, made $45 million in the US and $133 million globally. 

Getting an Oscar might be nice, but producers must surely prefer the cash of an actually popular movie...

Depressing stories for a Monday

Bill Paxton's unexpected death:  seems that his likeability on screen was matched in his personal life. 

Slate has a lengthy article on horrendous, ethics free, medical experiments by US doctors in Guartemala post World War 2. 

*   Did you notice the story from a couple of weeks back that ocean oxygen levels are dropping, due to warming oceans?  No, well, it's all in accordance with predictions, apparently, and is another reason that techno optimists who think everything will be OK if we just make everyone rich enough to get enough airconditioning are wrong. 

Friday, February 24, 2017

Past influences

The Trump presidency is too depressing to watch everything on TV about him, but the one hour doco Meet the Trumps on SBS earlier this week was pretty good.  It's still up on SBS on Demand, I think.

It wasn't overly detailed, but just hit some of the key points of his life.  (One thing I haven't heard, though, is why he is a teetotaller.  Sure, his brother died an alcoholic, but it seems rare to find such an extrovert refraining from even alcohol.)

Anyway, the main thing I wanted to comment on was his early career dealing with Roy Cohn, the infamously unpopular lawyer who I actually didn't know much about until I watched that "Angels in America" play on TV some years ago.  (We all have gaps in our knowledge.)

I'm not sure who it was on Meet the Trumps who was denouncing Cohn, but he had met him and could not stress enough what an absolutely appalling, dislikeable man he found him to be.  Which I thought was interesting - the portrait of him in Angels seems not to have been overblown at all.

Anyway, here's an article in The Guardian about Cohn being a (sort of) mentor to Trump.

Witches -V- Trump

So, a bunch of witches are planning on a Trump attack.   Instructions to join in are available on line.

Well, as much as I'd like it to work, it has been tried before.  I didn't realise Life magazine ran a story on it in 1941, though

True, the attempted supernatural attacks didn't cause Hitler to curl up and die.  But he was pretty sick for most of the war.    Even if the witches can only cause Trump to have chronic farting, like Hitler, I think it's worth a go...

Happy anniversary, movable type

A businessman intent on making money in a world dominated by the Catholic Church, Johannes Gutenberg created, instead, a revolution – and sowed the seeds for many more.

February 23, 1455 has been cited as the date Mr. Gutenberg began to print the first edition of his eponymous Bible. The idea for the printing blocks came from Asia, where the Chinese had invented a printing technique almost a millennium before. His ink was a concoction that blended traditional ink with oil, helping it flow and transfer from printing blocks to paper. The press itself, meanwhile, was the type of screw press familiar to farmers across the continent, more commonly used for pressing olives or grapes.

To this motley assortment of preexisting ideas, Gutenberg added an important innovation: movable type, the first in the Western world. He drew on the skills he had acquired growing up in a family of skilled craftsmen to produce letter molds from a metal alloy. The molds were durable, and could withstand hundreds of printings. Arranging and rearranging these letters in a type tray, he produced pages from the Bible and began to run off copies, far faster than previous scribes or publishers could do by hand or using full-page blocks of type.
He died broke, though.  Link.

Nuttier than I thought

I think Steve Bannon sounds nuttier than ever in his "WE WERE VICTORIOUS AND YOU BE WILL CRUSHED UNDER OUR HEEL" (I think that's a fair summary) comments at CPAC.

Yes, makes me so confident to see someone like him with the ear of the President of the USA.

I did find this video amusing, though.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Down Mexico way


Paul Ryan tours the US-Mexico border on horseback

I was hoping there was a photo of him on a rise, looking down at the huddled masses, as that headline, for some reason, immediately reminded me of this:

and made me wonder who else may be making the trip:   

Penalty rates

Can I regain some "cred" to my "conservative leaning" claim at the top of the blog by noting that I think the Fair Work Commission's decision to reduce Sunday penalty rates is overdue and justified?  In fact, I think they should have gone a bit further, especially with casuals.

Of course, it won't affect a great many small businesses that dealt with the excessive penalty rates by just ignoring them.   Maybe I can even make a bit of a Laffer-like argument here, and note that the result might mean a net improvement for hospitality workers as a whole, if it encourages businesses to actually pay to the award.  But that could be being too optimistic.

Message to Jason

I know it's an edited version of a paper, but no, it's a rambling article that I would call far from "excellent".

I personally find Allan a very grating character - and certainly I don't understand why he continues to work in a sector he seems to find appalling.  I am sure I could find him more convincing if he actually left the Australian university sector and wrote his criticisms from outside of it.  Preferably from another country, since he seems to rate them much more highly.

That said - yes, his criticisms of the number of law schools and graduates pumped out by them, and the way they study now, sound all entirely valid.

His generic criticism about how and what they are taught, however - I very much doubt he is someone I should pay attention to in that regard. 

The path to how we got to the strange and dubious changes to tertiary education generally in Australia seems to me to be complicated and leave plenty of room for criticism of both Left and Right for each being a bit conned in their own way by a self serving education sector.   But given the recent debacle of the private vocational education players, I have a bit of trouble with listening to critiques from the Right on anything to do with education.

Get a grip

With more analysis of why New South Wales was barely coping with electricity demand during one of the days of its recent, really remarkable, heatwave in the news, I feel the need to make one observation:

Get a grip, people:  the risk of losing power for an hour or two a year in a modern city is not the end of civilisation.

Going back  a few decades in Queensland, at least, before concern about how our electricity was generated was even on the radar, summertime blackouts in my part of Brisbane (all of 7 or 8 km from the inner city) were hardly that unusual.   Storms at that time seemed much more likely to cause very widespread blackouts than they are now, and I seem to recall people considered it an inconvenience but not a crisis. 

Now, you get a city with a "brownout" of an hour, again really due to the weather and the high demands it causes, and everyone acts as if it is a crisis.

Sure, it's good to work on fixing the problem that causes it:  continual supply is ideal and (like improvements to Queensland's transmission infrastructure) are worth working towards.

But let's not go overboard with how bad the current situation is...

A weirdly dysfunctional presidency

It's been obvious since he won the election, particularly, that Trump is an emotionally needy man-child who craves approval.  But this story at Politico, which indicates that his inner circle fully understands this, and will then go out and feed stories to the Right wing bubble media so that they will turn up on their boss's cable TV viewing and make him happier, really indicates something that sounds truly unique and strange in modern democracy.

To be fair, the story does also confirm that he reads the New York Times daily (waiting, waiting, for the hint of approval, I guess);  but it is also obvious that it simply upsets him and leads to his "fake news" attacks.

Speaking of fake news, as this Washington Post article noted last week, the key to the success of such attacks with his base is that they live in a Right wing media bubble, where Fox News is the key source of news for an extraordinary high number of them.   The role of the Right wing internet "news" outlets is also no doubt important.

This is why Rupert Murdoch has been key to the dumbing down and intense polarisation of American (and to a significant extent, Australian) politics.   

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Not a good idea to try

Hey, I missed this article in The Atlantic in January:

What Happens If You Stick Your Head in a Particle Accelerator?

Interestingly, we have a good idea that it's not going to be good for your health - a Soviet scientist did get his head accidentally zapped by a proton beam of very high strength in 1978, and although it didn't kill him, he was painlessly injured.    

Message to monty

Telling you nothing new, but the CL approach to history follows some simple, immutable, rules:

a.  no Labor (or in America, Democrat) politician ever did anything great, ever.  Or, if pressed, deserves credit for anything great.
b.  the Catholic Church was the greatest, most heroic, institute for the advancement of humanity, ever;
c.  all figures in history have to pass the purity test of their attitude to abortion and contraception before anything positive can be said about them.    

When markets don't work as you want

A good article looking at the complexities of the Australian electricity system and why it is having trouble coping with the necessary change to clean energy.

No, it only sounds like an autocrat who fearmongers about, and scapegoats, ethnic groups for shoring up his appeal to his gullible base

Trump administration seeks to prevent ‘panic’ over new immigration enforcement policies

From the report:
Kelly’s new DHS policies considerably broaden the pool of those who are prioritized for deportations, including undocumented immigrants who have been charged with crimes but not convicted, those who commit acts that constitute a “chargeable criminal offense,” and those who an immigration officer concludes pose “a risk to public safety or national security.”

The Trump administration “is using the specter of crime to create fear . . . in the American community about immigrants in order to create an opening to advance the indiscriminate persecution of immigrants,” said Clarissa Martínez-de-Castro, deputy vice president at the National Council of La Raza. “This administration is saying, ‘Now, everybody is going to be a priority,’ and the devil may care.”
But don't panic!: 
“We do not need a sense of panic in the communities,” a DHS official said in a conference call with reporters to formally release the memos to the public.

“We do not have the personnel, time or resources to go into communities and round up people and do all kinds of mass throwing folks on buses. That’s entirely a figment of folks’ imagination,” said the official, who was joined on the call by two others, all of whom spoke on condition of anonymity to answer questions. “This is not intended to produce mass roundups, mass deportations.”

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

That Milo matter

I'd already criticised Bolt's judgement for playing footsie with the obnoxious internet character Milo Yiannopoulos just because he criticises the Left, so Andrew doesn't really get much credit for having dropped him now.   And Tim Blair, a frequent Milo promoter, is conveniently away at the moment, so the fate of his former endorsements is yet to be seen.  

I watched bits and pieces of (one of the) interviews that got MY into trouble, and there's no doubt from it that, despite protestations made now (designed to try to save his lucrative book deal, presumably), he expressed no great moral concern about pederasty with consent, given the way he was talking about his enthusiastic participation in it as a 14 year old, and his reluctance to criticise the man (a priest, even) he claims it was with.  His statement today that he was the victim of the priest is just completely at odds with how he conducted himself in the interview, where he was happy to paint himself as the knowing instigator of enjoyable sexual encounters as a precocious young (gay) teenager.   He explained this as part of his then rebelliousness, but expressed no shame or regret.   

He may genuinely despise paedophiles, for all I know, and he's hardly the first* gay man** to make the distinction between paedophilia and pederasty, and grant some sympathy to the latter.  But I would bet he's the first openly gay man making money on the American wingnut media circuit to muse along those lines and not realise it was going to go over like a lead balloon.

I said before his writing seemed like that of an intellectual lightweight;  the abrupt (possible?) ending of his career this way helps confirm he's a bit short on the smarts.  

So, no great loss to society that he's lost his book deal, and (I would hope) a job at Breitbart.

About time he got a real job, preferably one completely out of the public eye.  It's not good for his soul.*** 

* As Gerard Henderson likes to go on and on about, pederasts were seeking understanding, if not sympathy, via public appearances back in the 1970's in the media, including - gasp! - the ABC

** I was tempted to say "public intellectual", but that would be extremely generous, if not sarcastic

*** Which, evidently, he believes in, given that he claims at heart to still be a Catholic

Update:   I see from a Spectator piece on this that Jason Soon linked to, this comment about the people on the Right who are still supporting Milo despite his pederasty comments:
Those people – and I think they’re a tiny minority – are either childishly innocent or hopelessly stupid. There’s no kinder way to say it. Either way, their opinion doesn’t matter. 
Can you guess which choice I go for?   [Lots of support for MY still in the Catallaxy threads.]

Conspiracy time

I can't be bothered checking right now, but I presume that the wingnut conspiracy Right must have claimed within minutes of its announcement that the Russian UN Ambassador's sudden death was at the hands of the Deep State trying to oust Trump, or at least start a war with Russia, or something?

On the upside

I'm a bit worried that I sounded too critical of the Catholic Church;  some may think I'm starting to endorse "progressive" Christianity of the Spong variety.

So, as a corrective to that, let me make a few comments.

The Church on social teaching in the modern era is pretty sound - in terms of its views on economics and the role of government,  it largely strikes a sensible balance in its support of capitalism, while acknowledging an important role for government intervention and even unions (as long as they're not outright supporting communism) in making for a fair society.   Libertarians views for minimal government find no significant support there, and those from the Acton Institute are pushing a marginal view with no real credibility. 

In terms of international aid, charity work, and the provision of health services in the West, too, it does great work with the only issue being the knots it ties itself in regarding women's reproduction, all due to it's view on abortion and contraception.  (The latter does deserve some revision, but let's not go there right now while I'm trying to look on the bright side.)

The Church also has taken the "right" side of science on climate change and pollution, and shames the Evangelicals of American who are foolishly prepared to go with the idea that God just won't let the Earth overheat no matter how much humans try.

As for theology and doctrine and where its future lies:  I remain completely unconvinced that the future for Christianity lies in redefining it so that the matter of the reality of God or a supernatural realm becomes unimportant, or irrelevant.  Yet this is the danger that skeptical examinations of theology and religion always face; it seems almost an inevitable path that progressive theology leads down, and it's why conservative Catholics refuse to allow the first step to be taken.  

But my point is that denial of a problem of how theology and doctrine is to take into account dramatic changes in understanding of the nature of the Universe (and human biology) is no answer either.   And the reason for my previous post was to argue that the Church's institutional response has in some key respects made the matter harder to deal with, not easier.

Lead poisoning by bullet

It does seem odd that it has taken doctors a long time to fully take into account that leaving bullet fragments in the body (something recommended a surprising amount of times, apparently) can lead to long term lead poisoning.  This article at The Atlantic explains why, though, and it makes for a good read.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Internal conflicts

An article at the Catholic Herald takes the line that the Church is now in a "full blown" doctrinal crisis.

I must admit, the article makes a pretty strong case.

There are two issues relevant here:   on the one hand, there's the matter of who can access the sacraments; but the bigger issue is that so much of that question is tied to the matters of sex and marriage.

But I tend to think this is all part and parcel of a slowly evolving crisis of Catholicism hitting modernity - the debatable point being when do we say "modernity" began.

Although it can be argued that it goes back much further, I'm inclined to think the really serious challenge starts with Darwin.  (And don't forget, the other big change in understanding humanity comes with knowledge of the true, vast extent of the universe, which only dates from about 1925.)  Catholicism, to its credit, somehow never got caught up in denying evolution, and it can even claim a hand in the idea of the Big Bang; but that doesn't mean that both don't present challenges to the concept of Original Sin.   Close on Darwin's heal, Freud may have been nuttily obsessed with some of his pet ideas, but he and Jung successfully set the groundwork for people assuming they have to dig deep into their unconscious to understand their "true" self, which is then perceived as essentially immutable.  By the end of the 20th century, the ubiquity of computers and the rise of the idea that everyone is a meat robot, with no free will but only the trick perception of free will, has become more pervasive and only exacerbates the role of the unconscious, and as such it's (of course) extremely corrosive to the idea of a Church, or God's Grace, having any significant role in life.

These forces, combined with the Church's over-reach in push back against modernity with it formalising the Pope's infallibility, followed up by using it in the mid 20th century for a doctrine that seems, to put it mildly, esoteric to the modern mind (I'm talking the Assumption of Mary); and then the rejection of contraception even if it's of a kind that prevents conception (yes, even a condom used by a married couple renders the sex "wrong"); the Church has been losing doctrinal credibility at a slow but steady pace over  about 150 years.

The Church's attempt to get cool with modernity, via Vatican 2, brought up its own logical difficulties, with the insistence on a "properly informed conscience" being paramount in assessing moral behaviour, while denying that any Catholic could reject the Church's teaching on what is moral.  And it was all undercut by the lack of compelling logic in the blanket rejection of contraception in the same decade.

The result is that in a very large part of the globe,  the congregations have taken doctrine, and the use of the sacraments, into their own hands, effectively:  confession and the power it implied in the local priest has almost vanished; the concept of sexual sin has been greatly diminished;  in fact the whole definitive categorisation of the seriousness of different sins is seen as improbable now;  and people with failed marriages (especially if the fault is all their partner's) resent the idea that they cannot participate in communion if they re-partner.   (Annulments are possible, but seen as an unnecessarily complicated de facto acceptance of divorce.)   Those who are living outside of the Church's teaching on sexuality will often just partake in communion anyway - they are very unlikely to hear a condemnation of their behaviour from the pulpit, and unless they want to grandstand, the priest handing out communion is not to know what they do in the bedroom.  For those in gay relationships, there has been the startling turnaround in sympathy for them amongst the laity, and many clergy.  The Church's behaviour in the child abuse scandals in many nations, as well as its less than stellar role in confronting European fascism in the mid 20th century, have further hurt the perception of the Church's moral authority.

So yes, I think the Church is facing a very difficult future.   Intellectually, I am inclined to think that some sort of schism may be the only way of resolving it, but it's not as if the Church's assets can be easily divided up between the conservatives and the more liberal elements.    So the Henry VIII approach can't be repeated.  Which perhaps means that it is really is going to continue dragging out for years yet.

Monday bits and pieces of interest

Mission Impossible 6 starts filming in Paris in April.   Same director as last time, although he says it will be a very different Ethan Hunt.   Sounds a bit like a revisit to the family drama stuff in M:I3, which was OK but I don't think I've ever re-watched.   Anyway, can almost guarantee I will see it.

* A case of a brain tumour causing "hyper-religiosity" and visions of talking with the Virgin Mary.   Rather reminiscent of Joan of Arc.

* I finally see how to link to a particular Axios story - this one about how Republicans, with supreme hypocrisy and with no proper justification from the past (didn't Reagan have to increase some taxes to make up revenue short fall after his first cuts?), are now prepared to cut taxes and let the deficit grow.  Stephen Moore is for this:  Krugman derides him continually, so he'll be impressed. In fact, Krugman has already a post up explaining that for demographic and other reasons, no one should be planning on very high growth in the next few years. 

*  I watched Snowpiercer on Stan on Saturday.   As I say, it's remarkable how it seems Stan is exclusively for only B grade movies.  This one has a very silly premise, but I knew that going in.    It's worth watching for the scenery chewing performance of Tilda Swinton alone.  As I have said before, she just sucks all attention to herself (in a good way - she's really remarkable.)   

*  When even Fox News hosts start complaining that Trump is going too far in his "the media is the enemy of the people" line, you know he really is going too far.   The drumming up of fear that seems crucial to Trump's appeal to his base is increasingly ridiculous, with his and his staff's allusions to attacks that never happened, but still apparently works with his dimwitted fans.   Speaking of which, it is a wonder that Triumph the Comedy Insult Dog escaped with his life after his interactions with Trumpkins at the inauguration.  Pretty funny, though:

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Churchill: friend of science

Did you know that Winston Churchill was quite interested in science and did his own bits of popular science writing in his day?   No, nor did I.

This Nature article, written because of the recent re-discovery of an essay he wrote "Are we alone in the Universe?" in 1939, is a great read.   Here are some extracts:
Winston Churchill is best known as a wartime leader, one of the most influential politicians of the twentieth century, a clear-eyed historian and an eloquent orator. He was also passionate about science and technology.

Aged 22, while stationed with the British Army in India in 1896, he read Darwin's On the Origin of Species and a primer on physics. In the 1920s and 1930s, he wrote popular-science essays on topics such as evolution and cells in newspapers and magazines. In a 1931 article in The Strand Magazine entitled 'Fifty Years Hence'1, he described fusion power: “If the hydrogen atoms in a pound of water could be prevailed upon to combine together and form helium, they would suffice to drive a thousand-horsepower engine for a whole year.” His writing was likely to have been informed by conversations with his friend and later adviser, the physicist Frederick Lindemann.

During the Second World War, Churchill supported the development of radar and Britain's nuclear programme. He met regularly with scientists such as Bernard Lovell, the father of radio astronomy. An exchange about the use of statistics to fight German U-boats captures his attitude. Air Chief Marshal Arthur 'Bomber' Harris complained, “Are we fighting this war with weapons or slide rules?” Churchill replied, “Let's try the slide rule.”2
 Once again, evidence that conservatism in the modern political world (especially in America) has undergone a worrying change.

Friday, February 17, 2017

But look - the public I have conned don't want it

The continuing hide of Professor Stagflation of Catallaxy, um, continues.

Sinclair Davidson today:
One small problem: the electorate are somewhere else. It seems to me that the electorate do not want a tax, a price, a scheme, a what-ever-you-want-to-call-it that increases electricity prices. People want cheap and reliable electricity.
Yes, and why (at least in significant part) would that be?  Because you and your IPA and Catallaxy economist mates (including Rupert's national paper) have waged a PR campaign for years, based on deceptive and dishonest non-scientist charlatans (and the global handful of climate contrarian scientists) that no carbon pricing is in any way necessary, as climate change is a bunch of bollocks.

Davidson gets some credit from me for not swallowing Trumpism whole - but this line he runs is very much like the massive hypocrisy in the Trump declaration that he, once and for all, was ending the rumours that Obama was not born in the US.   

If he's going to comment on the public's reticence on carbon pricing, he should acknowledge his side's role in it.  And while he's at it, update us on the "no statistically significant global temperature increase since 1995 line" too. 

It's very hard to fathom...

....how anyone can listen to the rambling, disjointed (rather ADHD sounding, actually) self-pitying and narcissistic style of a Trump press conference and not be highly concerned about the fact that he is President of a fantastically powerful, nuclear armed nation.  I've seen 10 year olds with better and more sustained coherence when speaking.  

What's more, I reckon there's good reason to speculate that it is this very concern - about his mental suitability for the role - that is behind the leaking against him.  Can you imagine the frustration a competent intelligence adviser must feel in having to boil down a complicated, multi-party issue into one page of highlights, and even then not being sure if he's absorbed it? 

Yet Trump will still have his supporters, and it leaves the rest of us puzzling about the dire effects of everything from the use of the internet as the ultimate propaganda tool for outright liars, the corrupting effect of reality TV, and how the culture wars can overpower everything from science to the perception of reality.

I also hadn't realised how truly awful the apparently highly influential (and very young) Stephen Miller had come across in his media appearances last Sunday until I saw clips of them on Colbert last night.  He truly has the creepy, dead eyed look of an android with mental health and anger issues, and yes, Trump praised his performance.   Have a look at this, which wasn't even his worst performance:

These are very strange and disturbing times...

Update:  I liked John Cassidy's take on the Trump press conference in the New Yorker.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Spank me, doctor?

Good post title for a review of A Dangerous Method, no?

I had intended seeing it at the cinema, but never got around to it.  But it is currently on SBS on Demand, for those in Australia, at least.

For those who don't know - the movie is about the early career of Carl Jung and his interaction with Freud and a patient/lover Sabina Spielrein.  Yes, it is basically a true life story, and having read a bit of Jung in my time, there were key scenes that were recognizably drawn from Jung's memoirs.  

How did it work as a film?    I would say it's good without being great.   Its best feature was the terrific acting of Keira Knightley, yet I see she received no nominations for any award.  Michael Fassbender was OK as Jung, but I thought Viggo Mortensen was pretty forgettable as Freud, yet they got all the award nominations.  Odd.  

The movie looks good and the subject matter was always interesting, but being (largely - see below) based on real life that wasn't bent too far out of shape, the story doesn't really have a dramatic structure that's very satisfying.   I felt the movie particularly failed to explain the origin of Jung's interest in the occult and paranormal.  The famous scene (if you know anything about them) in which Jung argues with Freud that there should be more to psychoanalysis than sex, and feels vindicated by sudden bangs coming from the bookcase, seems to come out of nowhere.   But anyone who had read much about him knows better:   I think I have on the bookshelf a (largely unread) copy  of Jung's 1903 doctoral dissertation "On the Psychology and Pathology of So-Called Occult Phenomena":  he had been interested in the subject for a long time, and it seems to me the movie might somehow have shown evidence of that before he started to complain to Freud.

Apart from that complaint, here's where I get to mull over the matter of where lines should be drawn in purportedly historical movies that invent key scenes for dramatic purposes.  I am surprised to read that there is considerable dispute over whether Jung and Sabina ever actually became physical lovers - let alone the kinky, spanky kind of lovers featured as the most memorably odd thing about their relationship in the film.

Sure, they had a romantic relationship of some kind (well known from their letters and diaries) but their exchanges never amount to a 100% clear evidence of sex.  Here's an article in Psychology Today discussing this:
However, much of the film turns around the dramatic invention that Jung and Sabina had a sexual affair, characterized by bondage and sadomasochistic practices. These lurid scenes are likely to be the ones that most people who see the film will take away with them. There is no concrete evidence of their having had an affair, let alone the sadomasochistic elements so vividly portrayed in the movie.

A Huffington Post interviewer confronts Cronenberg directly on this point, to which he replies: "An invention with justification. I was taken to task by a young woman who had seen the trailer. She was trying to convince me that Sabina and Jung never had sex. In her letters Sabina wrote about Jung in poetic terms, this woman claimed. You could have sexual poetry, I wanted to point out to her. But in her diary and letters to Freud, Sabina wrote, ‘I gave Jung my maidenhood, my innocence.' In the Victorian era that could only mean one thing. They had a sexual affair. We coupled that with how she talked about her father and being beaten, how that turned her on sexually..."

I think it may be a stretch when he says, Sabina's written statement that she gave Jung her "maidenhood," her "innocence," could only mean one thing. After all, so much of their discourse had to do with symbols and it's possible that she was speaking metaphorically. At the same time, I think it's quite well-established that Jung later had a long-term mistress, Toni Wolff. So, I'm not trying to whitewash his character. In fact, the Wikipedia entry on Sabina Spielrein reports, "The historian and psychoanalyst Peter Loewenberg argues that this was a sexual relationship, in breach of professional ethics, and that it ‘jeopardized his [Jung's] position at the Burghölzli and led to his rupture with Bleuler and his departure from the University of Zurich.'" In an interview about the film, Jungian analyst, Dr. Thomas Kirsch says, "I have no idea whether Jung had a sexual affair with Sabina Spielrein. This is a subject which has been written about extensively. Zvi Lothane, a psychoanalyst and historian, wrote of his conviction that they had a sexual affair in his earlier papers. In a later paper he reversed his opinion..."
 I think it fair to say from this that the movie could entirely justify portraying them as lovers.  What's far less justifiable is the sadomasochism as a key element in their sexual relationship.

As the writer of the Psychology Article says, Jungian professionals tended to like the film, but at the same recognised that it could harm the public's regard for Jungian analysis.  Oh well.

So, my feeling on whether this breached the line of acceptable invention:  yes, but I guess I don't feel too worked up about it.  It was only an incrementally crossed line - and it was not really dramatically unforgiveable.   (Unlike, say, the ridiculous inventions in Elizabeth that I complained about last year.) 

One final bit of trivia:  I was interested in this comment by the director in the Psychology Today article (my bold):
In an interview, Cronenberg says: "What's in the movie is perfectly accurate because it was from a letter-writing period. At that time in Vienna, there were between five and eight mail deliveries per day. If you wrote a letter in the morning, you expected to get an answer by the afternoon. It was their internet. So there were many, many letters. These people were very obsessive about detail and the minutiae of their lives (what their dreams were and what they ate) and what that signifies. We had lots of info. I can back up almost every line of dialogue with quotes from letters."
 Huh.   Five to eight deliveries a day?   Postmen must have been busy...

Get a grip, fools

There's a bit of problem here with the Wingnut reaction to Flynn's resignation:  if their hero Trump was to meet their expectations, he could have tried to ride it out.  He could have taken their line that this was "the Deep State" trying to interfere with legitimate government elected by a landslide and he wasn't going to fall for it.

But he didn't.

So what can Wingnuts do about that?  Nothing.

Except get a grip and take a look in the mirror at the paranoid, conspiracy believing nutters they've become.

Update:  speaking of nutty, conspiracy believing Rightwingers on the Australian front:  just how proud is Sinclair Davidson that the blog he runs hosts his paranoid and gullible co-worker Steve Kates, who fears the US is having a "potential" constitutional crisis because Obama is behind the Flynn resignation?  "Police state" mutterings are in his posts too.

To what level of paranoia and Trump love does Kates have to rise before SD says "mate, enough:  you can't run your paranoid theories here any more." 

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Go Colbert

I'm pleasantly surprised to read that Colbert's late show is actually rating well, now that Trump is President.

But I think the Slate article explaining this is pretty wrong when it says " He doesn’t convey anger so much as he does bemusement..."    To the contrary, I've already commented here a few times about how genuinely upset, and angry, he's appeared to be since the Trump win.  I think the audience is coming back because he is so passionately appalled by the Trump presidency.  

He is not above the cheap, but very funny joke, though.   You have to watch this clip right to end to see what I mean:

I trust it's labelled as "Extra Short" size...

Noted from AP:
SHANGHAI (AP) -- There's a Trump toilet, a Trump condom, a Trump pacemaker and even a Trump International Hotel among hundreds of trademarks in China that don't belong to Donald Trump. But after a decade of grinding battle in China's courts, the president was expected to get an unlikely win this week: the rights to his own name.

One White House loony gone, probably only 30 or so more to go...

So, Trump knows that all the leaking is a problem, tweeting:
The real story here is why are there so many illegal leaks coming out of Washington?
What's the bet that he thinks leaking per se is the problem, not the vast conflicts within the White House and Republicans which is its root cause, and that with many of the latter thinking that Trump himself is a mentally unstable danger, it's going to be really hard to stop.

Vox has an interesting article about the warring camps within the White House.

Update:  another Vox article, explaining how Flynn was all Trump's fault - for hiring him in the first place.  But Trump loves sycophants - it's his narcissism at play.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Not for Valentine's Day

Mob Kills Eloped Lovers After Storming Afghan Police Station 

In a horror romance story out of Afghanistan:
The authorities said there were only 30 police officers at the station facing a mob of 250 to 300 heavily armed men. “If police had fired bullets at the people, a massacre could have happened,” said Hafiz Abdul Qayoom, the governor of Nuristan, claiming the police had no option but to surrender the couple to the mob, especially after three officers had suffered gunshot wounds from the angry crowd.

Enayatullah, the district governor in Wama, who like many Afghans uses only one name, said the couple were apparently killed soon after they had been taken out of the police station.

“We asked for additional police, but the road to the district was closed due to snow,” he said. “If the police had resisted more, a disaster would have taken place.”

Salam Khan, 22, a witness from Fatiha’s village, Sar-i-Pul, said he saw what had happened to the couple after the police surrendered them. “Some of Fatiha’s relatives, her cousins, were beating her with their fists and saying, ‘Why did you do this?’ Then her older brother got angry and shot her with a hunting rifle and her younger brother shot her with an AK-47. I don’t know how many bullets they fired,” Mr. Khan said, speaking by telephone from the remote village.

For Valentine's Day

Penis shrinkage, a side effect of prostate cancer surgery, is temporary, study finds

Xenu preserved

Here's a good and entertaining read about L Ron Hubbard's life and works - perhaps a tad more sympathetic than what most non Scientologists would write.   I hadn't heard this before:
At a remote compound in Trementina, New Mexico, plans have been made to preserve his writings forever, in an underground vault designed to withstand a nuclear blast. Written on steel and encased in titanium capsules filled with argon gas, they might conceivably outlast most of the other works that our civilization has produced. Future generations may well read Hubbard, assuming that he is all that survives. But they might be the only ones who will.
How distressing to think that future visiting aliens (long after humans have left the scene) might think this convincing evidence or a real, all pervasive, religion.

Nuclear revival not coming

In other news from The Japan Times, have a read of this story of the financial trouble and difficulties Toshiba is in over some new American nuclear plants it said could be built quickly and on budget:
On Tuesday, Toshiba is expected to announce a massive write-down, perhaps as big as $6.1 billion, to cover cost overruns at Westinghouse, which now owns most of Shaw’s assets. The loss may actually eclipse the $5.4 billion that Toshiba paid for Westinghouse in 2006 and has forced the Japanese industrial conglomerate to put up for sale a significant stake in its prized flash-memory business. Toshiba had to sell off other assets last year following a 2015 accounting scandal.

Toshiba made a big bet on a nuclear renaissance that never materialized, in part because it couldn’t build reactors within the timelines and budgets it had promised. The company had anticipated that Westinghouse’s next-generation AP1000 modular reactor design would be easier and faster to execute — just the opposite of what happened. Now Toshiba may exit the nuclear reactor construction business altogether and focus exclusively on design and maintenance.

“There’s billions and billions of dollars at stake here,” says Gregory Jaczko, former head of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). “This could take down Toshiba and it certainly means the end of new nuclear construction in the U.S.”
It really seems that intense skepticism over the revival of nuclear as an answer to global warming is justified.   (John Quiggin is vindicated, in short.)

It's a cultural thing

Wow.  Japanese litigation sounds as ambulance chasing as anything you see in America:
Twenty-eight girls and women suffering what they say are side effects from a cervical cancer vaccine that was recommended by the government demanded compensation from the state and drugmakers Monday as their trial opened at the Tokyo District Court.
The plaintiffs, ranging in age from 15 to 22, said they have experienced a wide range of health problems, including pain all over their bodies and impaired mobility, after receiving the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines between 2010 and 2013.
Each is demanding ¥15 million in damages.
Erina Sonoda, a 20-year-old college student, said she started to suffer strong menstrual pain after receiving the second of three recommended shots of the Cervarix vaccine, and the pain spread to other parts of her body after the third vaccination.
Due to agonizing pain, Sonoda said she has difficulty walking without a cane and often must use a wheelchair.
Have a look at the PR photo at the link, too.

I suspect that there is a strong cultural element to this.   The Japanese, for reasons not entirely clear, are extremely cautious about anything "unnatural" to do with women's reproductive health.  The prime evidence for this:  the contraceptive pill was only legalised in 1999, and its use is still startling small:
In 1999, Japan became the last industrialized country to legalize oral contraceptives (OCs). Have contraceptive use patterns changed as a result?

An analysis of national survey data indicates that, as of 2014, prevalence of condom use and OC use was 83% and 3%, respectively, among all Japanese women aged 16 to 49. According to the UN, among married women in 2011, the proportions using OCs were 1% (Japan), 16% (U.S.), 21% (Canada), 28% (U.K.), 37% (Germany), and 41% (France). Prevalence of OC use in Japan did not significantly change following government approval.
So with this background, hysterical reaction to an injection that affects something to do with female reproduction was probably foreseeable.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Where is the pressure to embrace coal coming from?

Alan Kohler gets stuck into the Coalition (and Turnbull) for their silly coal embrace:

It’s true that wind and solar are intermittent, since the wind doesn’t blow all the time and the sun doesn’t shine all the time. But instead of helping the states to deal with this problem sensibly, Coalition politicians including the Federal Minister for Energy Josh Frydenberg, are just trying to score points and embed the hoax.
It raises a broader issue: why is politics the only part of society doing this?
The academic, scientific, corporate, not-for-profit sectors have long ago accepted that the problem is real and are working towards a more sustainable future; the only ones not showing leadership are the nation’s leaders.
The line I highlighted is the one that most interests me.  Where is the pressure coming from on the Coalition to aggressively promote coal?

Is it just generically from the Minerals Council?  It has the feeling of something more specific...

Hot hot hot

I can't remember the last time it was 40 (or 41?) degrees in the part of the Brisbane where I live.  But yesterday it was hot, still, and the temperature dropped to 27 degrees overnight, making for a very unpleasant weekend.  I don't know how the people of Western Sydney, who have had a much worse run of heatwave weather than Brisbane, have been able to put up with it.  It certainly makes one disinclined to go out, at least if the airconditioning is working at home...

And heat is in the news globally.   Last week it was in the news that the Arctic has had 3 bursts of sudden winter temperature rises this northern winter, and the Washington Post analysed it this way:

Scientists believe that a number of different factors are feeding into these warming events, including the steady march of climate change and interactions between the air and Arctic sea ice, which global warming is melting a little more each year. And a good low-pressure system, like the one that barreled through this week, can help to jump-start these kinds of sudden warming events by carrying a large amount of warm air up to the North Pole all at once.

The presence of the storm itself isn’t exactly unusual, according to atmospheric physics expert Kent Moore of the University of Toronto. Each year, there are some storms that roll through the northern Atlantic. What’s uncommon is just how far north some of them have been making it lately.

“There’s these extratropical cyclones that appear to be tracking farther north than they usually do, and these low-pressure systems are bringing the heat up into the polar region,” he said. It’s unclear why this happens, he added. But when it does, temperatures can vault up above zero degrees, or in extreme cases, sometimes even above freezing.

In a recent paper published in December, Moore notes that these types of anomalous warming events have been recorded since the 1950s — but they usually only occur once or twice a decade. Scientists believe that factors related to climate change may now be making it easier for weather systems like this week’s storm to carry warm air into the Arctic.

Changes in Arctic sea ice extent are one major issue. As a result of global warming, temperatures in the Arctic are rising at about twice the global average rate, and one of the consequences is a reduction in Arctic sea ice. These changes are most obvious in the warm summer months, when sea ice is at a minimum anyway — but lately, scientists have been observing record lows for the frozen winter months as well, a time of year when the ice is actually expanding. But where it is missing, those parts of the ocean become warmer.
“As that sea ice moves northward, there’s a huge reservoir of heat over the north Atlantic,” Moore said. “As we lose the sea ice, it allows essentially this reservoir of warmth to move closer to the pole.”
I think it's fair to say that it seems that the energy from global warming is acting to stir up the atmosphere so that warm air and cold air masses are being distributed to places they normally wouldn't be.  Or wouldn't be so often...

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Low score for consistency

Look, Judith Sloan - no one in their right mind treats you or Alan Moran seriously when you talk energy and renewables, because you both deny climate change is real and therefore think there is absolutely no reason a nation should be considering clean energy at all, let alone try to develop policies to encourage its growth.   All of your commentary is therefore tainted unavoidably.

But can you at least try to be a bit more consistent.  And stop with the bold shouting, while you're at it.

Today at Catallaxy (my italics, her bold):
And here’s a point that the greenies fed Barrie: there have been more peaks in wholesale electricity prices in Queensland than SA this year – therefore nothing to do with renewables.  Of course, this is just spin.

The peaks generally last a very short time and the key is average electricity prices.  Here are the figures for 2017:
But in the Australian, 19 July 2016:
It is unusual for any story related to South Australia to appear on the front page of this newspaper. But when wholesale electricity prices in that state reached more than 30 times the prices recorded in the eastern states last week, the broader interest in the issue is obvious.

To give you a feel for the figures, last Thursday at 1.45pm, the wholesale power price in South Australia was recorded at $1001 per megawatt hour, compared with prices of between $30/MWh and $32/MWh for the eastern states. At one point, the maximum price in the state hit $1400/MWh.
Not a lot of mention about average electricity prices detectable there.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Left wingers really need to be less snobbish, sometimes

I'm not really surprised by the Domino's Pizza article in the SMH today - it has been hard to believe for some time that all of the franchisees of such a cut throat priced business could make a good living out of it, and not face the strong temptation to illegally cut staff wages to make it "work".  

That said, I was sort of encouraged to see that Dominos had started to charge a Sunday surcharge, due to increased staff costs, which made me think the franchisor was at least being realistic about improving their franchisees' bottom line in the face of penalty rates that most fair minded people feel have gotten out of hand.

But it is annoying to see Bernard Keane respond with a Left wing snob comment:

One suspects he hasn't tried one since last century, and may be completely unaware of their considerably improved range and quality over the last 5 years or so.   Even their vego pizza is not bad. 

I really don't see why anyone should be a food snob about any fast food, which (if eaten once a week) does no one harm and (if the price is right) can keep everyone in a family happy. 

Why isn't gas generation subsidised, somehow?

With the argument over electricity generation going on, I make the following observations:

*  no one seems to be disputing that there would in fact have been enough electricity for South Australia to avoid load shedding last Wednesday if an additional gas generator had been turned on.  

*   The SA government and Labor politicians therefore blames the Australian Energy Market operator for not having directed Pelican Point to go fully online.   The authority (if not them, then someone) tried to blame the government for not telling it via an emergency direction to turn on the generator.  (The government responds that realising a forecast high temperature does not count as an "emergency" - and that seems more than a reasonable argument.)

*  The Federal government, up to and including Turnbull, has politicised the blackouts to an extraordinary and quite  sickening degree:  using it as an opportunity to deride renewable energy and promote coal as it if is a magic elixir, instead of the more obvious question - how do you make a system that already has adequate capacity use it to avoid brown outs.

* Ross Gittins wrote a plain speaking article a few days ago explaining what lots of people have said - the core of the current problems revolve around government policies regarding gas.   Here's Gittin's conclusions:

Turnbull blames South Australia's blackouts on its excessive enthusiasm for renewable energy which, pending the development of storage arrangements, has a problem with intermittent production.

He doesn't admit his parity-pricing policy is contributing. It was expected that gas-fired power generation would ease the transition from coal-fired to renewable generation.

That's because gas-fired power stations emit far less carbon dioxide and can be turned on and off as required to counter renewable energy's intermittency.

Guess what? South Australia has a new and big gas-fired generator at Pelican Point, near Adelaide, but it's been mothballed.

Why? Because the operator had a long-term contract for the supply of gas at a price set at the pre-export-parity level, and decided it was more lucrative to sell the gas into the East Asian market.

Last week Turnbull had the effrontery to argue that now gas-fired power had become uneconomic, we needed to fill the gap by subsidising new-generation "clean" coal-fired power stations.

Small problem. They're hugely expensive, only a bit less emissions-intensive than existing coal-fired stations, can't easily be turned on and off, and would supposedly still be operating 60 years later.

If there's a case for subsidising any fossil fuel-powered generators the obvious candidate is the gas-fired plants the feds' export-parity pricing policy has rendered uneconomic.

So great is the coal industry's hold over the Coalition that, not content with subsidising increased supply of coal from Adani and others at a time when coal is a sunset industry, Turnbull is now making up excuses to subsidise increased demand for coal by local electricity producers.

Economists are always telling politicians not to try picking industry winners. In reality, the politicians are far more inclined to back known losers.
 I cannot see any flaw in the argument in the highlighted paragraph.....

And finally:   maybe I am not reading widely enough, but has any journalist or commentator explained more about what's behind the Turnbull/Frydenberg/Morrison rapid new found love affair with coal?   It seems kinda suspiciously like they are responding to intense behind the scenes lobbying that the public might not be fully aware of ...

Update:  Lenore Taylor's article is a fine, angry bit of commentary which covers a lot of the above, but still doesn't uncover anything about specific recent lobbying efforts.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Current temperatures

Out of curiosity, just checked current temperatures (the Google result is accurate, is it?) for Penrith and Parramatta - both 44 degrees.  Birdsville - 43.  Walgett (well inland in northern NSW) - and a routinely hot place, I'm told - is 42.

Is it urban heat island effect that makes Western Sydney so hot?

"Conservative carbon tax"

Further on the point that a carbon tax being promoted by a couple of Reagan era fellows doesn't stand a chance.  From Vox:
A carbon tax won’t get enacted over the next four years unless Republicans get on board. But most of the Republicans currently in Congress loathe new taxes. Many of them also don’t believe global warming is real. Under the circumstances, it’s hard to see why they’d sign up for a big carbon tax, no matter how many times you write “conservative” on the packaging.

Some numbers: To date, exactly zero Republicans currently in Congress have publicly endorsed a carbon tax. On the contrary, last June, every single member of the House GOP voted for a resolution saying a carbon tax “would be detrimental to American families and businesses, and is not in the best interest of the United States.”

A year ago, carbon tax supporters did have one bit of leverage. Republicans also really dislike President Obama’s climate policies, which involved intricate EPA regulations like the Clean Power Plan. It’s entirely possible that some conservatives could’ve been sold on adopting a carbon tax in exchange for curtailing EPA power. Except then Donald Trump got elected and promised to scale back those rules anyway. Today, as Grover Norquist points out, Republicans have little incentive to sign up for a carbon tax trade

Death in the news

An anonymous junior doctor from Sydney notes that three of her colleagues have committed suicide.  Doubts about the whole culture of making juniors work long hours under much pressure (because their forebears did it, so why can't they?) have been around for so long, but it never seems to be satisfactorily resolved.   A combination of money and culture is the problem, I guess...

The Washington Post had a story yesterday about people who chose to do their suicide live streamed on Facebook.   Very disturbing, but how to stop it?

* I haven't read all of this yet, but at the NYT Magazine, an article about a somewhat nutty sounding transhumanist who drove a coffin shaped bus around the US campaigning against death.  

Maybe this is where the wall should be built

NPR notes:
Thousands more troops and billions more dollars are needed to break the war in Afghanistan out of a "stalemate," the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan warned Congress on Thursday.
Army Gen. John Nicholson also told the Senate Armed Services Committee that outside powers have increased their meddling in Afghanistan over the past year, especially Russia, in ways that make it tougher for the U.S.-backed government in Kabul to make and keep gains against insurgents.
That's why the U.S. and its allies must send more troops and spend more money to help the Afghan military become more effective at attacking and defeating its enemies and keeping control of the ground they capture.
What a neverending mess.  

Thursday, February 09, 2017

More on that NOAA fight

I see that Science has a good, dispassionate, look at the Bates/Karl dispute.  

It confirms there is nothing harmful to climate science to it.

Hearing sounds before they arrive

I've heard about this mystery before:  how it is that people witnessing a large meteorite passing overhead sometimes report hearing sounds from it, but before any sound waves could have arrived from that distance.

A new theory as to what is happening is this:
Concurrent sound associated with very bright meteors manifests as popping, hissing, and faint rustling sounds occurring simultaneously with the arrival of light from meteors. Numerous instances have been documented with −11 to −13 brightness. These sounds cannot be attributed to direct acoustic propagation from the upper atmosphere for which travel time would be several minutes. Concurrent sounds must be associated with some form of electromagnetic energy generated by the meteor, propagated to the vicinity of the observer, and transduced into acoustic waves. Previously, energy propagated from meteors was assumed to be RF emissions. This has not been well validated experimentally. Herein we describe experimental results and numerical models in support of photoacoustic coupling as the mechanism. Recent photometric measurements of fireballs reveal strong millisecond flares and significant brightness oscillations at frequencies ≥40 Hz. Strongly modulated light at these frequencies with sufficient intensity can create concurrent sounds through radiative heating of common dielectric materials like hair, clothing, and leaves. This heating produces small pressure oscillations in the air contacting the absorbers. Calculations show that −12 brightness meteors can generate audible sound at ~25 dB SPL. The photoacoustic hypothesis provides an alternative explanation for this longstanding mystery about generation of concurrent sounds by fireballs.

Hard to believe

As noted at Axios:

A group of former senior U.S. officials from past Republican administrations have called for a tax on carbon emissions to help fight climate change, per the Financial Times. The group — known as the Climate Leadership Council — is led by James Baker, former secretary of state for George H.W. Bush and Treasury secretary for Ronald Reagan; George P. Schultz, former secretary of state under Reagan; and Henry Paulson, former Treasury secretary under George W. Bush.
They are scheduled to meet with White House officials later today, including Vice President Mike Pence, Jared Kushner and Director of the National Economic Council Gary Cohn, to present their plan for addressing global warming. They argue the proposal — which would tax carbon emissions at $40 per ton, with all of the revenue recycled in dividends paid back to the public — will "embody the principles of free markets and limited government."
Why this matters: The proposal puts influential members of the GOP on the record as favoring action on climate change — a position that is not publicly supported by establishment Republicans, as most GOP members have promised a rollback of emissions regulations now that they have control of both houses of Congress and the White House.
This is the exact policy that James Hansen (actually, a registered Republican) has supported for a decade or two, no?  I don't know whether I've ever seen much discussion amongst economists about how well it might work, but it's probably 100 times better than the current Republican policy - do nothing.

The true blockage to this ever being possible would be Republicans - including Trump - acknowledging that climate change is real, after all their years of denial and conspiracy mongering.

Can't see it happening, but it's encouraging that some Republicans - and old ones at that!* - are willing to push for it.

* Maybe I have to qualify my continual dismissal of anyone over 80 being unreliable on everything!

Stoat loses trust in Timmy

I noted recently that I hadn't realised Tim Worstall was in Farage's party and a pro Brexit-er, and as such, his judgement in anything should be seriously downgraded.

Now long time slightly contrarian climate blogger William Connolly seems annoyed to realise that Tim swallowed David Rose's article whole.

The Stoat should have paid attention to me...

Message to monty

Well, this is a bit of a surprise.  It seems to me the uber Catholics of Catallaxy (CL, db and Philippa, primarily, but some of the others too) do seem to be admitting shame about the extent of the Catholic Church child abuse issue as a result of the present inquiry. 

Yet, they still seem to hold the view that it was started as a Catholic witch hunt by Gillard, designed to hurt Abbott.  (I don't think there was ever any credible reason to believe that this was a primary - or even secondary - motive of Gillard.  But they hated her with a passion and were willing to fantasise about her evil plottings.)  In any event, it would seem that some are of the grudging view that some good is coming out of the exercise.  Quite a turnaround.

As for their insistence on celibacy not being relevant - why is Philippa, seemingly changed by her peripheral involvement in an investigation of a priest having an affair with another woman, insisting still that celibacy is not an issue at least in the case of priests having affairs with adult women??   

Could you ask that question of her?   I think she blocks emails, as she fantasises I am obsessive stalker.

Women and hair

A short article at The Atlantic gives some historical background as to why modern Western women disdain body hair.  (It doesn't cover that most recent trend, by that's been discussed a lot elsewhere.)  Some extracts:

The campaign against body hair on women originates in Darwin’s 1871 book Descent of Man, explains Herzig. Men of science obsessed over racial differences in hair type and growth (among other aspects of physical appearance), and as the press popularized these findings, the broader American public latched on. Darwin’s evolutionary theory transformed body hair into a question of competitive selection—so much so that hairiness was deeply pathologized. “Rooted in traditions of comparative racial anatomy, evolutionary thought solidified hair’s associations with ‘primitive’ ancestry and an atavistic return to earlier, ‘less developed’ forms,” Herzig writes. Post Descent, hairiness became an issue of fitness.

An important distinction in this evolutionary framework was that men were supposed to be hairy, and women were not. Scientists surmised that a clear distinction between the masculine and the feminine indicated “higher anthropological development” in a race. So, hairiness in women became indicative of deviance, and researchers set out to prove it. Herzig tells the story of an 1893 study of 271 cases of insanity in white women, which found that insane women had excessive facial hair more frequently than the sane. Their hairs were also “thicker and stiffer,” more closely resembling those of the “inferior races.” Havelock Ellis, the scholar of human sexuality, claimed that this type of hair growth in women was “linked to criminal violence, strong sexual instincts … [and] exceptional ‘animal vigor.’”...

....“In a remarkably short time, body hair became disgusting to middle-class American women, its removal a way to separate oneself from cruder people, lower class and immigrant,” writes Herzig.

As hemlines rose, threatening to reveal hairy limbs, women took extreme measures to remove hair.  In the 1920s and ’30s, women used pumice stones or sandpaper to depilate, which caused irritation and scabbing. Some tried modified shoemaker’s waxes. Thousands were killed or permanently disabled by Koremlu, a cream made from the rat poison thallium acetate. It was successful in eliminating hair, and also in causing muscular atrophy, blindness, limb damage, and death. Around the same time, X-ray hair removal emerged as another treatment option. Women would sit for three or four minutes in front of the invisible rays of a boxed X-ray machine, and the radiation would do its work. So great was the appeal of each hair withering away in its sheath that for nearly two decades women underwent dangerous radiation that led to scarring, ulceration, and cancer.
Men and body hair seems more a matter of more temporary fashion.   The 70's perception of masculinity still looks funny today, although I suppose hipster beards is something of a return to hairiness as manliness.   I'm not sure as to the average hipster's attitude to their bodily hairiness, though.    

The Turnbull problem

I'm not impressed by the Turnbull performance in Parliament yesterday:  I didn't care for the theatrical personal attacks by Keating;  I don't care for them in politics generally.  Attack ideas passionately, not personalities.  And, to my mind, seeing backbenchers getting thrilled by vitriol makes them look childish more than anything else.

I'm persuaded by Peter Martin's take on Turnbull - instead of pulling the Right into line in his party, he's trying to placate them.  I don't think it's going to end well.   

I don't care for Shorten as a performance politician much either, but I think Labor remains sounder policy wise, for the moment.

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

A bit nutty, Jason

Jason Soon keeps noting things said by Nassim Taleb, including re-tweeting extracts of an interview with him that have appeared at Zerohedge.

As far as I can tell, he has a general reputation of being a bit of a loudmouth quasi-contrarian, but with some basic credibility behind him.   He seems, for example, to be on the right side of climate change, arguing that the potential for disastrous temperature rise really means that action should be taken, and those to the contrary bear the burden of proving their do-nothing position.

And on economics, I have the feeling he might be more or less right (if you ignore the personal sledging of Obama) that the economic problems are not really solved:  
Oh, absolutely! The last crisis [2008] hasn’t ended yet because they just delayed it. [Barack] Obama is an actor. He looks good, he raises good children, he is respectable. But he didn’t fix the economic system, he put novocaine [local anaesthetic] in the system. He delayed the problem by working with the bankers whom he should have prosecuted. And now we have double the deficit, adjusted for GDP, to create six million jobs, with a massive debt and the system isn’t cured. We retained zero interest rates, and that hasn’t helped. Basically we shifted the problem from the private corporates to the government in the U.S. So, the system remains very fragile.
So, he worries about "massive debt".   But things start looking wonky in the second part, when he is asked how the Trump administration can address this:
Of course. The whole mandate he got was because he understood the economic problems. People don’t realise that Obama created inequalities when he distorted the system. You can only get rich if you have assets. What Trump is doing is put some kind of business sense in the system. You don’t have to be a genius to see what’s wrong. Instead of Trump being elected, if you went to the local souk [bazaar] in Aleppo and brought one of the retail shop owners, he would do the same thing Trump is doing. Like making a call to Boeing and asking why are we paying so much.
OK, he's stop making any sense. So, Taleb is giving Trump for being a non-expert who talks at a level people can understand.   The problem is - he's ignoring Trump's actual, and plain to see, ignorance on a swathe of economic and other problems, and on those matters where you can tell his general direction, Trump's approach (lower taxes, big infrastructure spend, Mexican wall, the EPA) is only going to make  matters Taleb complains about ("massive debt", climate change) worse.  Not to mention that the path Trump is taking is to decrease banking regulation - no sense of a banker punishment there;  quite the opposite.

As for Trump putting "business sense" into the system - Trump proudly pays no tax and brags about using debt to his advantage, and the string of litigation against his business conduct is embarrassing.

So yeah, sorry, but I have trouble taking Taleb seriously. 

A President for thugs

"Ha ha ha" they laughed. 
President Donald Trump appeared to quip Tuesday that he would “destroy” the career of a state senator in Texas who introduced legislation that a county sheriff doesn’t like.
Rockwall County Sheriff Harold Eavenson complained about the sheriff to Trump during a meeting on Tuesday in the White House with sheriffs from around the country. Eavenson will likely be the next president of the National Sheriff’s Association, according to The Dallas Morning News.
“A state senator in Texas was talking about introducing legislation to require conviction before we could receive that forfeiture money” from drug traffickers, Eavenson said.
“Can you believe that?” Trump replied.
Eavenson continued: “I told him that the cartel would build a monument to him in Mexico if he could get that legislation passed.”
“Who is the state senator?” Trump then asked. “Do you want to give his name?”
Eavenson shrugged.
“We’ll destroy his career,” Trump said as people around him laughed.

That trolley, revisited

John Horgan has been writing some posts about philosophy over at Scientific American, and they make for some interesting and amusing reading.   I'll just note this as an example:
Post-post-postscript: In “The Singer Solution to World Poverty,” Peter Singer uses a variation of the trolley problem to guilt New York Times readers into donating more to the poor. He asks us to imagine a man, Bob, watching a train bearing down on a child. Bob can pull a switch that diverts the train onto another track, but then the train will destroy Bob’s Bugatti sports car. Any sane person, Singer writes, knows that it would be "gravely wrong" for Bob not to pull the switch and save the child. It is equally wrong, he asserts, for us to spend on stuff we don’t really need rather than donating to groups that can save the lives of poor children. I was relieved when the Times published a letter that pointed out a kink in Singer’s reasoning. According to a strict utilitarian analysis, Bob should let the train kill the child, because he could then sell the Bugatti and donate the proceeds to a charity that would save lots of children.