Friday, March 31, 2017

Suffering on the Right

Gee, the Australian culture war fighting Right is having a bad time of it:  the only cartoonist in the land sympathetic to their gripes and obsessions died;  their anti-PC for the sake of being anti PC little cable show has gone down the drain after Mark Latham got the sack; and (in news only noticed by them), the Federal government didn't get the change they wanted to s18C Racial Discrimination Act.  (I can safely say that, due the cyclone, absolutely no one in Queensland was paying attention to that little sideshow.) 

The only thing they have to hold onto is the Trump presidency which, try as they might to pretend otherwise, is a complete shambles of Right wing infighting, lies and distortion.   (They don't see it that way, but they are dimwitted and it will get through to them, eventually.)

I suppose they still have Andrew Bolt to cling to, too.  If ever he disappears in a scandal of some kind or other, we'd have to put them on suicide watch....

Disaster coverage

Has anyone else noticed how coverage of cyclones seems to go now?

The media sends up a heap of people to a scattered area where a cyclone may hit, and they stand in front of the cameras waiting for the wind to pick up and buildings to start getting blown away around them.

When that doesn't happen on screen, and yet they keep coverage going on for hours on end, trying to talk up how bad it is when there is no real destruction behind them, you start to get people elsewhere in the country doubting that it is all that bad.  (Particularly Right wing culture warriors who want to counter any suggestion of climate change having made any bad weather worse.)

Then, the next day, you start to get some images of damaged buildings, but not too many, because the roads are blocked or flooded, so the TV crews can't get around much anyway.  Again, some viewers are starting to think "not so bad".

Then, by day 3 or 4, when you actually do start getting some more detailed images of ruined resorts, homes, and commercial premises, you get the feeling that people are sick of the coverage and don't care much about they're seeing anyway.

The people around the Whitsunday area have been without power for days now, and I saw, but only on Twitter, that many electricity pylons had been bent over in the cyclone, presumably meaning that some areas will have no power for quite a while yet.   Coverage also indicated that a huge storm downpour in the area caused a lot of flood damage the first or second night after the cyclone.

Daydream Island looks extremely smashed up; Hamilton Island less so, but in both cases, there has actually not been that much video evidence.  We don't even know what some of the other islands look like.

The few locals I have seen interviewed do seem to have considered it to have the worst experience they have had, especially given that the cyclone seemed to be very slow moving, causing them many hours of distressing high wind and rain.

It's been said that there had been damage of a lot of buildings at the inland town of Collinsville, but I don't think I have seen any news video of that at all.

My point is - the way television coverage of cyclones work now, it seems to give a very misleading impression of what has gone on.   Less live coverage of the type we have just seen would actually help correct that.

One other point:   I get the impression, from watching people in the area talking about lack of information, and how they can't communicate because mobile phones can't be charged, that some have sort of forgotten about listening to the local radio station during emergencies (and having plenty of batteries for their AM radio.)  Maybe that's not fair, but I just had the feeling that people are so used to using the internet for information, they seem to now feel there is no other way to get messages if they can't access it.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Not your average UFO sighting

I see, via The Anomalist, that a mainstream maritime worker forum/information site has run a report of a UFO arising out of the Gulf of Mexico:

A crew member of an offshore supply vessel in the Gulf of Mexico claims he saw a UFO ‘fives times’ the size of his vessel and UFO trackers are now looking for more witnesses to come forward with any information possibly related to the sighting.
The UFO sighting reportedly occurred on Tuesday in the Gulf of Mexico approximately 80 miles southeast of New Orleans.

The sighting was submitted to the National UFO Reporting Center, which apparently tracks UFO sightings and data, by the chief engineer of an OSV working the Gulf of Mexico on Thursday afternoon. According to the eyewitness report:

“Close to 7:00 pm on March 21st, just before dusk, myself and 4 of the crew members aboard our vessel saw a craft that appeared to be five times our 240 ft vessel in length. My line of sight was about 1/4 mile from our vessel. There was a rig behind the craft about a 1/2 mile. i used this to help gauge size of craft. Sighting was approximately 80 miles SE of New Orleans, Louisiana.

The scene lasted about 40 seconds. The craft rose up out of the water (Gulf of Mexico) about 40 feet, no water was dripping from the craft. Within a split second the craft disappeared at a 30 degree angle into the sky. Speed appeared to faster than speed of a light turning on in a room. Within seconds it had disappeared completely.
I can say for sure that the craft was dark colored, oval in shape and made no sound whatsoever.

The NUFORC has even highlighted the sighting as being of particular interest among the 246 reports of UFOs received in March alone. And after speaking with the witness by phone, the NUFORC said the report seems legit and has urged more witnesses to come forward. 

“We spoke via telephone with this witness, and he seemed to us to be unusually sober-minded,” NUFORC wrote in a note added to the original report. “We suspect that he is a very capable, and very reliable, witness. He estimates that upwards of perhaps 50 people, who were aboard nearby vessels, may have witnessed the event, as well. We would urge those other witnesses to submit reports of what they had witnessed.”
Hate to say it, but if no one else comes forward to back this guy up, you would have to put it down to something mental going on...

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

We need to talk about Mark

It generally doesn't pay to reward belligerent right wing media culture warriors with the attention they desire, but Mark Latham seems to be on some sort of bender of offensive jerk behaviour at the moment, although this article reminds me that it has been building for some time.  

Oh, and before finishing this post, I see news has broken that Sky News has sacked him.

Good.  He's been capable at times, probably years ago now, of decent commentary on certain topics, but he's decided to make a name for himself by being an offensive loud mouth on the culture wars and feminism/gender politics in particular.  Overcompensating for the loss of a testicle, perhaps? (to go for a quasi Freudian explanation...)

Update:   an amusing tweet about his career:

Transgender skepticism, noted again

I had a look at Online Opinion for the first time in ages (it's a wonder it's still around, I think), and noticed that there was a recent, skeptical take on transgenderism, referring in particular to a news story about an Australian school supporting a transgender teen.

The claims in the article were hotly disputed in comments, and to be honest, I haven't tried to check up on who was right or wrong.

But, it did remind me to check in on the 4thWaveNow blog, which I have posted about before.  (It's a non-religiously motivated blog for parents skeptical of the way transgender desire/interest is now handled in children and teens - basically arguing that views have swung way, way too far into promoting early intervention to help transition.)

There is a recent post there that is really good - showing how experts who are completely and utterly on one side of the matter (pro-transition) try to dominate discussion and advice as to how parents should act.

I find the arguments of the people who run this blog very convincing, and a correction back to the centre of how to view this matter is already overdue.

Vaccine works

New study shows HPV vaccine is working to reduce rates of genital warts

The article does note at the end that, despite this, other sexually transmitted infections are on the rise. I guess an unintended consequence of the success of a vaccine against one STD might be the belief that safe sex practices are unimportant now?

Seems worth noting

Tax Cuts Don't Lead to Economic Growth, a New 65-Year Study Finds

He gets around

Quite an odd story at NPR about how many times the body of President James Polk has been moved, and how it's still possibly on the move:
Perhaps no president has had his remains fought over more than Polk. He passed away in 1849 just months after leaving the White House, and from the beginning, his wishes were ignored. Because he died of cholera, he received a quick burial in a city cemetery for sanitary reasons.

The next year, Sarah Polk insisted he be moved to their Nashville home, Polk Place, as stated in his will.

He lay there until after Sarah's death in 1891. With no direct heirs, a judge divided the estate, leading to Polk Place's demolition and the tomb's relocation.

"I don't know that we're taking an honor away, and I would agree it is an honor to be buried at the Capitol, but it's a little bit difficult to get to," says Thomas Price, the curator of the James K. Polk Home and Museum in Columbia, Tenn.

Price says he wants the tomb moved an hour away, to the only home still standing where Polk actually lived.
 And why would I bother posting about this?  Because it reminds me of a favourite song from They Might be Giants:

Colbert is hitting some spectacular highs

Tastes in comedy vary, of course, but I really think you would have to be a Trump loving, one eyed idiot who should never stray from the comfort of the asylum of Catallaxy to not find at least some parts of his first monologue about Trump's failure last week hilarious:

He followed that up with a sharp attack on Jared Kushner's new role, the Russian connection, etc;  and in this one, I think you can really see the anger flash in his eyes for a second:

It's no wonder he's rating well now - he's never been better.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

About Trump and "populism"

It's all a bit complicated, but this Vox article that talks about culture, economics, Trump and populism is worth reading.  Here's one section:

Sean Illing

As you know, there are dueling theses about what's really behind the Trump phenomenon: It’s either about economic insecurity or it’s a cultural backlash among older, whiter Americans. You seem firmly in the latter camp.

Pippa Norris

That's right, and the solutions are very different depending on how you interpret what happened. If it's economics, you can go along with the Bernie Sanders solution. You can think of job apprenticeships, such as we've had in Germany, to make sure that blue-collar workers have the skills they need, building up community colleges, improving the minimum wage. You can think about economic redistribution. Parties like Labour under Jeremy Corbyn have certainly adopted those policies in a way to try to get back to the electorate and build up their support, but it basically hasn't worked.
On the other hand, if it's cultural factors, then there's a much deeper problem. It's a problem for liberals in particular. Many of the leaders and members of parties who are active on the left are actually part of the progressive left. They’re well-educated and won't go back on issues like gender equality or issues of race and racism or Islamophobia. So they’re limited in terms of how they can respond to this cultural backlash.
On some of the basic values which Trump's supporters and authoritarians believe, they're not going to reverse. They're not going to simply abandon all evidence-based policy, the emphasis on education and expanding college education or emphasis on gender equality, women's rights or social tolerance in the broadest sense for social diversity because that's built into their DNA.
So progressive forces leading social democratic parties can try to build their support back and they can do some things, but it's much easier for parties on the right to adopt some of the similar language.
Hmmm.   I would say that, more correctly, it's a short term problem for liberals.   Because the older folk pining for the old days will be dying out, literally, sooner or later.

But on the economics side, I guess it is a problem for liberals, on the matter of how to address properly the issues with globalisation (and technological advance) not working that well for a section of the formerly employed.

Tech people can be an eccentric bunch

From Axios (which I see is being massively overrun by Starbucks advertising - it's a bit irritating):

In Maureen Dowd's Vanity Fair piece on Elon Musk and the coming revolution in artificial intelligence, researcher Eliezer Yudkowsky lays out one vision of the apocalypse:
"If you want a picture of A.I. gone wrong, don't imagine marching humanoid robots with glowing red eyes. Imagine tiny invisible synthetic bacteria made of diamond, with tiny onboard computers, hiding inside your bloodstream and everyone else's. And then, simultaneously, they release one microgram of botulinum toxin. Everyone just falls over dead."

As many suspected...

Extreme weather events linked to climate change impact on the jet stream

Against global carbon trading

There's an interesting opinion piece up at Nature News, arguing that a global carbon trading market is not a good idea, generally speaking.

Sounds pretty convincing to me.  

I wonder what John Quiggin thinks of the arguments put there...

Monday, March 27, 2017

A complaint about the weather

I'm really sick of this summer, which should be easing by now, but isn't.

It's getting close to April, and it was 32 degrees yesterday (perhaps more in my suburb, I think), humid and still.

In fact, that's my biggest complaint about this summer - it's been hot and (usually) without the benefit of any evening breeze (or, largely, any evening storms.)  

We've also had little rain (although some recently has greened the place up.)  The yard has never looked worse during a summer.  We tried growing some vegetables, as we weren't taking a holiday, and nothing grew well.

We never ended up going to the beach, partly for fear of car heat in the oppressive sun, but it appears no great loss anyway, as there were lots of reports of lots of jellyfish and stingers this whole summer.

The only arguably worse summer was the one that led to the 2011 floods, where the rain was continual and you really felt like a shut in for that reason.

Sydney has likely had an even worse time of it this year, but Brisbane's summer has been bad enough.

Instant divorce in India

All that's required for a Muslim man in India to end a marriage is to declare, talaq, which means divorce in Arabic. Pronounced three times, it's irrevocable. Many Islamic countries have banned the practice.....
Parveen says her husband rebuffed all her attempts to return to him.
"I was so young," she says, "I didn't know what was happening."
Maimoona Mollah, president of the All India Democratic Women's Association, Delhi Chapter, condemns the practice of talaq as "unilateral" and "arbitrary."
Mollah says women can also initiate divorce. But members of the community say a woman must first consult a cleric, while a man, she says, "severs the relationship" on his own. She says there needs to be a "formal process" for any divorce where a woman and her children receive financial support.
The way talaq is practiced, "it definitely stands in the way of a woman getting her rightful place," Mollah says.
Several divorced women have petitioned India's Supreme Court to ban this form of instant divorce. Countries including Pakistan, Tunisia, and Egypt have curbed the practice and moved divorce into the orbit of the state and judiciary.
From NPR.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Norway, and Europe, discussed

I've had an interest in visiting Norway for quite a while now - oddly enough, kicked off by comments about it in that biography about the somewhat oddball, sometimes cross-dressing, Englishman who ended up in  Antarctica with Mawson.   I quite liked Trollhunter too (available on Stan); watching Joanna Lumley travelling there to achieve her childhood ambition of seeing the Northern Lights; and generally speaking, for whatever reason (a good tourist marketing board?), the place just seems to have attracted a lot of publicity for its natural beauty over the last few years.  (Search "Norway 4K" on Youtube or Vimeo to see what I mean.)

So, it was with some interest and amusement that I read this light piece in The Guardian prompted by the country has turned up Number 1 on some international happiness survey.  (The author takes a somewhat cynical view of the matter, and makes some questionable comparisons with other countries, all leading to an very interesting thread by people who have been to/lived in Norway for a time.)

A few things I take away from reading the comments thread:  

1.  It is enormously expensive to drink and eat there, but despite this, Norwegians do like getting off their faces on the weekend;
2.  they do tend go to berserk during the few months of pleasant weather they have;
3.  the women are generally very attractive.

 But, more from the article itself:
Norwegians are often slightly nervous and awkward socially, maybe a bit repressed. It is said that the social anxiety might be a result of the weather, and it does makes sense: it’s cold, and rains a lot, so there are only really a few months of the year when we can regularly be outside among people. The rest of the year we stay inside like hibernating bears – and when, suddenly, spring comes and we have to go outside and talk to people, this can be painfully difficult. We don’t have the same social training as, say, the Greeks, who enjoy looking each other in the eye while singing love songs – or the Cubans, whose idea of having fun is to dance sober.
More than one person in comments notes that the Greeks aren't exactly doing a lot of feeling happy over the last few years, given their dire financial position.  But, to be honest, even before the current crisis, I didn't think Greeks had that big a reputation for being happy, expressive, romantic types.  I would have put that  more over in the Italian corner of the Mediterranean. 

This next part caught my attention:
The repressed part in us comes from a social mechanism we have called the law of Jante. It basically means you should not believe you are somebody special, or be too happy with who you are. It’s quite an unnecessary law, and in many ways as lame as the sound of its own name. But the exception to the rule is when you’re drunk: then you are allowed to take up more space, so people get properly wasted at the weekends.
No one in the comments thread (so far as I know) has yet pointed out how similar this sounds to the Japanese.   Perhaps I should join in The Guardian community to make this observation.  Guardian comments threads can be great fun...

For example, I liked this credible sounding observation:
I don't know much of Norway but a bit about Sweden.
Several years ago, I worked for an Italian company that owned a Swedish subsidiary. My role meant that I was, in a way, caught between the two cultures.
It was a testing experience. The two working cultures were completely incompatible and there was mutual mistrust, bordering on hostility. The Swedish resented the somewhat pragmatic way of doing things espoused by the Italians; the Italians resented the Swedish insistence on observing form and process. The Swedish disliked the Italian emotiveness; the Italians mistrusted the Swedish inscrutability.
At work, the Swedish were generally polite but reserved and disagreement was voiced quietly but in a way that could degenerate into sullenness or passive-aggressiveness; the Italians were generally much more outspoken, as one would expect, with disagreements sometimes degenerating into rows that could be peppered with expletives such as "cazzo", etc.
At the weekends, it seemed that the positions sometimes reversed. The Swedish went drinking on Friday and Wednesday (which they called Little Friday). When drunk, there was the potential for expressions of Viking Rage; the Italians would have some food, some wine and relaxed conversation.
Ironically, despite their differences, they had much in common. Both placed a very high premium on family life, albeit expressed in different ways, and more so than we seem to. Both societies seemed to be more cohesive than ours, held together by very different societal norms.
It was a fascinating experience. I very much enjoyed the experience of both - each culture had both positive and negative attributes - but working between them could be testing at times.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Odd stories of large, hairy creatures

Oh, The Australian has a column about something other than Bill Leak (martyr), Gillian Triggs (evil witch), and the Racial Discrimation Act (work of the devil).

Caroline Overington (no link, 'cos of paywall, but I got to it by Googling "A Yowie Encounter" in news)  writes of an autobiographical book to be published by a somewhat eccentric character she met at a writer's festival a few years ago, and it contains a yowie story: 
It’s hard to tell from Scoundrel Days exactly how old Brentley was when he saw his Yowie but it’s the 1980s, so he’s definitely still a boy, and he’s travelling with the cultish parents in the far north with an Aboriginal kid called Albatross, or Trossy.
Trossy’s dad goes into the bush to find a kangaroo, and Brentley and Trossy busy themselves by diving deep in a lagoon, stirring up turtles from under floating logs, trying to touch the bottom.
Then Trossy comes up, and he “thrashes about, near drowning himself”.
Brentley yells: “What?”
Trossy screams: “Yowie.”
Brentley looks up, and behind him “towers a ferociously ugly creature, covered in thick orange hair …. Clumps of mud, broken sticks and gore hang off it like dags on a sheep. It has dull grey eyes, a flat pushed-up nose, and teeth like an English bulldog’s. It snorts and then roars ... I vomit in its face from the stench and the terror and run like a sinner to heaven.”
Some time later, Trossy’s dad reappears with the kangaroo over his shoulders or by the tail. Who can even remember? Brentley tells him about the Yowie, and he comes over all thoughtful, saying the Yowie won’t normally reveal itself to white folk, but perhaps somebody important died. I’ll leave that there.
 The veracity of the author as to stories he tells is somewhat undercut, however, with Overington's very next line:
The book goes on with Brentley’s memories of being born during a cyclone, with blue tarps flapping in the ferocious wind where the hospital roof should have been. 
Sounds to me he might have more than a touch of the Shirley MacLaine's about him.

Anyhow, Googling yowies in news leads to a recent story from Toowoomba by a woman apparently (because it is second hand) claiming to have encountered one while bushwalking close to the town:
The witness was bushwalking when she noticed the frightening creature and said it was about two metres tall.
The creature was originally walking through the grass when she first saw it but then sat down in the grass and completely ignored the woman's attempts to gain its attention.
"It has a head like a gorilla and long arms. I couldn't see it from the waist down because it was walking through long grass with its arm swinging from side to side," she said.
"I was only about 20 ft away and I could see it was very muscular. It was very broad.
"I was trying to figure out what I was looking at. I thought it might have been a rock but no way, it had shoulders and a head. Nothing else is shaped like that."
Very odd comment at the end, about trying to work out if she was looking at a rock, or not.   Does she wear glasses, I wonder?  On the other hand, if the paranormal explanation of hairy men being creatures who slip over from their other dimensional version of Earth into ours occasionally, perhaps they don't see humans well when they are in our world?  

I have to say, I find this second hand story of an encounter from a few years back  (again, in South East Queensland) somewhat more convincing, or at least, confusing:
"My friend is a photographer and they were out doing night time shooting.
"It was along the Fig Tree walk, just opposite the Charlie Moreland campground.
"They were walking through the bush at night time by torch light and they were heading down towards the creek and they got a really strange strong smell and they both commented and said, 'yuk, isn't' that a horrible smell. What a disgusting smell'.
"They went a little bit further and heard a crunching noise through the bush ahead of them, and then they saw it, with two big red eyes staring back at them.
"Not too close, just a little bit away from them.
"Whatever it was, they said it was quite tall, and it kept going and then every now and then it would turn around and look back at them.
"They shone their torches on it and they couldn't really make out what it was, but all they could clearly see were these red eyes.
As I wrote here 11 years ago, I find the association of foul smells with a sighting/sound of a large creature in the Australian scrub the most fascinating thing - both because I once knew a guy who said he had the exact same experience while bush camping not too far from Brisbane, and because, unlike other countries, we simply have no wild animal known for its terrible smell.  Sure, the red eyes might be from an owl, or something else, but I just don't know how to account for the smell.

Anyway, moving onto other recent-ish newspaper reports from near my part of the world, while the main character in this story tells of a highly, highly improbable encounter...
Mr Duffy says he was camped in the bush, north-east of Gympie late one night, when "a very large male approached me".
"I got a fright and so did he," he said.
The creature seemed human but larger and spoke in a language he thinks might be Latin.
"He was quickly able to learn a few words in English and we spoke for about two hours," the Kybong resident said.
"They're very intelligent."
But he says they are in danger.
"They build meagre shelters in the forest which are often destroyed by humans," he said.
"The EPA won't respond to my calls." the same report, it starts with brief details of ex Senator Bill O'Chee claiming he and a group of students saw something odd in the Gold Coast hinterland:
Former Queensland senator Bill O'Chee was one of more than a dozen people, including fellow high school students and teachers, who claimed to have seen such a creature at a Springbrook camp site in 1977.
It was, Mr O'Chee said "an immensely powerful creature" and he later told a documentary interviewer: "Basically we saw a yowie, but we didn't know what they were at the time.
"We saw a sort of hairy, ape-like thing that probably would have stood about eight feet tall," he said.
If you want to read about other oddball, action man, yowie-evidence hunters, have a look at this report.  Yes, one guy claims to have been attacked, twice.

And then, in another bit of whiplash, I have mentioned how my family likes going to the monthly farmers market at Mulgowie - barely a town, more of a locality, really, but it does have a pub and a sports ground.   Anyway, I don't think I have mentioned before that it had its own yowie sighting in 2001, which, for some reason, got a detailed re-telling in the local press in 2013:
The elusive creature has not been officially seen since August 15, 2001, when Mrs Crouten, a cook working for a local doctor, saw the yowie-like animal at midnight on the corner of McGarrigal Rd and Mulgowie Rd.
The QT reported the incident and interviewed Senior Constable Johns, who said the lady "saw something that looked like an ape approaching the road" as she was driving along.
It was walking on all fours.
Snr Constable Johns says the lady was lucid and sane, so he accompanied her to the site to search for the beast after she reported it.
The report ties in with what Mrs Crouten told the Australian Yowie Research organisation.
The group's website records her as saying the creature was "covered in dark hair" and "looked like a large version of an orang-utan".
 Creature on all fours?  Given there are lots of cows and horses in the area, that's not a good sign.
 The local publican offers an odd explanation:
 Meanwhile, Vidler has a hunch the yowie was "a big black dog that lived in the area that had a funny arse on it".
The local community is happy to be known for the sighting:
"I believe there were two or three people that saw the yowie," he says.
"Its notoriety has died down a bit, but it still comes up.
"It was our mascot for our Mulgowie Yowies indoor cricket side and a couple of touch football teams have been the Yowies.
"My grandmother made a logo up when we were looking at having the yowie as our mascot at the cricket club. She sketched up a half human, half gorilla with a cricket bat.
Much further away, and in 2014, a man in Far North Queensland sees something on the road that does sound rather ape like:
But Wonga Beach man Brad Brown is still shaken after his encounter last week with something resembling an ape.
“I was driving home from work about 10.30pm and I was on the Rocky Point range going around a bend when suddenly something ran in front of my car,” he said.
“I didn’t know what I saw, it was big and really hairy with an oblong-shaped head.
“Its arms were hanging behind it as it ran.”
And I'll end on this story, from a character in 2010 who got scared by something large he could barely see near him in the bush, and while it's obviously inconclusive, I was sort of impressed by the self deprecation and what comes across as genuine puzzlement.   (There was no smell, though, which would have made the story perfect!)

Friday, March 24, 2017

Quite a talent

I haven't seen Mark Humphries doing his Andrew Bolt impersonation before (as conservative talk show host Campbell Parkes) but it's pretty good:

Humphries is quite a talent, I think, although I don't know how much of his material that turns up on The Feed is written with others.   Here's a link with lots of his videos.

Moderate drinking gets a boost

Maybe I should ramp up the alcohol in my formula for a healthy life:   an average one alcoholic drink a day, not every second day.  But I don't think it would hurt to do what most people probably do - a few drinks on a Friday or Saturday night, and then skip any drink on a couple of mid week nights. 

Anti aging treatments in the news

First - some promising sounding research in the US and Australia.  (Mind you, many promises in this field seem to amount to nothing.):

And the BBC has a report on a drug which does well in mice, at least.

Maybe Peter Thiel can stop being a wannabe vampire...

They don't get out much

To outsiders, the American health and leave system has always looked like a complete mess. 

Yet, even with the controversy swirling around health care reform, this article notes that Pew survey results indicate Americans are not as concerned about their own mess as you would expect:
“In general, the public has a more positive view of policies that incentivize employers or employees rather than those that create a new government fund to finance and administer the benefit,” the Pew researchers write.
This mirrors an interesting quirk in health care: People seem to trust their own employers more than the federal government to handle their health benefits and insurance, even though people end up more satisfied when the government provides it.
In some ways, this is just a side effect of Americans’ eroding trust in government, which is near all-time lows. Just one in five Americans trust the government “always or most of the time,” according to a 2015 Pew poll. Meanwhile, American trust in businesses is considerably stronger. Not only does “big business” outperform Congress on measures of public confidence, “small business” is the one of the most trusted “institutions” in the U.S., according to Gallup—second only to the military. That faith is revealed in this current Pew survey on paid leave, in which two-thirds of workers said they “believe their employer cares a great deal or a fair amount about the personal well-being of their employees.”
I think the answer lies in two things:   the streak of paranoia that runs through American politics  and which is a never ending source of fascination and concern to foreigners, and the fact that very few  Americans ever get to experience how other nations with greater government involvement in health care work.    (I don't think it a myth that Americans are not big overseas travellers, let alone stay long enough in other countries to ever need their health system.)

Danger in London

OK, this is a dangerous comment to make, in case there is a major Islamic inspired attack in England again in the near future.   And there is a bit of a difference as to the current situation, in that the previous decades of terrorist attacks at least were carried out by people with a clear, more-or-less achievable political end in view.  (Whereas now, Islamic inspired nutters are completely deluded in thinking that their attacks are going to actually achieve anything of benefit for their fantasy Caliphate, or help in the Middle East in any way.)

But - I thought it still worth noting that go back a few decades, and London really had a dangerous reputation for terrorist attacks that (to my mind) made it feel riskier than it does now, despite yesterday's horrible attack.

What I'm referring to, of course, is the lengthy terrorist campaign in London and elsewhere in England run by the IRA.

I mean, just look at the extraordinary length of the list of terrorist attacks and incidents from the 70's to the 90's compiled at this Wikipedia post.   While my memory was that London was in the news a lot in those decades for all the wrong reasons, the number of incidents is worse than I would have estimated.

So, yeah, random Islamic inspired attacks are terrible, but London and England will come through it.

Straight talking from John Quiggin

John Quiggin resigned from the Climate Change Authority with this bit of straight talking:
The government’s refusal to accept the advice of its own Authority, despite wide support for that advice from business, environmental groups and the community as a whole, reflects the comprehensive failure of its policies on energy and the environment. These failures can be traced, in large measure, to the fact that the government is beholden to rightwing anti-science activists in its own ranks and in the media. Rather than resist these extremists, the Turnbull government has chosen to treat the vital issues of climate change and energy security as an opportunity for political pointscoring and culture war rhetoric.

I do not believe there is anything useful to be gained by providing objective advice based on science and economic analysis to a government dominated by elements hostile to both science and economics.
As I've said before, there needs to a formal split between the climate change deniers in the Coalition, and the sensible.  I can't see how Turnbull can really keep pandering to the foolish within his government.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Yes, it is sinister

From The Guardian:
Donald Trump wants us to associate immigrants with criminality. That is the reason behind a weekly published list of immigrant crimes – the first of which was made public on Monday. Singling out the crimes of undocumented immigrants has one objective: to make people view them as deviant, dangerous and fundamentally undesirable.

The very idea is sinister.

Since the start of his presidential campaign, Trump characterized brown-skinned immigrants as criminals by painting Mexicans as rapists and Muslims as terrorists. This fear-mongering has continued into his administration, and has expressed itself in unprecedented policies.

Trump has gone so far as to create an office called Voice – Victims Of Immigration Crime Engagement Office. An expert on concentration camps has already pointed out that the weekly list of crimes bears deeply troubling resemblances to Nazi–era Germany, where Hitler published Jewish crimes...

Reading the report, one is struck by how the alarmist rhetoric of Trump and the Department of Homeland Security doesn’t quite fit the nature of many of the crimes that are listed. A high number of them are for non-violent offences such as drug possession, driving under the influence of liquor and traffic violations. 
No other Republican candidate was so brazen as to actually encourage xenophobia for political advantage, and it was pretty outrageous that they, and the media, didn't attack it more during the campaign.  (Or now.)

Stupidity runs in the family

Donald Trump Jr called 'a disgrace' for tweet goading London mayor 
The whole misleading tweet comes from The Independent running a somewhat misleading headline in 2016.   But it would seem someone in the Trumpworld dug this up and Donald Jnr ran with it.
Dumb, but lots of dimwitted Trump supporters will never bother going further than the tweet.

Update:  I see from Catallaxy (where CL is running with the story - of course, selective quoting and exaggeration is his rhetorical speciality) that the source of this is from Gateway Pundit.  

And in checking on what exactly Khan said in September 2016, it is clear that many English papers ran with "part and parcel" but without putting up the full sentence.   Even when you go to the Breitbart version of the story, they don't seem to have the full sentence, and their longest quote goes with the unremarkable:
“It is a reality I’m afraid that London, New York, other major cities around the world have got to be prepared for these sorts of things,” he said, the Evening Standard reports.
“That means being vigilant, having a police force that is in touch with communities, it means the security services being ready, but also it means exchanging ideas and best practice,” he added.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Ocean acidification continues apace, with hardly anyone noticing

From Nature Climate Change:

The uptake of anthropogenic CO2 by the ocean decreases seawater pH and carbonate mineral aragonite saturation state (Ωarag), a process known as Ocean Acidification (OA). This can be detrimental to marine organisms and ecosystems1, 2. The Arctic Ocean is particularly sensitive to climate change3 and aragonite is expected to become undersaturated (Ωarag < 1) there sooner than in other oceans4. However, the extent and expansion rate of OA in this region are still unknown. Here we show that, between the 1990s and 2010, low Ωarag waters have expanded northwards at least 5°, to 85° N, and deepened 100m, to 250m depth. Data from trans-western Arctic Ocean cruises show that Ωarag < 1 water has increased in the upper 250m from 5% to 31% of the total area north of 70° N. Tracer data and model simulations suggest that increased Pacific Winter Water transport, driven by an anomalous circulation pattern and sea-ice retreat, is primarily responsible for the expansion, although local carbon recycling and anthropogenic CO2 uptake have also contributed. These results indicate more rapid acidification is occurring in the Arctic Ocean than the Pacific and Atlantic oceans5, 6, 7, 8, with the western Arctic Ocean the first open-ocean region with large-scale expansion of ‘acidified water directly observed in the upper water column.

Do us a favour and kick him in the shins?

Someone who worked for years in the Climate Policy area of the IPA does not deserve a friendly welcome from anyone connected with the CSIRO.  (The IPA thinks it should be privatised, by the way.)

And he is short, isn't he?  (He wishes he wasn't, so feel free to mention it anytime...)

Different stars, even..

OK, so of course I knew the first bit, and have told my children about it (although I'm not entirely sure they remember), but I didn't know the second part (about the different stars):
A theoretical physicist, Krauss proclaimed in a recent talk: "Every atom in your body came from a star that exploded, and the atoms in your left hand probably came from a different star than your right hand. It really is the most poetic thing I know about physics: You are all stardust."

Wall Street Journal joins the "fake news" outlets

Even the WSJ is sick of Trump's "say anything" approach to the truth.

Their editorial starts with:
If President Trump announces that North Korea launched a missile that landed within 100 miles of Hawaii, would most Americans believe him? Would the rest of the world? We’re not sure, which speaks to the damage that Mr. Trump is doing to his Presidency with his seemingly endless stream of exaggerations, evidence-free accusations, implausible denials and other falsehoods.
and ends on this note:
Two months into his Presidency, Gallup has Mr. Trump’s approval rating at 39%. No doubt Mr. Trump considers that fake news, but if he doesn’t show more respect for the truth most Americans may conclude he’s a fake President.
Good to see.

Let him rest

I take it from my twitter feed that there are perhaps two articles with respect to the late Bill Leak in The Australian today?  One of them is by his son, defending his father against the charge of racism, and I suppose I don't begrudge him having an opportunity to address that.  But still - the column space that has been devoted to him by that paper is just completely over the top.   (And I still say that a non-racist can produce a cartoon that racists take support from - and editors and the cartoonist himself should be sensitive to that.)

The Australian has a tiny circulation and seems to be under the impression that its relentless campaigns are actually of vital interest to the population at large.  In fact, they only matter to their hard core Right readership, including a limited number of Coalition politicians.  

And really, if the Senate is not going to pass amendments to the Racial Discrimination Act, what is the value of Coalition spending so much time on this, apart from it representing Right wing virtue signalling?  

Hayek and morals

I really have little interest in Hayek - my assumption is that he is too much of a cult figure to be all that worthwhile studying.  (Cult figures are rarely worth the effort - it's a safe rule of thumb.  And no Jesus Christ jibes from you, thank you Jason.)

But I see there's an article that covers his attitude to morals, and it would appear that he was a proto Ayn Rand (maybe everyone already knows that, except me?):

To be sure, Hayek endorsed a wide range of laws that sustain public order, private property, honesty in business activities, making contracts and determining prices. No doubt, everyone would seem to benefit by adopting such standards, but they are minimal and beg for a more comprehensive approach. Instead, Hayek suggests that in the modern era a number of formerly esteemed virtues need to be abandoned. It seems that a Christian based moral outlook harbors several moral ‘instincts’ that are outmoded. Among those ‘instincts’ are solidarism (a concern for the overall welfare of a community) and altruism (a charitable and self-sacrificing attitude toward one’s neighbors). Writing in The Fatal Conceit, Hayek says, “It is these two instincts, deeply embedded in our purely instinctive or intuitive reactions, which remained the great obstacle to the development of the present market economy.” He contends that free trade and modern Capitalism emerged in the 18th century only after such virtues were superseded by self-interest. This explains, he says, why Capitalism is maligned by ill-informed people who wrongly insist that it’s vital for a well governed society to actively promote policies that insure fairness, equity, and social justice.

Most traditional thinkers are convinced that such moral virtues underlie the concept of a moral order and of the common good. Solidarism and altruism, both forms of charity, are often rendered by the Greek word ‘agape.’ The two virtues are central to the Gospels, the Ten Commandments and have always been a core component of a Judeo-Christian culture. Nonetheless, true liberty for Hayek requires replacing them with self-interest and individualism.  ...

In public policy, Hayek did favor retaining long established institutions and was a persuasive advocate for private initiatives. Aside from minimal help for the destitute, Hayek repeatedly warned that all public assistance, welfare or social insurance provided by the state had to be quickly and efficiently phased out. Such endeavors, he wrote, not only destroy liberty by imposing a particular moral viewpoint on everyone, they will shepherd us to national bankruptcy! This austere philosophy has attracted many sponsors.

Yeah, nah.   This is where  I'll take Catholic social teaching on economics and government, with its balance between the extremes of free market economics and excessive  government control, any day. 

Empathy in the news

There's a book out with the somewhat provocative title Against Empathy, and the author explains it at Vox, and lots of sites discuss his argument, such as at Psychology Today.

In a similar vein, you can read how Too Much Emotional Intelligence is a Bad Thing.

I should drink more

Tea, that is.

My hunch from articles that continually flow about the health benefits of certain drinks is that the healthy lifestyle might involve:   one strong cup of coffee per day; one cup of tea per day; one glass of red wine every second day.  And then I can stand on one of those silly looking vibrating boards instead of exercising, because, surprisingly, they might actually be good for you too.

In other movie news

Who can believe the US (and international) box office for Beauty and the Beast?  

Just goes to show, too, that the publicity about a gay "moment" in the film has caused no significant conservative backlash, at all.   (Anyway, I see that the "moment" is exceeding brief.)

Excuse me while I have a fanboy moment

Good to hear, but maybe this one shouldn't be at the start of the film: sounds like Mission: Impossible 6 is going to have a stunt so insane that Cruise has been training to do it for over a year. That’s according to Collider, which spoke with M:I 6 producer David Ellison about the film.
According to Ellison, this new stunt is going to be “the most impressive and unbelievable thing that Tom Cruise has done in a movie,” and he’s been preparing for it since “right after Rogue Nation came out.” He wouldn’t offer any specifics, but he explained that Cruise prefers doing real stunts like this because “the audience can tell when it’s you on a green screen or when you’re actually doing it live.”

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Take that, Thiel

Oh.  Isn't one of Peter Thiel's policy ideas that the drug market should be opened up so that people can try them out before they go through all of the expensive testing?

Well, here's a short argument at Nature that there are good economic (and social) reasons to insist that drug companies show efficacy before they release drugs.  Some extracts:

Knowledge of the history is important. The 1938 US Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act required only that drug safety be demonstrated. In 1962, new legislation demanded that marketed drugs also go through well-controlled studies to test for therapeutic benefit. More than 1,000 medical products were subsequently withdrawn after reviews found little or no evidence of efficacy1. The free market that existed before 1962 revealed no connection between a drug's ability to turn a profit and its clinical usefulness. The same is likely to be true of any future deregulated market....

An overly stringent system will err by withholding or delaying safe and effective 'good' drugs from patients. Critics of existing regulations often point to the case of a treatment for Hunter syndrome — a rare, inherited degenerative disease in which the absence of a crucial enzyme can be fatal. Trials of the enzyme-replacement drug Elaprase (idursulfase) meant that, for a year, a group of children received a placebo instead of the drug that was eventually shown to be effective2.

Conversely, a lax regulatory system will subject patients to 'bad' drugs that may be toxic. The iconic example is the more than 10,000 birth defects caused worldwide by the drug thalidomide, a late 1950s remedy for nausea during pregnancy. Even in the past dozen years, initially promising drugs, such as torcetrapib (for reducing cholesterol and heart-disease risk) and semagacestat (for improving cognition in people with Alzheimer's disease), were found to cause harm only after they had been tested in large, mandatory trials — effects that were not seen in the smaller trials3.

The most extreme proponents of deregulation argue that the market can serve as the sole arbiter of utility: if a medicine is selling well, it must be delivering value4. A more moderate view is that reliable information on efficacy can be collected after a drug goes on sale, through uncontrolled observational studies and other post hoc analyses.

There is a third type of error that these arguments neglect (see ‘The good, the bad and the useless’). Untested drugs can be reasonably safe but provide no benefit.
And here's the key point:
Arguments for deregulation fail to recognize that valuable information has a cost. Drug companies cannot afford to generate reliable evidence for efficacy unless their competitors are all held to the same high standards. Efficacy requirements level the playing field and ensure that the health sector receives the data needed to inform good therapeutic and economic decisions. The government, insurers, patients and others need to know whether medicines are likely to provide benefits. Patients and physicians must have access to reliable information to make educated and ethical choices.

Rigorous clinical studies are still the best way to learn whether a drug works, and regulation is essential to ensure that these studies are conducted. Pre-specified endpoints, controls, randomization and blinding cannot be discarded without sacrificing actionable clinical information5.

Once a drug is on the market, it is hard to gather solid efficacy data....

The FDA's gatekeeper role makes the medical marketplace function. The economic benefits of good research and a healthier population will be lost without incentives to find truly effective drugs.
Jason - that article is definitely tweet worthy, no?

Update:   I just Googled up an article at Vox from a couple of months ago that explained the pro FDA argument from a medical point of view.   A lot of this read like what John just said in comments:
Thiel, a libertarian iconoclast, has repeatedly made the case that the FDA gets in the way of drug innovation by making it too difficult for new medicines to get to the market. Some of the FDA candidates he’s identified — including Silicon Valley’s Jim O’Neill and Balaji Srinivasan — have similarly argued that the agency should dump its requirement that drugs be proven effective before reaching the market, and that we’d be better off if the FDA operated more like a “Yelp for drugs.” In other words, bringing the same speedy and disruptive approach to medical regulation that Silicon Valley brought to the taxi and hotel industries, for example, will unlock cures — fast. 

But Thiel and his pals miss a very important point about developing new drugs: Manipulating biology isn’t the same as manipulating computer code. It’s much, much harder. Speeding up medical innovation will take a lot more than just stripping down the FDA — it’ll take huge leaps forward in our understanding of biochemistry and the body. Health care is also different from taxis and hotels in another key way: Consumers can’t really judge the safety and quality of medical products by themselves....
...I asked a longtime pharmaceutical scientist (and conservative), Derek Lowe, for his views. In his 28 years in the lab, Lowe has seen hundreds of thousands of compounds tested on a huge variety of drug targets, and never, not once, has he brought a drug to market.
The reason? “We don’t know how to find drugs that work,” he said.
For every 5,000 compounds discovered at this "preclinical" phase of drug development, only about five are promising enough to be tried in humans. That’s a success rate of 0.1 percent.
Drug innovation comes from painstaking tinkering and a dash of luck. “It’s very tempting for someone who has come out of IT to say, ‘DNA is code, and cells are the hardware; go in and debug it’,” Lowe said. “But this is wrong.”
In Silicon Valley, humans have designed the hardware, software, and computer code they’re working with. In medical research, scientists do not have that advantage, Lowe said. “We have 3 billion years of spaghetti-tangled gibberish to deal with. And unless you’ve done [drug development], it’s very hard to get across how hard it is. I don’t know of anything that’s harder.” Biochemistry and cell biology are “like alien nanotechnology,” he added.
So the real hurdle researchers face when it comes to finding new drugs for people isn’t overcoming a stringent regulator; it’s grappling with that “alien nanotechnology” in the lab.
Update 2:  from another article, talking about the effect of having an FDA that insists on showing efficacy as well as safety:

Pharmaceutical executives complain about the drug approval process, but usually don’t want to go anywhere close to a safety-only path. In practice, what they want is for the FDA to return their calls, for bureaucratic delays to be reduced, and to find the fastest and least expensive way to prove safety and efficacy.

Many biotech entrepreneurs are actually fans of a tough FDA. Pharmaceutical billionaire Leonard Schleifer, the founder and chief executive of Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, said that he was against “making it really easy to get your drug approved” at the Forbes Healthcare Summit last week, before news of that O’Neill was under consideration leaked.

Schleifer said that he couldn’t compete with companies like Pfizer or Eli Lilly, which have 10 to 100 times as many salespeople as Regeneron. But he can compete to get approved first, or to have a better drug that has more uses that the FDA allows it to advertise based on science.

“Having a high bar is a good thing, in my opinion, because it allows innovators to compete,” Schleifer said.

Krugman on infallibility

Heh.  Krugman writes:
This administration operates under the doctrine of Trumpal infallibility: Nothing the president says is wrong, whether it’s his false claim that he won the popular vote or his assertion that the historically low murder rate is at a record high. No error is ever admitted. And there is never anything to apologize for.

O.K., at this point it’s not news that the commander in chief of the world’s most powerful military is a man you wouldn’t trust to park your car or feed your cat. Thanks, Comey. But Mr. Trump’s pathological inability to accept responsibility is just the culmination of a trend. American politics — at least on one side of the aisle — is suffering from an epidemic of infallibility, of powerful people who never, ever admit to making a mistake.
Quite true, and use of "infallibility" perhaps explains the psychological position of Trump's conservative Catholic vote:  they have already spent decades defending and being intellectually and emotionally invested in Papal infallibility - so it's a ready made mindset in which to move into arguments that, at heart, Trump is never wrong.   

Slow news day

Yeah, sure, the weird situation in Washington continues, with the investigation into Trump's campaign ties to Russia continuing, and confirmation that Trump prefers to make his baseless claims from what Breitbart and Fox News tells him, rather than his intelligence community. 

But all sensible people had already realised this, so it doesn't feel new.

Of course, what it means for foreign governments dealing with him is anyone's guess - they know they're dealing with a gullible, emotionally needy (jeez, how long is going to continue holding rallies just to cheer himself up?) idiot, so what hope do they have of negotiating in good faith with him, or his administration?   His behaviour with Merkel made him look like a misogynist who especially can't conduct serious negotiations with a woman he doesn't agree with.

We nervously await his first serious test from a foreign power.

Meanwhile, in Australia, the Coalition federally keeps fretting about a terribly minor issue as far as the big picture goes - s18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.  And coming up with semi populist ideas that don't make any good sense (release superannuation to buy a house as an answer to the ridiculous house prices in Sydney and Melbourne.)

It all has the feeling of a government fiddling around the edges, casting about for ideas, and not really knowing where to find them.   

What about the one, big, unexpected one that went over well in the media last week - Turnbull's Snowy Mountain expansion?   I am not inclined to get too excited until the feasibility study comes in.  The last were done in the 1980's, apparently, and since then, I thought there was an issue with decreased precipitation likely due to climate change.  That's the first hurdle with any hydro scheme - enough water.  

Oh, here's something to amuse me - watching the build up to the release of the next Samsung phone.  OK, maybe it's a tad more pathetic than amusing, watching how companies and their PR staff go about trying to create intrigue and excitement over a product which is, in truth, probably only a marginal improvement over the last high end phone.  But really, it has been interesting watching the ad campaigns deployed by Samsung to overcome the fear of their exploding batteries.   And beside, I still love my tablet and my Samsung TV - I want this company to do well.

Monday, March 20, 2017

A bug you don't want

There's a fair bit I didn't know about the nasty MRSA (Staphylococcus) bacteria explained in this article from NPR.  

Back to the definition issue

I would have guessed that there was little to be added to the whole argument about the invention of "homosexual" as a category of person, given that it has been well publicised in recent decades. 

But this article at the BBC talks of the invention of "heterosexuality", which is a somewhat different take on the matter.  I thought it interesting, despite my low expectation from the title...

Not just me (again)

I see that Crikey has been keeping count of the extraordinary number of words The Australian has devoted to Bill Leak.

I guessed, in my last post about this, that Leak had been eulogised 49 times.  I was actually pretty close - I think it must be up to 44 now.  (Crikey cites 43, but there might be another one today.)

Surely Leak himself would be finding this over the top...

Spooky Spanish

Hey, finally I found a movie on Stan that I consider above a B grade.

It's the 2007 Spanish haunted house movie The Orphanage.

I had vaguely remembered that it had good reviews when released, and I see now that it scored 87% on the semi reliable Rottentomatoes.

I agree with most of the review extracts I can see at Rottentomatoes - it's frequently suspenseful, surprising, and so well crafted.     It's hard to describe the ending without giving anything away - but it hits with quite an emotional punch.

I think it's pretty rare to find a scare movie that is emotionally resonant - although, I must say, I think that that was the reason that Poltergeist was so successful.  You really did feel the emotion between the parents and the daughter in that film, too.  [And, I will add, that there is one sequence in the film which some might say is very derivative of Poltergeist - but I found it entirely forgiveable. In fact, now that I think of it, thematically  the movies are perhaps a bit similar in a more general sense, too.]

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Identity disclosed

I was getting my daily dose of nonsense from looking at the Catallaxy open thread today, when I noticed that one of the regular thread presences, "memoryvault", mentioned having published 3 books, by title.

This made it easy to Google him, and it would appear that memoryvault is Peter Sawyer.  Maybe that's been disclosed there before* - it is not as if I read every single thread or comment, but this is new to me.

Now, there were hints previously (from the oddball commenter Fisk, I think) that  MV had been involved in nutty Right wing politics a few decades ago, and yes, I see that he is the subject of some material on the 'net.  I'm not sure of the author of this piece talking about far right politics in Australia in the 80's and 90's, but here's what he (or she) writes about Sawyer:
Soothsayers and false prophets made the message propagandistically immediate.  Peter Sawyer, a sacked Social Security employee, became an oracle.  Sawyer rose to fame upon insisting a conspiracy existed at the ‘Deakin Centre’ to use super-computer departmental linkages to re-formulate the ‘Australia Card’.[55]  In 1987 he predicted Aboriginal revolution:

The real weapons for the Great Black Revolution arrived quietly in WA some months ago.  7,000 AK47 Russian assault rifles, plus ammunition.  These were shipped in on false documents prepared by Fuller Firearm Group of … Sydney.  Transfer of funds was arranged through Mr. Laurie Connell’s Merchant Bank, Rothwells and they are currently …  stored … around various warehouses owned by Mr. Alan Bond.[56]

Panic was recorded in some rural centres.[57]  Sawyer drew large audiences in many Queensland towns[58] and was vociferously endorsed by Sydney radio personality Brian Wilshire, who subsequently authored ‘conspiratology’ books himself.[59]  Sawyer suggested black revolution was a plot of the United Nations to permit military intervention in Australia.

Sawyer’s wild tales utilized ex-CPA member Geoff McDonald, whose Red Over Black, described ‘Land Rights’ as a communist/United Nations conspiracy.[60]  ‘Pro-mining’ McDonald, who had been patronized by Bjelke-Petersen, Ruxton, the LOR and Liberal-National branches, travelled throughout Australia during 1979-85, predicting violence.[61]  Nonetheless, Sawyer’s star-gazing outdid  McDonald and even Eric Butler, who denounced him.[62]
Googling around further led me to a 2010 comment on an Andrew Bolt thread, where it would appear that Sawyer was doing a Trump - talking about himself without disclosing it:

 Memory vault

Yes, of course MV/Sawyer would have been an early climate change denier - in fact, denial of climate change is really the only thing that absolutely all threadsters on Catallaxy have in common now.   It is the one issue that they will never argue about, which shows what a sheltered home for the easily fooled it has become.

Anyway, I wonder how many of the old timers there are aware of the extraordinary wrong-ness of Sawyer's previous political warnings...

*  Update:  yes, it was disclosed before, by Sawyer on Catallaxy, back in 2015.  In fact, now that I read the disclosure in 2015, I think I had seen that before, but what I had never bothered doing was Googling his name to see what he was known for, politically.

Being a politician used to be a much tougher gig..

An article in this week's Science magazine starts:

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Don't worry, you're almost certainly real (and so is everything else)

I've never been really taken with the idea that the universe is just a computer simulation running on some advanced intelligence's computer.   I don't know - just always seemed a bit redundant to argue that instead of looking at reality at every single level from quarks to galaxy clusters, we're looking at someone's super computer simulation that's good enough to make every single level from quarks to galaxy clusters look, feel and behave real. 

And I see that I'm in good company - physicist Bee at Backreaction has a ranty post complaining about the whole idea, too.   Here are some of her key paragraphs:
If you try to build the universe from classical bits, you won’t get quantum effects, so forget about this – it doesn’t work. This might be somebody’s universe, maybe, but not ours. You either have to overthrow quantum mechanics (good luck), or you have to use qubits.

Even from qubits, however, nobody’s been able to recover the presently accepted fundamental theories – general relativity and the standard model of particle physics. The best attempt to date is that by Xiao-Gang Wen and collaborators, but they are still far away from getting back general relativity. It’s not easy.

Indeed, there are good reasons to believe it’s not possible. The idea that our universe is discretized clashes with observations because it runs into conflict with special relativity. The effects of violating the symmetries of special relativity aren’t necessarily small and have been looked for – and nothing’s been found.

For the purpose of this present post, the details don’t actually matter all that much. What’s more important is that these difficulties of getting the physics right are rarely even mentioned when it comes to the simulation hypothesis. Instead there’s some fog about how the programmer could prevent simulated brains from ever noticing contradictions, for example contradictions between discretization and special relativity....
And this section made me smile:
Stephen Wolfram (from Wolfram research) recently told John Horgan that:
    “[Maybe] down at the Planck scale we’d find a whole civilization that’s setting things up so our universe works the way it does.”
I cried a few tears over this.

The idea that the universe is self-similar and repeats on small scales – so that elementary particles are built of universes which again contain atoms and so on – seems to hold a great appeal for many. It’s another one of these nice ideas that work badly. Nobody’s ever been able to write down a consistent theory that achieves this – consistent both internally and with our observations. The best attempt I know of are limit cycles in theory space but to my knowledge that too doesn’t really work.

Again, however, the details don’t matter all that much – just take my word for it: It’s not easy to find a consistent theory for universes within atoms. What matters is the stunning display of ignorance – for not to mention arrogance –, demonstrated by the belief that for physics at the Planck scale anything goes. Hey, maybe there’s civilizations down there. Let’s make a TED talk about it next. For someone who, like me, actually works on Planck scale physics, this is pretty painful.

To be fair, in the interview, Wolfram also explains that he doesn’t believe in the simulation hypothesis, in the sense that there’s no programmer and no superior intelligence laughing at our attempts to pin down evidence for their existence. I get the impression he just likes the idea that the universe is a computer. (Note added: As a commenter points out, he likes the idea that the universe can be described as a computer.)
So put away your Matrix movie DVDs (I never really got past the first one anyway - it might have them that put me off the simulation idea.)  Go out and smell the (real) roses.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Rats -v- Mice

There are some charming descriptions of rats from medical researchers in this article explaining how they are becoming more popular as the preferred animal model (over mice) for certain research (autism is the one discussed in detail.)  For example:

In a shoebox-sized cage on their own floor in the Anderson Building at the Baylor College of Medicine, two little white mice with pink ears and skinny tails scurry over a bedding of corncob strips. They run from corner to corner, now and again standing on hind legs to press their paws against one of the cage’s clear plastic walls. Occasionally, they bump into each other and take a sniff. Mostly, they do their own thing.

On another floor of the same building, larger cages hold white rats that can’t seem to stay away from each other. They pounce, wrestle and roll. It’s impossible to avoid the comparison: They act like puppies.

“You can actually grab the rats and put them in your hand and treat them exactly how you would treat a puppy,” says Surabi Veeraragavan, a behavioral geneticist at Baylor in Houston, Texas. Regular handling, she says, helps rats get used to the scientists who study them. “You can put them on your shoulder, you can put them on your arms; they will go to sleep right away. You can pet them and play with them.”

Holding a rat can be like cradling a baby, adds Rodney Samaco, the molecular geneticist who leads the Baylor team. “They like to put their head in the crevice of your elbow,” he says. They practically purr. “You tickle their stomachs; they like that.”

“They love that!” says Veeraragavan.

The Baylor team also studies mice, which were there long before the rats and still outnumber them. But when Samaco and Veeraragavan talk about the lab’s mice, their words are less affectionate: The mice are less social, their behaviors simpler; they aren’t nearly as cute.

If you put a mouse on your arm, as you would a rat, it wouldn’t end well, says Samaco. “They would look very nervous,” he says. “Then, they would bite you.”
See - it's not just me who finds them cute...

Made me laugh

I was going to comment "surely Roxette are only 20 years old, tops." But no, formed in 1986 (!)

Comments on a Lady

My wife and I saw the Julie Andrews directed revival of My Fair Lady last night.

I had gone in with relatively low expectations - I said to my wife it was not really a favourite musical of mine - so I can say I enjoyed it more than I expected.    It is a pretty lavish looking production; all of the actors do very well; the orchestra seemed good, and has quite a lot of work (OK, maybe not as much as the poor musicians who have to do Les Mis); and while the lead actress does sound exactly like Julie Andrews, it didn't come across to me as a studied imitation.

That said, the first (very lengthy) half is more enjoyable than the angsty second half.

And the main issue anyone probably has with the show is one which is not really its fault - as with Pygmalion, its ending is not really satisfying, and it arrives rather abruptly.

If my memory of the play from high school is correct, Shaw added an explanation at the end that Eliza went on to marry dumb Freddy - but it is not part of the play.  Nor is it part of the musical.

Viewed through the modern eye, the ending has the feeling of a return to an abusive relationship - a problem I think we are more sensitised to now than when the play and musical were created.  Which had me thinking, how would a theatre playwright end this sort of story today?

Here's the best I could come up with, so far:  Henry Higgins turns out to be gay, and ends up marrying Colonial Pickering; perhaps with Eliza as the celebrant (her new found career.)    I mean, come on - this is hardly a stretch from all of the talk from Henry about great men are.  :)  And, in fact, thematically, it fits quite well into Shaw's point about morality having nothing to do with divinity, but is, rather, a mere social construct.

If Julie Andrews wants to create real waves with this production, she now knows how to do it.  (I have read that she is in fact in Brisbane, and I think will be at the official opening of the show on Sunday night.  Cool, we are blessed with royalty.)

Update:  interested readers might care to look at this article from The Telegraph, that discusses the issue of the ending of the play, and musical, in some detail.