Wednesday, May 31, 2017

No news from Laika :(

I'm a bit worried about Laika Studios, as there is still no announcement of its next release.

Kubo and the Two Strings badly underperformed for them at the box office despite (the somewhat too ecstatic) reviews.  (I blame using Matthew McConaughey for a voice.  He can ruin anything.)  But just as it was opened, company owner Travis Knight announced that it was the last of their "kids" films anyway.  He said the next film was going to be very different, still intended for families, but tonally a break from their first four films.  

Well, that makes me very curious, but despite his saying that they would probably announce it last year, a visit to the company website is still silent on the matter.

I still think that Paranorman, closely followed by Coraline, were the studio's best films.   But the artwork and craftmanship in all of them is something to behold.

No, doctors weren't amazed

I suspected as much:

Why This Viral Video of a Newborn Baby 'Walking' Is Totally Normal

Roger Moore's ghost

No, no:  I've had no spectral visitors offering Bondian double entendres.  But I just noticed this story, apparently told by Moore a long time ago, about a ghost he had visit him twice when staying at a hotel early in his career.

The story is interesting (if not a tall tale) for a couple of reasons.  First, it initially sounds like it might be a case of sleep paralysis, which often does involve the perception of a phantom figure in the room, sometimes near or on the bed, causing the paralysis.  But then he says he was sitting "bolt upright" in bed - and I don't think that's consistent with your normal "woke up and couldn't move" case of sleep paralysis.

Secondly, it is surely pretty rare to see the same apparition twice.

So, I wonder if it was true...

(And, by the way, isn't that a terribly designed website the story is on.)

Blockchain, cryptocurrency and unintended consequences

Yes, I think I count as an intuitive skeptic of Bitcoin and blockchain generally.  (If something's beloved of techno libertarians, it should be automatically suspect, in my books.)

But here's the sort of article that puts some justification into my intuition:

Cryptocurrency Might be a Path to Authoritarianism

Extreme libertarians built blockchain to decentralize government and corporate power. It could consolidate their control instead.

Of personal interest

I've been noticing certain unwanted age related changes to my skin in the last couple of years:  I'm getting small lumps and brownish patches that never used to be there and would just as soon do without.  So, who knows, a good all purpose aged skin repairing chemical might tempt me to use it:
New work from the University of Maryland suggests that a common, inexpensive and safe chemical could slow the aging of human skin. The researchers found evidence that the chemical—an antioxidant called methylene blue—could slow or reverse several well-known signs of aging when tested in cultured human skin cells and simulated skin tissue.

The study was published online in the journal Scientific Reports on May 30, 2017. "Our work suggests that methylene blue could be a powerful antioxidant for use in skin care products," said Kan Cao, senior author on the study and an associate professor of cell biology and molecular genetics at UMD. "The effects we are seeing are not temporary. Methylene blue appears to make fundamental, long-term changes to skin cells."

The Trumpian path

Matthew Yglesias, one of the most trenchant critics of Trump, has written a lengthy piece at Vox about Trump as "bullshitter" - an analysis that is not exactly news (to put it mildly), but he does go into it at more depth.  In particular, he notes how it fits in with how authoritarianism  works, and ends with this:
The upshot is a conservative movement and a Republican Party that, if Trump persists in office, will be remade along Trumpian lines with integrity deprecated and bullshit running rampant. It’s clear that the owners and top talent at commercial conservative media are perfectly content with that outcome, and the question facing the party’s politicians is whether they are, too. 

The common thread of the Trumposphere is that there doesn’t need to be any common thread. One day Comey went soft on Clinton; the next day he was fired for being too hard on her; the day after that, it wasn’t about Clinton at all. The loyalist is just supposed to go along with whatever the line of the day is. 

This is the authoritarian spirit in miniature, assembling a party and a movement that is bound to no principles and not even committed to following its own rhetoric from one day to the next. A “terrific” health plan that will “cover everyone” can transform into a bill to slash the Medicaid rolls by 14 million in the blink of an eye and nobody is supposed to notice or care. Anything could happen at any moment, all of it powered by bullshit.
Quite right, I think.   And funnily enough, we have people claiming to be libertarians who are excuse makers in chief for Trump, despite this creepy and obvious "truth means nothing" approach to governing.   The effects of the silly, post modernism movement (which similarly eroded the utility of "truth" in science and policy) still causes them offence,  but when it comes to Trump, it seems to be a case of "meh".

Update:  see this Salon article on libertarians and Trump, too.

Public transport and land value

There's an article up at The Conversation looking at the question of what effect the Gold Coast light rail had on land values.   It seems it's a tricky issue to work out and there could be quite a lot of "rubbery figures" involved.

The idea that public transport could be part paid for by greater taxes on surrounding land that benefits from it just strikes me as an idea too difficult to implement with enough certainty and fairness.  

As for whether people actually like the Gold Coast light rail system or not - some of the comments indicate that some are still dead set against it for more-or-less aesthetic reasons.   I find that rather odd.  I thought it looked modern and efficient last I saw it:  public transport just annoys some people, I reckon. 

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Lab meat delayed

I've always been a skeptic of lab grown meat, and this update from Discover indicates that the idea of growing muscle cells into something resembling meat is in fact making slow progress.

I say that the enthusiastic reception of the (apparently) very meat like "impossible burger" (because it contains a blood taste resembling compound, but derived from plants) is going to do away with the interest in lab grown mince anyway.  And as for slabs of fake steak grown in a lab - I don't think they have any idea how to get it texturally like meat, yet.

The Lindt Cafe seige

I watched some of the Four Corners report on the outcome of the Lindt seige inquest last night, and have a few observations:

*  it is clear that there were some inexcusable mistakes made by the police in terms of lines of communication.  I found it gobsmacking that a hostage could ring the negotiator direct number and have it ring out 4 times, because of  a slow changeover happening, for example, or that a text message passed on by a relative did not make it to the upper level of the police operation.

*  the police inability to get things done quickly - getting lights turned out in the mall, which was agitating Monis - seemed kind of incompetent of either the police, or the Council.

* the reason Manis executed the manager remained unclear.  It seemed Manis was reassuring the remaining hostages that they would be OK if they just co-operated, but he made Troy kneel in an "execution" position anyway, then waited and shot him anyway.  Did he want to precipitate the police finally storming the cafe?

*  that said, and not taking away any of the grief of the families of the victims, it is still surely the case that a very early police storming of the cafe would probably have resulted in more accidental deaths from stray bullet fragments than what occurred (one.)   In a broad sense, waiting was responsible.  Once he fired a shot towards escaping hostages, it probably wasn't, and the police seem to accept that now.   But it remains quite on the cards that even entry then might have accidentally killed more.  

Australian Right wing civility crisis, continues

Now that Roger Franklin's long term incivility problem in his job at Quadrant has been opened up for wider public scrutiny by not only the ABC, but also (apparently) The Australian, and Right wing commentators (Paul Murray, Chris Kenny, Nick Cater) are putting a lot of distance between themselves and him, that long term exemplar of Right wing incivility, the Catallaxy blog, continues to be in uproar in defence of Franklin, save for about 1% of commenters.  

Sinclair Davidson, who seems to be a close friend of Franklin (and people at Catallaxy sometimes comment on the incestuous world of Labor politics!) is making a (pretty typical for him) hash of the defence of Franklin's comment:
Roger asked, what I thought, a perfectly good question:
What if that blast had detonated in an Ultimo TV studio? Unlike those young girls in Manchester, their lives snuffed out before they could begin, none of the panel’s likely casualties would have represented the slightest reduction in humanity’s intelligence, decency, empathy or honesty.
True – an early version, quickly retracted, was a bit more intemperate but the question remains valid.
This is just an inane line to take on the matter:   there was no "valid question" - it was a rhetorical device which Franklin answers himself - by saying explicitly that the world would have been better for it. 

Look, the simple fact of the matter is that Davidson is just about the last person to show sensible judgement when it comes to matters of civility, as he has been at the very forefront of providing for Australian Right wing reactionary "conservatives" a outlet for their voice, and he doesn't care what offence they cause, even on a blog in which he can delete offensiveness.

He rarely exercises that power, plays favourites, and is willing to continually ignore plainly defamatory or offensive material - with the Left being its main target.   

I complained about this here, back in early 2013, and stopped my commenting there because of his ridiculous and partisan tolerance of incivility, defamation*, and outright plagiarism (for which he accepted the poster's apology, and then left the patently plagiarised post - from an American site - up on the blog.)

In the current kerfuffle, he has noted that people have (I don't know how recently) tried to get him into trouble at RMIT because of the blog.   That wasn't me, but I do find it pretty remarkable that RMIT would not be concerned about their reputation when one of its key staff has the power to police defamation and offensiveness on a blog, and routinely chooses not to exercise it. 

It would not concern me at all if there were media exposure to the blog and its threads - he used to get his head on the ABC as an economic and quasi political commentator quite often, I think viewers deserve to know that he runs a blog that positively hurts the cause of civil political debate in the country.

It's an echo chamber of the worst kind, reinforcing culture warriors and climate change deniers that they are not alone and can be as obnoxious as they like, thus coarsening public political discourse.   You can actually see the place dumbing down and coarsening thread participants over the years, as those who expect civility in argument and would put up counter views have all abandoned the place.   

Franklin deserves to lose his job at Quadrant;  I reckon more might be achieved if Catallaxy enforced civility on its own pages, but that would require a change of its hopeless leadership.

* unless it's a friend

Monday, May 29, 2017

Blasphemy and Islam

Hey, if you can get past the "please register to read" pester screen (I did, eventually), there's a really good article up at Foreign Policy "The Islamic World Has a Blasphemy Problem". 

As the article notes (various extracts follow):

Blasphemy charges have steadily risen in the last decade in Indonesia and have a near 100 percent conviction rate. Meanwhile, across the Muslim world, there has been an uptick in blasphemy charges and prosecutions in recent years. Blasphemy has been spiritedly revived in Egypt since President Hosni Mubarak was ousted in 2011. In 2001, there was only one blasphemy trial in Pakistan, but now there are dozens each year. There has been a steady drip of attacks and murders of bloggers and writers in Bangladesh in the last five years, along with a deadly mass protest in 2013 demanding the death penalty for blasphemy....

The use of the charge ranges from the nominal to the horrifying. Since 2016, the Egyptian poet Fatima Naoot has been serving a three-year prison sentence for criticizing the slaughter of animals during Eid al-Fitr on Facebook. A Malaysian man was charged with blasphemy for posing questions to his religion teachers. Even the mere accusation of blasphemy poses the threat of violence: In 2015, an Afghan woman was beaten and murdered by a mob in Kabul after arguing with a mullah, and last month, a Pakistani university student was killed by a mob over allegations, later discredited, of posting blasphemous content on social media....

“As far back as the 1750s, the Saudi polity really was based on religion and specifically Wahhabism [the puritanical, literalist strain of Islam founded in 18th-century Arabia],” said Kamran Bokhari, a senior analyst at Geopolitical Futures. Due to a pact between the Saudi royal family and the preacher Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab in 1744, Wahhabism is effectively the state religion of Saudi Arabia. “Wahhabism is, truly, all about blasphemy. What is true Islam and what is not,” Bokhari said. “Really, to them, most Muslims who don’t subscribe to their exacting views are committing blasphemy in some way or another.”

Modern Islamic countries, meanwhile, have accrued their blasphemy laws not as a medieval inheritance but through one of two major routes: as leftovers of European colonialism or as products of the 20th-century “Arabization” of the Muslim world in the model of the Gulf states.
It goes on to point out that, ironically, British colonialism introduced blasphemy laws in India and Malaysia to help with interfaith stability. 

Anyway, it's a good read, if somewhat depressing for the lack of any grounds for optimism that its political use will not stop in Muslim countries any time soon.

Weekend update

*  Watched the recent M Night Shyamalan written and directed movie Split.   Like nearly every review said, James McAvoy is very good in his multiple personality role, and the movie is pretty pleasingly directed for the first 2/3 at least.   Not much of it feels very real, though.   (The psychiatrist/psychologist acts well, but the way her character behaves seemed sort of naive for a smart woman.)

But the main conceit of the film that comes to the fore in the last third is pretty silly and vaguely explained - probably because it is impossible to make it highly plausible.   (It seems a bit X Men, a bit Altered States.)   I'm not convinced it's really a return to form for this much criticised director - perhaps because I wasn't actually that impressed with his first couple of hits anyway.

For a more terrifying experience of claustrophobia and characters going mad, I would recommend 10 Cloverfield Lane over this.

*  Cooked a recipe for Indian Butter Prawns that I found on the net.   It involves a lot of butter and cream, and has probably taken 6 months off my life, but it was pretty tasty and basically quick (once you finish de-heading and de-veining 800 g of prawns, anyway.)

*  Had a family issue to deal with - may make posting slow for a day...

Saturday, May 27, 2017

All perfectly normal, in Bizzaro World

Come on, Trump supporters, or even quasi apologists.   How does this sound in any way, well, not weird?   Was it because they were already worried that the authorities were investigating links and communications between the Trump campaign and the Russians?   Maybe - but then what did they want to discuss with the Russians in such secrecy that they didn't want any other part of the US government to possibly learn about it?  And Kushner is supposed to be one of the liberal advisers around Trump:
Jared Kushner and Russia's ambassador to Washington discussed the possibility of setting up a secret and secure communications channel between Donald Trump's transition team and the Kremlin, using Russian diplomatic facilities in an apparent move to shield their pre-inauguration discussions from monitoring, according to US officials briefed on intelligence reports.

Ambassador Sergei Kislyak reported to his superiors in Moscow that Kushner, son-in-law and confidant to then-President-elect Trump, made the proposal during a meeting on December 1 or 2 at Trump Tower, according to intercepts of Russian communications that were reviewed by US officials.

 Kislyak said Kushner suggested using Russian diplomatic facilities in the United States for the communications.

The meeting also was attended by Michael Flynn, Trump's first national security adviser.
OK, so is this a lie from the Russians to try to hurt Trump?   Seems unlikely, given the White House is declining to comment.  Is it just unbridled paranoia about the "deep state" trying to stop Trump getting on better with the Russians?  There might be something to that if it were just Flynn asking the Russians to do it - he's as mad as a cut snake.  But again, Kushner is tied up with the proposal? 

It's just very, very strange...

And as for pathetic attempts at false equivalence go, there's a spectacularly silly one from poor old perpetual hand waver CL at Catallaxy:

Last I knew, the US was not supposed to be under permanent threat of full out nuclear attack by a crazy Russian leader who had promised that he would bury capitalism...

Friday, May 26, 2017

I tried to have a Trump free Friday, but I give up...

I can't resist posting these GIFs which are doing the rounds.  What a great impression Donald has been making:

So Macron actually had to try to fight off the Trump handshake?  Talk about Trump making himself look like a weird, old bully.     

Arab science, again

 I'm sure I've said here before that Saudi Arabia, which should have had squillions to spend on good science or technology research, seems to have universities which instead spend an inordinate amount of time investigating arcane matters such as the wonders of camel milk, all because"Islam". 

Here's a story in a similar vein -  an article from Arab News commending the use of sticks for cleaning your teeth:
RIYADH: Using miswak, the twig used by a majority of people in Muslim countries to brush their teeth, is alien to most people in the West. Although it might sound outdated to use twigs from different trees to clean one’s mouth and teeth, studies conducted on miswak have proved otherwise, inferring that the miswak is better than toothpaste for preventing mouth and dental diseases.

The miswak, referred to at times as a chewing stick, is also an alternative form of medicine, according to some research findings. The twig’s usage has been highly recommended in Islam, and Muslims across the world practice it. In Saudi Arabia, the use of sticks or twigs from the Salvadora persica trees, known as arak in Arabic, are common....

 According to research conducted by the Riyadh-based King Saud University (KSU), a total of 19 natural substances were found in miswak that benefit dental health. According to research, the miswak contains a number of natural antiseptics that kill harmful micro-organisms in the mouth, tannic acids that protect gums from disease, and aromatic oils that increase salivation.
I don't know if Mo ever mentioned teeth cleaning, but the religion has specific views on all sort of hygiene matters, so who knows.   Mind you, they were ahead of the trend when it comes to hair shaving in regions Westerners never used to worry about.

Not a happy thought, but useful

This article about what people can expect to experience when with a dying person makes not for the happiest reading, but it is worth knowing anyway.

A couple of points:  have I told this story before?  My late mother used to say she had her own experience of the dying still hearing conversations, even if they seem unconscious.  Her first husband was killed in a military accident (crushed under an aircraft's wheels, I believe.)   She was with him in hospital, when he was apparently unconscious, and a doctor in the room told her he thought her husband was not going to make it.   Her poor husband then opened his eyes, looked shocked, and went downhill from there pretty fast. 

Secondly;  the article refers to the "death bed lucidity" stories about those who have dementia.  I have read about this before, and it is, surely, a rather odd thing to explain....

Mind beyond physics?

Here's some physics for your Friday:

Scientists Are About to Perform an Experiment to See if The Human Mind Is Bound by Physics

This is a bit hard to follow, and it involves quantum nonlocality and a Bell's Test - the exact implications of which are still being hotly contested, when you read arXiv.  Anyway, this is the key part:
Now, Lucien Hardy, a theoretical physicist from the Perimeter Institute in Canada, is suggesting that the measurements between A and B could be controlled by something that may potentially be separate from the material world: the human mind.
His idea is derived from what French philosopher and mathematician Rene Descartes called the mind-matter duality, "[where] the mind is outside of regular physics and intervenes on the physical world," as Hardy explained.
To do this, Hardy proposed a version of the Bell test involving 100 humans, each hooked up to EEG headsets that would read their brain activity. These devices would be used to switch the settings on the measuring devices for A and B, set at 100 kilometres apart.
"The radical possibility we wish to investigate is that, when humans are used to decide the settings (rather than various types of random number generators), we might then expect to see a violation of quantum theory in agreement with the relevant Bell inequality," Hardy wrote in a paper published online earlier this month.
If the correlation between the measurements don't match previous Bell tests, then there could be a violation of quantum theory that suggests A and B are being controlled by factors outside the realm of standard physics.
"[If] you only saw a violation of quantum theory when you had systems that might be regarded as conscious, humans or other animals, that would certainly be exciting. I can't imagine a more striking experimental result in physics than that," Hardy said.

While we're on a theme

I seem to be having a very "gay" Friday, so here's another homosexual snippet.

Turns out that Peter Ackroyd, the prolific British author who I don't think I've ever got around to reading, is gay and has written a gay history of London.   He claims it has always been a queer city:

I don't think I learned that much new from reading an article about it in The Guardian, but I do note this:
Unlike many chroniclers of gay culture, Ackroyd doesn’t neglect lesbianism: we are gleefully taken on a tour of the dildo shops of the Georgian city – it’s said that one establishment in Leicester Fields sold nothing else – and behind the closed doors of cigarillo smoke-filled Edwardian clubs such as the Cave of Harmony and the Orange Tree.

In 2017, 50 years after some forms of homosexuality were tentatively legalised, it’s hard to think of anything that has undergone greater upheavals than gay culture. But in Ackroyd’s view, things haven’t really changed that much.

“The manifestations alter, but the essence remains the same. There are still drag bars, there are still travesti acts, there are still pick-up places in parks, there are still men-only clubs. As a percentage of the population, there were as many gay bars in 18th-century London as there are today.”

Policing homosexuality in Indonesia

This article, in the Jakarta Post, notes that there is a lot more going on in regional parts of Indonesia regarding policing of homosexuality than we hear about here:
Behind the protests and actions and debate on blasphemy law, the wars on homosexuality and/or LGBT still continues. Indonesian police raided a “gay sex party” in Surabaya, East Java, arrested 14 men, and forced them to undergo HIV tests, which violated their rights to privacy. They face charges of infringing the 2008 Pornography Law and the 2008 Electronic Information and Transaction Law (ITE), prohibiting the distribution of pornographic and/or indecent material. The police found and confiscated condoms, mobile phones, and a flash drive containing porn videos, reports said....

While homosexuality remains illegal here, the loose, malleable, and subjective definition of pornography of the 2008 Pornography Law so far has been a powerful weapon to outlaw homosexuality practices and interfere in individual private spaces. Last year a male couple in Manado, North Sulawesi, was arrested after a photo of them kissing was uploaded on Facebook and went viral. Similar with the recent gay arrests in Surabaya, this couple was at risk of being charged under the Pornography Law and the cyberlaw.
The writer notes that the problem is how too much decentralised democracy has played out in the nation with patches of fundamentalist Islam:
Daily power dynamics and contestations among political actors mark constant ideological struggles to define the contours of the regime. Indonesia’s transition to democracy has also led the previously suppressed fundamentalist Islamic political groups to flourish openly and exert their power, with many cities and regencies adopting “moral-based regulations” or sharia-inspired bylaws.

The scholar Kathryn Robinson in Masculinity, Sexuality, and Islam ( 2015 ) asserts that political Islam actors exploit decentralization to enact sharia-based regulations. With their greater political   power, politicians of any hue see them as potential supporters and constituents for their own interests. Hence, this shift has also changed the way of regulating and policing people, particularly those who do not conform to the formal norms of the state and of the majority. If in the previous regime, state-centered power and surveillance was inevitable, the current regime of controls are deployed and reverberates throughout dispersed policies, creating new modes of policing.


It's increasingly looking like direct-current stimulation isn't all that it's early proponents thought it would be:
Transcranial direct-current stimulation (tDCS) -- a non-invasive technique for applying electric current to areas of the brain -- may be growing in popularity, but new research suggests that it probably does not add any meaningful benefit to cognitive training.
It does sound like a fairly limited experiment, though...

Same sex marriage in Asia

The Japan Times has an article about the unexpected court ruling from Taiwan regarding same sex marriage.    In looking at how it may affect other Asian nations, I was surprised to read this:
In Vietnam, which is seen as socially progressive on LGBT issues and where a vibrant gay scene flourishes online and in some big cities, hopes for marriage reform have stalled.
Why would Vietnam be "socially progressive" on this?

As far as mainland China is concerned, the report notes: 
Homosexuality was officially decriminalised in 1997 but only taken off the list of psychiatric disorders four years later.
“Taiwan and mainland China have the same roots and culture so it suggests that Chinese society could also accept the idea of gay marriage,” said Li Yinhe, a renowned Chinese sexologist who has pressed Beijing policymakers on the issue.
There have been small signs of progress. While a Chinese court last year ruled against two men seeking to marry, the fact the case even made it into the judicial system was seen by many as an achievement.
I still say that the gender imbalance in China is likely to influence attitudes, in the long term, towards gay relationships. 

Update:  here's a 2015 article from the ABC noting the surprising tolerance to gay rights activities being shown by the government in Vietnam.  I hadn't noticed this at the time. 

Magic poop

Amused to read this in the Japan Times:
Learning more than 1,000 kanji during six years of grade school isn’t an easy task. But it can be fun if all the characters are associated with a word they love — poop.

A workbook series that features a heavy dose of the word “unko,” poop in Japanese, has quickly sold over a million copies since its release in March. The series’ main selling point is that it engages children by using the word “poop” in every single example on how a kanji is used in a sentence.

“Adults would raise their eyebrows, but for children, the word ‘poop’ is magical and makes things fun,” said Yusaku Furuya, 40, the author of the books.
You need to see the picture to understand more:

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Looking for signs of cognitive decline in Trump

Here's a lengthy article from STAT, which examines changes in Trump's speaking style as an indicator of cognitive decline.

Let's just say, it doesn't look good....

Ironing the ocean in the news again

Nature notes that there is talk again from a somewhat oddly secretive Canadian foundation of conducting an iron fertilising experiment in the ocean - but this time, the justification being to boost fisheries.

The situation with these experiments is summed up as follows:
Researchers worldwide have conducted 13 major iron-fertilization experiments in the open ocean since 1990. All have sought to test whether stimulating phytoplankton growth can increase the amount of carbon dioxide that the organisms pull out of the atmosphere and deposit in the deep ocean when they die. Determining how much carbon is sequestered during such experiments has proved difficult, however, and scientists have raised concerns about potential adverse effects, such as toxic algal blooms. In 2008, the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity put in place a moratorium on all ocean-fertilization projects apart from small ones in coastal waters. Five years later, the London Convention on ocean pollution adopted rules for evaluating such studies.

Because Oceaneos’s planned experiment would take place in Chilean waters, it is allowed under those rules. Riedijk says that the foundation will voluntarily follow international protocols for such studies; it is unclear whether that will allay fears that the group is promoting an unproven technology, rather than conducting basic research....

Whether it would help fisheries is a very moot point:
In the meantime, scientists say that it will be difficult to get solid data from the Oceaneos foundation’s planned experiment. The geology off the Chilean coast, and the patterns of currents there, create a mosaic of low- and high-iron waters. Anchovies, horse mackerel and other fish move freely between these areas.

And adding iron could shift the location and timing of phytoplankton blooms to favour fast-growing species, says Adrian Marchetti, a biological oceanographer at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. One of those, the diatom Pseudo-nitzschia, produces domoic acid, a neurotoxin that can kill mammals and birds. Oceaneos’s experiment will probably increase plankton growth in low-iron waters, Marchetti says, “but it’s not to say that that is actually good for the higher levels of the food chain”.

Turmoil in Wingnut land

The Australian conservative/Right commentariat did find themselves in somewhat of a quandary yesterday when one of their members was so annoyed with a Q&A panel that he openly, implicitly, wished (it was hard to read it any other way) that they had been the ones killed by Muslim terrorists, not the people at Manchester.

Wishing death on people you disagree with in Australia is not considered by sensible folk to be within acceptable political commentary or discourse.   But Roger Franklin was attacking the ABC and all who sail within her, so it was too much of a temptation for the likes of Bolt, Blair and Sinclair Davidson to not endorse it, or go "ha, ha, that was witty satire, wasn't it."   

Yet, another group of the Right side commentariat had their misgivings from the start - Chris Kenny, to his credit, was (I think) first off the ranks.   But even Franklin, or someone at Quadrant, had a rethink and had edited it (with no acknowledgement) to remove the "if there was any justice" part aspect of it, so as to make sound less of a lament that Q&A wasn't bombed.  

By late in the day, and following universal condemnation from real journalists and commentators across the land,  there were more breaks in the ranks, so we ended up with Nick Cater criticising it, and Keith Windschuttle apologising "without reservation" to the ABC and saying that the article would be removed from the Quadrant website.  Paul Murray on Sky apparently attacked it too.   IBy the evening, Bolt had semi recanted, and today, he has even (again, silently) removed all reference to the Quadrant comment piece from his post. 

And despite Windschuttle's apology  and promise it would go from the site, some were saying that this morning it was still there.   Hey, Quadrant, who's running the place, anyway?  (Well, checking just now, I think it has gone.  Took their time.  Were Franklin and Windschuttle having fisticuffs in whose ever basement it operates from?)

And so here is my final wrap up of how it panned out:

*  kudos to the one old Catallaxy regular (well, apart from monty) who came out with a straight condemnation that it was a stupid thing for Franklin to have said - CL.    But any praise for a rare outburst of common sense has to tempered by the fact that he is one of the worst with hyperbole about how to deal with Islamic terrorism, as I am sure he has wished for the nuking of Mecca more than once.

*  I had been meaning to note yesterday that Franklin had made it very clear that he hates Krauss with a passion partly because he was a "warmist" who "dares call himself a man of science" (I think that were the exact words:  I can't check any more.)  As I ended my piece yesterday, wingnuts have no perspective of risk because they cannot conceive that they are wrong on the matter of the biggest environmental risk the entire planet faces.  Hence, any terrorist attack, no matter the number of victims and whether it was by a lone (Islamic inspired) mutter or not will be cause for saying that Western civilisation is about to collapse, yet the actual threat to long term civilisation is laughed at.   Is the problem with their anger that, at some level, they can perceive that they are wrong on climate change, as their movement is diminishing as their handful of ageing contrarian scientists die off and the world does, indeed, continue to warm? 

* Sinclair Davidson's rapidly diminishing circle of Right wingers he can trust diminished further when he complained that he probably wouldn't watch Paul Murray again after he also jumped ship and condemned Franklin.   I'm not sure - hasn't he mentioned avoiding watching the ABC before?  If this continues, he'll soon be down to just watching Bolt and reading comics the rest of the night. 

* For all of that, the fact that the ABC called in security to advise about it was a bit over the top in its own way.   Regardless of that, their hot anger at someone saying something as stupid and offensive as Franklin's original post was entirely justified.

Update:   now Catallaxy readers (average age - 85 - mentally if not chronologically) are perturbed that Andrew Bolt said this on the radio:
“I think a lot of people are making mileage out of this in order to get the ABC off the hook. I think the reaction, the ABC posting extra security. I mean, give me a break. As if the Quadrant audience would get their zimmer frames out of the cupboard and shuffle off and go and do … come on, give me a break.” – Andrew Bolt
 Ha ha.

Oh Look - The Addams Family meets the Pope

OK, the glowing Orb of Destiny, or whatever it was, was pretty hilarious, but at least it wasn't of Trump's own doing.

But isn't this just the weirdest photo ever of a political family meeting a Pontiff?

I mean, who the heck advised Ivanka that it was a good idea to look like she was going to her belated first communion, except in black?   What are she and Melania mourning?   The death of credibility of Donald?  (Actually, it died decades ago.)

And I also see that Melania again declined Donald's hand.   If this goes on, I'm half expecting her to give him a big shove in the back at the top of some staircase or other any day now.

The optics (and reality) of American politics has never been weirder....

Update:  it's being said that Melania, at least, is complying with Vatican protocol:
“Per Vatican protocol, women who have an audience with the Pope are required to wear long sleeves, formal black clothing, and a veil to cover the head,” Stephanie Grisham, the first lady’s spokeswomen told CNN.

However, the Associated Press said it wasn’t necessarily a rule that was hard and fast and many women have met the Pope without a veil. But as a practising Catholic, Melania chose to wear one.

Some have also noted the striking similarity in her choice of garb at the Vatican to another first lady — style icon Jackie Kennedy.
 I still say Ivanka looks ridiculous.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Just a hemisphere away

It's taking a long time for Slate to notice that Australian breakfast TV is not English breakfast TV:
Tom Cruise told the hosts of U.K. TV show Sunrise on Tuesday that he was making a sequel to his 1986 fighter jet/beach volleyball extravaganza Top Gun, and expected filming to start “probably in the next year,” Deadline reports.
 David Koch will probably not be too impressed.

As for Top Gun:  as much as I have enjoyed Cruise's movies since then, that was really was one of his cheesiest, despite some cool flying.   It will be interesting to see what sort of tone would be brought to a new version.  

Body count doesn't matter

Well, we all know Trump loves a "hard man" politician, and is ill informed on virtually any topic, but seriously, he put it this puerile way to Duterte?:
"I just wanted to congratulate you because I am hearing of the unbelievable job on the drug problem. Many countries have the problem, we have a problem, but what a great job you are doing and I wanted to tell you that."

Links for a Wednesday

*  I noted the other day how someone in comments at the NYT had made the point that Right wingers talking about "elite consensus" on social and economic policies were kidding themselves if they didn't recognize that the public in the US (and here, I bet) do actually lean Left on a range of issues.  Here's an article at Vox that makes the point in more detail: "What right-wing populism?  Polls reveal that its Liberalism that's surging"

*  With the departure of Ailes and O'Reilly, is Fox News morphing into something vaguely resembling a responsible news network?   They have retracted the despicable wingnut hand wave story about the murder of Seth Rich, but can they pull Hannity himself into line?  God knows the network could only be improved if he left, as well as those awful, awful breakfast hosts.

* I don't have a link for this, but on some clips on TV of Trump's latest day in the Middle East, I thought his face looked blank and very tired.   I also would love to know how he took the Melania hand swipe.  I wouldn't mind betting that his minders have tried to keep any internet item about it out of his field of view, because with his personality, it is hard to imagine he wouldn't be upset about the publicity it has achieved.

* What a surprise.  Sinclair Davidson has popped up in London to talk about the "failure" of plain packaging of tobacco.   For my sins, I've watched most of his little video at Catallaxy.   Some observations:   just as with climate change denial, he seeks to discredit anti tobacco campaigners as having their own "industry", and being in it for the money.  This is his very first line, in fact.   Well, would be good to know if anyone ever pays SD to travel somewhere for his talks.    Secondly, any actual valid criticism he may uncover about slippery use of stats and figures in assessments of plain packaging are somewhat undercut when he starts later uncritically quoting KPMG studies funded by tobacco and worthy of their own detail scrutiny.   Thirdly, I don't think he ever mentions the way many researchers thought plain packaging would have its best impact - by making buying cigarettes less attractive to youth.   (Because if you can stop young people starting, you have won half the battle.)  Nor does he address the common sense question that such an effect might take some years to turn up clearly in survey or other evidence.

I trust that he will next be parachuted into the Philippines to deal with Duterte's new laws.

* Roger Franklin's stupid and offensive rant against anyone on the ABC quoting figures about Muslim terrorism has gone down a treat is Sinclair's poisonous toilet of a blog, as you would expect.   Tim Blair urges his readers to read it too.   (Blair has become increasingly petty - especially when it comes to the ABC - and stupid over the years.)   Perhaps Right wingnuts would be better served by considering what you can actually do when, as I pretty much expected, the suicide bomber turns out to be a person born in the country.   Sure, they could argue for a complete ban on Muslim migrants, many of whom are escaping Middle East crises in which the West has played a role, but what do they want to do to current, native, children of migrants who are at risk of being radicalised by the internet or a local crazy imam?   Round them all up in detention camps for the next 40 years?   Or just nuke Saudi Arabia, the sources of modern radicalising schools of Islam?    (You do hear calls for that at Catallaxy after virtually every Islamic inspired attack.)    And if they do want to nuke the problem away, what do they think of Trump making nice with the Saudis again?

Come on wingnuts:  your cloud of rage at everything Muslim achieves nothing.   Make some serious proposals and think about their consequences instead of raging at politicians who actually have to deal with the problem in a serious, meaningful way.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

When anger overwhelms decency

Whatever credibility Quadrant used to have an outlet for thoughtful conservative intellectuals has long been gone, but Roger Franklin plummets into new depths of Right wing reactionary anger and, frankly, stupidity, today. 

While virtually no one is expecting the suicide bomber at Manchester to not have been motivated by radical Islam, Roger is beside himself with rage that last night, on the ABC, left leaning quasi intellectuals were opining that the risk of harm for the average citizen in countries like the US and Australia from Islamic terrorism, especially by foreign terrorists,  is actually very small.

Now, if these comments had been made after the Manchester bombing, Franklin might have had some emotional excuse, at least, for anger at insensitivity at what would have been seen as  downplaying the public distress at such a terrible terrorist attack.   [And by writing this post, I am certainly not trying to make any excuse either - this is surely the most unforgivable attack because of the age and innocence of the victims.  It is, by all standards, horrifying.]

But this is not what happened.   Roger can't  see through his anger that the comments remain essentially true, and were not made in any context where they could be taken as insensitive. 

Furthermore, everyone, Left or Right, understands that radical Islam is a terrible problem and causes great evil.   Fuming about it alone doesn't solve, in particular, the problem of self radicalised, Western born terrorists.  All nations already spend a lot of effort in trying to trace and prevent it.  No one on the Left thinks that is a wasted effort.

Franklin's disgust reaches absurd and offensive heights with his ending:
Life isn’t fair and death less so. Had there been a shred of justice, that blast would have detonated in an Ultimo TV studio. Unlike those young girls in Manchester, their lives snuffed out before they could begin, none of the panel’s likely casualties would have represented the slightest reduction in humanity’s intelligence, decency, empathy or honesty.

Mind you, as Krauss felt his body being penetrated by the Prophet’s shrapnel of nuts, bolts and nails, those goitered eyes might in their last glimmering have caught a glimpse of vindication.

Yeah, nice one Roger.   You're just another example why such a large part of the conservative Right has become so untrustworthy in thinking about risk.  

Update:    It took a day, and scores of real journalists and members of the public condemning Franklin,  but Quadrant (although not specifically Franklin) has apologised.  From the paywalled Australian:
Quadrant magazine today “unreservedly apologised” to ABC managing director Michelle Guthrie for an online article that suggested it would have been better off if the Manchester terrorist had bombed the public broadcaster’s Sydney headquarters. 

The magazine’s editor in chief, Keith Windshuttle, responded to Ms Guthrie late today in a letter agreeing the “intemperate wording” in the article was a “serious error of judgment and should not have been published”.

The article will be withdraw from the magazine’s website, he said.

“Even though I do not share all of the interpretations expressed in your letter, I accept your assurance about the offence it caused you and your staff. You have my unreserved apology for any concerns it might have given you,” Mr Windshuttle wrote.

Earlier, Communications Minister Mitch Fifield blasted Quadrant for its “sick and unhinged” comments about the ABC after contained in the article.
 The now amusing thing about this, if one reads the Catallaxy threads, is that the many wingnutters ecstatic with Franklin's offensiveness have been pledging subscriptions to Quadrant all day, and now have had the rug pulled out from under them. 

Sinclair Davidson - who pathetically joined in with the defence of Franklin, suggests its because the magazine couldn't afford a legal fight with the government funded ABC.   What tosh.

No, simple decency required the apology, but ageing, angry ant culture warriors are too blind to see that.

Pirates noted, again

It feels like I shouldn't be talking entertainment trivia, with news of what sounds like one of those entirely pointless home grown Islamic terrorist attacks in Manchester (at least with the IRA attacks, you could see the aim they were trying to achieve), but I will anyway.

I am a very soft touch when it comes to the Pirates of the Caribbean movies.   I re-watched the last one on TV last weekend for the first time since I saw it at the cinema, and found myself laughing and enjoying it more than expected.  I did give it a decent enough review when it came out, and now I see that No 5 - Dead Men Tell No Tales is getting a similar bag of not so great reviews as did Stranger Tides.

No matter.  I will be off to see it, perhaps with both (now well into teenage) kids in tow again (maybe even my wife),  and I have the feeling I will enjoy it.   This guy, who (like me) defends the original trilogy against the increasingly poor reviews it gathered, gave it a positive enough review.

Monday, May 22, 2017

But unemployment is really worse

I see that Adam Creighton continues his quest for contrarianism (just for the sake of contrarianism, I suspect) by bringing up that golden oldie that unemployment is really much worse than official statistics claim.

Now, I'm going to make hell freeze over by quoting her in rebuttal, but didn't Judith Sloan, of all people, adequately deal this never ending populist claim 6 years ago?

Let's play "spin the policy wheel"

Seriously, that's what it's like under Trump, isn't it?    No one really has any idea where any American policy is going to end up, because Trump is genuinely a blank intellectual slate with wildly conflicting, politically amateur, advisers surrounding him and vying for policy supremacy.

Hence with his Middle East tour, surely Bannon can't be entirely happy with the way Trump appears to be trying (hypocritically, of course) to tone down the "clash of civilisations" rhetoric that he was happy to exploit at rallies in middle America?   Yet who did write the speech?  Who has sway over him at the moment?    Why didn't it make the obvious point, and tell the Arab nations that if they want moderation of extremism, they have to stop governmental extremism of their own - holding out the threat and practice executing their own citizens for blasphemy and apostasy.?

Yet the only thing certain is the high functioning idiot commentators of the American Right wingnut arena will defend Trump no matter how many times he rewrites his rhetoric or changes his policies.  And just wait for Scott Adams' take on it - it'll be hilariously self serving and disingenuous.  (I am also somewhat amused at the Nissim Taleb tweets on this - apparently, it's all good because the Saudis will spend so much money on American arms it will bankrupt them - and that "the main accomplishment of 's trip is to rally his detractors against Saudi Barbaria."   Oh please - as Nichols says on his twitter feed says 'Oh, I'm aware of Taleb's imitation of Homer Simpson saying "everyone is stupid but me"'

Meanwhile, Ross Douthat has a pretty well argued column up in which he attacks the ridiculous "dark state" meme that is the wingnutty explanation as to why Trump is getting so much grief from the media.  Here's how he finishes:
So he’s not being dogged by leaks and accusations because he’s trying to turn the Republican Party into a “worker’s party” (he isn’t), or because he’s throwing the money-changers out of the republic’s temples (don’t make me laugh), or because he’s taking steps to reduce America’s role as policeman of the world (none are evident).

No, he’s at war with the institutions that surround him because he behaves consistently erratically and inappropriately and dangerously, and perhaps criminally as well.

Or perhaps not: All of this may still not rise to the level of impeachable offenses. But the conservatives rising to his defense need to recognize that there is no elite “counterrevolution” here for them to resist, because there is no Trump revolution in the first place.

You don’t want to sell him out to the establishment; I get it. But open your eyes: He’s already been doing that to you.

Update:   Take a look at Peter Beinart's comparison of Trump's speech with Obama's Egypt speech in The Atlantic  - he makes a convincing case that it was Obama who told "hard truths" to the Muslim world, and Trump who went all "politically correct".  But again, in the inverted reality of TrumpWorld, it will be read as the exact opposite.   Look at this conspiracy obsessed  twit at Catallaxy this morning, for example:

She's a nut, but that's an advantage when supporting Trump.

Meanwhile, I like the blunt way Beinart ends his piece:
None of this should be a surprise. Trump is a coward. He says wildly offensive things when the objects of his derision aren’t around, but crumples when he actually meets them. In his presidential announcement speech, Trump called Mexican immigrants “rapists.” But when he sat down with his Hispanic Advisory Council, he proved “humble” and “conciliatory” and called mass deportations “neither possible nor humane.” During the campaign, he endlessly trashed Mexico’s government. But when he actually arrived in Mexico City last August, he declared the trip a “great, great, honor” and when President Enrique Peña Nieto asked him about his famous pledge to make Mexico pay for a wall between the two countries, Trump refused to discuss the subject. During the campaign, Trump accused Black Lives Matter of being responsible for the murder of police, and described African American living conditions as hellish. But when he actually showed up at a black church in Detroit last September, he spent most of his time flattering his hosts. Trump’s speech, noted The Washington Post, constituted a “jarring shift in tone and message.” During the campaign, Trump repeatedly claimed that China was manipulating its currency. But after meeting with China’s president, he acknowledged that was not true.

The Saudis appear thrilled that Trump was so conciliatory on his visit. They should enjoy themselves while they can. Americans have learned this about Trump: What he says to your face often bears no relationship to what he says behind your back.

And one other thing:

I did think it worth noting one of the comments to Douthat's piece.  Douthat had written:
But they aren’t getting anything but symbolism on religious liberty, because Trump doesn’t want to pick a fight with the elite consensus on gay and transgender rights.
Which prompted the comment:

She has a point...

Sunday, May 21, 2017

A red light is flashing on the BAT phone at the IPA...

MANILA — President Rodrigo Duterte, who has overseen a deadly campaign to eradicate drug use in the Philippines, has now ordered a strict public ban on smoking and called on citizens to help the local authorities apprehend smokers.

The executive order, signed this week and made public on Thursday, forbids the use of tobacco, including electronic cigarettes, in all public spaces, even sidewalks. It also prohibits anyone under 18 from “using, selling or buying cigarettes or tobacco products.”

More than a quarter of Filipinos smoke, according to a 2015 World Health Organization report, including 11 percent of minors.

The nationwide measure, known as Executive Order 26, is similar to the near universal smoking ban Mr. Duterte put in place in Davao City in 2002, when he was the city’s mayor. A former smoker, Mr. Duterte quit cigarettes and drinking decades ago, when he was found to have two rare conditions, Barrett’s esophagus and Buerger’s disease.
Of course, I'm not entirely sure that it's a good idea if it means that smokers can smoke in their houses, with the kids around.  I'm also not sure whether it has worked well in Davao City.  But one paper (which seem to concentrate more on tobacco taxes in that country) does note that there are a quite a lot of smokers there:

Mind you, I "only" have to go back to my teenage years to find near equivalent male rates here, and women smoking much more than the Filipinos:

I see from another table at this page that it took Australia until 1989 to get the total adult smoking rate down to 28%, which is where the Philippines is now.

We have done very well to get to the approximately 13% rate of daily smokers today.

Goldblum good

Gee, Jeff Goldblum is great at funny ads.  (I see he has done them overseas before, but these ones turning up here, they really are short, sharp, and funny.)

Flushed with success

Well, I read around a fair bit on medical topics, but I had never heard before of a fallopian tube flush as a fertility aid.  Not only that, it appears that using an oil based flush helps those eggs slip right through.  Sounds very mechanical!:
A technique that effectively “unblocks” a woman’s fallopian tubes by flushing them with liquid to help her conceive has been used for decades, with varying levels of success. Now a study has confirmed that the method significantly improves fertility, and that a certain type of fluid – one that is oil-based rather than water-based – shows strong results.

Published in The New England Journal of Medicine, our H2Oil study involved 1,119 women in 27 medical centres in The Netherlands. All women were younger than 38 and had been trying to conceive for 18 months on average.

The women were randomly allocated to receive either an oil- or water-based substance. Of those whose tubes were flushed with the oil-based substance, 40% achieved successful pregnancies within six months, compared to 29% among women receiving the water-based substance. This is a significant statistical difference.

Our results are an important gain for couples facing the diagnosis of infertility.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Worrying about Ben

I had been meaning to write that Ben Pobjie worries me.   I first noticed him, as many people probably have, through his funny, satirical pieces on My Kitchen Rules at Fairfax.   He still writes them, now at that website, although I do think he has probably taken it as far as he can, and they are getting a bit repetitious now.  

But I also notice his tweets, and this year there have been lots of them about promoting his stand up comedy work, but seemingly with more than the occasional touch of desperation about the number of tickets being sold, and the lack of (as far as I could see) enthusiastic endorsements.   He will then sometimes tweet about how he feels a failure.   I see from one short Youtube clip from it, that he talks about feeling suicidal as part of the show.  (Another Youtube clip, at a different venue, and he seems to be struggling for laughs from the audience.)

Today, I see that he has written at length in Fairfax about his ongoing struggles with mental health issues, and being taken by the police to hospital when he was, presumably, threatening suicide - it sounds like his wife called the police.  He doesn't say when this happened - it could have been years ago.

But in any event, well, talk about your comedians who try comedy as a form of public self therapy. 

I find it difficult to understand this - I'm in whatever you would call the group of people (introverts?) who can't imagine that if  they developed serious mental health issue, it could possibly help to stand up in public and talk to strangers about it.   But it is such a common thing, it seems, that comedians want to talk about their unhappiness, to strangers,  and are often very troubled and unhappy people away from the stage anyway. 

I have a great deal of sympathy for people like Ben who do have ongoing issues, but I'm sorely tempted to suggest to them something like "mate, perhaps if you stop talking to every one about it all the time, you might improve.  Find just the one person who helps you when you talk to him or her about it, but stop talking to everyone about it."  This doesn't exactly align with Ben's approach, I think!

I could well be telling him to suck eggs here, but my guess would be that cognitive behaviour therapy would be the best style of therapy for someone like him to try.  

Apart from that, I would suggest he give up stand up comedy if he's not selling tickets.  There is no shame in that - and its record as a form of therapy, or a way to earn a steady dollar, is very, very poor, anyway.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Taleb re-tweets

I know that a re-tweet doesn't necessarily mean an endorsement, but most of the time it probably does.   And with his general very aggro attitude to anyone who disagrees or annoys him, I suspect that he is on board with the wingnutty use of "beta male" as an insult.  Still, I am somewhat surprised that Nassim Taleb would be retweeting Mike Cernovich:

Something's not quite right about Taleb's very peculiar range of views, I say...

Wood, weed and phones: a No Trump Friday

Yeah, posting about the decrepitude of POTUS and the Republicans gets a bit boring, so let's try to avoid that today and instead note:

*   Hey, did you know wood was actually a pretty good material with which to construct big buildings?  An article at Nature, about a revival of wood for large construction, notes this:

....wood has developed a bad reputation over the centuries, because of catastrophic blazes that levelled cities such as London, New York and Chicago before modern fire-suppression strategies emerged. In fact, in case of fire wood maintains its structurally integrity much better than the non-flammable alternatives favoured by modern building codes. It chars at a predictable rate, and doesn't melt like steel or weaken like concrete. “The fact that it actually can withstand fire better than steel took a long time for people to realize,” says Guido Wimmers, who chairs a master's programme in wood engineering at UNBC....

The science of safety and engineering has also advanced. Douglas fir — the exposed layer at the UNBC centre — chars at 39 millimetres per hour. The provincial building code requires that the structure be able to endure at least one hour of fire on any given storey, so Green's team opted for floors made of a 5-layer panel that could afford to sacrifice a portion without losing its structural integrity.
And it is pretty good in earthquake prone regions:
Asif Iqbal, a civil engineer who is working on the project, came to UNBC from New Zealand, where he saw the damage from the 2011 earthquake in Christchurch at first hand. Most of the steel-reinforced concrete buildings in the city remained standing, but around 1,800 were irreparably damaged owing to cracked concrete and warped steel. Iqbal says that many of the replacement buildings are being constructed from wood, precisely because it is more likely to survive another major earthquake and the steel connectors can be replaced relatively easily if damaged.
 Some large wood buildings have been built recently:
 Norway set a world height record in late 2015 with a 52.8-metre tower block; that was edged out in September 2016 by a 53-metre student dormitory at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. This year, Austria will take the lead with the 84-metre HoHo building in Vienna, comprising a hotel, apartments and offices. The United States saw its first tall wooden building go up in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 2016, and others are in the works in Portland, Oregon, and in New York City.
 And I had been meaning to post about this months ago - a tall wood office building is to be built in Brisbane - on the showgrounds which I hang around most Saturdays:
Standing at more than 52 metres, the 14,000 square metres of nine storeys of engineered timber on the A-grade site, with retail space at ground level, is targeting a 6 Green Star Design & As Built rating:


*   Dementia wards might soon smell of marijuana?   (Well, probably not, but still, it's a funny idea):
Memory performance decreases with increasing age. Cannabis can reverse these ageing processes in the brain. This was shown in mice by scientists at the University of Bonn with their colleagues at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem (Israel). Old animals were able to regress to the state of two-month-old mice with a prolonged low-dose treatment with a cannabis active ingredient. This opens up new options, for instance, when it comes to treating dementia.

*  The Samsung S8, the phone I would love to own, is selling very well, it seems:
It's been less than a month since the Galaxy S8 hit store shelves, but the curved flagship phone is apparently already a huge success. Samsung has already sold over 5 million units of the phones worldwide, according to the Korean site The Investor....

And the sales could keep on rolling in. The phone is expected to come to 120 countries by the end of the month including China, says The Investor.

According to the report, some analysts predict the S8 to reach 50 to 60 million in annual sales. Not bad at all for a comeback phone.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Douthat has had enough

I see that Ross Douthat has had enough of Trump and calls for his removal using the 25th Amendment.  In doing so, he makes a point which is crucial:
Read the things that these people, members of his inner circle, his personally selected appointees, say daily through anonymous quotations to the press. (And I assure you they say worse off the record.) They have no respect for him, indeed they seem to palpitate with contempt for him, and to regard their mission as equivalent to being stewards for a syphilitic emperor.

It is not squishy New York Times conservatives who regard the president as a child, an intellectual void, a hopeless case, a threat to national security; it is people who are self-selected loyalists, who supported him in the campaign, who daily go to work for him. And all this, in the fourth month of his administration.
Yes, since virtually Day 1, the extraordinary level of leaks to the press has indicated something was very wrong.   Trump, and his gullible defenders, claim the leaks are invented.   It is an inversion of reality, coming from the man who rose on the back of internet fake news and years of birtherism and other stupid conspiracy theories.  

The real problem, though, may be the gutlessness of the anonymous sources.  If they really think he should be gone, all it might take is a good handful of close aides to resign, and then speak freely to the press about their doubts, from observing him close at hand, as to his intellectual suitability for the job. 

As for his defenders:   they fall into two main categories - the culture warriors who are quite stupidly blinded by the partisanship of Right wingnut media and will never be convinced he's unsuited to the task; and the culture warriors who know he's a joke but take the view "he may be an incompetent idiot,  but he's our incompetent idiot.  We'll just get what we want by leaving him in place and working around him."  

Both upset me, but perhaps the later are morally the worse of the two groups.

*  OK, to be more accurate, it's probably more like a spectrum with those at either end, and some crossover in the middle.

Another day, another recording in the news

From the Washington Post:
A month before Donald Trump clinched the Republican nomination, one of his closest allies in Congress — House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy — made a politically explosive assertion in a private conversation on Capitol Hill with his fellow GOP leaders: that Trump could be the beneficiary of payments from Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“There’s two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump,” McCarthy (R-Calif.) said, according to a recording of the June 15, 2016 exchange, which was listened to and verified by The Washington Post. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher is a Californian Republican known in Congress as a fervent defender of Putin and Russia.

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) immediately interjected, stopping the conversation from further exploring McCarthy’s assertion, and swore the Republicans present to secrecy.....

Some of the lawmakers laughed at McCarthy’s comment. Then McCarthy quickly added: “Swear to God.”

Ryan instructed his Republican lieutenants to keep the conversation private, saying: “No leaks...This is how we know we’re a real family here.”

The remarks remained secret for nearly a year.

It was all just a joke, they say now.   Yes - a joke that had to be kept within "the family".

The Putin mystery

OK, so someone else on the net will be musing about this already, but was Putin's intervention in the Trump leakgate [sorry] matter intended to help or hurt Trump?

Because surely Putin would realise that coming out to defend him, and by saying he has a transcript of the meeting, could create more harm than assistance for Trump.  And it is at least possible that the Russians have decided that Trump is just too unreliable for them - sure he looked easily manipulated before the election, but now they see the turmoil that surrounds him, maybe they want someone more predictable in the seat?

Or is Putin not as savvy to American political dynamics as we assume?  It's not as if he has to worry about handling hostile press in his country.

Update:   I see Andrew Bolt, one of the Australian Right wing media culture warriors who seems to have an exceptionally low interest in commenting on the patent turmoil in, and incompetence of, the Trump Whitehouse, briefly notes today that the Putin intervention will not help.   He then ends with this bit of blind stupidity:
 There is an unmistakable whiff of McCarthyism - mixed, of course, with an entirely insincere and self-interested outrage - to the anti-Russian hysteria now.
Yes, of course, Andrew.  If a Democrat President was refusing to disclose tax returns and financial information relevant to his or her ties to Russia, and had campaigners making suspicious trips to the country and later Russian sourced leaks were used to campaign advantage, you'd just shrug your shoulders about it and say "stop being hysterical".

Update 2:  Homer in comments refers me to a post about Putin at Econospeak.  It is interesting.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The dumb will rise up

Glenn Reynolds, of Instapundit fan, exemplifies the sad, ideologically driven dumbing down of the American Right, such that they can't believe not only [climate] science, but also that Trump is the most dangerously inept, and patently unsuited by both character and intellect, person handed the task of being POTUS in living memory.   Here he is opining in a recent post (before the Comey memo news broke this morning):
Well, I’m still not sure exactly what’s going on — see Stephen’s post below for more — but what is clear is that they hope that if they gin up enough controversy, baseless or not, maybe it’ll give cover to an impeachment or 25 Amendment removal, or something. I don’t think it will happen and if it does — barring something a lot bigger and more uncontrovertible than anything they’ve come up with so far — you will have literal riots in the streets if Trump’s removed, far beyond anything you’ve seen from Democrat constituency groups like Black Lives Matter. Trump supporters have had it with the establishment, and are unlikely to go along quietly with a system they regard as deeply corrupt and devoted to their destruction. To the extent it’s interested in impeachment, the anti-Trump establishment, which likes to present itself as responsible and sensible, is playing with fire here, in a room full of gasoline that the establishment itself has pumped.
The wingnut Right used to muse about how they would rise up and "take back their country" under Obama.  They can't give up that fantasy, it seems.

Hey monty...

You need to talk to poor old Tom.   I really enjoy the way he has taken to running around crying "Take down their names! Take down their names!" whenever someone in comments does not toe the Kates line that Trump Is Magnificent And If You Disagree You Are a Socialist Enemy of the State; but it really does make him seem more of a paranoid loser operating from his backyard shed than he might actually be...

Trumpalooza continues...

I have a theory about Trump and what he told the Russians - McMaster might be right, that Trump wasn't even briefed that the source of the intel was the Israelis in this particular case, but Trump being vaguely aware that the US gets a lot of Middle East intel from there made the claim anyway.    Thereby causing panicky telephone calls to US intel agencies saying "we can't trust him to not stuff it up even if we don't tell him!"

Someone else on the internet has probably already come up with this, but it seems to me to fit the claims and counterclaims quite well....

Meanwhile, this morning's news that Comey wrote that Trump tried to call him off the Flynn investigation may help to explain Trump's tweet about how Comey had better hope that the meeting was not taped.   Because what may have happened here is that someone sitting in on the meeting may have said to Trump afterwards "you know, you can't really tell the FBI to call off investigations as a favour to a friend" and Trump may have said "I didn't say that...I didn't say that.  The tape will show me right."   Of course, being an idiot, the tape will probably show him wrong...

Here's what the NYT is reporting:
Mr. Comey shared the existence of the memo with senior F.B.I. officials and close associates. The New York Times has not viewed a copy of the memo, which is unclassified, but one of Mr. Comey’s associates read parts of the memo to a Times reporter.

“I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go,” Mr. Trump told Mr. Comey, according to the memo. “He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”

I really get the feeling that this may be the beginning of the end for President T.


Further to my prediction, found this via Hot Air:

They need to get on the phone to Steve Kates. 

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The accelerating expansion explained?

Seems to me that a lot of Chinese are doing interesting physics now.   This sounds interesting:

A group of physicists believe they may have cracked one of nature’s codes and finally explained what causes the accelerating expansion of the universe.
Qingdi Wang, a Ph.D. student at the University of British Columbia (UBC), has comprised a theory to bridge some of the incompatibility issues between the theory of quantum mechanics and Einstein’s theory of general relativity—two of the most successful theories that explain how the universe works.
Wang suggested that the universe is made of constantly fluctuating space and time.

“Space-time is not as static as it appears, it's constantly moving,” Wang said in a statement.
Astronomers discovered in 1998 that the universe is expanding at an increasing rate, which implies that space is not empty but rather filled with dark energy—likely from vacuum energy—that pushes matter away.

However, when the theory of quantum mechanics is applied to vacuum energy, it would predict that there is an extremely large density of vacuum energy, more than the total energy of all the particles in the universe. Also, Einstein’s theory of general relativity suggests that the energy would have a strong gravitational effect, which would likely cause the universe to explode.

However, physicists agree that the universe is expanding very slowly and the UBC team have made calculations that show that space is fluctuating wildly and at each point it oscillates between expansion and contraction.

As the universe swings from expansion to contraction, the two actions nearly cancel each other out, resulting in a small net effect that drives the universe to expand slowly at an accelerating rate.

“This happens at very tiny scales, billions and billions times smaller even than an electron,” Wang said.
The abstract to the paper is here, and it puts it rather more technically:
We investigate the gravitational property of the quantum vacuum by treating its large energy density predicted by quantum field theory seriously and assuming that it does gravitate to obey the equivalence principle of general relativity. We find that the quantum vacuum would gravitate differently from what people previously thought. The consequence of this difference is an accelerating universe with a small Hubble expansion rate HΛeβGΛ0 instead of the previous prediction H=8πGρvac/3GΛ2 which was unbounded, as the high energy cutoff Λ is taken to infinity. In this sense, at least the “old” cosmological constant problem would be resolved. Moreover, it gives the observed slow rate of the accelerating expansion as Λ is taken to be some large value of the order of Planck energy or higher. This result suggests that there is no necessity to introduce the cosmological constant, which is required to be fine tuned to an accuracy of 10120, or other forms of dark energy, which are required to have peculiar negative pressure, to explain the observed accelerating expansion of the Universe.