Friday, June 30, 2017

A Brisbane winter

It's supposed to be getting cold in the southern States today, and cooler up here as well.

I have to say that, so far, this Brisbane "winter" has been very mild.   And I don't think it's just in my mind - there seem to be things fruiting/flowering in the garden out of season.  The dwarf mulberry, in particular, which is not doing very well in a pot and needs to be moved, has been fruiting in the last month.   The lavender has also been flowering a lot, although to be honest, I don't recall if lavender normally does well at this time of year.

The Right has never been stupider

I simply cannot believe the stupidity to which the American (Trump supporting) Right (and its Australian counterparts) have descended.

Now, whenever a news organisation retracts one story (or part of one story) out of literally thousands regarding Russian interference in the US election, this is supposed to be a complete vindication of the childish, self serving, quasi authoritarian Trumpian line of "fake news", even after Trump switches tactic from claiming for months that there was nothing to the Russian hacking claims at all, to blaming Obama for not taking action on it.  (And, of course, despite an active special counsel  investigation under way.)   

Is there a lot more lead in the water in America than they realise?  (That's no excuse for Australian sycophants, though.)   I'm starting to look for some explanation, because it just seems all so abnormal.

Quantum and causation

Some more "quantum is weird" reading from here:

How quantum trickery can scramble cause and effect

Thursday, June 29, 2017

One voice in a head is enough, isn't it?

In a lengthy Atlantic article about research comparing psychics who claim to hear voices of the dead, and schizophrenics who also hear voices, there is one paragraph about an idea ("tulpas") which is new to me:
In her work, Luhrmann has come across groups of people who—unlike Jessica—hear voices only as a result of practice. She gives the example of tulpamancers: people who create tulpas, which are believed to be other beings or personalities that co-exist along inside a person’s mind along with their own. “Somebody in that community estimated to me that one-fifth of the community had frequent voice hearing experiences with their tulpas, that their tulpas talked in a way that was auditory or quasi auditory,” Luhrmann said, a practice that she was told takes two hours a day to develop.“That’s connected to work. Psychosis is not connected to effort. It happens to people.”

Neurosurgeons behaving badly - very badly

It's a pretty gobsmacking story to read of two neurosurgeons using party drugs like they're going out of style.   And, the tribunal said, there was evidence of plenty of nurses using them recreationally too.

I wonder if patients should take one of these with them to hospital, and ask their surgeon to provide a sample.  (I didn't even know anyone could buy those, 'til now.) 

You had me at "you shouldn't exercise"...

Actually, the article is about why you shouldn't think exercise will help a lot with weight loss (despite it being good for plenty of other reasons.)

(I'm not an obese butterball, honestly.  I just find going out to deliberately exercise intellectually boring.)

In which I say two conservative-ish things

1.   While I think that Federal Labor is looking the better party for dealing with all sorts of things at the moment, I regret that Shorten is saying that Labor will make Sunday penalty rates go back up again if elected.

My common sense judgement is that penalty rates got too high, and deserve the present decrease, which is relatively modest in any case. 

I wish Labor could accept the same.

2.  There is an article at NPR in which someone argues that "cultural appropriation is indefensible"  for writers and artists generally.     It is completely and utterly unconvincing.   Take this, for example:
I teach classes and seminars alongside author and editor Nisi Shawl on Writing the Other, and the foundation of our work is that authors should create characters from many different races, cultures, class backgrounds, physical abilities, and genders, even if — especially if — these don't match their own. We are not alone in this. You won't find many people advising authors to only create characters similar to themselves. You will find many who say: Don't write characters from minority or marginalized identities if you are not going to put in the hard work to do it well and avoid cultural appropriation and other harmful outcomes. These are different messages. But writers often see or hear the latter and imagine that it means the former.
So what is cultural appropriation?  She explains:
Cultural appropriation can feel hard to get a handle on, because boiling it down to a two-sentence dictionary definition does no one any favors. Writer Maisha Z. Johnson offers an excellent starting point by describing it not only as the act of an individual, but an individual working within a "power dynamic in which members of a dominant culture take elements from a culture of people who have been systematically oppressed by that dominant group."
This has lead to accusations of gatekeeping by Malik and others: Who has the right to decide what is appropriation and what isn't? What does true cultural exchange look like? There's no one easy answer to either question.

But there are some helpful guidelines: The Australian Council for the Arts developed a set of protocols for working with Indigenous artists that lays out how to approach Aboriginal culture as a respectful guest, who to contact for guidance and permission, and how to proceed with your art if that permission is not granted. Some of these protocols are specific to Australia, but the key to all of them is finding ways for creativity to flourish while also reducing harm.
Well, seems to me that the accusations of gatekeeping are entirely justified by the explanation in the second paragraph. 

I'm sorry, this is all ill defined bulldust, if you ask me.   Sure, I can understand people being annoyed by  lazy or insultingly inaccurate depictions of culture by an artist outside of it.    That can just be called "bad art".   But to try to dress it up in high minded, vaguely defined, heavy on offence taking,  resentful of the potential for someone outside to make money, demands for only doing art one way, is just painful and silly.

I can hear the sound of furious typing coming from the Sydney Institute and Catallaxy...

To be honest, I haven't been following the ins and outs of the investigation of George Pell for child sex abuse offences in any close detail.  I had the impression that the evidence was very old and not very convincing, but as I say, that was just an impression.  

So I am a bit surprised to see that the Victorian Police have charged him.

This will, I expect, infuriate the Catholics and other sundry conservatives of Catallaxy, as well as Andrew Bolt and Gerard Henderson, who have been convinced for many a year that Pell is a lovely, lovely man the subject of a witch hunt.  And, to be honest, there is a witch hunt air about the reaction to Pell from many on the Left.

I suspect the truth in Pell's behaviour lies somewhere between the two extremes:  whether any of it results in a criminal conviction, I would be surprised;  but I also suspect people might have been right to worry a little bit about his behaviour at one time.

The whole thing is unfortunate in many respects.   But for now, watch the steam rise from the predictable defenders.  

Thanks, Noam

Seeing I think 1984 is a vastly overrated book, and I'm still annoyed that I had to write an English class review of it in which I felt compelled by the teacher to praise it,  I'm always interested if I spot anyone expressing a similar view.  Apparently, I have Noam Chomsky on my side:
In the interview at the top of the post (with clumsy subtitles), Noam Chomsky makes some similar observations, and declares We the superior book to both Brave New World and 1984 (which he pronounces “obvious and wooden”).
Yay Noam.

Lukewarmers: making the perfect the enemy of the good

There's a very good explanation here by Dana Nuccitelli about the recent paper by Santer and others which identified the problem with some (modest) overestimates of atmospheric warming in modelling.   (It's to do with errors in forcings estimates, not the models themselves.   Climate change denialists instead will claim the models are all wrong and cannot be relied on to make any policy decisions.)

The thing is, the latter is the whole lukewarmer argument, isn't it?   Because the models might not be precisely on point for a certain period, you can never rely on them to make policy decisions.   It's a classic case of making the perfect the enemy of the good.

Incidentally, there was a Science Show recently that gave voice to certain key climate change "skeptics" (you can read the transcript here),  but the one key impression you got listening to it was the age of the voices of the skeptics.   

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Tasmanian thoughts

I've posted before about the reasonable house prices in certain parts of Brisbane, and out of curiosity, I've been looking at Tasmania for bargains as well.  

Now, it may have high unemployment and (probably) more than its fair share of ice addicts, but as long as you don't want to live at Sandy Bay in Hobart, the buying is still remarkably good.  Especially if you go to Launceston, where I'll concentrate today.  Look:

Four bedroom, two bathrooms in a pleasing expanded older house, close to the centre of town for 400 and something thousand?

What about this handsome enough looking renovated old place:

Still too expensive?:

Sure, it looks boxy, but it's pretty damn tasteful inside:

This is pretty ridiculous.

I wonder what the fishing is like in the Tamar River?   I'm feeling like a reverse Ratso from Midnight Cowboy, where he says "The two basic items necessary to sustain life are sunshine and coconut milk. Did you know that? That's a fact. In Florida, they got a terrific amount of coconut trees there."

For me, it's more like "The two basic items for life are a cheap but cosy  house, and salmon.  They've got a terrific amount of both in Tasmania."

A culinary observation

I just noticed this at The Guardian:

First, that's a very odd combination of food, if you ask me.

More importantly:   I think brownies are just about the most over rated food thing ever devised.   I mean, I like chocolate (at least, dark chocolate), but a brownie is the biggest waste of chocolate I know of.

That's all...

Diet news

I've been on a 5-2 diet maybe three times now, over a couple of years, because I do indeed put the weight back on if I stop completely.   (I really must follow Michael's advice and go on a permanent 1-6 diet if I want to keep it off.  Or get serious about exercise.) 

So I'm on it again, and I have to say, maybe I like yo-yo dieting.   I mean, as I've said before, the fasting days on the diet (600 cal allowed) really make the small amount of food you do eat taste pretty fantastically good.   (And, as I scrap up every last morsel of salad or cracker crumb, I am also always reminded of the scene in Empire of the Sun where our young hero carefully gathers all of the weevils from his rice and eats them happily.)   There is a sort of feeling of mental focus that can come with the fast days, too.

True, after a few months the novelty wears off, and the reducing speed of the weight loss encourages me to stop at "close enough".   But the early weeks of being on the diet - they feel pretty good.

In other diet news, I see that Eddie McGuire and Malcolm Turnbull have apparently both tried a severe fasting diet over 3 weeks and lost something like 15 kg.  Yeah, I agree with the experts - that's not a good idea.   It might take me a year to lose that much on 5-2, but I can enjoy life on the way.   (By the way, I should lose about 7 kg this time - I really did let myself rebound too far this time.)

She should take the train

From the BBC:
A superstitious elderly passenger delayed a flight in Shanghai after throwing coins at the engine for good luck, a Chinese airline has confirmed.

The 80-year-old woman threw her change at the China Southern Airlines flight as she crossed the tarmac to board.

She told police she launched the coins as she "prayed for safety" on Tuesday.

Of the nine coins launched, only one hit its intended target - but this was enough to force the evacuation of 150 passengers for several hours.

Police were called to Shanghai Pudong International Airport after a passenger noticed the woman's bizarre behaviour, apparently aimed at ensuring a safe flight, and alerted authorities.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Oh dear...

Once again, Helen Dale is attracting attention, and not in a good way: An Award Winning Novelist Is Lifting Viral Tweets.

(She apparently doesn't like Twitter*, so instead of retweets, she just lifts them and puts them on her Facebook page, with no acknowledgement of the source.   But I guess if they are viral, people would often be recognizing the main part as being from elsewhere - and it's not as if people would think she drew a professional cartoon or graphic.    The problem is more the words or caption in a lifted Tweet:  they make it look awfully like her either desiring, or not caring, that some people will think they were her creation too.)

* I was quoting her from the article, though I now see that she is pretty regularly using Twitter - so it seems a very odd explanation.

Update:  I had forgotten, until I re-read her Wikipedia entry, that she had been sacked from writing for the Courier Mail for not acknowledging someone else's jokes she used in a column.    And I'm pretty sure she left Catallaxy after putting up a viral giant pig photo, claiming it was genuine and from people she knew, and then people called her out about that.   It is strange behaviour, and the book tour for her next novel is likely to present more oddities, I expect...

Increasing acceptance

With legalisation of same sex marriage in Australia in the news again, it's interesting to see NPR reports on a new Pew survey result showing that, in the US, public approval of legalising it is still on the rise:

And even Republicans have weakened in opposition:

I guess it's a factor of former opponents not seeing the world change much around them after it's legalised.   There's no reason to believe it wouldn't happen similarly in Australia.

That said, a defensible conservative position remains to have civil unions for those who want the equivalent rights as heterosexual marriage,  but which leave millennial long understandings of the meaning of "marriage" alone.

Sea level rise and climate change

Seems there's a significant new paper on the increasing rate of sea level rise at Nature Climate Change.  I'm waiting for some better explanation of its significance, though.

It is, of course, important to remember how "lumpy" sea level rise will be across the globe.

Hail and climate change

It usually crosses my mind at least once every summer, particularly if hail is falling outside, what effect a warming atmosphere might have on its frequency and size.

Well, some scientists have looked at this for the United States, where it is expected to make a difference:
Anthropogenic climate change is anticipated to increase severe thunderstorm potential in North America, but the resulting changes in associated convective hazards are not well known. Here, using a novel modelling approach, we investigate the spatiotemporal changes in hail frequency and size between the present (1971–2000) and future (2041–2070). Although fewer hail days are expected over most areas in the future, an increase in the mean hail size is projected, with fewer small hail events and a shift toward a more frequent occurrence of larger hail. This leads to an anticipated increase in hail damage potential over most southern regions in spring, retreating to the higher latitudes (that is, north of 50°N) and the Rocky Mountains in the summer. In contrast, a dramatic decrease in hail frequency and damage potential is predicted over eastern and southeastern regions in spring and summer due to a significant increase in melting that mitigates gains in hail size from increased buoyancy.
Reminds me a bit of the complexity of rainfall changes under climate change - with rainfall intensification, but increased drying on hotter days, you might end up with roughly the same amount of rainfall over (say) a year, but more damage caused by the intensity when it does fall.

Monday, June 26, 2017

A Liberal split?

Is it too much to hope for that the Liberals could rid itself of the climate change denying Right in a major party split that was actually initiated over Pyne's not particularly shocking comments that he favours gay marriage coming in soon?   I doubt it will happen - there are too many of them who would need to leave, I think.   But I can't see the conservative forces getting the upper hand in the party room for a leadership spill either - surely they could not contemplate an Rudd-like Abbott rerun, and Dutton has not the slightest hint of any charm that a leader needs.   Who else is there that conservatives could be happy with?

Mind you, it's sort of fun watching the culture warrior Right gnashing their teeth over the centrists in the Liberals having the upper hand.

Wow apology

I've been a bit remiss, because it's been a few weeks since I read this article in Discover magazine on 8 June pretty much debunking the claimed identification of the Wow radio signal as coming from comets.  (Which I had posted about on 6 June.)

Turns out I had very good reason to be skeptical that comets would make a radio signal  of sufficient strength to be mistaken for the Wow signal (or, indeed, that they make radio signals at all.)

So, it's back to the drawing board, I reckon.

Frum on the Republicans

I think David Frum's lengthy article on what has happened with the Republicans sounds pretty convincing.   Worth a read. [Oh wait - it's an old article, just it is popular at the moment in the sidebar at the Atlantic.  I might even have recommended it before!]

Upset at Obama's response to what didn't happen?

It seems to me that there is less outrage in the liberal media than I would have expected with Trump tweeting blame at Obama for not taking more action against the Russians for election interference that Trump has always insisted was "fake news".

Perhaps it's just because no one's surprised anymore by any ridiculous turnaround by this ridiculous President, and how his support base - at the moment - don't care how ridiculous he is.  (Will Steve Kates, the most ridiculous politically commentating economist in Australia, and that's saying something, comment on the turnaround?  I would love to see how he spins it.) 

It's going to take some spectacularly awful stuff to shake his base awake, it would seem.   (Or maybe, just enough incrementally awful stuff - but it's still too soon after the election to see that happen yet.)

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Photos from Science

These just caught my eye:

I didn't realise that giraffe skulls looked so much like a dino skull.  Don't you think?

But real dinos were really big: 

And numbats are remarkably attractive:

Failure unforeseen (and an excuse to talk about Tom Cruise)

We get Graham Norton's UK chat show about 3 or 4 weeks after it screens there, and it's often very funny.  (It is just about the most relaxed celebrity chat show ever made, I reckon - is it because of the alcohol served?)

Anyway, last night's episode featured Tom Cruise promoting The Mummy (along with his female co-star whose name I don't recall), and Zac Efron, appearing to promote Baywatch.

Both movies were - shortly after that show was taped - pretty much panned by most critics and are already considered box office failures.  (Although, I see that The Mummy has made $300 million internationally in a few weeks of release, so at a claimed production cost of $120 million, it's not a complete disaster - even allowing for the rule of thumb that a movie has to make about 3 times its production costs before it becomes profitable.  Baywatch is doing considerably worse.  But for a complete, it won't even make its production cost disaster, look at Guy Ritchies' King Arthur movie.  Why does anyone employ him?)

However, on last night's appearance on Norton, both Cruise and Efron seemed very genuinely positive about their respective movies.   Either they are really good at faking it; really unable to see defects in their own movies; or the movies are better than what most critics and audiences seem to think.  (I seriously doubt that with respect to Baywatch, where even Zafron was talking about its high quotient of  penis jokes.)

Anyway, somehow while browsing the net after the show, I stumbled across a Simon Pegg twitter account, and he was talking about being in Queenstown, New Zealand, shooting for Mission Impossible 6.  Indeed, it has been in the New Zealand media.  I wonder if NZ is standing in for some other country? 


More reason for disliking Monsanto

You may know my position:  I think the Monsanto tactic of genetic modification of food crops to tolerate weed killing chemicals is a bad idea.  (I think the reason is kind of obvious, but see the links at this previous post, and this one too.)

Here's another story of where this agricultural technique is going wrong:
Arkansas's pesticide regulators have stepped into the middle of an epic battle between weeds and chemicals, which has now morphed into a battle between farmers. Hundreds of farmers say their crops have been damaged by a weedkiller that was sprayed on neighboring fields. Today, the Arkansas Plant Board voted to impose an unprecedented ban on that chemical.

"It's fracturing the agricultural community. You either have to choose to be on the side of using the product, or on the side of being damaged by the product," says David Hundley, who manages grain production for Ozark Mountain Poultry in Bay, Arkansas.

The tension — which even led to a farmer's murder — is over a weedkiller called dicamba. The chemical only became a practical option for farmers a few years ago, when Monsanto created soybean and cotton plants that were genetically modified to survive it. Farmers who planted these new seeds could use dicamba to kill weeds without harming their crops.

Farmers, especially in the South, have been desperate for new weapons against a devastating weed called pigweed, or Palmer amaranth. And some farmers even jumped the gun and started spraying dicamba on their crops before they were legally allowed to do so. (Dicamba has long been used in other ways, such as for clearing vegetation from fields before planting.)
The problem is, dicamba is a menace to other crops nearby. It drifts easily in the wind, and traditional soybeans are incredibly sensitive to it. "Nobody was quite prepared, despite extensive training, for just how sensitive beans were to dicamba," says Bob Scott, a specialist on weeds with the University of Arkansas's agricultural extension service.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Nuts have been with us, always

I am on the email list for Literary Review, but they mostly now just contain links to old reviews from their archive.  This one, though, by the late John Mortimer in 1997, talking about a sensational defamation trial in England in 1918, is very amusing.  Not sure that I have heard of the Pemberton Billing trial before.  Some extracts:
Reference was made throughout the proceedings to a mysterious German ‘Black Book’, which was said to contain the names of 47,000 prominent British homosexuals, lesbians and secret agents working for the enemy. The names included, it was said, Asquith, Margot Asquith, Lord Haldane and many others of the great and good. When a Mrs Villiers-Stuart (later imprisoned for bigamy) shouted, from the witness box, that the judge’s name was in the book, the proceedings reached a level of insanity beyond anything achieved by Mr Justice Cocklecarrot....

....Decadence, however that pejorative word is defined, is by no means synonymous with homosexuality.

Noel Pemberton Billing MP, of course, was sure that it was. He had been an actor, a barrister, the inventor of a ‘self-calculating pencil’ and a ‘flying boat’ which failed to take off. He had founded the Vigilante Society with an Admiral’s son called Henry Hamilton Beamish who believed that Britain was ruined by ‘Jewalisation’ and that the Jews were responsible for a quarter of the casualties in the war. The Vigilantes published a paper called the Imperialist, which announced ‘the existence in the “Cabinet Noir” of a certain German prince, a book which contains reports from the agents ‘who have infested this country for over twenty years’, agents spreading such debauchery and such lasciviousness as only German minds can conceive and only German bodies execute’.

Billing was anxious to spread his beliefs, not only to Parliament and the Press, but in the Courts of Law. His opportunity came when a private production of Oscar Wilde’s Salome, a play banned from the public by the Lord Chamberlain, was proposed. The Vigilante carried a paragraph mysteriously worded ‘The Cult of the Clitoris’ and went on: ‘To be a member of Maud Allan’s performances of Salome one has to apply to a Miss Valetta of 9, Duke Street, Adelphi, WC. If Scotland Yard were to seize the list of members, I have no doubt they would secure the names of several of the first 47,000 [in the Black Book].’ Maud Allan charged Billing with criminal libel and he decided to defend himself at the Old Bailey.

Mr Justice Darling, a small, dandified figure, much given to flippant little jokes at which the Court was expected to laugh heartily, was caricatured by Max Beerbohm wearing a black cap with bells on it. He allowed the loud-voiced Billing, who stood with his monocle fixed in his eye and his arms crossed, to dominate the proceedings. Hours were spent discussing the contents of the Black Book which probably only existed in the fertile imaginations of Billing, his mistress Mrs Villiers-Stuart, and some other dubious witnesses....
The tone of the trial was further lowered by the evidence of the loathsome Lord Alfred Douglas, who attacked Wilde in general and Salome in particular. He also said that prime ministers, judges and ‘greasy advocates’ all conspired to ‘support perverts’. The judge and lawyers seemed too innocent for any such task. They had great difficulty in understanding the word ‘clitoris’ and the QC for the dancer-actress Maud Allan, apparently hearing the word ‘orgasm’ for the first time, asked if it meant some sort of unnatural vice.

I am reminded somewhat of one Graeme Bird, too.  

Update:  Something else has occurred to me:   our current nutty Right wing conspiracists are decidedly lacking in numerical specificity, compared to their predecessors.  Joe McCarthy's list of subversives was either 57 or 205, but it was a very specific either way.  These days, we just have to wonder how many are in Washington's Deep State: wingnuts don't cite a number, as far as I know.  Disappointing.

Yes, ban it

Interesting article at The Conversation asks the question whether pro-anorexia web sites should be banned or criminalised.

Not sure 100% sure whether criminalisation is the best response to removing them off the net, which should be the first priority, but can't say that I would have a moment's concern about an attempt to criminalise them. 

The article doesn't agree, and runs the odd argument that many women (well, it is much more common with women) end up at these sites because they already have an eating disorder and are looking for support.   But, of course, it's exactly the wrong sort of "support" that these people will get from a "pro" site.

Free speech ninnies can get lost, as far as I'm concerned:  Western society is not going to collapse because of legal interference with some websites (or their owners) who are clearly encouraging self harm of otherwise healthy people which is likely to end in death.   

A dreamy post

NPR has a post up talking about the scientific understanding of dreams, and it opens noting that Freud is not doing well in science circles:
"For 100 years, we got stuck into that Freudian perspective on dreams, which turned out to be not scientifically very accurate," says Robert Stickgold, a sleep researcher and associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. "So it's only been in the last 15 to 20 years that we've really started making progress."
Yet further down, it has a peculiar claim:
A number of Freud's observations about dreams are still relevant, even if his interpretations of them are less than scientific.
For example, he observed that certain dream elements are common, if not universal. Teeth, for example.
"A particularly remarkable dream symbol is that of having one's teeth fall out, or having them pulled," Freud wrote in A General Introduction to Psychoanalysis. He goes on to say that's usually a symbol for castration "as a punishment for onanism." The castration explanation may be off base, Baird says. But problems with teeth are, indeed, something many people report in their dreams. "It's weird," he says. "What has that got to do with anything?" Baird suspects we share many dreams like this because we share the same nervous system design, and many of the same anxieties.
I say peculiar, because I don't recall ever having an odd tooth related dream.

I would have thought that the more useful common dreams to mention would have been:   being accidentally nude, or somehow exposed, in public;  the "what - I have no idea how to answer these exam questions"  dream; and the "I can levitate if I really concentrate" dream.   All of which I think are common.  (OK - not certain about the last one - I think flying dreams are pretty common, but I have found that some people claim never to have had one.   The run of odd levitation dreams I was having really ran for a long time - and oddly, some involved trying to prove to other people that I was not dreaming.  Hence, waking up from them was particularly annoying, because in the dream I thought I had the video proof that would satisfy everyone, including myself, that it was real.)

Anyway, I like how the article notes this:
Dreams may be so hard to pin down scientifically because they are so closely related to consciousness, a concept that has bedeviled scientists and philosophers for centuries.

We all somehow know we are conscious. But it's been difficult to define precisely what consciousness is, let alone determine how it is generated by the brain.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Pleb who can't handle the truth

I don't usually bother much with reading Andrew Bolt's persistent foolishness on climate change, whereby other mere polemicists (Delingpole, Monckton) and a handful of contrarian science types are taken as knowing the Truth that All Other Scientists, Their Professional Bodies, and 90 Something Percent of Governments Just Won't Admit.

But I did today, and noticed this in comment with some amusement:


Peter, Peter.  If you knew not to listen to Bolt, you wouldn't need correcting.

Back to McArdle

I see Megan McArdle's "let's not blame governments for the Grenfell fire - they were just acting as libertarians like them to act " column at Bloomberg has now reached nearly 2000 comments, with probably 95% of them ridiculing her.

As I noted in my previous post, it was pretty disingenuous of her to concentrate only on the issue of the cost of retrofitting fire sprinklers, when the more obvious problem was regulations regarding the cladding.   Does she really have to be reminded that if the cladding didn't burn, the entire building might not have gone up and the issue of sprinklers could have been much less important?

In any event, even her argument about sprinklers is looking shaky for two reasons:

a.   it is starting to look like the cost of retrofitting them is actually not as high as I would have guessed:
The British Automatic Fire Sprinkler Association (BAFSA), the trade body for the fire sprinkler industry, said retrofitting Grenfell Tower with sprinklers might have cost £200,000. This is the figure for installing a sprinkler system but does not include potential maintenance fees or costs associated with the wider redevelopment of a building.
And another Council has already decided to retrofit 25 high rise blocks at a cost of ten million pounds.

b.   McArdle's argument - that every dollar governments spend on sprinklers would divert it from other life preserving things like hospitals - conveniently, and in a very libertarian/small government way, ignores government's ability to raise extra money for worthwhile things by raising extra taxes.  Oh noes - we can't have that.

Now, this is not to deny that there might still be a legitimate argument to be had, by appropriate experts, about cost benefit analysis of retrofitting sprinklers to certain buildings.  

But clearly, McArdle's position was to start from a presumption not only that it's always best to leave it to the market to decide (a silly thing to be talking about when these residents did not have market power - and also, to the extent that you could say the market, in the sense of builders quoting for a job, came up with a disastrous result on the cladding in this case); but that you should never be too tough on government for making decisions on a cost benefit basis, even when there is no evidence around that cost benefit was considered in this case.   (And, that in fact, money saved on public housing and other Council functions was given back to the well off in the Council!)


Skeptic win?

Back in 2010, and again in 2014, I posted about the very interesting parapsychology experiments of Daryl Bem, and it's time to look at how the work is viewed now.

Not all that well, apparently.  Slate ran a lengthy article about it a couple of weeks ago, but I think this commentary on it (taking a quite sympathetic approach to Bem personally) is better reading.

The argument is that it was all a problem with statistical analysis, and that it really set off the reproducibility crisis in the whole field of experimental psychology.  

The lack of replication is, obviously, a concern; but I wish I understood statistics a bit better to understand some of the arguments that rage about their appropriate use.

Brisbane's wooden high rise

I posted about this plan to build a 52 m high wood office building in Brisbane recently, and now The Guardian has a lengthy report about it.  (Probably prompted by renewed interest in how easily buildings can burn.)

While I think it's a very interesting project, there's one issue I have my doubts about - the claim that this type of wood building is definitely healthier for the workers.   The reason - the wood product used is actually a cross laminated material - timber sheets glued together - and I am curious as to whether the glue used slowly leaks any chemical into the air over time.

I could well be being overly cautious here - but it just seems to me that its likely to emit some smell, at least early in its life.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

When Presidents tweet

Several American sites are noting that Trump's tweet re North Korea:
While I greatly appreciate the efforts of President Xi & China to help with North Korea, it has not worked out. At least I know China tried!
 is dangerously ambiguous.  As New York Magazine writes:
But if Trump’s tweet is just mindless bluster, that hardly makes it less unnerving. In their joint military exercises, the United States and South Korea have rehearsed preemptive strikes against North Korea, ones designed to kill Kim Jong-un before he has a chance to press the proverbial button. Arms-control expert Jeffrey Lewis has warned that the implication of these exercises aren’t lost on Pyongyang: Kim knows “he has to go first, if he is to go at all.”

Just because savvy news consumers in the United States are comfortable assuming that Trump is merely talking trash doesn’t mean that North Korea is. In April, the president suggested that the day Beijing’s efforts to rein in Pyongyang failed would be the day that America took action against Kim Jong-un’s regime.

“Well if China is not going to solve North Korea, we will. That is all I am telling you,” Trump told the Financial Times.

The fact that the American president is an emotionally volatile reality star — who publishes his foreign-policy musings directly to the internet — has always been dangerous. In the context of a military standoff with a nuclear-weapons state, it may prove fatally so.
They are right - and you would have to be completely foolish (as Trump supporters are) not to see the impropriety and danger in this idiot President tweeting to the world.

A happy Hollywood story

Here's a long interview with all-grown-up (and rather plumper and hairier) actor Haley Joel Osment.   As the interview makes clear, he had really good experiences in making a couple of very high profile movies as a child - and it sounds like sensible parents were an enormous part of that.

Of course, the fact that he worked with Spielberg on AI - a movie Osment and the interviewer both love (I think it is very under rated) - makes me particularly interested in him.

Many more micro satellites on the way (and mobile phone talk)

Foreign Correspondent moved away from its normal political/social emphasis last night to look at the growing industry of micro satellites, and it was pretty fascinating.

I liked the way the guy from Planet explained how the origin of the idea was just to put mobile phone technology into space:  he emphasised the technological marvel that the commonplace mobile phone is these days, just as I like to do.

I am itching to buy a new mobile phone at the moment, and I am contemplated being unfaithful to Samsung.   (I may need to visit the confessional.)   The Moto G5 Plus seems to have everything I want in a mobile phone - except, I admit, the wonders of a beautiful Samsung AMOLED screen.

To get all that I want, ideally, I would buy a $650 Samsung A5.   But for $250 less, the Moto one has NFC - needed for using your phone to make paywave payment (an odd exception from Samsung J5 and J7, which cost the same or more as the G5 Plus), and a gyro sensor (which I understand is important if you want to use it to live in a VR world - and also not in the equivalent priced Samsung models.)   But the A5 does have a gorgeous looking screen, and is quite waterproof.     (Note that I have ever dropped a phone in the toilet - yet.)

Bizarrely, I have noticed that the cheap Samsung J range has this weird thing where some of the cheaper models have an AMOLED screen, and even my two year old cheapo J1 has NFC;  but the top end of the J range (J5 and J7) don't have either of these.  Hence Samsung are still making things rather confusing with the features in their model range.

How to make money from drugs

Hey Jason, if you don't like this story in the Atlantic, I'd be very surprised: How Two Common Medications Became One $455 Million Specialty Pill.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Horse fat? (Actually, a potato post)

Some unexpected information in The Guardian about Belgian chips (my bold):
Whether eaten with mayonnaise or taken au naturel, the Belgian chip is up there with chocolate, beer and the national football team in the nation’s psyche. No public square is complete without a frietkot, or chip stand, where sellers swear by double frying bintje potatoes in beef or horse fat to achieve the ideal combination of a succulent centre and crispy exterior.
I don't much like horses:  I'd just as soon they stayed out of any chips I might be eating, as well.  If ever I get to Belgium, that is.

Speaking of potatoes, I recently made nice sautéed potato with fennel seeds thrown in.  (Boil cubed potato first, for only about 3-5 minutes, then sauté in non stick frying pan with a fairly small amount of olive oil, with fennel seeds and salt, 'til crisp outside. Delicious.  And not a horse to be seen.)

And finally:  after some resistance from my wife,  who doubted I would use it, I acquired a potato ricer a few months ago, for use in making mashed potato.  One of these things:

While I wouldn't go so far as to claim that it has changed my life (I do, after all, only mash potatoes about once a month), I have to say that using a ricer gives extremely pleasing results.   Even before this, I made the best mash in the house;  now the quality is uniformly great - so much so that I sometimes worry that it's so smooth that it seems manufactured.  I still love it.

Why repeating lies makes them seem true

Vox talks about the "illusory truth effect", which surely has become something dangerous in the world of social media and other forms of echo chamber:
Psychological science consistently finds when a lie gets repeated, it’s slightly more likely to be misremembered as truth. It’s called the “illusory truth effect.” It’s a tendency the whole news media — as well as consumers of news — should be wary of. And it’s a reason not to give notorious bullshitters such a substantial spotlight. Especially bullshitters whose lies hurt others and whose lies have a track record for virality....

The illusory truth effect has been studied for decades — the first citations date back to the 1970s. Typically, experimenters in these studies ask participants to rate a series of trivia statements as true or false. Hours, weeks, or even months later, the experimenters bring the participants back again for a quiz. 

On that second visit, some of the statements are new, some are repeats. And it’s here that the effect shows itself: Participants are reliably more likely to rate statements they’ve seen before as being true — regardless as to whether they are or not. 

When you’re hearing something for the second or third time, your brain becomes faster to respond to it. “And your brain misattributes that fluency as a signal for it being true,” says Lisa Fazio, a psychologist who studies learning and memory at Vanderbilt University. The more you hear something, the more “you’ll have this gut-level feeling that maybe it’s true.” 

Most of the time this mental heuristic — a thinking shortcut — helps us. We don’t need to wrack our brains every time we hear “the Earth is round” to decide it’s true or not. Most of the things we hear repeated over and over again are, indeed, true. 

But falsehoods can hijack this mental tic as well.

Hating regulations because they're regulations

I know that it is actually probably more complicated than it may first appear - the matter of what claddings are allowed to be used on high rise buildings.   I say this because I was reading the CSIRO's guide on the matter, produced in 2016, which can be found via this page.

Nonetheless, I find it difficult to not marvel at the stupidity of the libertarian response to the Grenfell fire, with people like Stoat (who is on the right side of climate change, but otherwise likes to take contrarian positions on various things) saying things like:
But buildings *are* very heavily regulated. They are not “deregulated”. This can just as easily be seen as a failure of the “regulate everything and all will be well” approach
And he cites Tim Worstall:
So, layer upon layer of intrusive regulation and government made this happen.
The solution is more layers of intrusive government and regulation. That’ll work, won’t it?
As someone says in response to Worstall:
I don’t know, but what do you suggest as an alternative? Fewer fire regulations? No fire regulations?
And someone back at Stoats writes:
Timmy’s argument is ludicrous: the Graun describes how the designers and builders failed to comply with the building regulation requirement that “the external envelope of a building should not provide a medium for fire spread”, and other factors contributed to the death toll. Timmy jumps to:
“So, layer upon layer of intrusive regulation and government made this happen.”
False as the regulations are not “layer upon layer”, they have repeatedly been revised, tested, and reexamined in relation to experience, as well as getting watered down by dogma against regulation.
Ludicrous as, by Timmy’s argument, regulations against murder make murders happen.
The other ludicrous line that some on the Right are running is that the building was only clad in flammable cladding because of Green/climate change regulations for insulation.    (Some have been trying to bring EU regulation into it too - which hardly makes any sense if it is true that Germany does not allow the use of this material on its buildings.) 

This was pretty quickly extensively fact checked and found to be the misleading furphy that one might expect it to be.  It seems that the Right has become so stupid as to not even want to admit that insulation on buildings is an inherently good thing for, you know, making a residence more comfortable to live in.   (The link notes how the Grenfell tower had windows that for safety reasons could not be opened far - making it hot in summer.  And I assume that any residence in London benefits from insulation in winter.) 

This is a case where common sense makes sense:   this is a problem of inadequate/poorly designed/poorly enforced regulation.   It's nonsense to take a line that it's due to over regulation.

Bad reasons for eating animals

I was watching the 7.30 report on dog meat being eaten in Bali (a relatively recent cultural innovation, apparently), and I annoyed to see one old Balinese guy say he eats it because it keeps you healthy, especially in winter.

What is the name for the belief that eating particular animals is particularly good for you, in certain ways?   Most notoriously, it pervades Chinese medicine, and other Asian cultures, but I suppose it hangs around in lots of other continent's native cultures too:  the idea, in a generic sense, that eating a particularly strong or fierce animal (or a particular organ of it) will pass on some of its character to the eater.

It kind of drives me nuts:  a quasi spiritual idea that has been responsible for the endangerment of so many species for completely spurious reasons.  (Or is it a case of a placebo effect meaning it actually does help people?  But even if it is, can't they move onto using sugar pills instead of God knows what animal's penis, or heart, or whatever?)

I know people aren't evil for eating dogs, although my personal fondness for them means, of course, that I wish people wouldn't.  And, I know, they aren't endangered and never will be.   But if the motivation is simply because they are supposed to be particularly healthy for you - that just annoys me in particular.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Another 50 year anniversary: You Only Live Twice

Every time I see a Space X rocket landing vertically, I'm reminded of You Only Live Twice - the first Bond film I saw as a child , at a drive in, and it remains a Bond favourite to this day.

The Japan Times points out that it's the 50th anniversary of the movie, and has a lengthy account of Fleming's interest in Japan, which centred around the exploits of an Australian reporter, Richard Hughes, who was (apparently) transmogrified in the novel into one "Dikko" Henderson.  The story goes like this:
After less than a year in Tokyo, Hughes, sensing the imminence of war with Japan and keen to alert Australia and America to the danger, packed his own notebooks full of sensitive information and headed back to Australia at the beginning of 1941.

When the war ended, Hughes returned to live in Japan, now under American Occupation, and became manager of No. 1 Shimbun Alley, a rowdy foreign correspondents’ club situated next to the residential wing of the Soviet Embassy. The club was the meeting ground of reporters, former soldiers and spies, many of whom conducted illicit liaisons in its bedrooms.

The Cold War deepened in 1948 over the Berlin Airlift. Hughes was dismissed as manager of the club and swore never to return to it. At the same time, he started working as a foreign correspondent for London’s Sunday Times, under its foreign manager Ian Fleming, who had played a distinguished role in British naval intelligence during World War II and presided over many crucial covert operations.
Hughes now created his own intelligence network by founding the Baritsu Chapter, supposedly the Asian section of the Baker Street Irregulars, a Sherlock Holmes appreciation society first founded in the U.S. in 1934. “Baritsu” is the name given to a fictional form of martial art that Holmes is described as using to defeat his arch-nemesis, Moriarty, while wrestling with him at the Reichenbach Falls.
Hughes went on to become a double agent, fooling the KGB, and (much later) took Fleming on a boozey research tour of  Japan for the novel.

Worth reading in full...  

Would you buy a Nimble Dragon?

There seems to be some renewed effort from the nuclear power industry generally to push small, modular nuclear reactors.   I say this based on an interview I heard on Radio National one recent morning with what sounded like a PR person for the industry out to sell the idea.   Actual product ready to sell, though, is still not around, despite years of talking about this potential industry.

But I see in the Japan Times that the Chinese may now be trying to develop this as a market:
China is betting on new, small-scale nuclear reactor designs that could be used in isolated regions, on ships and even aircraft as part of an ambitious plan to wrest control of the global nuclear market.

Within weeks, state-owned China National Nuclear Corp. (CNNC) is set to launch a small modular reactor (SMR) dubbed the “Nimble Dragon” with a pilot plant on the island province of Hainan, according to company officials.

Unlike new large scale reactors that cost upward of $10 billion per unit and need large safety zones, SMRs create less toxic waste and can be built in a single factory.

A little bigger than a bus and able to be transported by truck, SMRs could eventually cost less than one-tenth the price of conventional reactors, developers predict.
Sure they make great mobile phones, but not entirely sure (to put it mildly) that they have the runs on the board re environmental responsibility to trust a nuclear reactor shipped out from there.

Strop it

I was at Target recently, hanging around the (mainly women's) toiletries while my daughter looked  for a possible gift for a friend, and noticed that on a "discount" shelf they had a cheap version of one of the razor blade sharpening products that I had occasionally noticed at The Razor Shop; but at $20 or $30, I hadn't ever bought one.

The Blade Buddy only cost $5, so I bought it out of curiosity.

The operative part is just a slab of rubber or silicon, I'm not sure which, with some ridged sections, and all you do is rub the razor blade upwards on it (with a bit of shaving cream for lubrication) about 15 to 20 times before shaving.  It doesn't take long.

The packaging says it works by "re-aligning" the blades, or some such, which sounds very improbable, so it was with low expectations that I started using it.

But, I have to say, I think it is working.   I did start with a new blade cartridge (a cheap 4 - or is it 5?- blade razor that Coles and Woolworths both sell), but after a week, I have the distinct impression that it feels sharper than if I hadn't used the Buddy device.

Mind you, I have been able to get about 3 to 4 weeks out of one of these cartridges anyway, so maybe it is an illusion.  But I don't think so.

When I google the topic, I see that there is actually a lot of material out there saying that these razor cleaning devices do work just by cleaning the blade, in a very similar way to the old "stropping" of a blade on a leather strap.   Makes sense.

In fact, there is also material out on the web about just using old denim to "strop" a cartridge razor.  And one guy - whose video I haven't properly watched - claims to have gotten 3 years out of one cartridge(!).  Maybe there's black magic involved...

Nevertheless, it seems clear that there is good reason to believe you can get very substantial extensions to the "normal" life of razor cartridges.    And to be honest, I don't mind the procedure:  it makes shaving more feel more, well, ritualised.  (You have to remember that I enjoy using shaving soap and a brush, too.)

Given the ridiculous cost of brand name, multi-blade cartridges, I am very surprised that this is not better known.   Certainly, I had never thought of it before - I just assumed that cartridge blades were so thin that they developed pits and holes that you couldn't do much about it.

It would seem I was mistaken. I will revisit the topic in a month or two's time...

Update:   more on using denim jeans to strop a razor cartridge.  The guy claims to be using the same cartridge for 8 months at the time he wrote that...

Ridiculous performance art

I suppose there will always be eccentrics, and/or the disturbed, who will want to create performance art involving blood and gore.   

What I find a bit more disturbing is that they can find a paying audience. 

Bruni on the state of political discourse

Bruni's column ("I'm OK - you're pure evil") about the coarsening of political discourse in the US, and in particular the dangerous role of social media in the process (something of a favourite theme of mine) is pretty good:
Over the past decade in particular, the internet and social media have changed the game. They speed people to like-minded warriors and give them the impression of broader company or sturdier validation than really exist. The fervor of those in the anti-vaccine movement exemplifies this. So did the stamina of Americans who insisted that Barack Obama was born abroad — and who were egged on by Donald Trump.

Admirers of a responsible politician or righteous cause coalesce quickly, but the same goes for followers of a hatemonger or crackpot. One good articulation of this came from David Simas, who was Obama’s political director, in a New Yorker article by David Remnick that deconstructed the 2016 election.

What people find on the web “creates a whole new permission structure, a sense of social affirmation for what was once unthinkable,” Simas told Remnick. Obama, in his own comments to Remnick, picked up that thread, saying, “An explanation of climate change from a Nobel Prize-winning physicist looks exactly the same on your Facebook page as the denial of climate change by somebody on the Koch brothers’ payroll.”

“The capacity to disseminate misinformation, wild conspiracy theories, to paint the opposition in wildly negative light without any rebuttal — that has accelerated in ways that much more sharply polarize the electorate,” Obama added. Suspicion blossoms into certainty. Pique flowers into fury.
Writing about last week's shooter of the Repbulican Congressman:
His life online reflected the goosing, goading, amplifying power of social media and the eminence of outrage in public debate. As Michael Gerson noted in The Washington Post after the shooting, today’s partisans “have made anger into an industry — using it to run up the number of listeners, viewers and hits.” Mocking and savaging political opponents have been “not only normalized but monetized,” Gerson added, and he stated the obvious, which needed stating nonetheless: “If words can inspire, then they can also incite or debase.”

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Left wing violence revisited

Good article at NPR:  

FACT CHECK: Is Left-Wing Violence Rising?

Some extracts:
The idea that some on the far left are openly condoning violence is a red flag for extremist group monitors.
"This is a dangerous game; people are going to die. No one's died yet, but it's just a matter of time," says J.J. McNabb, an expert on political extremism at George Washington University.

McNabb says white supremacists and neo-Nazis are widely condemned — and deservedly — for their violent tendencies. But she says the Antifa shouldn't get a pass on their violence just because they oppose white supremacists....

Still, their numbers are tiny in relation to the mainstream political left. And, say experts, it's misleading for right-wing groups to suggest that the Antifa are more violent than right-wing extremists.

"The far left is very active in the United States, but it hasn't been particularly violent for some time," says Mark Pitcavage, a senior research fellow at the Anti-Defamation League's Center on Extremism.
He says the numbers between the groups don't compare.

"In the past 10 years when you look at murders committed by domestic extremists in the United States of all types, right-wing extremists are responsible for about 74 percent of those murders," Pitcavage says.

You have to go back to the 1970s to find the last big cycle of far-left extremism in the U.S. Both Pitcavage and McNabb say we have been in a predominantly far-right extremist cycle since the 1990s — the abortion clinic bombings and Oklahoma City, for example. And, more recently, racially motivated attacks such as the one at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, the mass shooting at a black church in Charleston, S.C., and last month's stabbings on a commuter train in Portland.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Megan, Megan, Megan...

Just at a time when millions of people in Britain, Australia and other countries have been watching TV and saying "What?? Governments haven't been bothered to regulate whether developers can wrap a 30 or 40 story apartment building with stuff that can burn intensely and wildly out of control far beyond the reach of any firefighting service?!",  along comes Megan McArdle to write an article with the lines:
When it comes to many regulations, it is best to leave such calculations of benefit and cost to the market, rather than the government. People can make their own assessments of the risks, and the price they’re willing to pay to allay them, rather than substituting the judgment of some politician or bureaucrat who will not receive the benefit or pay the cost.
Opportunistically,  she also concentrates on just one safety matter relevant to the Grenfell fire - the decision not to try to retrofit a sprinkler system.

Megan, Megan, Megan:  this is such a extraordinarily tone deaf time to be talking the benefits of  letting markets (and residents) decide relative levels of safety because (so your argument goes) everyone makes safety trade offs (such as living further out in a city and taking the risk of dying in a car crash while commuting), I cannot believe the editor at Bloomberg let you publish it. 

She does make the following concession:
Grenfell Tower, of course, was public housing, which changes the calculation somewhat. 
Yes!   Because it wasn't a case of market choice at all for those residents. 

But even then,  she tries to make anti-regulation hay while the building is still smouldering:
And yet, even there, trade-offs have to be made. The government spends money on a great number of things, many of which save lives. Every dollar it spends on installing sprinkler systems cannot be spent on the health service, or national defense, or pollution control. Would more lives be saved by those measures or by sprinkler systems in public housing? It’s hard to say.
Look, there is time to make a statement of the bleeding obvious - not all government funded enterprises can be made perfectly safe if the cost of doing so is going to be astronomically high - and there is a time to instead make another bleedingly obvious one:   it is a bad idea for governments to leave it up to builders to decide whether to make high rise apartment buildings flammable, especially when the additional cost to use non flammable material is small.  

Just as I wrote a couple of weeks ago that you could expect anyone in the media to be pilloried if  their first reaction to a major Islamic terrorist attack (like Manchester's) was be to start comparing it with furniture accidents fatalities,  Megan deserves all the criticism she will undoubtedly get for making the wrong argument at the wrong time.

Update:  some example of Twitter reaction:

Friday, June 16, 2017

Poor New Zealand

Well, I didn't know this:
A new report by Unicef contains a shocking statistic - New Zealand has by far the highest youth suicide rate in the developed world.
A shock but no surprise - it's not the first time the country tops that table.
The Unicef report found New Zealand's youth suicide rate - teenagers between 15 and 19 - to be the highest of a long list of 41 OECD and EU countries.
The rate of 15.6 suicides per 100,000 people is twice as high as the US rate and almost five times that of Britain.
I suppose it is not a great surprise to read that the rates are particularly high amongst young Maori and Pacific Islander males - it ties in with what happens in the Australian aboriginal population.

I also learned something new and surprising about the Australian suicide rate at this site:
Suicide rates in Australia peaked in 1963 (17.5 per 100,000), declining to 11.3 per 100,000 in 1984, and climbing back to 14.6 in 1997. Rates have been lower than this since that year. The age-standardised suicide rate for persons in 2015 was 12.7 per 100,000. 
Why was 1963 a peak year for suicide?   Certainly puts nostalgia for the Golden Age of Menzies into a bit of perspective...

Some media observations

*  why do people care so much about what Mia Freedman and her "what women talk about" website Mammamia say or do?    I gather she's an "oversharer", as (it seems to me) a lot of women now tend to be.  I also take it that she unintentionally upset an obese guest but many people (mainly women) don't see it that way.   Big deal.

*  I think that Benjamin Law often writes well  in his Weekend Magazine gig for the Fairfax press, but I have tried a couple of times watching his (more or less) autobiographical family comedy/drama-ish show The Family Law, and can't say that I'm impressed.   Much of the humour is based on his oversharing/embarrassing mother, and is often somewhat scatological (something of Law's special field of interest, apparently) but it really seems to me that the jokes and writing are strained, despite a cast that is doing their best with the material.   I feel I have to say it, again:  I don't think the material produced by Australia's gay writer/comedians is all that funny, but they do seem to have the orientation that makes funding their shows a whole lot easier at SBS or the ABC than it really deserves.   (Come on, Josh Thomas fans, attack me again for not liking Please Like Me.)    I wanted to like Law's show - it's even made in Queensland, a rarity for Australian TV, and I'm sympathetic to Asian family comedy - but I just don't find it worth watching. 

*  I see that Pirates 5 has already made $600,000,000:  maybe will top $700 million?   (The last one made more than a billion dollars, believe it or not.  I think this one will come in well under, but still nothing to be sneezed at.)    I wonder if a No 6 will be on the way.  

How's that Trump isolationism going?

The Pentagon will send almost 4,000 additional American forces to Afghanistan, a Trump administration official said Thursday, hoping to break a stalemate in a war that has now passed to a third U.S. commander in chief. The deployment will be the largest of American manpower under Donald Trump's young presidency.

Urban planning revisited

Simon Jenkins' take on the Grenfell first sounds a bit extreme...: 
How many times should we say it? Don’t build residential towers. Don’t make or let people live in them, least of all families. They are antisocial, high-maintenance, disempowering, unnecessary, mostly ugly, and they can never be truly safe. No tower is fireproof. No fire engine can reach up 20 storeys, period.

Towers are again raising their heads across the urban landscape, creatures of egotistical architects, greedy developers and priapic mayors. We gasp at their magnificence, their extravagance, their sheer height. Yet like Grenfell they are alien creatures in a British city. They do not converse with their context, they thumb their noses at it.
...but he has a point, at least when it comes to government funded housing for the relatively poor.

I've heard it said elsewhere recently, but high rise is not necessary for high density:
Hence the most “crowded” parts of London are not around towers but in eight-storey Victorian terraces. The boulevards of central Paris have treble London’s residential density without towers. Westminster council’s aborted Paddington Pole, at some 60 storeys, had fewer housing units than the high-density street housing suggested by its opponents. The tall blocks wanted by Boris Johnson for Clerkenwell’s Mount Pleasant estate are at a lower density than the low-rise town houses proposed by the consultants Create Streets.
And, I am also reminded of Kevin McCloud's 2010 documentary on lessons to be learnt about high density living from the Mumbai slums.   And also, how Japan manages to cram in extremely high density but with most residential blocks of relatively limited height. 

What bullet?, and up the Nile

That was some pretty amazing TV, as the ABC journalist in the Philippines gets a neat hole in the neck, and doesn't realise why until he has an x ray.  (Hey, there's a bullet in there.)  If you missed it, you should watch it.

I have also been meaning to recommend the (possibly repeated? - it's from 2010) Joanna Lumley's Nile series that been showing on ABC.   Surely no one could possibly dislike Lumley - or is it just a 50+ male thing that I believe the entire world must surely find her charming?   Anyway, her travel shows are always entertaining and enlightening, and this one where she is travelling right up to the source of the Nile shows her in some very isolated places (Sudan, parts of Ethiopia) way, way off the normal tourist track.  

Last night, where she was visiting a spring that is considered the source of the Blue Nile, and which is considered by the local Christians to be holy water with miraculous curative powers (even curing HIV, according to some type of priest!) was really remarkable.  An earlier episode featuring the old guy on a boat in the Nile who said devils lived around that particular part of the river, and could appear in any animal or human form, and had once set his boat alight, was also remarkable as an example of the grip that old religious/superstitious belief still has in that part of the world.

Good viewing.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Get the boss

Another story of Islamic inspired lawfare, this time in Dubai:
DUBAI: A senior bank manager was arrested last week after a Muslim colleague filed a complaint accusing him of insulting Islam.
E.D. from Goa, India, was taken into custody within hours of the incident at the Bur Dubai branch of a local bank on June 7. He was held at Al Raffa Police station before being released on bail.
The complainant T.A., 30, from Bangalore, India, said his boss E.D. made religious slurs against him and ridiculed Islam when he asked him for leave to go to Makkah for the Umrah piligrimage.
“This happened during our morning huddle. In front of several staff members, E.D. mocked me saying that if I was so keen to perform Umrah then instead of the Kaaba, I may as well take rounds (tawaaf) of his villa in Victory Heights,” T.A. said in an interview with XPRESS.
“I was shocked but I kept my cool and told my boss that he had no right to make such blasphemous comments against my religion but he remained unrepentant and went on to blame Muslims for terror attacks including the recent one in London. He also made jibes at my appearance, particularly my bloodshot eyes. He said they make me look as if I was drunk. I told him they were caused by lack of sleep during Ramadan but he refused to listen and said Ramadan was a month of giving but all that I gave him during Ramadan was pain. The same day I filed a police complaint.”

Violence and politics

The Trump supporting Right, be it in American or Australia is, virtually by definition, too blind and/or stupid to argue with.  

So, after the shooting in Virginia today,  they will bounce off the walls with ridiculous arguments about violence being committed only by the Left, and newspapers critical of Trump having "blood on their hands", while completely and utterly having no problem with Trump repeatedly vilifying Mexicans and other immigrants en mass for political purpose, and barely being able to find time to comment on subsequent racially motivated killings.  

They will not acknowledge the existence of Right wing violence and extremism in the US, and would not read an article such as this one, which appeared recently at PBS  putting some perspective on matters.   The point made:   Islamic extremist attacks have distracted the public (but not Homeland Security) from the very real and ongoing issue of Right wing extremist attacks:
Between 1990 and 2014, the ECDB has identified 38 homicide events motivated by Islamist extremism that killed 62 people. When you include 9/11, those numbers jump dramatically to 39 homicide events and 3,058 killed.

The database also identified 177 homicide events motivated by far-right extremism, with 245 killed. And when you include the Oklahoma City bombing, it rises to 178 homicide events and 413 killed.

Although our data for 2015 through 2017 are still being verified, we counted five homicide events perpetrated by Islamist extremists that resulted in the murders of 74 people. This includes the Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando, which killed 49 people. In the same time period, there were eight homicide events committed by far-right extremists that killed 27 people.

These data reveal that far-right extremists tend to be more active in committing homicides, yet Islamist extremists tend to be more deadly.

Our research has also identified violent Islamist extremist plots against 272 targets that were either foiled or failed between 2001 and 2014. We are in the process of compiling similar data on far-right plots. Although data collection is only about 50 percent complete, we have already identified 213 far-right targets from the same time period...
  Far-right extremists, who typically harbor anti-government sentiments, have a higher likelihood of escalating routine law enforcement contacts into fatal encounters. These homicides pose unique challenges to local law enforcement officers who are disproportionately targeted by the far right.
A good article.

I also thought Peter Beinart's article in The Atlantic The Blurry Line Between Violence Talk and Violent Action was moderate and balanced and appropriate.

Clean coal, Finkel, etc

To be honest, I've been busy and haven't heard enough about the Finkel review proposal regarding a clean energy target to know whether it's all good, or a bit fanciful.   (My suspicion is that the modelling is a bit fanciful.)   But it has the feeling of "a lot better than nothing" about it, nonetheless.

I am encouraged by the fact that it would seem that the Abbott objections are not getting all that much support from within the party room, and even Barnaby Joyce seems to be giving up the argument and just wants to get this divisive issue behind him.

Could it be that the Coalition is genuinely in a process of permanently sidelining the climate change fake skeptics, lukewarmers and conservative culture warriors for whom a matter of science has become, weirdly and corrosively, an emblematic issue?   I'm starting to get my hopes up...

In the meantime I remain completely skeptical about clean coal, and hope the Coalition does not fund it.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

High rise fire

This tragic London apartment tower fire raises the question - what is it that burns so well in a tower block like that?   I reckon that the sight of a high rise almost entirely on fire internally is shocking because I would normally assume that it would mainly be only furnishing and curtains that can really burn well, so shouldn't any fire be readily contained to within one apartment, or at worst, one floor?  

But it obviously doesn't work like that...

I see that there is a Wikipedia entry up for the Grenfell Tower fire already, and it notes this:
In November 2016, a residents organisation, Grenfell Action Group, published online an article attacking KCTMO as an "evil, unprincipled, mini-mafia" and accusing the Borough Council of ignoring health and safety laws. The Group suggested that "only a catastrophic event will expose the ineptitude and incompetence of [KCTMO]". The group had also published articles criticising fire safety and maintenance practices at Grenfell Tower.[12][13]
This is going to be in the news for quite a long time, by the sounds.