Monday, August 21, 2017

The way backwards

From NPR:
When children in Turkey head back to school this fall, something will be missing from their textbooks: any mention of evolution.

The Turkish government is phasing in what it calls a values-based curriculum. Critics accuse Turkey's president of pushing a more conservative, religious ideology — at the expense of young people's education....

Erdogan does not support implementing sharia law. But he has repeatedly been elected by religious voters who felt their beliefs were neglected during decades of enforced secularism.

In a barber shop in the Istanbul neighborhood where Erdogan grew up, a bearded man in a traditional Muslim cap chats with the barber as he gets a shave. He explains how he kept his daughter out of school when Turkey didn't allow girls to wear headscarves in classrooms. The ban was lifted in middle schools and high schools in 2014.

"In school, they taught us humans evolved from monkeys. But that's not true," says Suat Keceli. "I support our government taking it out of biology textbooks. I think it's Satan's work."

In revising these textbooks, the government sought input from a small cadre of religious academics, including the president of Turkey's Uskudar University, a private institution that will host an academic conference on creationism this fall.

"Most Turks don't believe in evolution because it implies that God doesn't exist, and we're all here on earth just by chance! That's confusing," says the university's president, Nevzat Tarhan. "Turkey is a modern democracy, but we should not be afraid to embrace our Islamic culture as well."

Jerry Lewis

He had famously suffered health problems for so long it sort of surprised me he reached the age of 91, but in any case I note Jerry Lewis's death with appreciation for the laughs he provided over the years.

I'm not sure that he was all that likeable in person - he certainly gave the impression of having a pretty high opinion of himself - but perhaps some of the more controversial things he said over the last 10 or 20 years were the result of cranky old age.   But at his peak, count me amongst those who did find him very funny.   It did please me when my kids enjoyed watching some of his movies with me on DVD when they were younger.  Perhaps I should watch Artists and Models again soon.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Nietzsche and the alt.right

Vox has an article with the following heading and subheading:
The alt-right is drunk on bad readings of Nietzsche. The Nazis were too.

 The alt-right is obsessed with the 19th-century German philosopher. They don’t understand him.
It's of interest, but it doesn't really dissuade me from my view that there is likely ittle for me to gain from reading Nietzsche.   I'm happy to go along with his quasi-redemption in the second half of the 20th century as more misunderstood than malicious, but as even this writer says at the end:
Nietzsche was a lot of things — iconoclast, recluse, misanthrope — but he wasn’t a racist or a fascist. He would have shunned the white identity politics of the Nazis and the alt-right. That he’s been hijacked by racists and fascists is partly his fault, though. His writings are riddled with contradictions and puzzles. And his fixation on the future of humankind is easily confused with a kind of social Darwinism. 

But in the end, people find in Nietzsche’s work what they went into it already believing.
Which reads to me like a big warning sign - if it's that much work working out what he really meant, isn't that a sign of a failed philosopher?   What's more, if he was so unclear that he was able to be  adopted by fascists (and, as this writer admits, it's not hard to see how they took parts of his writings as supportive)  there doesn't seem much to me worth admiring about his efforts.

I think I might have said something similar here before.   But nothing seems to have changed.

That's Right - let's harass Brandis for his sincerity

Sinclair Davidson deserves a red hot call from Brandis, if not the PM, personally if he allows this comment by ABC bombing fantasising Quadrant fool Roger Franklin (it is an open secret that he comments at Catallaxy as "areff") to remain on the blog.

Whatever one may think of Brandis' reaction to Hanson's stunt yesterday, there was no doubting its sincerity, and it's really disgusting that Australian wingnuts should be promoting telephone harassment of his office over it.

Update:  there's now a link back to here from SD, indicating he doesn't give a toss - an attitude which doesn't displease entirely, since I assume it helps keep him and his desired policies well outside of any  circle of serious political influence within the entire Coalition.   He'd rather be nuttily obsessed with s18C and run a routinely offensive Australian alt.right supporter's forum than be taken seriously.  Winning.

A President without a clue

It's clear that Trump has high gullibility and doesn't care if a story is true or not - today's example is the tweeting of the "bullets in pig's blood" meme for which (even according to Fox News!) there is no concrete historical evidence:  it's something like a Hollywood "inspired by actual events" movie, with all of the inaccuracy that routinely entails.

But why would Trump repeat it anyway?   Its relevance to tactics to be used in countering do-it-yourself Islamic inspired terrorism which has no real purpose is non-existent.   Just a generic "you've got to treat them ruthlessly" bit of red meat to his dumb base, I guess.

There's a child like quality to the way Trump repeats myth and self serving story.   The use of that snake poem at rallies made him sound particularly childish, and in some sort of irony I only read about today, the family of the black singer who apparently had a hit with it as a song in the 1960's say that he is very unlikely to have been happy with someone like Trump using it against poor Mexicans.

And while I am at it, may I repeat how Trump has repeatedly complained about how his using hairspray in his "sealed" apartment could not possibly cause harm to the ozone layer - again exhibiting a child like certainty, and/or lack of curiosity, as to how airconditioning works, not to mention a selfish and entitled attitude to getting his own way even to the extent of hairspray formulation. 

It is obvious that the guy just doesn't care about truth and reality.   Not a good thing in a President.

Statues and slaves

I think that Hot Air makes some moderate and sensible comments about the issue of statues and slavery in the US.   There is a danger of the issue hurting Democrats in the culture war if black people (like Al Sharpton) keep talking about being upset with the public funding of monuments to Washington and Jefferson.   (Of course, we can also ignore wingnut hysterics like Steve Kates, who is equating the destruction of a Confederate statue with the Taliban blowing up ancient religious monuments.)

If you ask me, the issue of the Confederate flags flying over State legislatures was a much more potent and symbolically important one than statues that, really, no one notices in most settings.  It is truly remarkable that it took so long for that to be resolved in favour of removing such obviously offensive symbolism, and I wonder if some black agitation over all statues of anyone who had any involvement with slavery is now a result of a bit of a rush of blood to the head following the success on the flag issue.

Anyway, what Hot Air says makes sense:
First, on the question of Confederate monuments, I think Leslie Odom Jr. is on to something here. That is to say that while some monuments are about remembering our history—those at battlefields, those at cemeteries—some are meant to be more than just reminders. They are also meant to celebrate or inspire people. And that means that if the people of Charlottesville or Baltimore don’t want a monument of Robert E. Lee, they should be free to remove them. If they want a monument to Harriet Tubman instead, they should be free to erect one. This is America. It’s up to us.

That said, the freedom to choose is not a license for anarchists to go around destroying statues that offend them. Some of the new iconoclasts are so eager that they burned a statue of Abraham Lincoln in Chicago. These are public monuments so decisions about their fate need to be made through local or state governments. If you want a statue removed, make your case to your elected representatives.
It is worth noting that this is what the local Charlottesville city council had done - I saw a local council member (I think) saying that the matter of the Lee statue had been under consideration for years (since 2012) and they had finally voted for its relocation. 

The neo-Nazi rally was therefore one against a perfectly legitimate and reasonable democratic decision, especially for what Vanity Fair calls "a liberal college town."     Gosh, even Rich Lowry at National Review is expressing complete support for "mothballing" Confederate statues.  That Trump can't see that failing to support local, democratic decisions to remove Confederate statues plays into the hands of neo Nazis just shows what a dangerous divisive ignoramus he is.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Poor Jews of Charlottesville

The President of a Jewish congregation in Charlottesville posts about what it was like there on Saturday:
Several times, parades of Nazis passed our building, shouting, “There's the synagogue!” followed by chants of “Seig Heil” and other anti-Semitic language. Some carried flags with swastikas and other Nazi symbols.
A guy in a white polo shirt walked by the synagogue a few times, arousing suspicion. Was he casing the building, or trying to build up courage to commit a crime? We didn’t know. Later, I noticed that the man accused in the automobile terror attack wore the same polo shirt as the man who kept walking by our synagogue; apparently it’s the uniform of a white supremacist group. Even now, that gives me a chill.
When services ended, my heart broke as I advised congregants that it would be safer to leave the temple through the back entrance rather than through the front, and to please go in groups.
This is 2017 in the United States of America.

Later that day, I arrived on the scene shortly after the car plowed into peaceful protesters. It was a horrific and bloody scene.
Soon, we learned that Nazi websites had posted a call to burn our synagogue. I sat with one of our rabbis and wondered whether we should go back to the temple to protect the building. What could I do if I were there? Fortunately, it was just talk – but we had already deemed such an attack within the realm of possibilities, taking the precautionary step of removing our Torahs, including a Holocaust scroll, from the premises.
Again: This is in America in 2017.
The neo Nazis did have a permit, though.   

Kenny has a statue fetish, too

I see that Chris Kenny has gone back to being a conservative hysteric:

The best response to this line of argument I heard on Radio National this morning, quoting Colbert:

Trump: He was a major slave owner. Now are we gonna take down his statue? You know what? It’s fine. You’re changing history, you’re changing culture …
Yes, down a statue is totally changing history. Because the main way anybody learns about history is through statue-based study. That’s how we know that Abraham Lincoln was 20 feet tall and loved sitting down. That’s really all he did.
Colbert is pretty hilarious on mocking other parts of the Trump press conference, too:
And Trump—oh, Lord, help our country—Trump had this defense of the white nationalists protesting in Charlottesville:
Trump: I don’t know if you know: They had a permit. The other group didn’t have a permit.
You—no, wait, no, come on, folks—you gotta give it to the Nazis: They always do their paperwork. Okay? Very punctual, also very punctual. But Trump also reminded us about the true source of racism in this country: Barack Obama.
Reporter: … about race relations in America, do you think things have gotten worse or better since you took office?
Trump: I think they’ve gotten better or the same—look. They’ve been frayed for a long time. And you can ask President Obama about that.
“Yeah, it was a mess. Back then, I remember there was one super-racist guy who kept questioning if Obama was even born here. It was a terrible time. It’s just wrong.”

Bye bye, Steve

Jonathan Swan at Axios seems to think that an interview that Bannon gave is going over so badly in the White House that it could well be the end of him.

While that would be good, it's interesting to note that Bannon is actually pretty much correct on at least one matter:
Bannon undercut the president's stance on North Korea: "Contrary to Trump's threat of fire and fury, Bannon said: 'There's no military solution [to North Korea's nuclear threats], forget it. Until somebody solves the part of the equation that shows me that ten million people in Seoul don't die in the first 30 minutes from conventional weapons, I don't know what you're talking about, there's no military solution here, they got us."
 OK, well, I would have thought "10 million" is an exaggeration, but as a general statement, it's true.

More post Charlottesville links

*  Jason Wilson, who writes for The Guardian, watched the Charlottesville fights live on the streets, and explains how Trump is wrong in the way he categorised the violence.  (He also makes the point that torch light procession the night before the riot was not authorised at all - in fact I think I have read elsewhere that the only rally authorised was one that was meant to start at midday on the Saturday, and fighting broke out a couple of hours before the official start.)

*  Axios, in some great reporting, notes that Bannon thinks this is all a positive for Trump, even the manufacturers councils being disbanded and the wave of Republicans politicians past and present running to distance themselves from Trump.   Yet it notes that Bannon is still largely on the outer with Trump, although I'm not sure that I have seen it explained why.   (Trump has been telling people he thinks Bannon is a leaker!)

* Quite a few are saying that it's true that Trump's followers will find it a positive - but as we know, that roughly 25% of the population is so consumed by conspiracy think and culture war fretting they have no time for common sense and reason.   As I have taken to repeating, they are too stupid and/or blinded to worry about.  The people who really deserve more condemnation are the likes of Murdoch - a guy who everyone suspects would not like Trump personally but nonetheless is sucking up to him because of self interest and power and money - and establishment Republicans who complain, complain about him but won't do anything more. 

*  Politico notes this:
Another White House adviser said Trump has been telling people privately that he’s watched video of the Charlottesville protests, emphasizing to them that the counter-protesters had weapons as well, and insisting that he’s going to say what is right.

“People have tried to assuage him by saying, ‘You're just not helping yourself.’ He doesn't care,” the adviser said, adding that in some ways Trump would rather that people call him a racist than to say he backed down.
Yes, so much "winning" to be had that way.  The funny thing is, Trump supporters are so clueless as to how history is going assess Trump.   Funny and tragic, I suppose.

*  Update:   here's another article (from Slate) with stories from the "good people" of Charlottesville actually praising the antifa for protection provided.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

A Trump turning point?

What with Trump voluntarily undoing the marginal benefit of the specific condemnation of neo Nazis and the KKK, I am curious as to who on the Right is supporting him re this disastrous presser.  (After all, as I noted the other day, there was in fact very widespread criticism of him for the original "many sides" equivocation from some of the big culture warrior websites, such as PJ Media, National Review, Hot Air.)

So far, all I have spotted is John Hinderaker from Powerline (a high functioning moron from way back), who even goes so far as to suggest that the body language of Kelly at the press conference wasn't something we should read anything into.  Yeah, sure, you fool. 

But apart from him, well, that's all I've seen so far.   I would assume Hannity will be on the "but he was only speaking the truth" line too, but he doesn't count as anything other than a ludicrous Fox programmed robot masquerading as a person with genuine and thoughtful opinions.

Oh, and let's not forget Fox wannabe Andrew Bolt, who hasn't commented on the latest Trump self inflicted wound, but he's completely on board with only talking about the "alt.left" when the whole weekend started off with a Nazi firelight procession.

I see that Krauthammer, who to his credit was never on board the Trump train, calls the press conference today a "moral disgrace."  Good on him.  

I don't know, but I get the feeling that this example of Trump's complete lack of political common sense and unwillingness to act on the advice of those who do have more moral and political nous may have reached a real turning point over these last few days.  He is clearly someone impossible to work with, and his (so they say) usual chaotic method of business management (involving letting underlings fight it out for dominance) does not translate to politics.  Rumours abound that either Bannon or McMaster or both displease him now and are about to go.   If it's Bannon, I can't imagine he will go quietly.

We just need a some more abrupt resignations/sackings from the White House, and I think its his political end, one way or another.

Update:   I suppose I should mention that Australian Trump Central - Catallaxy (thanks again, Sinclair Davidson for providing an outlet for your nutty mate Kates and Australian alt.right generally) see that there was nothing wrong with Trump's behaviour.  Because Culture War - the Left are evil - people who don't agree with us are communist - why won't my friends talk to me anymore about politics?

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

This woeful President

If you, like me, thought that the Trump naming of the KKK, neo-Nazis and white supremacists sounded reluctant and still semi-equivocal (he couldn't resist still referring to "other hate groups" - which I took to be a dig at Lefty groups like Black Lives matter), then you'd be right.   Slate (and AP) note that he had to be cajoled into making the further statement and was very unhappy about it, the fool man baby that he is:
Loath to appear to be admitting a mistake, Trump was reluctant to adjust his remarks. The president had indicated to advisers before his initial statement Saturday that he wanted to stress a need for law and order, which he did. He later expressed anger to those close to him about what he perceived as the media’s unfair assessment of his remarks, believing he had effectively denounced all forms of bigotry, according to outside advisers and White House officials.
Several of Trump’s senior advisers, including new chief of staff John Kelly, had urged him to make a more specific condemnation, warning that the negative story would not go away and that the rising tide of criticism from fellow Republicans on Capitol Hill could endanger his legislative agenda, according to two White House officials.
And then he tweeted specifically:
Made additional remarks on Charlottesville and realize once again that the News Media will never be satisfied...truly bad people!
It's a pity that simple but chronic immaturity isn't grounds for impeachment.

Some serious flooding happening

The Met Office notes:
Torrential monsoon rains over the last seven days have reached life-threatening levels for communities south of the Himalayas from Nepal to Bhutan and northern India to Bangladesh.

Severe floods and landslides have wrought havoc. Already across the affected region communities have faced tragedy, including: loss of life; thousands of homes submerged; extensive crop damage; as well as collapsed bridges and blocked roads.

Further heavy rain is forecast over the next few days and this will extend the zone of flooding downstream to communities lining those major rivers which flow from the Himalayas.
As for whether the amount of rain is unusual - yes, it surely is, in some parts:
The monsoon is a natural part of south Asia’s weather, but this year rainfall in some areas has been over four times greater, when compared with the average between 1981–2010.

Worth noting

Slate explains the Wingnut conspiracy theories swirling around Charlottesville, including those by Trump endorsed lunatic actor Alex Jones.

Apart from him, these are the other 'Deep State' conspiracies floating around:
Alt-right media personality Mike Cernovich, meanwhile, claimed that the violence was being initiated by left-wing groups in order to provoke a civil war. Another prominent alt-right social media voice, Jack Posobiec, said it was part of a “deep state [plot] to remove Trump allies in the WH and accelerate their coup.”
Julian Assange compared the torch-lit rally in Charlottesville to ones that took place in Ukraine in 2014, which he and alt-right voices also claim were Soros-funded affairs meant to foment the breakdown of civil society.

Finally, former Breitbart writer Patrick Howley wrote that by pressuring the president to denounce the racist attack, “Trump’s enemies are clearly hoping to separate Trump from any and all militia groups that could take part in potential acts of civil disobedience if Trump gets impeached and the nation heads into a Civil War-type scenario.”
His old boss, Steve Bannon, is now one of the most senior officials in Donald Trump's government.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Not entirely sure they've got their lines straight

I've been reading around the US right wing commentary about Charlottesville, and there's a bit of a struggle going on with getting their story straight.

First, I don't think I can really say that they aren't critical enough of Trump's lost opportunity of condemning white supremacists in clear terms.  No, to find someone supportive of Trump on this, you have to come to Australian Fox News wannabe Andrew Bolt.  Idiot.

Secondly, there are very few Right wing bloggers and culture warriors who aren't taking the opportunity to personally criticise the neo Nazi, white supremacists in strong terms.  Take Roger Simon:
Nevertheless, the types who surfaced in Charlottesville on Saturday are certainly human beings of the most repellent and disgusting sort, murderous too -- pretty much violent, evil sociopaths.  I wouldn't mind if they were all rounded up, put in a space ship, and sent on a one-way trip to Alpha Centauri.
His article goes on to make a point I actually suggested in another post today:  while terrible that they exist at all in this day and age, people probably shouldn't think that the white supremacist movement has all that large a following in the US based on one riot where the numbers weren't as high as originally feared.  (And compared to the US last century.)

But, on the other hand, they can't help but try to find a way the Left, and the way to do is to blame identity politics for making sad nerdy white guys with trouble keeping a girlfriend fans of Hitler; who, let's face, really knew how to make white folk feel good about themselves.

So it is that Rod Dreher starts with the sort of criticism of Trump that Andrew Bolt can't bring himself to make:
On the Right, the story is fairly straightforward. Neo-Nazis, white nationalists, and their ilk have to be condemned in no uncertain terms, and marginalized. The president’s coy rhetoric, dancing around these people for fear of alienating them, has to end.

He then goes on to note that God would not want people to become white supremacists either, and Churches shouldn't be shy about preaching that.

Good too.

And then, well, it goes off the rails: 
But none of this will matter at all as long as the Left refuses to oppose identity politics in its own ranks. As I keep saying here, you cannot have an identity politics of the Left without calling up the same thing on the Right. Left-liberals who want conservatives to stigmatize and denounce white nationalism, but conservatives who do so will be sneered at by white nationalists as dupes and fools who advocate disarmament in the face of racist, sexist forces of the Left.

When the Left indulges in rhetoric that demonizes whites — especially white males — it summons the demons of white nationalism.

When the Left punishes white males who violate its own delicate speech taboos, while tolerating the same kind of rhetoric on its own side, it summons the demons of white nationalism.

When the Left obsesses over ethnic, sexual, and religious minorities, but ignores the plight of poor and working-class whites, it summons the demons of white nationalism.

When the Left institutionalizes demonization of white males in college classes, in political movements, in the media and elsewhere, it summons the demons of white nationalism.
Um, I 'm no fan of the extremities of identity politics/political correctness, but it's still kind of ludicrous to argue that it causes people to become neo-Nazis and white supremacists (who, incidentally, threw in homosexual taunting into the ring too at Charlottesville too - did you see the video of the mob shout-chanting "F... you faggots"?  I did).

Look, the fact is that major discrimination in American has only been dismantled during the lifetime of someone like me - less than 60 years ago.   Of course issues of  disadvantage and how to address it are still going to live issues at this time.   And yes, there are important debates to be had as to the limits of the response, and that in some cases identity politics arguments are going to be worth criticising.

None of this should be sold as quasi justification for why White Supremacists should feeling more empowered these days.  The blame for that falls squarely on the ignorant President and his enablers, who for political advantage have drummed up populist white grievance and encouraged their self pity and sense of entitlement in matters of race and sex.

Update:   I was tempted last night to refer to blowhard Brendan O'Neill's similar line - he started a tweet with "The events in Charlottesville are the logical consequence of the politics of identity."   Which is, of course, exactly the line to take if you are a white person who wants to be completely dismissive of all attention to reasons why there are obvious race based differences in equality and income in a nation with a history of serious racism only dismantled relatively recently.  

He moved on to a second tweet arguing that Social Justice Warriors and White Supremacists are equivalent in both wanting to audition for social pity.   Again, a completely ahistorical analysis of the matter, which will (of course) actually be taken by (lets be honest and use a SJW term when it is valid) privileged white males as supporting their view that they are being hard done by. 

Evidence for that - look at the enthusiastic response it is receiving at Catallaxy - the last blog in the nation where you go to get serious and nuanced consideration of racism.  

Hilariously, CL takes the line that it is wrong of O'Neill to draw an equivalency between SJW and "moronic" white supremacists - because SJWs are much much worse.   They are communists who have killed massively more people. (A conclusion drawn by bringing in abortion  to the discussion.)    CL's answer to every allegation that the Right is wrong on something is to argue "but abortion!"

And let's end this with another

Shoutout to monty:   Catallaxy is routinely at its worst when matters of race and racism come up, and for goodness sake, you even have JC crapping on about how white men are at some disadvantage.

Furthermore, he claims "The left has won every cultural and economic battle since WW2.", which, given the massive economic growth the world has seen since then, he doesn't seem to realise would actually be an endorsement of the left.

You're dealing with the stupid, and the "routinely offensive when it comes to race" stupid.

I still think you give them encouragement by your appearing there, and should stop.

Another reason the Charlottesville rally was a worry

The armed militia who turned up got some media attention, and probably deserved more.  At Slate, Tom Perriello writes:
Saturday showed us a vision of a dystopian future that is the logical extension of our current gun laws. Not just gun ownership but AR-15s. Not just concealed carry but open carry. And not just the right to open carry even long guns but to dress in full military fatigues with accessories (earpieces, vests, insignias) to blur every line between legitimate law enforcement and a fully armed white nationalist militia. I have spent time in multiple conflict zones and still would not have known at a quick glance if bullets started flying which heavily armed men in camouflage and flak jackets represented law and order and which were armed terrorists. Donald Trump, who claims to be the hero of law enforcement, has issued no criticism of those who blur the line between public and private security forces, who blur the most sacred blue line between violence and force. Is there anything more vital of a commander in chief who claims to care about those who serve in uniform than to condemn those who fake the uniform?
That said, I feel it probably also deserves to be noted by way of balance that the images from the rally may well give a false impression of the numbers of white supremacist support in the nation.  I've noticed that estimates before the rally were that up to 6,000 may attend, but I think the final number ended up in the hundreds, rather than thousands.

Still, with the evening theatrics of burning torch rallies, not to mention the daytime armed  militia, they know how to look as intimidating as possible, and (of course) death and large scale injury was the actual result.

Paging moral midgets, paging moral midgets...

When even the National Review runs an editorial headed "Condemn the White Supremacists, Mr. President", you really have to think about the increasing moral midget qualities of Andrew Bolt, who posts in support of what NR calls Trump's 'thus-far mealy-mouthed “both sides do it”'.

Meanwhile, I expect Tim Blair is busy looking up what Jonathan Green or some feminist had to say about it, so he can respond with a resounding "ha, but he kills foxes, and she's a frightbat" response.

Updateeven someone writing at PJ Media, a right wing culture war site I hardly ever bother visiting any more, says this:
In fact, the sentiments expressed by the president were fine. But his failure to even mention the reason there was trouble in Charlottesville in the first place -- a demonstration by white supremacists -- raises questions about whether he has a real grasp of his job as president.

Trump has disavowed the alt-right and said he doesn't want their support. But they continue to embrace him and brag about how they elected him. The president of the United States does not need the stink of these people's support and condemning them in the most powerful terms yesterday would have cleared the air.
Evidently, Bolt can't see the problem with the omission that nearly everyone on the American Right can see.

The state of libertarianism

John Quiggin's post today about the current state of the US libertarian movement (he notes that one part of it has moved towards the Left - he's referring to the Niskanen Centre) is an interesting read.  The question is, though, how many libertarians are ever going to be inclined to follow that path.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

As I (sort of) expected

What did I say after Trump more-or-less turned a Scout jamboree into a Trump Youth rally?:
Next up:  night time, fire torch lit rallies on the streets of some city or other..

OK, perhaps they weren't burning copies of the New York Times as I forecast, but there's no doubt they support Trump.  (Look at how few women you can spot in all the photos and videos of this event, too.  So far, I have spotted precisely one in that photo above.)

Trump is deservedly getting harsh attacks from all over the place for his woeful use of moral equivalence in response to the death of a counter protester at this white supremacist, neo Nazi rally (one at which, as many have noted, the participants nearly all feel confident enough of the political climate that they don't even worry about hiding their identity.)   The headline at this Slate piece sums it up well:

In Appalling Speech on Charlottesville, Trump Condemns Bigotry and Violence “On Many Sides”

Out of many noteworthy tweets, I'll post this one:

Meanwhile at Sinclair Davidson's Alt Right Supporter's blog, there's a hell of a lot of shrugging of shoulder's going on, and in fact it is only being discussed at all because monty brought it up.   Meanwhile Sinclair himself, showing his chronic moral immaturity (sorry, I can't read it any other way), shares a chuckle about nuclear threats to North Korea. 

Monty - trying to engage with the foolish and offensive is a losing strategy, and participation unavoidably gives the blog a sense of endorsement.  I, once again, think you are silly for appearing there at all.

Friday, August 11, 2017

I can feel my brain starting to hurt

A paper on arXiv:
The conception of reality in Quantum Mechanics

Disputes on the foundations of Quantum Mechanics often involve the conception of reality, without a clear definition on which aspect of this broad concept of reality one refers. We provide an overview of conceptions of reality in classical physics, in philosophy of science and in Quantum Mechanics and its interpretations and analyse their differences and subtleties. Structural realism as conception in philosophy of science will turn out to be a promising candidate to settle old problems regarding the conception of reality in Quantum Mechanics. We amend the analysis of three main interpretations and their relation to structural realism by three well-known informational approaches in the interpretations of Quantum Mechanics. Last we propose an additional class of structural realism supported by QBism.

In other movie news...

In Toilet: Ek Prem Katha, Keshav (Akshay Kumar) isn’t expected to build a monument like the Taj Mahal that a Mughal emperor had built for his beloved wife, but a utility-friendly toilet for his bride (Bhumi Pednekar) who refuses to defecate in the open fields like the other women in his village.
I hope it's on SBS in due course.   The reviewer is having some fun further down:
The second half was decidedly a crash course on the existing government’s noble attempts at providing toilets across India and to highlight the narrow-mindedness among Indians who are shackled by cultural and religious beliefs.

But don’t give up on this film yet, because it has some golden moments scattered across it....
 The first half is smooth, but it’s the second half that gets constipated. The premise which is intriguing and novel becomes repetitive and laboured. Some of the scenes in the second half seems contrived to make the current government shine and sparkle. Keshav and Jaya’s domestic problem snowballs into such a stinker of an issue that the entire state seems to be involved towards the end. There’s a good chance that you may have lost interest and your steam by all that drama surrounding a toilet-building battle.

Toilet: Ek Prem Katha, which clocks 175 minutes ...
175 minute Bollywood extravaganza about defecating in India!   Hollywood should pay attention, as it is scratching around for new ideas....

Sending him nuts

Tony Abbott is going a bit loopy, if you ask me:
Tony Abbott has called for Australia urgently to consider a missile defence shield to protect against attack by nuclear-armed North Korea.
Kevin Rudd just blathers on, so it's silly to say Tony's not nuts because Kevin said the same.

And Malcolm should be shutting up on North Korea too, I reckon.  Or at least, not giving them reason to try an experimental lob of a missile in our direction.

I also see (via Jason) that Tony's hyperbole about same sex marriage has been contradicted by Chris Kenny.   I agree, Kenny's column is an unusually calm and measured one which I find hard to disagree with.  I'm sure that Kenny will go back to being a bloviating political twit tomorrow.

My only puzzle is whether I take part in the silly postal opinion poll, or "vote" against it.   I am half inclined to do something to amuse the counters, like vote "No" but ruin the ballot by writing on it something about how I don't want to see Tony Abbott hitching up with long time suitor David Marr.    And I wonder how many papers will be not counted because of the addition of a male genitalia squiggle.   Maybe men only do that if they are forced to vote.

A funny tweet

I see that mockery of Brendan O'Neill is popular:

A long, long way to go

Here's an article in Nature  that suggests that those science fiction stories where the brain is scanned in 20 minutes and then the mind it hosts is uploaded into a computer, or another person, are just a tad unrealistic.
Even under the most humdrum conditions — “normal lighting; no sensory cues; they're not hungry”, says Zlatic — her fly larvae can be made to perform 30 different actions, including retracting or turning their heads, or rolling. The actions are generated by a brain comprising just 15,000 neurons. That is nothing compared with the 86 billion in a human brain, which is one of the reasons Zlatic and her teammates like the maggots so much.

“At the moment, really, the Drosophila larva is the sweet spot,” says Albert Cardona, Zlatic's collaborator and husband, who is also at Janelia. “If you can get the wiring diagram, you have an excellent starting point for seeing how the central nervous system works.”

Zlatic and Cardona lead two of the dozens of groups around the world that are generating detailed wiring diagrams for brains of model organisms. New tools and techniques for slicing up brains and tracing their connections have hastened progress over the past few years. And the resulting neural-network diagrams are yielding surprises — showing, for example, that a brain can use one network in multiple ways to create the same behaviours.

But understanding even the simplest of circuits — orders of magnitude smaller than those in Zlatic's maggots — presents a host of challenges. Circuits vary in layout and function from animal to animal. The systems have redundancy that makes it difficult to pin one function to one circuit. Plus, wiring alone doesn't fully explain how circuits generate behaviours; other factors, such as neurochemicals, have to be considered. “I try to avoid using the word 'understand',” says Florian Engert, who is putting together an atlas of the zebrafish brain at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “What do you even mean when you say you understand how something works? If you map it out, you haven't really understood anything.”

Against smartphone panic

After that article in The Atlantic about teenagers being ruined or destroyed or laid waste, or something like that, by obsessive use of smart phones, I've been a bit more interested in the counter articles than the original one.

Is that just because I think smartphones are awesome?   I do dislike aspects of how they are used:  everyone sitting at a table just using their phones is a bad thing.   (And I find a lot of adults are as bad at that as their kids these days.)   But then again, if you talk about what you're reading on it (and other people look up to listen), it's not as bad as it could be.  And as for people not watching a performance  directly, but viewing it on their phone screens while they record it (always with such crappy sound quality that you can't really enjoy playback at home anyway), that is a stupid habit.

Anyway, here are the articles against moral panic:   one from Slate, and one from The Guardian. There are probably more out there, waiting to be found. On my phone...

The lesson: don't have Pepsi Max with your pizza

This article notes that it would seem that drinking a diet soda on a more or less empty stomach may not be so bad, but drinking one in combination with carbohydrates may be asking for trouble.

Complicated, our bodies...

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Sounds rather "Rambo"

A Chinese action film that depicts the country's soldiers saving war-ravaged Africans from Western baddies soared to become China's all-time top box-office earner this week, headlining a summer of patriotic cinematic fare.
The wildly popular "Wolf Warriors 2" boasts the ominous tagline "whoever offends China will be hunted down no matter how far away they are", and millions of Chinese cinema-goers have lapped it up since the movie's release less than two weeks ago.
The blockbuster has raked in more than 3.4 billion yuan ($500 million) since debuting on July 27, according to unofficial China box-office trackers Maoyan, a leading ticket merchant, and other industry tallies.
Update:  Don't say that I don't put in effort for my reader[s] - here's the trailer from Youtube.  And yes, it does involve Chinese Rambo rescuing poor Africans from bad guy Caucasians.  Which, given China's recent inroads into African development, makes obvious propaganda sense.   I look forward to future Chinese attempts to right the dysfunctional governments of that continent.  They should have a crack at Afghanistan and the entire Middle East (save for Israel), too.

Update 2:  I'm a bit annoyed that the Youtube is stuck on the flipping the finger scene.  This blog usually has higher standards.  On the other hand, it is of interest, I suppose, that it would seem that this is universally used insult across nearly all nations now. 

About PSA

Simon Chapman writes pretty convincingly on the anti-prostate screening side in his article at The Conversation.  

Red light discussed

This article in The Conversation notes that women avoid walking through red light streets - streets with a lot of strip clubs or other forms of "adult entertainment", such as King Street in Melbourne - for fear of sexual harassment by drunk men.   That's pretty wise of them.

This may be unfair to women who have to divert from what might be the shortest route, but does this mean you shouldn't have red light streets at all? 

One of the weirdest things in Brisbane, I have long thought, is that there is a strip club right in the Albert Street part of the main pedestrian mall.  It's like 15 m from the dead centre of the mall.   It doesn't have lurid pictures outside, which is something to be grateful for, but I have still always thought that this is a very strange place to put this type of venue.  Yet it's been there for years and years.

Another oddity is the the old Grovenor Hotel on George Street.  Decades ago, it used to be a normal sort of pub (not that I ever recall going there), but for a long time now it has been a topless venue.  (including the ability to get a haircut from a topless woman.)   This used to be just across the corner from the Supreme Court (since demolished and re-located), but it's still just across another corner from the high rise home of the Justice Department and the DPP.    Again, this has always struck me as a bizarrely inappropriate place to running an adult entertainment venue.

Brisbane's actual red light district, such that it was, used to be in Fortitude Valley, but it was only ever a few venues, I think.  I get the impression driving through it now that it barely has an "adult entertainment" venue now at all.   It's more the scene for doof doof music clubs and party drugs.  Unfortunately it has proved strongly resisted to commercial revival in many respects - Chinatown had a lot of money spent on it, and yet it still feels like it is going through a protracted commercial death.   The McWhirter Centre, last time I visited it, felt like a complete failure as a retail centre.    I think I did see someone from the tattoo shop engaged in a drug deal, though.  

Anyway, my impression is still that strip clubs are best kept in one, small area, rather than having them in the middle of normal retail areas.  I don't think that these dubious enterprises should be "normalised" by being in ordinary retail or commercial districts.  

To be honest, in this day and day of internet pornography I don't know how or why strip clubs survive at all.    Brothels I understand (so to speak), but strip clubs when there is so much more explicit things to be seen on the net?   Very odd.   But if they are going to exist at all, keep them out of the way, I say.


You know that West Virginian governor who just swapped from being a Democrat to a Republican?  Well, sure seems that in doing so he boosted up the average Democrat politician IQ several points:
West Virginia Governor Jim Justice said Donald Trump is “really interested” in his plan to prop up Appalachian mining by giving federal money to power plants that burn the region’s coal.

Justice, a coal and real estate mogul elected governor last year as a Democrat, announced at a West Virginia rally alongside President Trump last week that he’s becoming a Republican. Justice has recently spent a “goodly amount of time" meeting one-on-one with Trump and has liked the feedback to his pro-coal proposal. The plan calls for the Department of Homeland Security to send $15 to eastern U.S. utilities for every ton of Appalachia coal they burn.

“He’s really interested. He likes the idea,” Justice said in a phone interview on Wednesday when asked about Trump’s reaction. “Naturally, he’s trying to vet the whole process. It’s a complicated idea.”

Google; Men; Women

Physicist Bee has a somewhat complicated (I suppose some would say "nuanced") take on the matter of Google sacking that guy Damore.    As for me, it's outraged that alt.right, so I find it hard to be believe Google can be completely in the wrong! 

I think the NYT article "The Alt-Right Finds a New Enemy in Silicon Valley" is pretty good, and it notes that some hope it may be the start of a sort of right wing internet (which I think would not be a bad thing, as the alt.right's base is not, I reckon, as big as it thinks it is):
There is a certain poetic justice in the alt-right, largely an internet-based political movement, turning against the companies that enabled it in the first place. Like most modern political movements, the alt-right relies on tech platforms like YouTube and Twitter to rally supporters, collect donations and organize gatherings. In that sense, Silicon Valley progressivism isn’t just an ideological offense to the alt-right — it’s an operational threat.

In an attempt to build a buffer against censorship, some alt-right activists have begun creating their own services. Cody Wilson, who describes himself as a “techno-anarchist,” recently opened Hatreon, a crowdfunding site that bills itself as a free-speech alternative to Patreon. Gab, a Twitter clone, was started last year after Twitter barred several conservative users. RootBocks, a right-wing Kickstarter knockoff, bills itself as “a crowdfunding site that won’t shut you down because of your beliefs.”

These companies are still tiny by Silicon Valley standards, but their supporters say that one day they could serve as the foundation for a kind of parallel right-wing internet where all speech is allowed, no matter how noxious or incendiary.
In another NYT report on the matter, they do point one pretty good sounding reason why he was sacked:
Mr. Damore’s comments also raised another issue around Google’s peer-review system. Employees at the company are expected to judge their colleague’s work in a peer-review process that is essential to deciding whether someone gets promoted. By expressing certain beliefs — such as that women are more prone to anxiety — the concern was that he could no longer be impartial in judging female co-workers.

For a company steeped in a rich history of encouraging unconventional thinking, the problem was not that he expressed an unpopular opinion, but a disrespectful one, according to Yonatan Zunger, who left Google last week after 14 years at the company to join a start-up.

“We have a long history of disagreement over everything from technical issues to policy issues to the most mundane aspects of building management, and over all, that has been tremendously valuable,” Mr. Zunger said in an email. “The problem here was that this was disrespectful disagreement — and there’s really no respectful way to say, ‘I think you and people like you aren’t as qualified to do your job as people like me.”
Good point.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

My modest same sex marriage suggestion

While I think a compulsory plebiscite on same sex marriage, held at the next election as a way of minimising cost, is not a bad idea, it is hard to understand the point of a voluntary postal plebiscite on the topic.

It will, surely, simply be a deeply methodologically flawed attempt at gauging the public's opinion, at the enormous cost of $122 million.

If the Coalition were honest about it, why could they not acknowledge that a more reliable way of gauging public opinion would be to pay for, say, Newspoll, to devise an exceptionally large sample one off poll on the matter, with a simple question, so as to gauge public opinion nation wide within a very small margin of error.

The methodology could be devised so as to capture more than your standard landlines, no?

How much could that cost, really?    I would take a stab and say that it couldn't be more than $5 to $10 million. Wouldn't some department or other have the funds to commission it, without getting the sanction of Parliament?

So, savings of at least $110 million, and a more accurate outcome.   Much less for Labor to complain about.

What is wrong with this idea?

An exceptionally good optical illusion

Noticed at Boing Boing, which I rarely visit these days:

Impossible hurdles

I have a hunch that the Impossible Burger, if it's as good as people claim, will make lab grown meat hardly worth pursuing.    

But the NYT notes that the company is having trouble convincing the FDA that it should declare the key magic ingredient - it's blood tasting soy leghemoglobin - safe to consume.   Which is odd, given that they can sell the burger without that endorsement.

It wouldn't stop me from trying it.

By the way, one of the best fake meat things I tried in the last couple of years were some type of frozen nugget made from shiitake mushrooms.  They went very well in a butter chicken sauce, and had the firmer texture that is often missing from soy based fake meat (or Quorn, which is too expensive and also too soft).  They were from an Asian supermarket, but I haven't seen them there again.  I can't even remember where they were made.  Anyway, it's a pity, because I did like them.

Re: North Korea

This story:
North Korea now has a miniaturized nuclear warhead that can be mounted on a missile, according to an analysis by the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency, the Washington Post reports. North Korea has claimed to have this capability for some time now, and for planning purposes, U.S. military commanders had already been working under the assumption that those claims were true. However, Tuesday’s revelation is a much stronger confirmation.
seems a little conveniently timed, doesn't anyone think?

I see that the Right, at least in the form of Trump supporting Ace of Spades, is already getting comfortable with the idea of a pre-emptive nuclear strike:
A pre-emptive nuclear strike is not a great option, but we're out of great options, and now down to only the less-bad ones.
So, all we need now is for ageing Rupert Murdoch to email the producer of Fox and Friends  that they should run a "US should strike first" line, and Trump will be reaching for the phone to the Pentagon.

I see one expert in Time says it might be best to do nothing:
As things stand, neither diplomacy nor sanctions seem likely to derail the North’s nuclear program. So regime change looks more and more attractive. But better that it come from within. Given Kim’s reckless habits—drinking and driving are two of his favorite pastimes—a self-inflicted biological solution is more than possible. So is the chance that an insider will finally get angry enough to take him out, never mind the consequences.
Update:    Uh-oh.  Fox News already getting on talking heads seemingly suggesting pre-emptive strike (possibly nuclear) not such a bad idea:
On Fox Business, Trish Regan interviewed former Lt. Gen. Ralph Peters, a military pundit, on the next steps the administration should take. “I don’t want this to be a war,” he said. “I don’t want it! Nobody in their right mind wants it. But we cannot allow North Korea to have an array of missiles, an arsenal of missiles, of nuclear-tipped missiles that can hit the United States. If it comes to that, I would hit them first and hit them hard knowing that it will be bloody and ugly if we do so."

Message to Jason, future Buddhist

Or, you could become a Buddhist. A lot less sweat and pain involved.  Not to mention very little risk of concussion. *

Speaking of Buddhism (I fear people are thinking that I am at risk of conversion to it due to a fondness for Monkey King movies from Hong Kong/China), there's a book out by Robert Wright called "Why Buddhism is True" which is attracting some attention. 

There's a short interview with him at NPR.
In his new book, Why Buddhism is True, Wright makes the case that some Buddhist practices can help humans overcome the biological pull towards dissatisfaction.

"I think of mindfulness meditation as almost a rebellion against natural selection," he says. "Natural selection is the process that created us. It gave us our values. It sets our agenda, and Buddhism says, 'We don't have to play this game.' "

He says:
Certainly when you think about the logic of natural selection, it makes sense that we would be like this. Natural selection built us to do some things, a series of things that help us get genes into the next generation. Those include eating food so we stay alive, having sex — things like that.

If it were the case that any of these things brought permanent gratification, then we would quit doing them, right? I mean, you would eat, you'd feel blissed out, you'd never eat again. You'd have sex, you'd, like, lie there basking in the afterglow, never have sex again. Well, obviously that's not a prescription for getting genes into the next generation. So natural selection seems to have built animals in general to be recurrently dissatisfied. And this seems to be a central feature of life — and it's central to the Buddhist diagnosis of what the problem is.
Well, I think I have a bit of a problem with this.   It seems to me that you can respond to a recurrent bodily desire (the satisfaction of which gives pleasure) in one of two ways:  resenting the fact that the desire keeps returning, or celebrating the repeated satisfaction of it.   (Assuming you can satisfy it.)

I tend to think Buddhism's attitude is too much like the former, whereas other religions take the more physical life affirming view.   Sure, you can say that Christianity or (say) Hinduism thinks asceticism has spiritual value too, but I don't think you could ever say that it thought it was for everyone.  With Buddhism, I'm always getting the feeling that it thinks people are fooling themselves if they feel good after, say, a good meal and good sex.  (No doubt, some Buddhist would argue I'm completely misunderstanding it.)

The other fundamental problem I've always had with Buddhism is that it seems in its purist form to be a philosophy which de-emphasises the value of charity and help to others.    I know Buddhists will argue about that too, but I'm not so sure.  It seems a philosophy primed for the argument "hey, poor starving person, you need to realise that your desire for a full stomach is an illusion - I will help you meditate to overcome your hunger pains"  instead of getting in and helping them build a better farm.
Wright is perhaps on stronger grounds when he notes some similarity between Buddhism and cognitive therapy (a therapy I've always thought sounded sensible and valuable):
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy works by kind of interrogating people about the logic behind things like fears and anxieties, like, Is there really much of a chance of you projectile vomiting while speaking to a crowd? You've never done it before. ... So there's a suspicion there about the logic behind feelings.

Well, in Buddhism there's a suspicion of the logic behind feelings more broadly, I would say. But as a practical matter, Buddhism works at the level of feeling. They don't interrogate the logic explicitly, but you deal with the feeling itself in a way that disempowers it. And there's a kind of bridge between cognitive therapy and Buddhist practice in evolutionary psychology; because evolutionary psychology explains that, indeed, a lot of the feelings we have are not worth following, for various reasons. They may have literally been designed to mislead us to begin with by natural selection. ... We live in an environment so different from the environment that natural selection designed us for that we have these counterproductive feelings, like fear of public speaking. So evolutionary psychology gives a back story, explaining why it is that we so often are misled by feelings ... and then Buddhist meditation tells us what to do about that.

*  For other readers:  comment made as a result of his tweet that he felt this article came uncomfortably close to describing the reasons for his own "athletic obsessions".   

Speaking of poisonous social media

The threads of Catallaxy work as a form of social media, where (as I have taken to repeating), the foolish and obnoxious find comfort in other people who share their foolish and obnoxious views, or at the very least,  not call them out for it.  

I've mentioned their fondness for armed revolution fantasies before, and I see they're (OK, to be fair, some) are still at it:

I've called out nutty Bosi before - an ex SAS twit who would not be out of place in one of the US armed militia fantasy clubs that thought they would liberate the nation when Obama started kicking their doors in to confiscate every gun in the land.

Yes, please publish your violent fantasy paper on Catallaxy.   Free speech and all that, hey Sinclair...

Young adult fiction eats itself

There's a long, interesting article at The Vulture about the silly, silly modern political correctness in social media campaigning about young adult novels that dare to have characters that say something offensive to current PC sensibilities.  

The article shows how one precious dill led an attack on a novel by selecting particular un-PC lines, and completely ignoring the bigger picture - that the novel is about a character recognising and coming out of intolerance.  But gullible followers of said dill use social media to join in the attack without even reading the book and understanding they are being mislead.   I like the way one agent comments:  
“None of us are willing to comment publicly for fear of being targeted and labeled racist or bigoted. But if children’s-book publishing is no longer allowed to feature an unlikable character, who grows as a person over the course of the story, then we’re going to have a pretty boring business.”

This is an area ripe and overdue for ridicule and satire, is it not?   But have the PC Left enough power to even prevent that?  I doubt it.

One thing I do know - you don't cure the madness of lefty, over precious social media crowds via a counter attack by mad, more than happy to offend, alt.right social media crowds.  If anything, that surely is counterproductive.   There is something very poisonous and corrosive about social media campaigning, no matter which side it is coming from.   Social scientists will be studying this for many years yet, I bet.

Fanciful thinking on elevators

So, architects, at least, are thinking about what could be done if elevators went away from steel cabled up and down things, to something more like the "go anywhere" deal on the Starship Enterprise.

All sounds very cool, but I would have thought that the destruction of the World Trade Centre, and recent London and Dubai fires, are making the idea of living or even working on (say) the 100th floor less attractive than ever.  Not sure that I had realised how high a building going up in Jeddah was going to be:
Today there is a 1,000-meter (167-story) building under construction in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Even taller buildings are possible with today’s structural technology.

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Cohen talks Taleb

I see that Nick Cohen gets stuck into Taleb's ridiculously aggressive, alt.right style behaviour towards Mary Beard, and it's a good read.

I am amused to see one twitter comment about it:

A load of old rubbish

Good title for a post about last night's depressing 4 Corners program on waste and recycling failures in Australia, no?

[By the way, that new ABC reporter continually reminds me of Daria.  She does come across as a tad over-earnest, if you ask me.]

But if you want to watch an episode full of men looking uncomfortable during interviews, you should watch it.   The guy from NSW EPA looked particularly guilty, if you ask me; and the other stellar shonky bit of government seemed to be the Gosford council.   And who knew that there are mountains of broken glass in warehouses around Australia, or that Ipswich, a town with an image problem even before last night,  had seemingly become the dumping ground for much of the rest of Australia's unwanted rubbish?

The odd story of the Rabbit God

It always seems to me that the historical Asian take on male homosexuality had a much higher emphasis on romanticism than much of the modern Western image of it:   if you ask me, it's not like a gay pride parade featuring drag queens, men and lesbians in leather, and many guys in speedos and feathers can be easily said to be emphasising romanticism over in-your-face eroticism/fetishism.  I think you still see this in Asian countries today, with oddities like straight Japanese women who are fans of young men in love manga and anime.

Further evidence of the importance of romance in Asian thoughts on homosexuality comes from this article that I stumbled across yesterday, from Taipei, where gay marriage had a sudden and unexpected legal endorsement recently.  There's a small Taoist temple there, to cater for gay men:
All religions address both spiritual needs and issues of here and now. New deities and even new religions often emerge to address needs or during times of social change. The founding of the Gay Rabbit God Temple in Taipei is one such example.

About five years ago (2005), a Taoist priest made spiritual contact with the Rabbit God and decided that should five same sex couples approach the temple for prayers or spiritual help, he will establish a temple dedicated to the Rabbit God.

Although at that time, they did not have specific programs for gay couples, five couples did indeed turn up. The priest took this as a sign and officially established the Rabbit Temple.
More on the background to this god, here:
The god isn't very well known, nor commonly worshipped, but he is based on an historical figure. According to the Tale of the Rabbit God that appears in the Zibuyu (子不語), a collection of supernatural stories written by Qing Dynasty scholar and poet Yuan Mei (袁枚, 1716-1798), Hu Tianbao (?#32993;天保) was an official in 18th-century, Qing Dynasty China. He fell in love with a handsome young imperial inspector of Fujian Province, but because of the inspector's higher status, Hu was afraid to reveal his feelings. After Hu was caught peeping at the inspector through a bathroom wall, he confessed his admiration for the inspector, who had him beaten to death. One month after his passing, the story goes, Hu appeared to a man from his hometown in a dream, claiming that the king of the underworld had appointed him the Rabbit God. As such, his duty was to govern the affairs of men who desire men. In the dream, he asked the man to erect a shrine to him.

As a priest, Lu often heard complaints from homosexual Taoist adherents that there was no god to answer their prayers. Believing one of his missions is to tend to the needs of people alienated from mainstream society, he set out to revive the forgotten deity.

 As his research suggests, Hu was an upper class historical figure who lived in Fujian from the late Ming Dynasty to the early Qing Dynasty. However, according to Michael Szonyi, associate professor of Chinese history at the department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations at Harvard, the Rabbit God is a pure invention of Yuan, the poet, since the image of the rabbit deity doesn't appear in any other sources from Fujian.

While some aspects of the story may be fabrications, the existence of the cult of Hu Tianbao in Fujian in the 18th century is well documented in official Qing records.
This priest reckons the Rabbit God is a particularly helpful one, if you treat him respectfully:
The Rabbit God is perceived to be an affable deity, Lu said, who is willing to assist his followers in every aspect of life. Since he works for Cheng Huang (城隍), the City God, he has both the erudition and social network in the spiritual world to solve any problem mortals have, according to Lu.
Homosexuals may have an edge in the spiritual world because, "Hu Tianbao is rather self-abased both because of the way he died and the somewhat belittling title of rabbit. So if you are willing to believe in him, he will be much more grateful and work harder than other deities," Lu said.
There are several methods of worshipping, asking for and receiving answers from this divine being, but sincerity is what counts most, Lu said. For this reason, followers should address the god as Ta Yeh (大爺), or master, rather than Rabbit God. Then, those with needs can write down their names, addresses, birthdays and prayers on pieces of paper money and burn them to make sure the messages are sent to heaven.
Well, I thought it was interesting, anyway.

Monday, August 07, 2017

Gay peace for our time

Isn't it odd how everyone (well, the media and conservatives) are waiting for Turnbull to emerge and make a "peace in our time" speech regarding same sex marriage.  I'd do a photoshop, if I had time.

I do feel a bit sorry for Malcolm - he is genuinely being wedged every which way, by conservatives in his party, Labor and the Greens, his own gay party members, and more moderate voices too (with the fairly silly idea of a postal plebiscite), all on an issue that the population at large doesn't rate as very important, but which the media is happy to devote plenty of attention to.    It must be very, very annoying.  

Dangerous sea creatures great and small

First, the large:
Six men are lucky to be alive after a whale threw their boat metres into the air in the Whitsundays.

The group was returning from a reef fishing trip on Saturday afternoon, when the large humpback breached underneath the 8.5-metre aluminium vessel, near Gloucester Island.
The impact of the collision with the whale and the water was so great that those on board were violently thrown around the boat, with two men knocked unconscious.
And then, the small - the Melbourne sea lice attack.   That really is a surprising story, but apparently sea lice can be particularly ferocious down there.   There will be few toddlers allowed to play in the water near Melbourne for a while, I imagine.

Dressed against global warming

Graham Lloyd's favourite "climate scientist" Jennifer Marohasy had this photo in The Australian last week, on top of one of Lloyd's dire pieces about the controversy of one thermometer which needs checking when it records very cold minimums:

It's a bit transparent, isn't it?:  she's trying to disprove global warming by showing how much she has to dress up on a really cold day.  And is that a dead animal around her neck?

She looks at a tad batty, if you ask me.

Monkey Kings

SBS Viceland (I still don't really understand that change) showed The Monkey King 2 last week, and it's still able to be watched on SBS on Demand.

This is at least the second Chinese film I have seen lately that features at some point a massive heavenly Buddha intervening on Earth.  It would seem that the government doesn't have a problem with such ideas being promulgated in cinema, which I suppose shows how technically communist states have moved on a bit.

I find something rather watchable about movies loosely based on the Monkey King story now.  I'm even tempted to read the book.    I knew someone once (an Australian but from an Asian family) whose secret ambition in life was to produce a movie that did proper justice to the book Journey to the West.  He evidently has not achieved that.

Update:  One thing about Buddhism - if a Catholic were to become one,  the Mahayana version is surely the type to which he or she should feel more affinity (given the Communion of Saints idea is not a million miles away from bodhisattvas being able to help):

Mahayana Buddhism agrees with Theravada Buddhism that the human problem is suffering; it holds the Four Noble Truths as fundamental. But whereas Theravada holds out the ideal of the individual striving alone on the Eight-fold Path towards nirvana, Mahayana adds helpers who provide shortcuts and assistance out of compassion for those who are suffering. These helpers are called bodhisattvas, and are beings who have worked towards enlightenment and nirvana. But rather than enter nirvana, once they are able, they turn around and bring their store of wisdom, power and merit to help others along the same path. This simple idea has a number of ramifications for the goal of humanity.

  • 1) All human beings participate in the Buddha's nature; that is to say, all humans have the essence of Buddha within themselves. Thus the goal of Mahayana Buddhism is for everyone to realize their true Buddha nature. This goal is the same as attaining nirvana (the Theravadan goal), but it is focused on the Buddha and each person's imitation of the Buddha, rather than on the release from samsara.
  • 2) The Buddha was a bodhisattva. In contrast to the Theravadan view, Mahayana holds that the Buddha (i.e., Gautama) did not just attain nirvana. At the point at which he could have extinguished his existence in samsara, he instead returned to this world and taught other people how to attain nirvana. If he had not, then humanity would not know how to attain it. It was Buddha's compassion for the suffering of humanity that motivated him to remain in this life and to teach and preach for forty more years. Thus, the Buddha used the merit, power and wisdom he gained while striving for enlightenment to help others. He was a bodhisattva.
  • 3) Since humans should imitate the Buddha, the Mahayana ideal is to become a bodhisattva and help others. The Theravadan ideal of the arhat is seen as too selfish, too focused on the individual, and thus without benefit for humanity in general. By emphasizing that the goal is to be a bodhisattva, Mahayana shows that it cares about the rest of humanity as a whole, not just as individuals.
  • 4) Once a person becomes a bodhisattva, then they have the ability to help people towards nirvana and enlightenment. They may create new paths to higher stages that can be accomplished by lay people as well as monks. In fact, many forms of Mahayana focus on the laity, almost to the exclusion of interest in the sangha. Pure Land is a good example of this. Amitabha Buddha (who was initially a monk, then a Bodhisattva, and finally attained Buddha-hood) created a "pure land"--a paradise--in the "west" (i.e., in the Buddha-fields). He vowed that anyone who would call on his name could enter this land. There they could remain, or they could strive towards enlightenment, which would be much closer.
  • Something wrong with Taleb

    Mary Beard talks about being under attack from the alt.right, and Nassim Taleb's jumping into the fray, not on her side.

    Look, I don't care how smart he might be in some areas - I think it is very clear from his twitter feed and many of essays that he has some serious personality issues.   He's a thin skinned jerk, in other words.

    The Atlantic had a look at the matter, and questions Taleb's reliance on DNA evidence.

    Yet more Dunkirk

    I was interested to watch the 2017 documentary "Dunkirk:  The New Evidence" on SBS last night.

    It's pretty good.   A couple of things relevant to the movie:

    *  the town of Dunkirk was a lot more damaged in real life than the movie depicted;
    *  the RAF was a lot more hated on the ground than even Nolan indicated - there was an interview with a veteran who still seemed to be resentful of them after all these years.  Yet the biggest point the documentary made was that the RAF was working hard both over the channel, and far behind enemy lines preventing a lot of German planes getting to the beach;  it was just that those stuck on the beach could not see what was going on high and skies and quite some distance from them.

    I recommend it.   See SBS on Demand.

    Sunday, August 06, 2017

    An optimistic take on education

    In an endeavour to get a teenage son interested in what he might do in tertiary education and future employment, my wife and I dragged him along to two recent University open days in Brisbane: last Sunday, it was QUT (Gardens Point), and today it was the University of Queensland.

    We sat in on a few talks at each, and wandered around marvelling (well, I did anyway) at the astounding amount of student friendly services (by way of food and other facilities) that are available at Universities like these today.

    I am old enough that I actually went to QUT before it was officially a university - back in the late seventies, early eighties.  Facilities then included one cafeteria (of dodgy quality - I rarely ate there), a licensed club that I didn't actually join (I was pretty much only a weekend drinker, and I wasn't in the clique of students who immediately took up membership), and a cinema which I recall going to once, and having to leave before the movie finished to catch a train.  It was pretty basic.

    The QUT campus is now dramatically different, and to my mind, extremely attractive.  Old Government House (which I seem to recall being under near continuous restoration back in my day) is still at its heart, and is now always open as a heritage site and a very attractive one at that. 

    It now has some great looking buildings and student facilities around it (I should have taken photos,) and the entire campus, though small in area, is full of trees and green spaces to a much greater degree than it did 35 (gosh) years ago.

    The University of Queensland is, by contrast, not as different from those days, by my reckoning.  Sure, it also has much better student facilities, but the look of the campus, which still has very large amounts of open space around it, has not changed to the same extent.

    But apart from appearances, I have to say that the impression gained from each talk we attended was a very positive one of the tertiary sector.  Sure, I guess Universities don't care for their worst lecturers or academics to be talking to the public and potential students at these events, but I still came away with the feeling that there is a much greater degree of professionalism in how universities teach and manage themselves these days.

    I also have continually had that feeling when interacting with my kids' State high school.   I went to a pretty ordinary one in a working class area, but I doubt it was all that unusual for the way it seemed some pretty disinterested teachers could still make a living putting in what seemed the bare minimum effort.

    That's really not the impression I get now - nearly all teachers in the State school system do genuinely seem much more professional and more enthusiastic than in my youth.     

    I won't say that I don't have some misgivings about modern education:  I'm sure I posted before about how it seems to me that maths education is too heavily "verbal" in primary school these days; and I also think that there is a tendency for high schools to chose too many "young adult" novels that don't have lasting qualities in english.

    But by and large, I think the education system has improved a great deal over my life time, and all the kvetching about it from the Right (and sometimes the Left) seems very undeserved.