Saturday, September 30, 2017

A well deserved corrective

I complained back in June about an article that appeared in the Fairfax weekend magazine that painted a very normalising picture of LSD use for recreational fun, and which contained only a mild warning of the possibility of a bad trip.

I am somewhat pleased to see that Fairfax is today running another article by the same writer, who appears to some degree to be making amends by telling the story of a Sydney teenager who had a very, very bad time with LSD.  His mother contacted the writer after reading his first article. 

It's better than nothing, and I liked the way it showed that precautions don't always work.  The teen in question (up to a point) tried to be careful - using a kit to check its purity, for example.   But perhaps it would have been better if Fairfax hadn't run the "it's all just a bit of mind expanding fun if done cautiously" original article.

On the Hefner death

A few observations:

a.  One suspects The Onion have been saving up this pun in their bottom drawer for years: 
Officials Investigating Hugh Hefner’s Death Suspect Foreplay
OK, it is pretty great as far as puns go.

b.   Helen Razor is, I reckon, by far the worst opinion writer in the land who still somehow manages to make the occasional buck doing it.   (She has her fans, bizarrely.)   I just can't stand her highly mannered, self  absorbed style, and I only occasionally look at it to awe at its awfulness.  She writes about Hefner's passing here, but you won't learn a thing, except that she's in ongoing psychiatric care, apparently.  (Which makes me feel a tiny bit guilty about attacking the quality of her work, but she's not a shy retiring petal, even though I wish she would retire.)

c.   There are umpteen articles around on the same theme - how do you judge his legacy when it's a balancing act between his liberalising and exploitative influence on attitudes to sex?   I think he deserves far more derision than praise; although I have to say, the UK culture of tolerance of topless page 3 girls in their tabloid papers - which started in 1970 in the Murdoch owned Sun (and, with his usual stunning lack of morals, it apparently upset him until he started counting the money it brought in) - was perhaps a worse exploitative thing than the high gloss Playboy.

Still rubbish after all these years

Having just looked at an article by a Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance fan at Philosophy Now, I remain as convinced as ever that the author's "metaphysics of quality" is a vastly overrated bit of opaque hooey.

That Cuban mystery

Rather remiss of me not to have posted earlier about the ongoing, very weird and rather science-fictiony, mystery of what's been happening with the American Cuban embassy, and why it makes little geopolitical sense why it is happening at all.  (Actually, mischief making Russia would seem to have more motivation than Cuba.)

This recent article at The Atlantic sums it up, and this article at The Guardian had a couple of experts talking about the potential use of ultrasound to cause illness.

I see that in another Atlantic article, there is even more worrying news:  Tillerson likes trash novelist Ayn Rand!:
Weaponization of sound was a plot point in the book that Secretary Tillerson has called his favorite, Ayn Rand’s 1957 novel Atlas Shrugged. In it, the federal science institute creates a weapon of mass destruction which deploys ultrasonic waves. The head of state uses the device to flatten a goat in a demonstration of power, and later to destroy the work of industrious private inventors, successfully stifling private-sector innovation.
Fire him at once.  Fondness for Rand = can never be trusted politically.

I see that Berg, Davidson & Potts are hard at work on their next blockchain essay

Have a read of their essay at Medium for an explanation.

Idle libertarian hands must do something to amuse themselves, and it seems RMIT is happy to indulge them.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Schrodinger: love cat/rat

I just noticed at Bee's blog that she did drew a card of famous physicist Schrodinger,  in which one of his claims to fame is noted as "practised open polyamory and got away with it."   Can't say that I recall reading that about him before. 

But, yeah, he was unconventional in his love life, and tuberculous didn't hold him back.  From a book "Great Physicists" we get the general picture:


For more detail on the menage a trois arrangement that lasted a long time, there's this summary:

Erwin Schrödinger ... lived in an open polyfamily: a ménage à trois with his wife Anny Bertel and partner Hilde March. They had the blessing of March's husband, the physicist Arthur March, who was himself a lover of Anny's. Together the three raised Erwin and Hilde's daughter, Ruth March.

Despite his brilliant career, world fame, and 1933 Nobel Prize in physics, Schrödinger was apparently rebuffed at Oxford and Princeton for his unconventional home life. Eventually, in 1940, the family settled in Ireland by the grace of the Irish prime minister (a mathematician).
His wife, Anny, had another lover apart from March, apparently:
...Schrödinger asked for a colleague, Arthur March, to be offered a post as his assistant with him where he went.

The request for March stemmed from Schrödinger's unconventional relationships with women: although his relations with his wife Anny were good, he had had many lovers with his wife's full knowledge (and in fact, Anny had her own lover, [the mathematician and physicist] Hermann Weyl). Schrödinger asked for March to be his assistant because, at that time, he was in love with March's wife Hilde.
Gee, it's a wonder that these physicists doing the great ground breaking work of the first half of the 20th century had the energy to come up with their insights, after all this bed-hopping.

Schrodinger's love of love was not without it's unfortunate consequences, though:
He kept a detailed log of his numerous sexual escapades, included a teen-aged girl he seduced and impregnated while acting as her math tutor. [Well, there he goes as a poster boy. –Ed.] He had children by at least three of his mistresses...
 And the reputation of a liking for the very young girls apparently followed him around:
However on a darker note, it also triggered “his fascination with young girls on the brink of adolescence.” And although Gribbin is careful to point out that Schrödinger never really acted on these urges, it was not always for lack of trying (he was once warned off a colleague’s 12-year-old daughter) and the fixation certainly is troubling.
Well, you can learn something disreputable every day, it seems...

Thursday, September 28, 2017

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away... would seem that a high energy cosmic ray started its trip towards Earth.

This science story from earlier this week is pretty interesting, as is the way high energy ray direction was worked out:
To spot enough of the extremely rare highest energy cosmic rays, a detector array has to be huge, however. Auger consist of 1660 particle detectors covering 3000 square kilometers, an area nearly the size of Rhode Island, in the Pampa Amarilla in Argentina. Each detector is a tank holding 12,000 liters of ultrapure water that produces a flash of light when struck by particles. In addition, four stations of telescopes overlook the ground detectors.

Spotting the sources of the most energetic rays was always going to be tough. Because they are electrically charged, cosmic rays swirl in the galaxy’s magnetic field. To point back toward their sources, they have to be so energetic that their paths do not curve too much. More common lower-energy cosmic rays—thought to emerge in the aftermath of supernova explosions in the Milky Way—curve so much in the galaxy’s magnetic field that they appear to come from all over the sky.

In spite of the difficulties, at first it seemed that Auger would find the sources of the higher-energy rays. It started taking data in 2004, and in 2007 Auger researchers announced that cosmic rays with energies above about 60 exa-electron volts (EeV) appeared to come from the fiery hearts of galaxies thought to contain supermassive black holes feeding on in-falling debris, so-called “active galactic nuclei.” However, that correlation has not held up as more data has come in. Moreover, Auger researchers had expected the highest energy cosmic rays to be light-weight protons, which bend less in magnetic fields. Instead, they have found that many of the rays consist of heavier nuclei, which curve more—making the job of figuring out their origin tougher.
 So this is what one cosmic ray detector looks like:

Kind of pleasingly mundane looking for science technology.

Catholics and Nietzsche, again

It was a Catholic acquaintance of mine, many years ago, who first alerted me to the fact that there was to some degree a sympathetic following amongst the religious to nutty old Nietzsche.   Here's an example of same from the Catholic Herald:  Is Nietzsche the antidote to the snowflake generation?

I'll quote one part, which perhaps explain why some Catholics think his views on Christianity can be downplayed:
Despite his enthusiasm for his subject, West is not overawed by him. He includes several humorous asides, such as “Nietzsche had much in common with Karl Marx – nationality, money problems, a duelling scar, imposing facial hair, disciples who understood the master very badly indeed…”

Shot through Get Over Yourself is Nietzsche’s loathing of Christianity. My criticism of the book in this respect is that West doesn’t place this hatred sufficiently within the context of Nietzsche’s upbringing within a stifling, narrow-minded, Prussian Lutheranism. He saw what Matthew Arnold also observed: the hypocrisy of outwardly respectable Christian habits, but bereft of the person of Christ. Essentially he inveighed against the late 19th century’s corruption of Christianity.

Boring daydream believer

Can someone pass on this message to Tim Blair?:  the endlessly repeated return to the fantasy of no government funded ABC for Australia is an incredible bore.  

Like climate change, it's time you learnt to face reality:   the ABC is trusted and its funding is popular.

Something to do with hedonism?

I reckon people will be puzzling over the reasons for this odd finding from a new drugs survey:
The analysis, to be released on Thursday, shows people who identify as homosexual or bisexual are six times more likely to use ecstasy or meth/amphetamine, which includes ice and speed, than heterosexual people.

"Homosexual and bisexual people were almost six times as likely as heterosexual people to use each of these drugs, and were also about four times as likely to use cocaine as heterosexual people and three times more likely to use cannabis or misuse pharmaceutical drugs," AIHW spokesman Matthew James said.
On the other hand, this is not so surprising, at least in regards to meth use:
The report found mental illnesses were becoming more prevalent among illicit drug users.

Among people who had used an illicit drug in the previous 12 months, about 27 per cent had been diagnosed with, or treated for, a mental illness, an increase from 21 per cent in 2013.

Mental illness rates were particularly high for ecstasy and meth/amphetamine users.

"In 2016, 42 per cent of meth/amphetamine users had a mental illness, up from 29 per cent in 2013, while the rate of mental illness among ecstasy users also rose from 18 per cent to 27 per cent," Mr James said.

"Drug use is a complex issue, and it's difficult to determine to what degree drug use causes mental health problems, and to what degree mental health problems give rise to drug use."
Those who tend to talk about ecstasy as a pretty harmless party drug have some explaining to do too.  (They'll probably just fall back on the self medicating excuse, like they have for decades on marijuana.) 

Simple life advice

Those who read climate change blogs will be aware that climate scientist and writer Andy Skuse recently died at a relatively young age (63, I think) from the spread of prostate cancer (ugh - men of my age really wish this disease was not so prone to controversy over testing and treatment), and many folk have linked to his touching post in which he disclosed that he didn't have long to go.  

The part that particularly resonated for me was this:
The certainty of a premature death focuses the mind. Strangely, at moments of acute stress, one sometimes feels the exhilarating sensation of living in the present moment—experiencing a beautiful, perfect, harmonic world—instant Zen mastery. But it is fleeting. Familiar mental attitudes reassert themselves. At least that’s what happens to me.

But one unexpected change is acquiring a lasting and enhanced appreciation for the humdrum, the everyday stuff of living, rather than the extraordinary experiences that we sometimes think ought to define our lives. As he died of cancer, the singer Warren Zevon advised: “Enjoy every sandwich.” It sounds trite, but it’s true.

Forget about bucket lists. Get used to replacing the thrill of new experiences with the intensity of doing ordinary things for perhaps the last time.
I think that's a good way to live, even without cancer.   And seeing he's talking about food, as I have said before, one good thing about these new fangled fasting diets is the intensity with which one appreciates the taste of any food that's in your meagre 600 calories a day.   But even when I am off the fasting wagon, as I am again at the moment, I do often notice the pleasure of many foods.   And things like the thrill of making a $1 razor cartridge last who knows how long?   :)

In grooming news

Back in June I advised the world that I had started using a very cheap version of one of those razor sharpening rubbery things (bought for $5 at Target, not one of the $20 or $30 overpriced ones at the Razor Shop.)

I'm still using the same cartridge (a generic brand one from Coles, made in Mexico), and it's getting up to 4 months' use now.

It definitely works.  Previously, after about a month, I could tell by the application of after shave that I was getting more micro nicks and scratches on my skin, and also could sometimes start cutting myself a little due to applying additional pressure.  None of that is happening.

I recently suggested to my children on the drive to school that I should set up a stall on the school grounds offering "Common sense advice" for $2, for things that modern teenagers seem to be missing out on from the current education system.   This would right up there in my list of life advice worth imparting. 

Yet more marriage talk

Must be same sex marriage that's making everyone talk about marriage more generally.

Peter Martin writes about its current state in Australia in an interesting article "Getting married is a surprisingly rational thing to do". 

The only I would dispute is that it is all that surprising.

He notes:
People who are married are, on average, happier than those who aren't. Until recently it was thought this might be because happy people got married rather than the other way around. The good news is that a detailed examination of British happiness surveys by two Canadian economists shows pretty clearly that, whether or not happy people get married, they do indeed become more happy after marriage. It had been thought that happiness blast didn't last – that married couples lost the sparkle after two to five years. Married couples do indeed become less happy over time, the researchers find, but that happens to everyone of marriageable age. The important finding is that at every age, married people are on average happier than ones who aren't married.
As for evidence about what makes marriages last, he notes from some research:
They find that what helps most is being similar. Couples who are close in age have less than half the risk of separation as couples where the man is nine or more years older. Couples with different views about whether or not to have children are twice as likely to split. Couples where the man is much better educated than the woman are 70 per cent more likely to split. If one partner smokes and the other doesn't, separation is 75 to 95 per cent more likely. If the woman drinks more than the man, separation is two-thirds more likely.

What each partner brings with them matters too. If they bring low incomes, they are twice as likely to split. If the husband is or becomes unemployed, they are three times as likely to split. If one or both of the partners have divorced parents, they are 60 to 85 per cent more likely to split. If one or both brings with them children from earlier relationships, they are two thirds more likely. Differences in race and religion turn out not to matter at all.
Over at The Conversation, meanwhile, there is some surprising research discussed which indicates this:
Our new data analysis finds parents with daughters are slightly more likely to separate than those with sons, but only during the teenage years. And it’s the strained relationship between parents and their daughters that might bring a couple to the breaking point.

Our working paper studied more than 2 million marriages in The Netherlands over ten years and shows that divorce risks increase with children’s ages until they reach adulthood – with parents of teenage daughters at greater risk. However, this risk disappears in cases where the fathers themselves grew up with a sister.
There's more:
The effect peaks at age 15, when the risk faced by parents with daughters is almost 10% higher than the risk faced by parents with sons. In the following years, the differences narrow again, and they disappear once the child turns 19. A similar pattern is also found among second-born and subsequent children.

Although no causal link could be established from the Dutch data, the higher divorce rates might be explained by strained relationships between young women and their parents.

The increased odds of divorce from teenage daughters aren’t unique to Dutch married couples – we find the same association for Dutch couples in de facto relationships, and for married couples in the US. In fact, we find that both of these groups face considerably higher increases of divorce odds from teenage daughters, compared to Dutch married couples.
I have a teenage son and a younger teenage daughter:  I can tell them tonight over dinner that he's a protective effect on the marriage.   I think she'll find that idea pretty funny.

And as for same sex marriage, I suppose I should note another article at The Conversation that is rather bland and says that same sex marriage makes the same economic sense to the couples as does heterosexual marriage.  No surprise there. 

With this generally positive publicity for marriage, I'm expecting that any day now Jason will be asking Homer to officiate at his. 

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

How to make people marry?

I suppose the "yes to SSM" people will say this is an irony:   that social conservatives who don't care for SSM nonetheless keep pointing to the association of no marriage to poor economic outcomes in the US in particular (and I would guess, to a lesser degree, in Australia too), and wish that more people would marry for that reason.    But, it's hardly a valid point - the percentage of gay marriages out of the total number of weddings appears to be around 2% in the UK, for example, and I have the distinct impression that gay marriage anywhere is primarily a middle class and up thing in any event.

I'm talking about this because of this article in The Atlantic, talking about research looking into the question of how much difference good quality education really does make to poverty and economic mobility in the US.  The result was a bit surprising (if it holds up, I guess):
Using data from several national surveys, Rothstein sought to scrutinize Chetty’s team’s work—looking to further test their  hypothesis that the quality of a child’s education has a significant impact on her ability to advance out of the social class into which she was born.

Rothstein, however, found little evidence to support that premise. Instead, he found that differences in local labor markets—for example, how similar industries can vary across different communities—and marriage patterns, such as higher concentrations of single-parent households, seemed to make much more of a difference than school quality. He concludes that factors like higher minimum wages, the presence and strength of labor unions, and clear career pathways within local industries are likely to play more important roles in facilitating a poor child’s ability to rise up the economic ladder when they reach adulthood.

For Rothstein, there’s no reason to assume that improving schools will be necessary or sufficient for improving someone’s economic prospects. “We can’t educate people out of this problem,” he says.

His work, like Chetty’s, is not causal—meaning Rothstein is not able to identify exactly what explains the underlying variation in his economic model. Nevertheless, his work helps to provide researchers and policymakers with a new set of background facts to investigate, and signals that perhaps they should be reconsidering some of their existing ideas. (Both Raj Chetty and his co-author Nathaniel Hendren declined to comment for this story.)

Jose Vilson, a New York City math teacher, says educators have known for years that out-of-school factors like access to food and healthcare are usually bigger determinants for societal success than in-school factors. He adds that while he tries his best to adhere to his various professional duties and expectations, he also recognizes that “maybe not everyone agrees on what it means to be successful” in life.
The article goes on to note that this is goes against the grain of what politicians (of both sides) like to claim, but at least those on the Left (who probably tend to make the biggest claims on the importance of education) can point to other things that they support as being helpful:
As a stronger explanation, Steinbaum points to the rise of  “interfirm inequality,” a phenomenon in which even workers with very similar education histories, ages, and industries make very different amounts of money depending on which firms they work for.

Meanwhile, other studies have suggested that differences in local labor markets can affect economic outcomes and upward mobility. For example, in 2015, the left-leaning Center for American Progress, in conjunction with the economists Richard Freeman and Eunice Han, published a report building on Chetty’s work and found that union membership seems to be another critical factor helping poor people escape poverty. The researchers went beyond Chetty’s regional-level analysis to compare outcomes between individual union and nonunion households. They found that low-income children who grew up with parents in unions earned more as adults than the children of nonunion parents. They concluded that making it easier for individuals to collectively bargain would likely help boost economic mobility.
Anyway, the marriage point:   I guess the problem is a bit chicken and egg as to whether there is any causal relationship between it and poverty.  But everyone does feel in their gut, don't they?, that less single parenthood and fathers having the motivation of providing for a family they live with every day must be a healthy thing for how well off a family does, and the economy more broadly.  But how do you make it happen?  

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Brain light

I always thought that those animations of the brain and neurons you see on science shows, the ones where there are like flashes of light in neurons, were just fanciful illustrations of electrical type signalling.

But I seem to have missed that there is something called biophotons, which have been known about for some time, even if their purpose (if any) was unknown.  Here's some information from a recent article about them:
Here’s an interesting question: are there optical communication channels in the brain? This may be a radical suggestion but one for which there is more than a little evidence to think it is worth pursuing.

Many organisms produce light to communicate, to attract mates, and so on. Twenty years ago, biologists discovered that rat brains also produce photons in certain circumstances. The light is weak and hard to detect, but neuroscientists were surprised to find it at all.

Since then, the evidence has grown. So-called biophotons seem to be produced naturally in the brain and elsewhere by the decay of certain electronically excited molecular species. Mammalian brains produce biophotons with wavelength of between 200 and 1,300 nanometers—in other words, from near infrared to ultraviolet.

If cells in the brain naturally produce biophotons, it’s natural to ask whether nature may have taken advantage of this process to transmit information. For that to happen, the photons must be transmitted from one place to another, and that requires some kind of waveguide, like an optical fiber. So what biological structure could perform that function?

Today we get an answer of sort thanks to the work of Parisa Zarkeshian at the University of Calgary in Canada and a few pals. They've studied the optical characteristics of axons, the long thread-like parts of nerve cells, and conclude that photon transmission over centimeter distances seems entirely feasible inside the brain.

Virtually here

For my recent birthday, I was pleased to receive a relatively cheap VR headset to use with my new Moto G5 Plus phone (which I had specifically bought because it had a gyro sensor, which is necessary for VR use.  I am very happy with the phone as a phone, by the way.)

As for this exciting new world of Virtual Reality more or less in my pocket:   it's pretty impressive, even if a bit like looking at the world in standard definition instead of 4K.

I've only tried a few apps so far.  The rollercoaster videos I've seen are a bit meh:  for the best experience of that, drop into the Samsung shop like I did recently and sit in their motion chairs while watching the rollercoaster video.  That really gives a strong sensation.  (My daughter, sitting in the chair beside me, said she felt like taking it off while climbing up the clickerty first slope.    We're both a bit chicken about rollercoasters - I knew what she met.)

But some other 360 degree content on Youtube is pretty good.  I especially enjoyed the Experience the Blue Angels in 360 Degree Video put on there by USA today.   It's very cool to be able to turn your head around and look at the guy behind you, and up through and all around the cockpit.  (I've done it - flown in an F18 - in real life, so it was a bit like re-living it.)

Even if it's not in 360 degree mode, watching some of the videos I had taken on my phone was pretty interesting too.  It blew them up in a way that I had to turn my head to see all of what was going on at the periphery.   (You can use an app to change the setting of how big the videos appear.)

There is increasing content being put out there with the 360 aspect.  Not all of it makes that much sense - in some animation I was watching, there really was no point in looking away from where the director wanted you to watch, even though you could. [Update:  I see now too that I can download the Cardboard Camera app to let me take 360 degree photos.   Cool.  I think.]

I was also wondering about future uses.  I can imagine it being helpful for preserving the sanity of the confined - astronauts on the long trip to Mars, perhaps?   And as for those who have thought of  administering psychedelics to the dying (that's how Aldous Huxley went out, apparently - but how would you know it would be a "good" trip at this key point when you would surely regret giving them a nightmarish one?), I presume they will be thinking of adding this device with some trippy app as well.

So, overall, it's pretty fun and exciting, and I recommend that, if you don't have it already, make sure your next phone has a gyro sensor so you can experiment with this.

(Even you, Homer.  You can do some virtual cricket stuff, or something.   Explore the inside of Shane Warne's empty head in 360 degrees, perhaps?)

Monday, September 25, 2017

Many laughs were had

I chose a few things to watch with my son over the weekend, and they were all a success:

What We Do in the Shadows:   probably the last thing I will view on Stan before un-subscribing.  (Netflix conquers all.)   This New Zealand mockumentary from a few years ago about a group of vampires flatsharing a house in Wellington got better reviews than I realised, and it is very enjoyable in its silly way.   I don't know why, but the line "Remember, we're werewolves, not swearwolves"  delivered by Rhys Darby struck me as particularly memorable.

The Good Place:   a Netflix sitcom that good reviews, and from the first episode, I can see why.   The set up:  a woman who has led a less than exemplary life ends up in heaven, but realises she must have got there by some sort of mistake.  What to do about it?   Looks like a sizeable budget and charming acting by all concerned.  

Mystery Science Theatre 3000:  the Netflix revival of a popular US show from the 80's and 90's which I never saw.     (I don't think it ever got a run on Australian television, and I forget where I did see a bit of a episode but not enough to understand why it had a following.)   I see now that there are lots of the old episodes on Youtube.

Look, it's all a bit hit and miss, the quips made while watching atrocious old science fiction movies, but the ones that hit can make you laugh a lot, and the stunningly poor quality of the movie featured last night ("Reptilicus", a Danish [!] 1961 monster movie) was a sight to behold.

My son found the framing comedy in the space station very cringeworthy (some of it sort of is), but he ended up admitting that overall it was pretty funny.   I think it might be even funnier under the influence of just the right amount of alcohol:  future experiments may be held in that regard.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

In more recently viewed Colbert

I hadn't really bothered to follow the Equifax hacking scandal in the US, so if you are like me and didn't realise how bad the company had behaved, do yourself a favour and what the very funny Colbert explanation:

Now for a nice post about same sex marriage

I have to say, if one is inclined towards making out the conservative case for same sex marriage, this recent video of gay actor Jim Parsons talking to Colbert about how getting married to his partner of 15 years did make him feel different is pretty good stuff:

Colbert himself is always charming when talking about his marriage and family (there's a video out there where he tells his studio audience, before taping a show, the story of how he met his wife, and it's really good.)  

Going back to Parsons, what he says does match with something that I heard from a relative who did some work as a civil marriage celebrant for a while after she retired from her full time job.  She said when marrying couples who have been living together for some time (as most are these days), it was often the partner who claimed to be the most nonchalant about the significance of getting married who turned out to be the most emotional on the day.  

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Bashing Tony Abbott, and Tim Blair

Gee, if it weren't for the ABC and immature Lefties to complain about, Tim Blair would have trouble finding fodder for more than a couple of blog posts a week.  He's managed to get 4 posts out of the not terribly effective attack on Tony Abbott by the weirdo anarchist:  yes, the Left is crammed full of violent ratbags cheering on horrendous violence on the just and righteous Right, which doesn't have a violent bone in its body.

He seems to overlook that people mightn't feel all that much shame in finding this incident just a bit funny, because:

a.  it's not as if there was any sign of actual injury on Tone's face the next day - which isn't to say that the attempt to do him worse injury wasn't an action to condemn (as every politician from any side of politics immediately did) - but it did mean that the Tweeters that have stirred Blair weren't making fun of an incident that clearly cause the victim much pain.  One suspects that if it involved blood, stitches or a black eye, fewer people would be game to tweet in support of the attacker;

b.  the funniest thing - because it is so unexpected - is that a weird, scary looking assailant goes on TV, admits to the crime and indicates he regrets not doing a better job.    I mean, come on, he's an idiot.  Idiots acting out with no sense of what's in their best interest are pretty funny.

Anyway, what's become pathetic about Tim Blair (and this goes for Bolt too - in spades) is the pure unadulterated one sidedness of his chosen role - regardless of whether he was on holidays or not, not a word on his blog about the great visuals of a torch bearing march of (mainly) white dudes at Charlottesville, armed militia wandering the streets of the same town and worrying the local Synagogue, followed by a President who was mainly concerned about blaming "both sides"; but some twits on Twitter support an idiot who tried to head butt a politician here, and this is meant to show that the problem with political violence is all a Leftist one?

As I have noted many times, including yesterday, the pure Right threads of Catallaxy have for years had some regulars opining that its going to take an armed uprising to set things aright in this country, or the US.   Jokes are routinely made about how many people it would take to be shot to get small government and low taxes in place, and no one blinks an eye. 

Yeah, yeah, we get it Tim:   you can find hypocrisy and idiots on the Left side of politics.

Why don't you look at the morons and the objectionable comments they make your own side for once, instead of just standing by and making a buck by pandering to them?

Friday, September 22, 2017

A peculiar piece

There's an article at the New York Times written by a black gay man entitled My struggle to take Anti-Hiv medication.    I think people should find it odd.

First, there's no doubt that he's had much misfortune in his life:
My father was convicted of manslaughter and sent to prison in 1989, where he contracted H.I.V. No one in my family is exactly sure how. In 1991, six months after he returned home, he died. Less than two years later, my mother also died. I was only 7.

I don’t remember my parents in any great detail, but I do remember that people in our rural South Carolina community ostracized my sister and me once they learned our parents were H.I.V. positive. One parent even transferred her daughter out of my second-grade class.
He goes on to explain that he was put off asking for this HIV prophylactic drug by the first doctor he asked:
I was 27 when I first worked up the nerve to ask my doctor for a PrEP prescription. I was there for my fifth annual H.I.V. test, and I’ll never forget the look of disgust on her face as she told me why I wasn’t a candidate for the drug: I didn’t engage in “reckless sex” and I wasn’t a “druggie.” She was white and her tone was so thick with judgment that it made my skin crawl. I quickly dropped the subject. 
Five years later, with a more sympathetic doctor, he did go on it, but this is where it gets odd:
Instead of telling me why I wasn’t right for the drug, we spent the time talking about why I felt that I needed it. I had promised my parents that I would take every precaution against H.I.V., so I put enormous pressure on myself to take it. Plus, it let me be extra cautious about my health and my partner’s health. After our conversation, he tested me for H.I.V. and wrote me a prescription.
Promised his parents posthumously, I assume he means?  Anyway, having obtained the drug:
My first few weeks on PrEP, I felt fine. Every morning at 8 a.m. my cellphone chimed with a reminder for me to take my pill. I even began to develop a subtle sense of pride in knowing that although I was having sex only with my partner, I was upholding my word to my parents.

But as the one-month mark approached, I began to have serious doubts about why I was taking PrEP. After all, I wasn’t having sex with men other than my partner; same for him. We still used condoms, despite having been together for several years.

I recognize that PrEP is effective and agree that it should be available to people who want to take it. But after about a month of taking it off and on, I just stopped. I couldn’t get over the psychological barrier that somehow I was weakening my body by training myself to rely on pills. Instead, my partner and I decided to take the precautions we’re comfortable with.
Um, unless his partner was already HIV positive (or on medication for it), and this is never stated as being the case, the only implication seems to be that he took it because he cannot trust his partner to be true to his promise that he isn't sleeping around with other men.  Or, perhaps, that he couldn't keep his own promise to his partner - who he has been with for several years?

He points out that blacks have historical reasons to be wary of the medical establishment, and notes:
Retention rates for PrEP are deplorable — one study showed usage in Mississippi dropped by 15 percent over a three-month period — and it’s clear to me why. I had guilt and carried emotional baggage. I also felt alone in my journey. There was no PrEP community that I could find with which I could share my anxieties, no PrEP “sponsor” to call and discuss my night terrors or fatigue.
Is it possible that low retention rates indicate confidence that a partner found is HIV negative and faithful?   Not after 3 months, I guess.

Really, the article just seems to re-enforce something about the expectations of a gay lifestyle - that they have very low expectations of their partners - or themselves? - managing to have sexually exclusive relationships even if they promise to do so.

The conservative case for gay marriage is supposed to be about treating gay men similarly to how straight men behave - but honestly, how many heterosexual men (or women) have the expectation that they are at risk of contracting an STD from a steady girlfriend or boyfriend if they have started sleeping together (and assuming they don't have one from the start)?   Very, very few, I would say.   It's pretty much a natural expectation of fidelity that does not even need stating.  But in the gay community, it seems that it is quite the reverse, and few people think that is unreasonable.

The matter of exclusivity in relationships is one where a vast difference still lies between the heterosexual and homosexual communities.

Decline and Fall

(Before I start - Jason, I wouldn't have picked you for a Waugh fan.  I was quite surprised.)

Anyway, Crikey has an amusing free article up noting the descent of Mark Latham, who I was annoyed to see turning up on Sunrise this morning.  

The entertainer, part 2

Look, perhaps JC, who visits here sometimes, can try telling "struth" to get on the antidepressants, or take some professional counselling, or something.  Here's part of his unhinged performance for today:

JC, stop ignoring these paranoid, depressed twits who share forum space with you and only find solace in imagining that an armed uprising will set Australia back on the path of true righteousness and wealth.   It's a very unhealthy place if you let them encourage each other that they aren't nuts.

Stop motion Wes

I've said before that Wes Anderson's artistic sensibilities seem best suited to a cinema medium where he can control absolutely everything - stop motion animation.   (I haven't seen all of his films, but Fantastic Mr Fox remains my favourite thus far.)

Here's his next stop motion effort, which looks good, but has that slightly concerning aspect of whether he will do Japanese culture justice:

Reason not to trust competitive swimmers

Via NPR, I was linked to an article in Chemical and Engineering News, talking about the smelly and unhealthy disinfection by-products (DBPs) of chlorinated swimming pools:
But the biggest contributor to DBPs in pools is urine. Researchers estimate that swimming pools contain an average of 30 to 80 mL of urine for each person that’s jumped in. Some of that is released accidentally or without the person realizing.

But for elite swimmers, peeing in the pool is an accepted part of the culture. Eldridge, the Masters swimmer, confirms that peeing in pools is commonplace in elite competitive swimming. It’s a frequent topic of conversation and joking among swimmers.

Practices can last for hours, Eldridge says, and swimmers chug water during stops between intervals. Swimmers rarely leave the pool during that time. “Do you really think that all these people in the pool, exerting at the level they are, drinking as much as they are, don’t have to pee in two hours?” she asks.
Olympic swimmers Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte have both been captured on video admitting to peeing in the pool and seeing nothing wrong with it. A quick YouTube search turns up multiple such videos highlighting their cavalier attitudes.

Hero Jimmy

I just got around to watching the Jimmy Kimmel videos in which he attacks Senator Cassidy for his claims about what he would insist on in Obamacare repeal, and it is a very impressive performance.

The follow up, where he puts the boot into that Fox News host is equally refreshing.

You can watch the first video with some commentary at Slate, and the follow up also is also there.

It is incredible, from here, to see how dire Republican politics has become in the United States.   How can they be so hell bent on repeal of such a key area of government policy with so little care for the details of what it is being replaced with? 

Kimmel is being praised all over the mainstream media for his stance, and he deserves it. 

Who would have thought, watching him years ago on the Man Show (which presumably made more than a few feminist liberals grind their teeth - although I think it was, basically, good natured) that he would become such a liberal hero?   

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Modern reproduction

Well, this is news to me.   Via an article from QUT entitled
What motivates men to donate sperm online?
 (no, the answer is not pornography), I've learnt that such do it yourself on line services exist.  (Sure, sperm banks have been around for a long time, but we're talking about a non commercial system here.)

This one, Pride Angel, is English based, and as the name suggests, seems designed mainly to cater to gay and lesbian couples who want to reproduce but don't have all the right equipment at hand, so to speak.  Single women can use it too, though.  They'll sell you the "insemination kit", too.

I have no doubt that gay couples can be good parents, and I feel that those who adopt or foster any child with health or behavioural problems who are difficult to place with families are positively praiseworthy.

On the other hand, it will be a long time before I can see that the commodification of child creation by gay, lesbian, or straight people via these methods as normal and unobjectionable.

Update:  didn't I once write here that the image of the stork delivering babies was a premonition of the future in which semen would be flown around the cities by drones for immediate use for people using a service like this?    I think I did...Yes, I did back in 2013.  (I've been having odd thoughts for longer than I remembered.)

A familiar title

Helen Dale's apparently going to get her ex-boss David Leyonhjelm (Mr Glum now that he doesn't swing as much power as he used to in the Senate) to launch her new book The Kingdom of the Wicked in a couple of weeks' time.

Googling the title to see if there were any early reviews (there aren't), I was suddenly reminded that it shares the title with a (not very widely read, I think) later novel by Anthony Burgess, also set at the time of Christ, and which I actually once started to read, but quickly abandoned as not being to my taste.

I guess it is a generic sounding title for a Roman historical novel (or an alternative history one - which I think her's is), and it does have a subtitle (threatening that it's a series), but I still think a different title might have been a better idea given some of the literary controversies in her past...

To someone who never visits...

Happy birthday, apparently, to:

Philippa Martyr, whose photo here I took from her own blog, so I assume it's up to date...

(I shouldn't be rude, given she recently nearly met her Maker, were it not for the government funded medical care which she now, as a self identifying Catholic libertarian* - excuse me while I roll my eyes - presumably thinks should have been a private facility.) 

*  secular libertarians are annoying enough;  Catholic libertarians are even bigger fantasists who I find all the more annoying.

An updated graph of some consequence

Endorsement by reliable idiot is a sign of a bad movie

I've never watched the first Kingsman movie - the enthusiasm with which it was endorsed by wingnuts for its political incorrectness was a good warning sign, as well as several reviews which indicated to me that I really would not like anything by its director - so I am somewhat pleased that the second is receiving a lukewarm response from the critics. 

And here is more confirmation than I would have thought possible that it must be objectionable on all levels - a thorough endorsement by Breitbart's British village idiot James Delingpole, whose science comprehension level of a 12 year old naughty boy who wasn't paying attention in class indicates taste in movies of a similar immaturity.  

Indian rubber

The BBC has a story about a festival in India, and its connection to increased condom sales:
Many years ago, a young woman who had just moved from the Gujarati city of Ahmedabad to Delhi, told me about the "fun" they had during Navratri - the festival of nine nights.

It's a time when even the most conservative parents adopt a somewhat relaxed attitude and teenagers and young unmarried men and women are allowed to stay out until late in the night, participating in the traditional garba dances held at hotels, banquet halls, parks and private farmhouses.

Since the late 1990s, there have been reports that during the festival, youngsters often throw caution to the wind, indulge in unprotected sex, and two months later, there's a spike in the rate of pregnancy and many land up at clinics seeking abortions.

Although many long-time residents of Gujarat insist that these reports are hugely exaggerated and maybe even a figment of overactive imaginations, the fact remains that over the years, doctors and health workers have flagged up the issue and state authorities have expressed their concerns.

There have been attempts to encourage young people to practice safe sex and reports say that revellers, in many cases girls or young women, are shedding their inhibitions to buy condoms.

Jaswant Patel, chairman of the Federation of Gujarat State Chemists and Druggists Associations, says over the past 10 years, he's seen the sale of condoms go up by at least 30% during the festival period.
"Condoms are sold not just at chemists and general stores, they are stocked at even corner shops that sell paan (betel leaf) and most of the buyers there are teenagers and college students," Mr Patel told the BBC.

But despite the increase in condom sales, Dr Ruby Mehta, a gynaecologist who's run a clinic in Ahmedabad for the past 20 years, says a spike in teenage pregnancies after the festival has continued.

The expected clarification

The authors of the "1.5 degrees is still possible" paper should have been more careful in their PR about it - the misrepresentation was entirely predictable.  But here's their response to some of the media coverage anyway:
A number of media reports have asserted that our recent study in Nature Geoscience indicates that global temperatures are not rising as fast as predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and hence that action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is no longer urgent.

Both assertions are false.

Our results are entirely in line with the IPCC’s 2013 prediction that temperatures in the 2020s would be 0.9-1.3 degrees above pre-industrial (See figures 2c and 3a of our article which show the IPCC prediction, our projections, and temperatures of recent years).

What we have done is to update the implications for the amount of carbon dioxide we can still emit while expecting global temperatures to remain below the Paris Climate Agreement goal of 1.5 degrees. We find that, to likely meet the Paris goal, emission reductions would need to begin immediately and reach zero in less than 40 years’ time.

While that is not geophysically impossible, to suggest that this means that measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are now unnecessary is clearly false.

Poor Mexico

Mexico is having a rough, what, 40 years, isn't it?   A country particularly prone to natural disasters, as well as the misfortune of being next door to rich and callous drug dealers and users of the United States, I've been feeling sorry for the place for some years now. 

I've also been increasingly interested in visiting it, as the TV shows I've seen over the last year or two make it look particularly interesting, from the spectacular ruins to the lively version of Catholicism.  Does this sound odd - but I've also noticed how much I like Mexican characters when used as comic sidekicks - Guillermo on Jimmy Kimmel's show, for example; or Pedro in Napolean Dynamite.  I think it's the comic use of stoicism that appeals.

And it's stoicism that they really need a lot of at the moment.

Come on, how can this be avoided

Look, you don't have to be a woman or gay man to observe that when Melania Trump turns up on TV with an outfit like this:

or, from early on in her current role, this:

it's an unavoidable conclusion - she has terrible fashion sense, and (I would guess) just lets designers convince her that wacky is good.

And as for the weird behaviour between Donald and her - if anything like this had happened between Obama and Michelle, you would not have heard the end of it for a month on the wingnut sites:

Alternative nostril stuff

A doctor at The Atlantic cast a somewhat cynical eye at Hillary's promotion of alternative nostril breathing, but ends on a non judgemental note:
I don’t believe that antianxiety rituals need sound physiologic rationale. CNN later dove into the “studies” that have been done on alternate-nostril breathing, which mostly involve 20-some subjects and are published in places like International Journal of Yoga, which conceivably has some degree of pro-yoga bias.

These sorts of rituals work because we believe they work. Alternate-nostril breathing affects the circulatory system by way of the nervous system—by calming a person down through distraction and a sense of control. In the case of Clinton, the control is over a body that was falsely said to suffer from illnesses by conspiracy-minded “doctors” who swore that she had Parkinson’s disease, and judged by a nation for her clothing and appearance and smile or lack thereof, while her male opponent was allowed to never smile and to brag about using his status to coerce women to “let” him assault them, and the news dismissed it as “explicit sex talk,” and even evangelical Christian leadership said it “ranks pretty low on their hierarchy of concerns.”

And so it helps to breathe in through one nostril, and then exhale, and then breathe out through the other. And then repeat. It helps if your eyes are closed.
Which reminds me - has any wingnut doctor, or commentator, ever apologised for the relentless on line rubbish they pushed during the campaign that Clinton was virtually at death's door?  

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Credibility completely blown

Nassim Taleb needs help, not only for his hyper aggressiveness on Twitter, but for his extraordinary lack of fashion shame, too:

The entertainer

I've noted before, this paranoid regular at Catallaxy is (from what I can gather) an outback pub entertainer.  I trust that he doesn't tell jokes as part of his act.   Probably plays the guitar and looks to have a drink afterwards with any local redneck who'll listen to him complain about how completely and utterly stuffed is the country that hasn't had a recession for 26 years:

The Rudd/Gillard wars all over again

It's kind of incredible that the Coalition is undergoing the same destabilising turmoil that happened with Rudd and Gillard - with the only difference being that Abbott is so thick he doesn't seem to realise that the public doesn't want him back:
Former prime minister Tony Abbott has threatened to cross the floor of Parliament and vote against any move to introduce a clean-energy target, describing as "unconscionable" any move to wind back support for coal in favour of renewables.
Given that the Turnbull government, due to that pesky constitutional problem, is hanging on by a thread anyway, it must seem particularly odious to him that Abbott would be talking up instability in his own government.

Abbott's reputation as a PM is already near rock bottom.  This is only making it worse, if that is possible.

Hearing the completely wrong message, of course

Hey, JC, you are completely wrong, of course.

It was predictable that any paper that says "maybe we can still limit global warming to 1.5 to 2 degrees because it seems to us that models have been running a bit 'hot'" would be interpreted by twits like you as "the models are all wrong, and this is fantastic everything is going to stop at 1.5 degrees".

Are you typical of traders?  Because if so, it seems to show that traders can have the analytical abilities of a 10 year old and still be able to make a living. It's quite surprising to me, in a way.

Anyway, to better educate yourself (yes I know - as if) on what the paper means, try reading ATTP with his succinct list of doubts about the paper, which will no doubt be expanded upon by others over the next few days.  Many scientists in the field are skeptical about the methods used to reach their conclusion, and it's actually not hard to understand why, even at this stage.  

Then try David Roberts at Vox on this, and his explanation of how the new paper, even if correct, is like this:
It’s like we’re starting a 100-mile marathon, and we’ve got to read a book while we’re running, but we also need to build upper-body strength, so we’re holding the book with one hand and lifting a barbell with the other, and by the way, we’ve never run farther than 10 miles.

Now, along comes this new paper that says, effectively, “Hey, the marathon is only 99 miles!”

That’s ... nice and all. It’s great that what we need to do is not geophysically impossible, merely more difficult than anything humanity has ever done before, by multiples.
I reckon the reason the authors of the new paper might like to sound optimistic of the implications is because they recognise that one lukewarmer argument is the defeatist one that it is already too late to do anything about emissions, and we may as well forget about them and work out how to do geoengineering as the only possible solution.

But always, always, the danger in any paper revising in any way what they think the models mean is that people like you will say "see, the climate scientists were always wrong and now admit that it's all rubbish and everything is going to be fine".  It's the completely wrong message to take, but you're ideologically motivated to hear it wrong. 

As it happens, everyone else at Catallaxy is too high on the red cordial of Trump at the UN, so they don't seem to be showing much interest anyway.  

Truly, the Right of politics has never been more globally dangerous.

Update:  And here is the proper perspective, from some of the new paper's authors (my bold, to make it easier for comprehension challenged traders to follow):
In a study published in Nature Geoscience, we and our international colleagues present a new estimate of how much carbon budget is left if we want to remain below 1.5℃ of global warming relative to pre-industrial temperatures (bearing in mind that we are already at around 0.9℃ for the present decade).

We calculate that by limiting total CO₂ emissions from the beginning of 2015 to around 880 billion tonnes of CO₂ (240 billion tonnes of carbon), we would give ourselves a two-in-three chance of holding warming to less than 0.6℃ above the present decade. This may sound a lot, but to put it in context, if CO₂ emissions were to continue to increase along current trends, even this new budget would be exhausted in less than 20 years 1.5℃ (see Climate Clock). This budget is consistent with the 1.5℃ goal, given the warming that humans have already caused, and is substantially greater than the budgets previously inferred from the 5th Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), released in 2013-14....

The emissions reductions required to stay within this budget remain extremely challenging. CO₂ emissions would need to decline by 4-6% per year for several decades. There are precedents for this, but not happy ones: these kinds of declines have historically been seen in events such as the Great Depression, the years following World War II, and during the collapse of the Soviet Union – and even these episodes were relatively brief.

Yet it would be wrong to conclude that greenhouse emissions can only plummet during times of economic collapse and human misery. Really, there is no historical analogy to show how rapidly human societies can rise to this challenge, because there is also no analogy for the matrix of problems (and opportunities) posed by climate change.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

We need better quality conservatives

Do you remember that when same sex marriage was being debated in France in 2013 there were sizeable street protests?   I see from this rather fascinating piece in The Economist that it has only just gone through Germany's Parliament, and an Archbishop was able to make this (to my mind, quite reasonable) statement:
AS YOU might expect, Germany’s Catholic hierarchs were less than thrilled when legislators voted on June 30th, by 393 votes to 226, to legalise same-sex marriage. Archbishop Heiner Koch of Berlin was one of many top clerics who voiced the church’s view that a distinction between civil partnership, for gay couples, and marriage, for heterosexual ones, ought to be kept. The decision to do away with it, he grumbled,
abandons the differentiated perception of various forms of partnership in order to stress the value of same-sex partnerships...Differentiation isn’t discrimination, and same-sex cohabitation can be valued through other institutional arrangements without opening up the legal institute of marriage.
The article goes on to note the differences in conservative issues between the two countries:
The very fact that German bishops insist they see some value in same-sex partnerships (so long as they are not described as marriage) might be surprising to an American who is accustomed to tooth-and-nail culture wars.

In France, gay marriage became law in May 2013. Street protests by social conservatives, including four huge rallies in Paris within six months, failed to stop the change. But they made history nonetheless, as unexpectedly large social and political phenomena.

True to the movement’s name—Manif pour Tous (Protest for All)—the French gatherings brought together a broad coalition. Some came from the political right and far-right: there were well-heeled Catholics from posh parts of Paris, poorer ones from the provinces and some Muslims. Some supporters even spoke the language of the anti-capitalist left, arguing that gay adoptions and surrogacy might lead to a heartless market in embryos. To some extent, the movement simply capitalised on the general unpopularity of François Hollande, then the Socialist president.
Germany, too, has seen street demonstrations in imitation of the French ones, under an identical banner, Demo für Alle. As in France, the rallies have received discreet encouragement from politicians and clerics. But the German assemblies (focused in particular on moves to liberalise education about sex and gender) have been smaller, and they have drawn counter-demonstrations. It is still possible that same-sex marriage will be contested in Germany, on grounds that it violates the constitution. But the argument will be conducted in the courts, not on the streets.

This Franco-German contrast seems paradoxical. Although each country comprises a wide spectrum of opinion, German social norms are in some ways more conservative than French ones. (Take the issue of abortion. Although both countries have quite liberal regimes for terminating a pregnancy up to 12 weeks, the German one lays down that women must have counselling—in which they are told that fetuses have rights—before undergoing the procedure. That would be hard to imagine in France.)
Some reasons for the French-German difference are clear enough. Any popular street movement that shades into the far-right feels toxic in Germany, more so than in France, for the obvious historical reasons.
The differences in how social conservatism manifests in both countries are interesting, but my broader point (admittedly made from afar and without direct knowledge of how conservative spokespersons present in the media there)  is that it seems to appear in not only a more aggressive, but also a more articulate and less embarrassing form, over there than it does here. 

I should  make allowance for the lack of direct knowledge, and as this article makes clear,  France  on the issue was politically in its own peculiar world.   But I still get the feeling that I am onto something here. 

For me, of course, (but really, how can any intelligent person disagree?) a key reason why I can't respect the social conservatives here more broadly is the stupidity with which they follow the lead of those in the US who are determined to disbelieve in climate change and resist a sensible economic response to it.  If you can't be sensible on that matter, how can you be seen to be sensible on anything?  

And it's true - the "no" case here is being largely built on overblown moral panic over things like Safe School program,  and the current over-reaction in Anglo culture towards uncritical acceptance of what anyone says (at any age) is their "true" gender.  

Much of the French pushback, based more directly on not wanting the government to be endorsing a move away from the natural order of children preferentially being raised by their genetic parents, is a much more solid ground on which to question same sex marriage;  yet it seems to me that the "no" case here handles that poorly too. 

First, they are on a hiding to nothing by claiming that kids growing up in gay households per se are going to do worse than kids from straight relationships.   Most gay households using surrogacy or insemination to make kids are going to be middle class and well educated, and will have deliberately planned the pregnancy.  Of course, they are going to look like their families are doing fine, for now.   And those gay families who have kids from their failed straight marriages - of course they should be able to raise kids too, and in most of those cases, the children are still going to know and spend time with their biological parents.

But none of that means that conservatives should not be able to mount a reasoned case that the matter of making same sex marriage the same as heterosexual marriage reads as endorsement for "anything goes" as far as reproduction is concerned.

It is a difficult argument to make, however, unless you are going to out on a limb against modern standards as to what heterosexual couples may do to make a baby too.   I personally don't have a problem with doing that - I think that surrogacy for anyone is a bad idea, and I find it remarkable that those on the progressive side make no acknowledgement at all that what they think is clearly reasonable in reproductive matters is demonstrably something about which opinion can change against them - the prime example being the idea that protecting the anonymity of sperm donors was something a government should do, to a complete reversal once those kids as adults questioned what politicians thought was "obvious" only two or three decades ago.

Anyway, my point is that we need a better class of conservative here - ours are an unimpressive lot who are doomed to failure on nearly all social issues.

A likely sounding analysis

Noted at The Conversation, the effect of having an optional survey on same sex marriage:
Last week’s Essential had Yes leading 69-28 among the 62% who will definitely vote, and 59-31 among the overall sample. Yes supporters are more likely to vote than No supporters, more than compensating for lower turnout among the young.

Furthermore, as Peter Brent writes, if everyone had to vote in the plebiscite, people who were grumpy about being dragged to the polls for something they perceived as trivial would be likely to vote No. With optional voting, these people are likely to toss the voting material in the bin.

With such strong support for Yes, No’s only hope is to persuade people to vote about different issues, such as safe schools and political correctness. These issues have little relation with same sex marriage, but the No campaign will highlight them in an attempt to persuade people to vote on these issues.
So, a potential 10% discrepancy by having it as an optional postal survey.  On the other hand, is it possible that younger folk, being more mobile in where they live than older families, might be more likely to not get their survey letter?   That might offset things by a few percent, I would guess.

But the point remains - this is a hopelessly inaccurate way of gauging genuine population support for such a matter.


Chinese sex doll rental service suspended amid controversy

Right up Sinclair Davidson's alley

The new economy of excrement 

Entrepreneurs are finding profits turning human waste into fertiliser, fuel and even food.
Well, he'd be the richest man in the world, given the mountain loads of it available to him at Catallaxy.

That's a heck of a lot of S

I clicked onto Nature News and a Springer publications alert suggested I might like to see this article, at arXiv.  (Not sure why it would refer me to arXiv, but whatevers.)   Anyway, no time to read it yet, but here's the abstract, brought to you by the letter "S":
This paper uses anthropic reasoning to argue for a reduced likelihood that superintelligent AI will come into existence in the future. To make this argument, a new principle is introduced: the Super-Strong Self-Sampling Assumption (SSSSA), building on the Self-Sampling Assumption (SSA) and the Strong Self-Sampling Assumption (SSSA). SSA uses as its sample the relevant observers, whereas SSSA goes further by using observer-moments. SSSSA goes further still and weights each sample proportionally, according to the size of a mind in cognitive terms. SSSSA is required for human observer-samples to be typical, given by how much non-human animals outnumber humans. Given SSSSA, the assumption that humans experience typical observer-samples relies on a future where superintelligent AI does not dominate, which in turn reduces the likelihood of it being created at all.
Sounds rather silly to me, actually, but perhaps I should read it first.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Comparing infinities

The somewhat mind boggling issue of comparing the size of different infinities is dealt with in more-or-less clear fashion in this Quanta article.  (It's about a recent mathematical discovery in this field.)

For the paranoid

Researchers have demonstrated for the first time that devices that run on almost zero power can transmit data across distances of up to 2.8 kilometers -- breaking a long-held barrier and potentially enabling a vast array of interconnected devices.
Quite interesting, actually.  From Science Daily.

Movie noted

Hey, back in the 1980's I read a biographical book about Tesla (I'm not sure which one now, there have been so many), but I do remember thinking that the great AC/DC current wars between him and Edison could make for a pretty fascinating movie.

Today, I see that it has been done - with Benedict Cumberbatch playing Edison.

Of course, this is just the sort of movie that is likely to send me into great reveries about whether its historical inaccuracies are justifiable or not, but still, I hope it's good.

Something to look forward to

Alcohol Abuse Is Rising Among Older Adults

New word needed

I think there needs to be a specific word for the unpleasant feeling of half waking up from a dream in which you have missed an important deadline,  and not being sure if it was a dream or something from work a dream has alerted you to.  

Tim, I think this is up your alley.   Perhaps a German word combination?

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Some Cold War history for a Sunday

I didn't know this:  the BBC ran a radio show up to 1974 (not sure when it started) in which they would read out letters from unidentified people in East Germany, detailing their life and suffering there.  This sent the East German secret police nuts, who went to extraordinary lengths to track down the writers:
The Stasi not only viewed the BBC as an enemy broadcaster, they specifically saw this programme as a form of psychological warfare aimed to destabilise the regime and incite resistance. They were convinced Harrison was an undercover spy, wooing agents in East Germany.

In the end it was the letter writers they really knuckled down on, and the Stasi were extraordinarily fastidious in their pursuit.

They took saliva samples from the licked envelopes to identify blood groups which they cross-checked with doctor's records. They traced fingerprints on the paper, sourced the ink and collated an extensive archive of handwriting samples. 

It was his handwriting that caught out Borchardt.

"It just seemed like an ordinary piece of homework," he says, when the pupils in his class were asked to write an essay describing themselves and their later goals in life.

"The thing is, my father thought I had such terrible handwriting he wanted my sister to write it up for me. He nearly got his way."

As ordered, the school passed the essays on to a Stasi agent. Documents show a painstaking analysis of every curve and stroke of Borchardt's pen, comparing it to the intercepted letters from the anonymous schoolboy.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Good news about our coming overlords

Clear your browser history and go read the Washington Post's lengthy story about the apparent turnaround in China getting most of its transplants from "volunteer" prisoners:
Thousands of organs were being harvested from executed prisoners every year, but over the course of a decade, Huang has garnered support at the highest levels of government and succeeded in pushing China’s medical establishment into dropping the often-lucrative practice.

Since 2010, Huang has slowly built the register of voluntary donors, who now meet the needs of patients who require transplants. Such a register is a breakthrough for China....

In true modern Chinese fashion, donors can sign up through a link and app available through the ubiquitous Alipay online payment system. More than 230,000 people have done so, and a computerized database matches donors with compatible potential recipients, alerting doctors by text message as soon as organs become available. 

Friday, September 15, 2017

Catholicism, but not as we know it

Oh look, an interesting post from Club Troppo.  (Doesn't happen often enough, these days.)

Paul Frijters looks at the demographic health of the Catholic Church, noting the decline in Europe and Australia, but the surprising growth in Asia and Africa.
According to the Catholic Church itself (which measures things partially on the basis of baptisms), its followers numbered 1.3 billion adherents by 2014 making Catholicism the largest religion on the planet and the largest branch on the tree of Christianity that holds about 2.2 billion adherents. Its strongholds in Latin America and Southern Africa are looking rock-solid, and conversion rates in the new centers of Asia (China, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, etc.) are looking very healthy indeed. Catholicism is by far the biggest and probably fastest growing of the Christian faiths.
This is all rather interesting for what it means about the future of the character of the Church.   I think African priests, coming from societies where belief in supernatural influence in daily life has not become foreign as it has in the West, are nearly always very conservative and very "by the book", in the way the Church used to be here prior to the 60's.  

What I am not sure about is the likely doctrinal character of Asian priests, particularly Chinese.   I don't think they are likely to be quite in the same ballpark as African ones, but I could be wrong.

Paul notes this about them:
It is, speaking as a pure outsider to these religious games, very interesting to see how successful the Catholic\Christian message is amongst the Chinese in Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong, and even in China itself. In Singapore, the proportion of Christians went up from 10% in 1990 to around 20% now, and a little under half of them are Roman Catholic.
 The multicultural aspect of Catholic congregations in many parts of Australia is something that I personally find very appealing about it.   But the cultural conflict between the doctrinally conservative and more liberal wings in Western countries is only likely to be exacerbated by the use of Africa (and possibly some Asian) priests here.

Suffer wingnuts

NPR on the big, big confusion and dismay from the wingnut Trumpsters as to whether Trump is really on their side or not.

Kind of a fun show, if he weren't already irredeemably the worst President the country has ever had.

Bad news

North Korea is ramping up the anti-Japan rhetoric while sending another missile over it.

South Korea is thinking about assassination - but the big mystery I guess is whether Kim's underlings would fight back hard in revenge, or give a sigh of relief that they have a chance at a less nutty leadership.

I'm very fond of both Japan and Samsung products.  We need to find a way to keep both.  

Ridiculously open to manipulation

According to the media, quite a few people are saying that they have received multiple same sex survey forms from ABS, because of previous residents who have failed to update their address on the electoral roll.   A fairly obvious problem with this ridiculously flawed idea.

Does anyone doubt that the greatest enthusiasm for participation in this exercise is from the "yes" side?   Hence I would expect that any potential to exploit flaws is more likely to be come from that side too, and for the results to be skewed "yes" for that reason.

That said, I do expect a properly done survey - like the government could have got Newspoll to do at a tiny fraction of the cost - would also come up with a Yes win - and probably by clear 5 to 10% margin.   (That's my guess, anyway.)

But honestly, there is really zero reason to think that this postal survey idea is going to be accurate, and no one will have any idea as to how accurate it is (apart from comparing it to existing polls - making the exercise completely wasteful.)