Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Speaking of other teams...

Time to let the other team try

I still find Malcolm Turnbull likeable as a person, with his steadfast cheerfulness while the evidence continues to pile up around him that he and his Ministers are, shall we say, basically incompetent at this thing called "governing".  

So, seriously, isn't it time for an umpire or someone (electorate of New England, hello?) to tell him and his team that it's really time to take a break and give the other team, who could hardly do any worse, a go?   I mean, it just gets embarrassing after a while, watching the flaying about.

Rupert wants Donald

Who knows what's going on in the ageing mind of Rupert Murdoch, but people have been noticing how the Wall Street Journal is now agitating in defence of Trump and using all of the same "must get Hillary!" distraction squirrels as on Fox News and The New York Post, and up to and including hosting a piece arguing that Trump should just pardon everyone now, including himself!

It is all purely a coincidence that each Murdoch outlet is running the same line, I'm sure:
Paul Gigot, the editorial page editor and vice president of The Wall Street Journal, declined to comment. Mark Cunningham, the New York Post’s Executive Editorial Page Editor, also declined comment. Both did not answer questions regarding whether Murdoch had any input in editorial direction.

“There is a general flabbergastedness about the drift of the edit page,” said one former senior Wall Street Journal editor. “What is fascinating to a lot of people is, why are they now coming around to being sycophants to Trump, aping some of these things that are part of the Republican echo chamber?”
Given that these Murdoch outlets are actually encouraging Trump to get rid of Mueller, how dangerous has Rupert become to the rule of law and good governance?    "Very" is the obvious answer, surely.  

Murder talk (for Halloween)

I've noticed that the prosecution case in Perth against a couple of weird women has concluded, and the details are of the most chilling kind - a thrill kill by a woman with a nutty obsession with both serial killers and kinky sex:
Over the past month, the court has heard allegations of how Ms Lilley, a young woman obsessed with knives and serial killers, and Ms Lenon – a mother-of-three with a history as a “submissive” in Perth’s BDSM scene – had built a close relationship, referring to each other by ‘pet names’.

Ms Lilley was referred to as SOS – which was also a serial killer character in a book she had written in her teens, and also the name of an American serial killer who had murdered eight victims in the mid 70s’.

Ms Lenon was known as ‘Corvina’, a name she had adopted through her participation in bondage and sado-masochistic sex.

The state alleges after the two women met and moved in together, along with Ms Lenon’s younger children, they teamed up to carry out a ‘thrill kill’ on a vulnerable target.

That target, according to the state, was Mr Pajich, who was known to Ms Lenon through a shared attendance at a Kwinana college and his friendship with her teenaged son Cameron.

The 18 year-old was also on the autism spectrum, and according to Mr Taggart “still inhabited a child’s world”, including a passionate interest in computer games.

It was that interest which the state says Ms Lenon used to lure Mr Pajich to the Orelia house she shared with the 26 year-old Ms Lilley, who worked as a nightfill manager at Woolworths in Palmyra.
“Trudi Lenon delivered Aaron Pajich right into Jemma Lilley’s hands and together they murdered him,” Mr McTaggart said.

“These two ladies took Aaron Pajich’s life in a way that was as brutal and violent as could possibly be imagined.”

The motive, Mr McTaggart said, was Ms Lilley’s “life’s objective” to kill someone before she was 25 years-old, which she had revealed to a friend some years before.
 While it appears clear that they had some sort of sexual kink relationship, I'm not sure whether they count themselves as lesbians or not.

In any event, it got me thinking of other thrill kill nutty lesbian cases:   Brisbane had its famous one in  the "lesbian vampire killer" murder in 1991 - the main protagonist is now living in the community on parole.  

There was also the famous New Zealand case that was the subject of the Heavenly Creatures film.   (OK, not a thrill kill exactly, but a weird, obsessively relationship between young women none the less.)

Now, we're obviously not talking a huge sample here, but in comparison to male gay couples, apart from the famous Leopold and Loeb murder from way back in 1924, I can't say I have heard of any gay couple murders which are in the "thrill kill" category.

Sure, serial killers are almost always male, and presumably often kill for all sorts of demented reasons, but my point is that it seems that the shared idea of a kill, based on weird fantasy motivations, might be more of a female/lesbian thing than a male thing?  

I notice that some people complain of lesbians being too readily portrayed as obsessive killers in Hollywood -  I don't really know as it is a genre of film that generally doesn't interest me. 

But, given the grotesque examples of some lesbian murderers, I have to say I'm not all that surprised.  If any reader wants to set me straight with true stories of male couples murdering for the weirdest motivations, let me know...

Monday, October 30, 2017

I'm with Tony

Oh - tough guy cook and travel writer Anthony Bourdain is making a pretty transparent attack on Tarantino for working with Harvey Weinstein for so many years and doing nothing about his knowledge of Weinstein's uber sleaze behaviour.

I've never liked Tarantino or his movies, so good.   Mind you, Bourdain acts it up a bit too much for my liking too, but he's OK in small doses.    

Why Trump is interested in the JFK case

Great column by Adam Gopnik about the release of additional papers on the JFK assassination.

He starts:
The release last Thursday of previously classified, or at least unseen, government files of all kinds relating to the assassination of John F. Kennedy is being heralded as Donald Trump’s decision—though it was simply his decision not to prevent their release, which had long been scheduled. In fact, at the last minute, Trump listened to requests from the intelligence services not to release some three hundred of the remaining three thousand files. But that decision raised more suspicions, so on Friday night the President tweeted, “I will be releasing ALL JFK files other than the names and addresses of any mentioned person who is still living.”
And here are the best paragraphs:
The pretense last week was that, in releasing the files, Trump took action on behalf of the American people, in the pursuit of openness. But Trump acts in his own interest, and his pursuit of apparent openness has as its real end the undermining of public institutions and practices which depend on professionalism, independence, and trust. Trump was likely prodded to speak out about the files by Roger Stone, one of the figures from the fringes of American life whom the President has brought to the center. Stone wrote a book titled “The Man Who Killed Kennedy: The Case Against LBJ.” Last week, his profane rants got him suspended from Twitter, but he still appears to be in touch with Trump. Stone has warned of the “deep state,” the new villain of right-wing paranoia—well, an old villain, newly restored to primacy. The thinking in this case seems to be that, if Trump’s followers can be persuaded that no one in the “permanent government” should be trusted, they can perhaps be more easily persuaded not to trust the institutions of the state when, say, they pursue charges against anyone associated with his campaign. The implicit, and increasingly explicit, argument here is: Don’t listen to special counsels who worked for the F.B.I.; those are the guys that withheld all those documents  about the J.F.K. assassination.

As David Frum has pointed out, what Trump’s surrogates really mean by “the deep state” is the rule of law. The idea that there are civil servants or functionaries within the government whose chief trait is loyalty to the Constitution and to the ongoing administration of the state is intolerable to the autocratic mind. So, if those other actors question challenge the White House, they must be taunted, demoralized, and, if possible, dismissed.

In time for Halloween - Holy Bowels

Yeah, we've all read about incorrupt corpses of various saints before, but this article in The Atlantic is a good summary of the topic.  I liked this detail:
Despite (or perhaps because of) the respect accorded to the saintly dead by medieval Christians, they were rarely allowed to rest in peace. As soon as a holy person died, his or her corpse would be scrutinized for signs of sanctity by those who prepared it for burial. When Hugh, bishop of Lincoln, died in 1200, his viscera were removed from his body, which was taken a long distance for burial. Some among his household were initially uncomfortable with this plan, but they warmed to it when the episcopal bowels provided first proof of their owner’s holiness. As the bishop’s chaplain Adam of Eynsham reported in his biography of Hugh, Magna Vita Sancti Hugonis, “no water or stool was found, and they were as clean and immaculate as if someone had carefully washed and wiped them.”

Certain cynics dismissed the results as the inevitable consequence of the dysentery that plagued Hugh in his final days, but others claimed it a miracle. 
 The reason the lack of decay was seen as significant is explained here:
The insistence on the lifelike qualities of these corpses comes from the Christian tradition that “the saints are not called dead but sleeping,” as St. Jerome once put it. They were expected to possess lifelike qualities even in death. Pink and white coloring, for example, was thought to be a sign of readiness for the resurrection: Their intact, lifelike bodies would literally stand and walk, just as Jesus had done.
 But an obsession with sexual purity was apparently part of the interest in post mortem lack of normal decay, too:
 The medieval mind also connected bodily integrity with virginity. The condition of corpses was thought to reflect individuals’ conduct during their lifetimes. Rapid decay was indicative of sin, whereas miraculous preservation signified sexual purity. This was especially true if a well-preserved corpse oozed sweet-smelling balsam. White corpses, too, were strongly associated with white lilies, a common symbol of virginity. Sexual purity was one of the most important qualities for a would-be saint, but it was also one of the hardest attributes to prove. The discovery of a perfect corpse could provide evidence that few would dare to question.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Blade Runner 2049 in three words (followed by many more)

Trying too hard.

Let me expand:   it's visually fantastic, we can all agree.  Everyone likes the flying cars again, I'm sure. The acting is fine, too.

But, here the slide in my opinion begins:  musically -  loudly pretentious is probably the best description.  (The Vangelis score in the original was just 80's pretentious.)   And I should have guessed, given its fondness for the sudden blare:  Hans Zimmer worked on the soundtrack.  He'll get an Oscar for Dunkirk: a really remarkable and crucial-to-the-movie score; but lots of people complain about aspects of his work on other Nolan films, and I can understand why.

As for my overall rating, I would have to call it a failure.   Not a completely unworthy failure, but a failure nonetheless.

It's OK, I suppose, to try to explore to a deeper extent the themes of the original, but this movie does it mainly by some protracted, serious, very serious, dialogue exchanges which go on too long and don't linger in the mind as to their cleverness or emotional punch.  The impression left with me was that the screenplay was just trying too hard for intellectual seriousness. 

In fact, having watched  three of director Denis Villeneuve's films now, I recognise this as a constant theme in my reaction to his work - he's visually stylish, but always leaves me cold in any emotional connection to the material.   I'm not entirely sure how he achieves that, but despite liking visually what I saw on screen for much of Sicario, Arrival and now this one, by the end of all I felt I had not really been convinced by the human story in any of them.

In this one, the Ryan Gosling character is played sympathetically, but somehow, there is no real emotional punch to watching his woes.   Actually, now that I think of it, the audience probably felt the most sympathy for his software girlfriend character rather than to any  than any flesh and blood one.   That's interesting, but not a good thing. 

For Blade Runner, the problem is probably that its core story is not really worth dwelling on, beyond a quick narrative hit and run.  In fact, re-watching the original cinema released movie last weekend, I was quite surprised at how quickly it went.  And that works fine for Philip K Dick movies, since he wasn't really about plausible science scenarios: just speculative ones allowing him for a one story, or one novel, take on his favourite themes of identity, memory, reality and sanity; all reflecting his own long ongoing issues with his drug addled mind.

Just as everyone agrees that it was a mistake to try to expand on the original implausibilities in The Matrix for a further two movies (massive numbers of comatose humans as alien battery banks: yeah sure),  I reckon it's not a good idea to dwell on the concept of vat growing quasi-humans to adulthood for the purposes of dangerous deep space or general slave work, not to mention giving them fake memories.   Maybe I'm just particularly resistant to the concept:  readers may recall that there was one well regarded science fiction movie that completely left me cold when I found out that that was the explanation.  

But dwell on this scenario is what the people who made this movie are trying to do, and it also felt very much like they were hoping to get a third one out of it too.   However, I see that the director and Ryan Gosling say that there are no definite plans for that.  Given the relatively poor box office, I think a third is now unlikely, and that's not a bad thing.

In fact, one thing that does surprise me is that the slowness and quasi pretentiousness of some of the key scenes were not recognized by the studio, and that they funded it in its current form.   It just seems to me that it should have been obvious on paper that it would not have wide audience appeal.    I fully understand why it has not drawn in the crowds despite mainly positive reviews.  

Again, the movie looks a million bucks, as they used to say before inflation, and all credit to some imaginative production design work.  I didn't fall asleep (Hans took care of that) but I was consciously wishing more than once that the plot would move faster, and (mainly) that it would make me feel more.

Update:  Deborah Ross at the Spectator didn't care for it either, and shares my skepticism of the scenario:
Thirty years later, we now have Ryan Gosling as our blade runner, K, in a world where replicants are still produced, this time by Wallace (Jared Leto), a mogul who sits atop a vast corporation and talks a lot of New Age gibberish. I think he’s meant to be evil, but he just seems like the worst kind of yoga teacher. You do have to wonder why anyone still has any faith in replicants, given their troublesome history, or why they are made so lifelike. They’d be much more useful slaves if, say, they had multiple arms shaped like shovels, plus you’d also be able to spot them a mile off. Just saying.
Spoiler warning:   Thinking about it overnight - what is the point of making replicants with a sex drive, anyway, if you never want them to be able to reproduce?   I suppose there could be a class of prostitute replicants for the sex industry, but why should someone like K have one at all?    Honestly, the basic scenario just makes less and less sense the more you think about it....

Friday, October 27, 2017

Alien asteroid

Interesting astronomy news:
Astronomers have spotted some kind of outer space rock that's the first visitor from outside of our solar system that they've ever observed.

The discovery has set off a mad scramble to point telescopes at this fast-moving object to try to learn as much as possible before it zips out of sight.

"Now we finally have a sample of something from another solar system, and I think that's really neat, " says Karen Meech, an astronomer at the University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy, "and so you'd love to see if it looks like stuff in our solar system."

It's long been assumed that an interstellar object like this one should be out there, because giant planets in forming solar systems are thought to toss out bits of space crud that haven't yet glommed into anything. But this is the first time scientists have actually found one.

The mysterious object is small — less than a quarter mile in diameter — and seems to have come from the general direction of the constellation Lyra, moving through interstellar space at 15.8 miles per second, or 56,880 miles per hour.
But there's no tension in this - it was spotted on the way out of the solar system, not on the way in (when we could all have speculated as to whether it was actually an alien spaceship):
"The orbit is very convincing. It is going so fast that it clearly came from outside the solar system," says Paul Chodas, manager of NASA's Center for Near-Earth Object Studies at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "It's whipping around the Sun, it has already gone around the Sun, and it has actually gone past the Earth on its way out."


Good to see a J Soon tweet I can fully endorse.

I watched the 15 minute interview noted in the tweet, just to see if there was any sense in which all the Miloheads were right: that their hero had really showed up the interviewers  - "Milo slays Aussie feminist"  "Milo kills it with hopeless Australian media"  "Thank you Milo, aussie media is so embarrassing", etc etc.

And the answer, unsurprisingly, is - no, he didn't.    There was no "crushing defeat" on either side - the panel made good general points; Milo barrelled on at a rapid rate making myriad claims of misrepresentation which no one had time or capacity to challenge him on in that interview format.  He also make multiple claims of his vast success, as if having foolish fans is self evidently reason you can't contest the offensiveness and contradictions of his style.    Conservatives of only a decade ago would have run a million miles from his self promotion and dis-ingenuous use of "mixing high brow and low brow" as a way of claiming offensive insults as legitimate.   But the culture war allows them to forgive everything.

I've also noted before that the Right wing culuture warrior class on the internet have, over the last few years, gone completely over the top with ridiculous claims of victory in debate which are apparent only to them, and the language used is routinely that of violent, physical defeat.

I really find it creepy and puzzling, and put it down yet again to the unexpectedly corrosive effects of the internet as a means of communication.    

We can see what is going on, but how to stop it?

There's an analysis up at Slate as to how Hannity operates on Fox News, entitled Hannity is a Nightly Recruitment Video for the Cult of Trump, and I reckon it's entirely accurate.

The Right wingnut side of politics swallows whole virtually any conspiracy spun by the Right wing media, bedroom pundits or paid Russian disinformation disseminators;  they have been psychologically primed for this by years of dwelling in the conspiracy mindset of climate change denial.

The effects are absolutely cult like:   the world is divided into those who perceive the Truth, and everyone else is evil and corrupt and depraved.   The faults of the Leader are readily forgiven, as they are in all cults, as the power of ultimate righteousness are not held back by the mere temporary foibles of the Leader.  There's quite the element of a persecution complex, too:  the media are out to get their leader by lying about him. 

But how is this addressed?

The provision of information contrary to their conspiracy mindset is one thing - but we all know that is not enough to break your average cult.

Surely a huge part of the problem is the refusal of the more moderate Right to call out the cult as a cult.   Cults are weakened when former insiders break away and speak publicly about the tactics as viewed from inside. 

In particular, any half reasonable journalist or worker in Fox News needs to break from the network and speak openly about the rabid, harmful partisanship of the likes of Hannity.  

The ultimate would be, of course, the actual ownership of Fox News disowning the awful obsequiousness of most of its hosts - but Murdoch would have to want to stop counting money for that to happen.  Quite frankly, the death of Rupert can't come fast enough if we want any hope of his inheritors actually taking that step.

Besides that, what hope do we have?  

In other Papal news

It's a funny old world, isn't it, when the Pope is making phone calls to the International Space Station in the same week the first English translation of the rite of exorcism is distributed in the US.   (I see that it's not on sale to the public, though:  it would seem being a freelance exorcist is not something the Church wants to encourage.)

The Pope is also making conciliatory statements about the Reformation (not that he is the first to do so, of course, but it will probably annoy the noisy, Right wing conservative branch of the Church anyway.):
The grace of God and decades of ecumenical dialogue have enabled Catholics and Protestants to mark the 500th anniversary of the Reformation together, emphasizing their shared baptism and faith in Jesus, Pope Francis said.
But at the Catholic Herald, there's an interesting summary of the nastiness of the Church of England's break from Rome, which I'll quote from in part:
With little alternative, Henry resorted to the most basic tool of his power: violence.

Burning people for heresy was an option, but it would raise a few eyebrows. The problem was that Henry largely believed in the same traditional theology that his people did. He had not changed his views from the time of writing the Assertio. This ruled out widespread heresy trials. The solution his circle came up with was more radical.

Treason was originally a common law offence, but put on to a statutory basis by King Edward III in the Treason Act 1351. (It is still in force, although heavily modified, and last used in 1945 against William Joyce, “Lord Haw-Haw”.)

The punishment for high treason was hanging, drawing, and quartering – first recorded in 1238 for an “educated man-at-arms” (armiger literatus) who tried to assassinate King Henry III. Other famous early victims included Dafydd ap Gruffydd in 1283 and William Wallace in 1305. The victim was drawn (dragged) to the place of execution on a hurdle or sledge. There he was hanged (slowly strangled), and while alive his genitals were cut off, his abdomen was sliced open, his bowels were pulled out, and they were burned in front of him. Once dead, he was cut down, beheaded, sliced into quarters, and a section sent to each of the four corners of the kingdom for public display. For a woman, the punishment was burning and quartering.

Henry’s first victim was a 28-year-old nun, Elizabeth Barton. She had visions which earned her a following among leading clergymen, and she had even enjoyed an audience with Henry. However, when her prophecies spoke of the wrong Henry was doing by abandoning Katherine and marrying Anne, she crossed a line. Her visions, in fact, suited Cranmer, as condemning her gave him the chance to damage some of her theologically conservative clergy supporters. He and Cromwell obtained her confession to having faked trances, to heresy, and to treason. On April 20, 1534 she was hanged and beheaded at Tyburn along with five of her supporters (two monks, two friars, and a secular priest). Her head was then spiked on London Bridge, making her the only woman in English history to suffer this fate.
The article goes on to summarise some of the English Reformation's greatest lows. 

It's remarkable how attitudes have changed to gory punishment, isn't it?  I think I have speculated before that the best explanation as to why the public butchering of humans as punishment has changed from public spectacle to something sickening to contemplate is probably due to public butchery of animals being a common sight in the market place of old.   The treat a human in the same way was to degrade them to a level of animal, but the sight of blood and gore was not of itself something so uncommon as it is now.

Anyway, in other Reformation anniversary news, a bishop and a Cardinal are getting into a bit of dispute about how to characterise it:
German cardinal Gerhard Müller has said the Protestant Reformation was not a “reform” but a “total change of the foundations of the Catholic faith”.

Writing for Italian website La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana, the former prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said modern-day Catholics often discuss Martin Luther “too enthusiastically”, mainly due to an ignorance of theology.

His comments come after the secretary-general of the Italian Bishops’ Conference, Bishop Nunzio Galantino, reportedly said “the Reformation carried out by Martin Luther 500 years ago was an event of the Holy Spirit,” adding: “The Reformation corresponds to the truth expressed in the saying ‘Ecclesia semper reformanda’”.
The tightrope the Church is currently walking continues... 

Don't mention the war...

Some pretty extraordinary news regarding the local Catholic Church's take on the situation in Myanmar, in light of a forthcoming visit by the Pope:
When Pope Francis visits Myanmar in late November, church leaders will be listening nervously to his every word, specifically hoping he does not speak about the Rohingya. Any mention of the Muslim group, widely hated in the predominantly Buddhist country, will have widespread implications.

"The pope's visit is keeping us very anxious, as many things can go wrong. A wrong word from the Holy Father can plunge the country into chaos," said Father Mariano Soe Naing, communications director for Myanmar's bishops.

"If the Holy Father in his speech evens mentions the Rohingya, the nationalist groups will respond. This is a historic problem, and we need a lot of time to solve this problem. We cannot just say this or that. That is the reason why Aung San Suu Kyi cannot say anything," he said, referring to the de facto leader of Myanmar's civilian government, who has been criticized internationally for failing to speak out against the military's actions against Rohingya in northern Rakhine state.

Father Soe Naing told Catholic News Service that while the bishops support democracy and back Aung San Suu Kyi, they understand her silence on the Rohingya.

"Aung San Suu Kyi has no right to comment on anything. The military has the authority to decide everything," he said. "The whole world wants to criticize her, wants her to fight against the military in favor of full democracy. But that's a fight she cannot win. She might have the force of the people behind her, but the bloodshed would be terrible. The blood would flow like rivers in this country. The military is not ready to give up easily. She knows that well."

The Asian church news agency ucanews.com reported the country's Catholic bishops told the papal nuncio in June that they would prefer Pope Francis avoid mentioning the Rohingya by name.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

The true Pooh

At the New Yorker, there's a review of a film based on the true life strained relationship between AA Milne, of Winnie the Pooh fame, and the real life Christopher Robin.

Maybe I have read about this before, but had forgotten how Milne was traumatised by World War 1:
A. A. Milne fought in the epic Battle of the Somme, in 1916, when a million men were killed or injured. It was one of the bloodiest battles in human history. Milne, already a playwright and a novelist, was among those wounded. He went home shell-shocked, with all the haunting symptoms of what is today diagnosed as post-traumatic stress disorder, or P.T.S.D. He confused swarming bees with bullets buzzing by him, popping balloons with incoming cannon fire. He was morose and distant.
The success of the books brought attention to the son which was not wanted:
When he went off to boarding school, Christopher Robin Milne was never able to escape his name, or the storybook character portrayed by his father. He was taunted and teased and pushed down staircases. Fame produced a different kind of trauma from which he spent much of the rest of his life trying to recover.
You can read more at the link.

Going French in Vietnam

I was rather surprised to learn, via watching Travels with My Father on Netflix (about which I might  write separately regarding my mixed feelings), that in Vietnam they've been busy building a fake French village in the mountains:

It's called Ba Na Hills, and is very, very much like a Disney style imitation town, with hotels, rides, and Ukrainian actors who come out and dance in the square in something like Cinderella costumes.   Access is via a very long cable car ride.


Blog needs cute

Happy baby sloth

Update:  Oh my.  Two comedians have just agreed that everyone who finds the clip cute are evil bastards:

A few observations:   Is Wendy Harmer a sloth body language expert?  Does she have a sixth sense in telling if a baby sloth is actually stressed?

Secondly:  I don't know how many wild baby sloths are kidnapped for pet purposes, but I had assumed it was a case of it being in a human setting because it was orphaned, or from a zoo and having a check up, or some such innocent explanation.   Perhaps I'm wrong, but how do I know this particular sloth is a victim?

Thirdly:   I think both of these comedians have talked about suffering bouts of depression before.  (Pobjie definitely has).   Seems to me they like to spread it around.

The ultimate bad boss

The stories of Harvey Weinstein as an abusive boss are really remarkable.  Here, in The Guardian, for example:
“Miramax was absolutely a cult, the cult of Harvey, and that’s how he got away with his behaviour for so long,” said Webster. “It was crude but very effective. People became brainwashed, some people had nervous breakdowns. People would be hired and then destroyed for no apparent reason, and then their careers and lives would be in tatters.”

He added: “Everything Harvey did was all about manipulation and fear. He was a massive bully. He would flatter people, get the best out of them and then dump on them really, really hard to destroy them. It was this whole thing of breaking people down so you could build them up in your own image.”
An ex marine developed nervous tics:
Other former Miramax employees described how their years working at the company had left them with post-traumatic stress disorder. “I remember friends would ask me what it was like to work at Miramax and I would always tell them that it’s kind of like telling people you fell down the stairs,” said Jesse Berdinka, a former US marine who worked at Miramax for seven years and said the “mental weight” of the sometimes “sadistic” experience would affect the rest of his life.

Berdinka, who worked his way from being a temp to being vice-president of development and production at Miramax, said he began drinking more than he should have in order to deal with the extreme stress, and developed nervous tics. The story of his own rise in the ranks was typical, he said, because when outsiders were brought into senior jobs they often did not last long.

“You see stories of domestic abuse on the news and think, how can people keep subjecting themselves to that? And then I would walk into the office the next day,” Berdinka said. “For me at least it was the drip, day after day, of never knowing if you are good enough or if you are going to be at the top of the world or the bottom of the shit list.”
An anonymous woman:
A third former senior executive, speaking to the Guardian on the condition of anonymity, said she believed she suffered from PTSD. She described how Weinstein threw a glass frame in her direction, narrowly missing her head. The frame contained a picture of Weinstein and Mick Jagger.

“It wasn’t just sexual abuse. Everyone got abused. It didn’t really matter how high up you were, you got the same treatment,” she said.

“If I were to sum up the physical and emotional response, I would say I feel it is PTSD,” the executive said. She said some of the symptoms re-emerged when the first stories of Weinstein’s abuse were aired on television this month, making her physically ill.

“I’ve had years of recurring nightmares. Ten years of nightmares, while I was there and after,” she said.
The Washington Post had some spectacular stories too:
 And this past week, the Wall Street Journal described a Weinstein Company executive conference gone bad: “In about 2011, after an argument over how to allocate the studio’s resources between their respective movies, Harvey Weinstein punched his brother in the face in front of about a dozen other Weinstein Co. executives, knocking him to the ground, said two people who were present. ‘I’ve been assaulted!’ Bob yelled, according to those people. Bob, who was bloodied, wanted to press charges, but was talked out of it, according to a person familiar with the incident.”
 And he's been physically assaulting people for decades:
Producer Alan Brewer recounted to The Washington Post one episode from early in Weinstein’s career, circa 1984. Weinstein became enraged when he couldn’t locate Brewer for a few hours on the day before a premiere, and when Weinstein finally found him, as The Post reported, Weinstein “lunged at him and began punching him in the head, Brewer said; the skirmish tumbled into the corridor and then the elevator. By the time Brewer reached the street, intent on never associating with the Weinsteins again, he said, Harvey was pleading for him to stay.” 
 A real nutter from way back...

More on teenagers and marijuana being a bad mix

The study is about teenage use and earlier onset of schizophrenia:
At the World Psychiatric Association’s World Congress in Berlin on October 9, Hannelore Ehrenreich of the Max Planck Institute of Experimental Medicine presented results of a study of 1,200 people with schizophrenia. The investigation analyzed a wide range of genetic and environmental risk factors for developing the debilitating mental illness. The results—being submitted for publication—show people who had consumed cannabis before age 18 developed schizophrenia approximately 10 years earlier than others. The higher the frequency of use, the data indicated, the earlier the age of schizophrenia onset. In her study neither alcohol use nor genetics predicted an earlier time of inception, but pot did. “Cannabis use during puberty is a major risk factor for schizophrenia,” Ehrenreich says.

Moderate libertarian explains himself

There is much to like in the explanation given by Will Wilkinson at the nice libertarian Niskansen Centre as to what makes their approach different from your regular, ideologically driven, Ayn Rand and gun sympathising, leave-me-and-my-money-alone!, government-welfare-is-for-losers, climate change? who-cares?-even-if-it's-real, and-I'll-chose-to-fence-sit-on-that-because-I-hate-taxes, I'll-be-on-my-floating-island-with-my-fellow-libertarians-genetically-engineering-embryos-for-life-on-Mars-anyway average libertarian.

Some key parts:
Many political philosophers, and most adherents of radical political ideologies, tend to think that an ideal vision of the best social, economic, and political system serves a useful and necessary orienting function. The idea is that reformers need to know what to aim at if they are to make steady incremental progress toward the maximally good and just society. If you don’t know where you’re headed—if you don’t know what utopia looks like—how are you supposed to know which steps to take next? 

The idea that a vision of an ideal society can serve as a moral and strategic star to steer by is both intuitive and appealing. But it turns out to be wrong. This sort of political ideal actually can’t help us find our way through the thicket of real-world politics into the clearing of justice. I’ve discussed the problems with ideal theory at length, in the context Gerald Gaus’ tremendous book The Tyranny of the Ideal, in a Vox column. This piece will be easier to understand if you read that first. Jacob Levy’s paper, “There’s No Such Thing as Ideal Theory,” is an outstanding complement. And, on the more technical side, the work of UCSD’s David Wiens is state of the art, and adds texture to Gaus’ critique...

The fact that all our evidence about how social systems actually work comes from formerly or presently existing systems is a huge problem for anyone committed to a radically revisionary ideal of the morally best society. The further a possible system is from a historical system, and thus from our base of evidence about how social systems function, the more likely we are to be mistaken about how it would work if it were realized. And the more likely we are to be mistaken about how it would actually work, the more likely we are to be mistaken that it is more free, or more equal, or more socially just than other systems, possible or actual.  

Indeed, there’s basically no way to rationally justify the belief that, say, “anarcho-capitalism” ranks better in terms of libertarian freedom than “Canada 2017,” or the belief  that “economic democracy” ranks better in terms of socialist equality than “Canada 2017.”

You may think you can imagine how anarcho-capitalism or economic democracy would work, but you can’t.  You’re really just guessing—extrapolating way beyond your evidence. You can’t just stipulate that it works the way you want it to work. Rationally speaking, you probably shouldn’t even suspect that your favorite system comes out better than an actual system. Rationally speaking, your favorite probably shouldn’t be your favorite. Utopia is a guess.
He then looks at some rankings that countries are given in terms of personal and economic freedom by the Cato Institute (not entirely sure I'm sure their methodology is sound, but still) and makes the observation:
Every highlighted country is some version of the liberal-democratic capitalist welfare state. Evidently, this general regime type is good for freedom. Indeed, it is likely the best we have ever done in terms of freedom

Moreover, Denmark (#5), Finland (#9), and the Netherlands (#10) are among the world’s “biggest” governments, in terms of government spending as a percentage of GDP. The “economic freedom” side of the index, which embodies a distinctly libertarian conception of economic liberty, hurts their ratings pretty significantly. Still, according to a libertarian Human Freedom Index, some of the freest places in on Earth have some of the“biggest” governments. That’s unexpected....

That is our basic data. It doesn’t necessarily imply that the United States ought to do more redistributive social spending. But when a freedom index, built from libertarian assumptions, shows that freedom thrives in many places with huge welfare states, it should lead us to downgrade our estimate of the probability that liberty and redistribution are antithetical, and upgrade our estimate of the probability that they are consistent, and possibly complementary. That’s the sort of consideration that mainly drives my current views, not ideal-theoretical qualms about neo-Lockean libertarian rights theories.
And I like these paragraphs too:
Ideal theory can drive political conflict by concealing overlapping consensus. Pretty much any way you slice it, Denmark is an actually-existing utopia. But so is Switzerland. So is New Zealand. The effective difference between the Nordic and Anglo-colonial models, in terms of “human freedom” and “social progress” is surpassingly slight. Yet passionate moral commitment to purist ideals of justice can lead us to see past the fact that the liberal-democratic capitalist welfare state, in whatever iteration, is awesome, and worth defending, from the perspective of multiple, rival political values. We miss the fact that these values fit together more harmoniously than our theories lead us to imagine. 

I suspect this has something to do with the fact that utopia-dwellers around the world seem to be losing faith in liberal democracy, and the fact that  “neoliberalism” can’t get no love, despite the fact that they measurably deliver the goods like crazy. Yet ideologues interpret this loss of faith as evidence of objective failure, which they diagnose as a lack of satisfactory progress toward their version of utopia, and push ever more passionately for an agenda they have no rational reason to believe would actually leave anyone better off.    
Really, the article is a bit of a high falutin way of saying what I have felt about libertarians for years - they don't really care about the evidence of what works in other nations in terms of tax and welfare mix, and regulation:  they just have their pat idea that small government, low taxes and little regulation is obviously a good thing.  Governing by set ideology, though, is never a good idea, whether you are a Marxist or a member of the cult of Ayn Rand. 

Even conservatives make bad Spielberg calls

I see via Jason that someone at American Conservative has written an appreciation of Stranger Things first season, but I can't say I agree with large slabs of his analysis, despite my own enjoyment of the TV show.

My main problem is that it's a bit rich for a conservative writer to be joining in on the typical progressive critic dissing of Spielberg for sentimentality, but I reckon that's what this guy is doing.

His comments on ET go particularly astray:
In E.T., the cuddly, barely articulate alien with the glowing heart is a kind of apotheosis of romanticized childhood; it functions as a Spielbergian critique of rationalistic adults who have forgotten how to love and feel. 

Er, ET is from an advanced civilisation that has perfected interstellar travel: that doesn't strike me as a very child-like thing.   He also appears to communicates telepathically with his kin:  isn't that the obvious reason he's "inarticulate" with Earthlings?
E.T. doesn’t speak much because he is Spielberg’s Rousseauan icon of pre-linguistic innocence; Eleven doesn’t speak much because she has been traumatized. 
Or - as I said - his species is telepathic.   He's more likely post-linguistic, not "pre-linguistic".
E.T.’s lack of speech reflects this innocence; Eleven’s lack of speech indicates a violation of her innocence. 

Oh for goodness sake, see above.

Look, I'll grant you that the film lets Gertie, in particular, perceive ET as child-like and in that sense "innocent".   But the older kids soon learn they are dealing with something very smart and advanced.
Unlike the scientists in E.T., the adults in Stranger Things don’t characteristically lack feeling or love; they either lack the knowledge of how to act on their love appropriately or the will to do so.
OK, the comment about the scientists in ET is just completely wrong!

One of the great things about the film is the way the screenplay gradually opens up the audience's perspective of what is going on with the adults stalking ET, from an initially mysterious and somewhat malevolent appearance, to an understanding that they are actually well intentioned.  It's made clear that Elliott has trouble seeing this due to his child's level limited perception.   No one in the film ends up evil* - there are misunderstandings on both sides, but the film is a lesson in being generous when interpreting the motives and actions of others.  That's what makes it such a positive story.

That the scientists don't lack feeling is clear from the specific, gentle scene between "Keys" (the Peter Coyote character, who leads the alien search team) and Elliott, in which the adult explains that finding ET is the fulfilment of a life long dream for him, too.   That scene, together with all the effort put in to saving the alien's life,  shows us the scientists are good, loving, and sad when they can't revive their patient.

At the same time, we don't begrudge Elliott never really "getting" that the adults are only trying to help - he's the one with the telepathic connection to the alien and the knowledge that the spaceship is returning; his lack of trust that the adults would believe his explanation of what needs to be done is understandable from his perspective. 

The film is great, and emotionally realistic, because the child hero remains psychologically a child throughout.   Sure, it feels at the end like it will be a key maturing event for him, especially when he looks back on it as he grows up, but he doesn't ever stop "acting his age" in the film.   Now that I think about it, it shares this feature with To Kill a Mockingbird - a smart kid getting her perceptions of adult life and motives opened up by events. 

As for Stranger Things:    one of the least satisfactory things was the lack of any explanation of emotional coldness of the research scientists as to what they were doing to Eleven.   It needed more emotional realism in that respect, and in that way, I would say that the lack of "sentimentality" in that part of the story was a fault, not a strength.  

In any event, I look forward to the next season.  

*   Some reader might point out the police/security team pulling guns on the escaping kids; but hey, that's just realism for gun happy America.  It's not clear they would ever have shot...

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

No big surprise to all but the stupid

Wingnuts being wingnuts will be in full hyperventilation mode about the Washington Post confirming that the Democrats and the Clinton campaign took over funding of the Steele dossier (from an unknown Republican who had started it), as if it wasn't obvious before today hat someone on the Democrat side must have done so.

So, as many, many people in comments in various places are saying "well duh".    

The Slate take on it is here "Does it matter?"  (Short answer - very little.)

Just wow

This sounds so ridiculous for a modern European nation, my initial reaction is to actually wonder if it is being reported right:
A Portuguese man convicted of assaulting his ex-wife will face no jail time — after an appeals court, citing the fact that his former wife was "adulterous," and noting that the Bible calls for adulterous women to be put to death, upheld his suspended sentence.

The judges called adultery a "serious attack" on a man's "dignity."

The decision has sparked outrage in Portugal.

According to Esquerda, the victim of the violent beating was, indeed, having a brief affair, which she decided to end. The man then told her husband about the relationship. Both men began directing death threats toward the woman, Esquerda writes. Then, working together, they attacked her; the scorned former sexual partner kidnapped her, then her husband, who had since divorced her, violently beat her.

The Associated Press has more on the case:
"The [husband[ was given a 15-month suspended sentence and a fine of 1,750 euros ($2,000) for using a bat spiked with nails to assault the woman in the street in 2015, leaving her covered in cuts and bruises.
"The prosecutor had argued the sentence was too lenient and asked an appeals court for prison time of 3 years and 6 months. But the appeal judges on Oct. 11 rejected his request."

The authoritarian Right is benefitting the most from the use of disinformation on the internet

Who can seriously argue that the Trump administration is not the most authoritarian sympathetic Presidency we have seen?    All the shouting of Trump that media criticism is fake news, and musing about revoking media licences;  his invitation in campaign rallies that protestors be beaten up; his thwarted desire for a military parade at his inauguration; his Chief of Staff drawing elitist distinctions between people who have served in the military and those who haven't; his inability to clearly condemn Nazi style marches because he knows the alt.right supports him.  

And who can argue that the disinformation rife through wingnut sites and social media was a major influence on his "base"? 

Today, I see that the New York Times has an article by a Filipino writer about how such deliberate disinformation techniques are prominent in the Philippines too, fully endorsed by the dangerous and nutty Duterte.

It starts:
MANILA — Yen Makabenta, a veteran journalist now at The Manila Times, wrote a prominent column last month about the American ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, who enthusiastically praised President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines. “The Philippines is suffocating,” Mr. Makabenta quoted the ambassador as saying. “We must give President Duterte the space to run his nation.” Ms. Haley, he reported, warned of “destructive forces” that “have calibrated their plot to ouster movements” against Mr. Duterte.

Mr. Duterte no doubt appreciated Ms. Haley’s support. The only problem: It wasn’t true. Mr. Makabenta had based his column on a fake story from a website whose web address, grammatical errors and far-fetched assertions should have made clear that it was a counterfeit of Al Jazeera.
As it has around the world, the internet in the Philippines has become a morass of fake news and conspiracy theories, harassment and bullying.
Further down:
Mr. Duterte’s opponents have at times benefited from fake news, but a disproportionate amount of it favors him. Nobody knows for sure who funds these efforts, though a study by Oxford University’s Computational Propaganda Research Project determined that the Duterte campaign paid $200,000 for as many as 500 dedicated trolls to attack dissenters and spread disinformation. (In response, Mr. Duterte called Oxford “a school for stupid people” — before admitting that he had in fact hired trolls.)

One of the most egregious employers of this tactic is an informal group that calls itself the Duterte Diehard Supporters, whose initials, not coincidentally, are the same as those for the Davao Death Squads, which killed crime suspects in Mr. Duterte’s hometown when he was mayor. These supporters spin circuitous defenses of Mr. Duterte’s administration, disseminate spurious reports and cast dissent as destabilization. The most dedicated have been rewarded with government positions or other employment with his allies.
That's awful, and once again it makes me think how no one saw this coming as a consequence of the medium for distributing information changing.   (Well, maybe someone gave warnings about it, but not that I'm aware.)

A libertarian idea that didn't work (not much of a surprise, really)

I've joined in with the rubbishing of Megan McArdle before (you can find the posts via the search bar at the right if you want), but now that she has written a column arguing that the libertarian's school voucher idea is pretty much a failure after 20 years of evidence, I'll cite her with approval on that issue at least!

The thing is, the explanation she gives makes sense to me, so why should I disagree with her, even though I think she is generally a bit of a dill?

Physicists fighting, and things we don't "get" yet

Back in May this year, I noted the fight that had broken out between physicists about whether the theory of cosmological inflation really made sense.

Finally, I see that Bee Hossenfelder has joined in, with two recent provocative posts in which she argues that some of the key claims about certain problems inflation allegedly solved were never problems in the first place.   Instead, it just became unthinkingly accepted amongst the physicist community that they must be problems.

She doesn't argue that inflation doesn't solve anything, but it's still pretty fascinating to see a well regarded physicist pointing out blind spots amongst her fellow scientists.

In other "gee, there's really a hell of a lot we don't understand yet" news, protons have been featuring lately.

First, there's a complete puzzle going on as to why different ways of measuring of the size of the proton keep giving incompatible results.   Nature covered it here.

Another report about it is here.  I can't find the report I most preferred, but I'll add it later if I do.

Secondly, as one J Soon has already tweeted, measurements of the proton and antiproton have shown they are very symmetrical, which seemingly removes one possible explanation of why matter came to dominate anti-matter in the universe.   The headline "the universe shouldn't exist" is a stretch, though.

Always looking backwards with vindictive intent

Axios is noting the renewed Congressional interest in the US-Russia Uranium deal, all with the point (of course) of trying to pin corruption of some kind on Hillary Clinton or Obama.

Wingnuts, who have convinced themselves that HC is the devil incarnate, keeping herself alive by nightly drinking the blood of children sacrificed in the basement of a Washington pizza parlour, think this is the biggest story since Pearl Harbour.   Their judgement, of course, has long since left the reservation:  it's once again an example of the culture war mentality under which the black President and female potential successor were a complete disaster.

It goes without saying that I could be wrong, but I reckon this looks a lot like the incredibly  time wasting Benghazi investigations all over again.   Wingnuts will think, regardless of outcome, that it was so obviously outrageously wrong.   But basically, they have stupefied themselves out of reality via the internet.  

In the bigger picture, though, apart from mere stupidity, why has the Right become so vindictive in such matters?

I reckon you see it to a lesser degree in the raids yesterday on the AWU.   The Abbott led Coalition government was clearly out to get hits on the previous government via royal commissions - they basically came up with little of long lasting effect, and opinion polls indicate that it has done the approval of the Coalition no good at all.

Now raids on a union for possibly donating money to a left leaning advocacy group?   Honestly, I reckon the public couldn't care less about this.

To care about it, you have to have this Wingnut vindictiveness which makes them look nasty and completely obsessed with trying to score political wins about not very significant things that happened  years ago.  

Good luck with backwards looking obsessions helping them politically...

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Innovative use for psychedelics

Not entirely sure that a study of this kind really shows anything reliable, but here's the way it's reported:
Newly published research suggests that common psychedelic drugs -- such as magic mushrooms, LSD and mescaline (a substance derived from the peyote cactus) -- may reduce criminal offences.
The new study, co-authored by UBC Okanagan's Associate Professor of Psychology Zach Walsh, found that psychedelic drugs are associated with a decreased likelihood of antisocial criminal behaviour.
"These findings add to a growing body of research suggesting that use of classic psychedelics may have positive effects for reducing antisocial behaviour," said Walsh, a p. "They certainly highlight the need for further research into the potentially beneficial effects of these stigmatized substances for both individual and public health."
Lead author, University of Alabama Assoc. Prof. Peter Hendricks, used data obtained by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, which is administered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, to explore the connection between the use of classic psychedelic substances and criminal behaviour among more than 480,000 American adult respondents from the past 13 years.
Key findings of the study are that respondents who have used psychedelic drugs had 27 per cent decreased odds of larceny or theft, and 22 per cent decreased odds of arrest for a violent crime in the past year. At the same time, lifetime use of other illicit substances was generally associated with increased odds of criminal behaviour.
 Well, it's a bit of a better idea than the Clockwork Orange style treatment for criminals, I guess...

This is going well, Part 2

Hard not to be amused by this explanation of how the latest, soft ball, Fox interview with Trump went:
It’s not exactly a news flash at this point that Donald Trump isn’t very fluent on questions of public policy, but his interview over the weekend with Fox Business Channel’s Maria Bartiromo is really a sobering reminder of the levels of ignorance and dishonesty that the country is dealing with. 

Bartiromo is an extraordinarily soft interviewer who doesn’t ask Trump any difficult questions or press him on any subject. That makes the extent to which he manages to flub the interview all the more striking. He’s simply incapable of discussing any topic at any length in anything remotely resembling an informed or coherent way. He says the Federal Reserve is “important psychotically” and it’s part of one of his better answers, since one can at least tell that he meant to say “psychologically.” 

By contrast, it’s often hard to make any sense at all of Trump’s words. Asked whether he plans to tie an infrastructure plan to his tax plan, Trump says, “I was thinking about tying it, but there’s too many honestly.” Too many what? He then continues: “You lose a few votes, you gain a few votes. I don’t want to take any chances ’cause I feel we have the votes right now the way it is.” There is, of course, no tax bill at the moment, so there’s no way Trump has the votes for it. 

It’s a funny interview in many ways. Along with being comically ignorant, Trump for some reason keeps referring to Chief of Staff John Kelly as “elegant.” But the prospect of a president of the United States who’s incapable of talking about any of the many issues he oversees in a reasonable way is also pretty scary.
 There's much more at the article at Vox.

This is going well

As explained by the headline at Vox:

Gold Star widow: Trump couldn’t remember my husband’s name. Trump: she’s a liar.

Wants to be a martyr for free speech?

I see that the Catallaxy blog is hosting in comments what is surely defamation about a politician.  Not just over the top criticism, as is routine there, but a quite specific, and (I would reckon) perfectly actionable claim.

Why does Sinclair Davidson let himself continually run the risk of such action?   Or am I missing something about blog owners not being liable for defamation in comments if they don't notice it?

Update:  comment has been edited, and defamatory part removed.

I think the Professor should be paying me a spotters fee every time I save him money!

The economist who writes like a 13 year old

You know how (some) young teenagers like to think they've got the world all worked out and are full of sweeping generalisations they like to proclaim to their parents or teachers, based on some misplaced surge of confidence brought on by hitting puberty and thinking they now understand what adulthood is all about?

Steve Kates continually reminds of annoying, immature 13 year old boys of that variety.   Get a load of this:
What have socialists ever done that would make anyone think they care about other people? For myself, I cannot think of a thing. Socialist ideas have never, not in a single instance, not at any time in the whole of its history, improved the lives of the communities they ruled. Other than for its leaders, socialism has only caused misery for anyone who has been trapped inside a socialist regime.
Such deep, deep thoughts are brought on by the anniversary of the October Revolution.   More:
Here is the reality. The socialist left is filled with people whose lives are driven by envy and hatred for the productive, contended and self-reliant. Ruining their lives makes no one better off but does lay to waste the lives of everyone involved, other than those who take power. No one can any longer be unaware that every socialist so-called solution to our existential and economic problems has been disastrous for everyone but those who seize power. Every socialist leader is a Stasi agent lying in wait.
Analysis with all of the subtlety, nuance and accuracy of Dinesh d'Souza's explanations that Democrats were the true inspiration for Nazism.   (You ought to read a funny explanation of that here.)   

Monday, October 23, 2017

The odd story of Middle Eastern sperm

Well, I don't recall reading about this before, but here it is in the New York Times.   While we have all heard of male sperm counts dropping for unclear reasons around the globe, apparently, male infertility has been recognized as a real problem in the Middle East for decades:

Over the past 30 years, my research has focused on male infertility in the Middle East. There, genetic sperm defects — the main cause of male infertility — are particularly common and often run in families. High rates of male smoking, ambient air pollution in the major cities and the stresses of war, too, have taken a costly toll on male reproductive health. Yet the region not only has made tremendous technological advances in combating male infertility but also has undergone a dramatic change in societal attitudes toward the problem.

Back in the 1980s, as a doctoral student, I headed to Egypt to study infertility. Semen analysis had become widely available there by the 1970s, and by the time I arrived, ordinary Egyptians — including many a male cabdriver I spoke with — were aware that men could have “weak” sperm. Scientific advances had made clear that infertility was not just a female burden....

Since those early days, much has changed as a result of several factors. Medical progress, religious permissions and government efforts have combined to make male infertility treatment much more accessible. But men themselves have played a major role in lifting taboos, in ways that are instructive for the West.

The changes began with Islamic clerics, who were among the world’s first religious leaders to approve in vitro fertilization as a solution to marital infertility. A permissive fatwa covering IVF issued in Egypt in 1980 allowed the introduction of high-tech assisted reproduction across the Muslim world. The next decades saw an IVF boom, and today, the Middle East claims one of the strongest IVF sectors in the world.

This emergence of high-tech reproductive medicine took a leap forward in the 1990s, with the introduction of a new and particularly effective form of IVF treatment known as intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI, pronounced “ik-see”), a breakthrough that gives infertile men a real chance to become biological fathers. The coming of ICSI to the Middle East was a technological revolution that in turn led to a social revolution. As more and more infertile men sought the widely advertised “ICSI solution,” male infertility was transformed from a masculinity problem into a medical condition....
As men like Nabil have come to acknowledge their infertility problems and seek treatment, they have helped to lighten the heavy load once carried by their wives: the scrutiny from in-laws, the social ostracism, the threats of divorce or polygynous remarriage. Indeed, the introduction of high-tech male infertility treatment and Middle Eastern men’s eager embrace of this technology have had positive effects on gender relations across the region.
To be sure, there are very real and important differences between the Middle East and the West when it comes to male infertility. In the Middle East, most infertile couples are barred from using donor sperm to conceive, despite the religious permissibility of many other treatments and technologies such as ICSI. In the West, ICSI has long been widely available, but the cost sometimes makes it inaccessible, particularly in the United States. But the primary obstacle has come from men’s own silence on the subject — and here is where the Middle East can serve as an instructive example.

Politicians' affairs and the culture wars

The strange situation with Barnaby Joyce (Murdoch tabloids - and today the Australian - giving publicity to his political enemy Tony Windsor spreading via Twitter rumours about some kind of sexual misbehaviour causing marriage stress)  has me thinking about the media and politician's personal lives.

I see that on Twitter, a lot of people have been attacking Katharine Murphy of The Guardian for maintaining the line that politician's private relationships (such as marriage break ups or affairs) are not something Australian reporters report on in principle, as it's largely not relevant to their jobs.   A lot of same sex marriage supporters argue that, no, it is relevant if it shows hypocrisy in their policy attitudes. 

Insiders on the ABC didn't touch the issue as well yesterday, even though it was front page news on the Telegraph the day before.

While I certainly don't want to see Australia go the way of American salacious interest in affairs, it does seem to me that the Australian left-ish media has become too precious about this.

There is no doubt that Australian political discussion has been infected with culture war issues in a similar, though perhaps slightly less extreme, way as in America.

And it is 100% clear that to the culture war obsessed Right, the sexual behaviour and attitudes of those on the Left is of great interest and alleged importance.   Basically, they think the Left is full of sexual depravity and lack of self control.   Hence, at the likes of Catallaxy, the circumstances in which any Labor politician split with their spouse is routinely a matter of criticism and ridicule - both Paul Keating and Bill Shorten have been frequently on the receiving end of such comments.    And in the Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott wars - who can deny that Tony went out of his way to use his daughters and "family man" image to maximum PR use in his campaign, whereas Gillard was the subject to continual rumour in Right wing blogs about her relationship with her partner being fake. 

Of course, the conservative wingnut Right, being as stupid as they have become with culture war obsessions, are not so fussed about politicians on their side having divorces or affairs - look at the forgiveness of Trump as an obvious case, or in Australia, how ex liberal and now one of the Fox News wannabes Ross Cameron's past private life is ignored.

So it seems to me that things have changed somewhat since (say) the 70's and 80's, when (for example) Liberal voters may not have cared for Bob Hawke much, but they also didn't spend all day on the internet talking talking to each other about his rumoured affairs.   There are those on the Left who like to spread rumour of right wingers too - but the context is usually one of hypocrisy, not general moral depravity. 

The internet has hyped up the rumour mill and the trash talk, and the culture wars have given the Right a narrative that the Left are all sexual libertines ready to have affairs at the drop a hat.   In those circumstances, it seems to me that the left-ish journalist's squeamishness about ever mentioning rumour is largely working to the advantage of the Right.

Does that mean I think Piers Akerman should have gotten away with saying on Insiders that it was a common rumour around Canberra that Gillard's de facto was gay?    Well, no, I don't think so, because it appears clear that this was actually just an internet rumour not believed by journalists due to it having no evidence behind it at all, nor (even if it was true) any relevance on the matter of hypocrisy in attitudes on the part of Gillard.

But in this case, where one big media outlet has already front paged an ex-politician spreading rumours against a current one who is likely to go to a by-election soon?    It's also pretty obvious that Windsor would be leaving himself open to serious defamation action if it is completely unfounded, and the response of Murphy indicates that they do know something factual about Joyce's woes, it's just they are choosing not to discuss it.   But if they did, it would be Windsor who made it news, not journalists being salacious.

In these circumstances, I just don't see the justification for not mentioning this on the ABC or in The Guardian.

What a joke

This long term Catallaxy resident occasionally comments here:

I will allow for one thing:   there is behaviour which is sometimes borderline or unclear as to its intent and whether it should properly be called sexual harassment.  

But the idea that women should just get up and move on due to crystal clear harassment - way to keep them in their place, hey JC. 

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Yes, John Kelly is creepily elitist in a Starship Troopers kind of way

I think it's pretty clear what happened in the Trump telephone call to the mother of the deceased soldier:  Trump asked John Kelly what he should say; Kelly gave him an outline of what had worked for him (so to speak) when his own son had been killed,  involving in part something like "he knew what he was signing up for".  But Trump delivered that line in a ham-fisted way that made it sound insensitive (and it is, frankly, no mater what Kelly may think, a line that is readily capable of coming out sounding wrong, and he might have thought more carefully how it could go wrong in delivery from his far from eloquent boss.)

So was Kelly right to be upset with the Congresswoman for her criticising the line?   Maybe, to some extent, but as many in the American media has noted, it was Trump himself who started politicising the whole matter of Presidential contact with "Gold Star" families, so it seems a bit rich to be weighing in on how outrageous it was for Wilson to say what she did.

And let's face it, a more presidential President might have reacted to the news with an apology to the mother if his meaning had been misunderstood, and then expanding on exactly what he had intended - reading off a card to make sure he gets it right, if necessary.  Instead, what did we get - a typical Trumpian "I am always right" line of denial that he had said it at all!   (Which was, essentially, contradicted by John Kelly in his appearance.)

But the more important aspect of this now is the creepily elitist militaristic line that John Kelly took in his press appearance.

Some might think that Masha Gessen at the New Yorker went too far with her assessment in "John Kelly and the Language of Military Coup, but I think she was basically right.   I liked how she pointed out that Kelly actually exaggerates the numbers, as if the nation barely knows anyone who has ever done military service (an argument I found odd, given the amount of fawning of the military you see as part of certain sporting events there):
Fallen soldiers, Kelly said, join “the best one per cent this country produces.” Here, the chief of staff again reminded his audience of its ignorance: “Most of you, as Americans, don’t know them. Many of you don’t know anyone who knows any of them. But they are the very best this country produces.

”The one-per-cent figure is puzzling. The number of people currently serving in the military, both on active duty and in the reserves, is not even one per cent of all Americans. The number of veterans in the population is far higher: more than seven per cent. But, later in the speech, when Kelly described his own distress after hearing the criticism of Trump’s phone call, the general said that he had gone to “walk among the finest men and women on this earth. And you can always find them because they’re in Arlington National Cemetery.” So, by “the best” Americans, Kelly had meant dead Americans—specifically, fallen soldiers.
To anyone sensible, this should be starting to ring authoritarian elitist alarm bells.

And it elevates the moral importance of what the military does in ways that are not really justifiable.   Sure, we can all agree that all fighters who died in a "good war" as clear as World War II died in an entirely morally justified enterprise.   We can also all agree that, even in times of relative peace, each individual soldier deserves respect for doing their government's bidding to the point of risking their life. 

But because the use of the military for much of the time is in enterprises that involve various shades of grey, we should reject any suggestion that military service per se is a morally elevating thing that makes you a "finer person" that the rest of society.

An article in Slate notes that Kelly being a Marine is probably part of the problem here.  Of all the services, they are most inclined to believe their own PR:
It’s striking that Kelly feels comfortable highlighting the civil-military divide, and even emphasizing its virtues, from the lectern of the White House briefing room. Kelly’s remarks break with the popular view among many of his contemporaries that the divide is a bad thing and that the military has grown too far apart from the nation during the 44 years of the all-volunteer force. Indeed, Defense Secretary James Mattis (Kelly’s former comrade from the Marine Corps) edited a book on the topic last year before joining the Trump administration. But perhaps Kelly’s views should not be surprising given his pedigree as a retired Marine (the Marines have always stood apart from the other services with respect to their martial virtues) and his own record of service and family sacrifice. Kelly reflects a slice of military sentiment that exists in barracks and team rooms across the globe but rarely appears in public.

Nonetheless, the implications of Kelly’s performance should worry us. If there’s no role for civilians to play other than to salute the military and give them resources, that would seem to invert the relationship between the military and the nation it’s supposed to serve.
 And at Vox, an article is accurately summed up in its subheading:
The chief of staff divides America into those who “serve” in uniform — at home and abroad — and those who should shut up.
 From the body of the piece:
In Kelly’s eyes, those who serve America understand it and those who do not simply don’t. The latter, in fact, can’t really be trusted to preserve America’s goodness.

“We don't look down upon those who haven't served,” Kelly said at the end of the presser. “In a way we're a bit sorry because you'll never experience the wonderful joy you get in your heart when you do the kind of things our service men and women do.” 

In fact, he said at another point, they “volunteer to protect our country when there's nothing in our country anymore that seems to suggest that self-service to the nation is not only appropriate but required. That's all right” (emphasis added).

So when Kelly waxed nostalgic about the days when certain things were “sacred” — women, religion, and battlefield sacrifice — he wasn’t just echoing the complaints of so many who support Donald Trump because they too feel America is no longer great. He was saying that there are Americans who have kept the flame of American greatness alive — those who serve the country for a living — and that the best thing the rest of America can do is keep a respectful distance.
It all puts me in mind of the military elitism apparently promoted by Robert Heinlein in Starship Troopers, and I'd be surprised if I am the first to write that.  

Oh yeah, as usual, I'm not:
 So, Kelly won't event take questions from people who aren't sufficiently close to the military.  It's a step towards Starship Troopers.
The thing to remember about Kelly, too, is that no matter how good his reputation as a military leader may be, anyone willing to work for a person like Trump has to be suspect in judgement.  

Weekend observations

*   When did the frequent use of the word "bespoke" become a thing?   I noticed it on (I think) Radio National this week, and then realised how it's appearing everywhere in the media, the same way viral catchphrases get used by teens.  I also realised I didn't even clearly understand what it meant, and now that I've looked it up, I'm not even sure that everyone is using appropriately.   I don't approve.

*   I thought that it had become almost impossible to find the original cut of Blade Runner on DVD, and (as I have explained before) I am apparently one of the few people who prefer it with the voice over narration.  So I was pleasantly surprised to find last night that the version on Stan (from which I haven't yet got around to un-subscribing) is the original, and I re-watched it in full.   Yeah, it's still pretty good.  I never thought it was the greatest movie, but it is very Philip K Dick thematically, and sure, you have to admire the production design.   Would be funny (not the right word) if due to a Trumpian nuclear holocaust, LA really does end up under a perpetual cloud of yellow smog by 2019.   I haven't yet gone to see the sequel, but will soon.

*  I'm very much enjoying the current springtime season of cheap Australian asparagus.  Last night it made an appearance in my Spanish style omelette/fritatta, which is a really easy by tasty light dinner.   It's so simple it seems hardly necessary to record the recipe, but I will anyway:
Roughly cube enough potato to cover frying pan.   If they are clean, just leave the skin on.  Start cooking on low heat in about 1 cm of olive oil.  After a few minutes, add in a rough diced onion, and about five minutes later some red capsicum and chopped up chorizo.  Stir them around every now and then.  The potato should be soft at about the 15 minute mark, then drain off most of the oil.  Push the cooked mix to the side and fry briefly some chopped asparagus, then spread the contents around so that you have an even mix across the fry pan. Spinkle on some salt and pepper, and pour in 5 or 6 beaten eggs over the top and shake the pan to make sure it is reaching the bottom.   Cook under low heat til you can see the mix harden, but it will need to be placed under a griller to get the top firmly set and a bit browned too.  I usually sprinkle on a bit of cheese on top before grilling, although I expect that is not a Spanish thing.   Eat with bread and a side vegetable like beans.  Delicious, especially if using a good quality chorizo.