Thursday, November 30, 2017

Being affable isn't enough

In media appearances, I've usually found Senator Sam Dastyari affable enough, and pretty quick witted.  But I've said before that his cosying up to the inflexible, immature, ideologue of an accidental Senator with a myriad of bad ideas (David Leyonhjelm) in his already forgotten "Nanny State Enquiry" was a big warning sign of a lack of judgement.  Sam's reasons for being deputy chair on the enquiry:
Up and coming Labor Senator Sam Dastyari has agreed to be the inquiry's deputy chair because he said it would "provoke a fascinating moral debate".

"This is probably going to be Australia's largest ever inquiry into vice," Senator Dastyari said.

He said the issues being examined range from "reasonable to ridiculous" but declared Australians who "hold majority views" should always be prepared to "justify the case for regulation".
...just sounded like insincere posturing to me.   I presume it was involvement in that which also means Sinclair Davidson,  who has such a political tin ear that he thought Bronwyn Bishop was a good speaker, became a Sam supporter.  

Sam's latest problems confirm he's just to unreliable to be a Labor Senator, or even an independent one.   The summary:
Dastyari took money for himself from a Chinese businessman and Labor donor, Huang Xiangmo, who Labor (and the government) had been warned had links to the Chinese government. He disavowed the Australian government position, and the Labor position, on Chinese expansionism at a press conference, standing alongside Huang. He misled the public about the nature of those remarks. And he warned Huang his phone could be tapped, and, when visiting his house, suggested they talk outside and leave their phones inside in case they were being bugged by ASIO.
I don't see why the public, or Labor, should ever trust him again.  He has terrible judgement and has made himself look eminently bribe-able.  He should resign.  Some corporate dill will soon enough  employ him to act as their talking head.

And finally, in a very, very rare event, I will approve one of Chris Kenny's tweets on the topic, because it is genuinely pretty funny:

Really despicable

Trump is a gullible Grade A conspiracy monger about the nuttiest things, who doesn't have the common sense to keep his suspicions to himself (if he does genuinely believe some of them - who knows?), but tweets them out because he senses political advantage.

I would have to say, though, that his latest one, calling for Joe Scarborough to be investigated for a death that has plainly never been a mystery (and for which there is no evidence at all of sexual impropriety - read Scarborough's explanation of how little he ever had to do with this intern) would have to be the most despicable thing he has done to try to hurt a critic.

It is hard to believe he maintains supporters anywhere - but that's the idiotic culture wars for you.

Update:  yes, it is interesting to note that the original conspiracy mongering about Scarborough came from the left - including Michael Moore.   That was equally despicable, but they (Moore and Moulitsas) were never the President of the United States.

Update:  in The Atlantic, covering recent revelations of ridiculous claims being made by Trump in private, as well as via twitter, David Graham says its time everyone stopped giving him any benefit of the doubt:
Trump’s insistence on debunked arguments about Obama’s place of birth and about widespread voter fraud were once viewed as political posturing. For his critics, this kind of behavior was demagoguish, immoral, appalling, and divisive. For his defenders, it was perhaps a little boorish, but then again all is fair in politics; besides, they liked his willingness to throw a punch. Either way, the shared assumption for many (though by no means all) observers was that Trump was being disingenuous.

Since then, however, the president has repeatedly demonstrated that he’s not just posturing, and it’s not simply a cynical ploy. Trump isn’t being hypocritical simply for sport or political gain. His bigotry isn’t just an act to win over a certain segment of the population. Of course it wasn’t: Trump has been demonstrating that since he arrived in the news, settling a case alleging that he had kept African Americans out of his apartment buildings, up through his demand to execute the Central Park Five. He isn’t spreading misinformation just to twist the political discourse—though he may be doing that—but because he can’t or won’t assess it. It is not an act.

All of this has been clear to anyone willing to see it for a long time, yet some people have convinced themselves it’s merely an act. That includes the Republican members of Congress who shake their heads but try to ignore the tweets. It includes the senator who chuckles at Trump’s enduring birtherism. And it includes the White House staffers who, according to The Times, are “stunned” to hear their boss denying the Access Hollywood tape. It’s stunning that they’re still stunned.
He's probably right.

Yglesias sounding sensible, again

He argues here that the fundamental problem with the GOP tax plan is not cutting corporate tax per se, but cutting it way too far than anyone ever thought was necessary or wise. 

The GOP and its divorce from reality

Yes, the first tweet shows their pure denialism - or perhaps more accurately, plain lying; the second tweet just makes no common sense; except, perhaps to those ideologically determined to get to limited government, no matter how the economy and society is hurt getting there.   (I suppose that in their lizard brain, limited government is always good for the economy.  Eventually.  Roadkill on the way doesn't matter.  Just like Laffer said Kansas would all work out if you only gave it another 10 years.  Yes, 10 years while education was defunded, highways unrepaired, etc.)

Update:  this lengthy explanation at Slate at how the Kansas experiment went wrong, yet the GOP seems determined to try it again at a national level, is very good.

Update 2:  when even columns in the WSJ are raising the same concerns as Slate, you know there is something to it.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Milo's numbers

The professional troll Milo is best ignored, but the SBS report on his first, vacuous, Australian press conference says:
Yiannopoulos has sold 10,000 tickets for his speaking tour of Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, the Gold Coast and Adelaide.
I find those numbers a little bit hard to believe, actually.  I presume they have come from his own publicist (or his own mouth?) 

Same sex marriage by the numbers

The Economist gave some numbers for gay marriage in an article recently:
One possible explanation for the nonchalance is that the number of gay marriages has been fairly small. When they were legalised in Britain in March 2014, the government expected more than 9,000 gay weddings in the following year, but fewer than 6,000 took place. “It hasn’t taken off as I would have hoped,” says Emma Joanne of Shotgun Weddings, a photography firm based in Brighton, Britain’s gayest burgh. American polling data suggests that just one in ten lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender adults are married to somebody of the same sex. Many gay people are young, and young people seldom marry, regardless of their sexual leanings.

Women have been keenest to go down the aisle. In Britain, Sweden and the Netherlands, marriages between women outnumber marriages between men. Women’s unions are also more likely to break down. In the Netherlands, which legalised same-sex marriage in 2001, 82.1% of opposite-sex marriages joined in 2005 were still intact in 2016, compared with only 69.6% of marriages between women. Gay men were the commitment champions: 84.5% of their marriages had endured.
Not sure I would read too much into what happens in the Netherlands, but it is a little surprising that the gay males were divorcing less than straight couples.

Actually, it's really hard to track down more up to date figures for same sex marriage in the UK.  The obvious website that should cover it is not accessible at the moment.

Just because!

One other observation:  watching both the path of the Republican tax bill in the US at the moment ( which has many, many problems) and the way Brexit has gone (a huge "divorce settlement" of £50 billion, and that's with lots of important stuff still to be negotiated), it is extremely hard to give any credit to the way the Right/conservatives deal with policy now.  

It all seems to be a matter of wanting to get their way again, never mind the details.   Nothing seems properly considered and honestly debated.    (Of course, Britain finds itself it in the very weird situation of Labor also supporting some sort of Brexit - it's like political and economic common sense has left the land.)   

It seems, I think, to all be tied up a churlish reaction to the culture wars - "you Lefties have had your way for too long, with your feminism, gay rights, transexual rights, climate change scaremongering, anti-smoking campaigns, and wanting to take my tax money for your so called health care and social safety net.   Enough of that - we're bringing in new policies because - they're not your policies.   No body cares about the details, losers."

A sporting observation

I can never envisage developing an interest in cricket, but it's unavoidable noticing some media commentary on the game at times.

I have recently released, listening to some fans of the sport talking about the recent Ashes First Test in Brisbane (I think that's what it was - I often would not even know which match is what in what series even if I see something is on),  that cricket fandom seems to have devolved into perpetual whingers - unhappy about the players, the pitch, the team management, the weather, how it's nothing as good as it used to be, etc etc.  And this general air of dissatisfaction with the state of the game seems to have been hanging around, more or less, for years now.

I'm really not sure why they are still devoted to following a game that can take up such an investment in time if they find so much to complain about in it...

Your bit of Kant for the day

I didn't realise how much Kant was "into" anthropology (or at least, what might be called anthropology in his day).  From an article at Philosophy Now:

Kant suggested that the most important question in philosophy was not that of truth (epistemology), goodness (ethics), or beauty (aesthetics) – the topics which so fascinate academic philosophers – but rather the anthropological question, ‘What is the human being?’ He also suggested that this question could only be answered empirically, and not by resorting to, say, metaphysics. This implies, of course, that we can learn more about the human subject by studying anthropology (ethnography), sociology, psychology, ethology, and now evolutionary biology, than by engaging in speculative academic philosophy about human beingness, in the style of Husserl, Heidegger, or Derrida.....

Through his philosophical writings and with regard to his profound influence on subsequent scholarship, Immanuel Kant has rightly been acclaimed as one of the key figures in the history of Western thought. He had a deep interest in the natural sciences, particularly physical geography, but what is less well known is that he also gave lectures in anthropology for more than twenty years. We are told by his student Johann Herder that the lectures were in the nature of hugely entertaining talks. At the age of seventy-four Kant published Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View (1798). (By ‘pragmatic’, he meant the use of knowledge to widen the scope of human freedom and to advance the dignity of humankind.)

In this seminal text Kant suggested that there were three distinct, but interrelated, ways of understanding the human subject: firstly as a universal species-being (mensch) – the “earthly being endowed with reason” on which Kant’s anthropological work was mainly focussed; secondly as a unique self (selbst); and thirdly as part of a people – as a member of a particular social group (volk). (Notwithstanding the last element, Herder always insisted that Kant, with his emphasis on universal human faculties such as imagination, perception, memory, feelings, desires and understanding, tended to downplay the importance of language, poetry and cultural diversity in understanding human life. But as a pioneer anthropologist, Herder also emphasized that anthropology, not speculative metaphysics or logic, was the key to understanding humans and their life-world, that is, their culture.)

Long ago the anthropologist Clyde Kluckhohn, following Kant, made a statement that is in some ways rather banal but which has always seemed to me to encompass an important truth. Critical of dualistic nature-culture conceptions of the human subject, Kluckhohn, along with the pioneer psychologist Henry Murray, suggested that every person is, as a species-being (a human) in some respects like every other person; but they are also all like no other human being in having a unique personality (or self); and, finally, that they have affinities with some other humans in being a social and cultural being (or person). These three categories relate to three levels or processes in which all humans are embedded; namely, the phylogenetic, pertaining to the evolution of humans as a species-being; the ontogenetic, which relates to the life history of the person within a specific familial and biological setting; and, finally, the socio-historical, which situates the person in a specific social-cultural context. So Kluckholm, not unlike Kant, thought human beings need to be conceptualized in terms of three interconnected aspects: as a species-being characterized by biopsychological dispositions and complex sociality; as a unique individual self; and finally, as a social being or person, enacting social identities or subjectivities – which in all human societies are multiple, shifting and relational. For an anthropologist like Kluckhohn the distinction between being a human individual and being a person was important, for many tribal people recognize non-human persons, while under chattel slavery, the law treated human slaves not as persons, but rather as things or commodities.
Interesting, somewhat...

Islamic dog terrorism

So, it seems that in Jordan, a cleric's comments were taken as a fatwa to go out and kill dogs, which led to lots of people getting out to shoot up (or poison) stray dogs.   It was all started by a girl dying of rabies after being bitten by a stray.

Not that big a story, perhaps, except that the article in The Atlantic is interesting because of its discussion of the odd status of fatwas per se in Islam:
But the peculiar thing about Jordan’s “holy war on dogs” is that it doesn’t exist, according to Jordan’s Dar al-Iftaa, the institution that issues religious rulings. The mufti’s words were never intended as a command to kill, said Ahmad al-Hasanat, secretary general of Dar al-Iftaa. “It is forbidden to kill dogs like this,” said al-Hasanat. Contrary to portrayals of the fatwa as a brutal imperative to kill, the original fatwa only allowed killing of a dog that is threatening one’s life, al-Hasanat said. “If there are dogs living on the streets, no one is saying to kill them.”

The potential issue with fatwas is not that they are strict religious commands, but the opposite: They are non-binding religious opinions, only sometimes put in writing, that are left open to the individual’s interpretation and choice of whom he wants to obey. Typically given as answers to individuals’ specific questions, fatwas are based on deliberation and analysis by qualified religious scholars called muftis. The difference between fatwas and court rulings is that no one is obligated to follow a fatwa; it’s not a law, and ignoring it incurs no penalty.

“Religious authority is not forced,” al-Hasanat said. “We only give advice. If someone takes it, great. If not, what can we do? I give him a fatwa, and he decides.”
As for the status of dogs in Islam, it seems all kind of confusing:
Dogs have long been considered unclean in most schools of Islamic law, said Berglund, who published a paper on the status of dogs in Islam. But there is no basis in the Koran or hadith for mass killings of dogs—nor is there an imperative to do so in the fatwa. The driving force behind Jordan’s dog shootings is not Islamic government, it seems, but Jordanian people’s preexisting irritation with an uncontrolled stray dog problem. In 2014, for example, local media reported that residents were asking the municipality of Zarqa to get rid of strays after dogs attacked an elderly woman and several children, but that the officials refused, saying that killing dogs was forbidden and against Islamic law.

“Probably a lot of people in Jordan are just fed up with stray dogs. It’s a very human thing. You pick up this fatwa to get rid of the dogs harassing your family and stealing food,” Berglund said. “If this mufti had said it’s permissible to kill horses or donkeys, people wouldn’t have started to kill horses or donkeys. There are plenty of fatwas on helping the poor, too, but look how many people do nothing for the poor.”

In this case, religion may be serving people’s social aims, not the other way around. Whereas foreigners assumed the “war on dogs” was coming from the demands of strict religious authority, it may actually be the opposite: Jordan’s religious flexibility has allowed space for dog-haters to use a fatwa as an excuse to kill them.
Update:   I'm going to be very even handed here, and raise the question of Jewish attitudes to dogs.  If they aren't so keen on them either, it is just a Near East cultural thing that has spread further afield with both Islam and Judaism? 

Interestingly, there are lots of articles on the 'net asking whether Jews generally like dogs, or not.   The best article I've quickly read, so far, is perhaps this one in The Tablet, which notes that the evidence is strong for at least an ambivalent attitude towards both dogs and cats.  (I didn't realise before - while dogs get a mention here and there in the Bible, cats never do.)   Here are some interesting paragraphs:
For the most part, and in spite of some recent scholarly attempts at rehabilitation, dogs were held in contempt in Israelite society due to their penchant for dining on blood and carcasses (I Kings 14:11; 16:4, 21:19, 24, and 22:38). They were regarded as urban predators roaming about at night, barking and howling, in search for food (Psalms 59:7, 15), and such dogs could easily attack anybody who got too close (Psalms 22:17, 21) or bite those who foolishly tried to show them affection (Proverbs 26:17). Outside of the city there were wild dogs, busy devouring carrion and licking blood (II Kings 9:35-36; Exodus 22:30). Very few people would have wanted anything to do with them. The only hint of any positive role for the biblical dog is found in Job 30:1, which makes reference to “dogs of my flock,” perhaps indicating that in biblical times there were dogs who served as sheep dogs or herders.

The basically negative and at best ambivalent attitude of biblical Israelites was not that different from prevalent attitudes in general in the ancient Near East, which often stressed the impurity of the dog and its contemptible status. True, there were exceptions to the rule; some dogs did occasionally enjoy somewhat of a higher status, some Canaanite cults may have sanctified canines, the Hittites liked to use them in purification and healing rites, and the odd dog may actually have been kept as a pet—and if it lived in Phoenician Ashkelon might have been buried in the dog cemetery. However, these were exceptions to the generally negative stereotypes that existed in both ancient Israel and in neighboring lands.
 Dogs fared a lot better in some other ancient cultures:
 Greeks, Romans, and Persians loved dogs. Dogs were functional: They served as hunting dogs, sheep dogs, and guard dogs. Dogs could pull carts, and there were even performing dogs. Some dogs were said to be able to heal with a lick of their tongues. They were popular pets and companions for men and women of all ages: A “boy and his dog” and even a “girl and her dog” were quite common, and many women had a small lap dog as a pet. In Persia, dogs did all of the above-mentioned tasks and were popular, but they were also revered, taking on the status given to cats in Egypt—in part because the Persians mistakenly identified the spiny hedgehog as a dog, and this animal was instrumental in ridding houses of poisonous snakes.
 Cats, not so much:
Cats were a lot less popular, although as mousers and enemies of vermin they fulfilled an important function. Yet keeping them as pets indoors or even in the barnyard could be problematic since, in addition to mice, they had a tendency to attack or eat other pets in the home or chickens or fowl in the barnyard. Not only were they not “guard” animals like dogs, but it was often necessary to guard against their feral nature, even when supposedly domesticated: They were necessary but not loved. In Persia, though, they were khrafstra, noxious creatures, the same as the mice and the rats that they ate.
 Interesting, I'm sure you'll agree.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Not taking it well

The conservative cohort of Catallaxy (that's about 95% of them) are not taking the same sex marriage survey result at all well:

That's possibly the most ludicrous attempt at a put down of a politician I have ever read...  

Butter history

NPR links to a February post  reviewing a book about the history of butter.   Don't think I've heard of this before:
Even the first-ever documented student protest in American history is linked with butter. Harvard University's Great Butter Rebellion of 1766 began after a meal containing particularly rancid butter was served to students, who (not unlike modern college-goers) were frustrated over the state of food in the dining hall. As reported in The Harvard Crimson, Asa Dunbar (who would later become the grandfather of Henry David Thoreau), incited the student body into action by hopping onto his chair, shouting, "Behold our butter stinketh! Give us therefore butter that stinketh not!"

The Don

I'm sure there was some lengthy profile done in Fairfax, probably, while Don Burke was still on TV about how many people had left his show saying that he was a complete jerk to work with.   The details coming to light now show how much he was an intensely sexist, offensive jerk who, like Weinstein, sounds lucky to have avoided sexual assault charges.

But I have to say, guiltily, that some of the stories are so crude and so "real life Sir Les Patterson"  that I keep thinking how some of them done in a movie satirising such a character could play as shockingly funny.   Not funny to be a real women trying to fend him off;  it's more some of the ridiculously crude things he thought he could say to women and not have them take offence.

Marvel explained

Even though I'm not the world's biggest Marvel movie fan, it's hard not to be impressed with the "Marvel Universe" as an essentially good natured commercial success. It is therefore interesting to read in Vanity Fair how much of that is down to one young-ish guy - Kevin Feige - who I have never heard of, and whose photo doesn't even appear in this lengthy feature.

I suspect Jason is over there reading it now...

Monday, November 27, 2017

Amusing sarcasm

And Then There's Physic's twitter feed has a sarcastic go at the Matt Ridley's Global Warming Policy Foundation:

More random stuff

*   Had an anxiety dream last night in which I was in a university lecture theatre, where I had agreed to give a lecture (just introductory, I think) on black holes, but completely forgotten to prepare for it.  Some famous physicist was supposed to be coming to watch it as well.   My big concern was whether I knew enough to "wing it" with the lecture, which was due to start any minute.  Fortunately, the dream did not extend to the start of the lecture....

*  Have I mentioned before, but Japan, which is very big on cloth and fabrics, is the best country from which to buy nice but reasonably priced men's handkerchiefs.  I still do not understand how the modern youngster gets buy without one.

*  I like Uniqlo shirts, and shorts, too.

* The Washington Post has a story about a rare form of cancer which often gets initially mistaken for persistent jock itch (!):
For more than two years, Schroeder had been coping with an extremely rare, invasive cancer called extramammary Paget’s disease (EMPD), which had invaded his scrotum, requiring multiple surgeries. Women account for roughly half of EMPD cases; the cancer, often misdiagnosed as eczema or contact dermatitis, attacks the sweat-producing apocrine glands, including those in the genital and anal areas.

The slow-growing cancer, which in men is frequently misdiagnosed as “jock itch” — slang for a fungal infection — can be fatal. And while treatment is often grueling, for Schroeder the worst part was his sense of isolation: He had never spoken to anyone who shared his diagnosis.
 *  Man, there was a serious outbreak of nuttiness at Catallaxy on the weekend, with Steve Kates spending an entire post deriding a commenter there who is actually one of the more-or-less sane sounding ones.  Not to mention another commenter who spent ages going on about claiming he wasn't able to sleep because there was an evil presence in the master bedroom - for no clear reason at all.  (It was all a bit of "hamming it up" he says this morning.   The point?)

I'm sure that the site is a great example of the psychological phenomena that repeatedly saying things aloud convinces the speaker of the truth of the matter, even if was something was originally held in the mind with weak to moderate conviction.   Thus, for example, the repeated quip that "leftism is a mental illness" moves from what they may have originally sensed as a partisan witticism with some element of truth (I'm not saying I agree with that) to something that many on the site have come to genuinely believe as a an absolute truism, and with no humour in the observation at all.    This is why it such a harmful place - with no calls for moderation in comments from other commenters, or (rarely) from Davidson, it has become descending whirlpool for encouraging righteous certainty of wrong, obnoxious and uncharitable views. 

Now, must go prepare my lecture notes...

Queensland election

Well, provided Labor gets back with a seat or two to spare, that wasn't too bad an outcome for the Queensland election.

The best thing, of course, was One Nation only gaining a seat (maybe two?) and the evidence that even the people of Ipswich see Malcolm Roberts as a nutty loser.

My favourite tweet about him (amongst many which ran with "he's an alien" line):

Oh, it won't up load.  Back later.

Here it is:

Saturday, November 25, 2017

To Coco or not to Coco (and a bonus list at the end)

For some years now, I haven't cared for Pixar films, and even puzzled over the critical high praise that the occasional one still achieves.   (See Inside Out - which is on my mental list of the most undeservedly  over-praised movies of all time*.) 

But it has one out now on a Mexican theme, and I've been feeling increasingly interested in all things about that nation and culture for years, so I think I should probably see it.   Christopher Orr in The Atlantic thinks so, but then again, while he also has noted the decline of Pixar, he thinks it's not as good as Inside Out.  (?)   What's a reader of movie reviews supposed to do?

*  OK, lets get some of those title down on the record:

Forest Gump:   don't exactly hate it, but found it basically glum and depressing and just couldn't see the point.   Sometimes eccentric movies are worth it just for the eccentricity - not this time.

The Godfather:   noted here before that I only finally saw recently on streaming TV, and found abundant flaws in the story and acting that left me very surprised at how it maintains its status.   Again, not terrible terrible, just puzzlingly over praised. 

Unforgiven:    hated it.  Only viewed it once, when released at the cinema; immediately puzzled about what critics saw in it from a directorial or story point of view.   I don't think I had even evolved my full blown dismissal of Clint Eastwood as bringing anything of value to cinema at that time - this movie was probably the start of it.

Inside Out:  not emotionally resonate or funny at all;   other audience members seemed to me pretty bored too, yet it was seriously praised by the great majority of American critics in particular.  Don't get it.
  Chariots of Fire:   a simple, simple story: so simple what was the freaking point of telling it?  High praise evidence only of the disproportionate effect a memorable theme can have on a movie's reception.  Otherwise, it really was an incredibly slight film.

The Truman Show:  contains no redeeming value at all.   Look, I consider reality TV to be pretty awful and don't watch it; but making a whole movie (as opposed to, say, a 30 minute Twilight Zone exercise) about how cruel and awful it could become and how our hero will endeavour to escape it has to contain some plausibility and not just be a fantasy exercise for it to work.   This movie doesn't.   I found it such an awful waste of my time that (I'm embarrassed to say), I actually expressed my disagreement to a stranger I was walking past on the way out of the cinema who was praising it to his girlfriend.   They slipped away quietly, not willing to engage in critical debate.  Sorry about that...

The Piano:   come on, surely you have to have two X chromosomes to think this is the most brilliant movie?   I've no problem with stories from a female perspective, but there was just something so overwhelmingly, blatantly "I'm a woman director putting a strong, resilient woman's story on screen"  about this whole exercise it felt like the male audience was being punished, or frozen out, or something.  (To be honest, I remember little about the story - am more remembering some of my reaction and discussion with female friend I saw it with at the time.)

Ghostbusters (the original):  well, I only add this because of the nutty enthusiasm for it of alt.righters into attacking last year's OK-ish female version.   From memory, the original wasn't that big a hit with critics, and I would certainly agree that it wasn't really all that funny, although basically harmless.   Fast forward to 2016 and it seems that a certain group of males (admittedly, nutty obnoxious ones with no sense of proportion) seem to think it was comedy gold that was the most meaningful experience of their childhood.   Weird.

That's it for now  - must come back to expand this list as I recall more.

All about crossing the road

Sounds like a bland post, but it's surprisingly interesting.  I didn't know anything about the recent move in the UK to deliberately build "shared spaces" at intersections, and how well they work for most people:

(On a minor point - I'm pretty sure this American narrator actually pronounces analysis as "anal - ysis", with "anal" as in the body part.  How many Americans do that?)

Friday, November 24, 2017

Things have improved

First:  Hey, Jason, it is not a case of a "few drunken rants" by Gibson.   According to Joe Eszterhas,  Mel's views in private were (are?) just shockingly nuts and he was (is?) a completely gullible antisemite.  Read this article, if you never have.   I don't know how he has kept any other than the most superficial of friends.  Update:  this article asks a good question - How on earth did Mel Gibson get forgiven by Hollywood.?

Back to the point of the post:   I suspect it was my relatively late use of sunglasses as an adult that might have doomed me to this (I used to read books sitting in the sun in the Botanic Gardens without sunglasses all through university) but my increasingly smeary vision in my right eye means I'll be having a cataract operation in January.

Which has led me to wonder about the history of cataract surgery.  It's more lurid than I knew:
Cataract surgery is one of the oldest surgical procedures known, first documented in the fifth century BC.[12] In ancient times, cataracts were treated with a technique called couching, which could only be performed when the lens had become completely opaque, rigid, and heavy to the point that the supporting zonules had become fragile. The eye would then be struck with a blunt object with sufficient force to cause the zonules to break so that the lens would dislocate into the vitreous cavity, restoring limited but completely unfocused vision. Centuries later, the technique was modified so that a sharp fine instrument was inserted into the eye to break the zonules to cause the dislocation.
Fast forward 2,000 years or so, and things improved, a little:
The first reported surgical removal of a cataract from the eye occurred in Paris in 1748.[13] The advent of topical anesthesia made this procedure more practical. The early techniques involved removing the entire opaque lens in one piece using an incision that went halfway around the circumference of the cornea. It was critical that the lens remained intact as it was being removed, so surgery was restricted to so-called ripe lenses: cataracts so hardened that they would not break into pieces as they were being removed. This limited the surgery to only the most advanced cataracts. Since fine sutures did not exist at that time, patients were kept immobilized with sandbags around their head while the wound healed. Consequently, the early literature reporting cataract surgery routinely documented the mortality rate (secondary to pulmonary emboli).
Fortunately, now they need the tiniest of holes:
The evolution of smaller surgical incisions was matched by the development of new lens implants created out of different materials (such as acrylic and silicone) that could be folded to allow the lens to be inserted through a tiny wound. At the present time, commercially available lenses can be inserted through wounds a little over 2 mm.
 This is a pretty good period of history to be living in...

Right wing pays out

The Guardian notes that the Australian Spectator, edited by the clown haired (and brained) Rowan Dean, has had a big loss in a defamation case:
Spectator Australia, the conservative magazine already struggling to survive with paid sales of about 8,000 copies, will be deeply wounded by a $572,674 payment to a Toowoomba family who say they were defamed by the publication. Editor Rowan Dean, who was Mark Latham’s co-host on the doomed Sky News show Outsiders, has maintained his silence about the eye-watering sum and how it will affect the Australian arm of the UK magazine.

Denis Wagner, one of four brothers to take legal action, told Weekly Beast the family just wanted justice after the magazine published an article, “Dam Busters! How Cater and Jones burst Grantham’s wall of lies”, which implied they were to blame for the Grantham flood. “We are pleased with the successful resolution of the claim, which vindicates the stance we have taken in this matter,” Wagner said. “We are now focusing on vindicating our reputations in our cases against Alan Jones and Channel Nine.”

The large out-of-court settlement was made ahead of a defamation trial that had been set down to start in Queensland this month. The Wagners took action against conservative commentator Nick Cater, as well as broadcaster Alan Jones, radio stations 2GB and 4BC and Channel Nine for a 60 Minutes story involving Cater. A commission of inquiry in 2015 cleared the Wagners of any responsibility and inquiry head Walter ­Sofronoff QC concluded the flood was “a natural disaster and that no human agency caused it or could ever have prevented it”.

At a $100 a year to get the magazine, the payout is the same value as 5,000 odd subscriptions.    Ouch.

Presumably, flood conspiracists Alan Jones and Nick Cater are going to be coughing up dollars too.

By the way, whatever happened to the class action against the Queensland government that started in a fanfare of Hedley Thomas articles, but seems to have petered out?    Would like for it to die, too, given that it was mainly promoted by climate change denialists.

Globally ill

I often can't find much to post about on a Friday, especially if it's a busy day ahead.  Of course, I could go over to Catallaxy and watch the further self debasement of Steve Kates going so far beyond mere "brown nosing" of Donald Trump that only his feet are still visible, but even that gets boring after a time.

Anyway, here's one article from Discover that looks interesting - the matter of the global reach of mental illness, and how one researcher is trying to get treatment available in all countries, not just the rich ones.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

The silly Senator

Where's Jason lately?   Because I'd like to know his reaction to this:

Senator Leyonhjelm to bring Milo Yiannopoulos to Parliament House

I've always said Leyonhjelm had no good judgement.  This is just further evidence.

A good spice

If you go this page, you'll see an article about cinnamon possibly being useful in burning up fat.  But look to the left - there's a bunch of other articles of hopeful cinnamon health effects, too: from Alzheimer's, Parkinsons, and liver health too!

And, of course, tumeric seems to be having its day in the fad sun, with vendors of a tumeric tea type drink to be found around shopping centres lately.

Seems that some spices are "hot" at the moment, in the matter of health.

More Yglesias

I'm finding Matthew Yglesias's explanations on economics to be rather like Greg Jericho's in Australia:  neither are economists (I think) but both have a convincing way of explaining economics issues.

Hence, Yglesias's article on the likely effect of the Republican's desired tax cuts sounds about right to me.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017


I strongly recommend that the gentle reader make haste to view a series of cute and kooky looking photos of pandas, many also featuring Chinese carers dressed as said animal, in this charming feature in The Atlantic.   An example:

I know that Star Trek IV featured aliens coming to Earth to find out what had happened to their favourite animals, the humpback whales, but I think it more likely that it would be this charming, but  inept, creature that looks like it was dropped off here for safekeeping 10,000 years ago...

A funny Travel Man

Yay:  SBS Viceland (I think) is showing another series of Travel Man, and they are up on SBS on Demand.

While Richard Ayoade is never unwatchable, some episodes are funnier than others, depending to an extent on the person he's travelling with.

The episode we watched last night, in Valencia (a gorgeous looking place to visit, incidentally), with a female comedian who I am not familiar with, struck me as particularly funny.   The paella cooking lessons were a highlight for my amusement:

Yes, pretty amusing (and sort of encouraging)

Spotted on Twitter:

Premier pro-Trump website in Australia is run by Sinclair Davidson

I see that the increasingly potty Rafe Champion, who used to respected enough to have blogging rights at Club Troppo, has been utterly convinced by a book by Newt Gingrich (who more sensible people blame for starting the rapid, poisonous decline in the dynamics of American politics) that Trump is just a great, salt-of-the-earth, man-of-the-people sorta guy, with remarkable political talent.

So Sinclair Davidson, libertarian and Trump skeptic himself, now hosts two of our nations most gullible and slavishly pro-Trump commentators on Catallaxy.   Sure, he has one (maybe two?) anonymous contributors who put the boot into Trump occasionally, but the blog commenters run about 90% in favour of Trump, I reckon.

I don't know how Davidson reconciles himself to the fact that running a supposedly libertarian/centre right blog has been taken over by the most wingnutty/conservative voices in the country.

The only - and I mean only - unifying thing about anyone who regularly participates at that blog is that they all know climate change is a crock.

Aliens any day now

I'm not sure how accurate this estimate could be, given that this is the first interstellar asteroid/alien star destroyer detected swanning through the solar system, but The Guardian reports:

The other group of astronomers, led by David Jewitt, University of California Los Angeles, estimated how many other interstellar visitors like it there might be in our solar system.
The other group of astronomers, led by David Jewitt, University of California Los Angeles, estimated how many other interstellar visitors like it there might be in our solar system.Surprisingly, they calculate that another 10,000 could be closer to the sun than the eighth planet, Neptune, which lies 30 times further from the sun than the Earth. Yet these are currently undetected.

Each of these interstellar interlopers would be just passing through. They are travelling too fast to be captured by the gravity of the sun. Yet it still takes them about a decade to cross our solar system and disappear back into interstellar space.

If this estimate is correct, then roughly 1,000 enter and another 1,000 leave every year – which means that roughly three arrive and three leave every day.
Presumably, this means that, despite decades of attempts to detect asteroids around the solar system, we could find that on any day of the week one that comes from interstellar space does a braking burn and our alien overlords will have arrived.  

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The asteroid that looked suspiciously like a spaceship

I posted as soon as I read about that interstellar asteroid that zoomed in and out of the solar system last month because I thought that it may well be a spaceship instead.

Lo and behold, the observations made in a rush as it left the solar system indicate this:
Karen Meech explains the significance: "This unusually large variation in brightness means that the object is highly elongated: about ten times as long as it is wide, with a complex, convoluted shape. We also found that it has a dark red colour, similar to objects in the outer Solar System, and confirmed that it is completely inert, without the faintest hint of dust around it."
These properties suggest that `Oumuamua is dense, possibly rocky or with high metal content, lacks significant amounts of water or ice, and that its surface is now dark and reddened due to the effects of irradiation from cosmic rays over millions of years. It is estimated to be at least 400 metres long.
and the artists impression is this:

which seems to me, if you add more red, to be a fair approximation to this:

That's one of the versions of Red Dwarf, for those who don't know.

As usual, someone else on the 'net has probably already made the comparison - because it does seem kind of obvious to nerds.

Tim Wilson - migration skeptic?

Judith Sloan has been whinging about migration for a while now (a couple of years?)   She thinks there's too many and that they don't really bring economic benefits that others claim.   She has a column in The Australian today making her arguments, in which she seems to concede they may have a small net economic benefit.  

Seems her gripes are exaggerated to me.  Where does she live, Melbourne?   Migrant neighbours bothering her, I wonder?

And then, to my surprise, Tim Wilson comes out in support of her views today:

What is it with these small government, IPA types getting into quasi One Nation migration whinging?

It's very peculiar.

Monday, November 20, 2017

That doesn't seem very sporting of God

Some researchers have studied flu infection rates in Middle Eastern countries with the timing of the Hajj in Saudi Arabia, and Hanukkah in Israel, and the results look very clear:

You'd think they would have done this sort of study before, but apparently Saudi Arabia doesn't like to play ball by providing its figures.  So this is for 6 neighbouring countries, plus Israel.

How ludicrous can he get?

I refer to Steve Kates, Trump cultist, who seems to honestly believe that as soon as the Presidency changed, every economic indicator was obviously due to incredible awesome powers of Trump.   And that everything under Obama was crushingly bleak:
The parlous state that Obama left the American economy in will require an astonishing amount of luck combined with a great deal of very well constructed policy to move past. You do know that in the entire eight years Obama was president, the US economy on not a singe occasion achieved a growth rate as high as 3%. Trump has now achieved it twice, with more to come. Obama even inherited the recovery phase following the GFC which is almost invariably an economy’s period of strongest growth since part of what happens is the recovery of ground lost during the recession. Instead, there were eight years of low growth and stagnant employment. There is not an economic story to tell to his credit, even with interest rates at near zero and public spending at an all-time high, which in standard economic theory are a good thing. Of course, both are harmful to an economy’s prospects but don’t expect your friend to know it or believe it if you tell him.

But why take my word for it. Here is Conrad Black pointing out that Trump is already the most successful U.S. president since Ronald Reagan. And as you can see from the beginning of this excerpt, he is not PDT’s greatest admirer, but even so:
Conrad Black!  Kates is outsourcing his economic analysis to the ex con who been writing odes of  praise for Trump for, what, years? 

monty:  how can you resist not telling Kates he's an embarrassment to his profession?

Sunday, November 19, 2017

A New Zealand themed post

*  SBS on Demand has the popular New Zealand movie Boy, made by writer/director/actor Taika Waititi, available for viewing at the moment.  I had not seen it before.   There's a lot to like about:  it looks great for a small budget film; the child actors are excellent and quite charming; and it has a real sense of place.  On the downside, the story doesn't have much propelling it forward, and a clearer change in Waititi's character by the end might have been welcome.  But overall there's something about some of its imagery, scenes and music that made it rattle around in my dreams, and in my mind throughout today, after watching it last night.   That's always a sign of a good movie - when it clings to your brain, even if you don't quite understand why.

* Taika Waititi is, presumably, very happy with how many people have seen and liked Thor: Ragnarok.   it's been out for all of 16 days and will probably have taken over $700 million internationally.   I wonder if he gets a percentage of the take? Incidentally, I was surprised to see in Boy that there is a section where his character talks about the Incredible Hulk, which seems quite prescient.

I am happy to read that he is wanting to make a spinoff to What We Do In the Shadows, concentrating on the werewolves (not swearwolves.)   A clip of the vampire/werewolf confrontation, which amuses me more than it probably should, is here:

*  Well, that's a bit sad:  I see on IMDB that James Rolleston, the lead actor in Boy, made a couple of other movies, but was in a serious car accident in 2016 which involved some pretty major brain injury.   New Zealand media says that he has had to undergo a lot of rehabilitation, which sounds like is ongoing.  He was only recently sentenced for a dangerous driving charge from the indicent.Sounds unclear as to whether he will make a full recovery.

*  On a more serious note, Ed Yong writes at The Atlantic about how New Zealand conservationists who want to try to eradicate all rats and other introduced mammals are very keen on a kind of scary CRISPR technique called gene drives to spread extinction causing genes (for infertility, for example) throughout the rat population.  

I don't know:  getting rid of stoats I can understand; rats I feel sorry for, even if they like bird eggs.   I just can't see that it is worthwhile using gene modification techniques that could risk accidentally eradicating rats worldwide.  That would make for some major ecological changes, surely.   

Saturday, November 18, 2017

A fake, I'd say...

On the public's understanding of Brexit

The SMH has a report about how badly Brexit is going, with experts complaining that the public, which apparently in polls still narrowly supports it, just don't understand what's involved:
Menon says the public wrongly equate a "no-deal Brexit" with the status quo. "They think 'no deal' is going to buy a car and you don't like the car so you come back with the car you have. They don't think it means they blow you up inside the old car."

Friday, November 17, 2017

Now this is disgusting

I've been meaning to post about this for some weeks, after I saw a bit of NRA TV on some site or other, with a talking head woman going on about this topic, as Time explains:
The overriding message is that the NRA identity is under attack. There’s a tone of simmering indignation and a sense of persecution that curdles into hostility toward government, media and other cultural institutions. “Their hateful defiance of [Trump’s] legitimacy is an insult to each of us,” Loesch says in one video. “But the ultimate insult is that they think we’re so stupid that we’ll let them get away with it.”
Yes, the NRA is encouraging people to arm themselves because Trump is "under attack" - it seemed as clear as day to me that it was a call for people to arm themselves for a coming civil war, except they are careful enough not to use the words "coming civil war".    And yet the danger of this pandering to armed paranoia is largely ignored by the media and politicians.

The liberals in America ought to be calling this out as dangerous and disgusting.

Getting a bit hysterical now

I've never followed the career of Al Franken closely:  I think as a comedian I probably would not have liked him - just a hunch, really.

But it seems to me that the reaction of liberal outlets Slate, Vox, Axios (many stories on it making it seem the biggest sex scandal that has ever hit Washington), and a columnist at Wapo,  is a bit hysterical.

In short - it isn't 100% clear that his fingers are actually touching her breasts , in fact, given the risk of her waking up if touched, I would say it's more likely they weren't.   It's a poor taste photo "joke":  it's not clearly sexual assault.

As for the kiss - her key complaint is that, in a public venue (backstage, where presumably there was little  risk it could advance to any further form of sexual advance without anyone seeing it), he pestered her into a kiss rehearsal and then used tongue.

Look, forced tongue would obviously be gross and unsettling; but it's also true that there are degrees of tongue and who knows whether it was fully engaged as she claims.  

She says she pushed him away and was upset and told him never to do it again.  Good.

Of course such behaviour (let's assume a clearly engaged deep tongue) is not "acceptable";  at the same time, it's getting a bit out of hand when commentators immediately call for resignation when a woman claims too much tongue in her mouth 10 years ago in a rehearsal.  This is not the same as the office staff suddenly been put upon by the boss.  As she explains:
Franken had written some skits for the show and brought props and costumes to go along with them. Like many USO shows before and since, the skits were full of sexual innuendo geared toward a young, male audience.

As a TV host and sports broadcaster, as well as a model familiar to the audience from the covers of FHM, Maxim and Playboy, I was only expecting to emcee and introduce the acts, but Franken said he had written a part for me that he thought would be funny, and I agreed to play along.
Get a grip, people. 

Look, what will happen if Franken is a general sleeze who has forced himself onto women repeatedly is that there will be other women coming forward, and that's when it will get to "call for immediate resignation" territory.    And I appreciate that Franken has brought this upon himself by being the liberal hero on allegations made against Republican figures.

But still, I say the reaction to this incident alone is going over the top.

The peculiar story of modern Japanese housing

I've occasionally talked about this to Australian friends (how the attitude to domestic housing in Japan is very different from that in Australia, and perhaps most other countries), and it's good to see that my understanding was correct, as all explained at length in this very detailed article at The Guardian:
Most of those houses built in the 60s are no longer standing, having long since been replaced by newer models, finished with fake brick ceramic siding in beiges, pinks and browns. In the end, most of these prefabricated houses – and indeed most houses in Japan – have a lifespan of only about 30 years.

Unlike in other countries, Japanese homes gradually depreciate over time, becoming completely valueless within 20 or 30 years. When someone moves out of a home or dies, the house, unlike the land it sits on, has no resale value and is typically demolished. This scrap-and-build approach is a quirk of the Japanese housing market that can be explained variously by low-quality construction to quickly meet demand after the second world war, repeated building code revisions to improve earthquake resilience and a cycle of poor maintenance due to the lack of any incentive to make homes marketable for resale.
The article notes that there is a bit of a movement towards renovation rather than demolition now, but it's still nothing like the renovation industry in other countries.

The good thing about this peculiar aspect to housing is that, for the Western buyer who isn't so fussed about the age of a house, and provided they don't need to live in one of the large cities, you can buy houses very, very cheaply in much of the country.  That's assuming you want to use in it yourself, I suppose, as you don't really buy them as an investment.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Cow wars

More on the situation with "cow vigilante" groups in India at Reuters:
A Reuters special report this month investigated the vigilantes, who snatch cows from Muslims whom they are convinced intend to slaughter the animals. It is an accusation that inflames passions in a Hindu majority nation, where many consider the animal sacred and killing cows is outlawed in most states. 

The reporting process revealed some fresh details about a rising tide of religious nationalism in India, beyond the country’s booming stock market and rising direct foreign investment. Interviews with just two of the Hindu-led groups found they’d seized some 190,000 cows, at times working with police, since Modi took office. 

Relations between right wing Hindus and Muslims is not great, it seems:
As reporter Zeba Siddiqui interviewed a local head of a right-wing Hindu group, the man paused and asked: “You’re Muslim, right?” Siddiqui said she was. 

The man began to rant: “It is in their religious books that you should kill non-believers, and that you should kill and eat animals. What kind of holy book says that? The Gita (a Hindu holy scripture) doesn’t. I don’t have a problem with the religion, but the people who follow it.” 

Siddiqui asked whether the man was saying he disliked all Muslims. He did not answer the question.

Stuck in the 1970's

This analysis by Yglesias at Vox about the problem with the Republican tax plan debate sounds basically credible to me:
The tax reform debate is stuck in the 1970s

Tax reform is lining up like this: Republicans want big, business-friendly tax cuts to spur savings and investments while Democrats complain it’ll blow a hole in the deficit. These terms of debate made sense 30 to 40 years ago. Back then, the economy was stuck in a particular kind of rut. With inflation high and profits low, companies weren’t investing and creating new jobs even as a torrent of new workers was flooding the labor force. Very high interest rates lurked in the background. 

Both Republicans and Democrats agreed this nexus of issues was a problem, so they had a debate over what to do. There were ideological disagreements about the prescription but consensus on the diagnosis. In his first term, Ronald Reagan implemented the conservative prescription. In his second term, the much-lauded bipartisan 1986 tax reform bill represented a reasonable high-minded compromise of the two poles of the debate. 

But today is different. Corporate profits are high, not low. Inflation is low, not high. The workforce is growing slowly, not quickly. Borrowing is cheap, not expensive. 

Everything about the situation has changed— except the tax policy debate. And the result is that Congress’ No. 1 priority has almost nothing to do with the biggest problems facing the country.

So there was some sort of survey result yesterday?

 Some quick observations:

*  participation rate was higher than I expected.

* that means it was pretty accurate, and it did match polling quite closely.     Newspoll in September had this result:
The proportion of voters who support same-sex marriage now stands at 57 per cent, compared to 63 per cent in August and 62 per cent in September last year.
The no vote has lifted to 34 per cent, from 30 per cent in August and 32 per cent a year ago.
About nine per cent are uncommitted.
So, the Australian government spent $100 million to work out that Newspoll is pretty accurate.   Congratulations...

*  I wonder how the 20% who didn't vote would have gone if voting had been part of compulsory election voting.   Very hard to say - this article at The Conversation talks about that.

*  Further on that theme:  it's funny how non compulsory voting enables a different slant on things, isn't it?  The "best" that the conservatives/cynics on this issue (like me!) can argue is that of the total eligible voting population, it was actually only about a 49% yes vote and a 30% no vote.    Yet a 60/40 split in those who did vote enables people to call it an "over-whelming" yes vote.   (You see the same in government elections overseas, of course.)   Admittedly, you would have to say that compulsory voting would have sent the yes vote well over the 50%, but still, let's not get too carried away with the "overwhelming" adjective.   For me, for something like this, I would hold back "over-whelming" for something like a 65 plus vote.  

*  I think everyone is surprised by the strength of the No vote across a swathe of Western Sydney electorates.  What a divided city.   Fortunately, we live in a country where riots over social issues rarely happen.   So a bunch of Labor politicians are at some risk of annoying their electorates by voting Yes.   I suppose they can always say "look, doesn't make any practical difference if you were to say that all members should vote according to their electorate result, as if we did that, it would still mean only 17 No votes in the House.   Just live with it."  

*  Kind of amusing anyway how many, many National Party electorates went for "Yes", though.   Queensland was different in that regard, with two huge outback electorates going "No".    It does just confirm that Queenslanders can be very "different" in voting  patterns; but in most respects, not in a good way.  (I'm talking the ridiculous prospect of One Nation getting some power in Queensland parliament again in the next election.  High temperature just does something to the voting brain, I am sure.)

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Fundamentalist dating theory

Slate notes that there is one corner of American faith for which Roy Moore wanting to date teenage girls was not an unusual idea:
But there’s a group of Moore’s allies for whom the basic idea of an unmarried older man “courting” a teenage girl is not anathema at all—fundamentalist home-schoolers. Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson, who endorsed Moore in the contested Republican primary and has spoken at his rallies, told an audience in 2009 that girls should marry when they’re “about 15 or 16.” Moore has appeared several times on a radio show hosted by Kevin Swanson, an ultra-conservative Colorado pastor who defended Robertson's notion that girls should be marrying at 15 because it helps them avoid sexual sin.
Moore has an even deeper relationship with Doug Phillips, a disgraced leader in the “Biblical patriarchy” movement. Phillips was president of Vision Forum, a Texas-based organization devoted to the “restoration of the Christian household.” In Phillips’ world, men ought to be self-sufficient by the time they marry, but women live under their father’s authority until they marry. Ideally, in fact, a woman would live under her father’s literal roof until her wedding day. Phillips promoted the concept of “stay-at-home daughters,” in which girls live at home until they marry, often forgoing formal education and focusing on homemaking skills. Independence is essentially a flaw in a Christian wife, who, Phillips taught, should be willing to call her husband “Lord.

Of general interest

*   From an interview at NPR, here's the charming explanation of the Duffer Brothers (the creators and sometime director/writers of Stranger Things) of how they co-write:
Matt: A lot of our work is actually done on Google Docs, and so we don't speak to each other. It's a really weird thing where we're both on headphones, not talking, and just typing on the same document at the same time.

We're in the same room, same office. We have separate desks. We're not, like, literally right next to each other, because we'd probably punch each other every once in a while, so it's good there's a little bit of physical distance.

We'll get into Google Doc wars, where I type a line of dialogue or an idea for the scene — he'll delete it. I'll go write it back in — he'll delete it again. And then the headphones come off and then we actually have to have a conversation about it. So it's a little ridiculous.

* The BBC has an item about a small Siberian (I think) town which apparently has the record  for the highest temperature range (-68 degrees C in winter to 37 degrees in summer), but my impression is it spends a lot more time frozen than hot.  Here's how they live:
Blocks of ice are cut from the river and delivered to villagers for water.
Each house has its own stock of water stored outside in stacks of ice blocks.
The blocks are then melted inside the house.
Running water, which moves at very high temperatures to prevent the pipes from freezing, is not drinkable.
Temperatures are so low that some details of daily life take another dimension here:
  • batteries last only a few minutes
  • pen ink freezes before writing
  • it becomes dangerous to wear metal glasses
The locals also let their cars run all day, afraid they might not restart until spring.
Armed with thick fur and a layer of fat grown during the autumn, the horses and the dogs of the village spend the winter outside in these freezing temperatures.
The yakut horse is small and resistant, little domesticated and raised mainly for meat.
It holds a great place in the life, economy and spirituality of the Siberians.
There are lots of photos, and the town looks about as bleak as you might expect.   

*  The Guardian talks about the financial failure of Blade Runner 2049, and lots of readers comment about whether they enjoyed it or not.   Some did, but I think the majority has issues with it, as did I.

*  There seems to be some suspicion that Justice League is not going to be very well reviewed.  I thought it looked pretty awful on the trailer.

A pill that tells your distant doctor via your mobile phone that it's been taken?  And it's an anti-psychotic?   Um, doesn't the very concept seem likely to encourage paranoia in those who already fear they are being secretly monitored?

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Koch history

I just was doing a Google of the Koch Brothers, and turned up this bit of history.  (Perhaps I had read about it before, but forgotten):
The Kochs may be following in the footsteps of their father Fred Koch.  As New Yorker journalist Jane Mayer has detailed, Koch Sr. made the family fortune by working for Stalin helping to build 15 Soviet oil refineries. The experience made him virulently anti-communist and anti-“big government” in general, but these beliefs did not seem to stand in the way of making money.

Fred Koch would later go on to help Hitler’s Third Reich build an important oil refinery that had to be taken out by the U.S. Army Air Corps in World War II.
Going to the New Yorker article from 2010, I see that Fred Koch went from helping one of the worst Communists in history to being a anti communist to a nutty degree at home:
In 1958, Fred Koch became one of the original members of the John Birch Society, the arch-conservative group known, in part, for a highly skeptical view of governance and for spreading fears of a Communist takeover. Members considered President Dwight D. Eisenhower to be a Communist agent. In a self-published broadside, Koch claimed that “the Communists have infiltrated both the Democrat and Republican Parties.” He wrote admiringly of Benito Mussolini’s suppression of Communists in Italy, and disparagingly of the American civil-rights movement. “The colored man looms large in the Communist plan to take over America,” he warned. Welfare was a secret plot to attract rural blacks to cities, where they would foment “a vicious race war.” In a 1963 speech that prefigures the Tea Party’s talk of a secret socialist plot, Koch predicted that Communists would “infiltrate the highest offices of government in the U.S. until the President is a Communist, unknown to the rest of us.”
What a family dynasty, hey Jason?   His sons have more moderate views than their father - all they want to ensure they is that they can make money before their oil burning puts Florida, New York, Bangladesh, etc under 10 m of water....  

*A reference to their recent investment in a Chinese company, which is what the article is mainly about.

The culture wars have become very, very weird

I refer to two things:

*  Milo Yiannopoulos and his Australian tour, which I see is presented by Penthouse (Australia and NZ).   (Why?)   This is a screenshot of his sales site:

Who on earth would pay $90 plus, let alone $295, to meet this twit?    And the meet and greet starts at 11.45 pm.  ? 

I like the way the venue is secret 'til a week out, meaning that the "sold out" shows may be the 30 seat conference room in the back of the CBD Ibis Hotel, for all we know.

And yet, because he talks about how terrible "SJW's" and feminists are, he has the support of crossover conservatives/alt.righters, and Andrew Bolt, regardless of his apologia for older gay men who "mentor" young teen gay guys, as he plainly did in the now infamous interview that took an unusually long time to be publicised.  (Not that he's apologising for that any more, as far as I can tell.)

* Roy Moore in the US.   It seems hard to credit that there could be more evangelical support for him, after the first round of allegations about his unusual habit, as a 30 something year old, of dating/sexually assaulting teenage girls.   Maybe, after the latest claim, from a woman who says she is a Trump voter, they will actually start to wonder?    Or is it more that, the ways things are currently perversely working, a sex video of him with a 16 year old could only help strengthen evangelical support?    (After all, the Lord's mother might have only been that age, I can hear them say.) 

Talk about a religious group shooting their moral credibility in the foot over the last couple of years.

Axios says Rand Paul is the only Senator still endorsing him (!).   Maybe he has concussion or something affecting his judgement, or is it just a example of why libertarians can't get much of a foothold in the US government when their figureheads are lacking common sense?

The funniest thing was the report a day or two ago that Breitbart (read "Bannon") sent out two reporters to Alabama to try to discredit the claims, when in fact since then the reports have become worse and worse.

Fail, Bannon.   A complete fail.

Yet more disarray

Another Senator gone (Lambie). 

I think an election clean out of the entire Parliament is feeling more warranted every day...

Today's Freudian trivia

From a very short book review in Nature:
Sigmund Freud's first paper involved the dissection of eels in an attempt to locate their testes. To his frustration, Freud failed to find any.
I encourage all readers to attempt to slip that into workplace or household conversation today.

Update:  because I'm curious, I had to look up more about Freud's hunt for (eel's) testicles.  Here it is:
As they say with young people, Freud may not have known enough to know how futile this task would be when employed by a nondescript Austrian zoological research station. It was his first job, he was nineteen-years-old, and it was 1876. He dissected approximately 400 eels, over a period of four weeks, and he worked in an environment that the New York Times described as “Amid stench and slime for long hours”. His ambitious goal was to write a breakthrough research paper on the animal’s mating habits that had confounded science for centuries. One has to imagine that a more seasoned scientist may have considered the task futile much earlier in the process, but an ambitious, young nineteen-year-old, looking to make a name for himself, was willing to spend long hours slicing and dicing these eels, hoping to achieve an answer that could not be disproved.

Unfortunate for young Freud, and perhaps fortunate for the future of Psychology, we now know that eels don’t have testicles, until they need them. The products of Freud’s studies must not have needed them at the time he studied them, for Freud ended up writing that his total supply of eels were “of the fairer sex”. Freud did write that research paper over time, but it detailed his failure to locate the testicles. Some have said that he correctly predicted where the testicles should be, and that he argued that the eels he received were not mature eels. The result was that he did not find the testicles, and he moved onto other areas as a result. The question that anyone reading the psychological theories Freud would write later in life, has to ask, in conjunction with this knowledge, is how profound was this failure on the rest of his research into human sexual development? 
 The blog writer goes on with a lot of questions about whether Freud's obsession with human psycho-sexual development was a case of unconscious over compensation for being unable to locate eel's testicles.   It's an interesting thought...

Monday, November 13, 2017

A lyric misheard for a very long time

Something else happened on the weekend - after hearing someone singing it live, I realised that I had misheard the chorus and title of a rather popular pop song as "Valerie" instead of "Out of Reach".  The song's only been out since 1999, give me a break.   I thought it sounded an odd way of singing "Valerie" but I genuinely had no inkling that it was actually 3 words, not one.   

I see that at least one other man in his 50's had been hearing it the same way.   Maybe it's a Dad thing.

The great inconsistency

It occurred to me over the weekend:   don't zombie cultist Trump worshippers, like Steve Kates, find that their simultaneous beliefs that:

a.   Trump is right and doing God's work in wanting a better relationship with Russia (well, Putin) because Russia/Putin and the US could do good work together;  AND

b.   that Hilary Clinton and the FBI and Obama did the worst possible thing in the world and should be locked up because they let the Russians get control some (overinflated) amount of US uranium

are not exactly consistent, at least with respect to the view of Russia inherent in those positions?

I hope that's a real tweet..

I suppose that, as the world ends, at least we'll be laughing grimly about how it happened...

Update:  so sue me, I hadn't been following this fake twitter thing closely.  Still pretty funny.

Just vote Liberal Democrats and shut up

Another day, another Tim Blair whine about the ABC operating on government money.

Look, there is at least one Party with pretensions to power that wants the ABC privatised as soon as possible - the Liberal Democrats.   Given that the fact that ABC funding support is seemingly the most important, gut wrenching issue in the daily life of Tim Blair, why doesn't he just continually support the Leyonhjelm outfit for this reason alone (if not others - Blair really wouldn't seem to have any issue with that party's policies, I reckon), and blog about something else.