Thursday, December 13, 2018

An improbable, vaguely Christmas related miracle

An article at The Catholic Herald caught my eye:  Did angels really carry the Holy House of Mary to Loreto, Italy?  So did the photo accompanying it:

As you might expect, that's not the house itself, but an excessively ornate, um, housing for a house.

Inside, the "real thing" looks like this:

which, I dunno, looks a little more solid than I expected from a 2,000 something year old house from Israel.

The bright looking figure in the first interior is the Our Lady of Loreto statue, which is a bit more famous than I knew.  You can watch this rather pious video about the house, and the statue, here:

As to the matter of how the house got there, the Catholic Herald article (and the video) indicate that the house might have been by boat, not by Angel Air, by a family with an a name which contributed to the legend:
In 1900, the pope’s physician, Joseph Lapponi, discovered documents in the Vatican archive, stating that in the 13th century a noble Byzantine family, the Angeli family, rescued “materials” from “Our Lady’s House” from Muslim invaders and then had them transported to Italy for the building of a shrine.
The name Angeli means “angels” in both Greek and Latin.
I am suspicious: it sounds too much like a late rationalisation. 

As for the air borne house tradition, it has been depicted variously as looking like this:

or this:

I don't know the artists behind either depiction, but the second one puts me in mind of Dorothy's house crushing the Wicked Witch, because at first glance I assumed the guy underneath was a devil.  But on second thoughts, he looks like he's just helping out, except for some reason he's nude.  If he is an angel, I didn't realise Heaven was "clothing optional" for them.

Anyhow, this is the second time this week that I have been contemplating the rather idiosyncratic fervour European Catholics can hold towards Mary and statues representing her.   The first example was Mary Beard talking on Civilisations about the annual ceremony around a statue in Seville:

I'm interested in the matter of why some European countries, particularly those with the Romance languages, seemed to develop centres of intense Marian devotion, and often around statues which are treated as holy.  (It's also interesting to contemplate why it also spread readily to countries like Mexico and the Philippines, too.   Remember the photos of the crazily dangerous looking procession I posted earlier this year?  It was centred on a statue of Jesus, admittedly, but still a case of statue centred fervour.)    I always get the feeling there are sociological reasons for it which I don't know about.   My general impression is that England and Germany, pre-Reformation, were just not into it in that big a way.  Or was an uptick in Marian worship something of a reaction to the Reformation?

Anyway, the first video above says that the flying house story is the reason why Our Lady of Loreto is the patron saint of aviation:
Yes, she is the patron saint of pilots, airmen and flight attendants as per declaration of Pope Benedict XV on March 24, 1920. The pontiff approved a special blessing: "O merciful God, You have consecrated the house of the Blessed Virgin Mary with the mystery of the Word Incarnate and placed it in the midst of your children. Pour forth your blessing on this vehicle so that those who take an aerial trip in it may happily reach their destination and return safely home under Mary's protection."
That seems a pretty weak reason to get a "patron" job, if you ask me.  By now, hasn't there been any pilot or flight attendant who has attained sainthood after a career in, you know, actual flying? 

I've no handy way to end this post, except to note that, in English speaking countries, this type of worship seems increasingly odd and hard to understand, especially given the rapid decline in the importance of Marian worship in our version of Catholicism over the last 60 odd years. 


Abu Dhabi: In 10 years, we’ll be able to learn French by swallowing a pill, claims Dr Nicholas Negroponte, chairman and co-founder of the MIT Media Lab.
“We are looking for ways to interact directly with the neurons, reaching the brain from within and not through the eyes, which have become outdated instruments,” the man who invented the touchscreen and predicted the most important technological revolutions of recent years, told the audience at the majlis of His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, on Wednesday.
The 75-year-old co-founder of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab and its director of over 20 years, said that over the next decade, we will increasingly see direct brain interaction. It will emerge in two and very different ways: from the outside and the inside of the head.

The climate changes

Hey, this is pretty good!:

When someone tells you, “The climate is always changing,” show them this cartoon

In praise of Micallef

I think that the latest season of Mad As Hell (it finished last night) was just about the funniest I can remember.

I've said it before, but I'll say it again - it's a really crack team of comedy actors (and writers) on the show at the moment.  

I always enjoy their jabs at the ABC itself too - their little parodies of ABC television drama always strike me as accurate and funny.   (Well, I rarely dip my toe into ABC drama, but I have found it pretty awful whenever I did.)  

Climate change in the age of the stoopid, populist Right

I know that articles about it do keep appearing in the media, but I really get the feeling that the current era of the Stupidest, Most Narcissistic President in History, and the Dumbest, Most Shoot-Itself-in-the-Foot Economic Idea Britain Ever Had (Brexit) keeps sucking the oxygen away from really serious public attention to climate change.   Here's Foreign Policy, for example:

Trump Has Officially Ruined Climate Change Diplomacy for Everyone

I mean, it is impossible for the media and the public to not get sucked into talking about Trump trying on reality TV meetings with Democrats; his never ending stream of idiotic tweets; his looking completely out of depth at international meetings;  leaks still confirming that he's impossible to brief properly; his campaign associates going to jail; the prospect of impeachment or at least post-Presidential term charges; even his wife thinking dark red Christmas trees look cool (and not like something out of The Shining.)   It's the most idiotic and chaotic trainwreck of an administration that anyone has ever seen or is likely to see again, I reckon.

And as for Brexit - a complete populist Right fantasia that, like Trump, barely got over the electoral line, but since it did, has been like a black hole sucking all interest away from the crucially important matter of climate change.

Of course, the populist Right is popping its head up elsewhere too - from Brazil to Eastern Europe - but I just don't see that there is any long term future in it as a movement.   All of the leading politicians are some sort of combination of buffoon and fascist lite; all tend to be culture war obsessives and interested in blaming as many problems as possible on immigration.  But it's at heart a reactionary movement, and not one with a credible long term intellectual or policy basis.

So, I predict it will all fizzle soon enough - but it's an incredible distraction that is, literally, endangering the planet.    

The big(foot) conspiracy

Vox has an interview with a journalist (Laura Krantz) who did a podcast episode this year about Bigfoot, and apparently it's pretty good.  (I am slow to get into listening to podcasts - I think it's because I can decide quicker visually if an article is of interest, and I don't like having to wait for 10 or 15 min before deciding if an audio presentation is really worth continuing with.)

Here's part of the interview:
I keep coming back to the eyewitness accounts, the firsthand accounts that people have had. A lot of the people that I ended up talking to about their experiences were pretty sober, upstanding citizens. They’d spent a lot of time in the woods. They’ve worked for Fish and Wildlife. They worked for the Bureau of Land Management.

These are people who are accustomed to being outside, and had a lot of experience and expertise with wildlife. And then they had this experience of being scared, shocked, just blown away by something they’d seen. Those were very, very hard for me to dismiss. I still can’t dismiss them, because it’s clear that they saw something that really rattled them. 

The thing that I’ve been most dismissive of — it’s hard to be completely dismissive because I wasn’t there, I didn’t see what was going on, but people talk about seeing Bigfoot “cloaking,” or vanishing into the ether. And those kinds of accounts I’m a little more like, “Erm... I don’t know about that.”
She explains later, she really can't give the spooky Bigfoot idea any credence:
 I did steer clear of the Bigfoot as magical, paranormal, supernatural stuff, because that was a lot harder for me to come at objectively. And my feeling was that if I couldn’t address it objectively, I shouldn’t do it.

Yeah, sounds like I should listen to the show.  Even though if there is no DNA evidence, the paranormal route is really the only one you can take, isn't it? 

But the other thing I learned from this article was the Bigfoot conspiracy, which I don't think I knew of before:
The flip-side of that is that there’s this conspiracy theory that the logging industry knows that Bigfoot is real, has seen Bigfoot, and goes out of its way to make sure bodies are disposed of, and that any knowledge of it is kept buried. Because if Bigfoot is seen to be real, it’s gonna make the stuff that happened with the spotted owl [in which logging in some areas was halted to preserve an endangered owl’s habitat], look like a picnic. 
 Sounds like there could be a fun movie plot in there somewhere!

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Foreigners in Japan

The BBC talks about Japan's process of opening up to foreign workers. 

Stand up I actually liked

I've complained earlier this year about how I generally don't care at all for modern stand up comedy.

Jason recommended a Malaysian comedian with a Netflix special - I forget his name now, but yes, he was OK-ish.  Certainly not positively off putting, as I tend to find most stand up.

But - Youtube has recently started recommending to me clips of Trevor Noah from his channel, and I have to say, I've found the few I've watched funny.  (He's also pretty talented with his accent mocking, which seems to feature quite a bit.)   Little swearing too, unlike the usual standard in the profession.

Here are two I thought were good:

You're welcome.

Harm reduction

As usual, Portugal is held up as a shining example, but at least the magazine explains a bit more than the usual shorthand of "yay, they legalised drugs" used by many drug liberalising proponents here:

At the height of the epidemic in the 1990s, authorities estimated that about 100,000 Portuguese, or 1% of the population, were heroin users. “It cut across all social classes. Nearly every family had someone,” says Dr João Goulão, head of sicad, the agency that directs Portugal’s addiction programmes. That generated the political will to take the fight against drugs out of the justice ministry and give it to the health ministry. Under the law of 2001, illegal drugs remain illegal and dealers are prosecuted. But possession for personal use is an administrative offence, not a criminal one. Anyone caught with a 10-day supply or less is ordered to visit the local Commission for Dissuasion of Drug Addiction. Rehabilitation programmes and opiate substitutes, such as methadone, are available to all users who want to quit.
Since then, the number of problem heroin users has fallen to about 33,000. The government can claim only partial credit; drug epidemics tend to fizzle. But decriminalisation and treatment helped cut Portugal’s overdose rate to one of the lowest in Europe. As for America, in 2016 it had 63,600 fatal overdoses. In Portugal there were 27.
Portugal’s policies are based on “harm reduction” approaches pioneered in countries such as Switzerland in the 1980s. The idea is to emphasise treatment and prevention more than punishment, says Brendan Hughes of the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (emcdda). Most European countries now have some form of harm-reduction policy, though the east is more conservative.
Surprisingly, though, apparently Portugal doesn't have safe injecting rooms:
Américo Nave, head of crescer, criticises Portugal’s government for failing to create safe injection rooms and barring outreach workers from carrying the drug naloxone, which can save heroin users who have overdosed. Last December, Ms Correia says, she watched a man die, knowing that naloxone might have saved him. Still, that is one of just a few dozen such deaths in Portugal in the past year. In Sweden, there may be ten times as many.
As usual, it's odd the way different countries have different types of drug problems:
But lately Europe is facing different drugs. Cocaine use is up; in Barcelona, residues in wastewater suggest it more than doubled between 2011 and 2018. Most overdose deaths in the Netherlands are caused not by opiates but by party drugs like amphetamines or synthetic cannabinoids, or by ecstasy, which can cause dehydration. The drug ghb raises your libido, but can knock you out; it accounted for two-thirds of Dutch drug-related emergencies in 2016.
For stimulants like these, notes the emcdda’s Andrew Cunningham, “there are no substitute treatments like methadone”. The same goes for methamphetamines, rare in most of Europe but common in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. (They are still known there as “Pervitin”, a brand of amphetamines distributed to Nazi soldiers.) In the past few years Czech meth has spread across Germany, mainly in paste form. The more dangerous crystal variant has popped up as well, often sold at t-shirt stands along the German border. 
Which all brings us to the pill testing question in Australia.

I find it easy to be sympathetic to harm reduction strategies for opiates, because of how they are used and the difficulty of getting off them.   (I am reminded, however, how Theodore Dalrymple argued that thousands of US military members indulged in heroin while in Vietnam, and then dropped the habit without excessive drama when they had to return to their homes and families.  He thinks we are too indulgent even of heroin use:  a pretty uncommon view.)   It's harder to feel as much sympathy for the true party drug scene - harm reduction for many of them feels more like encouraging mere repeated self indulgence.

About Brexit

Climate scientist James Annan has hated Brexit from the start, and has written a lengthy complaint about (amongst other things) how the media has taken a ridiculously soft role in challenging politicians on the issue.  

I still don't understand how it is so hard to convince politicians that it should be the subject of second referendum.   There are now things that are obvious about the situation before the first referendum:  

a.  the pro-Brexit side made completely false and misleading claims about the alleged benefits;
b.  the public was completely unaware of the complexities of Brexit;
c.  the public had no idea of the costs and consequences.  

A second referendum would, I think, obviously need to be done because the first vote held was held in something like an information vacuum.   

So why are politicians acting as if holding a second one is some betrayal of democracy?   A single exercise of democracy made in the clear absence of proper information as to what their vote means is not worth defending.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018


I see that someone at Slate has written an article about how coriander seeds are an under-rated spice.  (I don't know - I think my wife uses them a lot, and I have used them a fair bit too, so I don't think my household can be accused of unfamiliarity with them.)   

But, this story reminds me:  I have been intending to write here for some time how I consider cardamon pods to be my favourite underrated spice.   I recently had an Indian family's chicken curry using fresh ones - delicious.   I like them, but rarely get around to using them. 

Fennel seeds are probably my favourite, more commonly used in my cooking, spice.

That is all. 

Feel free to entertain me with fascinating stories of your use of spices in comments.

Or don't. 

Monday, December 10, 2018

This and that

*   some Indian holy men are starving themselves to death to try to get the government to hurry up with cleaning up the Ganges river.   Good luck with that.   

*  I was hoping for a bit more referencing to other economists from this opinion piece in Foreign Policy which argues that recent Nobel price winning economist William Nordhaus is actually facing quite a lot of criticism from climate scientists and activists for always putting economic growth ahead of fast action on climate change.   (I am, of course, aware of Pindyck's criticism of the sort of models Nordhaus - I think - pioneered, but I really wanted to hear more from someone other than this writer.)   Anyway, some good points are made (assuming this is a correct account of Nordhaus' work):

So how do economists get away with believing that these extreme temperatures are somehow okay? Because the Nordhaus model tells us that even the worst catastrophes will not really hurt the global economy all that much. Maybe a percentage point or two at the most, by the end of the century—much less than the cost of immediate action.
How do they figure this? Because if climate breakdown ends up starving and displacing a few hundred million impoverished Africans and Asians, that will register as only a tiny blip in GDP.  After all, poor people don’t add much “value” to the global economy. The same goes for things like insects and birds and wildlife, so it doesn’t matter if global warming continues to accelerate mass extinction. From the perspective of capital, what most of us see as tremendous ethical and even existential problems literally don’t count.
What is more, Nordhaus reasons that the sectors most vulnerable to global warming—agricultural, forestry, and fishing—contribute relatively little to global GDP, only about 4 percent. So even if the entire global agricultural system were to collapse in the future, the costs, in terms of world GDP, would be minimal.
These arguments obviously offend common sense. And indeed, scientists have been quick to critique them. It’s absurd to believe that the global economy would just keep chugging along despite a collapse in the world’s food supply. And mass extinction of species poses a very real threat to the web of life itself, on which all of human civilization depends. Plus, Nordhaus doesn’t factor in the possibility of feedback loops that could kick in—Arctic methane release, ice-albedo feedback, and others we can’t yet predict—pushing us way beyond 3.5 degrees. No amount of wealth would be enough to help future generations navigate such a total system collapse.
The piece also argues:
The first step is to realize that high levels of GDP are in fact not necessary for high levels of human well-being. True, social indicators are generally correlated with GDP per capita, but it’s a saturation curve: Past a certain point, more GDP adds little to human well-being. Take the United States, for example. In 1975, America’s GDP per capita was only half its present levels, in real terms. And yet wages were higher, happiness levels were higher, and the poverty rate was lower.
Even more interestingly, some countries have high levels of human development with relatively low GDP per capita—and we the United States can learn a lot from them. Europe’s GDP per capita is 40 percent less than that of the United States, and yet it has better social indicators in virtually every category. Costa Rica has higher life expectancy than the United States and happiness levels that rival Scandinavia, with one-fifth of America’s GDP per capita.
How is this possible? It all comes down to distribution. In 1975, America gave a greater share of national income to workers than it does today. And Europe invests more in social goods like public health care and education than the United States does. This raises the question: If Europe can outperform the United States with significantly less income, then does the American economy really need to keep growing?

Sunday, December 09, 2018

A sophisticated hobbyist

I did enjoy this video, about a 25 year guy, without a particular science background, by the sounds, who spends all his (spare?) time building very sophisticated model rockets.  Clever, largely self taught, dude:

The "no, you're dumb" President

How can anyone not hear in their mind the lamest primary school age child attempted come back tactic  when reading the Trump tweet about Tillerson?  "Your lazy": "No, you're lazy". 

It's pretty remarkable how we're not needing to wait for the judgement of history on the Trump Presidency - it's being played out live.

Saturday, December 08, 2018

The problem with Gadsby

Usual disclaimer:  It's incredibly hard to write about Hannah Gadsby, because it's obvious she will be/ already is a hate figure for obnoxious males of the alt.right variety. I don't want to be seen to be aligned in any way with them, but this shouldn't make her immune from criticism.  So here goes.

Her "good men" speech was, I think, a complete mess.  I don't think she argues logically or consistently, and I am a bit puzzled as to why anyone would think she is compelling on the matter.  From reading the comments following the article in the WAPO at my link, I'm not alone in this view.  (And I don't think a lot of alt.righters read the Post and comment there.)

Remember what I said about her show Nanette - that I thought it refreshing when, early on, she complained about a lesbian fan telling her that she her shows were no longer lesbian enough in content?   Well, any impression from that one example that she was alert to the unfair pressure arising from identity politics is blown up by this latest speech, which is identity politics writ large - no man, non-black or heterosexual person ever has the right to talk about the behaviour of their own group toward women, whites or gays, apparently.

She makes a point of saying "men aren't creepy", as if she is against unfair generalisations (again, like the one that a lesbian comedian has to base every show around lesbian experience), but then she goes on to insist that all men (and women) think they are good, and to imply (or outright declare - she is such an all-over-the-shop polemicist that its hard to kept track) that all men have double or triple standards as to what they will say about women.   I think most men can say they know that is not true.  Even appallingly sexist men who spend every day mentally sexually rating every woman who crosses their line of sight would surely say that they have met men who don't join in with them doing that.   And she comes up with a collective name "Jimmys" for those late night hosts who have annoyed her. As others have said, how would it go over if a male was criticising a group of women as, say,  "Brendas". 

I wondered whether she might dislike Jimmy Kimmel in particular.   He has undergone something of a transformation from the days of the very politically incorrect The Man Show, which must have dismayed feminists no end, to his current incarnation as a Trump hating liberal.   (Incidentally, and I think I have said this before - I saw more than one episode of The Man Show, and didn't take great offence because it was often ironically about how dumb men's behaviour about sex and women could be.  Still, it was hardly an example of comedy that would help improve the world.)  I don't know that Kimmel has been very prominent on the MeToo issue anyway, but I like his aggressive anti-Trump line, and while not all of his humour works, a lot does.

Anyway, back to Gadsby:   there is still too much of an impression coming from her appearances that she is a woman on the edge, with suppressed anger and depression still bubbling away just under the surface due to past mistreatment at the hands of men (and yes, that mistreatment could be quite serious for all I know.) 

But putting it on display makes me feel it is not helping her - just in the way so many stand up comics make jokes about their life and you would hope that maybe it is cathartic, but then they end up in suicide or addiction anyway.   

And what's more, as I argue here, it's not like her points are doing a public service, because she does not argue clearly and well on these issues anyway.   She is changing no one's mind, I reckon.  I think she needs to get another way to make a living, for her own sake if not everyone else's.  Identity politics fans will find another hero soon enough.

PS:   I just learned a bit more about Gadsby's unsettled young life at this Guardian article of her talking to Roxanne Gay - who I don't exactly "get" either.   Gay says she was "completely insane" in her early twenties:  Gadsby apparently lived in a tent illegally on someone's farm near Byron Bay for 4 months in her mid twenties.

Maybe I only like comedians if they haven't been obviously mentally unwell?  

Friday, December 07, 2018

When the oceans died

There's a good article at The Atlantic talking about the end-Permian great extinction, and the implications for the future planet under climate change.   Long story short: 
“This study suggests we should be worrying much more about hypoxia than about ocean acidification,” Deutsch says. “There’s vastly more resources being put into [studying] organisms’ responses to pH in seawater than there is into understanding temperature-dependent hypoxia. I think that the field has basically allocated those resources in exactly the wrong way.”
The modern oceans have already lost 2 percent of their oxygen since 1960, a remarkable loss driven mostly by coastal nutrient pollution and global warming. It’s an environmental problem that promises to worsen in the warmer world of the coming centuries, just like it did in the end-Permian. And if Earth’s past is any indication of its future, this asphyxiation could be truly world changing. The prospect has led dozens of paleoclimatologists, geochemists, and oceanographers to sign the Kiel Declaration on Ocean Deoxygenation, developed this September to raise global awareness of a problem with increasingly worrying geological precedent.
“This study shows that we’re on that same road toward extinction, and the question is how far down it we go,” Penn says.
Read the whole thing.

Thursday, December 06, 2018

Let's talk pornography...

There's much discussion going on about Tumblr suddenly banning all pornography.   

I think it was a couple of years ago that I first looked at Tumblr.   I didn't understand it then, and still don't.   It seems to promote itself as a simple blogging site, but it seems hard to find any non-porn site on it that is anything other than self indulgent photos or pictures (often of an arty variety) with very few words accompanying them.   What's more - I don't recall any advertising (unlike Blogger, which allows users - like me -  to go advertising free, but encourages its placement.)

How was it ever meant to work?

Anyway, I don't really understand anything about the commercial world of pornography since the internet.   Sure, at first, the net might have helped with commercial porn promoting itself via advertising and free samples of their wares.  But when the amount of free, routinely pirated, porn (usually taken from commercially produced porn) flooded the place, why would anyone ever pay for the original material anymore? 

I also read some thread on Reddit recently about pornography generally, and there seemed to be a very strong sentiment that "amateur" category is now very popular.  Lots of people said it's less fake with less ridiculous vocal performances.   No surprise there.   But again, if this is now "big", how does the old school pornography industry survive at all?  Yet you do still get these cringey and anachronistic (to my mind) "Sexpo" events around Australia once a year or so, in which (from what limited reporting about them I have read) old school style porn stars are still featured to some degree.   But really, the names of current stars are not widely known like in the late 70's or 80's when the industry was probably at its peak.   Boogie Nights made the industry look pathetic - I can't help but feel that getting into the industry now smacks of more desperation than ever, given that even the commercial side of it doesn't seem to make any sense. 

As for the effect of explosion of free pornographic images on the public psyche - I get the impression that everyone thinks this is an interesting question, but it's not something that attracts much academic research.   Mostly, commentary on it seems to be more at an anecdotal level - especially its relationship to apparently declining levels of actual sex between young people in some countries, and also the matter of their unrealistic expectations regarding the act and body image.

I don't doubt that the internet has de-sensitised the public to extreme and ridiculous pornography in much the same way that I complain about the rapid desensitisation of the public to gory gun shot wounds to the head. I tend towards the view that there is likely not much social harm in "vanilla" nudity and sexual imagery, and videos of your average sexual activity, being relatively easily available.  It has, after all, been available in one form or another for millennia, and children seeing animal (and indeed human) sex in real life was probably much more common in poorer centuries when farm animals were everywhere and families slept all in one big room.   But the normalisation of fetishistic and extreme porn is problematic, for reasons I won't bother trying to elaborate here.

So I find it hard to feel concerned about any site like Tumblr giving up and just wanting to ban it all due to the impossibility of drawing lines as to what is acceptable or not in terms of nudity and sex. 

Which leads me to the most interesting thing, and a large part of the reason for this post:   I heard on ABC radio recently a bit about a documentary about how there are businesses based in the Philippines (and doubtless elsewhere) which do provide a human monitoring service for imagery and videos on social media such as Facebook.   A lot of what they are trying to catch is, of course, child pornography or extreme porn of other varieties (bestiality I guess), as well as grotesque violence material:
Finding the moderators at all was a challenge.
Content moderation is a mostly secretive and hidden industry, often outsourced to labour hire companies in corners of the world far removed from northern California.   
The specific psychological hurt caused by dealing with a constant stream of traumatising imagery is clearly shown in the documentary.
The filmmakers collaborated with psychologists, and Block said it was not just the act of sitting in front of a screen, clicking through the worst humans can offer, that was damaging for moderators.
It was also the silence: Non-disclosure agreements with their employers and social pressure also kept them from talking about what they were seeing and feeling.
"You're not allowed to verbalise the horrible experience you had," Block said.
"While we were filming the documentary … we both had time to talk about what we are filming, time to have a break and to stop watching and to take our time to recover from what we saw.
"The workers in Manila don't have the time. They don't have the ability to talk to someone."
It is also clear in the film that many of the content moderators consider that, all told, their job is a good one.
"When they are hired, a lot of them are really proud about getting a job in a clean environment and in one of the best parts of the city," Riesewieck explained.
"What is highly underestimated is the psychological consequence of it … they just notice it when friends … tell them, 'you have changed'.
"Or they notice that they have developed phobias … or when they notice that they're not able to have a sexual relationship anymore."
This is when, the filmmakers said, they return to those necessary narratives — the story of Christian sacrifice or the need for social cleansing.
There's another site talking about it that says there have been suicides - and the work conditions are such that they have to view tens of thousands of images a day - something like 15 - 20,000 I think.

I just can't imagine that viewing such a rapid rate of changing images can be healthy, even if the images are just of puppies or something harmless!

Anyway, I thought the documentary sounded very interesting.  And I feel very sorry for the people who live in the Philippines and for whom this counts as a "good" job.

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

Leave Kant alone!

This is upsetting:  the Russians have it in for Kant -
The 18th-century philosopher Immanuel Kant has stirred surprising tensions in his Russian hometown over the prospect of naming the airport after him, with officials branding him a "traitor" and vandals throwing paint at his tomb.
Kant was born and spent most of his life in Prussian Königsberg, which was renamed Kaliningrad after coming under the control of the Soviet Union in the wake of World War II. Now it is Russia's westernmost city and hosted World Cup matches this year.
Until recently the philosopher (1724-1804) was in the lead in an online poll to choose a name for the city's airport, currently called Khrabrovo after the nearby village.This sparked a furious row with officials blasting Kant as a "Russophobe", even though there is no historical evidence that the philosopher harboured strong feelings toward the Russian Empire.
In a video on regional media, a senior Russian naval officer urges servicemen to vote against Kant in the poll, saying he "betrayed his motherland."
The philosopher, a central figure in Western thought, has now sharply dropped in the rankings below Empress Elizabeth Petrovna, whose army captured the city in 1758 but abandoned it five years later.
Kant, during the brief period of Russian rule, asked the empress to let him teach at the local university, but his letter was never delivered.
"He demeaned himself to get a department in the university, so that he could teach and write some strange books that none of those present here today have read," says the naval officer in the video, identified by local media as Vice-Admiral Igor Mukhametshin, head of the Baltic Fleet staff. 
In an op-ed for pro-Kremlin website Vzglyad, Kaliningrad regional lawmaker Andrei Kolesnik called the philosopher a "Russophobe", adding that it would be unpatriotic to "Germanize" the airport.
"The author of the 'Critique of Pure Reason' cannot be one of the main symbols of a Russian region," Kolesnik said.
Why not?  Russians are weirdos.
A student at the local state university Mikhail Shipilov was questioned by police after proposing a rally in support of the philosopher on his social networking page, local news website New Kaliningrad said.
He told AFP he has since spent several days trying to get the authorities' permission for the event, calling the experience "Kafkaesque".
He said he thinks the Kant controversy stems from a "dislike of everything German" harboured by some Russians: "Kant is a German, therefore he's an enemy."
Vadim Chaly, head of the philosophy department at the Immanuel Kant Baltic Federal University in Kaliningrad, said that if Russians objecting to Kant actually read his works, they would find that his values are the "normal values of any modern society, including Russian".

Tuesday, December 04, 2018

On France

Reading this piece in The Guardian by a journalist who has long worked in France, you get the distinct impression that part of the problem is that the country has so many people who share a fondness for public demonstration as a political tool that once they start, no one really has any clear idea how unified the demonstrators are.  Hence there always ends up being a multitude of possible mixed motivations, which makes calming it down all the more difficult.

Of course, people say that about demonstrations in other countries too (you know, the matter of whether demonstrations are being "hijacked" by a radical group), but it seems a really chronic problem when you're in a country where anyone will demonstrate at the drop of a political hat.   As Lichfield says:
I’ve lived in France for 22 years and have witnessed street protests by workers, farmers, wine producers, truck drivers, railway employees, university students, sixth-formers, teachers, youths in the multiracial suburbs, chefs, lawyers, doctors and police officers. Yes, even police officers. 
Anyway,  another article in The Guardian looks at the question of whether petrol prices in France are really that expensive, and they apparently aren't.   But Macron being a strange political fish, who believes in climate change, is pro-EU, leery of populist sentiment against immigration, but also wants to de-regulate work conditions, has the problem of thereby not being able to have solid support from either arm of politics. 

I don't know enough about France to have really solid opinions about it or him, but naturally I gravitate towards centrism and moderation, and (of course) view the populist Right as a real danger.  It's a pity that the Macron brand of centrism seems not to be working.  But whether that's because he's too far "dry" on economics or too "wet" on environmentalism - or a bit of both - I don't really know.

Monday, December 03, 2018

Silly economic prediction

I didn't post about the Fourth National Climate Assessment because of the immediate criticism I noticed about the "economic effect" part that suggested that even under a high emissions path, the effect on the US economy may only be 10% of GDP.

While its seems most media unthinkingly reported the figure as if it was high, lots of people on Twitter with a clue immediately thought that was just ridiculously low.   We're talking an 8 degree temperature rise - that would be a huge change in global conditions (bearing in mind a drop of only 4 to 5 degrees is all it takes to put the planet into an ice age.) 

I don't know that there has been as much discussion about the obvious problems with that figure in the report as there should have been, but And Then There's Physics had a decent post about it, in which the comments are well worth reading.

It would seem there is some hedging in the Report itself about the figure, but in a way it's a wonder that the skeptics have not done more to grab onto this figure to argue that climate change is not a problem.

The lazy JC at Catallaxy has done so - but then he believes the last skeptical thing he ever reads and has now been convinced by Scott Adams, the cartoonist who does videos from up Trump's rectum, that climate models are a fraud.   So gullible:  believes anything that fits the theory "there is no problem."

But it would seem that the professional climate change skeptics have decided to ignore this point and criticise the report in other ways - their familiar refrain of "the science is all too uncertain". 

I don't think the problematic economic prediction is one from an Integrated Assessment Model - but in any event, it is well worth remembering Robert Pindyck's long standing work pointing out that economic forecasts for climate change are a bit of a crock.

Sunday, December 02, 2018

Summing up Godless

So, we got to the end of Netflix's Godless on Friday night.  [Spoilers ahead].

It had everything:   lesbians and downtrodden black folk taking on the oppressive white man in a massive shootout in which it seemed 200 people died, even though there were only 80 there.

Actually, I'm being facetious and pretending to be a Wingnut.   It was, in fact, very satisfying.   (Oh, and the black folk take much part in the final shootout - they're mostly eliminated before then.)

The production values and acting again came to the fore:   this was really the best looking Western I can remember since, well, I don't really know.  It's not as if I follow the genre closely, and at the cinema there are so few examples now I don't remember the last one I would have seen there.   The acting was also very uniformly good throughout the series:  Jeff Daniels was the most surprising as a very convincingly menacing and nutty bad guy.   

I was pleased that most of the "good guys" survived, and the cemetery speech was actually touching.

Sure, the series isn't perfect:  a bit too horsey sometimes; I was waiting for the origin story of bad guy Frank's dedicated band of followers but it never came;  and I can't say the whole scenario of the town soldiering on with widowed women felt particularly likely, even though it made for an innovate setting.   (In fact, I have been meaning to check if the writer/director based it on any historical example that sparked the idea.  I'll come back and update if I turn up anything interesting.)  But the thing is, we all know that Westerns take liberties with history and we can enjoy them nonetheless for their imagery and sentiment.

So, I'm glad I watched it, and puzzle once again over the matter of why Netflix can make some very enjoyable mini series, but seems pretty woeful at producing their own films.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

A hot issue

Hmm.  A study from Finland finds that frequent sauna use by folk over 50 is associated with (much lower) mortality from cardio vascular disease.  But is it just that healthy people tend to have more sauna time, or is there causation involved?   A doctor thinks it the sauna might make people fitter:
Professor Laukkanen continued: "There are several possible reasons why sauna use may decrease the risk of death due to CVD. Our research team has shown in previous studies that high sauna use is associated with lower blood pressure. Additionally, sauna use is known to trigger an increase in heart rate equal to that seen in low to moderate intensity physical exercise."
I wonder:  the Japanese have long lives too, and really like their hot baths.   Possible causation there too?

Well, there you go - this has been the subject of specific study too:
 The objective of this study was to determine how traditional Japanese style bathing could promote good health. Using healthy volunteers, we assessed body temperature (core and cutaneous), red blood cells, white blood cells (WBCs), venous blood gas parameters (PO2, SO2, PCO2, TCO2, HCO3, and pH), weight loss (which may indicate sweat volume), and the time until sweating before and after bathing. We simultaneously conducted a double-blind clinical trial using a bath additive group and a control group to investigate the effect of a bath additive on the same parameters. We found that bathing increased the core and cutaneous body temperature, as well as PO2, SO2, and blood pH. All of the subjects also showed increases in heart rate and weight loss (sweat volume). After bathing, the number and ratio of granulocytes increased while the number and ratio of lymphocytes decreased. These results tended to be emphasized in the bath additive group; however, significant between-group differences were not detected. Our results indicated that bathing improved blood circulation and had a modulatory effect on the autonomic nervous system. This suggested that traditional Japanese style bathing might contribute to good health and longevity; however, additional larger-scale studies were needed to confirm or refute this conclusion. 

Judy, Judy, Judy

I missed the news yesterday that an accidental leak of salaries from News Corp showed Judith Sloan gets $357,000 pa for writing two columns per week (!)

Is she still on any boards as well?

Does she collect a fee for appearing on ABC too?   (Mercifully, she appears less and less it seems to me, but then I don't watch The Drum.)

Anyway, seems an extraordinarily generous fee for what I would presume is 2 days work a week. 

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Really into it

I thought this "opinion piece" in WAPO, which attracted criticism for reading more like some PR blurb, was nonetheless interesting for explaining just how reliant the Chinese have become on the internet - or at least those urban ones who can connect to it.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

On the House

Hill House:  the Haunting of, is that to which I refer.

I'm up to episode 6, with another four episodes to go, but I feel the urge to comment on it before the end.

I think it's quite good, but flawed in interesting ways.   The best part is the acting of the younger version of the family - all of the children are very good, with the young, poor-sighted (if his thick glasses are anything to go by) Luke being a particularly charming and likeable presence.   (Even older Luke as junkie still has a basically sympathetic face.)   It is nice to see Henry Thomas, famous as Elliott in ET, is still making a living too.  The mother is fine, with only the domestic help feeling a bit cliched sometimes.

Another think I have liked quite a lot is the imaginative detail in some of the spook action in the house.  The levitating bowler hat man sequence was a particularly good example in (I think) episode 5.  Last night's episode 6 also had some nice surprises in the present day, too.  (It was a very well made episode, with lots done in long, unbroken takes.)   I give credit to it for not being too gruesome in most of its scares, and often the tension is nicely built before a spectre makes an appearance.  There's not an over-reliance on the cheap jump-scare, although they do occur. 

On the downside, as I commented here before, there is a bit of suspension of disbelief necessary, not uncommon in haunted house movies, as to why the family persists in living there for so long after so many weird things have happened.  Also - turn on the light!  Normal people scared in the middle of the night turn on the light.   [This, it has occurred to me, is probably why I find Poltergeist so enjoyable - it's a brightly lit haunted house movie, and scarier for it, because it is more realistic in that aspect.    There is also a reason for the family to stay there  that doesn't apply to your average haunted house.  All praise to Spielberg, who wrote the witty, clever and scary screenplay.]

Back to the House:  the main problem I have is that I really don't think the writing of the adult children's unresolved conflict ever comes across as completely convincing.   They strike me as unreasonably upset with Steven, the eldest, for writing a book about the haunting when he apparently does not really believe that it was supernatural at heart.   I mean, he offered to share the money.  And besides, as we learn in episode 6, he did see at least one thing in the house which really only had a supernatural explanation, so why did he start later thinking it was all mental issues?   I don't really get it.   If the series wants us to understand why he annoyed his siblings so much, I think more specific detail needed to be given.  Maybe more in coming in the last few episodes. 

The two elder sisters conflict seemed a bit over the top last night too -  aren't they a bit too upper-middle class for the swear-y shouting on display?  And what was going on in the storeroom?  Is lesbian hook-up sister (a character who, in adult version, I find hard to like) actually cheating with a husband for whom I feel sympathy for having married into such a nutty family?   The whole lesbian bit with her seems just gratuitous to me, too.   I like the way she is psychic with touch and wears gloves all the time presumably for that reason - but the picking up the girl at the bar seemed just a bit of unnecessary filler.

There are another four episodes to go, so perhaps I will start feeling better about the writing of the dialogue between the adult family.   But I don't think I can be the only one who wishes that some episodes spent more time in the past than in the present, not only because that is where most of the chills are, but because the adult family writing is not as good as it should be.

Trump news

Yeah, sure he's read "some of" the climate change report.  Perhaps the front page?   Has the nation ever had a President before who seems so bereft of a basic life skill?   I wonder how Reagan got on when he had the start of dementia?   I suspect then even he may have done more reading than Trump.

Yeah, sure, a State run pro-Trump international media network to counter CNN is a good idea.  Nothing like what a tin pot dictator would want at all.   I don't know that a lot of people internationally find CNN influential anyway - it's kind of boring.  But narcissistic autocrats need lots of praise, and CNN does not provide it.  Only because there is nothing to praise. 

GM closing plants is not a great look.  It would seem that what might help GM - climate driven policies to encourage people to buy smaller more fuel efficient cars - is exactly what Trump is against.  Huh.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Tim doesn't like the idea of being in Opposition: even worse, of earning a dollar out in the cruel world

Timbo Wilson is looking chubby and different (older?) in this pic:

It's been a curious thing - his path from IPA anti climate change, anti tobacco plain packaging, anti HRC roots to HRC member and then into government as a Turnbull supporting "wet".  Well, he's certain "wet" on gay marriage:  maybe not so much on other things?

The one thing I never hear him talking about now is climate change - the key issue that the Liberals are killing themselves over.

Come on, Timbo - be the Liberal who recants and says his scepticism in the past has been replaced by a genuine belief in the problem, and tell the conservatives who wanted to stop you getting married that they are wrong on this (much more important issue) too, and are killing the party.

I see that one of the flipped seats in the Victorian election is pretty much Tim's electorate too.

He seems worried.   But I have my doubts he could be in that much trouble, unfortunately.

Taiwanese politics is...complicated

I know nothing really about Taiwanese politics, but it was surprising to read last year that, due to the judiciary, the country was moving towards legalising gay marriage.  

However, a referendum on the weekend went against it (even though it would seem to be an advisory ballot only).   Why have advisory ballots if you have to constitutionally allow for something?   Seems odd:
The vote on Saturday, organised by Christian groups that make up about 5% of Taiwan’s population and advocates of the traditional Chinese family structure, contradicts a May 2017 constitutional court ruling. Justices told legislators then to make same-sex marriage legal within two years, a first for Asia, where religion and conservative governments normally keep the bans in place.
Although the ballot is advisory only, it is expected to frustrate lawmakers mindful of public opinion as they face the court deadline next year. Many legislators will stand for re-election in 2020.
“The legislature has lots of choices on how to make this court order take effect,” said referendum proponent Chen Ke, a Catholic pastor in Taiwan and an opponent of same-sex marriage.
Christian groups are small but that influential?  I guess if they align with traditional Chinese  sentiment towards family. 

But the rest of Taiwanese politics seems so complicated, too:
Taiwanese also elected candidates from the China-friendly opposition Nationalist party to a majority of mayoral and county magistrate posts, reversing the party’s losses in 2014.
China welcomed the defeat of Taiwan’s pro-independence ruling Democratic Progressive party (DPP) at the local elections, saying it showed people wanted peaceful relations with Beijing.
The vote dealt a major blow to President Tsai Ing-wen’s hopes of re-election in 2020, forcing her to quit as DPP leader as the Beijing-friendly main opposition Kuomintang (KMT) made gains in the face of China’s increasing pressure on the island.
The DPP has been left in control of only six of Taiwan’s cities and counties, compared with at least 15 for the KMT. The losses included one of its most steadfast strongholds, the southern city of Kaohsiung.

At a time of growing concern over China flexing its muscles by building island military bases in strategic positions, isn't it surprising that a "Beijing friendly" party is making a comeback in Taiwan?

I don't really understand...

Deadest dead government walking ever?

What a sense of schadenfreude it is giving me that Victoria, the home of the IPA, Sinclair Davidson, Judith Sloan, Steve Kates, Andrew Bolt and climate change denialism - the issue which is making the Coalition an un-electable rabble - is looking so hostile to the Liberals right now.   And Newspoll at 55/45 TPP

It's one of those periods where you wonder how the politicians on the obviously losing side manage to get up in the morning.   Do they mutter to themselves "it's all so pointless" over their corn flakes?

Anyway, let's sit back and enjoy watching the centrists and the science denying, culture warring Right in the Party fighting it out.  (Hilariously, I see at Catallaxy, the people argue that the Liberals need to be led by someone more like Trump.   They have no idea.)

The answer remains clear - you can't have coherent energy and climate change policy without believing in climate change.  That big rump (I'm guessing 35%) of the Coalition that just refuses to believe it is an issue at all need to be told to leave the party.

Update:  and I forgot to mention - the LDP gets 3,000 odd votes in the Upper Lower House - third from the bottom.   More pleasure for me.

Update 2:  As I was rudely told in comments, the votes in my previous update were for the Lower House, not the Upper, and I think the party ran 3 candidates.  So they cracked a 1,000 votes each, or thereabouts?  Congratulations!   As for the number of votes in the Upper House, I don't understand how the voting works there, given we don't have an Upper House in Queensland.  But I see that the LDP did get 50,000 odd votes, which puts it about even with the Animal Justice Party,  way behind   Deryn Hinch's Justice Party, and also behind the Shooter Fishers and Farmers Party.   What's more, at the last election, they got 3.06% of the vote, but at this one, at the moment, the vote is at 2.3%.

So, they're going backwards?  Again, congratulations. 

Sunday, November 25, 2018

There's no there there

Did the Coen Brothers overcome the Netflix curse for having big names make only middling to bad movies? 

Well, I'm only 2/3 of the way through Buster Scruggs, and I think it is safe to say already that they have not.

The first story is absurdist, and violent (as indeed, it seems most episodes are) - I mean, seriously, as I said before JUST BECAUSE YOU CAN SHOW A GRAPHIC, BRAIN SPLATTERING SHOT TO THE HEAD, HOLLYWOOD, DOES NOT MEAN THAT GRAPHIC, BRAIN SPLATTERING SHOTS TO THE HEAD SHOULD BE ENTERTAINMENT.

Did you notice, it bothers me a great deal, this nihilistic use of heat shot special effects??

Anyway, even ignoring that, the first story is still mainly just peculiar - seemingly a thought bubble they had for a silly musical Western that they couldn't work out how to stretch to movie length.*

The main problem I have had with each story is the lack of dramatic drive.   Particularly in the one with Liam Neeson - I thought it just flat out boring.   And the Tom Waits one too. 

Sure, the cinematography looks great, although these days you never know when even nature scenery is real or faked up.   But really, I think that this movie, to the extent that people like it, is rather like Tarantino - it's a matter of style triumphing over nihilistic content.  There is no there there.

*  Actually, now that I think of it, it perhaps plays more as a mocking mini movie they couldn't cram into Hail Caesar!


Recipe noted

Sure, you can buy a jar of sauce to cook your chicken breasts in, but I found out last night that if you have some very common ingredients in the fridge and pantry (just use an onion instead of a shallot) you can very easily make a nice sauce that is cooked in one skillet with the chicken.

Well, seeing you have to scroll far on the phone to get to the actual recipe, I'll put it here anyway:

4 boneless skinless chicken breasts (or thighs)
salt and pepper
1 cup chicken broth
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon minced garlic
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes (or more to taste)
1 tablespoon olive oil
⅓ cup finely diced shallots (or red onions)
2 tablespoons salted butter
¼ cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons chopped parsley or basil

I'll simplify the cooking too -  I found there was no need to finish this in an oven.

Flatten out the breasts so they're more even thickness, season them, then fry in the skillet with the olive oil to brown.  Take out and fry the onion/shallots a little, then throw in the stock, garlic, lemon juice and chilli flakes which you've mixed up in the measuring cup.   A bit of stirring and the brown bits on the bottom get incorporated;  let the liquid reduce to about a third.   Take off the heat, then throw in the butter and whisk it in, then add the cream.  Put the mostly cooked breasts back in and spoon some of the sauce on top.  Put some green herb on top (I only had dried parsley, but it adds to the appearance.)  Put on a lid and back on very gentle heat for another 5 to 10 min.  

And speaking of skillets:  my wife recently bought a large straight sided, stainless steel saute pan, with a glass lid.   It's - really good for a dish like this.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Disney share price expected to do well

So, I just saw a teaser trailer for a "live action" (although really, more a case of differently animated) version of The Lion King, which is due to come out next year:

This will have enormous appeal.  

And they will also have the next Avengers movie out, with the story continuing from the incredibly popular Infinity War

I suspect that, in terms of box office competition, all other studios just may as well wave the white flag for next year.   Both of these Disney movies are just going to be hugely popular.

Footsteps in the mist

Regular readers - all 5 of you? - will know that I'm quite partial to accounts of yowies and bigfoot-ish stories of large humanoid things going thump in the night and scaring people.

Therefore, you won't be surprised to know that I quite liked this collection of Scottish stories of mountaineers and hikers, usually in the mist, getting scared by the sounds of footsteps and the occasional appearance of a tall, hairy thing with them.

The aspect of the feeling of dread accompanying these incidents is particularly interesting.   As with the common feature of a strong, unpleasant stink being associated with many yowie and bigfoot incidents, it is the odd extra feature, if repeated often enough, that makes one think that something genuinely unusual is going on.

And you thought Catholic nuns had gone all hip and non-traditional...

(No, I don't consult Pink News as a habit - this popped up on Flipboard.)

Anyway, more detail:
A rising star Buddhist monk in Taiwan has been arrested and expelled after he was allegedly filmed having gay sex and smoking meth in his temple.
Master Kai Hung, 29, was secretary general of the Chinese Young Buddhist Association until his room in Taiwan‘s Chongfo Temple was raided in November by police, who found 19 grams of amphetamine tablets, smoking pipes and a holy water bottle filled with lube, according to Shanghaiist.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Just a graphic reminder

The return of the gnome

Sinclair Davidson seems to be posting more often at Catallaxy again, which gives a sad sort of fun,  watching the hypocrisy and the nonsense coming from him directly rather than from the lazy, wilfully blind old blitherers and assorted guest posters who mainly post there now.  "Quality control" is a concept foreign to libertarians, apparently.

 Anyway, I was taken aback recently to note that he objected to Philip Adams tweeting about his hope that Alan Jones passes on from this mortal coil soon (while noting his ambition to die at the microphone too) with this comment:
...yet I was unaware that it is now entirely acceptable to publicly wish that your ideological enemies should die … and soon too.
while remembering that only last year he was on the defensive for his Quadrant mate Roger Franklin going all death fantasy on Lawrence Krauss and the ABC after the Manchester bombing.  Franklin's words (archived, as even Quadrant took it down after near universal condemnation):
What if that blast had detonated in an Ultimo TV studio? Unlike those young girls in Manchester, their lives snuffed out before they could begin, none of the panel’s likely casualties would have represented the slightest reduction in humanity’s intelligence, decency, empathy or honesty.
Mind you, as Krauss felt his body being penetrated by the Prophet’s shrapnel of nuts, bolts and nails, those goitered eyes might in their last glimmering have caught a glimpse of vindication. 
Nothing like a bit of tribalism to influence offence taking, hey?

A useful reminder

What's the bet that Trump will tweet about how the cold blast shows global warming is nothing to worry about?

And lots of dittoheads will agree.

By the way, I just checked the forecast for New York City - Thursday (which, at the time of this post, is still 5 hours away from starting) has a range of -7 to -2 degrees.  Brisk!

Hindu nationalism a worry

According to Crux:
MUMBAI, India - A Catholic priest was attacked by a Hindu mob in northern India, and then arrested by police after Hindus accused him of causing the disturbance.
Father Vineet Vincent Pereira was conducting a prayer service in Ghohana town in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh when right-wing Hindus attacked him on Nov. 14.
Father Pereira has a very hippie Jesus look, by the way, and lives in a ashram.  Seems Catholic clergy in India are always at risk of half going native, so to speak, if the example of Bede Griffiths was any example. 

Anyway, Hindu nationalists are taking the defence of their religion way too seriously:
Right-wing Hindu groups have accused the priest of trying to convert the local Hindu population.
The mob that attacked the priest were allegedly members of Hindu Yuva Vahini, a radical Hindu youth group that tries to “re-convert” Hindus that have switched religions.
After the attack, Pereira said police took him into custody - allegedly for his own safety - but then charged him the next day for rioting and unlawful assembly. 

Not bad humour

GOP Jesus needed editing down - not every bit works well, but quite a few do:

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Krugman on why the Trump tax cuts have fizzled

I meant to link to this opinion piece by Krugman before, but it's interesting for his theory as to why the Trump tax cuts haven't achieved much.  The key section, I think, is this:
Now, proponents of the tax cut, including Trump’s own economists, made a big deal about how we now have a global capital market, in which money flows to wherever it gets the highest after-tax return. And they pointed to countries with low corporate taxes, like Ireland, which appear to attract lots of foreign investment.
The key word here is, however, “appear.” Corporations do have a strong incentive to cook their books — I’m sorry, manage their internal pricing — in such a way that reported profits pop up in low-tax jurisdictions, and this in turn leads on paper to large overseas investments.
But there’s much less to these investments than meets the eye. For example, the vast sums corporations have supposedly invested in Ireland have yielded remarkably few jobs and remarkably little income for the Irish themselves — because most of that huge investment in Ireland is nothing more than an accounting fiction.
Now you know why the money U.S. companies reported moving home after taxes were cut hasn’t shown up in jobs, wages and investment: Nothing really moved. Overseas subsidiaries transferred some assets back to their parent companies, but this was just an accounting maneuver, with almost no impact on anything real.
So the basic result of lower taxes on corporations is that corporations pay less in taxes — full stop. Which brings me to the problem with conservative economic doctrine.
That doctrine is all about the supposed need to give the already privileged incentives to do nice things for the rest of us. We must, the right says, cut taxes on the wealthy to induce them to work hard, and cut taxes on corporations to induce them to invest in America.
But this doctrine keeps failing in practice. President George W. Bush’s tax cuts didn’t produce a boom; President Barack Obama’s tax hike didn’t cause a depression. Tax cuts in Kansas didn’t jump-start the state’s economy; tax hikes in California didn’t slow growth.
And with the Trump tax cut, the doctrine has failed again. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to get politicians to understand something when their campaign contributions depend on their not understanding it.
I wonder if this is being challenged by anyone credible (ie, not a Laffer zombie).

We seem to do lettuce better than the US...

I know we have an occasional fresh vegetable/fruit contamination issue, but the US seems to have an awful lot of incidents like this:
Federal health officials are urging consumers to stop eating romaine lettuce and asking industry to halt all sales amid an extensive E. coli outbreak unfolding across the U.S. and Canada.
Even the Americans seem to acknowledge this happens way too often:
“CDC and FDA did the right thing and gave a very broad warning to consumers. Hopefully they will find the source of the contamination and the cause quickly,” said Sandra Eskin, director of food safety at the Pew Charitable Trusts.
“We have seen so many leafy green outbreaks over the last year — it is really undermining consumer confidence in the safety of these otherwise healthy products,” Eskin added.

Comparing disasters

The photos of destruction coming out after the terrible Californian fires are quite something.  

I was curious as to how it compared to the harm caused by the Victorian Black Saturday fires, which sort of set the modern Australian image of how bad our bushfires can be.

A quick Google would indicate that 2,029 homes were destroyed in our home-grown disaster (but apparently another 1,000 or so buildings too.)    Number of people killed: 173.

The Californian fire is being reported as having destroyed about 12,000 homes, and while the death toll is still currently below 100, there's another 700 missing.  (Which really seems an extraordinary number after this time.)

So yeah, at least in property destruction, the Californian fires are already on a much larger scale, and may well end up having killed many more people too.

Elver abuse

You can congratulate me later for the title to the post, after you've  read all about what's possibly the oddest criminal activity in the world:
Billions of euros worth of critically endangered eels are being trafficked each year from Europe, ending up on tables in China and Japan in what campaigners say is "the largest wildlife crime on Earth."
Stocks of European eel (anguilla anguilla) have plummeted 90 percent in three decades as mankind has developed the wetlands and dammed the rivers it needs to grow and feed in, and experts fear smuggling the lucrative are pushing it towards oblivion.

The problem, according to Michel Vignaud, head of fishing regulation at France's National Biodiversity Agency, is exploding Asian demand for a product viewed as both a delicacy and an aphrodisiac.

"We cannot legally export eels outside the EU, but the prices are different in Asia. There is a real Asian demand for eel," he told AFP.

The UN's Food and Agriculture Organization said that in 2016 China produced close to a quarter of a million tonnes of eel for consumption, far ahead of Japan—where eating eel is seen as bringing good luck and fertility—and the EU.

The bloc's law enforcement agency EUROPOL estimates as many as 100 tonnes of baby eels—known as glass eels for their translucent skin—are trafficked abroad each year: equivalent to around 350 million fish.
 PS:  if I have to explain - an elver is a young eel.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Nudism not gone quite as planned

The Sydney Morning Herald has a story about how residents at Byron Bay, which has a (not very easy to get to, by the sounds) official nudist beach, are pretty sick of the creepy men engaging in offensive and harassing behaviour of a sexual nature.

I had also noticed, perhaps a year ago?, that an unofficial nudist beach at Noosa had attracted police attention and resulted in arrests and convictions.   

I find it interesting that public attitudes to the practice of nudism, in at least the English speaking West, have not really gone as someone in the 1960's might have expected.    Robert Heinlein, who I think was himself a nudist (and apparently sexually adventurous before it was quite the thing), used to write books in which appearing nude in public was not such a big deal in the future;  and given the hippy free love movement and nude mud baths happening at festivals in the 60's, it would have seemed a fair prediction at the time.

As society morphed on from there, you would get claims from time to time about how nudist tourism was booming, which seems a journalist trope that just never goes away.   Yet, it seems clear that, by and large, the nudist movement in America, England and Australia has gone backwards, both in terms of clubs and even use of nudist beaches.   

Why is it that, at a time of (relative) sexual liberation and less panic about nudity on television and media, actual nudity in public in the West has declined?   And why do nude beaches attract an increasing number of creepy men?    One would have thought the internet and porn would give them more reason to stay indoors.   Is there a line being crossed between internet porn being a diversion from acting out in public, and it working as encouragement to get out to commit offensive and worrying behaviour?

I mean, I guess nudism's connection with sexuality was never going to go away (despite high minded insistence by naturists that there is no essential connection), but I still didn't really expect its public practice to go backwards.   

Update:  Here's a theory:   while the internet means a lot more people see a lot more nude bodies than ever before, there is pretty good evidence from the rise in plastic surgery for breasts and labia that it has made (at least some) women more anxious and self conscious about perceived imperfections in their normally unexposed areas.   That, of course, is not the sort of attitude which makes public beach nudity appealing.   (And the rise of pubic hair removal has exacerbated this concern for women too.)   

Roubini on digital currency

Nouriel Roubini - probably cryptocurrency's and blockchain's biggest critic - discusses what the future of digital currency might be.   


I haven't noticed Chris Berg or Sinclair Davidson giving one of their vapourware quality chats on the potential of blockchain for a while.  I suspect that the topic has been mined for all its worth (ha, a bit of a crypto pun there) and it's time for them to move on.   

Monday, November 19, 2018

A not-as-late-as-usual movie review

A Quiet Place:   In summary:  nasty (and kinda generic looking in a modern-movie, big-toothed, weird-headed, way) aliens spend all their time running around the countryside slashing humans (or racoons) who are too loud.  A family holes up in their farm trying to get by, very quietly, in such a world.

On the upside:   there are quite a few scares, but to be honest, they are mostly the relatively cheap jump-scare variety.   Acting is pretty good.

On the downside:  [lots of spoilers ahead] a lot does not bear too much thinking about.   For one thing:  I was puzzled as to how the corn fields got planted, since the time line indicated that they must have been planted well after the aliens arrived.   [OK, I'll be generous here, and allow that maybe the aliens were busy devastating the towns and cities before they headed into the countryside.  But even then, would seem a tad odd that the farmers just got on with planting as if there were no alien invasion going on.]

For a second thing:  these aliens don't look too smart, and don't seem to eat their human and animal victims:  just slash them open and run.  That's sort of odd behaviour, even for an alien, isn't it?   What is the motivation for killing all noisy humans?*

A third thing:  corn in silos is like quicksand?   I suspected not, and the comments by several (apparent) farmers on this Reddit thread indicate that my scepticism was justified.

There are many other points I found myself doubting:  sure, being a new mother can be tiring, but sleeping through a basement flood that big?  Especially as she would presumably have become used to sleeping in total silence for a year or more.

The film overall reminded me too much of the woeful (and even sillier) Signs with Mel Gibson:   it also had a lot of corn and aliens, a Christian family, and aliens weirdly unprepared for human resistance by use of something pretty foreseeable.   (Actually, blindingly obvious, in the case of Signs.)   OK, again, being generous, maybe these latest aliens are just like the equivalent of hungry pet wolves let loose on the planet by their smart owners we never see.   (Again, why is the obvious question.)

I don't regret watching it, and I can see how it was pitched successfully as a high concept alien invasion story:   but it didn't deserve the very strong critical reception.   It pushed the plausibility boundaries way too often for that.

*  I have just now read an article that says it's clear by the end that the aliens are killing because they just need a silent planet on which to live.   If they are that sensitive to any and all sound - how do they put up with rain?   Did they cross light years to get here without inventing earplugs or noise reducing headphones?   I mean, they have huge ear holes, to be sure, but this still seems a bit silly.

Learning languages

Quite a helpful article here discussing the pros and cons (mainly the cons) of using the popular "learn a foreign language" app Duolingo. 

I've been tempted to try it, but never have.

In praise of spaghetti carbonara

I hadn't made my own spaghetti carbonara for a long time 'til last Saturday, but I thought this recipe worked pretty well and was similar to the last I had used from an old cookbook.   (Cookbook publishers must be hating the internet and its effect on sourcing recipes.)

I tend to like to a drier carbonara - some people prefer a wetter version.  It does seem to me that people can get very snooty about the right way to do this dish, a bit like those people who insist that country X's food here is nothing like the real thing when you actually go there.   (I usually find this is a greatly exaggerated claim.)

In any event, isn't it the case that Italians don't eat pasta as a main meal in quite the way we do?  I wouldn't mind betting that this may have changed in recent years too.

I like the way you can be non-trad with the recipe - adding some fresh asparagus and small sized bits of broccoli worked well on Saturday, and using just bacon was fine.   Many people like to add mushrooms too, it seems, and I would have if there were any in the refrigerator.

Left over reheats surprisingly well in the microwave too.

So yeah, I should make it more often.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

William Goldman

Famous screenwriter/novelist William Goldman has died.   You know, I don't recall knowing what he looked like until now, despite having read a few of his books.

I had forgotten that he wrote Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid - a film which, incidently, I felt was vastly over-rated when I saw it as a child.  (My mother was a big Robert Redford fan - I think I was tagging along with her when I saw it.  Not sure if my father was there too.)   I wonder if I would feel differently about it as an adult?   I still have this gut feeling that it was very lightweight and trivial. 

Anyway, Goldman interested me more for his books about the industry, and I suspect that he might have become slightly dismayed that, despite "nobody knowing anything" in Hollywood, studios have become pretty good at knowing what franchise material will make a killing in the first week or two, regardless of critical reception.   (Although, I guess, that Solo movie's failure almost certainly came as a surprise.)

Thursday, November 15, 2018

As spotted on Twitter

A fair few anti Taleb comments follow the tweet, too.

Death by social media

The BBC has been trying to tally up how many people in India have died as a result of social media spreading false rumours.  And one appalling story is told in detail:
Across India mob attacks are on the rise, fuelled by false rumours on WhatsApp and social media. According to the BBC's analysis of incidents between February 2014 and July 2018, at least 31 people have been killed and dozens more injured. These are the incidents the BBC was able to verify, many more have been reported.

Many of the false rumours warn people that there are child abductors in their towns, driving locals to target innocent men who are not known to the community. A total of 25 men, 4 women, and two people of unknown gender have died. Here is a timeline of those incidents the BBC has verified.

In one striking example, a video clip shared on WhatsApp went viral in India in June 2018, with tragic consequences. In the clip, a man on a motorbike appears to be kidnapping a child from the street. The messages that accompanied the video as it was shared from phone to phone alleged that the incident had occurred in Bangalore and warned the community to be on the lookout for “potential child-lifters”. Vigilante mobs formed and killed an estimated 10 people.

But the outrage overshadowed the true story.

The clip was in fact part of a safety video produced by a child welfare group in Pakistan. At the end of the original video, the supposed “kidnapper” returns the child to his friends and holds up a sign that reads “It takes only a moment to kidnap a child from the streets of Karachi.” This was edited out in the viral version.

Another bad, high profile, Netflix movie?

The Guardian reviewer really dislikes a new Netflix movie with some big star power in it.  [Sandra Bullock, John Malkovich, Jacki Weaver (!)]

Seems to me that, for a company that plans on being such a major player in movie content, they have to do something about quality control, fast.