Friday, October 19, 2018

Hedonism, again

The Guardian has an opinion piece by a gay activist (and, I would presume, popper user) complaining that the Therapeutic Goods Administration proposal to re-categorise amyl nitrite as a serious drug (potentially able to be treated criminally in the same way as heroin) is discrimination against gay and bi men.  (!)   

It would seem that the drug, which already (so I read:  not speaking from any personal knowledge here) is only sold for fake purposes under the counter at sex shops ("video head cleaner" used to be one of them, but then the VCR died out) is primarily used by gay men who find it useful to relax a certain sphincter during certain forms of sexual activity, as well as giving them a temporary high.  (And a flushed face, possible fainting, nausea and a variety of other potential and more serious side effects.)

I don't really know understand drug categorisation and whether this article is exaggerating the potential for criminal action against someone in possession.   The TGA report linked to in the article certainly indicates there are hospitalisations in Australia (perhaps 20 a year in a recent decade) arising from its use - although its easy to find many sex advice health websites that appear to make light of the potential health risks.  (Have you seen what other things they make light of in terms of safe sex?  Instead of "why in God's name anyone would actually want to do such an obviously unnatural and bizarre stretching of an orifice is beyond us.  Honestly - do yourself a favour and just get more within the range of normal, hey?")

This is one of those topics where I wish there was a widespread revival of the Golden mean, and in my application of it the common sense suggestion would be "if you need a potentially dangerous drug to enjoy the sex, you need to try a different form of sex".    And/or "if you are finding your average ordinary orgasm is not enjoyable enough without being aided by the addition of a drug - you are being too hedonistic.  Perhaps try having fewer so that you enjoy the ones you have more?"

As for the TGA proposal - I would have thought a heavier crackdown on its sale and distribution would be what is deserved.  I don't really understand why it has been so commonly available so easily for so long.

Krugman correct

I think Krugman is perfectly entitled to claim vindication for his repeated warnings about what the Republicans would do.   (Well, he is not alone in such warnings, and he was sometimes repetitious in making them, but really, it is pretty breathtaking bad faith on the part of the GOP.)  I'll be bad and extract more of his column that I probably should:

When the Trump tax cut was on the verge of being enacted, I called it “the biggest tax scam in history,” and made a prediction: deficits would soar, and when they did, Republicans would once again pretend to care about debt and demand cuts in Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.
Sure enough, the deficit is soaring. And this week Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, after declaring the surge in red ink “very disturbing,” called for, you guessed it, cuts in “Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid.” He also suggested that Republicans might repeal the Affordable Care Act — taking away health care from tens of millions — if they do well in the midterm elections.
Any political analyst who didn’t see this coming should find a different profession. After all, “starve the beast” — cut taxes on the rich, then use the resulting deficits as an excuse to hack away at the safety net — has been G.O.P. strategy for decades.
Oh, and anyone asking why Republicans believed claims that the tax cut would pay for itself is being na├»ve. Whatever they may have said, they never actually believed that the tax cut would be deficit-neutral; they pushed for a tax cut because it was what wealthy donors wanted, and because their posturing as deficit hawks was always fraudulent. They didn’t really buy into economic nonsense; it would be more accurate to say that economic nonsense bought them.

OK:   this part is new to me, and is important information when considering Laffer-ist claims that the total revenue did not drop after the tax cuts is some sort of semi-vindication:

What are they lying about? For starters, about the causes of a sharply higher deficit, which they claim is the result of higher spending, not lost revenue. Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s budget director, even tried to claim that the deficit is up because of the costs of hurricane relief.
The flimsy justification for such claims is that in dollar terms, federal revenue over the past year is slightly up from the previous year, while spending is about 3 percent higher.
But that’s a junk argument, and everyone knows it. Both revenue and spending normally grow every year thanks to inflation, population growth and other factors. Revenue during Barack Obama’s second term grew more than 7 percent a year. The sources of the deficit surge are measured by how much we’ve deviated from that normal growth, and the answer is that it’s all about the tax cut.
Dishonesty about the sources of the deficit is, however, more or less a standard Republican tactic. What’s new is the double talk that pervades G.O.P. positioning on the budget and, to be fair, just about every major policy issue.

Physics and Philosophy for a Phriday

*   I quite like Philip Ball's explanation of the Many Worlds Interpretation of quantum physics in his article at Quanta.   He makes some points I do not recall having read before, such as this one (about the nature of the "splitting"):
For starters, about this business of bifurcating worlds. How does a split actually happen?
That is now seen to hinge on the issue of how a microscopic quantum event gives rise to macroscopic, classical behavior through a process called “decoherence,” in which the wavelike states of a quantum system become uncoordinated and scrambled by their interactions with their environment. Parallel quantum worlds have split once they have decohered, for by definition decohered wave functions can have no direct, causal influence on one another. For this reason, the theory of decoherence developed in the 1970s and ’80s helped to revitalize the MWI by supplying a clear rationale for what previously seemed a rather vague contingency.
In this view, splitting is not an abrupt event. It evolves through decoherence and is only complete when decoherence has removed all possibility of interference between universes. While it’s popular to regard the appearance of distinct worlds as akin to the bifurcation of futures in Jorge Luis Borges’ story “The Garden of Forking Paths,” a better analogy might therefore be something like the gradual separation of shaken salad dressing into layers of oil and vinegar. It’s then meaningless to ask how many worlds there are — as the philosopher of physics David Wallace aptly puts it, the question is rather like asking, “How many experiences did you have yesterday?” You can identify some of them, but you can’t enumerate them.

I must say, however, that I feel a little less convinced by the article as it goes on with his explanation of his problems with the theory.   There's a heavy concentration on it attacking the concept of self;  but in these days where Buddhist ideas of there being no core self anyway have gained quite a bit of intellectual traction, it feels a little odd to be going after a theory on that basis.   (Not that I am a fan of the Buddhist idea - I think it's a worry for quite a few reasons.)

*  Now for philosophy:  if you want a dose of the most headache inducing philosophical question - the matter of free will, its existence, and whether a belief in its absence makes a nonsense of making moral judgement about human behaviour, you could do much worse than read this back and forth between Daniel Dennett and Gregg Caruso at Aeon.   In fact, I have not read all of it carefully yet - but at first glance, Daniel Dennett is making quite a lot of sense.

Great links, hey?  

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Not quite Minority Report, but still sounds potentially open to abuse

Nature has an article that is upbeat about the potential for using AI to predict armed conflict, so as to enable early intervention:
Governments and the international community often have little warning of impending crises. Likely trouble spots can be flagged a few days or sometimes weeks in advance using algorithms that forecast risks, similar to those used for predicting policing needs and extreme weather. For conflict risk prediction, these codes estimate the likelihood of violence by extrapolating from statistical data4and analysing text in news reports to detect tensions and military developments (see Artificial intelligence (AI) is poised to boost the power of these approaches.
Several examples are under way. These include Lockheed Martin’s Integrated Crisis Early Warning System, the Alan Turing Institute’s project on global urban analytics for resilient defence (run by W.G. and A.W.) and the US government’s Political Instability Task Force.

Trump and Science

Yet again, it's a case of not being sure whether to laugh or cry:  that Trumpian claim that he has "a natural instinct for science".   I think it's time to rename the Dunning-Kruger effect the "Trump syndrome".  More people would immediately recognise what it means. 

As for his natural science instinct:  how could you doubt it when one of his science-y highlights is how he has explained out loud for years about how CFC's cannot escape his sealed apartment:
Trump has made claims about hairspray and the ozone layer at least three times. Back in 2011 in Sydney, he implied the “eight-inch concrete floors” and “eight-inch concrete walls” of Trump Tower would prevent hairspray from “destroying the ozone that’s 400 miles up in the air.” In December 2015, at a campaign rally in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, Trump also said he doesn’t “think anything gets out” of his “sealed” apartment when he uses hairspray.
It's not just the child-like stupidity of imagining that gases never escape an apartment - it's the ridiculous sense of entitlement that it's a major regret that hairspray is not just like it used to be. 

Anyway, someone at Esquire does not mince words:

Trump has a predator's instinct for how people work and for identifying their weaknesses. He knows what motivates them and what plays on TV and how the media ecosystem functions. He especially knows how to keep the spotlight where it ought to be: on Donald Trump.
But in terms of intellectual capacity—the ability to reason at a high level, the volume of knowledge he's accumulated about complex phenomena, his familiarity with how humanity gathers information about the world—he is a complete and utter moron. He's a simpleton. He has absolutely no concept of how science works, which is why he feels comfortable telling the AP that he has "a natural instinct for science." Even if he did, which he doesn't, that would have exactly zero bearing on whether climate change is real. To the scientific community, the President of the United States just saying things has the same value as any other 72-year-old man yelling at them on a street corner: none.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

In which he again complains about gunshots in entertainment

I just have to re-visit my complaint about how gunshot wounds are being portrayed on entertainment now.

I've been enjoying Fargo (second season) a lot, and it's not like I am going to stop watching it, but:  there was a very high body count from a sort of shootout situation in Episode 4, and the way the blood spray was special effected in on many shots made me feel more certain than ever - I reckon the special effects people are over doing it, and I strongly suspect it's certainly due to the influence of video games and their exaggerated depiction of how much blood sprays out of any gun wound.   

And look, I'm sure that some things like a close, high calibre gunshot to the head is going to be an awful mess, but it just seems that in too many shows, any shot to any part of the body is now creating big blood sprays that don't look all that real to me.  

I'm not going to ghoul around the internet trying to find close up videos of someone taking bullets, but I am curious as to whether I am right...

Dear Voters of Wentworth...

please, do not vote Liberal.   Help put this hopelessly inept government out of its misery:

And I should add:   dear Adam Bandt and Andrew Wilkie:   look, honestly, the Australian public will give you a pat on the back for curtailing a further 6 months of terrible government.  Please do it:

This man lectures at RMIT

The only way Steve Kates could climb further up Peak Cult Trump would be if he starts speculating on a transgender options, so that he can please the Master by giving his all, if you know what I mean.   Here he is, talking the Trump 60 Minutes interview:
The Interviewer thought she had his number, that she would take him apart. But she is dealing with the absolutely best, most articulate president possibly in history. A masterclass, as is every public presentation he gives.
Isn't his wife worried?   Not to mention his students.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

How's that Laffer-ism going?

The "best" spin the diehard Laffer lovers can put on this is that the tax cuts have not (so far) caused a revenue drop:   but at a time when the economy is supposedly booming, should not revenues be up (and used to reduce budget deficit?)    Instead, why not ensure you will make revenue growth flat, and try increasing spending at the same time, hey Republican fiscal worriers?  Look, even the WSJ agrees with me (and pay attention to the two last lines in particular):

WASHINGTON--The federal deficit widened last year amid higher government spending—including rising interest costs on the debt and increased funding for the military—and flat revenues following last year’s tax cut.

The government ran a $779 billion deficit in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, the Treasury Department said Monday. That is the largest annual deficit in six years and 17% higher than the $666 billion deficit in fiscal 2017. As a share of gross domestic product, the deficit totaled 3.9%, up from 3.5% a year earlier and the third consecutive increase.

The deficit would have been even higher if not for shifts in the timing of certain payments, Treasury said.

Government receipts held steady at $3.3 trillion, despite strong economic growth and a robust labor market. The low unemployment rate, which hit 3.7% in September, coupled with rising wages would typically drive government tax revenue higher.

But individual withheld income taxes rose just 1% in fiscal 2018, and corporate tax receipts declined 31%—both reflecting changes implemented as part of the sweeping tax overhaul enacted in December.

Trump administration officials had argued last year the new tax law would generate enough economic growth to offset the costs of a tax cut. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin went further, at times saying the changes would actually help reduce the deficit. Monday’s report showed that, so far, that is not happening.
What an insult to policy common sense.

Monday, October 15, 2018

About that civil war

There's a really interesting perspective piece in the Washington Post about the stupid civil war talk in the US at the moment, putting it in historical context of the atmosphere before the last civil war.

Basically, he argues that both sides before the C19th war took a somewhat religiously apocryphal interest in having a war to cleanse the nation.   The atmosphere in the US now is not the same -  most people can see how a war will downgrade the nation, not improve it.   (Save for the far Right, I assume - who fantasise that their authoritarian rule is just what the culture war that will kill the nation needs.)  Here are some extracts:

Apocalyptic visions captivated Americans' imaginations in the years before the Civil War. Southern Baptist Samuel Baldwin predicted in 1854 that Armageddon would ruin the Mississippi Valley, topple monarchies and Catholicism across the globe and introduce the second coming of Jesus Christ. The prophet calculated that these events would occur between 1861 and 1865 — a vision that won popular support when war broke out in 1861.

When Baldwin prophesied that Christ would return during his lifetime, he expressed a popular Protestant belief of the era, not a fringe faith. A wide array of Americans — evangelicals, reformers, utopians, boosters of manifest destiny and champions of scientific progress — believed that their actions could hasten the millennium, Christ’s thousand-year reign on Earth.

Many believers assumed that fire and blood would cleanse the world of sin and corruption before this divine presence. On April 11, 1861, the eve of the Civil War, Arthur Carpenter, an Indiana shoemaker, thought “a war of 5 or 10 years would be a great thing,” because “it would purge our nation.” Even after he volunteered and saw combat, Carpenter dreamed of biblical bloodletting. “When I die, I want it to occur in the largest battle that was ever fought, since the creation of the world,” he told his parents.

John Brown embodied Civil War Americans' faith that violence would reform America and usher Christ’s return. Brown believed that God had chosen him to end American slavery. After years of praying for the institution’s demise and guiding runaways to freedom, Brown turned to violence in Kansas and Virginia. Before his attack on Harpers Ferry, Va., Brown and his followers adopted a provisional constitution of the United States that would redesign the federal government after bloodshed washed away America’s sin. When his attack failed and he faced the gallows as a convicted traitor, Brown predicted a biblical reckoning for America, promising his jailers that “the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with blood."

White Southerners shared this 19th-century conviction that bold violence remade the world. Ardent secessionist and slaveholder Edmund Ruffin watched Brown die and called for disunion and war before other abolitionists followed his example. In 1860, he published “Anticipations of the Future,” a book that forecast Abraham Lincoln’s election, Southern secession and Confederate victory. Instead of waiting for an overt threat from the federal government, Ruffin urged slave owners to strike the first blow, take Fort Sumter, declare independence and convince the enemy that the price of reunion required too much Yankee blood and treasure. When the Civil War began at Fort Sumter, as he had predicted, Ruffin was there to fire the first shot.
 As to why it's different now:
The Civil War came at a moment when Americans felt control over an open, limitless future that God destined for them. Northern and Southern radicals embraced that optimism, confident that they could harness the war to achieve their ends. Enslaved millions considered America’s violent abolition an answer to their prayers. The heady optimists of the Civil War in the North and South raced toward Armageddon.

In contrast, our modern crisis is shaped by Americans feeling blindsided by unseen forces and questioning their power to direct the future according to plan. The firebrands of today who hope to stoke the passions of a divided nation encounter a society that is less confident about its future. Antebellum Americans looked forward to warfare as a catalyst for civilization, progress and salvation. After Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, Americans doubt that warfare follows predictable, controllable paths and recognize how major conflicts create more problems than they solve.
 Good reading.

Friday, October 12, 2018

A self absorbed President has consequences

Yes, I agree with the gist of Nick Bryant's article, noting that it's hard to avoid the feeling that authoritarian leadership around the world has taken the hint that a self-absorbed, dumb, US President with a crush on "strong men" gives them lots of room to do authoritarian things and not worry that anything serious is going to be done about it:
The forced disappearance of the Interpol chief, Meng Hongwei, who it turns out is being held by the Chinese authorities.

Mounting evidence underscoring the Kremlin's involvement in the chemical poisonings in Salisbury.

The seemingly gruesome case of Jamal Khashoggi, the missing journalist who Turkish authorities suspect was killed and dismembered by a Saudi hit squad inside the kingdom's Istanbul consulate.

All point to a world of disorder: of a slide towards unruliness; of a new era of strongman authoritarianism and a waning of international law.

Traditionally the United States has viewed itself as the upholder of norms, an exemplar of moral leadership, the policeman of global bad behaviour - an idealised notion it has not always lived up to.
But this week has driven home not just how much Donald Trump has been reluctant to perform that role. It also speaks of how his doctrine of patriotism is at risk of being interpreted by other nations as a doctrine of anything goes.
In the red, white and blue of America First do other countries see a green light to act with impunity?
The thing is, even if they know that the US will huff and puff at a diplomatic level, they know that within 24 hours, Trump will say or do something so stupid and/or vain that the public both in the US and across the globe will be distracted.   (The pointless media event of Trump meeting Kanye is the latest example.  Then he'll probably be off to another mini Nuremberg within 48 hours, to make himself feel loved.)

Updatemore on Trump's shrug shoulders attitude to Saudi Arabia and internation death squads.  

Update 2Allahpundit at Hot Air makes the point that the US has for a very long time put up with, um, bad behaviour from the Saudis out of economic self interest.  True, but I think it still makes a difference as to whether a President says it openly, or not.   It's a dirty secret a President just shouldn't be saying out loud.

The Good Emperor

Oh, I didn't realise this (the bit about never visiting the shrine) about Japanese Emperor Akihito:
The chief priest at Japan's controversial Yasukuni Shrine is to resign after making remarks highly critical of Emperor Akihito.

In comments leaked to a magazine, Kunio Kohori said he believed Emperor Akihito was trying to destroy the shrine by not visiting it.

The shrine in Tokyo honours Japan's 2.5 million war dead but also enshrines convicted criminals of World War Two.

It remains a high source of tension with neighbours, particularly China.

Emperor Akihito, who will abdicate next year, has never visited the shrine.

He has instead sought reconciliation with Japan's wartime enemies.

He has expressed regret over Japan's military actions in both China and the Korean peninsula, and has also visited several Pacific battlefields to honour the dead, actions that have brought him into conflict with right-wing groups at home.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Video violence and empathy

It was back in March that I last had a whinge about unnecessary blood letting and violence in video games.   In that post, I complained about how a couple of studies were claimed to show no connection between games and real life violence, but when you looked at the details, it was pretty ludicrous to conclude they were particularly useful studies at all.

Now I see that I had missed another study that came out at the end of last year, claiming to show that frequent violent video game players have lower empathy response.

Well, that's more aligned with my biases!

Anyway, the study was very technical in nature, and used EEGs and tests regarding looking at faces, etc.  All very technical.  As usual, with all of this sort of testing, it is best to treat it with a high degree of caution, but the test set up does sound a little less obtuse than that in the studies I complained about.   The abstract follows: 
Research on the effects of media violence exposure has shown robust associations among violent media exposure, increased aggressive behavior, and decreased empathy. Preliminary research indicates that frequent players of violent video games may have differences in emotional and cognitive processes compared to infrequent or nonplayers, yet research examining the amount and content of game play and the relation of these factors with affective and cognitive outcomes is limited. The present study measured neural correlates of response inhibition in the context of implicit attention to emotion, and how these factors are related to empathic responding in frequent and infrequent players of video games with graphically violent content. Participants completed a self-report measure of empathy as well as an affective stop-signal task that measured implicit attention to emotion and response inhibition during electroencephalography. Frequent players had lower levels of empathy as well as a reduction in brain activity as indicated by P100 and N200/P300 event related potentials. Reduced P100 amplitude evoked by happy facial expressions was observed in frequent players compared to infrequent players, and this effect was moderated by empathy, such that low levels of empathy further reduced P100 amplitudes for happy facial expressions for frequent players compared to infrequent players. Compared to infrequent players, frequent players had reduced N200/P300 amplitude during response inhibition, indicating less neural resources were recruited to inhibit behavior. Results from the present study illustrate that chronic exposure to violent video games modulates empathy and related neural correlates associated with affect and cognition.

Godless Episode 3

I'm still finding it is well acted and looks terrific, but I have too issues with episode 3:

*  too horsey;

* this show is starting to trigger my "why does Hollywood add so many splattery bullet-to-the-head shots in entertainment now?" complaint.   In fact, they are putting a lot of blood sprays in many shooting scenes - I really suspect that this is caused by contamination from video gaming aesthetics.  I have no way of checking this, but I very much doubt that in the 19th century, there was much to be seen by way of blood spray from your average bullet wound, at least to the body.  But because people are used to seeing huge blood sprays from any bullet wound in video games, they are inserting it in all shows now.

Rare paralysis

Seems to be an unusual spike in a rare kid's paralysis in Minnesota.   A connection with a viral infection (mild of itself) seems likely, but it's interesting how long it can take to work out what causes what, medically.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

More about food safety in the 19th century

My recent post about ridiculously dangerous milk was all due to reviews of Deborah Blum's book The Poison Squad, and from an NPR interview about it, I extract this:
You tell stories of kids dying from eating candy that was contaminated with lead. Given that this was causing real suffering in consumers, what kinds of arguments were people making for leaving this unregulated?

It's baffling, because you are in this period where food makers are knowingly using very bad things. I gave the example of arsenic, which was a green food dye also used to make the shellac that glosses up chocolate. But lead was used to color candies, and red lead was used in cheese. If people wanted to make a beautiful, orange cheddar cheese, they just dumped a little red lead in it. This is not people who didn't know it was bad, but there were things that made it permissible. There were no labels, and so there was no public pressure. It was just a pre-regulatory Wild West of food that permitted bad actors to do what they will, and so they did. It saved them a lot of money. You get this capitalistic feedback loop of people who were trying to make a living – and wanting to make more of a living. The consumer was both the guinea pig and the victim.

To no one's surprise, if you feed people formaldehyde, or arsenic or lead, they will get sick. And when you demonstrate that, why does it still remain so difficult to outlaw these substances in food? 

The food industry had been organizing itself to fight regulation. Wiley had been advocating and working with congressmen to get some kind of basic consumer protection. And these experiments caught national attention — they were front-page news, there were songs about them — and everyone was realizing that there is a lot of bad stuff in their food. There was an immediate pushback. Suddenly, congressmen are on the side of food business or getting offered more money. The food industry organizes to create a Food Manufacturers Association. They were phenomenally effective. They did a great job trying to damage Wiley's reputation publicly and deny what he was finding, and bullied and threatened congressmen to kill regulation every time it came up.
If Catallaxy was still a blog where you could usefully argue about libertarianism as a political philosophy, I would be commenting there about this.

But now it's just full of ratbags, and it's even hard to goad Jason to comment here...

Now that Nordhaus wins a Nobel, people are remembering Pindyck

ATTP has a post up in which he wonders out loud about an issue I've long complained about in relation to climate change impacts:
However, I do think there are reasons to be cautious about some of these economic analyses. Let me provide a caveat up front. I’m not an expert at this, so am happy to be corrected if I get something wrong, and am partly writing this in the hope that I might learn something more.

For starters, these analyses are typically linear. This essentially means that they can say nothing about the possibility of some kind of large shock. Some of these analyses actually suggest the possibility of quite small global economic impacts even for extremely large changes in climate (see links below), which would seem to suggest that there is some point at which these calculations break down.

Also, as I understand it, most of these analyses do not consider how climate change might impact economic growth itself (see this Carbon Brief Explainer about IAMs). If the global economy grows at 3% per year, then it will be about 10 times bigger in 2100 than it is today. A large economic impact in 2100, might then seem small by comparison to the global economy at that time. Equivalently, if you discount these future economic costs to today, they can also seem quite small. Is it reasonable to assume that global economic growth will be largely unaffected by climate change?

My own view, which I’m happy to be convinced is wrong, is that these kind of analyses are fine if you want to understand things like what would happen if we did something (like impose a carbon tax). They’re probably also fine if you’re interested in how the economy will response to relatively small climate and ecological perturbations, or will respond over the next few decades. Where I think we should be more cautious is when the climate/ecological perturbations are large, or when considering very long, multi-decade timescales.
 And someone in comments reminds him that Pindyck has been saying this for some years now.

I remain quietly confident that in the next decade or so, the general view will be "come on, why did we ever thing the economic modelling of climate change was realistic?" 

Well, his briefings do have to be given as stick figure illustrations...

I'm sure his very big brain will come to the right conclusions...

An amusing tweet

In reaction to this story:  
Gay students and teachers could be rejected by religious schools under changes to anti-discrimination laws being recommended by a federal review into religious freedom, according to a media report.
The former attorney general Philip Ruddock, who chaired the review, said the right of schools to turn away gay students and teachers should be enshrined in the Sex Discrimination Act.
this tweet:

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

A minor point about the Kavanaugh fight

One thing very clear about the Right's reaction to Christine Ford's testimony was that her voice drove them nuts - I've read scores of comments that her voice was too "little girl" to be real - it was all an act, and/or proof that she's mentally disturbed or an emotional wreck.  One of the other.

(Oh, and how ludicrous are the wingnut "body language" videos that have become a thing in the last couple of years, with their ridiculous appeal to expertise in uncovering the secret meaning of the body language of figures the Right  want to imagine destroyed.   It's just pathetic, but they really believe an area of "science" that was never more than flim flam from hucksters.  The one on Ford was particularly welcomed with open arms.)

Anyway, I thought - if there is any truth at all that her vocals at the hearing was an act, there would be surely be someone, somewhere who has sat in a lecture or talk of hers and recorded it, and could prove that she sounds completely different in "real life".   What's the bet that there were Wingnuts desperate to turn up such material to attack her credibility.

But where are we now:  oh, that's right - no sign of any other voice recording has surfaced anywhere.  Despite her being an academic who (I presume) has had lecturing as part of her job for much of her career? 

I think it extremely safe to assume that no evidence will ever arise - because it never existed, and it was a case of wingnut's imagination run wild - again.

The near perfect quote on Trumpian propaganda

Somehow I had missed previously reading about Hannah Arendt's comments on the use of propaganda in the rise of totalitarianism.  But I saw quote extracted on Twitter, and it's absolutely perfect to describe how Trumpian lying is working with his "base":
The totalitarian mass leaders based their propaganda on the correct psychological assumption that, under such conditions, one could make people believe the most fantastic statements one day, and trust that if the next day they were given irrefutable proof of their falsehood, they would take refuge in cynicism; instead of deserting the leaders who had lied to them, they would protest that they had known all along that the statement was a lie and would admire the leaders for their superior tactical cleverness.
However, these days, it's not even clear that they will ever believe it was even a lie.  

I got the quote from an Open Culture post which explains:
Arendt, on the other hand, looked closely at the regimes of Hitler and Stalin and their functionaries, at the ideology of scientific racism, and at the mechanism of propaganda in fostering “a curiously varying mixture of gullibility and cynicism with which each member... is expected to react to the changing lying statements of the leaders.” So she wrote in her 1951 Origins of Totalitarianism, going on to elaborate that this “mixture of gullibility and cynicism... is prevalent in all ranks of totalitarian movements"
And, not that the term was around at the time she was writing it, but there is a deep irony in how those on the Right who decried post-modernism for its "truth is a mere social construct" attitude are now the side who have most comprehensively swallowed that kool aid without even realising it.     

Comedy noted

I quite like Conan O'Brien:  certainly he deserves some sort of award for weirdest looking dude to ever have a successful late night talk show.  His comedy writers seem to specialise in coming up with some pretty silly and eccentric stuff, and I particularly enjoyed a couple of sketches recently on Youtube:

Andy Richter is often very funny in his own right:

Did I note here before that I was surprised to read that Conan spoke in 2015 about getting treatment for depression and anxiety?

Well, now I see, in what must be yet another indication that getting into comedy and having psychological problems seems to go hand in hand to an extraordinary degree, Andy Richter spoke about lifelong issues with depression last year.  

Anyway, I see that Conan is changing his show to a half hour format next year.   I hope that helps him de-stress a bit.     

Monday, October 08, 2018

Things an over-active imagination can see happening

*  Brett Kavanaugh getting sacked after getting absurdly drunk at a Supreme Court welcome function, and being found in a dimly lit corner of the room trying to put "the hard word" on Ruth Ginsburg.

* That Winx horse's career coming to an end by it literally exploding just before it passes the post for what would be its 50th win.  

* Trump's hair catching fire, purely by the power of his own lies, during one of his Nurembergs.  

The civil war only one side wants

Hey, there's a very impressive tweet thread by one David Neiwert, who has studied the American  "coming civil war" rhetoric that's been ramped up by Wingnuts for the last decade or two.

Now, they have Trump, conspiracy nutter, who is lending them moral support by talking like this:
Democrats have become too EXTREME and TOO DANGEROUS to govern. Republicans believe in the rule of law - not the rule of the mob.
Yeah, sure, says the guy who laughs whenever his mini Nuremberg rallies break into "lock her up" chants. 

As far as I can recall the Republicans have precisely one act of politically inspired nutter shooting to get excited about - the baseball shooting in June 2017.   (Even so, which side of politics is the one that would want to toughen gun restrictions on nutters such as that guy?  Which side is devoted to supporting paranoid wingnuts in being armed to the teeth with military grade weaponry?)    The rest of it is handwringing over noisy protests outside of restaurants, or in front of Congress or the Supreme Court.

Republicans have conveniently become drama queens over the state of civil unrest spurned by their own politics:  race riots in the 1960's could end up with scores of deaths, and massive amounts of destruction.  Even in 1977, I see that the New York City blackout resulted in this:
In all, 1,616 stores were damaged in looting and rioting. A total of 1,037 fires were responded to, including 14 multiple-alarm fires. In the largest mass arrest in city history, 3,776 people were arrested
The state of civil unrest in the US is relatively mild, and it is part of the tribalist authoritarian nuttiness of the Right that they continually are trying to convince themselves that mainstream Democrats are dangerous socialists who will DESTROY the economy, the nation, etc.

It's absurd, and actually dangerous when their most ardent believers are weaponised.  

Update:   A typical example of absurd "reasonable Republican" commentary from Hugh Hewitt in WAPO, alleging that the real problem is incivility:
 Trump is as wearying today as Andrew Jackson must have been in 1829 to the people of both parties who are used to different rules sets. I am one of them. Thus my criticisms of the president are many and detailed. But my fear of the wild-eyed left is far greater than my discomfort with his bull-in-china shop politics.

The left, we saw this week and last, contrasts unfavorably with the president’s hyperbole and occasional cruelty. It is now a snarling, enraged collective scream. To give it power would be to risk fraying even further the common bonds of citizenship.
The fundamental problem for Democrats and the rest of the world:   you're trying to fight idiots.   

The comments following that will be white hot, I bet.

Mice can work it out

There's something charming about a study looking into how mice couples communicate after one of them has been "unfaithful":
The quality of conversations between California mice couples after one partner has been unfaithful can help predict which mouse pairs will successfully produce a litter of mouse pups and which males are good fathers, according to a new study on the evolution of monogamy.

More unimportant pop culture notes

*  All Australian males over the age of 40 have a crush on Julia Zemero, don't they?  (Homer excepted, if I remember correctly.)   Hence I found myself watching the singing competition show All Together Now, which features a panel of "music industry figures" judging the contestants.  (The only big name on which is Ronan Keating, who I admit is a likeable TV presence.)

But as for the rest of the judges - who knew the Australian music business is (if you were to judge it by this show) completely dominated by gay/camp personalities?    It reminded me of the unknown D grade celebrities Britain manages to scrape up from somewhere for shows like "I'm a Celebrity, Get me Out of Here".   In fact, I see this show is a format import from Britain, so perhaps I shouldn't be surprised.

I don't know:  the set is pretty, and the judges are 3/4 ridiculous, and Julia is still funny sometimes.  I might watch it again.

*  My daughter likes a lot of Justin Bieber songs, but thinks he's nuts.  Yes, I like to point out:  he is a living example of having excessive money, especially while young, causing more problems than it solves.  (A point I like to make often to justify my own less than desired income.)  She said the other day that maybe he's a "good boy" again, since he went back to his church.   Seems not to be true

I liked this short interview with Hard Quiz host Tom Gleeson.  He is funny, and I am happy to understand how they warn guests about his style.

A minor observation

As I wrote below, I was watching that Batman v Superman movie on Friday and noted Holly Hunter was in it.  I saw her in something else recently, but I forget what it was.

I've always liked her, but in these last two appearances, I thought she had a somewhat (I don't know) slurry? issue with her speech which I had never noticed before.  It reminded me very much of what I noticed in Carrie Fisher in the last two Star Wars movies.   It made me think that perhaps it's what an ill fitting partial denture can make a person sound like.  Yet surely they wouldn't have dentures but would go with implants if a tooth needed replacing.

I haven't noticed anyone else saying this about either of these actors, but I find it obvious in both of them (although more pronounced in Fisher).

Am I alone in this? 

Sunday, October 07, 2018

When milk was positively dangerous

The Atlantic had a brief extract from a book that has just come out, about food contamination in the 19th century:
We tend to think of our 19th-century forefathers thriving on farm-fresh produce and pasture-raised livestock, happily unaffected by the deceptive food-manufacturing practices of today. In this we are wrong. Milk offers a stunning case in point. By mid-century, the standard, profit-maximizing recipe was a pint of lukewarm water for every quart of milk—after the cream had been skimmed off. To whiten the bluish liquid, dairymen added plaster of paris and chalk, or a dollop of molasses for a creamy gold. To replace the skimmed-off layer of cream, they might add a final flourish of pureed calf brains.
Mmmm..calves brains.

More on this somewhat nauseating topic of just how bad commercial milk was in those days can be found in a much lengthier article in the Smithsonian magazine.  Oddly, calves brains were probably the least of a consumer's reason to worry.  But first, the brains:
But there were other factors besides risky strains of bacteria that made 19th century milk untrustworthy. The worst of these were the many tricks that dairymen used to increase their profits. Far too often, not only in Indiana but nationwide, dairy producers thinned milk with water (sometimes containing a little gelatin), and recolored the resulting bluish-gray liquid with dyes, chalk, or plaster dust.

They also faked the look of rich cream by using a yellowish layer of pureed calf brains. As a historian of the Indiana health department wrote: “People could not be induced to eat brain sandwiches in [a] sufficient amount to use all the brains, and so a new market was devised.”

“Surprisingly enough,’’ he added, “it really did look like cream but it coagulated when poured into hot coffee.”
Anyway, the worse thing was the use of formaldehyde:
Finally, if the milk was threatening to sour, dairymen added formaldehyde, an embalming compound long used by funeral parlors, to stop the decomposition, also relying on its slightly sweet taste to improve the flavor. In the late 1890s, formaldehyde was so widely used by the dairy and meat-packing industries that outbreaks of illnesses related to the preservative were routinely described by newspapers as “embalmed meat” or “embalmed milk” scandals.

Indianapolis at the time offered a near-perfect case study in all the dangers of milk in America, one that was unfortunately linked to hundreds of deaths and highlighted not only Hurty’s point about sanitation but the often lethal risks of food and drink before federal safety regulations came into place in 1906.

In late 1900, Hurty’s health department published such a blistering analysis of locally produced milk that The Indianapolis News titled its resulting article “Worms and Moss in Milk.” The finding came from an analysis of a pint bottle handed over by a family alarmed by signs that their milk was “wriggling.” It turned out to be worms, which investigators found had been introduced when a local dairyman thinned the milk with ‘’stagnant water.”....

[a few paras about the horrible bacteriological state of milk at that time go here] 

The heating of a liquid to 120 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit for about 20 minutes to kill pathogenic bacteria was first reported by the French microbiologist Louis Pasteur in the 1850s. But although the process would later be named pasteurization in his honor, Pasteur’s focus was actually on wine. It was more than 20 years later that the German chemist Franz von Soxhlet would propose the same treatment for milk. In 1899, the Harvard microbiologist Theobald Smith — known for his discovery of Salmonella — also argued for this, after showing that pasteurization could kill some of the most stubborn pathogens in milk, such as the bovine tubercle bacillus.

But pasteurization would not become standard procedure in the United States until the 1930s, and even American doctors resisted the idea. The year before Smith announced his discovery, the American Pediatric Society erroneously warned that feeding babies heated milk could lead them to develop scurvy.

Such attitudes encouraged the dairy industry to deal with milk’s bacterial problems simply by dumping formaldehyde into the mix. And although Hurty would later become a passionate advocate of pasteurization, at first he endorsed the idea of chemical preservatives.
In 1896, desperately concerned about diseases linked to pathogens in milk, he even endorsed formaldehyde as a good preservative. The recommended dose of two drops of formalin (a mix of 40 percent formaldehyde and 60 percent water) could preserve a pint of milk for several days. It was a tiny amount, Hurty said, and he thought it might make the product safer.

But the amounts were often far from tiny. Thanks to Hurty, Indiana passed the Pure Food Law in 1899 but the state provided no money for enforcement or testing. So dairymen began increasing the dose of formaldehyde, seeking to keep their product “fresh” for as long as possible. Chemical companies came up with new formaldehyde mixtures with innocuous names such as Iceline or Preservaline. (The latter was said to keep a pint of milk fresh for up to 10 days.) And as the dairy industry increased the amount of preservatives, the milk became more and more toxic.
In the summer of 1900, The Indianapolis News reported on the deaths of three infants in the city’s orphanage due to formaldehyde poisoning. A further investigation indicated that at least 30 children had died two years prior due to use of the preservative, and in 1901, Hurty himself referenced the deaths of more than 400 children due to a combination of formaldehyde, dirt, and bacteria in milk.
Following that outbreak, the state began prosecuting dairymen for using formaldehyde and, at least briefly, reduced the practice. But it wasn’t until Harvey Wiley and his allies helped secure the federal Pure Food and Drug Act in 1906 that the compound was at last banned from the food supply.
It really was a different world back then.

And once again, you have to ask - how the hell do libertarians have the hide to argue that their philosophy works, in practice?

Two unnecessary movie reviews

What's that?  Drunk, rich fratboy became a judge at the Supreme Court after all?   I have brief comments to make about that, but later.

Meantime, perhaps I can't review it fairly, but I did try watching Superman V Batman Batman v Superman (sorry, I care so little about it I got the name around wrong) on free-to-air TV on Friday.

As I tried explaining to my son (who likes Christopher Nolan's Batmen and talks about wanting to see the Joker movie), I can't get engaged with any incarnation of Batman.   There's just a wall of superhero scenario credibility that I can't break through for this character - I find Superman and Wonderwoman more believable despite the silliness of the former's physics and the latter's mythological status.   Apart from not caring for dark angst as a key feature of a superhero character, I reckon Batman's problems in large part revolve around the super-villains:  Lex Luther or even Green Goblin are more credible than a Gotham City full of Batman level ridiculous costumed superheroes.

That said, even starting on the basis that I would not enjoy it, Ben Affleck's Batman seemed particularly bad:  body too chunky, personality too charmless, and the deep, rasping voice in costume particularly over the top.  

Looking at director's Zack Snyder's body of (directorial) work, I can safely say he has a sensibility that in no way appeals to me: dour; in DC world - determined to treat Superman as a God/Jesus stand in; and even cinematography that grates.

Anyway, I fell asleep just as the titular fight scene was set up, and I kept half waking for what seemed an eternity of loud noise and CGI fire and explosions.  My son got bored before it started too, and went off to have a shower.  I woke to see funeral scenes for Superman.  I don't think I missed anything that would change my mind that it was a dud movie:  which is pretty much my reaction to anything featuring Batman.

The second more positive review:

Solo - the first serious commercial flop of the Star Wars universe.

I thought it was OK story and acting wise, but there was clear room for improvement (with emphasis on the word "clear", as you will shortly understand).

It would seem everyone suspects the first directors were likely sacked for not treating the material reverentially enough.  But really, I think it could have benefited from more laughs.   It wasn't without humour, and I liked one big joke near the end in particular, but I still think a few more big laughs would have lightened it up more.

And speaking of light - what was going on with so much murky cinematography?   I know that home LCD TVs can have an issue with low light scenes at the best of times, but I see now that people who saw it at the cinema were posting about how they found it distractingly dim too.  Someone wrote an article about how digital projection in cinemas was not being checked enough, and that's why it looked so dark in so many cinemas.

So, it's not just me - lots of people hated the lighting, and I would guess that it alone accounted for a lot of poor word of mouth.  Who is this cinematographer Bradford Young?  Oh, he's a black, young-ish guy, and he doesn't seem to have done anything else I have seen except Arrival. I wasn't overly impressed with the looks of that movie either - but he clearly seems to like working with fog and mist.

Honestly, they shouldn't have sacked the directors - they should have sacked Young.

Having said that, in CGI terms, when they were bright enough, I thought a lot of the film looked pretty terrific.  But good CGI in certain sequences is not enough to bring in a crowd these days.   (It pretty much used to be - when they first started to be deployed in the late seventies.)

So, more or less worth seeing, and I'm sort of sorry that it seems to have killed the potential for a sequel in the Han Solo story.

Friday, October 05, 2018

The Guardian asks the hard, important question...

Why is the gay leather scene dying? 

(By the way, I've barely skimmed the article, which seems to go into considerable detail about "the scene" in London.)   

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

It was a lot of cannabis, but still..

While the cannabis industry becomes legal in the US, in South East Asia it is still taken very seriously:
The West Jakarta District Court handed down the death penalty on Tuesday to Rizky Albar, 29, and Rocky Siahaan, 37, for their roles in smuggling 1.3 tons of cannabis to Jakarta from Aceh in December last year.
The verdicts were read in two separate hearings.

"There are no mitigating factors. The defendant is sentenced to death," presiding judge Agus Setiawan said as he read Rizky's verdict, reported.

The panel of judges found him guilty of being the right hand of an infamous drug dealer named Iwan — who currently remains at large — in the drug's smuggling scheme.

Should be sunk by his response

Some more comments on the ongoing Kavanaugh matter:

*  while Christine Ford's story was, overall, pretty persuasive, I am a bit skeptical of at least one detail she offered - that she had one beer.   She might be able to explain why she could remember that - perhaps because it was her firm policy, until she was older, to only ever accept one beer at any party, for example.   But given that her drink was before the traumatic event happened, there seems to be no reason to otherwise think why she should be able to remember that detail in particular.  I think it's inconsistent with her otherwise very plausible explanation (much discussed on line by other people who  have experienced something similar in terms of a specific memory burned into the brain arising out of a traumatic incident) as to why she can remember the details of the alleged assault itself so clearly.

*  There has also been some discussion on Right wing sites as to whether her explanation of why the second front door was an issue is accurate - but that may also be a case of something that could have been better explained, but wasn't.

*  I suspect, overall, that there is a mild degree of embellishment in the way she has set out her story.   I don't think, however, that it really detracts from the firmness with which she insists that it was Kavanaugh and his drunk mate both in the room confining and assaulting her.

*  Kavanaugh was really caught in a bind as to how to respond to the claim.   His problem, poorly dealt with in his response, is that plenty of evidence has come out that he was a pretty regular, stumbling, aggro drunk as a young man, and good mates with another heavy drinker - starting before he was of legal drinking age.   That makes it seem extremely likely that he could have suffered alcoholic blackouts on occasion. 

As some have suggested, if his response had been one of disbelief that he could have done it, but begging forgiveness if there is any possibility that his bad, unwise and deeply regretted youthful drinking habits had led him to acting so badly,  might just have got him out of trouble.

But he obviously saw that as a bridge too far - conceding that he might have come close to committing rape, even if drunk.

So instead, he went for the unconvincing denial that there is any way that youthful drinking led to this. What could have been sold as a warning to other young people to stay sober at parties was lost.

His position comes across as more embellished than that of Ford's. 

*  But even worse, his angry response to the Democrats means he sounds as if he is far too hurt by them raising this to ever be able to objectively deal with any matter which is of crucial importance to Democrats - such as with constitutional questions concerning a nutty and possibly incompetent Republican President.

*  So yeah, I think he really did shoot himself in the foot in the way he chose to respond - and while  youthful excess with drinking or other drugs would not normally be a disentitling event, if some women say that it led to some bad sexual behaviour, well, it is a problem (or at least, depending on how you respond).


Black holes probably not accounting for dark matter

One theory bouncing around for a long time has been that maybe primordial black holes make up a lot of the universe's dark matter.

However, a new attempt to find evidence for this has drawn a blank:
Based on a statistical analysis of 740 of the brightest supernovas discovered as of 2014, and the fact that none of them appear to be magnified or brightened by hidden black hole "gravitational lenses," the researchers concluded that primordial black holes can make up no more than about 40 percent of the dark matter in the universe. Primordial black holes could only have been created within the first milliseconds of the Big Bang as regions of the universe with a concentrated mass tens or hundreds of times that of the sun collapsed into objects a hundred kilometers across.

The results suggest that none of the universe's dark matter consists of heavy black holes, or any similar object, including massive compact halo objects, so-called MACHOs.

Dark matter is one of astronomy's most embarrassing conundrums: despite comprising 84.5 percent of the matter in the universe, no one can find it. Proposed dark matter candidates span nearly 90 orders of magnitude in mass, from ultralight particles like axions to MACHOs.

Several theorists have proposed scenarios in which there are multiple types of dark matter. But if dark matter consists of several unrelated components, each would require a different explanation for its origin, which makes the models very complex.
Personally, I'm still more inclined to suspect that it's gravity that needs modifying.   

A new theory to be run

An interesting article at Slate:

Conservative Intellectuals Have a New and Absurd Theory for Why Wages Aren’t Rising Faster

Tuesday, October 02, 2018

A lengthy compilation of bad relationship decisions

I don't visit Reddit much, but I drop in to the popular thread once in a while for mild diversion.

Every now and again, though, there is a thread about personal experiences which is worth reading.  I remember one good one about (I think) readers' worst early work experiences, which featured many Americans talking about working in fast food outlets.  The stories they could tell...

Recently, this one caught my attention for the number of comments and the remarkable warning stories told:

What's the biggest red flag you overlooked because your SO was so hot?

I haven't read it all, of course, but there seem to be a very high number of cases of people regretting having ignored warnings from the family members of the Significant Other not to hook up/date/live with/marry their daughter/son/sister/brother.

Also many stories of their boyfriend/girlfriend initially saying "you know, I'm terrible, you shouldn't get involved with me" and it proving true.

Which reminds me, a girl friend of my own once said the same, inspired by that popular Radiohead song:  if a guy (or women) ever ironically/sardonically says they're a creep,  they are just to be believed.  Don't accept any alternative explanation - they are just trying to play up to some version of "I'm a bad boy, but you might like that about me" or to pander to the (not uncommon) idea that a good relationship can change them.

And I've always thought that sounded like good advice, as the Reddit thread seems to indicate.

Might even add it to my slowly increasing "Rules for Life".

Peter Whiteford on the taxed and "taxed-nots"

He's talking again about the frequently revived argument by Right wing think tanks that there is something wrong with the number of people who get more from the government than what they pay in tax.

Something is wrong here

Recent comments found at Catallaxy, highlighting the reason I am routinely appalled by culture warrior conservative Catholics, and social media in which ridiculous and offensive takes on matters are aired with no consequence, other than giving permission to others to exhibit the same lack of charity and civility, and to hold onto nonsense beliefs (such as no climate change):

Seriously, in what moral universe is there a case for congratulating "those lads"? 

Monday, October 01, 2018

Oral history

I don't know why, but it occurred to me the other day that I didn't know all that much about the history of teeth cleaning.

Yeah, I had read before about chewing sticks as the original teeth cleaning device (still popular in some parts of the world - you can download a Word document paper about them here.) And I remembered I had read before about all types of abrasive stuff that people used to try to remove gunk off their teeth.   But when and where tooth brushes and daily cleaning became popular, I wasn't sure.

A "Fun Science Facts from the Library of Congress" site gives a surprisingly specific year for the invention of something like the modern toothbrush - 1498 in China.  They took a while to catch on, it seems:
The bristles were actually the stiff, coarse hairs taken from the back of a hog's neck and attached to handles made of bone or bamboo.
Boar bristles were used until 1938, when nylon bristles were introduced by Dupont de Nemours. The first nylon toothbrush was called Doctor West's Miracle Toothbrush. Later, Americans were influenced by the disciplined hygiene habits of soldiers from World War II. They became increasingly concerned with the practice of good oral hygiene and quickly adopted the nylon toothbrush.
Some other interesting toothbrush facts:
  • The first mass-produced toothbrush was made by William Addis of Clerkenwald, England, around 1780.
  • The first American to patent a toothbrush was H. N. Wadsworth, (patent number 18,653,) on Nov. 7, 1857.
  • Mass production of toothbrushes began in America around 1885.
Another link from that site credits the French as early adopters:
French dentists were the first Europeans to promote the use of toothbrushes in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries.
A New York dental practice's blog claims some pretty low figures for teeth cleaning of any kind in the US at the start of the 20th century:
In the early 1900’s only 7% of American household brushed their teeth or at least had toothpaste in their houses. During World War 1 most of the Army recruits had such poor oral hygiene that the military considered dental disease a national crisis.
A few sites say that the military strongly promoted tooth brushing during World War 2, and this habit (together with nylon toothbrushes, I suppose) meant that daily teeth cleaning finally took off in popularity.

But my favourite website talking about "oral care" is from the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History.  And the part of it which amused me most was this, about the liquid teeth cleaner Sozodont:
During the late nineteenth century, Sozodont was the most successful patent liquid dentifrice , due in great part to its many eye-catching advertisements. Historian Kerry Segrave notes that Sozodont company profits had reached $10 million by 1894. The product contained a high percentage of alcohol—37.15%. In 1897, the financial manager of the Sozodont firm had to testify before Congress to assure the government that consumers were not purchasing the product as a tax-free form of liquor. Sozodont also contained abrasive and acidic ingredients that gradually destroyed tooth enamel.
Heh!  37.15% alcohol!  No wonder this woman looks happy after a good long brush with it:

This product has its own Wikipedia page, but I had never heard of it before.  Given the concern that the medical profession now has that  mouthwashes containing  alcohol promote oral cancers, I can only assume that Sozodont didn't help in that regard, either.

Back to the Smithsonian site, we learn a bit more the failure of libertarianism in consumer products: 
Before new drug and cosmetic regulations were enacted in the late 1930s, consumers had little information about the ingredients and safety of the products they used. Dentists and journalists wrote articles about the need to warn the public of the dangers of many dentifrices. In 1931, the Journal of the American Dental Association reported on the danger of products such as Ex-Cel Tooth Stain Remover, Bleachodent, and Snowy White, which all contained hydrochloric acid. One such product, Tartaroff, was in 1928 famously shown to dissolve 3% of one’s tooth enamel each time it was used.
And thus ends the history lesson, for now...


Gangsters and me

I never got around to seeing Scarface until this weekend just gone.

Given that I only saw The Godfather in 2016, and found it lacking, there just might be a bit of a "it's not you, it's me" going on with my reaction to well received mafia/gangster movies.   Because, yeah, I was underwhelmed with this movie too, despite my fondness for a lot of the work of Brian de Palma.

I just thought the story didn't have much dramatic drive.  It was too simple, really, and as such, perhaps I can blame Oliver Stone's script.  But even the direction was uneven - sometimes some swooping crane shots, sometimes some heavy handed zooms into eyes or faces - signs of de Palma thinking about what to do.  But often on the important sequences, it seemed the direction went suddenly static and mundane.  I love the entire shoot out at the train station sequence in The Untouchables - there was nothing thrilling like that in this one.  The one big public shoot out was nothing special, directorially.

As with The Godfather, I didn't hate it:  just didn't really understand why a lot of reviewers thought it was great.   But it's true - I rarely think much of any film that dwells on the lives of gangsters.  For example, I've seen Goodfellas once (at the cinema, I think) and also found it OK, but nothing to get excited about, and I am disinclined to watch it again.    And yet I am enjoying the second season of Fargo.  And I love The Untouchables.  I think I see the pattern here - I can only really like movies featuring criminal families and gangsters if the Good Guys also have a prominent role in the story.  Simplifies my viewing choices, that does...

Saturday, September 29, 2018

The empathy question

David Roberts also hits it home in his tweet thread on the matter of conservatives and empathy.  Here's part of it:

He makes a good point.   

However, I think it should also be acknowledged that liberals can take empathy too far:  for example, isn't extreme identity politics a matter of demanding that empathy extends to never questioning the views or actions of someone because you aren't inside their skin?   Or even (in the case of silly cultural appropriation extremists) claiming that authors should empathise with the pain they are causing if they even try to write (ironically, empathetically) from the other's perspective?  

Currently, I think it clear that there is a fashion for too much empathy in the matter of transgender activism;   there sometimes is in response to hedonistic behaviour be it sexual or with drugs.   I think it became politically important in race issues when Labor under Hawke became paralysed with inability to call out some aboriginal activism as fabricated.  In short, a liberal overemphasis on empathy can be a way of arguing against anyone ever being able to make a legitimate moral argument about behaviour.

Like lots of things in life, the deployment of empathy needs to fall within a happy medium - your judgement is going to be way off if you have trouble using it at all, or if you overuse it as a way of denying the very ability to judge.

That's how I see it, anyway...

Colbert on the Kav

Stephen Colbert is so impressive when he mixes his comedy talent with anger.   He rates highly too on days like yesterday.   Wingnuts hate him:

Friday, September 28, 2018

A failed big nuclear promise

Can't say I had heard of it, but seems Peter Thiel (amongst others) blew a couple of million on a nuclear start up that make some wildly inaccurate claims:
Nuclear reactor startup Transatomic Power is shutting down operations, after deciding it doesn’t see a viable path to bringing its molten salt reactor designs to scale. ...

Transatomic’s current work doesn’t include its initial goal of using spent nuclear fuel to power its reactors, however. Dewan and co-founder Mark Massie launched the company in 2011, while they were doctoral candidates at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, with the goal of creating a reactor that could use spent fuel rods and thus manage the challenges of safely disposing of this nuclear waste.

This promise helped Transatomic raise $2 million in 2014 from Peter Thiel's Founders Fund, and raise another $2.5 million round in 2015 from Acadia Woods Partners, Founders Fund, and Daniel Aegerter, chairman of the Swiss fund Armada Investment AG.

But in 2016, the company was forced to backtrack on its earlier claims, after an informal review by MIT professors found errors in its calculations. As first reported by MIT Technology Review, these errors included its initial claim that its design could produce "75 times more electricity per ton of mined uranium than a light-water reactor” of typical design — a figure that was downgraded to “more than twice” the usual reactor’s output per unit of uranium in a company report from November 2016.

Quick comments on the Kav

*  Seeing the media reports on waking up this morning, they were all headlining Kavanaugh's angry rejection of Ford's claim - giving the impression that the headline writers thought it was effective.  But looking at the live comments on Twitter, and seeing a bit of him on TV, it was not as effective as angry, white men think it was.   I endorse this tweet:

*  Surely it's obvious that the best thing, electorally, for the Republicans would for Kavanaugh to withdraw voluntarily, and then the Wingnuts can outrage without blaming the GOP Senators, and be motivated to get out to vote to punish the e-vil woman supporting Democrats who persecute good old boys who just reasonably thought that Animal House and Risky Business were guides for life.

*  I saw some GOP Senator, not sure who, insisting that near rape claims must be corroborated to be credible:  yeah, way to explain why a women near raped might not report it at the time, Senator.

*  The absence of the best friend to support Kavanaugh is very telling, and something that could presumably be overcome by referral to the FBI.

*  On ABC Breakfast, the point was being made that by Kavanaugh  getting emotional about his life being ruined by this (maybe he can't coach girl's netball anymore?),  then isn't he also painting a picture that his credibility on women's issues in Supreme Court decisions is also going to be under a permanent cloud?   Seemed a bit of an obvious two edged sword he raised there.

*  I dunno - I have the feeling that Republicans are so obnoxiously set on winning culture wars that they will confirm him - and the vote against them in the midterms is going to be massive.  

*  Of course, over at Sinclair Davidson's Blog for Obnoxious, Ageing, White Men (and the White Women Who Love them),  the assessments of the credibility of Ford are shot through with resentment against women generally.   CL, a fantasist who I like to quote occasionally for his unwitting disclosures that he presents as a lonely ageing Catholic bachelor who could never meet a woman as good as his Mum, and he resents them for it:


*  I quite like the sarcasm of the WAPO piece "HOW DARE YOU DO THIS TO BRETT KAVANAUGH". 

*  But I think Jennifer Rubin at WAPO has a measured, sensible take on it:
The shouting didn’t end with his opening statement. He barked at the ranking Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.). Then the Republicans got into the screaming act, pushing their outside lawyer Rachel Mitchell aside in favor of histrionics from Sens. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) and John Cornyn (R-Tex.). If President Trump loved the nasty, male grievance game, the rest of us had reason to wonder if anyone of this temperament — Cornyn, Graham or Kavanaugh — should be in a position of power. If they were women, they would be called “hysterical.”...

Kavanaugh says he was not the attacker. But even if you believe that — despite Ford’s riveting testimony — one can reasonably conclude he is not the right person to sit on the court. His anger toward liberals is palpable, his lack of humility bracing. He has the partisan mindset that opponents are unworthy of respect and kindness.

One has had the sense, since his testimony skated past the truth on his involvement with Charles Pickering and on his awareness that documents he received were purloined, that his heart is that of a conservative partisan, one who tried so very hard to make himself into Supreme Court material. The mentality of a political operative — willing to go on Fox News, ready to inflame passions, disrespectful toward opponents — is still there. A nonpartisan would ask for, if not demand, an FBI investigation and Judge’s appearance. Kavanaugh wants to avoid both at all costs.
Update 2:  I didn't watch the Ford evidence, but Saletan's take on the matter of a witness being open and careful about the gaps in their memory actually works in favour of their credibility is a point well taken.