Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Stupid ABC

I'm not at all convinced that this rebranding of ABC2 to ABC Comedy is a good idea.

Problem is, there is so much space to fill it becomes a mix of old dross with new stuff that I do want to see but which gets insufficient advertising.

Case in point - Red Dwarf XII.  I only realised last week that it was running at 9.30 on a Tuesday evening, and I've only caught the last 2 episodes.   (It started on 26 December, apparently.)

That show has a devoted, long standing fan base (and it cheery good nature remains pleasing, and pretty amusing, despite the stars ageing before our eyes), yet the dire Tom Ballard with his swear-like-a-bogan monologues on his awful Tonightly show, has received much more promotion.

Not at all sure recent changes of the ABC are in the right direction.

What shabby, crooked politics

So, we all know a clear non-denial in a situation like this means it did indeed happen - the Republican generated anti FBI and Justice Department memo was not generated by the committee independently, it had input from White House Staffers.  How convenient for Trump.

The description of the memo, which almost certainly Trump will release with no acknowledgement of its self serving creation, given by Democrat Mark Warner looks very accurate:
“a partisan sham cooked up to undermine the FBI, DOJ, and the Mueller probe. House Republicans are playing a very dangerous game.”

It shouldn't need to be repeated, but culture war propaganda and blindness requires it

A good list put up by Mike Allen at Axios, about the indisputable things known about the Russia investigation:

Why it matters: Take the known knowns — 10 undisputed facts — and the smoke clears considerably.
  1. At the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, the Trump campaign, chaired by Paul Manafort (since indicted), worked behind the scenes to weaken the party platform's anti-Russia stance on Ukraine.
  2. "Trump revealed highly classified information to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador in a White House meeting."
  3. Top Trump campaign officials met at Trump Tower with sketchy Russians who had offered dirt on Hillary Clinton.
  4. On Air Force One, Trump helped his son, Don Jr., prepare a misleading statement about the meeting.
  5. Trump, contradicting what his staff had said earlier, told NBC he fired FBI Director James Comey because of "this Russia thing."
  6. Michael Flynn, later Trump's first national security adviser, talked privately about sanctions with the Russian ambassador during the transition, then denied it to Vice President Pence.
  7. Flynn (who has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI) failed to disclose payments from Russia-linked entities. Trump has repeatedly defended Flynn.
  8. During the transition, Jared Kushner spoke with the Russian ambassador "about establishing a secret communications channel between the Trump transition team and Moscow."
  9. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, then a U.S. senator, spoke twice to the Russian ambassador, then didn't disclose the contacts during his confirmation hearing.
  10. When Bob Mueller was named special counsel, Republicans widely praised him.
Be smart: No sane person looking at those known knowns would say this is a crazy investigation.
The big picture: Yes, FBI agents have probably said things in texts they shouldn't have. Yes, former FBI Director James Comey was clumsy in his comments about Hillary Clinton. But none of that changes what this investigation is really about.

Speaking of bad writing

This is a very strange piece of writing at Slate about (Apple boss) Tim Cook.   I don't know what to make of it, except to think that it shouldn't be there. 

A review best avoided

I do torture myself occasionally by trying a Helen Razor column, and if you thought one in which she complains about The Post, feminism when it is "pressed into the service of power", as well as her fear of menopause and dislike of hot weather, would be an excruciating read - yes, it is!

Her discursive, always self-involved, style is (as usual) virtually impenetrable, and yet she has her supporters in comments.  (Not many, though.)  

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Brexit and the economy

Axios notes:
An analysis from the U.K. government anticipates entirely negative economic impacts from Brexit regardless of the terms of the exit deal, Buzzfeed News, which got its hands on the analysis, reports.
  • Top-line figures: Growth would fall by 8% over 15 years under a "no-deal Brexit," 2% under a "soft Brexit" and 5% under a middle course. Nearly every economic sector would be hurt, with the exception of agriculture, along with every geographic region.
The bottom line: The British government is going to spend the next year or so in intense negotiations over a process its own analysis suggests will bring entirely negative economic consequences.
Seriously, why would a sensible government continue down that path when it believes those are the consequences?   

UpdateSimon Wren-Lewis writes about Brexit and the Conservatives:
This Brexit syndrome, which infects nearly half the Conservative party MPs and most of its membership, is a visceral dislike of the EU in all its manifestations. I am not talking about why most voters chose to leave, which was an unfortunately all too familiar reaction to a public campaign that has blamed immigrants for every grievance and fear they have. Brexit syndrome is instead manifested in a belief that you must leave a customs union with your overwhelmingly biggest trading partner so you can seek inferior trade agreements with other more distant countries. The only explanation for that belief is a deep irrational dislike of all things EU.

For those Conservative MPs not subject to Brexit syndrome I have bad news. Leaving the EU as planned is not a cure. The nightmare of Brexit will not pass. Whatever deal the UK eventually concludes with the EU, it will be unacceptable to the Brexiters. Only a clean break with all things EU will satisfy them.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Please let it happen

Jonathan Swan apparently said this re Trump giving evidence to Mueller:

In other stuff watched on Netflix

*  Tried watching the first episode of "Black Lightning", a DC superhero show that seems oddly timed to match the soon to be released Marvel "Black Panther" movie (which I doubt is funny enough for me to bother seeing.)   Terrible.

*  Am getting through the second series of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.   Yes, it's often very amusing.    I haven't come across an episode yet which I felt didn't work at all.   Also, in the Julia Louis Deyfus episode, I was surprised how ordinary and suburban her part of Hollywood (where she lives) looked.

*  Watched the well reviewed movie "The Witch" on the weekend (I think it's a recent addition.)  Well, it's very odd, I think, the way it comes across as a very authentic recreation of the isolation, hyper-religiosity and hysteria leading to the witch panics in New England, but then the ending seems to undercut it completely.   While it looks very painterly and is pretty well directed, I just didn't get it...

A good thing

I've been meaning to commend the Netflix comedy show The Good Place for some months, and after watching the first episode of the second season last night, it's time to do it.

The show has been a hit with most critics, and deservedly so.   It's rare to find something that is so intelligent, so well acted by every single cast member, and so frequently very funny.   (Its humour is not timed for every 60 seconds, as it is for "filmed before a live studio audience" sitcoms, but nonetheless it is continually amusing.)   Also, it's good to see Ted Danson in something as classy as this after his long run in pretty B grade sitcom material.

I was a bit dubious about the scenario set up for the second series, but the first episode (well, sort of two episodes combined) was very good.  Not sure they'll manage to wrangle a 3rd series though!

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Roubini hates everything crypto and block

I don't really understand enough about the economic theory of currency to tell whether Nouriel Roubini is correct in how he says Bitcoin won't work, but here is part of it anyway:
Cryptocurrencies have no intrinsic value, whereas fiat currencies certainly do, because they can be used to pay taxes. Fiat currencies are also protected from value debasement by central banks committed to price stability; and if a fiat currency loses credibility, as in some weak monetary systems with high inflation, it will be swapped out for more stable foreign fiat currencies or real assets.

As it happens, Bitcoin’s supposed advantage is also its Achilles’s heel, because even if it actually did have a steady-state supply of 21 million units, that would disqualify it as a viable currency. Unless the supply of a currency tracks potential nominal GDP, prices will undergo deflation.
That means if a steady-state supply of Bitcoin really did gradually replace a fiat currency, the price index of all goods and services would continuously fall. By extension, any nominal debt contract denominated in Bitcoin would rise in real value over time, leading to the kind of debt deflation that economist Irving Fisher believed precipitated the Great Depression. At the same time, nominal wages in Bitcoin would increase forever in real terms, regardless of productivity growth, adding further to the likelihood of an economic disaster.
But not only that, he believes that blockchain is a bit of a crock too:
As for the underlying blockchain technology, there are still massive obstacles standing in its way, even if it has more potential than cryptocurrencies. Chief among them is that it lacks the kind of basic common and universal protocols that made the Internet universally accessible (TCP-IP, HTML, and so forth). More fundamentally, its promise of decentralized transactions with no intermediary authority amounts to an untested, Utopian pipedream. No wonder blockchain is ranked close to the peak of the hype cycle of technologies with inflated expectations.
Yes, I strongly suspect that blockchain technology is being way over-hyped.   It's working great to get RMIT professors who have given up on noting "no statistically significant increase in temperatures" and warning about Keynesian induced stagflation invitations to international conferences, though.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Very, very mixed feelings

I don't think there is any issue which gives me more internal conflict than watching the matter of indigenous issues and politics in Australia.

Yesterday, I see there were very large "invasion day" marches, indicating that the "change the date" movement (with which I have sympathy, given the rather non-crucial connection the actual date had with the creation of the modern Australian nation in the first place) is stronger than ever.

I further sympathise with the view that the mistreatment of aborigines as the colony expanded has long been underappreciated, as is the general "caught between two cultures" dilemma that befell them.   (European arrival so frequently has had the same effect - with high rates of alcoholism, poor education results and apparent listlessness in remote communities, and welfare dependence.)   I was leery at first of the effect of the Mabo decision, but it has been implemented in a way that hasn't had (as far as I know) any detrimental effect on reasonable development.   I really dislike how people on the Right (such as Andrew Bolt) can oversimplify the matter of aboriginal identity, and take a pretty sneery attitude to the whole matter of how long the effect of historical culture shock can reach into modern life.  The attitude is rather like the obnoxious "it's your choice whether to take offence at words" meme of libertarians, thereby giving free reign to the obnoxious. 

On the other hand:   I don't doubt that much of what passes for respect for aboriginal culture is genuinely what those on the (pretty obnoxious) Right call mere "virtue signalling" - such as "acknowledgement of traditional owners" statements made even to rooms where it is clear there is no descendent of a traditional owner present as a guest or observer;  yesterday's "#AlwaysWasAlwaysWillBe" on Twitter, in which many Lefty celebs appeared to be agreeing with activists that land over which Aboriginal groups have no meaningful control must still be called Aboriginal land;  incorporation of aboriginal ceremonies which are, in key respects, modern inventions;  trying to wring way, way more out of aboriginal knowledge as relevant to modern education than is reasonable;  disregarding the historically harsh aspects of aboriginal societies in terms of treatment of women;  and, yes, some people of very limited aboriginal ancestry who insist it is still of vital relevance to their identity.   Seriously, at some point you have to imagine that Chinese tourists watching some aboriginal dance troupe doing their thing must be thinking "I didn't know aborigines could be white."

It just seems so hard to get both sides to stop with factual and rhetorical exaggerations on the matter - and to express mutual good will.   It makes me dislike both sides.  

Update:   the rhetoric of Ms Onus-Williams is a good example of why it is so difficult to be completely onside with aboriginal advocacy groups, and to be annoyed with virtue signallers who don't call it out.    If she wants the Andrew Bolts and Tim Blairs of the world to show some greater sympathy to historical wrongs, she needs to get real herself.

The (pretty strong) skeptical case against the multiverse

Hey, Sabine Hossenfelder has written as clearly as I think I have ever read about the reasons people should be very skeptical about the idea of the multiverse, covering the three main types of multiverse scientists speculate about. 

She has a book coming out too, which I strongly suspect may be worth reading.

I'm sure people (including me!) at least partly like the multiverse idea because of the large slab of science fiction scenarios it lends itself to.   But I'd be happy if there was just one other universe that consciousness can interact with, as many religions would consider as the supernatural realm...

Just a reminder

This is what "there is no evidence of global warming" [Steve Kates - who likes to keep an open mind on whether Soros and the Bushes are currently being interrogated at Gitmo] looks like:

Funny because it's true

I thought Allahpundit at Hot Air made a witty comment when discussing the "Trump ordered Mueller sacked" story:
Trump reportedly planned to justify the firing on grounds that Mueller had three separate conflicts of interest, one of which was, uhhhhhh, a dispute over golf fees when he used to play at Trump’s course in Virginia. I like to imagine McGahn literally curling up into the fetal position on his office floor when he heard Trump float that idea.
(McGahn being the White House counsel who dissuaded Trump by threatening to resign if Trump insisted on this happening.)

I also see that my occasional Catallaxian visitor JC thought it was "fake news".   Good call, JC, given that Fox News confirmed the story during Hannity's show.

And I see that it turns out that Trump didn't want to go to Davos to call everyone in the room poopy heads, as at least half the world thought might be his motivation.  From Vox:
His criticism of free trade was cast not in the crude terms he’s used in the past — “we can’t continue to allow China to rape our country” — but as a sort of tinkering at the edges designed to make free trade work for everyone. “We support free trade,” he said, “but it needs to be fair and it needs to be reciprocal because in the end, unfair trade undermines us all.”

Trump even signaled openness to rejoining the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an East Asian trade agreement that he withdrew the US from in one of his first acts as president. “We would consider negotiating with [TPP countries], either individually or perhaps as a group, if it is in the interests of all,” he said. ...

This morning was a clear victory for the conventional members of the Trump administration — National Economic Council Chair Gary Cohn, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster — who have long been pushing Trump in this direction. With Steve Bannon out of the administration and marginalized, the highest-level policy advisers in the Trump administration generally do not share the president’s instinctive hostility toward the global order — and today, it showed.

Will this stick? That’s impossible to say with a president this mercurial.
Talk about your puppet president, so highly dependent on the matter of which advisers are currently in his good books, which is highly dependent on never hurting his fragile ego via criticism.

In fact, in another Vox article, Matthew Yglesias expands on this empty vessel of a President observation by reference to an interview he gave at Davos:
President Donald Trump’s first non-Fox television interview in a long time, conducted with CNBC’s Joe Kernen from Davos, Switzerland, is in many respects weirdly devoid of substance. And much of the substance that’s there consists of misstatements of fact. 

But lurking in that is an important insight: Trump is holding the office of president, but he’s not doing the job of president. He seems to have no real idea what’s going on, even with his own signature policy moves. 

Some of his misstatements have the color of propaganda, but often he seems to be caught up in other people’s propaganda or even to have misunderstood his own talking points. He’s disengaged from the details of big questions like NAFTA — “I may terminate NAFTA, I may not,” he says profoundly. He can’t even describe his own negotiating positions in the immigration standoff accurately.

Friday, January 26, 2018

A surprising biological discovery (if true) notes  research that indicates that mitochondria within cells actually operate at about 10 degrees hotter than average human body temperature:
Our body temperature is held at a fairly steady 37.5°C, and the assumption has always been that most of our physiological processes take place at this temperature. The heat needed to maintain this temperature in the face of a colder environment is generated by tiny subcellular structures called mitochondria. But a new study publishing January 25 in the open access journal PLOS Biology by INSERM and CNRS researchers at Hôpital Robert Debré in Paris led by Dr Pierre Rustin (and their international collaborators from Finland, South Korea, Lebanon and Germany) presents surprising evidence that mitochondria can run more than 10°C hotter than the body's bulk temperature, and indeed are optimized to do so. Because of the extraordinary nature of these claims, PLOS Biology has commissioned a cautionary accompanying article by Professor Nick Lane from University College, London, an expert on evolutionary bioenergetics.
I wonder if this would have some important implications to anti-ageing research, too.

Not entirely to be trusted

I like Axios a lot (you can read a detailed Buzzfeed report about how it operates here) and its two key contributors are Mike Allen and (Australian) Jonathan Swan.  Swan's reports are routinely accurate, and he is obviously well connected to the White House, but he keeps making snide comments on Twitter against other reporters and media that indicate a distinct bias against the "liberal media" which makes me not entirely trust him.  Latest example:

Now, as it happens, I don't often find the short satire of Shouts and Murmurs all that funny either, but I consider it pretty harmless.   Swan's reaction to it is strangely over the top, and given that it routinely targets Trump, Republicans and the Right, is suggestive of a bias.  (Because it's undeniable that the American Right has never more thoroughly deserved satire that it does now.)

Economist making sense Vs economist entertaining nonsense

Seems to me that Simon Wren Lewis's recent post The fatal inconsistency with neoliberalism makes a lot of sense, and is easy to read, too.

Meanwhile, at Nonsense Central (Catallaxy), I am amused to see that Sinclair challenged Trump cultist, conspiracist and fellow "Keynes ruined economics" economist Steve Kates to be clearer as to what "this" is when he complains about the media failing to report on the Greatest American Political Scandal Ever, and in reply Kates posted conspiracy nonsense that some commenter had put up that includes this:
Gitmo, in fact, is currently accommodating a number of people (more than 30 at last count), many of whom you have already heard about over the years. Anyone heard from Soros lately? Anyone noticed a diminution in Getup trolls on certain news blog sites. Anyone noticing Lady Rothchild is getting a little testy on Twitter. Anyone heard from the Bushes lately? And what about Las Vegas? Does the bad Saudi ‘uncle’ really own the top floors of the Mandalay Bay Hotel. Join the dots. 
And at the end, Kates rubs his chin with a non-committal bit of later wriggle room "We shall see".

Even for most of the regulars in threads there, this is too much, and they're muttering about tinfoil for Kates.

The irony is, as I have said many times, the only single unifying belief amongst all who participate in threads at that blog is a solid belief that climate change is a non existent problem, either because it doesn't exist at all (I reckon 95% hold that view) or for the more sophisticated (LOL), it might exist but not in any form that is any problem.    What they don't realise is that this is fundamentally a conspiracy belief, making their raised eyebrows at what Kates is willing to entertain a supreme example of pot calling kettle black. 

I am also amused to see that it now is clear to all normal people that a Republican/Fox News conspiracy frenzy over the last couple of days regarding a FBI tweet about a "secret society" out to bring down Trump was a pure conspiracy beat up over a joke in a tweet which was referencing Trump's own claims of secret conspiracies in the FBI.  

That's how the Right wing, which has never been stupider, nonsense/conspiracy generating machine works.   They mutter darkly about conspiracies against them, someone makes a joke about it in a tweet, and Republican Senators (for God's sake) cite the joke as evidence for the conspiracy.

What a circle of jerks.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

How's Tom going?

I have again switched over a few times to try watching Tom Ballard on Tonightly to see if he, or the show's writing,  has improved.   He hasn't.  It hasn't.  It is awful.

It would honestly be a mercy to Ballard to can the show ASAP.  He needs to be doing, I don't know, musical theatre or something - anything - other than terrible delivery of terribly written topical political humour.  

Surely it can't be rating highly?  Oh look, this review of the show, by someone who actually likes it, indicates that it is tanking so badly that even Ballard is making jokes about it:
In fact he wished he had the ratings for The Ghan instead of the 70,000 or so he is attracting. Understandable.

“I don’t know why I’m talking to this, nobody’s watching,” he joked at one point.
And even that reviewer complains about this:
If I have any early criticism, it is the prolific F-bombs dropped throughout the show. Not because I am offended by them, but because they distract. Yes I get that it’s cool to swear on ABC because you can, but language is better used for dramatic effect. If the audience is just waiting for the next one to drop, there is a risk we miss what’s being said in between. 
Kill the show, ABC.   I'll keep complaining until you do.

Re-visiting the 1980's

I've seen 3 movies from the 1980's via Netflix or SBS on Demand recently, each for the first time in many, many years.  In fact, the first two I don't think I have re-viewed since seeing them at the cinema.   I had forgotten how good they were:

*  The Fly:   gee, Jeff Goldblum was great in that role, wasn't he?  I remember I found the movie left me feeling it was too dark when I first saw it; but that was due to it being close to my father's terminal lung cancer, and the theme of a body deteriorating in front of its owner felt too close to the bone.   Now, with a bit of distance, and the modern desensitisation to gore (I didn't like the end shot - ha, a pun - when I first saw it), I can see how good the screenplay was without feeling depressed at the end.   Geena Davis struggled a bit with acting distraught, though, it must be said.

*  Little Shop of Horrors:  I had completely forgotten how funny Steve Martin was in the film, and the cameo by Bill Murray too.   A very amusing film, although it did make me wonder whether the black voice and slang of Audrey II might be questioned on PC grounds today?

*  Ferris Bueller's Day Off:  There was something perfect about Matthew Broderick's performance in the way it made you both like him and want to smack his smug face at the same time.  Particularly in the last scenes, when he is in bed talking to his gullible parents.  I had also forgotten Charlie Sheen's brief "bad boy" role in the film, which in retrospect is funny, given that it seems to have set the path for his actual life. Sure, the subplot of rich boy whose father doesn't love him was overdone, but it doesn't detract from the best elements of the film, such as the street parade sequence, which remains as infectious and impressive as it was when I first saw it. Incidentally, I checked the Metacritic rating for the film, and saw that Julie Salamon from the Wall Street Journal gave it a rating that the site scores as "0".  The only quote from the review is this:   
One of the least appealing movies I've seen in a while.... When a member of the audience belched loudly, that got the biggest laugh of the day.
 I saw it in a cinema, and with an audience strongly skewed to the 20 - 35 age range*, and there is no way it was not a popular hit  at the time with young-ish adults, not just teens.  I wish I could read the whole review to see how wrongheaded it must be.

* there is a reason I can safely say that, that I might explain another day...

Colour correction

One of the things I've noticed after having cataract surgery in one eye is the colour difference between the "old" eye and the new lens one.   The un-operated eye (which I was told does have some early cataract development, but is no where near the stage that it needs an operation) shows the world in what looks like a warmer light, whereas in the newly lensed eye things look whiter, perhaps bluer.  The difference reminds me very much of that between a "warm" toned LED or CF house light, and a "cooler" one, with its crisper, bluer light.

The ophthalmologist said yes, a cataract is like a yellowing of the lens, not just a clouding.

So people with slowly progressing cataracts start seeing the world in warmer, yellow-er tones, and don't realise it.   (Well, I didn't.)  I see that this has been discussed in the context of famous artists who developed cataracts, too.

Spotted at Aeon

That Aeon website has a pretty fascinating collection of essays up at the moment.

First, for the high minded:   a very good one about the "occult roots" of the idea of a fourth dimension and how it was mooted for a long time as a quasi-scientific explanation for the existence of a spirit world which we just can't perceive.

This is topic I've long been interested in, but this essay does a particularly good job of explaining how the idea was greeted by scientists, including Einstein.  Its explanation of how time became treated as a real fourth dimension, and Minkowki's work which Einstein reluctantly adopted, is not overly detailed, but enlightening.

Secondly:  for the more low minded, an explanation of medieval ideas of the importance of sex for health, with the most interesting aspect being the widespread idea that celibacy was pretty much as bad for you as having too much sex.
On the other hand, medieval medical authority held that too little sex presented a medical problem: celibacy was potentially detrimental to health, particularly for young men. Long-term celibacy meant the retention of excess semen, which would affect the heart, which in turn could damage other parts of the body. The celibate might experience symptoms including headaches, anxiety, weight loss and, in the most serious cases, death. Although celibacy was highly valued as a spiritual virtue in medieval society, in medical terms the celibate was as much at risk as the debauchee.

King Louis VIII of France, for example, insisted on remaining faithful to his wife while fighting in the Albigensian Crusade of 1209-29. Conventional opinion attributed his death to the resulting celibacy, making him the most famous victim of death by celibacy. According to the 12th-century Norman poet Ambroise, abstinence claimed many victims:
By famine and by malady
More than 3,000 were struck down
At the Siege of Acre and in the town
But in pilgrims’ hearing I declare
A hundred thousand men die there
Because from women they abstained.
’Twas for God’s love that they restrained
Themselves. They had not perished thus
Had they not been abstemious.
For most crusaders, sexual abstinence was (at most) a temporary inconvenience, to be endured only until they returned home and were reunited with their wives. But for medieval Europe’s many priests, celibacy was a lifelong state, and this could leave them facing a difficult choice. Thomas Becket’s doctor urged him to give up celibacy for the sake of his health, telling him that the celibate life was incompatible with his age and complexion, but the saint disregarded the physician’s advice. Becket lived for many years after this (and ultimately died a martyr at the hands of an assassin), but other bishops were less fortunate. An unnamed 12th-century archdeacon of Louvain, having struggled to remain celibate for a long time, was promoted against his will to the bishopric of the same city. For a month, he abstained from all sexual activity, but soon his genitals swelled up and he became seriously ill. His family and friends urged him to secretly ‘take a woman to himself’, but he was determined to resist temptation. Within days, he was dead.
The writer goes on to note that women were also considered at dire risk from prolonged celibacy, but oddly, through the quirk of their understanding of what was going on in bodies, it seems that some medical authorities were keener to endorse what sounds like masturbation as a cure for celibate women, rather than for celibate men. (!)

Anyway, all pretty fascinating.

Why IPA and Australia Day?

I see that many on Twitter have noted that the IPA funded poll on whether people want Australia Day moved from January 26 to be a clear case of "respondent training" to get the desired result.   Very hard to dispute that when you see the questions:

I was more interested in the question of why this is a matter the Institute of Paid Advocacy would be interested in at all.

I strongly suspect the answer can be found here:

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

The happy economics of craft beer

I don't know exactly what's going on in Australia, but I hope the figures show a similar happy story to that in America.

A new craft beer place has opened within a kilometre or so of my suburban house, but I haven't been to it yet.  

No, nothing vaguely authoritarian about that at all

Axios notes:
In an Oval Office meeting shortly after former FBI Director James Comey was fired, President Trump asked then-Acting Director Andrew McCabe who he voted for in the 2016 election, the Washington Post reports. McCabe reportedly said he did not vote and later said he found the conversation "disturbing," one U.S. official told the Post.

China and government control

Quite a surprising story in The Conversation about a Chinese "Social Credit System".  It starts:
While many are planning trips to their home towns to attend family reunions, millions more Chinese citizens have been blacklisted by authorities, labelled as “not qualified” to book flights or high-speed train tickets.

This citizen ranking and blacklisting mechanism is a pilot scheme of China’s Social Credit System. With a mission to “raise the awareness of integrity and the level of trustworthiness of Chinese society”, the Chinese government is planning to launch the system nationwide by 2020 to rate the trustworthiness of its 1.4 billion citizens.
And continues:
It is a question Chinese authorities have been exploring for more than 10 years. When the plan of constructing a Social Credit System was first proposed in 2007, the primary goal was to restore market order by leveraging the financial creditworthiness of businesses and individuals.
Gradually the scope of the project has infiltrated other aspects of daily life.

Actions that can now harm one’s personal credit record include not showing up to a restaurant without having cancelled the reservation, cheating in online games, leaving false product reviews, and jaywalking.
On the other hand, do the right thing, and get rewarded:
Most pilot cities have used a points system, whereby everyone starts off with a baseline of 100 points. Citizens can earn bonus points up to the value of 200 by performing “good deeds”, such as engaging in charity work or separating and recycling rubbish. In Suzhou city, for example, one can earn six points for donating blood.

Being a “good citizen” is well rewarded. In some regions, citizens with high social credit scores can enjoy free gym facilities, cheaper public transport, and shorter wait times in hospitals. Those with low scores, on the other hand, may face restrictions to their travel and public service access.
OK, this is very dangerous idea; but on the other hand, I find the idea of punishing certain people - for example, 90% of threadsters at Catallaxy - for bad behaviour on the internet quite appealing.   

A nice Spielberg interview

At The Guardian.   I like the opening part, about M Night Shyamalan claiming (just after the success of The Sixth Sense) that he had worked out the secret of Spielberg's success, but wouldn't tell the interviewer what it was.   Hah.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Misunderstanding St Paul

I don't know a lot about theologian David Bentley Hart, but he seems to have been creating a bit of a stir lately with his own translation of the New Testament (which most reviewers seem to find interesting, if not always convincing -see discussion here and here), and with recent essays, such as this one from only a couple of weeks ago, discussing what (he argues) is the modern lack of understanding of St Paul's core world view.

The key paragraphs:
Questions of law and righteousness, however, are secondary concerns. The essence of Paul’s theology is something far stranger, and unfolds on a far vaster scale. For Paul, the present world-age is rapidly passing, while another world-age differing from the former in every dimension – heavenly or terrestrial, spiritual or physical – is already dawning. The story of salvation concerns the entire cosmos; and it is a story of invasion, conquest, spoliation and triumph. For Paul, the cosmos has been enslaved to death, both by our sin and by the malign governance of those ‘angelic’ or ‘daemonian’ agencies who reign over the earth from the heavens, and who hold spirits in thrall below the earth. These angelic beings, these Archons, whom Paul calls Thrones and Powers and Dominations and Spiritual Forces of Evil in the High Places, are the gods of the nations. In the Letter to the Galatians, he even hints that the angel of the Lord who rules over Israel might be one of their number. Whether fallen, or mutinous, or merely incompetent, these beings stand intractably between us and God. But Christ has conquered them all.

In descending to Hades and ascending again through the heavens, Christ has vanquished all the Powers below and above that separate us from the love of God, taking them captive in a kind of triumphal procession. All that now remains is the final consummation of the present age, when Christ will appear in his full glory as cosmic conqueror, having ‘subordinated’ (hypetaxen) all the cosmic powers to himself – literally, having properly ‘ordered’ them ‘under’ himself – and will then return this whole reclaimed empire to his Father. God himself, rather than wicked or inept spiritual intermediaries, will rule the cosmos directly. Sometimes, Paul speaks as if some human beings will perish along with the present age, and sometimes as if all human beings will finally be saved. He never speaks of some hell for the torment of unregenerate souls.
The new age, moreover – when creation will be glorified and transformed into God’s kingdom – will be an age of ‘spirit’ rather than ‘flesh’. For Paul, these are two antithetical principles of creaturely existence, though most translations misrepresent the antithesis as a mere contrast between God’s ‘spirit’ and human perversity. But Paul is quite explicit: ‘Flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom.’ Neither can psychē, ‘soul’, the life-principle or anima that gives life to perishable flesh. In the age to come, the ‘psychical body’, the ‘ensouled’ or ‘animal’ way of life, will be replaced by a ‘spiritual body’, beyond the reach of death – though, again, conventional translations usually obscure this by speaking of the former, vaguely, as a ‘natural body’.

Sort of glad I missed online dating

I stumbled across this link today, and suspect it's been pretty popular, given how high it was when I Googled about Elaine from Seinfeld.

It's by a 40 something woman who details some of her worst online dating meet ups.   (She says she's never had a good date, despite trying several different sites.)   The details of how strange men can be is pretty hair-raising.  Here's a slightly edited version:
For instance, I exchanged several long emails with the Furniture Restorer. We seemed to have a lot in common, but within five minutes of meeting face to face, he uttered an anti-Semitic comment. It hadn’t occurred to me to say: “I’m glad you like kayaking, mushroom pizza and the Band, but do you happen to hate Jews?”

My date with the Logistics Manager wasn’t memorable for what happened during the 25-minute coffee interlude, which had stretches of awkward silence, but for what happened afterwards. I shook his hand and catapulted out of there, pointedly not saying, “It was lovely meeting you.” An hour after our deadly dull date, he sent me a text with a vulgar sexual suggestion.

Ummm . . . No thanks.

As I’ve tried the different dating sites, I’ve revised my dating profile, hoping that this version will catch the eye of Mr. Right. I tried a lighthearted tone, with a bit of humour and ended up meeting the Contractor at 11 a.m. one summer Sunday. He told me he had been to a party at a friend’s the night before and had stayed over. Fair enough. But he was still quite drunk when we met. He took a king can of beer out of his knapsack and chugged it there on the street.

Next, I tried a more serious, academic tone and that led to lunch with the Computer Programmer. There was a little basket on the table, filled with those little plastic creamers. This dude peeled the creamers open one by one and drank them....

But those dates don’t even come close to what I call the “Elaine Date.” If you watched Seinfeld, you may remember an episode where Elaine tells Jerry that her date “took it out.” Yup. That happened.

The Runner Up for awful/bizarre dates was when I went for lunch with the X-Ray Technician. He revealed himself to be a furry . . . I don’t even know how to explain that, other than to say he was covered in more plush than a truckload of teddy bears. He wore a spotted giraffe hoodie, with pointed ears and a mane, and matching socks. And he wore a tail. Yes, a furry tail. ...

I had one profile that was rather long-winded and very detailed about my values, my political leanings and about what I was looking for. It attracted a lawyer with a foot fetish who said he would buy me as many shoes as I wanted, provided I let him suck my toes. And then there was the Comedian who forewarned me that no sex by the third date was a deal breaker. ...

My final date was with the Advertising Guy. We did the usual coffee thing, which by that time already seemed like more effort than it was worth. During our hour-long cappuccinos, Ad Guy emptied the contents of his Dockers pockets and gave me a detailed commentary on everything he carried: screwdriver, tissues, pocket knife, measuring tape, Purell, Band-Aids, wrench set, hammer, magnifying glass, eyeglass repair kit, two HMV gift cards, a poem to his mother, fire starter, antiseptic wipes, allergy pills, pen, notepad, Starbucks gift cards, family photos, TTC tokens, elastics . . . As he displayed each item, he’d say something like: “This comes in handy,” or “You never know when you might need these.” At the end of the “inventory,” he read me the poem he had written for his mother. While I appreciate family bonds, reciting maternal verse was not the way to win me over.
I guess the big question is - how many unpleasant/strange women are out there in the online dating world?  I saw on Reddit today an example that was being widely mocked: 

Sunday, January 21, 2018

A poke in the eye

Not entirely sure that I should have watched this YouTube of a procedure I'll be having tomorrow,  but it at least shows how eyeballs can take quite a lot of poking around in them.

Update:  that was interesting.   All seems OK,  so far.

About The Post

It seems a fair guess that Spielberg decided to make The Post because you can imagine every single element being utterly disdained by Trump:

*  key character:   a woman forced by circumstance to make her own way in a male dominated corporate world, and succeeds;

*  said woman makes an important right (not Right) decision in the public's interest, contrary to what the powerful men in the White House want;

*  lying politicians undone by a whisteblower and dedicated reporters willing to take risks;

*  a talk heavy story - hardly any guns or fights at all.

The perfect anti-Trump movie!  It's hilarious to think  that the White House asked for a screening (not sure if it was given);  I suspect Trump would have just said "no thanks" if told it was on, or walked out after 10 minutes claiming boredom.

I thought it was very good - not earth shatteringly remarkable, but a well directed, largely well acted, and (from what I can gather) only mildly fictionalised recreation of an important moment of US history of particular resonance to politics today.    There are one or two pretty static bits of background exposition near the start, but the story picks up speed and ends up quite engaging and satisfying. 

Even though it shares the same inevitability of Bridge of Spies, in that it is a true story and we pretty much know the ending, I thought it was significantly better than that movie, which I really felt had no surprises or complexity of any kind.   I remain a bit puzzled as to why so many reviewers praised it so highly.

One other point of comparison with Bridge:   this may seem minor, but there was something about the look of the rooms and streets in that film that seemed to me to look too much like a fake recreation of the era.   (Not sure that any other viewer in the world was thinking about art direction as I was, but there you go.)   On the other hand, The Post somehow looked to my eye to be much more convincingly of its day.   There, I've made some art director happy.  Unless it was the same person for both movies, of course.

Spielberg's use of hand held camera in some sequences is, as usual, fluid and not unsettling as it is with some other directors.   He just knows how to add subtle interest to scenes via camera movement and framing.   I think, to be objective, that there were a couple of "overtalking" scenes between characters that did not ring true (I think Spielberg used to do this in some of his earlier movies), but this is a very minor quibble about a movie in which, in large part, my Spielberg admiration was amply satisfied.

Late comments on the Last Jedi

Yes, I know you've all been waiting for my opinion on this.  No?  I don't care, you're getting it anyway.

I thought it was just OK.  Let's do this in dot form, and I guess you might not want to read it if you still haven't seen it:

*   For a movie for which I had taken much effort to avoid reading spoilers, I found there was a disappointing lack of important ones.   And did everyone like me suspect that Leia was going to be killed off (perhaps via a late re-write), given the unfortunate demise of Carrie Fisher?   Speaking of her, I have to note this, if I haven't before in this blog:  her voice/accent in both Force Awakens and this one did bother me.  In the original movies, I thought she strived for something a bit mid-Atlantic (it helps to sound a bit British if you are playing royalty, after all.)  But in the revivals, she has sounded like she had spent the intervening years is some smoky New York bar roughening up her throat.   I didn't care for the effect.

*   It's a more than a bit embarrassing to admit, but I do get some of the alt.right-ish backlash against the number of women in the movie.  What's been going on in the Resistance?   Did they start sacrificing men to some volcano or something?   Were the members of the Rebellion who didn't bother turning up at the end all guys who got sick of the positive discrimination policies under Leia?   "Ha!  I got overlooked for promotion 6 times for ethnic girls who kept flunking their X Wing course before they lowered the standards, and you think I'm coming running when you need me?"

Really, I quite liked the multi-cultural-ing of Force Awakens, and  Rogue One, and didn't mind that they had female leads, but with the increase in the number of women in (what seems)  every single scene in Last Jedi,  I thought the politically correct motivations are starting to look just too obvious.   That, along with the key theme that "men are too impulsive and gun happy to understand strategy and are going to get us all killed", and even the morally ambiguous position of Luke Skywalker through most of the film, all indicate a serious case of over-compensation for the lack of female roles in the first three movies.  (By which I mean, movies 4 to 6.)    In fact, not that I care at all about the prequels, but I would guess the amount of female presence in the Star Wars series if graphed would look something like this:

(Sorry I misspelt Abrams)

*   I'm not convinced that Rian Johnson is all that good a director, particularly of light sabre fight scenes.  I thought the whole confrontation with Snook's henchmen was very underwhelming, with a set that looked too simple and fight choreography that had too many silly, unnecessary spins and twirls.   I think JJ Abrams did a substantially better job in Force Awakens.

[Gee, this is coming out way more negative than I anticipated.]

*  What did I like?   Some of the jokes were pretty good, and I don't mind the general theme of Luke having a crisis of confidence, given that the Jedi just keep on seeming to stuff things up with some of their decisions.  Mark Hamill was pretty good in the role.    I guess I don't even mind the theme that you don't want to let old style, fundamentalist religion bog you down to seeing what's right and good.    But that also leads to the main problem with the film:

*  The on-going problem with the series is that it can't seem to decide on the nature of the Force, or give a coherent account of it in terms of evil.  Yes, it has a theodicy problem.

It is almost certainly not worth over-analysing a nebulous term written by a young director with a vague idea of inserting a mystical element into his fantasy universe, but when you read articles like this one (a semi defence of the awful idea of the Force as mediated by Midi Chlorians) you can see that writers and viewers of the movies have been trying to make sense of it, but failing.

This article in The Atlantic discusses the substantial change in the nature of the Force in this latest movie.  I suppose that, in principle, I don't mind the democratising idea that anyone can be a Jedi (or use the Force), but it does just seem to come out of nowhere, doesn't it?    I mean, if the series had done something like have a Buddha or Christ figure who, at some sort of universal level, had come to bring the Force to all, that would make sense?  But the sort of burbling on by Luke, Rey and even Yoda (although I was pleased to see him, and in puppet form), just didn't do near enough to clear up the change.  Or the nature of the Force.

Another in depth discussion of the movie by David Roberts explains that he felt the movie kept indicating it wanted to make a clean break from a good/evil dichotomy, but eventually pulls back from it.   I'm not sure I agree - I think the movie just leaves the nature of the Force vis a vis good and evil more confused than ever.

I don't know whether this will ever be capable of proper resolution.  I fear it would take some character to sit down and give a 20 minute lecture to clear up the matter, and it's not going to happen.

*  But anyway, it's not completely forgettable, like the prequels.  It's probably fair to say I enjoyed it at the time of viewing more than this analysis would indicate, but some movies do suffer a bit when you think about them too much.


Saturday, January 20, 2018

Some Trump Youtube mockery

I found this Colbert clip, talking about the details of a Trump affair that it seems everyone during the campaign had forgotten about, to be particularly hilarious:

Which reminds me of this bit of art that was on twitter recently:

While I was on Youtube, the Trump mocking parody songs of Roy Zimmerman, who seems to have around for a long time, but I hadn't heard of him before.

He's a pretty good singer, and even if you think at first that the look or lyric is not so clever, each song usually gets to one or two lines that are very funny indeed.  For example, you have to get to the chorus in this one:

Or this, where one line in the middle is very LOL:

Friday, January 19, 2018

About Hillary

The other night, I saw a repeat run of The Graham Norton Show featuring Hillary Clinton, when she was promoting her book about the loss of the election.

As noted in this piece of commentary, she came across as nice, sharp and emotionally together.   I kept thinking "this is the woman about whom the Right wing internet idiot machine kept finding so called "experts" to claim that she was virtually on death's door during the campaign.  Aren't they embarrassed to see this?"   But I've never heard anyone from that side express any regret about that conspiracy nonsense...

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Rough figures on Apple

So, Apple is boasting that it's going to pay $38 billion in tax when it brings its overseas pot of money back to the US.   (Ireland and Europe sound worried that this means they miss out on the tax they've been chasing from Apple for years - showing that they've been played for suckers, I reckon.)  

Trump and Republicans are crowing that this is what happens when you reduce corporate tax rates by 40% (from 35% to 21%).  

But wait a minute:   how much tax does the US collect annually from companies?   According to this site, in 2015, it was $342 billion, roughly.     So, using that figure, a 40% drop in the amount of tax collected due to Trump's new rates would mean revenue of $205 billion in lieu of $342 billion.   A drop of $137 billion (!). 

Add in $38 billion from Apple, and that brings revenue back up to $243 billion, still down to 71% of the tax collected in 2015. 

Let's be (what I suspect is) generous and allow other companies paying (say) a further $30 billion in tax on monies coming home to the US.   That would bring it up to $273 billion, or 80% of the 2015 tax revenue.*

Of course, Apple investments in the US should generate more personal income tax from workers, (and payroll taxes?) so there will be some improvement on that side of the ledger. 

But, don't these rough figures indicate that the gain to US revenue by big, but one-off, repatriated profit tax payments like those from Apple will come no where near making up for the lost revenue from a permanent massive corporate tax rate cut?

*  My guestimate might not be far off - according to this article, it's been estimated that repatriation taxes could bring in $338.8 billion, but over ten years.   If it was spread evenly, that would be $34 billion or so a year.

PS:   Incidentally, any renewed investment by Apple in the US is, I would imagine, hardly likely to benefit the ageing, white, non college educated Trumpsters in rustbelt areas who find it hard getting work, or well paid work.   What's the bet that Apple will in fact, soon enough, be pressing Trump to ease up on his anti migration vibe so to let in the skilled foreign workers that they need for their new investment?

And Slate points out how people are easily misled by Apple PR machine, when they are spouting "billions and billions":
The press release predicts that between its “current pace of spending with domestic suppliers and manufacturers—an estimated $55 billion for 2018—Apple’s direct contribution to the US economy will be more than $350 billion over the next five years.” In other words, Apple will keep buying stuff from other U.S. companies. This is not a patriotic act of charity. Apple is literally saying it will continue business as usual. That alone accounts for $275 billion of its $350 billion forecast.

As for the rest of that total? In a mystifying bit of self-aggrandizement, the company is counting its $38 billion repatriation payment as another “direct contribution” to the U.S. economy. This is money they are required to pay by law. “A payment of that size would likely be the largest of its kind ever made,” the company helpfully notes. This is only true because Apple spent years making money hand-over-fist while doing everything in its power to avoid taxes. 

Finally, we get to the company’s actual plans to invest in the U.S. Here, we learn that “Apple expects to invest over $30 billion in capital expenditures in the US over the next five years and create over 20,000 new jobs through hiring at existing campuses and opening a new one,” which will initially “house technical support for customers.”

PPS:  I know that tax, especially (it seems) the US tax system, is complicated, and it's likely I'm missing something significant.   It is just "rough figures" after all...

Catching up on some links

Some stuff that interested me over the Christmas period:

*   Tim Lott at The Guardian complained that modern writers of "literary fiction" no longer interest him because they are bad at plot and basic storytelling.   I suspect there is something to that.

*  Did you see the story ABC TV news was running over Christmas about the terrible situation with potable water in Jakarta?   It was startling how bad the situation was in the city, and now I can't find the link.  Must be there somewhere, I would expect.  But Googling around shows me that the situation has been bad for a very long time, with the problem being pinned by some on the water utility being privatised 20 years ago.  That has now been undone due to litigation, and it's the government's direct problem again.  Private companies don't always do it better, it seems...

*   Good advice:  Don’t listen to Gwyneth Paltrow: keep your coffee well away from your rectum

*  Yet another The Guardian link:  about a trend to keep bodies of deceased loved ones at home for a period of mourning and how funeral directors help facilitate it.   (There's a cold plate the body is put on.)  It's a bit of a tribal thing for many, but I think it does make some psychological sense that it would help the mind process the loss.

*  I sort of like folk Catholicism for its liveliness and its cultural interest, but does it have to be as dangerous as a photo essay at The Atlantic (showing a massive procession in the Philippines from a couple of weeks ago) indicates?  Two examples:

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Thought this was the case

I had thought that this was the case - as so many friends and relatives have been to Japan in the last decade, whereas it had not seemed to be that big a destination for Australian tourists 25 years ago. 

Here's an article at the ABC putting numbers on my suspicions, and confirming them.   Australian and Japanese tourist numbers have changed dramatically:
Well before China's economic growth drove its citizens to seek out Australian beaches and koala cuddling sessions, it was Japanese tourists filling the pockets of operators in the 1980s and '90s.
The peak was in 1997 when more than 814,000 made the journey south.

Two decades later, in 2016, the number was basically half, with only 417,900 making the same trip.

By comparison, in 1997 some 101,460 Australians made the trek to Japan, of which just 41,520 were tourists.

By 2016 the number had sky rocketed to 445,237 — of which 398,193 were tourists. That's a 959 per cent increase in the number of Australians taking a holiday in Japan over just two decades.

Do NOT let this guy on Fox News Breakfast

So, some dude from the University of Waterloo (where?  Ontario I see) has an article on The Conversation seemingly advocating that the next year is a good time for the US to carry out a "surgical" nuclear strike on North Korea:
Properly used, nuclear munitions can result in a minimum of radioactive or long-term contamination, or mass destruction —far lesser consequences than if North Korea actually detonated one of their crude nuclear weapons.
Do us a favour, Rupert, and don't get him on Fox News morning show and have Steve Doocebag nod approvingly.  

So, it's just intense personality and character defects, then?

Surely I can't be the only person to be somewhat disappointed that Trump isn't on the way out due to cognitive issues?   (Come on - it's not like I'm wishing ill on a saint - or even your average sinner.  He's an obnoxious, racist, dumb, narcissistic, serial adulterer from way back.   Willing to pay off his casual sex partners just before an election, too.  It's rumoured there were many other payments made.)  Mind you, the test he underwent is the simplest one (which is of the kind I saw the doctor give to my Mum when she was developing dementia):
At the president’s request, Jackson said that he reviewed a number of cognitive tests and then administered the Montreal Cognitive Assessment during Trump’s first presidential physical exam on Friday afternoon at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. The 10-minute exam is designed to detect mild cognitive impairment, generally in older patients. Trump answered all 30 questions correctly, Jackson said.

The test includes asking a patient to name several animals, draw a clock with the hands at a certain time, copy a cube and recall a short list of words, among others. Jackson said he has “no indication whatsoever that he has any cognitive issues.”
I can't get to comments at the Washington Post, but I wonder what other doctors are saying about the test as a general reliable guide to mental functioning...

Monday, January 15, 2018

Galaxy positioning system

Oh my - seems like only a year or so ago that I was posting about pulsars being proposed as a sort of GPS system for spaceships in the solar system or beyond - but it was 2012!

Last week, in Nature, it was reported that they can indeed be used that way:
From its perch aboard the International Space Station, a NASA experiment has shown how future missions might navigate their way through deep space. Spacecraft could triangulate their location, in a sort of celestial Global Positioning System (GPS), using clockwork-like signals from distant dead stars.

Last November, the Neutron Star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER) spent a day and a half looking at a handful of pulsars — rapidly spinning stellar remnants that give off beams of powerful radiation as they rotate. By measuring tiny changes in the arrival time of the pulses, NICER could pinpoint its location to within 5 kilometres.

It is the first demonstration in space of the long-sought technology known as pulsar navigation. One day, the method could help spacecraft steer themselves without regular instructions from Earth.....The team plans to repeat the experiment in the coming months, hoping to reduce the margin of error to one kilometre or less.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

My favourite recent anti-Trump reading

Well it's been a busy couple of weeks in Trump conversation in the media.  

Here are some recent passages and links that I thought rang very true:

Mike Allen at Axios made the case that, even though Fire and Fury is a book very high on "truthiness" rather than pinned down journalistic accuracy (and fellow Axios writer Jonathon Swan has complained long and hard about that aspect of the book), it does paint a big picture which Allen and other journalists fully accept as accurate.   How could it not be so when so many people in the White House were leaking against Trump to the press right from the start of this woeful presidency?:
...there are two things he gets absolutely right, even in the eyes of White House officials who think some of the book's scenes are fiction: his spot-on portrait of Trump as an emotionally erratic president, and the low opinion of him among some of those serving him.
But read the whole thing, if you missed it.

 * David Frum's summary of why Trump has supporters at all is spot on:
In 2016, there were voters who genuinely, in good faith, believed that Donald Trump was a capable business leader, moderate on social issues, who cared about the troubles of working class white America—and would do something to help. There may well still be some people who believe this—but nowhere near enough to sustain a presidency.

What sustains Trump now is the support of people who know what he is, but back him anyway. Republican political elites who know him for what he is, but who back him because they believe they can control and use him; conservative-media elites who sense what he is, but who delight in the culture wars he provokes; rank-and-file conservatives who care more about their grievances and hatreds than the governance of the country.
*  Also in the NYT, Nicholas Kristof summarises Trump's threat to democracy, which has always been clear to those not blinded by culture war point scoring and conspiracy think:
Two political scientists specializing in how democracies decay and die have compiled four warning signs to determine if a political leader is a dangerous authoritarian:

1. The leader shows only a weak commitment to democratic rules. 2. He or she denies the legitimacy of opponents. 3. He or she tolerates violence. 4. He or she shows some willingness to curb civil liberties or the media.

“A politician who meets even one of these criteria is cause for concern,” Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, both professors at Harvard, write in their important new book, “How Democracies Die,” which will be released next week.

“With the exception of Richard Nixon, no major-party presidential candidate met even one of these four criteria over the last century,” they say, which sounds reassuring. Unfortunately, they have one update: “Donald Trump met them all.”

We tend to assume that the threat to democracies comes from coups or violent revolutions, but the authors say that in modern times, democracies are more likely to wither at the hands of insiders who gain power initially through elections. That’s what happened, to one degree or another, in Russia, the Philippines, Turkey, Venezuela, Ecuador, Hungary, Nicaragua, Sri Lanka, Ukraine, Poland and Peru.
Kristof says he is not saying that he thinks American institutions won't successfully thwart Trump's anti democratic tendencies, but he does worry:
It matters when Trump denounces the “deep state Justice Department,” calls Hillary Clinton a “criminal” and urges “jail” for Huma Abedin, denounces journalists as the “enemy of the American people” and promises to pay the legal fees of supporters who “beat the crap” out of protesters. With such bombast, Trump is beating the crap out of American norms. 

And the most distressing thing about Trump is the demonstration of how many people for selfish and often shallow reasons (Ha! look at how he sticks it to Leftists) will happily live - and even endorse - such anti-democratic rhetoric and behaviour in the so-called leader of the free world.  

*   I was surprised about the extent of some of the relatively moderate commentator push back arising from the deficiencies as journalism of  Michael Wolff's book:  in particular David Brooks in the New York Times actually coming to Trump's quasi-defence, noting that many people have had meetings with him where he at least came across as something less than a drooling madman.   Great!   Jonathan Chait makes a somewhat snarky, but accurate, response:
Four days ago, David Brooks broke the news in the New York Times that President Trump is actually a sober-minded and competent public servant. “People who go into the White House to have a meeting with President Trump usually leave pleasantly surprised,” he reported. “They find that Trump is not the raving madman they expected from his tweetstorms or the media coverage. They generally say that he is affable, if repetitive. He runs a normal, good meeting and seems well-informed enough to get by.”

It is safe to say that this column has not aged well in the short time since its publication.
Chait goes back over the remarkable story of how Trump demonstrated with certainly how he takes his lead on issues from Fox News, when he tweeted against his own administration's policy when someone on Fox News breakfast encouraged him to do so.  

How absurd and dangerous is this?   The only good thing to be said about Trump's tweeting habit, I suppose, is how the public knows directly what an empty headed, easily manipulated, narcissist person he is.  No need for historians to tell us.
 Chait also notes the many bizarre claims in Trump's WSJ interview of last week, including claims of treason for an FBI agent having political views.  Chait concludes:
It is obviously true that, in a large country, a broad spectrum of opinion will inevitably produce excesses on every side. Even a president as deranged and racist as Trump will be talked about, by somebody, in excessively harsh terms. Yet Brooks’s conclusion that Trump critics have on the whole exaggerated his flaws, that Trump is in fact reasonably well informed, affable, and sane, does not seem to be a reasonable conclusion at all. Instead it is an expression of Brooks’s unavoidable tendency to impose a sheen of normality on a political party that is anything but.
William Saletan made the obvious point in Slate about Trump's boasting of his intelligence:
 What Trump doesn’t understand is you don’t convey intelligence by asserting it. You convey it by demonstrating it. The more you talk about it, the more suspicious people become. They wonder why you’re vouching for yourself instead of doing your job and letting others vouch for you. And they wonder why you feel the need to keep talking about it. The real message of your constant boasting isn’t that you’re smart. It’s that you’re insecure.
Saletan is pretty good on Trump being a bigoted racist, too.  Lots of other writers have written a similar sort of piece, citing many examples from Trump's life.  But Saletan does it with many more links and in greater detail than most. 

An invention worth noting

I just found a link I had saved but, it would seem, never posted.  From 2013, in Slate, a short history of airconditioning.   It's a pretty hot weekend where I am in Brisbane, so it's topical.

The first modern, properly air conditioned building was apparently this:
It was introduced to the public on Memorial Day weekend, 1925, when it debuted at the Rivoli Theater in Times Square. For years afterward, people piled into air-conditioned movie theaters on hot summer days, giving rise to the summer blockbuster.   
So modern aircon is less than 100 years old.  Huh.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

A holiday 23 million years in the making...

Well, perhaps not a holiday exactly:  more a short break over Christmas for 5 days to Mount Tamborine, barely an hour from where I live, and up behind the Gold Coast, so usually 2 to 4 degrees cooler than Brisbane or the coast.  We never stayed up there before, but I couldn't be away from work for too long this year, so we went there instead of a beach holiday.

We stayed at a holiday rental house in the streets behind the very touristy (and not that interesting, really) Gallery Walk at Eagle Heights.   I had never driven in the residential streets behind Gallery Walk before, and what a pleasant surprise they are.   The houses are a mix of old and new, but many are are in a cottage style, and cooler weather gardens are very common, as well as tree lined streets, some with spectacular views to the coast.  Some examples:

This isn't actually the house we stayed in, but just an example of a charmingly done cottage style house and cottage garden of a type you virtually never see in Brisbane, but of which there are many up at Tamborine.

This is the inside of the one we stayed at, and it was  the nicest holiday rental house we have ever been in.  Heaps of good cooking equipment in the kitchen (handy if you are doing a Christmas dinner), plenty of money spent on furniture, fully ducted airconditioning, beautiful bathrooms (I should have taken a photo), and for winter, a big central fireplace.   It's called The Maple and The Nest (booked through Stayz, not Airbnb), and I recommend it.

These doors:

which featured in my Christmas greeting post,  led to this wisteria covered courtyard - can you imagine how this would look when the wisteria is in flower?

Anyway, Mt Tamborine is sort of a plateau area, with a population of around 7,000, I think I read, with residential development around some small but still pretty national parks.   General photos of the area:

 A house with a view to the coast.

 The view to the west.

And some typical national park scenery:

 Strangler figs:  lots of strangler figs.

The other things Mt Tamborine does well:   craft beer, pizza with beer, cheese, avocados, and bread.

I think the Fortitude Brewing Company (which is big enough that some bars in Brisbane have it on tap - including my favourite bar, the Paddock Bar at Rydges next to the Brisbane showgrounds) is just the most consistently pleasing SE Queensland craft brewery, and its home is at Mt Tamborine.  The bar there does great pizza too, and the local cheese place (which is really high quality as well) is in the same complex.  We bought a "growler" and took some hoppy IPA home - it was great.

Around the corner from where we staying there was a small bakery, but it make some distinctive and fantastic sourdoughs, and was open every day over Christmas.  It's in a group of local shops that is off the main road, and hardly anyone seemed to ever be there, but it was a very pleasant surprise to find such high quality bread - try the German beer bread, you'll like it.

There are many small farms on the plateau, and avocados are plentiful, and they are often left on "honesty system" road side stalls.  We had some very good quality ones,  and some great red rhubarb and cucumber, but I suspect in other seasons the range of veges would be higher.   Stuff left out on the roadside in the middle of summer probably has a limited life.

There are tourist attractions based on tree top walks and flying foxes and the like, but they do seem pretty expensive and we didn't bother trying them.  Just lazing around instead, and the kids had their bikes to get around a bit, but it was still pretty hot and the ducted aircon was always attractive.   It was a pretty pleasant stay.

So, why the title to the post?

Well, the small Tamborine Heritage Centre (worth a quick visit, to learn a bit of local history) had this picture which caught my attention:

If you can read it, towards the right, they have marked a plateau area as "Tamborine Mountain".   What I didn't realise before was that this entire area had, 23 million odd years ago, all been under a huge shield volcano, the central remnants of which are the present Mount Warning in the Tweed Valley area, about 55 or so kilometres to the south as the crow flies.

Now, I could have guessed from the shape of Mt Warning, which looks very similar to the Glasshouse Mountains north of Brisbane, that it was, like them, the central core of an eroded volcano.  (I think most people from Brisbane with vague geological interest know that about the Glasshouse Mountains?   I mean, one in particular - Crookneck:

 ...looks very much like a central volcanic plug.)

But I had no idea that Mt Warning was the centre of such a huge volcano in height and extent.   And that, if you look at the geography of the area now, the eroded caldera is clear:

And here's a NASA image of the same area:

As the NASA website says:

Australia, the only continent with no current volcanic activity, is home to one of the world's largest extinct volcanoes: Tweed Volcano, shown in this 3-D stereo image pair. Eruptions here ended about 20 million years ago. Twenty million years of erosion have left this landform deeply eroded yet very recognizable as a caldera with a central peak--the erosional stub of the central pipe that carried magma upward to Earth's surface.

I feel I should have know this before, even if I didn't do geography or geology in high school.

And what was Australia like 23 - 20 million years ago?

Well, it seems it had broken off from Antarctica by then and was still heading north.   (Antarctica was cooling because of its new surrounding southern ocean, although the ice sheets had not yet formed - that was only about 14 millions years ago.)

According to the Australian Museum website, the early Miocene (23 to 16 million years ago) featured this:


  • Northern Australia was covered in lush rainforest.
  • The Miocene was a time of enormous richness and variety of plant and animal life in Australia, equal to that found today in the rainforests of Borneo and the Amazon.


  • In Australia the early relatives of many of familiar present-day animals had evolved including possums, kangaroos, koalas, bats, crocodiles, snakes, lizards, frogs, millipedes, beetles and many kinds of birds.
  • Many less familiar animals also lived in Australia during the Miocene such as, marsupial lions, flesh-eating kangaroos, cleaver-headed crocodiles, thunder birds, horned turtles and strange 'thingodontans'.
Land of the flesh eating kangaroos, and a giant shield volcano not far from where I live now.  How interesting!

Speaking of ancient living things, a public park at Tamborine has a few bunya pine trees planted, which are a magnificent tree except for this problem:

That's a pretty good reason for their relative lack of use as a park tree.  I really only recall seeing some in their natural habitat up in Bunya Mountains National Park, when I was a teenager.

Here's one the cones at Tamborine, with my pale looking foot (and starting to look old) ankle for scale:

And how long have they been around?   Well, relatives like it has been around since the Jurassic (175 million years ago), apparently, so I presume it is likely that they were here pretty much in their current form when the Tweed volcano was spewing lava a mere 20 million years ago.

So there you:   I went on a holiday and learnt something about prehistory I didn't realise before.

Remarkably few in my family (read - none) find this as fascinating as I have....