Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Who knew that dating a politician could be so lucrative?

I think this is not going to go over well with the general public;  except that presumably Labor figures have done the same thing and so will not be inclined to promote outrage:
Julie Bishop has claimed $32,000 in taxpayer-funded family travel for her long-term boyfriend but says she is not obliged to disclose his financial interests on the parliamentary register because he is not her "spouse" or de facto partner.
Apparently, they live in separate cities, and have been an item since 2014.

But since when does any job, private or public, carry such side benefits for a (for want of a better term) boyfriend or girlfriend who hasn't reached the heights of "de facto partner" yet?:
Ms Bishop has claimed $32,000 in taxpayer-funded travel for him between 2015 and 2017. Ms Bishop nominated him as her designated family member in 2015 which entitles him to free domestic airfares and Comcar rides under the allowance granted to MPs for family reunification. These benefits can be bestowed by an MP on almost anyone and are disclosed in Department of Finance records.

Ms Bishop has previously said she began dating Mr Panton in early 2014. Photographs of the pair published since then show they regularly attend social events such as the Melbourne Cup, Portsea Polo and sporting grand finals, and meet with celebrities abroad.In the first six months of 2015, Mr Panton claimed nearly $10,000 in flights and car rides, including more than $3000 in flights to and from Perth on the same weekend Ms Bishop declared on her pecuniary interests that she had received free tickets to the Leeuwin Estate Concert in Margaret River. The pair were photographed attending the event together.

Nothing a year's sleep wouldn't help

Gee, the head of the National Security Agency, Admiral Michael Rogers, looks like he hasn't slept a wink since Trump became President.  Here he is, telling a Senate committee that his Manchurian candidate President hasn't told him to do anything in particular about Russian cyberattacks:

Apart from the incredible bags under the eyes, he looks relatively young - he's a year older than me but not a sign of grey hair at the temples?   

Why sacrifice?

The Atlantic has an article looking at the matter of human sacrifice; why it was a "thing", and why it stopped.

A pretty interesting topic, with no clear answers.  Seems that some anthropologists argue that it only worked as a social control factor for a society that stayed relatively small - under 100,000 people, say.  Above that, it became de-stablising.

Others argue it went out of fashion as religion improved, so to speak:
But though sheer military might may have been the underlying cause of the disappearance of human sacrifice, the members of the victorious societies likely didn’t see it that way. They probably saw the rejection of human sacrifice as a logical extension of the golden rule, or as a religious imperative. The Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker has argued that societies became less violent as they became better at abstract reasoning. In other words, people spurned violence against others on the grounds that they wouldn’t want it done to them. Turchin and colleagues disagree: With staggering frequency, they argue, it was religion rather than reason that turned people away from ritualized brutality. But a different kind of religion—one that deified not a mortal god-king, but a supernatural “big god.” These were the forerunners of today’s major world religions, and those who spread them railed against human sacrifice. “They basically said, God is repelled by this,” says Turchin.

These new religions—such as Judaism and Zoroastrianism—were born roughly during the first millennium B.C., and though they have yet to prove it, the Seshat group suspects that they provided the social glue that allowed societies to reach newly intricate heights. Without these religions, the researchers think, the complexifying process would have stalled long before it produced the nation-states and multistate federations of today.

Staying classy

In today's list of classy politicians in the news -  Michaella Cash:
Innovation and Jobs Minister Michaelia Cash has repeatedly threatened to name "every young woman" in Bill Shorten's office that she has heard rumours about in an extraordinary row at Senate estimates.

Responding to repeated demands by Labor Senator Doug Cameron to name her new chief of staff, Senator Cash shot back that that was a "dangerous road" he was walking.

"If you want to start discussing staff matters be very, very careful. Because I'm happy to sit here and name every young woman in Mr Shorten's office about which rumours in this place abound.
Update:  I see that Tim Blair, who my blog roll is about to move to the "gone completely stupid and offensive" category along with Bolt, seems to think it was a good bit of "calling out" of Labor's "moral grandstanding".   An idiotic take on the matter, given the way Labor was careful to chase Joyce on entitlements only.  (Has Blair noted that even Abbott this afternoon said it was a brain snap that shouldn't have happened?  Has any Coalition member defended it?)

And David Leyonhjelm - retweeting a crap wingnut meme from Prison Planet:

Leyonhjelm apparently doesn't believe in Googling wingnut memes before passing them on - this one  was debunked at Snopes.

Zero pity felt

Have you heard about this?   Poisonous radio conspiracist nutjob Alex Jones (who has long promoted "false flag" and "crisis actor" conspiracies after major shootings) is pleading for student activist David Hogg (whose face, by the way, keeps reminding me of a young Christian Bale) to help him not be banned by Youtube.

The twitter reactions are pretty funny.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

That troublesome Chinese belief

I complained once before that one of the worst things to come out of China (or Asia more generally?) is the belief that certain animal parts carry certain health benefits.   (I keep thinking there must be a single word for that, but what is it?)  Nature reports:
The jaguar was found floating in a drainage canal in Belize City, Belize, on the day after Christmas last year. Its body was mostly intact, but the head was missing its fangs. On 10 January, a second cat — this time, an ocelot that may have been mistaken for a young jaguar — turned up headless in the same channel.

The killings point to a growing illicit trade in jaguars (Panthera onca) that disturbs wildlife experts. The cats’ fangs, skulls and hides have long been trophies for Latin American collectors who flout international prohibitions against trading in jaguar parts. But in recent years, a trafficking route has emerged to China, where the market for jaguars could be increasing because of crackdowns on the smuggling of tiger parts used in Chinese traditional medicine.

Wildlife trafficking often follows Chinese construction projects in other countries, because Chinese workers can send or take objects home, says ecologist Vincent Nijman of Oxford Brookes University in Oxford, UK. “If there’s a demand [in China] for large-cat parts, and that demand can be fulfilled by people living in parts of Africa, other parts of Asia or South America, then someone will step in to fill that demand,” he says. “It’s often Chinese-to-Chinese trade, but it’s turning global.”
Does no one at the top of Chinese government (hello, dictator elect Xi) think that it might be useful to have a government backed campaign to stop the population believing in quasi magical "traditional medicine", at least if it involves animal parts?

Not just piety on their mind

Well, at least it's good to see it's not just Catholics with problems about how the apparently pious carry on sexually:

#MosqueMeToo Gives Muslim Women A Voice About Sexual Misconduct At Mecca
Dressed in a hijab and covered from head to toe, she felt something. Someone — a man — had grabbed onto her butt and would not let go.

The Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, called hajj, was supposed to be the holiest moment of Mona Eltahawy's life. When she was 15, she journeyed there with her family. The magnificence of the Great Mosque had taken her breath away. But that man turned the trip into a nightmare.

Monday, February 26, 2018

If I ruled the world....

....I would  ban the internet advertising companies "Taboola" and "Outbrain" and any other that fills up websites with crappy photo links to fake news and stupid ads.  

I'm thoroughly sick of them.

A bad look

Just what the Church needs right now - monsignors in Rome with child porn and on the prowl in the public squares:
A judge on a top Vatican tribunal was given a 14-month suspended sentence by an Italian court for possessing child pornography and sexual molestation. He then resigned his position on the Roman Rota, the tribunal.

According to the Italian newspaper La Stampa, Mgr Pietro Amenta, a judge on the Rota, a court that deals mainly with marriage cases, accepted the terms of plea bargain on February 14....

Mgr Amenta was detained by police in March 2017 after he was accused of fondling an 18-year-old man in a public square in Rome. The young man followed him and called the police, who subsequently took Mgr Amenta into custody, Italian newspapers reported.

And there's another one under investigation:
The other is presumed to be that of Mgr Carlo Capella, a former Vatican diplomat recalled from service in Washington in 2017 shortly after the Vatican was notified by the U.S. Department of State “of a possible violation of laws relating to child pornography images by a member of the diplomatic corps of the Holy See accredited to Washington.”

An arrest warrant was also issued in Canada for Mgr Capella one month later for accessing, possessing and distributing child pornography.

Modern "conservatism"

I see that Max Boot is divorcing himself from the description "conservative", and with excellent reason:
Principled conservativism continues to exist, primarily at small journals of opinion, but it is increasingly disconnected from the stuff that thrills the masses. I remember as a high school student in the 1980s attending a lecture at UCLA by William F. Buckley Jr. I was dazzled by his erudition, wit and oratorical skill. Today, young conservatives flock to the boorish and racist performance art of Milo Yiannopoulos and Ann Coulter. The Conservative Political Action Conference couldn’t find room for critics of Trump, save for the brave and booed Mona Charen, but it did showcase French fascist scion Marion Maréchal-Le Pen.

The career of Dinesh D’Souza is indicative of the downward trajectory of conservatism. He made his name with a well-regarded 1991 book denouncing political correctness and championing liberal education. Then he wrote a widely panned 1995 book claiming that racism was no more, and it was all downhill from there. In 2014 he pleaded guilty to breaking campaign finance laws. Now, as the Daily Beast notes, he has become a conspiratorial crank who has suggested that the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville was staged by liberals, that Barack Obama is a “gay Muslim” and Michelle Obama is a man and that Adolf Hitler, who sent 50,000 homosexuals to prison, “was NOT anti-gay.” He managed to sink even lower last week by mocking stunned Parkland school-shooting survivors after the Florida legislature defeated a bill to ban assault weapons: “Worst news since their parents told them to get summer jobs.”

It is hard to imagine anything more cruel and heartless, but for a bottom-feeder like D’Souza it’s all in a day’s work. As he wrote in his 2002 book “Letters to a Young Conservative,” “One way to be effective as a conservative is to figure out what annoys and disturbs liberals the most, and then keep doing it.” (Thanks to Windsor Mann for the quote.) That, in a nutshell, is the credo of today’s high-profile conservatives: Say anything to “trigger” the “libtards” and “snowflakes.” The dumber and more offensive, the better. Whatever it takes to get on (and stay on) Fox News and land the next book contract!

Naturally, just as drug addicts need bigger doses over time, these outrage artists must be ever more transgressive to get the attention they crave. Coulter’s book titles have gone from accusing Bill Clinton of “High Crimes and Misdemeanors” to accusing all liberals of “Treason,” of being “Godless” and even “Demonic.” Her latest assault on the public’s intelligence was called “In Trump We Trust: E Pluribus Awesome!”
That's a pretty good explanation of the situation.

Violence re-visited

Trump recently mentioned violent media after the Florida shooting (yes, I know, more as a diversion from taking action on gun control), but the topic did cross my mind again this weekend when I tried watching two things on Netflix. 

First, the (generally) critically well received Mindhunter.   [Spoiler follows].   The first episode starts with a hostage situation, and a very sudden and violent gun suicide.   It is quick, but done in a way you would never have envisaged as acceptable for TV violence, say, 20 years ago.    (Head pretty much blown off like a watermelon.)   The rest of the episode was, I thought, strangely bad in other ways.   The acting and dialogue seemed remarkably stilted and unnatural - no one seemed quite real.   I won't be watching it again.

Then my son was watching The Punisher - first episode perhaps?   I came in late, and was skeptical - I am finding I don't like any Marvel TV or streaming shows that I have sampled.

Well, near the end, the hero goes berserk with a construction hammer, killing or maiming I don't know who (baddies, generically, I assume).   The scene was graphic and unpleasantly violent in a way that, again, I think media representation just would not have contemplated a relatively short time ago.   I see that some people on Reddit and elsewhere have raised questions about the amount of physical violence in the show, so I know I am not alone.   There's something about the idea of a hammer to the head, or watching legs being broken,  that I find particularly grotesque. 

Now, I know - you can carry on about squeamishness about media depiction of violence in many different ways,  pointing to a myriad of psychological studies on its effects and their uncertain results, and get into bigger discussions about how civilised society used to consider actual violence (public executions) as public spectacle.

But I just cannot get over the feeling that certain things make common sense:

a.    if military training had to evolve to overcome the ordinary soldier's reluctance to kill, surely it's not unreasonable to think that modern, graphic first person shooter games are doing the same job on the minds of at least the mentally unstable, aggressive male who has thoughts about shooting up his school or workplace.   (In fact, I would be curious to know whether modern military training finds it's a lot easier to get their new recruits into no guilt shooting these days, given gaming and media depictions of blood and gore.)

b.   psychology has hit a crisis of experimental credibility, yet it would seem that it certainly hasn't spread to skepticism about some of the experiments to do with media violence.    And when you read what some of the studies do (for example, look at whether players of Grand Theft Auto are just as likely to pick up someone's dropped pen), you really do have to wonder about their value.

c.   the relationship between media and gaming violence and real life violence is obviously not simple, otherwise the rate of crime generally would be going up in the US and Australia, rather than downwards as it has been in the last couple of decades.   But does that mean there is no relationship between its increase and potential for negative effects on society or individuals?   No, I don't think.

d.  the depiction of graphic violence is undoubtedly desensitising to the viewing of violence, and how can that be a good thing?    To the contrary, isn't it a positive thing that we now find the idea of watching someone's neck being broken in an hanging as a somewhat grotesque interest in watching death; and if so, why shouldn't I be disturbed that some people have no reservation from watching a realistic depiction of a head being blown off by a shot gun?   Surely the desensitising to the viewing of a violent act make it easier for a person of the "right" mind frame to imagine carrying it out themselves?   The effect may be so marginal as to not reflect in general crime rates, but gee, there are lot of mass shootings happening in the US at the moment.

My negative feelings are intuitive but impossible to shake; and it is so obvious that the graphic depiction of violence is completely unnecessary for a scene to have emotional impact.    And emotional impact is different from desensitising.   Why risk desensitising someone who should not be desensitised to an act they can contemplate doing themselves, be it a shooting, stabbing or hammer blow to the head?    

Why has it become a non issue to Hollywood, gaming and media producers to contemplate the potential effect of their depiction of violence?    It is a strangely non-political issue, too - the Left used to deride movies from (say) the 1980's that seemed to espouse Right wing viewpoints as being too violent;  but then with the likes of Tarantino and the generally liberal bias of 95% of Hollywood and movie reviewers, and  you would have to say that the Left has given up having any moral concerns at all about violence of any kind.  

I think reasonable people should be debating why graphic violence is portrayed so readily and frequently these days, and urging creative types to think seriously about it.

Update:  I think my last lengthy post about movie violence was this one, from 2012, and I stand by what I said then.   I am bothered that the same things now need to be said about Marvel associated Netflix content.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Blame the "therapists"

I've always thought that allowing an "emotional support animal" on a plane is a peculiarly American fad, and one that's so silly that it was going to stop soon of its own accord.  Hence I haven't really paid it much attention.

I didn't realise that it's become a money making internet thing, too:
How is it legal to bring your duck on the plane? Under the federal Air Carrier Access Act, passengers are allowed to bring animals aboard by showing a letter from a mental health clinician or doctor asserting that the pet is part of their therapy. But the law is surprisingly vague about which species can come on board and gives airlines significant discretion. “You are never required to accommodate certain unusual service animals (e.g., snakes, other reptiles, ferrets, rodents, and spiders) as service animals in the cabin,” it reads.

Yet as a quick Google search will show, it’s possible to obtain these letters online for a small fee. Some passengers may very well be exploiting the law to bring pets on planes. And stories about peacocks and ducks in booties on planes are increasingly leading ESAs (and their handlers) to be treated as a punchline. In the New York Times, columnist David Leonhardt called the animals a “scam” and “one of the downsides of a modern culture that too often fetishizes individual preference and expression over communal well-being.”
The rest of the article is an interview with a psychology researcher who says its not even well established that they are good idea.   

Barely beating not a good sign?

Not sure if I had heard of this before.  From a BBC article on body conditions  and how they may relate to personality:
Meanwhile, although a low-resting heartbeat is usually considered a sign of good physical health, when it comes to personality, the implications are darker. Several studies have found that a lower resting heart rate correlates with higher psychopathy scores. People who match this description show superficial charm, fearlessness and impulsivity. This is not too surprising considering studies already link low-resting heart rate with aggressive and criminal behaviour. The two main explanations are that low heart rate is a sign of fearlessness and that it can reflect an unpleasant state of being “under aroused”, prompting some psychopathic people to seek relief through violence and conflict. As ever, more research is needed to test these ideas.
I'm guessing that there might be a difference between those who have a very low heart rate through dedication to an exercise regime, and those who just have a low rate regardless of exercise.

For example, I thought Donald Trump's reported heart rate for his age (and with no exercise to speak of) was pretty low:  68bpm.   But apparently Obama and (especially) George W Bush had much lower heart rates:   56 and 43 respectively.    See this link for the comparisons between them.

Tim Blair, get a life, and grow up

This might seem an odd thing for me to lose my temper over,  but Tim Blair has become a snide gormless twerp whose shtick is now almost entirely restricted to name calling and attempted take downs of anyone to the Left of him, just for being to the Left of him.

Why should he care that there's an art exhibition of paintings by an executed heroin trafficker?   The guy's dead;  he sounded (unlike Blair) to have become morally serious before he died.   As for his mother:
 The mother of executed Bali Nine drug smuggler Myuran Sukumaran wants her son's artwork to travel the world as a powerful anti-death penalty message.

Speaking to 7.30 for the first time since Sukumaran's death in Indonesia in 2015, Raji Sukumaran said her once staunch-faith in God had been shaken by the execution of her son.

She recalled trying to enjoy her time with him as she watched him painting in prison, first in Bali then on the execution island of Nusakambangan.
Seems a bizarrely inappropriate thing for art critic Blair to be paying any heed to.

Or was it just to bring in another (I'm sure he would have referenced this before) snide attack on a Labor politician for being married to a reformed heroin offender?  Well, given its Tanya Plibersek's face plastered on the post, with the "hilarious" (sarc) title "An Injection of Culture", yes, that seems to be what this post is about. 

What it the Tim Blair take on this?   Once a heroin dealer/user, you deserve to either be shot or never employed ever again?   Is that the Right line to take on the matter of redemption, or rehabilitation?  That it's impossible?   And that a woman who marries one, well after his rehabilitation, and goes on to have a family with him, is to be derided for that?    Derided for what, for God's sake?  

I actually see that he's getting some blowback in comments.  And so he should.  He should take the post down, the creep.

Update:   Just how thoroughly the Plibersek story has been told before is well illustrated in this article from 2015, when she made (I had forgotten) a speech in Parliament decrying the execution of Sukumaran.  

That Plibersek, given her life story, should make such a speech is entirely understandable.

That she should still be supporting the cause of the anti-death penalty is entirely understandable.

That Blair should be continuing to deride a drugs rehabilitation success story and his wife is completely absurd, offensive and stupid. 

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Netflix perhaps needs more control?

There's a really savage review at The Guardian about Duncan Jones's latest movie, which is one in a recent string of really poorly reviewed Netflix science fiction/fantasy films (Bright, Cloverfield Paradox, and this one - Mute).    I guess I can't blame Netflix for Cloverfield Paradox, which they picked up from another studio that finally decided they didn't want to risk a cinema release, but this review of Mute indicates that the Netflix system seems to be to give director/writers a cheque and hope that they will produce the goods.

If that's correct, it seems that such a system, while sounding like a way to get more interesting and less "cookie cutter" films made, may instead be showing the advantages of more top down intervention by studios - at least if you have people with the right sensibilities at the top.

The trouble with white rice

How come I had never heard of the story of the Japanese struggling with beriberi, caused by white rice having thiamine removed from it, right through to the 20th century?    Sure, we all know of the British Navy and scurvy, but this story is really much bigger, and one I was unfamiliar with.

Some extracts:
In 1877, Japan’s Meiji Emperor watched his aunt, the princess Kazu, die of a common malady: kakke. If her condition was typical, her legs would have swollen, and her speech slowed. Numbness and paralysis might have come next, along with twitching and vomiting. Death often resulted from heart failure.

The emperor had suffered from this same ailment, on-and-off, his whole life. In response, he poured money into research on the illness. It was a matter of survival: for the emperor, his family, and Japan’s ruling class. While most diseases ravage the poor and vulnerable, kakke afflicted the wealthy and powerful, especially city dwellers. This curious fact gave kakke its other name: Edo wazurai, the affliction of Edo (Edo being the old name for Tokyo). But for centuries, the culprit of kakke went unnoticed: fine, polished, white rice.

Gleaming white rice was a status symbol—it was expensive and laborious to husk, hull, polish, and wash. In Japan, the poor ate brown rice, or other carbohydrates such as sweet potatoes or barley. The rich ate polished white rice, often to the exclusion of other foods.

This was a problem. Removing the outer layers of a grain of rice also removes one vital nutrient: thiamine, or vitamin B-1. Without thiamine, animals and humans develop kakke, now known in English as beriberi. But for too long, the cause of the condition remained unknown....

By 1877, Japan’s beriberi problem was getting really serious. When the princess Kazu died of kakke at 31, it was only a decade after her former husband, Japan’s shogun, had died, almost certainly from the mysterious disease. Machine-milling made polished rice available to the masses, and as the government invested in an army and navy, it fed soldiers with white rice. (White rice, as it happened, was less bulky and lasted longer than brown rice, which could go rancid in warm weather.) Inevitably, soldiers and sailors got beriberi.

No longer was this just a problem for the upper class, or even Japan. In his article British India and the “Beriberi Problem,” 1798–1942, David Arnold writes that by the time the emperor was funding research, beriberi was ravaging South and East Asia, especially “soldiers, sailors, plantation labourers, prisoners, and asylum inmates.”
Go read the whole article, at Atlas Obscura, to read about the experiments that found a solution.

One act wonder

A ridiculous, repetitive, zero gravitas narcissistic clown with authoritarian inclinations:
President Trump took full advantage of a boisterous, supportive crowd during his morning speech at CPAC. He chose to return to his campaign trail rhetoric — including a full reading of his favorite immigration allegory, "The Snake" — and prompted the room to break into familiar chants of "lock her up!" and "build the wall!" He clearly relished the environment, asking the crowd at one point if he could "go off script a bit" because the text in his teleprompter was "boring."

Friday, February 23, 2018

And now, the end is near, and so he'll face, the final tea-towel

That heading will make no sense at all in 20 year's time, unless this link still works.

Anyway, Barnaby is giving a press conference in an hour or so's time, and although everyone expects it's to announce his resignation as deputy PM, it would be hilarious if instead he says he's not going anywhere.   (Prediction - if the latter, another tale of harassment or affair will emerge within a fortnight.)

Just about sums it up...

As seen on twitter:

Update:  it occurs to me, if the example of the miserable teacher Arky, who comments regularly at Catallaxy, is anything to go by, you would have to be careful about the mental well being of the teachers being issued guns.

Meanwhile, unsurprisingly, given the American Right friends that he has, I see that Tim Blair thinks teachers having a 9mm pistol is a good idea.    Which leads me to suspect that he has little or no experience with pistol use and no idea about their accuracy, range and lethality in comparison to a dude with an AR15 blasting away.   (I'm no expert, either, but you only need to try them a couple of times to realise their limitations.)  

While it is not inconceivable that a future shooter might be taken down by a pistol shot (most probably, from behind and at close range) - you would think that mass shooting at  military bases might give a hint to gun lovers that more guns in the general vicinity of a shooter's target is no disincentive to the start of mass shootings.    That "Gun Free Zones" encourage shooters is one of the stupidest arguments that the Right grabs.

The nutter not having a gun in the first place is a much more reliable way to prevent shootings.

Beetroot to the rescue

Beetroot juice supplements may help enhance exercise capacity in patients with heart failure, according to a new proof-of-concept study. Exercise capacity is a key factor linked to these patients' quality of life and even survival.
Here's the link.   I do like juices with a large component of beetroot in them.   I like fresh, roasted beetroot in salad.   I like using the leaves in salad too.   That makes it a very versatile vegetable.   However, my wife is not so keen, although she does like borscht, which I don't find all that interesting.  

However, if the main friction in a family kitchen is over the appropriate use of beetroot, you're not doing too bad.

Who owns guns

Interesting Pew Research Centre report on the demographics of gun ownership in the US.    It's quite the while male thing:
White men are especially likely to be gun owners: About half (48%) say they own a gun, compared with about a quarter of white women and nonwhite men (24% each) and 16% of nonwhite women.
which probably helps explain why so many at Catallaxy blog own guns too:  I don't think it could be any whiter in both posters and commenters.

It would be good to see an Australian demographic breakup of gun ownership.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Sucking lead

E-cigarettes seem pretty popular with the libertarian crowd, so it is with some degree of schadenfreude that I read they may be dumbing themselves down* by using them:
Significant amounts of toxic metals, including lead, leak from some e-cigarette heating coils and are present in the aerosols inhaled by users, according to a study from scientists at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. 

In the study, published online in Environmental Health Perspectives on February 21, the scientists examined e-cigarette devices owned by a sample of 56 users. They found that significant numbers of the devices generated aerosols with potentially unsafe levels of lead, chromium, manganese and/or nickel. Chronic inhalation of these metals has been linked to lung, liver, immune, cardiovascular and brain damage, and even cancers.

The Food and Drug Administration has the authority to regulate e-cigarettes but is still considering how to do so. The finding that e-cigarettes expose users—known as vapers—to what may be harmful levels of could make this issue a focus of future FDA rules.
So,  the people who dislike government regulation may have spent the last couple of years sucking down unsafe levels of lead due to lack of regulation.    Huh.

One effect of lead: Lead displaces calcium in the reactions that transmit electrical impulses in the brain, which is another way of saying it diminishes your ability to think or recall information, or makes you stupid.

The mental universe

A short, interesting take here on the matter of quantum theory interpretations, and whether the "mental" is at the bottom of it all.  The last paragraph:
The hypothesis here, which I have elaborated upon in detail elsewhere, is that thought—whose characteristic ambiguities may in fact be what quantum superposition states ultimately represent—underlies all nature and isn’t restricted to living organisms. The physical world of an observing organism may arise from an interaction—an interference pattern—between the organism’s thoughts and the thoughts underlying the inanimate universe that surrounds it. Although each organism—in accordance with RQM—may indeed inhabit its own private world of perceptions, all organisms may be surrounded by a common environment of thoughts, which avoids solipsism at least in spirit.

A funny Rowe

I thought this David Rowe cartoon today was a particularly funny one:

Yet more Black Panther skepticism

First:   I call on Jason Soon to tell us what you thought of the movie.  [Please].

And then read the skeptical analysis of the race politics of the movie (not so dissimilar from the take on it in Boston Review I posted about before) which has appeared in Esquire.    Some bits:

When it comes to Killmonger, Black Panther’s politics are not especially liberatory, especially since the film’s title (not to mention its Oakland bookends) evoke the revolutionary politics of Angela Davis, Huey Newton, Elaine Brown, and the Black Panther Party. While often hilariously anti-colonial in characters’ laugh lines, Black Panther’s major plot wants the audience to root for T’Challa largely because as the legitimate male son; he has a respectable blood claim to Wakanda’s throne—and what is a more colonialist ideology than upholding the divine right of kings?....

Killmonger wants to use Wakanda’s weapons to stop the suffering of Black people globally, and we, the audience, are manipulated into rooting against this because we live in an ideology in which nonviolence is always expected of Black people no matter what. As James Baldwin wrote, “The real reason that nonviolence is considered to be a virtue in Negroes… is that white men do not want their lives, their self-image, or their property threatened.” I could not bring myself to root against Killmonger’s desire to help the Black diaspora any more than I could begrudge him wanting to take the throne of his child of the man who’d killed his father. 

But most disappointing was how Killmonger was morally positioned in contrast to the white CIA agent, Everett Ross (Martin Freeman). Coogler sets up the audience to dislike Killmonger because he was made to kill many people by the U.S. military; meanwhile, after saving a Wakanda woman’s life, Ross was turned into your friendly neighborhood CIA agent. Every scar on Killmonger's hot, shirtless torso is for someone he’s taken out—including many Black people. It is Ross (while using Shuri’s technology) who actually stops Killmonger’s crew from exporting weapons from Wakanda to help Black people....

While the audience was positioned not to forgive American-bred violence in Killmonger, we were positioned to forgive it in Agent Ross.

 The rehabilitation is also a kind of absolution of American imperialism, granting cover to how the CIA (in our Wakanda-less world) has been arming African countries and playing them against each other for decades. Meanwhile, when Killmonger chooses death over help from T’Challa and talks about the middle passage, he doesn’t speak of becoming enslaved in terms of America—but as something the African nation of Wakanda might do to him. It was painful to see Africa and an African American pitted against each other this way, while a CIA agent was redeemed.

Intriguing black hole research

A paper came out in January talking about that old black hole chestnut - the breakdown of physics inside of them, and the cosmic censorship idea that we'd never know about it anyway.

Here's an explanation of the paper from some physics site I'm unfamiliar with, and I'll extract the first couple of paragraphs:
Is the future predictable? If we know the initial state of a system exactly, then do the laws of physics determine its state arbitrarily far into the future? In Newtonian mechanics, the answer is yes. Similarly in electromagnetism: if one knows the initial state of the electric and magnetic fields exactly, then Maxwell’s equations determine their state at any later time. In quantum mechanics, if the initial wave function is known exactly, then Schrödinger’s equation can be used to predict the wave function at any later time. However, new research by Vitor Cardoso from the University of Lisbon, Portugal, and colleagues [1] suggests that this predictability of the laws of physics can fail in general relativity. The researchers find that it might be possible for a star that undergoes gravitational collapse to form a black hole containing a region in which physics cannot be predicted from the initial state of the star.

General relativity asserts that spacetime is dynamical, with its dynamics dictated by Einstein’s equation. Just as the initial state of a particle is specified by its position and velocity, an initial state for spacetime is specified by the geometry of space at some instant of time, as well as by its rate of change. Given such initial data, a fundamental theorem in general relativity [2] states that there is a so-called maximal Cauchy development. This is the largest spacetime that is uniquely determined by the initial data. But is it all of spacetime? In other words, could the maximal Cauchy development be a subset of a larger spacetime? By definition of the maximal Cauchy development, this larger spacetime could not be predicted from the initial data. This scenario would represent a failure of determinism: one would not be able to use the initial data to predict the state of spacetime arbitrarily far into the future.
 Another article trying to explain it (and I suspect, not as accurately) is here.

One thought that is not mentioned in either paper - could this potentially tie in, in any way, with the idea that our universe is actually inside of a black hole?    If so, could it be a way in which our universe is not deterministic?   Just a thought....

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Olde time surgery

Everyone gets a laugh out of historical tales of ridiculous self surgery, don't they?   From a review of a book that sounds like gory fun:
Arnold van de Laar, the Dutch surgeon, opens this fascinating history of surgery with the tale of a 17th-century blacksmith who had been so sorely disappointed with the botched operations performed by the scalpel-wielders of his day that he took matters into his own hands and cut a 4oz stone from his own bladder while his wife was at the shops.
Today, with decent hygiene, bladder stones are rare, but then they were rife. From a simple urine infection, they would grow like pearls inside oysters, pressing on the sensors that prompt urination while impeding the act. Hippocrates, the father of medicine, would have counselled any doctor against attempting to remove one, as the operation was more likely to kill the patient than the stone itself. But the pain drove sufferers to seek the relief offered by professional "cutters", even though the procedure had a 40pc mortality rate.

It was only after two cutters had failed to remove 30-year-old Jan de Doot's stone that he decided to do it himself. He made a surgical knife in his own forge, then instructed his apprentice to hold his scrotum out of the way as he made three, deep horizontal slits in his own perineum, and extracted a stone larger than a chicken's egg. De Doot succeeded where the experts had failed, and became famous for his extreme DIY.
Um, I assume there was a mirror involved too?  Might have to buy the book to find out...

Update:   Oh - Wikipedia has an entry on the self-surgeon, who is obviously better know than I kenw.   The story first appeared in a book in 1672!    I still don't understand how this surgery was done, though.  And the assistant scrotum holder in the original is apparently his brother, although it might be that his brother was also an apprentice, I suppose...

Oh, please

I also can't stop reading breathless, ecstatic commentary on how Black Panther is going to change everything.  Latest example, in Slate:  What Black Panther could mean for the Afrofuturism Movement. 

Apparently, watching fantasy physics about fantasy materials is going to encourage black kids to get into STEM.    OK, I might have to concede Star Trek might have had an influence on making science education cool, but Marvel level fantasy physics having the same effect?    Can't see it.

And most of the article just reads like fantasy to me.

Hard to avoid watching the car wreck

That's how I feel about reading about the Right wing reaction to the latest mass shooting in America - it pretty much nauseates me as offensive both to reason and emotion, but can't stop looking.   

The latest:   as Jason Wilson writes in the Guardian, they're attacking the very idea that teenagers who survive a school shooting should be paid any attention.   Because, you know, teenagers.   Even Ben Shapiro, barely out of braces himself, is taking that approach.  

The line between emotional and rational decision making is, as it happens, in the matter of gun control, one where the emotional does deserve extra weight.   Because you can rationalise away legislative responses to almost any tragedy if you want to, and gun rights nutters are highly motivated to do so.  The easiest way - routinely deployed - make the perfect  the enemy of the good.    It's a rational argument in its own way - you need emotional clout to say "stop deploying what you think is a 'rational' response to repeated death and mayhem, when there are sensible things that could be done."  

Second point:  Trump's response is only to call again for banning bumpstocks - not even implicated in the latest killing.    At this rate, he'll contemplate increasing the age for buying AR-15s after another 6 mass shootings by teenagers.

Third point:  a lot of discussion happening about how the attitudes of under 35's towards gun control is not as "liberal" as you would expect.    Vox has a good article about it, but one thing I reckon would be important about this - the way polling is conducted on this issue is, I suspect, particularly open to uncertainty, given the speed with which recent shootings drop out of the public mind, and the very vagueness with some of the terminology such as "gun control".    Hence it is an issue where politicians are entitled to take a lead and not just try to work out a response based on imprecise readings of what steps a majority would approve.   But of course, politicians on the Right are the least likely to want to make any effort at all.  

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

American gun paranoia at work

I had heard of this before - the guns rights organisations in the US are paranoid about the idea of the government having an easy to search, computer based system for tracing ownership of guns used in crimes.  The result - a mountain of paper and microfiche records that are searched through (surprisingly, sometimes still successfully.)

This great national embarrassment - borne of simple paranoia that if the government knows who has a gun, they'll come and take it off you - is explained in detail, with photos, here at GQ (of all magazines.)  

Call for assistance

Can someone with time and better photo editing skills than me please convert this using Barnaby Joyce and Malcolm Turnbull's faces?:

I guess it has to be Barnaby on the left.   Julie Bishop is in the background...

OK, well my pathetic, hurried abilities have to go on display again:

King t'Urnbull confronts Killmarriager


Just not getting this...

I don't want to go on too much about the chronic over-rating of Black Panther, but I did forget to mention in my review that I didn't even find it visually very interesting.  Hence comments like this one, to be found on Wired, leave me gobsmacked:
Visually, no other Marvel movie has ever come close to Black Panther—the lush Wakandan landscapes, the vibrantly colored costumes, even the wearable tech was beautiful. And that moment where the Royal Talon Fighter dips below the veil and we get an aerial look over the Golden City? Jawdropping.
Um, convincing looking fantasy cities, either functioning or dystopian, are a dime a dozen in movies these days, Marvel made or not.   In fact, I was distinctly underwhelmed by the first appearance of the Wakanda city - it had African touches, but seriously, it was nothing groundbreakingly impressive, which the lead character had led us to expect.  

And as for the interior of the vibranium mine where the (underwhelming) climatic fight between the two main characters took place - it was one of those examples of complete CGI background gone too far, and looking unconvincing for it.    A bit like the climatic setting of the last Guardians of the Galaxy movie, now that I think of it.  Completely fake backgrounds have a way of making me too aware that the fighting is happening in front of green screen, and as such, there is no tension that they might fall off that (obviously unreal) high platform, for example.  

Angry woman

I don't usually bother watching QandA on ABC anymore, but it happened to be on in the background last night, and I noticed when an angry aboriginal woman started going on in a shouty way about sovereignty not being conceded, the government should shut up and list to aboriginal voices, stop failing them dismally, and spend more money on them, etc.

It seems to me, following the Australia Day marches, that there is something of a revival of aboriginal "sovereignty talk" amongst aboriginal activists.   Has this come via some influential adviser, or something?    Because, after Mabo, I thought all mainstream activists had given up on this type of talk.   But it seems to be back with a vengeance.

And I can't see how it is going to help.

Last night's activist, Shareena Clanton, an actor who I have not heard of before, at one point made the point that it was aborigines themselves who were making the change to improve themselves, and then listed a bunch of relatives who were educating themselves and getting good jobs.   

Well, good.   But sort of undercuts the "it's outrageous that you're not spending enough money on my people" line a bit, doesn't it?

Aboriginal advocacy is becoming more strident, but I suspect it could do with a bit more plain speaking about the practical difficulties of dealing effectively with (in particular) disadvantage for remote communities with little economic tie to society....

Don't mention the war - still

Victor Venema, a Dutch climate scientist with a blog who works in Germany, has a short post up noting that Germans are treated by other nationalities as if they personally started World War 2.  And many Germans feel guilt about it, no matter how many decades after the war they were born.

I didn't really appreciate that this was still such an issue, but apparently it is...

Dark side hidden

Interesting story at Hot Air, about the couple who Florida shooter Nikolas Cruz was living with after his adoptive mother died.

Sounds like they were good to him and tried to be very responsible about his guns.

A few lessons from this can perhaps be drawn:

*  Better background checks may have had no effect
*  An FBI field officer may well have been satisfied that he wasn't a real threat despite saying stupid things on social media.
*  What may have had an effect - his not being able to own assault rifles at all, especially at his age and given his mental issues which people close to him did not realise were so deep.

Trendy drug taking

So, someone at Vox writes about his ayahuasca taking retreat at Costa Rica.

It sounds like a rather expensive, New Age-y sort of place, with 4 nights of drug taking, with lots of crying (and puking) and apparent insight which nonetheless seems to have worn off after a few weeks back in normal land.

I remain unconvinced that the benefits some people feel from the experience are worth it.   While open to the idea that people with certain specific psychological issues might benefit from controlled usage of certain psychedelics, my overall impression is the experiences usually give an emotional insight that is later seen as a false dawn.   

Monday, February 19, 2018

The Right Wing hand wave machine

Wow.  PJ Media has an article "When Will We Have the Guts to Link to Link Fatherlessness to School Shootings?" 

Geez, Cruz's adoptive father died of a heart attack a few years ago.   His adoptive mother died in November.    The evidence is she tried to get police to help control her son - if so, she was presumably well intentioned.   (I have seen some idiot on twitter say that it always comes down to bad parenting.)

So seems a tad pointless to be raising that as an issue now, unless the proposal is that loners with no father in the house can't have guns.  Yeah, sure, how likely is that the real intention of the article?    And anyway, what about the mother who has guns in the house - which shooting was it where the guy used his Mom's (legal) guns?  There are so many it's hard to keep count.

This and that

*   Given certain articles appearing in the Right wing media, it would appear a vague hope that the Florida shootings may actually result in some legislative changes for gun control.   I bet it will not extend to banning the sale of military looking semi-automatics, though.   The fantasy that the gun nuts of American need to be ready to save the country from invasion, or the next Democrat President, is too strong.

*  Yes, the Left wing does take too much time taking offence, and this article at The Atlantic gives a good example.  So does Mary Beard, who is a perpetual target of alt.righters, but also found herself on the receiving end of some Lefty attack.   She can't win.    Social media, especially Twitter, with its required compression of thoughts leaving little room for nuance, is so often to blame.   The Professor should probably stay off it.

*  In one of the very, very few critical readings of the politics of Black Panther, someone writing in the Boston Review has a problem with how the conflict in the movie is resolved:  BIG SPOILER BELOW, if you intend seeing it:
By now viewers have two radical imaginings in front of them: an immensely rich and flourishing advanced African nation that is sealed off from white colonialism and supremacy; and a few black Wakandans with a vision of global black solidarity who are determined to use Wakanda’s privilege to emancipate all black people.

These imaginings could be made to reconcile, but the movie’s director and writer (with Joe Cole), Ryan Coogler, makes viewers choose. Killmonger makes his way to Wakanda and challenges T’Challa’s claim to the throne through traditional rites of combat. Killmonger decisively defeats T’Challa and moves to ship weapons globally to start the revolution. In the course of Killmonger’s swift rise to power, however, Coogler muddies his motivation. Killmonger is the revolutionary willing to take what he wants by any means necessary, but he lacks any coherent political philosophy. Rather than the enlightened radical, he comes across as the black thug from Oakland hell bent on killing for killing’s sake—indeed, his body is marked with a scar for every kill he has made. The abundant evidence of his efficacy does not establish Killmonger as a hero or villain so much as a receptacle for tropes of inner-city gangsterism.

In the end, all comes down to a contest between T’Challa and Killmonger that can only be read one way: in a world marked by racism, a man of African nobility must fight his own blood relative whose goal is the global liberation of blacks. In a fight that takes a shocking turn, T’Challa lands a fatal blow to Killmonger, lodging a spear in his chest. As the movie uplifts the African noble at the expense of the black American man, every crass principle of modern black respectability politics is upheld.

In 2018, a world home to both the Movement for Black Lives and a president who identifies white supremacists as fine people, we are given a movie about black empowerment where the only redeemed blacks are African nobles. They safeguard virtue and goodness against the threat not of white Americans or Europeans, but a black American man, the most dangerous person in the world.
Actually, I think he has a point.   Surely the better way to resolve this would be to have Killmonger either repent, or kill himself either deliberately or accidentally  (as an example of radical violence, no matter how well intentioned, consuming itself.)  

Maybe when all the hype has died down, this type of re-assessment of the dubious lessons of the film will become more widely accepted.  At the moment, it is all swept away by some strange, very peculiarly American, I reckon, excitement about an all black movie.

*  The Catholic Church's slow moving crisis of revised understanding of its authority and conscience (its been going on since the 1960's) is getting very close to the top when an American Cardinal is making statements as reported here.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

A couple of questions about the FBI (and the appalling Republicans)

With the news this morning that the FBI got a very specific tip off about concern over the guy who went and shot up the Florida school (and the information did not get passed down to their Florida office), I am curious about two things:

*  Just how many tip offs are received each year in a nation so brimming with private fire arms? 

*  What can the FBI do anyway, unless the guy under scrutiny turns out to have an illegal fire arm or to be so nutty he can be forced into immediate psychiatric treatment?

I see that at least partial answers are at this article at PBS:
FBI assessments are routinely opened after agents receive a tip, which could be sparked by something as simple as noticing odd activity in a neighbor’s garage or a classmate’s comments. Agents routinely face a challenge of sifting through which of the tens of thousands of tips received every year — and more than 10,000 assessments that are opened — could yield a viable threat.
And as to what they can do - as I expected, often it will turn out to be "nothing":
FBI guidelines meant to balance national security with civil liberties protections impose restrictions on the steps agents may take during the assessment phase.

Agents, for instance, may analyze information from government databases and open-source internet searches, and can conduct interviews during an assessment. But they cannot turn to more intrusive techniques, such as requesting a wiretap or internet communications, without higher levels of approval and a more solid basis to suspect a crime.

“It’s a tricky situation because sometimes you get information regarding individuals and they may be just showing off, blustering,” said Herbert Cousins Jr., a retired FBI special agent in charge.

A vague, uncorroborated threat alone may not be enough to proceed to the next level of investigation, according to Jeffrey Ringel, a former FBI agent and Joint Terrorism Task force supervisor who now works for the Soufan Group, a private security firm.

Many assessments are closed within days or weeks when the FBI concludes there’s no criminal or national security threat, or basis for continued scrutiny. The system is meant to ensure that a person who has not broken the law does not remain under perpetual scrutiny on a mere hunch —- and that the FBI can reserve its scarce resources for true threats.

Had he had pledged his allegiance to the Islamic state, for example, investigators might have had enough evidence to proceed with a more intrusive probe.

Tips like the one that came in about the Florida gunman are among countless complaints that come into the FBI daily with varying degrees of specificity.

“How many of these do you expect the FBI to handle before it becomes the Federal Bureau of Complaints,” said Hosko. “They could spend their entire workforce tracking down internet exchanges that never going to go anywhere.”
And, as the article earlier says, some recent high profile killers were looked at by the FBI, who decided nothing could be done:
In the last two years, a man who massacred 49 people at an Orlando nightclub, another who set off bombs in the streets of New York City and a third who gunned down travelers at a Florida airport, had each been looked at by federal agents but later determined not to warrant continued law enforcement scrutiny.
Of course, we all know that Trump and Republicans will make big claims about how this Florida killing was the FBI's fault, because it helps in their self serving PR war with the bureau,  and because it provides yet another way to claim mass shootings are about poor enforcement of current laws, despite the fact that so many of them are done with legally purchases assault weapons, or mental health, even going back to decrying liberals for 'de-institutionalisation', as if it would be easy to lock away every loser with a gun collection on mental health grounds.

Amongst other stuff I thought worth reading after the Florida shootings, I liked this piece by James Fallows pointing the finger at the very specific role of Mitch McConnell, old turtle head, on preventing a reasonable set of gun law reforms proposed by Obama after Sandy Hook.

And speaking of Obama, just have a read of this Fact Check piece on the claim that Obama "flip flopped" on gun control.  The short answer is that he didn't, and when you read the quotes from Obama, it's hard not to impressed that he was so consistent and reasonable on the whole issue.   There used to be a moral adult in the office.

And another responsibility avoiding line the Right is now taking - saying that Democrats used to control congress and why didn't they pass control then?   Two points I thought are pertinent:

*   just how much of a good argument is it to say "the other side were too cowardly to risk votes to bring in gun control."   It's pretty much arguing "if they were cowards, we can be cowards too."

*  there have more and more school shootings since then anyway.    The reason for action becomes more apparent, and it's a cop out handwave to say "well they didn't do anything so we won't either."

Update:  look at the information in this tweet going around:

Friday, February 16, 2018

Save me, hat..

So, Barnaby's just given a "get stuffed, Malcolm, I'm not going" press conference, wearing his biggest, cleanest hat by the looks!   Does he think the hat will save him in the bush?

Looking at twitter, his support numbers, already low, are just plummeting downwards....

Update:  someone else thought the big hat deserved ridicule, and created this very quickly

About that Black Cat movie..

Just in case people think I've become something of a Marvel fanboy because I saw Black Panther so soon on its release - my son had a free ticket he had to use by yesterday, OK?

And as for the movie - it's one of those cases where the critical reception is more interesting (for how wildly it varies from my perception) than the movie itself.

Look, it's not offensively terrible (no Marvel movie is):  it's just pretty bad.

Even my 17 year son immediately rated it as clichéd;  I don't think he disagreed when I pointed out it was like The Lion King as done by Marvel but without the charm or emotion.

None of the acting is bad, but nor is it worthy of some of the ridiculous over-praise it is receiving, particularly in American reviews.   It has some humour, but not much;  it is too long,  fairly dull in large part, and I even started feeling the head piece of the costume is a bit silly.

But my main criticism - I think the action scenes, particularly at the climax of the film, are terribly directed and over-edited.   They were to me completely unengaging and tensionless, and I would never trust any critic who calls the climax of the movie "thrilling".   (The only other major large scale action set piece - and there are only two in the entire movie - in Busan, Korea, was a little better, but even then the editing gave no sense of continuity in the car chase, and the whole sequence came across as a James Bond piece poorly done by Marvel.)

So, as to the reasons it is getting many rave reviews:   honestly, it's hard to see how it isn't being reviewed under undue influence of its alleged black empowerment (even, black Africa as saviour of the world) theme.   Not that there's anything wrong with black empowerment - God knows I have sympathy for how the community is faring under Trump - but really,  it seemed dubious to me that there should be black pride taken in imagining a modern African technological fantasy land where leadership is still decided by the equivalent of duelling to the death.

I suspect you have to live in America (and be of liberal persuasion, as most reviewers obviously are)  to share in great enthusiasm for the film.   Again, NTTAW with being a liberal reviewer:  readers would know I generally dislike those directors highly praised by Right wing websites.    But here critical judgement has been led astray, I think.   Interestingly, when I check the long list of reviews on Rottentomatoes, two of the mere handful of negative reviews are Australian.    There should be more of that....

Update:  I see the movie is getting some pushback in user reviews at IMDB - but how many of those are genuine and not part of a stupid alt.right organised push, I don't know.  

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Take a hint

Turnbull's press conference sounded like an enormous hint to Barnaby to resign.

How humiliating for all concerned that Barnaby is trying to ride it out.

Will he take the hint, or do we have to wait for another story of his private behaviour to come out as confirmed? 

Stupid comments on shootings

Just to get his off my chest:

One of the stupidest things some people say after American school shootings is that the problem is no armed guards/metal detectors at the school.   Um, at the risk of stating the obvious:  schools have long boundaries and (usually) several entrances:  while you can insist that all students funnel into the school at one entry point, just how much money would it cost to turn every single American school into a hard to penetrate high security compound?   Get real:  schools and educational places are always going to be easy places for armed killers to gain access to.   They are also big - just how many armed guards do these people think it would take to stop a dozen dead in one room in a hail of bullets?

And don't get me started on teachers should all be armed too...yes, poor old Mrs Smith who was about to retire should have realised when she became an elementary teacher that by 2018 it would become a job in which paramilitary training was essential.

Oh - and what a disgusting idiot is Jim Hoft (Gateway Pundit), with his immediate rush after every mass shooting to try to pin the killer as an Islamist/Democrat/Left winger, usually relying on material that quickly turns out to be deliberate misinformation or mistaken identity.  He makes me sick. 

Update:  during lunch, I saw some guy on PBS from the local area talking about the plans the school had made to be prepared for such an event.   He said it was very detailed and as well prepared as a school could be.

Also, it may well be that Jim Hoft has his stupid "we must know who this guy would support politically" post 100% wrong in this case.  He's an utter creep.

Rabbit history (and a bit about rats, too)

Ed Yong writes about the great confusion over how rabbits became domesticated.   Apparently, there have been a few science-y urban myths floating around about this for some time (not that I had heard of them before.)  But I also learnt some things about how rabbits have been used:

Archaeological evidence tells us that people in Spain and France were eating rabbits as early as the Epipaleolithic period, between 20,000 and 10,500 years ago. During the Middle Ages, they became a high-status food and people started carrying them across Europe. But it’s hard to pinpoint exactly when this happened because of, as Irving-Pease and Larson note, “the intrusion of rabbits into archaeological stratigraphies.” Translation: It’s hard to know if a rabbit bone came from an ancient rabbit, or a recent one that went digging...

....Rabbits are among the most recently tamed animals, and yet neither history nor archaeology nor genetics can accurately pinpoint when they were domesticated. “There is solid genetic evidence that domestic rabbits are closely related to wild rabbits from France, from which they were mostly derived,” says Miguel Carneiro from CIBIO, who recently did his own genetic study of rabbits. “But the timing, initial motivation, and the underlying process remain poorly understood.”

Larson thinks that’s because people tend to wrongly picture domestication as a singular event. “Everything’s the same, and everything’s the same, and something changes like a bolt from the blue, and now everything’s different,” says Larson. “A lot of our narrative structures hinge on that. But if you’re looking for a moment of domestication, you’ll never find it. It’ll recede from your fingertips.”

Domestication is a continuum, not a moment. Humans hunted rabbits, tens of thousands of years ago. They transported the wild animals around the Mediterranean. The Romans kept them as livestock in structures called leporaria. Medieval Britons kept them in “pillow mounds”—raised lumps of soil that acted as earthen hutches. Later, they used actual hutches. Eventually, we bred them as pets. None of these activities represents the moment when rabbits hopped over the domestication threshold. But collectively, they show how wild bunnies turned into tame ones.
Yong says domestication of animals is hardly ever deliberate, anyway:
The problem is that there’s no solid evidence that humans domesticated anything deliberately (with the possible exception of tame foxes that were bred for scientific purposes). There’s no unequivocal case where humans grabbed a wild animal with the express intent of domesticating it. Instead, for example, it’s likely that scavenging wolves were attracted to human hunts or refuse piles, eventually developing a more tolerant attitude that led to their transformation into dogs. Similarly, mice were attracted to our grain stores, and cats were attracted to the mice. “There is no why to domestication,” says Larson. “That implies a directedness that appears not to exist.”
 I wonder, however, if Yong is overlooking the matter of Jack Black, rat catcher to the Queen, who is credited with taming wild rats into pet fancy rats.   Maybe Yong doesn't consider that pet rats are truly domesticated, but there is perhaps a debate to be had about that.  From a book "Domesticated:  Evolution in a Man-Made World":

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Depressing American story of the day

The New York Times depresses us all by explaining that meth is making a big comeback in many parts of the US, after dropping out of the limelight for a few years due to the deaths caused by opioids.   On the upside, there are fewer meth labs;  on the big downside, there's heaps more meth around:
The scourge of crystal meth, with its exploding labs and ruinous effect on teeth and skin, has been all but forgotten amid national concern over the opioid crisis. But 12 years after Congress took aggressive action to curtail it, meth has returned with a vengeance. Here in Oregon, meth-related deaths vastly outnumber those from heroin. At the United States border, agents are seizing 10 to 20 times the amounts they did a decade ago. Methamphetamine, experts say, has never been purer, cheaper or more lethal.

Oregon took a hard line against meth in 2006, when it began requiring a doctor’s prescription to buy the nasal decongestant used to make it. “It was like someone turned off a switch,” said J.R. Ujifusa, a senior prosecutor in Multnomah County, which includes Portland.

“But where there is a void,” he added, “someone fills it.”

The decades-long effort to fight methamphetamine is a tale with two takeaways. One: The number of domestic meth labs has declined precipitously, and along with it the number of children harmed and police officers sickened by exposure to dangerous chemicals. But also, two: There is more meth on the streets today, more people are using it, and more of them are dying.

As for the libertarian "all illicit drugs should be legalised" line, it's hard to see what difference that would make when the drug is dirt cheap:
When the ingredients became difficult to come by in the United States, Mexican drug cartels stepped in. Now fighting meth often means seizing large quantities of ready-made product in highway stops.The cartels have inundated the market with so much pure, low-cost meth that dealers have more of it than they know what to do with. Under pressure from traffickers to unload large quantities, law enforcement officials say, dealers are even offering meth to customers on credit.

Nearly 100 percent pure and about $5 a hit, the new meth is all the more difficult for users to resist. “We’re seeing a lot of longtime addicts who used crack cocaine switch to meth,” said Branden Combs, a Portland officer assigned to the street crimes unit. “You ask them about it, and they’ll say: ‘Hey, it’s half the price, and it’s good quality.’”

Nationally, nearly 6,000 people died from stimulant use — mostly meth — in 2015, a 255 percent increase from 2005, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Viewing intention

I've changed my mind - Black Panther has received such good reviews, with many noting that its funny in parts, that I've decided to see it.   Probably tomorrow night.

In other personal media consumption news:  am making my way through the second season of The Good Place, and am knocked over by how great and clever this reboot of season one continues to be.   One observation - the transformation of Jason (from silent, serious monk to dumbest doofus on TV) has given me some of the biggest laughs and perhaps deserves some sort of acting award.  (Some guy writes at length here as to why he also finds the character his favourite in the show.)    And here's the actor talking about the role - amusingly, he sees it as almost a breakthrough because it's the opposite of most Asian characters on TV and movies now:
Do you think Jason subverts stereotypes?
Definitely. I think when they were coming up with Jason/Jianyu, they were trying to figure out something different and one of the things that popped up was that you don’t really see a lot of dumb Asian guys on mainstream television. He’s usually intelligent or the model minority. I’m not saying playing Jason is pioneering, but it’s so great for me to do because it’s not a stereotype. Getting to put a bit of a twist on that and showing a different dynamic towards an Asian character is really cool. And I feel that the fans like the fact that I’m not some super-smart student.
You’re not the IT guy.
Exactly. And I’ve had my fair share of those, so I guess you just have to go through the ranks before you get to be Jason Mendoza.

Science -V- (Real) Fake News

Scientific American talks about some psychological studies relating to misinformation in the news:
Fake news can distort people’s beliefs even after being debunked. For example, repeated over and over, a story such as the one about the Pope endorsing Trump can create a glow around a political candidate that persists long after the story is exposed as fake. A study recently published in the journal Intelligence suggests that some people may have an especially difficult time rejecting misinformation. Asked to rate a fictitious person on a range of character traits, people who scored low on a test of cognitive ability continued to be influenced by damaging information about the person even after they were explicitly told the information was false. The study is significant because it identifies what may be a major risk factor for vulnerability to fake news.
I guess that conclusion is not that surprising, but I hope it's not one of those psychological studies that later is discredited.  

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Another Barnaby observation

Is he still Deputy Leader?   What a glutton for punishment.

I would guess that tweets about him are running at  98% calling for resignation, immediately.  A good media adviser would be pointing this out to him.   Andrew Bolt has called for him to go.   You have to go to ratbag central (Catallaxy) to find any support at all, and even then it's more culture war games than actual support.   Why prolong the agony?   Everyone suspects he'll have a job on Gina's payroll if he wants it.

Speaking of Gina, now when I see this photo ...

...I'm getting the sleazy sax opening to "You Can Leave Your Hat On" starting up in my brain and I can't stop it.   Very distressing, and surely a completely unwarranted thought - especially if any lawyer on her payroll is reading.