Saturday, March 31, 2018

Trumpian politics

Vox's Matthew Yglesias went away for a week:
I spent last week in Madison as “writer-in-residence” at the University of Wisconsin. While it was hardly an off-the-grid experience, it did take me out of the daily news cycle for the first time in a while. Diving back in kind of reminds me of Charlton Heston waking from his space travel to discover that he’s on a planet run by orangutans. Except instead of orangutans*, we have the Republican Party.
And he then catches up on last week's controversies in the article entitled "Trump-era politics is a surreal nightmare and we can't wake up".   Sounds accurate.

I liked these paragraphs in particular:
To be fair to Trump and to the surreal nightmare he’s made American politics, the other thing that happens if you step away from the news cycle is you see that things are basically fine. During the election, I saw two possible scenarios for a Trump administration. Down one road lay cataclysm, whereas down another road Trump would pleasantly surprise us with his job performance. 

Reality has confounded both expectations, with Trump displaying no hidden depths whatsoever, even as life continues to be basically fine for most people. America has its share of problems to be sure: sky-high child poverty rate, unsustainable greenhouse gas emissions, infrastructure woes, childcare woes, prescription drug affordability woes, you name it. 

But these are basically longstanding issues that our political system writ large has failed to address. They don’t hold a particularly close relationship to the fact that the president is a racist buffoon who is possibly being blackmailed by the FSB over some sex tapes.
The article also contains one of the more amusing corrections I have ever read:
Correction: An earlier version of this article implied that chimpanzees ran the government depicted in 1968’s Planet of the Apes and its sequels when in fact political authority was vested in orangutans and chimpanzees served as a kind of scientist and intellectual caste.

Trump fan confirms she's still as mad as a cut snake

So, this is the quality of the Hollywood star that Trump has chosen to congratulate because she supports him:
On Friday night, Roseanne Barr tweeted a bizarre message that no one seemed to understand.

“President Trump has freed so many children held in bondage to pimps all over this world. Hundreds each month. He has broken up trafficking rings in high places everywhere,” she wrote, adding he gets the benefit of the doubt from her.
As the article goes on to explain, it's all part of the utterly ridiculous Q conspiracy arising from that obvious source of high quality intel - 4chan.  

A detailed explanation of the history of the absurd conspiracy theory appears in New York Magazine.  It contains this amusing line about 4chan:
As most terrible things do, this story begins with a post on /pol/, a sub-board of the more-or-less-anonymous, anything-goes website 4chan. Over the last few years, /pol/ — which technically stands for “politically incorrect” — has slowly but surely become a top contender for the ever-coveted title of the most upsetting community online. It’s the sort of place where neo-Nazis and people who believe women shouldn’t have basic human rights used to meet before we started verifying them on Twitter and electing them to public office.
I remain puzzled as to why America decided to give this nutty woman her show again.   Don't get me wrong - I used to like it a lot in its first few seasons, but I thought it was pretty well known that her head got too big for her writers, and the show went down storyline paths that made it unwatchable.   Surely there is every chance that it will happen again.   

Hell on Saturday

Seeing it's Easter Saturday, it's a good time to talk about Hell.

The Catholic Herald reports that there was yet another kerfuffle in Rome this week when an old atheist wrote that in a recent "one on one" with Pope Francis, he (the Pope) expressed a view not compatible with Church teaching:
Eugenio Scalfari, co-founder and first editor of Repubblica, published his latest conversation with Pope Francis in the paper today. After an introduction in which he says “I have the privilege of being his friend”, he relates their conversation on Tuesday at the Santa Marta Palace in the Vatican where Francis has lived since his election.

They begin talking about the Passion and Creation, then Scalfari, well-known as an atheist, reminds the Pope about saying that good souls are admitted to the contemplation of God.

“But the bad souls?” he asks. “Where are they punished?”

“They are not punished, those who repent get God’s forgiveness and go among the ranks of the souls who contemplate him, but those who do not repent and can not therefore be forgiven disappear. There is no hell, there is the disappearance of sinful souls,” Scalfari quotes Pope Francis as saying.

However, Scalfari fails to follow up this statement, moving immediately on to a question about politics.
The Vatican has distanced itself from the report, and this Scalfari does not take care to record words precisely (or at all) during his meetings:
Eugenio Scalfari, 93, has caused controversy before when reporting on his conversations with Pope Francis. In 2014 he said that Francis had claimed that two per cent of all Catholic priests, including bishops and cardinals, were paedophiles. He has admitted after previous conversations with the Pope in 2013 and 2016 that his supposed interviews are entirely based on his memory of the conversations; he doesn’t record them or take notes.
 The article notes this about the annihilationist view:
The theological position that Scalfari ascribes to Francis, the annihilation of the unsaved, became popular in the 19th century with the birth of Christian sects such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh-day Adventists and Christadelphians. Some 20th-century Anglican clerics who have considered the possibility of annihilation include Archbishop of Canterbury William Temple and Evangelical theologian John Stott.
 Don't think I knew before that the JWs and Seventh Day-ers both held that view.  As to what Christadelphians believe - I've never looked into that obscure denomination at all.

Anyway, it's an idea that has considerable appeal for those who think eternal physical punishment is a bit much, especially when it comes to mortal sins of the "not respecting God enough" line.  Sure, no one's going to sweat too much about your average homicidal dictator spending forever in hell, but for not attending Mass?

There are other ways to lessen the modern "that's a bit much" reaction to permanent Hell:  most notably, the CS Lewis promoted line that Hell and Purgatory are one and the same, hence Hell is not permanent for anyone unless they so choose.  (Although even then, he argued that the escape route closed forever once Christ returned and the world - universe, I always presumed - ended.)

I think CS Lewis's view is pretty close to that taken by Dante - certainly, this article on Dante and Purgatory suggests  that he invented the idea that Purgatory was not just a place of purifying punishment, but one in which the participants themselves worked towards moral improvement:

But perhaps the most original aspect of Dante’s version of Purgatory is that the souls in Purgatory are in the process of moral change. They suffer, but not simply in order to repay a debt: they are suffering in order to become good. The consequence of this is that they willingly undergo the suffering, they understand the reasons for it, and they are acquiring the new habits of thought which will enable them to go to Heaven. For Dante, Purgatory is not only a place where you pay the debts you incurred when you sinned: it is in fact the place where you reflect on those sins, and where you change the psychological tendencies which led you to sin. This leads to extraordinary richness in the depiction of character. Whereas, in the Inferno, the sinners met by Dante tended to be fixed in the habits of thought which led them to sin, in the Purgatorio Dante faces the challenge of depicting souls who are in a process of change. 
It is also a place of prayer. Throughout Purgatory, hymns and psalms are sung, and prayers are said. This element in Dante’s Purgatory -- radically new in depictions of Purgatory -- is in keeping with his imagining the general tendency of the souls of Purgatory to reflect on their failings.  
Which all puts me in mind of the extremely pleasing The Good Place.  Although the four souls the subject of that show don't sing hymns and psalms, they are all obviously working (under the guidance of Chidi) on moral self improvement, while coping with (admittedly much milder than Dante's!) forms of punishment.  So, yeah, the show is completely consistent with Dante's take on things.

But even if you don't want to play around with various guesses of how Hell and Purgatory operate, you can try and double guess just how many Catholics are destined to Hell despite their clear (and rather open) sinning against the teachings of the Church.   See this article:  Are most Catholics in America going to Hell?

It demonstrates the ways in which modern thinking about what it means to do something with "full knowledge and deliberate consent" allows for some rubbery interpretations.   This is pretty much exactly how the Church has dealt with annulments of marriage, and I think most middle of the road Catholics see that process as a pretty disingenuous way of allowing divorce and remarriage in circumstances where in centuries past, the Church would have had nothing to do with it.   The problem the Church has made for itself is that it makes some liberalising concessions, but then pretends it's always been entirely consistent.  (Same thing when it comes to allowing the rhythm method for contraception, but put a condom on as an extra precaution and it all becomes sinful.  Yeah, sure, and presumably some are destined for Hell for that deliberate act even with their wife.)    

Mind you, the matter of line drawing in morality is a tricky thing.   If I criticise the Church for the way it sometimes handles it, I should criticise the secular for some of things they manage to talk themselves into as well, such as excuse making for infanticide that Peter Singer used to engage in.

Anyway, I've strayed a bit from the original topic.   The Catholic Herald has a separate article up pointing out that Pope Francis has made plenty of statements - including recent ones - confirming his belief in Hell.   And, rather oddly, there have also been reports over the last couple of years that demand for exorcists has risen a lot (at least in Italy) lately, and the Vatican has been happy enough for more to be trained.

So, Hell is still around, but still subject to great uncertainty.  An allowance by the Church that the exact mechanism of how the afterlife works is shrouded in mystery and incapable of definitive teaching (at least beyond the basic matter that some form of Heaven and Hell exists) would be a good concession to realism, but I'm not holding my breath...

Thursday, March 29, 2018

This is what desperation for endorsement leads to

It's been pretty funny watching wingnut Trumpkins getting a thrill over Roseanne Barr and her sitcom character being a Trump supporter. And making statements about how lots of people watched the first episode, so see!  the common people really love us Trumpkins!

Have they forgotten what a utter nutjob Barr has been for many, many years?  Of course they have - they are self labelled dimwits by their devotion to Trump anyway.  But just to remind them...

I had forgotten, but she did a bit of self promotion by running for President in 2012, and in the course of that made the following suggestions:
  • “In America, if we’re speaking truth, women are called bitches. I seek next Mother’s Day a march of one million American bitches who can get the job done, the job of getting the food to the hungry and thereby saving our rich American friends and neighbours from going straight to hell and burning there for all of eternity.”
  • “I will outlaw bullshit. After the passage of this law the patriarchy will inevitably start to crumble as will the concept of war itself which is largely a large load of bullshit.”
  • “Somewhere within the concept of justice, the worst of the guilty must always be removed. I cannot divorce this, not completely. The people must have justice and so I want to reinstate and enshrine the blessed and holy guillotine!”
  • “As Prime Minister of Israel I will introduce a bill into the Knesset that will simply pay the Arabs not to shoot at the Jews.” 
  • “Just 10 of the Jewish billionaires on this earth have more than enough to transform the occupied territories into heaven. We can put the ‘pal’ back in Palestinian.” 
  • “Any Hamas or Zionist type who tries to interfere with the labour unions and grab the money will be marched to the guillotines and subsequently beheaded. And isn’t that easier and more productive than some endless, bloody conflict? So sayeth the gospel of common sense. Happy Mother’s Day.”
Move forward a few years to 2015, and Daily Beast summarises some of her views as follows:
....Roseanne has gone on to become nothing more than a raving pseudo-libertarian ideologue who traffics in ridiculous paranoid conspiracy theories of the Alex Jones and Lyndon LaRouche variety. She believes in horseshit like chemtrails; she says the Illuminati's MK Ultra mind control has a complete lock on Hollywood; and of course she thinks 9/11 and the Boston Marathon bombing were inside jobs, government-sponsored false flag attacks. She regularly cites as a source for her outlandish claims the "investigative" work of batshit pretend journalist Wayne Madsen, the crackpot who remains convinced President Obama is secretly gay. She does all of this while often complaining about the patriarchy and in defense of women's issues -- she did so, amusingly, on Abby Martin's show on RT -- putting her directly at the center of that odd place where the left and right now come together and share a belief in the same ridiculous nonsense. 
 It's rather incredible, given this profile, that anyone agreed to re-unite with her on the show again.  Maybe that's why so many people watched it?

But her conspiracy belief makes her a natural Trump fit - and wingnuts are happy to embrace her, at least until her next condemnation of the patriarchy.  

The Robot considered

I've never mentioned before that I've been watching the US cable show Mr Robot via season pass purchases on Google Play.  (Nearly finished Season 2 now.)

It's an interesting, somewhat flawed show about a gigantic banking/tech industry hack and its consequences, and I offer the following observations:

*   it's a really great looking show, as long as you like dark, noirish interiors.  I had no idea so many people in New York managed to live with so few lights turned on inside!   But the composition of shots and the muted colour palate of everything is generally impressive (it looks designed for cinema as much as for television) and suits its bleak story and characters.

*   Season 1 had the big reveal at the end, which wasn't that big of a surprise, really.   But I seem to recall episodes did move forward with a greater speed that Season 2. 

*   The weird eccentricity of some choices in the story were on full display right from Season 1.  It's puzzling why Sam Esmail, the creator and sometimes writer and director, felt inclined to throw in some S&M and bisexual bedroom antics for one of the key characters (and his wife), as well as have him commit a murder for reasons that appear extraneous to the main plot.  (Perhaps something is about to be revealed at the end of Season 2?)   He is rather like a mini version of the main character from American Psycho, and it's always a worry as to what may happen when he turns up.  Then there's the mysterious but apparently important protagonist who appears to be transgender, or transvestite.    Odd.

*  The show is, apparently, incredibly authentic in terms of how it shows hacks being performed.  It goes out of its way to show computer screen shots with lots of hacking code/commands, and I have read that IT folk watching are delighted that it all makes sense.   It's kind of impressive to know it takes that degree of technical care, even if it doesn't mean much to 95% of the audience.

*  Season 2 suffers somewhat from an excess of flashback that's not always clearly identified as such for a while, some other confusingly structured storylines,  and many slow, slow dialogue scenes in dark rooms (of course) which have been inclined to put me to sleep.  But then suddenly it has one innovative and very clever episode that really impressed, and the show seemed alive again for the next few episodes too.   The Dark Army keeps popping up and machine gunning people in some (very literal) suicide attacks; the trans person does some surprising and un-fully explained things; cryptocurrencies are mentioned more; and it seems worth watching again after I had earlier said I might not bother buying Season 3.

I hope the series manages to tie up all the lose ends one day...

A ridiculous sheet position

David Roberts tweets a lot, and is pretty entertaining and informative on various subjects, but he is bizarrely wrong on this matter (as to whether top sheets are useful, or not.)   You could only conceivably hold the view that a quilt cover alone is better if you lived in a permanently cold bedroom.   In Brisbane, everyone probably spends 6 months of every year sleeping just under a sheet.

The innovation that I want to see in top sheets for double, queen or king sized beds is to have them made so that there is a lengthwise split in the middle from the top down to about 60 cm from the bottom edge, and the two halves overlap by about 30cm.   This would allow one person to use their side to cover their body and (say - because this is how I sleep) pull the top over their head without pulling off the other half from their partner's body.   Sure, you could achieve this by just putting two single sheets on the bed, but the precise arrangement doing that is always going to be fiddly.  

Perhaps I should check if this sheet design has been patented.

Update:   gawd - Google patent search shows many, many patents related to sheets.  One is about half way to my suggestion, but the split should be longer.    A lot of people have thought about sheets over the years...

The ever professional Judith

Have a look at the gif at this tweet, showing Judith Sloan in all her glory.   She must have been a joy to work with.  [sarc].

Yay China?

In an opinion piece sure to make Jason Soon grind his teeth, one Steven Rattner writes in the New York Times:

Is China’s Version of Capitalism Winning?

It's a curious piece, in which he notes and criticises many of the problems with how China operates,  while noting its economic success, and his overall message is something like "just shows you what a unified government (unlike the complete mess of US politics) can achieve." 

Perhaps the better question is whether the material success of the Chinese methods are worth the cost to individual liberties.   Many in China would no doubt answer yes, given the base they've come off.   But  there is the matter of how long the country can keep such a system going, both economically and with respect to the many likely detrimental societal effects (like gender imbalance, and family life being sacrificed for making money.)

Hey monty...

Not sure how often monty might drop in here, but if you do...

Can you pass on a message to dover beach that I find his continual use of "urban bugman" carries with it unpleasant connotations that his culture war/political opponents literally deserve extermination, like cockroaches?  

I had to look up the meme, and it apparently it's meant to signify the (alleged) empty soul-lessness of modern folk.  But honestly, it's hard to avoid reading into it implications similar to Nazi allusions to Jews as rats, deserving death.

In fact, the extermination style talk is very high with several of the sour, angry and damaged characters over there - Tom, cohenite, and the mad 26 high amongst them.   And as advertisement for conservative Catholicism, dover beach himself is a complete fail.  


E-cigarettes under continued scrutiny

Seems that inhaling vapours might be better for you than inhaling tobacco smoke, but is still something that is hardly going to be healthy for you:
Some e-cigarette ingredients are surprisingly more toxic than others

A new study by UNC School of Medicine researchers shows that e-liquids are far from harmless and contain ingredients that can vary wildly from one type of e-cigarette to another.

"We found that e-liquid ingredients are extremely diverse, and some of them are more toxic than nicotine alone and more toxic than just the standard base ingredients in e-cigarettes - propylene glycol and vegetable glycerin," said study senior author Robert Tarran, PhD, associate professor of cell biology and physiology. "The FDA, which helped fund our study, is just beginning to regulate e-liquid ingredients, and we hope that our data will inform their efforts."....

E-liquid's main ingredients of and vegetable glycerin have been considered non-toxic when delivered orally, but of course e-cigarette vapors are inhaled. The UNC scientists found that even in the absence of nicotine or flavorings, small doses of these two organic compounds significantly reduced the growth of the test cells.
Again, I have to control my sense of schadenfreude  over the way at least some liberation aligned folk have rushed to endorse (or use) this product well ahead of proper testing and regulation, perhaps at the cost to their health.

And you thought the worst thing could be living next door to a meth lab

I feel very sorry for any neighbour hoping to sell their house in the next year if they are within, say, 100 metres of the house where it now appears nerve gas was sprayed:
Detectives investigating the attempted murders of Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia Skripal have said they believe the pair were poisoned with a nerve agent at the front door of his Salisbury home.

Specialists investigating the poisoning of the the Skripals have found the highest concentration of the nerve agent on the front door at the address, police said.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Jews in comedy

Some interesting takes on modern American comedy and its dominance by (largely secular) Jews in this review of a book at the TLS.  Some extracts:

In the latter half of the twentieth century, American comedy just was Jewish comedy, even if the Jewishness had to be tamped down to appease mainstream audiences. It was often said of Friends that it was written as if for six old Jews, and then cast with six young attractive people. In Seinfeld, that most Jewish of sitcoms, there was only one codified Jewish character, but that’s simply because the extremely Jewish Elaine and absurdly Jewish George were handed other ethnic identities (WASP with “Shiksappeal” and Greek, respectively) to keep the networks calm....

Instead, Jewishness in comedy – what, in other words, is actually Jewish about the comedy of these secular Jews – is elusive, a bit like Judaism’s conception of the afterlife. Sahl, when first approached with the idea that his act was pervasively Jewish even though he rarely drew on his ethnicity directly, is quoted as saying, “If the role of the Jew is to rock the boat and to be inquisitive – intellectually curious, that is – fine. Classic role”. It is an interesting concept: that Jewishness in comedy is subversive but also something that can be identified in comedians whether or not they wear it on their sleeve...

The complexity is the point: so, too, the obscurity. Dauber talks of how Seinfeld, created by Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David, with its endless discussion of the invisible rules of life – “what are the boundary lines in nebulously defined situations? What consitututes the limits of social acceptability? When does this status change to that one?” – was described by Larry Charles, the show’s producer, as “a dark Talmud”. Except dark is possibly the wrong word: Seinfeld was never a show about nothing, it was a show about small things, about the minutiae and microscopia of everyday, modern life, and as such the one thing Seinfeld never was, was dark. Because dark means weighty, deep, gravitas-achieving. Jewish comedy depends on bathos, on bringing things down to earth – which specifically tends to be the Jewish earth: whether it be with a well-chosen Yiddishism, or a comic-sounding Jewish name, or a reference to the mundane worlds of work, food, money, sex and, well, Jewishness. A joke with a four-word punchline that is quoted by Dauber neatly bears this out: when the Dalai Lama meets his mother she tells him, “Sheldon! Enough is enough”

To come back, then, to what appeared to be a passing, but was not, point about the afterlife: Christianity, and most other religions, are all in the clouds, in the great hereafter – Judaism tends to concentrate on the here and now, and indeed its rules. But in minutiae, there is humanity: it is in reaching after the grandiose things in life that civilization gets skewed. To be microscopic, comically, is to create engagement: these people, the joke says, are like you, because like you, they sweat the small stuff.

Calling John Bolton

I have a solution to this Australian Cricket Team cheating business, which seems to be occupying about 98% of the nation's attention:  invite John Bolton to arrange a tactical nuclear strike on the team, and any outpost of cricket administration.  We know he wants to nuke something, and no one in Australia (or any other cricketing nation) is possibly going to object.   (Or so it seems.)

It may also rid the nation of the most tedious sport ever invented, at least until the cockroaches learn how to hold a bat. 

[Disclaimer:  of course, I have to acknowledge that loving a tedious game does not per se make a cricket fan a bad or deficient person in any respect.   That would require loving both cricket and Frozen, and a short course of treatment involving electrodes would be worth a try...]

Theatre critic time

Went to see Alladin last night at QPAC.

I reckon plenty of adults not normally attracted to Disney "princess" stories saw the movie in the 1980's because of Robin Williams as the genie; but to be honest, it was probably the start of my assessment that his shtick was overrated.   I was underwhelmed.

As a stage show, however, mounted on a large scale with additional songs, it's impossible to actively dislike.   It's very enjoyable, in fact. 

Struggling to find something to analyse, I would say, however, that the resolution at the end seems rushed.   But, now that I think of it, My Fair Lady (the last musical I saw) suffered the same issue.   I guess there is something about the structure of a Broadway musical that is unavoidable - the expectation that the first half will contain the killer highlight, then the second half has to have another peak well ahead of the ending which, at most, contains a short reprieve of the main songs.  

Something of an exception, perhaps, now that I think of it, is the musical version of Hairspray (which I have only seen as a movie.)   The protracted set piece at the end really is the highlight of the movie, which, however, is too long overall.  

Anyway, one thing I will never see is the stage version of Frozen, which has just started in New York.   That girl power material that plays, let's face it, as a warning to young girls to not only never trust men, but also encourages using passive males for advantage,  remains (to my mind), only capable of great endorsement by girls and gay men, both of whom suffer from a peculiar fondness for schmaltzy power ballads.  

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Fake meat fun

Yeah, while I wouldn't say I'm obsessed with it, I do share this guy's interest is seeking out fake meat products that are satisfyingly meat-like:

I’m obsessed with mock meat and I’m not even a vegetarian

And the best products do tend to involve fungi - particularly shiitake mushrooms, which can be made with the firmer "bite" that a lot of fake meat products lack.   (Quorn is too soft, and expensive, in my opinion.) 

Sounds premature

This article seems to involve a little too much self-promotion, but if true, it's good news:
A Vancouver-based research team led by Canada's most cited neuroscientist, Dr. Patrick McGeer, has successfully carried out studies suggesting that, if started early enough, a daily regimen of the non-prescription NSAID (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug) ibuprofen can prevent the onset of Alzheimer's disease. This means that by taking an over-the-counter medication, people can ward off a disease that, according to Alzheimer's Disease International's World Alzheimer Report 2016, affects an estimated 47 million people worldwide, costs health care systems worldwide more than US$818 billion per year and is the fifth leading cause of death in those aged 65 or older.
It actually goes on to talk more about testing saliva to see if people are likely to develop Alzheimer's, rather than the protective effects of ibuprofen.  Seems very PR department written, if you ask me...

Monday, March 26, 2018

Things never cooked

Inspired by seeing a can of ghee for sale in my local Coles, I started mentally listing things I've never cooked/cooked with:

jerusalem artichokes
real saffron
livers from any creature
kidneys from any creature

My Mum used to cook lamb's fry (liver) in a pressure cooker when I was a kid, and I didn't mind it in small quantities.  I seem to recall it make for a particularly delicious gravy.  She also did steak and kidney stew, and again, kidneys in small amounts were OK.   But can't say I have had much inclination to try eating them again (pate excepted.)

I haven't been paying close attention to My Kitchen Rules this season - I agree with some critic somewhere who said that the "drama" element of the show has been pumped up more and more every season, and it's now more the point than the cooking.   From some advertisement I half watched last night, it looks like the show will soon feature a disaster of some kind - was that a contestant or two  lying on the yard with an ambulance in attendance?   Come on, this is getting very silly.

Anyway, I did see part of it recently where, once again, the cooks were served bone marrow as an entry.

Don't know why, but I find the idea of eating the jelly like, fatty substance by itself just really off-putting.  Even though, when cooking ossu bucco, it is probably the melted marrow which makes the surrounding stew so good.   Some cooks love it, though.

Must mean something to someone

An abstract at arXiv:
The ability to control multidimensional quantum systems is key for the investigation of fundamental science and for the development of advanced quantum technologies. Here we demonstrate a multidimensional integrated quantum photonic platform able to robustly generate, control and analyze high-dimensional entanglement. We realize a programmable bipartite entangled system with dimension up to 15×15 on a large-scale silicon-photonics quantum circuit. The device integrates more than 550 photonic components on a single chip, including 16 identical photon-pair sources. We verify the high precision, generality and controllability of our multidimensional technology, and further exploit these abilities to demonstrate key quantum applications experimentally unexplored before, such as quantum randomness expansion and self-testing on multidimensional states. Our work provides a prominent experimental platform for the development of multidimensional quantum technologies. 

Facebook and your call history

Look, privacy concerns don't rank very highly with me, given that I work on the theory that anyone who uses the incredible useful Google products should just assume that the company knows everything about everyone and hope that the flood of information is what inadvertently protects your privacy.  (And besides, most people's private life is not that interesting anyway.)

But  even I can see how this is pretty outrageous:

Facebook logs texts and calls, users find as they delete accounts

I've never held Facebook in high regard, and I imagine that it is a much easier hacked source of private info than Google accounts.   I hope the company gets hurt out of this.

Update:   have a look at this Twitter thread for some more details on the amazing amount of data retained by Facebook and Google.

Jumper song

I've been enjoying Moone Boy on Netflix (before it disappears on 30 March), and thought I should look up the origin of the short theme song.  Wikipedia told me it's part of a song that was well known in Ireland.

Here it is - the very silly "Where's Me Jumper":

Hardly surprising

I see that Newspoll shows only 33% support for Labor's new "no more cash rebate if you pay no tax" policy re dividend imputation, and 50% opposed and 17% undecided.  (Sorry, no good link for that.)

This is hardly surprising, when the Right has been continually claiming it's going back to "double taxation", and Labor (and journalists) have been slow to call them out.  See Gerard Henderson on Insiders yesterday as an example.

While it's clear that there are ways of seeking to defend the current policy (all bad, and many disingenuous, I reckon), the accusation of "double taxation" is not one of them - because it isn't, simple as that.

In any event, Labor is still not looking bad in the polls, with primary vote up to 39%.  I think the old rule of thumb still applies - a major party has to aim be at 40% of primary to be feeling reasonably confident of a two party preferred win, but with Liberals on 37%, I would rather be in Labor's shoes.

But at the end of the day, it will probably still be a pretty close election though, I suspect.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

And now for something completely different - a link to a Breitbart article

I was only over there to see any update on their desperate and bizarrely nonsensical "ignore those anti-gun rallies - there were being political" line when I saw a link to an article attacking Bill Maher for attacking the late Andrew Breitbart.  Fortunately, all the article does is explain Maher's attack, and it is pretty funny.

(To summarise - both Breitbart and Bannon tried to break into Hollywood, and as a result of their rejection, decided to go on all out attack on liberals.)   Some parts:
He also said that the same thing happened to Andrew Breitbart, “who admits he came to Hollywood, ‘with the hope that I’d eventually become a comedy writer.’ And to his successor there, Steve Bannon, also a showbiz reject, who didn’t have the talent to cut it here, and so, spent the rest of life hating, Hollywood, and by extension, all liberals.”

Maher further stated, “In his memoir, Breitbart mentions Reagan 6 times, and me 34 times.” Maher also stated that Andrew Breitbart’s criticism of cocktail parties on the Westside is “funny, because, you know, for years, you know who I’d always see at cocktail parties on the Westside? Andrew Breitbart. Oh, he hated Hollywood, hated it, hated it, hated it, mostly from his home in America’s heartland, Brentwood.”

Maher’s monologue continued, “As for Bannon, George Clooney remembers him as ‘a schmuck who literally tried everything he could to sell scripts‘ including, this is true, a rap musical of Shakespeare’s ‘Coriolanus.’ … But trust me, if Bannon could’ve sold a screenplay or Breitbart a sitcom, they wouldn’t have ended up ranting and raving about cocktail parties on the Westside, they’d be attending them. And in Bannon’s case, finishing the drinks people left on the table, including the ones with a cigarette in them.”

Nuttier than I thought

It took a bit of Googling, but I finally turned up an accessible copy of Helen Dale's opinion piece in the Weekend Australian, about the #MeToo movement.    (I was alerted to its existence by Sinclair Davidson posting about it with approval - with Dale, it's always with his approval - at Catallaxy.)   I'm not sure if it will work for you, but here's the link that got me to it.

The piece starts with a bit of lightweight autobiography (let's assume it's true, even though many have questioned some other autobiographical claims) which seems largely irrelevant to the #MeToo movement:   it's about her regret that workplaces have "lost something" by virtue of not being able to feature female nudey pics on the wall any more.  She says that when she was nearly 15 she was working at a place where her "first boss" had, amongst other sexually explicit things on the wall, a Pirelli calendar.   Years later when she visited again these were gone because it was by then "illegal" to have then in the workplace.

This, Dale regretted (and apparently still does?) because, well, she didn't mind them and, presumably, the rest of (not queer) young women who might work there should just suck it up.   Bizarrely, she doesn't seem to make allowance for the fact that her own open queer status meant that she would be an unlikely workplace male target for sexual favours, and as such could afford to take a more carefree attitude to a sexualised workplace where males could feel free to drool and joke about the naked women on the wall.    And let's not pretend the Pirelli calendars were subtle - here's one from 1986, which should match the year she says she was working at this place.  No pubic hair allowed, but apart from that, of course they should not be a on workplace wall.    On the wall in some wannabe Hugh Hefner's den, sure.  The workplace - no.

Then we get to the core nonsense of her criticism of the #MeToo movement:  it's got a large element of slut-shaming, apparently!:
I have a similar sense about the recent #MeToo movement, much of which seems to be so very high school: all the pretty girls from good families are congratulating each other for “bravely speaking out” about the advances they refused, while the women who made a calculation and opted to get their knees dirty are wisely keeping quiet.

There’s a smugly slut-shaming flip side to the solidarity: wearing black to the Golden Globes, telling stories about who touched whose knee, applauding Oprah Winfrey’s speech.  ...

....Women who accede to male entreaties — those who get their knees dirty — can be written off as sluts (something women do to other women far more frequently than men do to women), which burnishes the refusers’ reputations.
This, it seems to me until I see some evidence to the contrary, is entirely a matter from Dale's imagination.   She also seems to suffer from silly overuse of "get their knees dirty".

And to illustrate the degree to which she's wrong, one of the key controversial pieces in the #MeToo movement was that essay published by a young woman about a date that went wrong with Aziz Anzari.   The complainant had dinner, went back to his apartment, partook in some foreplay, but found his insistent manner that they now proceed to intercourse off putting, and she left and wrote a column about it.   Aziz later said he thought everything had been consensual - she apparently thought he could read her mind that she didn't like some of his "moves".   You can read here a piece critical of this woman's attitude.

There was much debate over this essay, and I do not recall any of it from the feminist, #MeToo supporting side involving  "slut shaming".  Sure, from the conservative side, some men in particular might have said "jeez, this was just a first date hook up that you decided to back out off after happily starting with sex.  Boo hoo."  But a #MeToo supporter who called her a slut for doing that?  Not that I've seen.

I don't recall anything in #MeToo involving women "slut shaming" other women - in fact, if you discount (as everyone does) nutty Dworkin style "all intercourse is rape" theorising, it's just not something feminism does.

If Dale has got some examples of women saying "so, actress Y says she slept with director X to get a role - shame on actress Y!"  I'd like to see them.

This is all not to say that the #MeToo movement is beyond criticism - just that Dale's criticism seems to me more fantasy than reality.  For one thing, if all women who (gawd) "got their knees dirty" are "wisely keeping quiet", how does Dale even know what they think about their decision?   

The piece is, perhaps, just Dale's attempt to get more publicity for her novel, which, as far as I can tell, has hardly set the literary world alight with attention or sales.   But does she have to mount such a silly argument to do so?

Update:  I haven't even addressed the bit in her article which upset the Catallaxy crowd - where she notes that a mutual willingness to "slut shame" helps account for a claimed "now-common alliance between feminists and religious conservatives — including, bewilderingly, Islamic conservatives",  but it is just as silly as the rest of her article.  Yes, some feminists make excuses for elements of Islamic practice which separate women as being empowering to the women who want to be separated.  (It's not a million miles from the idea that women joining a nunnery in centuries past was empowering compared to being a husband's chattel.) But feminists supporting Islam because they think Western women are slutty sex addicts - come on, show us the examples, Helen.  

But they're being political!

It looks like the anti gun marches across the US have been a huge (at least numerical) success.

The pathetic American Right, which keeps stumping me with its stupidity, can only react with:   "Don't pay them any attention - they're being political!  This was supposed to be about safety - but instead they're being political!"   

Look at this, for example, at Breitbart (I won't bother linking):
The thousands of people who took part in the March for Our Lives protest along Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC, on Saturday carried signs revealing their anti-gun, anti-Trump, and pro-left wing agenda.
Well, duh.

Even at Hot Air, we get this as a subheading to a Jazz Shaw post:
So much for school safety. This was about politics
And in his post: 
Wait a minute. I thought this was a rally to end gun violence in schools? Or at least a more generic call to “action.” When did the focus of the entire thing become “gun control?” Ah, well. Nevermind, I guess. This is CNN.
Well, double duh.

I mean, honestly.  While Democrats are not all pure of heart on gun control, as if the main legislative blockage to serious reform isn't Republicans.    

European towns can be ridiculously pretty

Found this on Reddit this morning:

It's Colmar, France, near the German border, and I've never even heard of the place.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Look who's alienated now

This essay at Aeon is a bit of a hard slog in the middle, but I think the basic argument sounds right.

It's about how the concept of "alienation" as an explanation or description of modern psychic malaise rose and then fell away over the course of the 20th century.

I think the argument can be summarised roughly as this:  the concept inherently put value, or assumed that people put value in, cultural unity and personal fulfilment through meaningful and creative work, which modern capitalism broke down.   However, in recent decades the Left (perhaps partly enabled by the wealth increasing success of capitalism) moved away from thinking that uniformity in community has inherent value - in other words, the rise of identity politics has meant that many people now (in a sense) seek or value "alienation".   Therefore, contrary to (say) the 1960's when people would say someone complaining of alienation was a Leftist hippy, those who feel alienated now are on the Right.

Here are the concluding paragraphs:
...For all its potential to sow division, identity politics might still reflect a justifiable search for roots and community. But it’s also true that many now celebrate the freedom to alter identities rather than meekly accept them, and that post-identitarian multiplicity is enjoying a renewal. Such discourses repudiate or at least complicate a simple denunciation of alienation from wholeness.

This change is most clearly registered in political terms. In the heyday of Marxist Humanism, alienation could be understood in terms of the capitalist mode of production, which thwarted the possibility of unalienated labour. But eventually the Left came to de-emphasise class, for better or worse, and substitute questions of culture for those of production. When Leftist politics embraced tolerance of difference, it grew wary of stigmatising the alien – including the alien within. Rather than yearning for ‘well-rounded wholeness’ or a comforting immersion in the warm bath of communal uniformity, this political shift meant recognising the virtues of protean personal identities and diasporic dispersion.

Hostility to the alien ‘other’, both without and within, has now migrated to the populist Right. Those who most loudly broadcast their alienation today, infusing it with rage and resentment, are likely to be from once-comfortable and hegemonic segments of the population. They feel threatened by the growing erosion of their status in a society that they remember – or at least claim to remember – as homogeneous, integrated and settled. Religious, ethnic, national and gender identities become more rigidly defended against perceived erosion. Many people panic when faced with fluid selves that embrace rather than bemoan the ‘alien’ within – expressed, for example, in their passionate resistance to transgender identity. And they are even more unnerved by the literal arrival of non-citizen ‘aliens’, legal as well as illegal, who threaten their alleged ethnic purity and cultural unity. For them, ‘hybridisation’ is really ‘mongrelisation’. Attempting to restore past ‘greatness’ or fend off ‘pollution’, they agitate for walls to keep dangerous others out, fearing that every newcomer is inherently a threatening intruder.

In short, alienation in the second decade of the 21st century has not actually faded away as a descriptor of human distress. Rather, it has become most visible in the anxiety of those who bemoan the transformation of a beloved homeland into an unrecognisable nation of aliens.
I think the argument, concentrating as it does on Marxist and other arty philosophers influenced society, does overlook the role of science from 1850 in changing cultural self understanding, at least in the West.

But it's still an interesting essay.

OK, so the American Right is stupider than I thought..

Two defences of appointing Bolton as National Security Adviser have appeared overnight - one from Hugh Hewitt, who I think is a lightweight twit, but another from David French at National Review, which I find a bit more surprising.   I guess I didn't realise the extent to which Bolton kept contacts with Right wing punditry.

Both articles contain some pretty inane comments.  Hewitt in particular has to go back to 2007 to find one line which he latches onto as evidence of Bolton's reasonableness:
Critics charge that Bolton likes war — a ridiculous assertion. As he told me in one especially memorable two-hour interview back in 2007: “Nobody should want a war on the Korean Peninsula.” Chew on that, critics.
It's like he's writing for his high school paper.

At least David French tackles head on Bolton's recent musings:
Even one of the pieces that the New York Times cites to justify its alarm — Bolton’s 2017 Wall Street Journal article analyzing military options in North Korea — contains this key sentence: “The U.S. should obviously seek South Korea’s agreement (and Japan’s) before using force, but no foreign government, even a close ally, can veto an action to protect Americans from Kim Jong Un’s nuclear weapons.”

This is a sensible statement, indicating both the desire for agreement with key allies and the necessity of national self-defense...
A sensible statement?   Given that it implies Bolton thinks that a pre-emptive strike on North Korea is something the US could consider, and do so even if South Korea says "what, are you out of your mind?  We're the ones who are going to suffer the consequences in tens or hundreds of thousands of civilian casualties":  no, it's not a "sensible" thing to say.

If you want an article detailing the time - a little over a decade ago - when Republicans could see the danger and problem with Bolton's dishonesty and behaviour in government, have a read of this column at the New York Times.

Friday, March 23, 2018

The answer is "Yes"

At the Atlantic:

Can Electrically Stimulating Your Brain Make You Too Happy?

Uh oh

NPR puts it this way:

Trump National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster To Resign, Be Replaced By John Bolton

....But if Trump liked that vision, he apparently grew to dislike McMaster.

According to inside accounts, the two men clashed when McMaster's cerebral briefings crashed into Trump's more freewheeling style.
Places in the world where much of the population's general anxiety just bumped up a few notches:

South Korea

I think only the wingnuttiest of wingnuts will be pleased with this.   I will be curious which right wing sites positively support it. 

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Autism and transgender

Slate has an article discussing something I didn't know:
“We have enough evidence, across multiple studies internationally, to say that autism is more common in gender-diverse youth than in the general population,” said John Strang, a neuropsychologist and founder of the Gender and Autism Program at Children’s National Health System in Washington. Strang authored a 2014 analysis that found that more than 5 percent of autistic youth sampled for his study also displayed some level of desire to be the other gender, according to parental reports. (He cautioned that it’s too soon to say what the exact percentage in the overall population may be.) Another widely referenced study found that 7.8 percent of young people being treated for gender dysphoria at a clinic in Amsterdam had a confirmed diagnosis of ASD.
I wonder if this has anything to do with some rather nerdy professions - IT and engineering, for example - perhaps being disproportionately over-represented in transgender numbers?  (I'm not 100% sure that they are, but I have a vague feeling that I have read something indicating that.)

Brexit analysis

This ex-politician's analysis of several authors' take on Brexit is pretty good, and witty as well.  Roger Scruton is described as "a kind of mystical Brexiteer";  Corbyn gets mentioned this way:
Following the thinking of Jeremy Corbyn is also difficult, owing to its apparent absence, but from the leader himself down to militant Guardian columnists the anti-migration sentiments of voters are denied, played down, or avoided.
As for "brains for Brexit":
The “brains for Brexit” camp voiced little or no concern over immigration, a silence that impugned the judgement of the voting masses. Playing the populist defender while being sniffy about popular thinking is an inglorious intellectual posture.
Go read it all.

The unknown China

Quite a remarkable article at Foreign Policy about the extraordinary difficulty (or impossibility, perhaps?) of knowing what's really going on inside China on any issue at all.

How cheap can film making get?

I'm surprised to read that Steven Soderbergh's latest film was shot completely on an iPhone (!).   This article says it makes for some "harsh and uncompromising" visuals, but it suits the story.  

Just saying...

...if the Austin bomber had been a Muslim instead of a home schooled Christian, conservative wingnuts would be bouncing off the walls right now, and would continue doing so for days.

Instead, because it appears his apparent conservative views would fit right in with those expressed by most commenters at Catallaxy, they are expressing next to no interest in the matter at all.    

De-hyping the last paper

Just in case you've noticed any headlines about Stephen Hawking's last paper and how it says something remarkable about how we may detect other universes, you need to read Sabine's post debunking such reporting.   An extract:
Allow me put this into perspective.

Theoretical physicist have proposed some thousand ideas for what might have happened in the early universe. There are big bangs and big bounces and brane collisions and string cosmologies and loop cosmologies and all kinds of weird fields that might or might not have done this or that. All of this is pure speculation, none of it is supported by evidence. The Hartle-Hawking proposal is one of these speculations.

The vast majority of these ideas contain a phase of inflation and they all predict CMB polarization. In some scenarios the signal is larger than in others. But there isn’t even a specific prediction for the amount of CMB polarization in the Hawking paper. In fact, the paper doesn’t so much as even contain the word “polarization” or “tensor modes.”

The claim that the detection of CMB polarization would mean the multiverse exists makes as much sense as claiming that if I find a coin on the street then Bill Gates must have walked by. And a swarm of invisible angels floated around him playing harp and singing “Ode To Joy.”

In case that was too metaphorical, let me say it once again but plainly. Hawking has not found a new way to measure the existence of other universes.

Stephen Hawking was beloved by everyone I know, both inside and outside the scientific community. He was a great man without doubt, but this paper is utterly unremarkable. 

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Reminds of something...

I'm talking about this cringe worthy picture I saw today at Vanity Fair:

Took me a few minutes, and then I realised - it looks as if it was lifted from a Zoolander movie.

(I did watch the second one recently on Netflix - it was funnier than I expected.)

Someone likes Spielberg

Ready Player One is receiving some good, some not so good, reviews; but the guy who writes BBC Culture reviews is a Spielberg fanboy who loved it, and I endorse his take on the director:
It’s dazzling stuff. Recently, a generation of directors has been paying homage to Spielberg’s popcorn films (in Super 8, Jurassic World, and Stranger Things, for example), but with Ready Player One he proves with stunning aplomb that no one does Spielberg quite like Spielberg. No one has more empathy with pasty American kids from broken homes. No one packs scenes with so much information, or elaborate action set pieces with so much energy, while ensuring that you always know what’s going on and why.
Exactly.   Contrast the complete mess of the action fights of Black Panther.   (That movie seems to be doing an Avatar - a film that I really don't doubt will be seen in only a few years as being puzzlingly popular given its inherent quality.)  

Anyway, this is not to deny that I might be cool on RP1 myself - not coming from a big gaming background, I may not care for all of its cultural references.  But I should get back into viewing VR stuff on my phone and cheap headset - I think there is a chance that the movie will make that past time more popular, and I want to be "cool" ahead of the rest.  :)

New reason not to go down to the woods today...

This sort of thing, if it turned up on some American crime show, would probably make you think  "how unlikely is that!":
A secret "gingerbread house" deep in a forest sounds like something from a fairy tale, but investigators in Seattle say the one they found was anything but. Now, 56-year-old Daniel Wood faces charges of possession of depictions of minors engaged in sexually explicit conduct, according to the Seattle Times. 

An employee for Washington's Department of Natural Resources discovered bedding, food and a large amount of child pornography in an elaborate treehouse cabin in the Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest about 50 miles east of Seattle in Nov. 2016.

This set off a months-long federal investigation, that eventually led to Wood.

Forest Service employees had known about the treehouse for about seven years, but nobody knew exactly who had built it. The last time it had been inspected was nearly three years ago, and no photos of the cabin existed....

The employee with the DNR heard rumors of the cabin and decided to try to find it. He looked for it on five separate occasions, and then finally found the treehouse and its cache of pornography.

It looked like a gingerbread house on the outside. The cabin was "dark brown in color and built approximately 8 feet off the ground," according to FBI's Seattle office. "There was a porch around the structure, a front door, and windows on the side, as well as a pitched roof, and a ladder from the ground to the porch.

But, when he looked inside, the employee found something startling.

"On all four walls were framed pictures of fairy-like figures or of what appeared to be young girls, approximately 8-12 years old," per FBI reports.
 Here's the "house":

A hormonal post

There's quite a detailed, balanced and interesting article up at The Guardian: 

Does testosterone make you mean?

The answer seems a definite "it's complicated."

It does note one experiment I don't recall reading about:
Because women are more responsive than men to supplemental testosterone, they were used in one of the key studies into how testosterone essentially removes the burden of empathy from moral decision-making. It’s known as the “trolley car experiment”. Picture a runaway tram hurtling down the tracks towards five unsuspecting workers. There’s a lever that would divert the tram to another track, but there’s someone working on that track, too. “You have to kill somebody to save five others,” says Ryan, and you have to act fast.

The researchers at Utrecht University gave some of the subjects a shot of testosterone the night before presenting them with the dilemma. “The number of respondents who were willing to kill in order to save people, and their confidence in carrying out the act were enhanced,” says Ryan. “And the equivocation they demonstrated was significantly reduced.”
Based on this, I diagnose Chidi in The Good Place as suffering from low testosterone!

(By the way, I've nearly finished Season 2 of that show, and it continues to be a delight.  I see that it has been renewed for a 3rd series, which gives me some concern as to how the creativity of the show can continue to be sustained.) 

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Another tax cut fail

I've noted many times how the Laffer inspired and endorsed tax cut experiment of Kansas had been a failure, but I think I had missed that Oklahoma had gone down a similar path to similar failure.  From a report in February this year:
Riding high on the oil boom of the late 2000s, the state followed the Kansas model and slashed taxes. But the promised prosperity never came. In many cases, it was just the opposite.

Around 20 percent of Oklahoma's schools now hold classes just four days a week. Last year, Highway Patrol officers were given a mileage limit because the state couldn't afford to put gas in their tanks. Medicaid provider rates have been cut to the point that rural nursing homes and hospitals are closing, and the prisons are so full that the director of corrections says they're on the brink of a crisis.

In her State of the State address Monday, Gov. Mary Fallin expressed the state's frustration.
"We have two clear choices," she said. "We can continue down a path of sliding backwards, or we can choose the second path, which is to say 'Enough is enough! We can do better! We deserve better! Our children deserve better, too!' "

Many of the tax cuts and subsequent revenue failures have happened on Fallin's watch. Now she wants to fix it, and she's gotten behind a large coalition of business leaders who have come up with a plan to raise taxes and enact reforms.
Where's the "tax cuts always work" crew on this? 

Can someone explain?

Judith Sloan makes this claim re dividend imputation, and while she seems to claim that this should be obvious to commentators, if not us poor plebs, I just don't get how it makes sense:
When an individual earns less than $18,200 and pays no tax, then the individual receives a cash ­refund of 30 per cent. This is only fair. Without cash refunds, the ­effect on very low-income earners would be a tax of 30 per cent on dividends.
Why?   How is it that paying no tax on the dividend and not receiving a cash rebate for tax not paid has the effect of a tax of 30 per cent on dividends??

She seems so apparently confident on the point that I don't know whether it is a problem with my English comprehension, or maths comprehension, or am I am simply being gaslighted??

Go 5-2

I really need to diet again, and once again I will probably try the 5-2 diet, from which I fell off the wagon last time because of apparent reflux issue that started to develop.   I think that's sorted.  Next time, got to get onto 6-1 as a maintenance diet.

Anyway, the diet seems to do good things with the way the body processes fat in the blood.  Sounds good:
In the first study of its kind, researchers from the University of Surrey examined the impact of the 5:2 on the body's ability to metabolise and clear fat and glucose after a meal and compared it to the effects of weight-loss achieved via a more conventional daily calorie restriction diet. Previous studies in this field have predominantly focused on risk markers taken in the fasted state, which only tend to be, in for the minority of the time, overnight.

During the study, overweight participants were assigned to either the 5:2 diet or a daily calorie restriction diet and were required to lose five per cent of their weight. Those on the 5:2 diet ate normally for five days and for their two fasting days consumed 600 calories, using LighterLife Fast Foodpacks, whilst those on the daily diet were advised to eat 600 calories less per day than their estimated requirements for weight maintenance (in the study women ate approx. 1400 calories, men ate approx. 1900 calories/day).

Under the expert guidance of the team, those on the 5:2 diet achieved 5 per cent weight-loss in 59 days compared to those on the daily calorie restriction diet who took in 73 days. 27 participants completed the study, with approximately 20 per cent of participants in both groups dropped out because they either could not tolerate the diet or were unable to attain their 5 per cent weight-loss target.

Researchers found that following weight-loss, participants who followed the 5:2 diet cleared the fat (triglyceride) from a meal given to them more efficiently than the participants undertaking the daily diet. Although there were no differences in post meal glucose handling, researchers were surprised to find differences between the diets in c-peptide (a marker of insulin secretion from the pancreas) following the meal, the significance of which will need further investigation.

Self involved? Moi?

It's a testament to the dearth of decent conservative writing available in Australia today that Quadrant has run a tedious book review by Catallaxy inmate "lizzie" - the one with the obsessional need to tell everyone what a fabulous lifestyle she leads with the fantastic husband who adores her, after having risen above a poverty stricken childhood in the West from a family with its fair share of mental illness.   (As is typical with the commenters at that blog, she is apparently a reformed "lefty" who has found the true path of political righteousness.  Climate change is, of course, in her and her allegedly smart husband's view, part of the grand conspiracy of socialist domination of the world.)

As is her wont, the review is roughly 50% about herself. 

Strangely, some at Catallaxy think her circuitous, enormously self-involved and self promoting writing style is very readable.   It is, in fact, the opposite.   She's like the conservative mirror image of Helen Razor, now that I think of it.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Unwanted movie review: Road to Perdition

Finally got around to watching the all star cast (Hanks, Newman, Law, Craig) in the Sam Mendes directed 2002 gangster film, Road to Perdition.

First:  what a fantastic looking movie.   I've only seen a few other Mendes films, and while I don't think American Beauty was particularly memorable for its cinematography (or for anything, really, other than a very unconvincing plot contrivance), I did think Skyfall was a remarkably great looking film.  With Road, it's just every single shot is gorgeous - a combination of fantastically detailed art direction, a cinematographer who I should probably look up, and good direction.   (It's always a bit unclear to me who to credit most between director and cinematographer as to the look of a film, but I assume the director tells the latter what he/she wants and checks throughout that he/she is getting it.)

As to story:  a bit thin and unconvincing in terms of exposition.   One key fortuitous event is left completely unexplained (anyone who has seen it probably knows what I mean), and it's a bit puzzling that more care was not taken to explain why or how it happened; or for that matter, why a more convincing motivation of the crucial killing that sets the story going is not really given.   The movie is based on a graphic novel, and it seems easy to blame that as the reason.    I think it fair to say that I haven't ever seen a film of such origin that has completely convinced me.  

Despite this, I thought Hanks was surprisingly good in a less than entirely sympathetic role.   All of the actors were pretty good really;  the whole movie just suffered a bit from a screenplay inadequacy that prevented it being truly great. 

Definitely worth watching, though.

About that white guy/black guy dance thing...

The controversy over whether and why (American) black guys are just natural "movers" on the dance floor compared to white dudes can look at this for a bit of evidence.   (Yeah, sorry, they just are.   Wakanda and the secret deployment of vibranium into black communities probably has something to do with it.)

Update:  further, perhaps better, evidence along the same lines:

This has also brought up a memory, but I forget which movie it's from:  the one where some older white guy - an authority figure - unexpectedly and in overt racist stereotype fashion tells the black guy to dance, it's in his blood.   What movie am I thinking of?     

An unobjectionable Cohen

Look, Nick Cohen did recently get, shall we say, somewhat carried away with apparent enthusiasm for authoritarian solutions to obesity and lifestyle induced ill health.   All well intentioned, no doubt, but over the top.

Anyway, all can be forgiven with his latest column:  Cranks have turned the world upside down, it's time to fight back.      (Subheading: Conspiracy theories were once a fringe interest. In the era of populists, they’ve now gone mainstream.)

I don't think there's anything in there worth objecting to.  

What's happening?

With Trump going on a twitter storm about the unfairness of the Mueller investigation, everyone's expecting that he's either building up to, or (possibly) testing the water for Republican support of, sacking Mueller.   I don't know that he's rational enough for testing the water; I think he's just waiting for Sean Hannity to tell him to sack Mueller or it's a crisis. 

Because, as Jonathan Swan at Axios says:
On this issue, Trump is dug in and angry. He views the leadership of the FBI as arrayed against him. And that red line he drew in the interview with the N.Y. Times last year — where he said he wouldn’t stand for Mueller prying into his family finances — still stands.
  • One crucial variable in all this is Fox News. Trump feeds off the moods of his favorite hosts. If Sean Hannity and Judge Jeanine Pirro turn it up a notch, saying the deep state is out to get him and Mueller is out of control, there’s no telling what Trump will do.
Don't Trump cultists see anything suspicious in their soiled political saviour freaking out when his finances are at risk of coming under scrutiny?    (Ha!, there I go again, thinking that cultists can think for themselves.) 

And isn't it a truly shocking state of affairs that Trump is so beholden to a handful of media commentators - experts at nothing other than beating up stories towards a biased conclusion - at Fox News?   

Which leads to the mystery of what is going on in the head of Rupert Murdoch:  he would obviously see the power that a handful of staff have over Trump.   Why wouldn't he want to give out subtle directions as to which way he would like Trump to jump?      If he doesn't want the turmoil that sacking Mueller would entail, why doesn't he pull strings on Hannity and that ridiculous "Judge" Pirro in that regard?     Or is it a case that he just doesn't care as long as he can count the money coming in from higher ratings?   Is constitutional quasi crisis good for his business, so he doesn't care?

It's a really bizarre situation....

Friday, March 16, 2018

Well, duh

Time magazine has a profile of Fox News's Shepard Smith, the who sticks out at the network like a sore thumb for his sometimes effective criticism and debunking of Trump.   (He's also gay, in a place renowned for straight men behaving badly.)  But how's this for the biggest understatement of this century (my bold):
Despite being the cable-news ratings leader, Fox News’ audience is also old. The median Fox News viewer in 2017 was 65 overall, the same as MSNBC, and 66 in primetime, the highest of all cable news networks. “I think that our audience skews conservative. We learn about our audience through research and data,” says Smith. A 2014 study by Pew Research Center indicated Fox News was the most-trusted news source for “consistently conservative” viewers, edging out the Wall Street Journal, Breitbart, and the Drudge Report.

How to annoy Russia

Someone at New Statesman, talking about how Britain should react to Russian assassinations on British soil, concludes:   If we really want to annoy Russia, we should cancel Brexit.   Makes some amusing sense:
So: economic sanctions are hard, war is bloody stupid, and we probably don’t want to get into the habit of trying to knock people off in Moscow restaurants. What we really need is a non-violent action that will definitely undermine Russian interests, doesn’t require US leadership and, ideally, doesn’t cost any money.

Over on Twitter, Jonnie Marbles, who you may recall from his sterling work in the field of hitting Rupert Murdoch with pies, has come up with the perfect idea: cancel Brexit. It’ll make us less dependent on the whims of Donald Trump. It will, if anything, strengthen the economy. And we all know that steps towards European unity annoy the hell out of Putin.

What’s more, the response to the events in Salisbury that's come from Brussels has been far, far warmer than the one that’s come from Washington. Earlier today, the European Parliament’s Brexit supremo Guy Verhofstadt tweeted that, “An attack against one EU & NATO country is an attack on all of us.” It’s like we’ve been beaten up, and the only one who gives a shit is the ex we just dumped in the most humiliating possible way. 

Bowling ball theory

It seems to have taken a surprisingly long time to work it out, but it does sound very likely that Politifact has correctly identified how Trump mangled a legitimate safety test into a "bowling ball" test, misunderstanding and misrepresenting its point completely in the process. 

How did he even know about this, though?   It must have been rumbling around somewhere on a wingnutty site as unfair to American cars, surely?

Of course I negotiate in bad faith - funny hey!

Even the cultist idiots, the wingnut defenders of Trump, aren't putting much effort into defending his open admission that he negotiates in bad faith - just making up claims when he had no idea if they are true or not.

Isn't it incredible that Trump admits this?  Did he do so because he thinks his guess was later vindicated?  I found that part of the quote in the initial report hard to follow.

Clarification can be found at Hot Air, which remains about the only conservative site worth visiting, explaining as follows:
Is that true, that we “lose” $17 billion a year to Canada? It is, just like you “lose” every time you go to the grocery store and hand over cash for food. But if you look more closely at the numbers, you’ll see that Trump is cherry-picking: We “lose” only if you’re comparing exports and imports of goods. If you look at the total trade balance between U.S. and Canada, which includes goods and services, we “win.” In 2016, our trade deficit with Canada in terms of goods was $12.1 billion but our trade surplus in terms of services was $24.6 billion, with exports of $54.2 billion versus imports of $26.9 billion. Even by Trump’s own strange metric of trade “winners” and “losers,” America comes out ahead overall in the relationship by about $12.5 billion.

But even if it was Canada that ended up with the surplus, the volume of trade between the two countries is so enormous that it’d be bananas to risk the relationship over a rounding error like $12.5 billion. Total trade between the U.S. and Canada in 2016 was $627.8 billion, with exports supporting more than a million American jobs. Last year, the $282 billion in goods that the U.S. sent north across the border was the largest amount of exports to any single nation on Earth. Even using Trump’s own math, the trade deficit in goods is a measly three percent of total U.S./Canada trade, which probably explains why Trudeau was insisting “we have no trade deficit.” Effectively, we don’t. And as I say, when you include services, there’s *really* no deficit. It’s a surplus for the U.S.
Slate puts it more bluntly (my bold):
Judging America’s trade performance based on goods alone would not make any sense, mind you; exports are exports, whether you’re talking about cars or financial services. But perhaps Trump heard that number, and mistakenly took it to mean that the U.S. has an overall trade deficit with Canada.

If that’s the case, it would still be a cause for concern. Trump is trying to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, and being misinformed about basic trade statistics makes it even less likely that he will make rational decisions about the future of the pact. 

It’s also possible that Trump is surrounded by yes-men, one of whom fed him a misleading statistic in order to confirm his own mistaken assumption. That would also obviously be cause for concern. 

But in the end, this is all just a reminder a broader problem: Our president lives in a solipsistic fantasy world, where facts mostly exist to confirm his own intuitions, and his staff either aren’t capable of correcting him or don’t want to. When it comes to legislation, that ignorance limits him to making nonsensical demands of Congress, because he simply doesn’t understand the issues. But when it comes to issues like trade, where he can unilaterally change U.S. policy with the stroke of a pen, his ignorance is an immediate menace. 

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Changing a policy that never made sense

A couple of comments on Labor's proposed policy change on tax credits being able to be converted to cash for people who never paid tax anyway:

1.   How did the policy ever make any sense anyway???    It really doesn't make sense as a tax policy.   As John Kehoe writes (with my bold):
My self-funded retiree father complained during a phone conversation this week about Labor's "tax grab" on refundable dividend imputation credits.

I shot back asking why asset-rich retirees should get away with paying negative tax rates for owning shares, when younger workers like me front up at the office each day and lose 30-50 per cent in tax?

2.   Is this why it hasn't (as far as I know) yet been condemned by any of the economists who hang around the IPA and Catallaxy?

3.  It is pretty hilarious some of the examples appearing in the Murdoch press as to how it will affect people:

Update:   Davidson and the IPA were slow off the mark, but of course as the policy leaves more money in the hands of government,  they are against it.  Got to strangle tax so as to be able strangle size of government, after all.   I think there will be other economists willing to put the boot into the way Sinclair tries to spin this:
Labor’s problem is that they are being too clever by half. They want to increase taxes without clearly saying so. That is profoundly dishonest. Receiving a tax refund is not welfare. In the same way receiving your change from the supermarket isn’t corporate charity – it is a return of your own money. Millions of Australians overpay their tax liabilities each and every year and receive a refund from the government. Labor proposes to stop paying refunds to older Australians – both now and in the future....

Permanently wrong

Wow.  Look at all the examples Jonathan Chait has quickly provided about the wrong predictions of Larry Kudlow.   The article opens:
A dozen years ago, I wrote a book about the unshakable grip of supply-side economics upon the Republican Party. Supply-side economics is not merely a generalized preference for small government with low taxes, but a commitment to the cause of low taxes, particularly for high earners, that borders on theological. In the time that has passed since then, that grip has not weakened at all. The appointment of Lawrence Kudlow as head of the National Economic Council indicates how firmly supply-siders control Republican economic policy, and how little impact years of failed analysis have had upon their place of power.

The Republican stance on taxes, like its position on climate change (fake) and national health insurance (against it), is unique among right-of-center parties in the industrialized world. Republicans oppose higher taxes everywhere and always, at every level of government. In 2012, every Republican presidential candidate, including moderate Jon Huntsman, indicated they would oppose accepting even a dollar of higher taxes in return for $10 dollars of spending cuts. They likewise believe tax cuts are the necessary tonic for every economic circumstance.

The purest supply-siders, like Kudlow, go further and deeper in their commitment. Kudlow attributes every positive economic indicator to lower taxes, and every piece of negative news to higher taxes. While that sounds absurd, it is the consistent theme he has maintained throughout his career as a prognosticator. It’s not even a complex form of kookery, if you recognize the pattern. It’s a very simple and blunt kind of kookery.
 Yes, it is a faith, and one in which incorrect predictions are never, ever cause for revising the belief.   (The reason being, as I only realised relatively recently, that there is always so much going on in the world that can contribute to economic outcomes, there's a permanently moving feast of  information that can be twisted to make some kind of excuse for failed prediction.   Thus it's never the theory that's at fault.   And yet, ironically, it's typically the same supply side believers who claim - completely without merit - that climate change is a case of "unfalsifiable" science.)   

I see that Krugman has re-tweeted DeLong's take:
Larry Kudlow has not been an economist in at least a generation. Rather, he plays an economist on TV. Whatever ability he once had to make or analyze or present coherent and data-based economic arguments is long gone—with a number of his old friends blaming long-term consequences of severe and prolonged drug addiction.

The right way to view this appointment is, I think, as if Donald Trump were to name William Shatner to command the Navy's 7th Fleet.

That said, probably little damage will be done. The major day-to-day job of the NEC Chair is to coordinate the presentation of economic policy options to the President, and to try to keep the agencies and departments on the same page as they implement policy. Kudlow has negative talents in either organizing and presenting alternative points of view or in controlling bureaucracies. Therefore the agencies will each continue marching to its different drummer, and there will be no coherent presentation of policy options to the President. But that will not be new.
And yet JC from Catallaxy, who doesn't seem to bother making snark comments here much anymore, thinks he's a great choice.    Yeah, sure.