Thursday, May 31, 2018

More about Babylon Berlin

Gee, this Netflix show (watched episode 5 last night) continues to impress, for the following reasons:

*  the cinematic scale and direction is obvious in every episode - so many extras costumed up;  streetscapes, nightclubs and subway stations that are completely convincingly art directed (if that's the word) for the era.   No doubt, some of it is digitally created (I have read that one recurring street setting is), but it is very hard to tell where it begins and ends, and most of the settings look satisfyingly large and real.   No wonder it was so expensive to make.

*  I don't know if this will continue for the whole series, but it's pleasantly different to find that the main character, an out of town police detective trying to investigate something in Berlin, seems to be so hapless in so many ways.    It's not played for laughs, but he just seems so unlucky all the time, and it's starting to amuse me.

*  If you ignore the sordid sex aspects, it does make nightclubbing in the era look a hell of a lot more fun than nightclubbing seems to have ever been in my lifetime.   No chemically induced party drugs or electronic doof doof music for them to have a good time - just champagne or spirits and live music.

*  It makes you want to know more about the actual history.   That's not a bad thing at all...

Some links of interest:

The Truth About Babylon Berlin, featuring this take: 
There is some gratuitous sex and violence in Babylon Berlin, which at first had me thinking the show would be just another titillating TV sensation. But the attention paid to costumes, architecture, historic events and other details kept me watching, and it paid off. Aside from being an over the top noir thriller with a labyrinthine plot, the series also serves as a basic primer on the Weimar years.
Heh:  Salon praising it for showing that some women of the time did not shave their armpits.

A professor of German studies has a slightly different take on the aim of the show.  Not entirely sure if he is right, but worth reading.

Spygate is failing

Trump's died in the wool "base" may soon have a problem on their hands - support for Trump's cynical and stupid "branding" of "spygate" is not getting support from Republican congressmen, or even some key Trump supporters on Fox News.    Has Rupert had enough??  (I doubt it, but this is an odd turn of events in the propaganda network):
Asked to respond to Gowdy’s remarks, a Fox News commentator known for defending the president also cast doubt on Trump’s claims. Fox News legal analyst Andrew Napolitano (better known and often quoted by Trump as Judge Napolitano) said claims that the FBI placed an undercover spy on Trump’s campaign “seem to be baseless.”

“There is no evidence for that whatsoever,” Napolitano said. The fact that the FBI source spoke with “people on the periphery of the campaign,” he said, “is standard operating procedure in intelligence gathering and in criminal investigations.”

Update:  Politico has a story to the same effect, noting this:
Late Wednesday, Fox News host Sean Hannity hosted a lengthy segment on the matter featuring appearances by two Trump campaign aides who alleged came into contact with the informant — Carter Page and Sam Clovis. But despite Hannity’s protestations, neither affirmatively said a spy had infiltrated the campaign.

"Were you spied upon. Did a spy approach you?" Hannity asked Page.
“I’m not sure, Sean,” Page replied.

Clovis, who oversaw the campaign’s foreign policy team, told Hannity that the informant contacted him, but didn’t pump him for information.
And this:
Dershowitz joined in Wednesday morning by conceding that he was “on the way to being persuaded” that the FBI’s use of an informant was proper.

The most clueless and ridiculous political commentator in Australia

It's a wonder RMIT isn't looking for ways to sack Steve Kates, given that his political commentary on Donald Trump and the e-vil Left (by which he means anyone who does not see Trump as the masterful saviour of the world just as he does) is so deeply, deeply embarrassing he must surely be putting off some people from studying there:
Political derangement is a mental disease for which the left is highly susceptible. PDT is demonstrating that every principle they have lived by is wrong, but rather than being willing to learn, they have become even more worm-eaten than ever. It is not just sickening to watch, of course, but frightening. 

Climate denialist will be forever in denial

Another good column by Graham Readfearn showed the dishonesty and ignorance of "Jonova", who claims that the old "carbon rise lags temperature rise" argument was what set her off on her life of climate change denial, despite the fact the explanation for it was always well known.

Note the conspiracy ideation she shows too:
  She was asked if there had been a “Road to Damascus” moment for her on climate change.  She said it was in February 2007 when her husband had told her that in the Earth’s geological past, there had been a 700 year lag between a rise in temperatures and a rise in CO2.

This led JoNova to Google for a bit. While this didn’t shoot down the argument that CO2 causes climate change, it did make her think that “the media is hiding something.”  According to Jo, all the scientists know this fact, but they don’t want to debate it.
It is obvious:  to deny AGW and climate change is caused by our CO2 emissions requires strong belief in conspiracies.  

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

The very definition of ...

...clueless white privilege:

[And look, I'm as cynical as anyone of the overuse by the Left of "white privilege", but you really only have to visit Catallaxy to see confirmation that as a concept, it certainly exists.]

Update:  a funny-cos-it's-true tweet spotted:

As I have been saying for some years now....

But don't worry, the sea level rise problem will be here soon enough.

Sack Jonathan Swan

I keep complaining about how Axios, a good site with generally objective judgment, employs Jonathan Swan, whose twitter feed keeps confirming he dislikes the cultural Left and is too sympathetic to Trump because of it.

Latest evidence - he "liked" another NRO column endorsing the "Obama and the FBI were spying on the Trump campaign, this is just wrong".

Sack him!

Didn't take long

As I wrote only two months ago, regarding the revived Roseanne, it's a wonder that all of her co-stars and (I think) some of her old writers and producers agreed to go back to the show, given her history of ludicrous and offensive tweets, nutty interviews and famous fighting with her production staff in the later years of her first show.  They must have known it would be like working with a ticking bomb.   I hope John Goodman, a great character actor, didn't knock back too many movie roles for it.

I see that Breitbart has the best, wingnutty outrage comments about the cancellation, ranging from "they're shutting down free speech!" to "it is not racist to call a black woman a monkey!  have you seen her photo?" 

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

More twitter stuff I agree with

It's the paranoid streak in American (and Australian wingnut) politics writ large, and it is obviously unhealthy and dangerous to democracy, and why I despise Rupert Murdoch for using it for profit:

Impossible to disagree

David Frum deals with it at greater, more eloquent, length:
Trump’s perfect emptiness of empathy has revealed itself again and again through his presidency, but never as completely and conspicuously as in his self-flattering 2018 Memorial Day tweets. They exceed even the heartless comment in a speech to Congress—in the presence of a grieving widow—that a fallen Navy Seal would be happy that his ovation from Congress had lasted longer than anybody else’s.

It’s not news that there is something missing from Trump where normal human feelings should go. His devouring need for admiration from others is joined to an extreme, even pathological, inability to return any care or concern for those others. But Trump’s version of this disconnect comes most especially to the fore at times of national ritual.

Monday, May 28, 2018

The brightness on distant planets

I watched Stargazing on the ABC last week, and enjoyed it enough.  (The "world record for number of people looking at the moon" seemed rather pointless, but people seemed to support getting out and it was a science-y thing, so what the hey...)

Back here in my backyard, while I wait for the dog to finish its wee before going to bed, I've been noticing how bright Jupiter and Mars seem to be at the moment.   The brightness of Jupiter in particular put me in mind of the question of how bright things would seem if you were an astronaut on one of its moons.  I remembered that this had been dealt with in a Robert Heinlein juvenile, where he had written that the eye on Earth is flooded with light during a bright day and just ignores the excess (so to speak); the result being that even on a Jovian moon, daylight would still look pretty much as bright as a day here.

I wondered last week if this was right, and have now just Googled the topic.   It would seem to be not too far off the mark, according to explanations at Quora and this table, which indicate that being on moon of Jupiter would be brighter than a hospital operating theatre.   They're all pretty bright, aren't they?  (Oddly, it makes one comparison indicating that being on Neptune the brightness would be able the same as "typical public bathroom".)

Things would be starting to look pretty dim at Pluto (somewhere between "public bathroom" and "typical night lit sidewalk"), but you would still be able to see colours.  In fact, this very neat NASA web page lets you enter your location, and come up with the next time that the light outside would look like midday light on Pluto!   Neat.  For me, it will be tomorrow morning at 6.24 am.   (Sunrise is 6.29am.)   I know the sky is still pretty bright at that time, but I will take particular note tomorrow while at the breakfast table.   I hope my son is still there too, so I can inflict some unwanted science on him.  I love doing that to my children....

Distant, small objects

How many small planets (asteroids?) do you think they've now discovered way beyond the orbit of Pluto and Neptune?    840, apparently, which does seem a lot to me.

And one will be visited next year by that New Horizons probe that went past Pluto last year.  

Speaking of that probe, there was a talk by the NASA folk who worked on it on Radio National last week (in the Big Ideas series.  Here's a link to the podcast.)   It was very interesting.  

Live in a nasty fantasy world of their own

I am gobsmacked at the ludicrous conspiracy/fantasy world uber Catholic CL lives in, when he has this to say about the video of an African guy who quickly scaled the outside of an apartment building in Paris to rescue a dangling child:


Then the commenter with the name that is no doubt meant to be sardonic, but I reckon it's accurate, weighs in:

It's not just foolish, it's nastily foolish - Muslim, African = fraudsters prepared to put 4 year old in danger, in their tiny minds.  

Nearby sorcery

NPR has a lengthy story up about poor old PNG and the uptick in sorcery motivated killings.

If ever a country could do with some re-invigoration of modern Christian evangelism, this would be it.

A sitcom appreciation

Oh look.  The very fine American sitcom (which never really took off here) The Middle has come to an end, and someone at Vox writes in praise of it as a very underrated show.  I agree.

Regarding current sitcoms from America:   have tried looking at Modern Family a few times - seems pretty awful to me.   Last time I saw Big Bang Theory, I thought it had run out of steam again (after having staged something of a recovery after the silly story lines involving Howard being an astronaut.)   I have also seen a bit of the revived Roseanne.   Sorry, but it doesn't have the same spark as the best of its first incarnation.   That actress who plays Darlene, though - she seems to have never aged.

In short, good sitcoms from the US are currently hard to find.

Marijuana legalisation scepticism noted

There's a column at WAPO by a former pot smoker, now a research psychologist (I think), who gets annoyed by the over-simplication of debate on marijuana legalisation.

Given that's what I complain about too, there's a lot in the article that I can agree with.

One matter which is new to me, though, is this suggestion:
Recent data is even more alarming: The offspring of partying adolescents, specifically those who used THC, may be at increased risk for mental illness and addiction as a result of changes to the epigenome — even if those children are years away from being conceived. The epigenome is a record of molecular imprints of potent experiences, including cannabis exposure, that lead to persistent changes in gene expression and behavior, even across generations. Though the critical studies are only now beginning, many neuroscientists prophesize a social version of Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring,” in which we learn we’ve burdened our heirs only generations hence.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Wood framed office block goes up quickly

In King Street, Fortitude Valley.  I posted a photo of it earlier this year.

The photo above was taken a week ago.  Here's a photo taken today:

You can see the frame has gone up another  level.  I know nothing about construction, but still, this looks a fast way to build...

Friday, May 25, 2018

Back to the count

I see via Hot Air, of all places, that Gallop has published polling indicating that the number of Americans identifying as falling within the LGBT category has gone up six years in a row.

Funnily enough, back in 2013 I looked at some studies and made my own guess that for men, the percent who would would say they were gay or bisexual was probably 4 to 5%.   And what do you know - the Gallop poll shows that 4.5% of all Americans are now claiming to be LGBT.   But, there are fewer men than women in that figure:
Overall, 5.1% of women in 2017 identified as LGBT, compared with 3.9% of men. The change among men over time has been minimal, with the LGBT percentage edging up from 3.4% in 2012 to 3.7% both last year and this year. On the other hand, the percentage of women identifying as LGBT has risen from 3.5% in 2012 to 5.1% today, with the largest jump occurring between 2016 and 2017. 
Still, my spitball estimate seems pretty close.

Anyway, the biggest feature of these figures is the very big growth in young people identifying this way.   Look at the table:

You would have to strongly suspect that the increase in millenials identifying as such says more about their susceptibility to experimentation and social fashion than a settled view of their own sexuality.   (I mean, if it was a case of social mores meaning more people are happy to come out, you would expect some growth in the numbers of older folk identifying, but it's just not there.)  

It certainly indicates that the Catholic Church is just going to continue to be bypassed in influence in the matter of its teaching on sexuality.

Historical dentistry

The somewhat gruesome history of the development of dentistry is always a good topic, and apparently there is a new display about it in England.   Some things I didn't know (after the part about Elizabeth I having black teeth, and the English problem with decay being caused by sugar):
A major culprit in decay was, of course, sugar, a product of globalization and the slave trade. In the late sixteenth century, a German visitor to Queen Elizabeth I’s court noted that the monarch had black teeth, “a defect that the English seem subject to, from their great use of sugar”. But consumption of the sweet stuff was initially confined to the super-rich. Two centuries after Elizabeth, the habit became more widespread, and fixes for the inevitable rot and tooth loss sprang up. It’s therefore not surprising that a hint of the macabre emerges in this show.

That is notable in a section on technologies devised to replace lost teeth. Efforts to fashion dentures from hippopotamus ivory or even porcelain failed to mimic the durability and appearance of the human tooth. Later, dentists resorted to what were known as Waterloo teeth — harvested from corpses — for use in dentures. These were named after the momentous 1815 Battle of Waterloo in present-day Belgium, whose 50,000 dead supplied plenty of material.

Understandably, extracting teeth from dead bodies made some squeamish. Eighteenth-century Scottish surgeon John Hunter experimented with an alternative to dentures: transplanting teeth from living donors. The fruit of a bizarre early experiment is on display — a human tooth transplanted into the comb of a cockerel. Hunter considered the work a success, thinking that the tooth had actually integrated itself into the comb. Modern examiners have since concluded that he merely did a good job of firmly shoving it in. Yet transplantation thrived for a few decades, says curator Emily Scott-Dearing. Five transplanted teeth are on display, as is one of the most chilling sights in the collection: a cartoon by Thomas Rowlandson from around 1790, depicting an impoverished child in pain after having a tooth yanked to fill out the smile of a wealthy woman.

Just what you want around nuclear missiles

'Bad trip': air force members guarding nuclear missiles took LSD, records show

Interestingly, the article notes that sitting around all day looking after a stationary weapon that never gets used makes for an unhappy workplace:
None of the airmen was accused of using drugs on duty. Yet it’s another blow to the reputation of the Air force’s nuclear missile corps, which has struggled at times with misbehavior, mismanagement and low morale.

Although seen by some as a backwater of the US military, the missile force has returned to the spotlight as Donald Trump has called for strengthening US nuclear firepower and exchanged threats last year with North Korea. The administration’s nuclear strategy calls for hundreds of billions of dollars in new spending in coming decades.

Slow news

That investigation into the Malaysian plane shot down over Ukraine is taking so long, I had assumed it was over. 
Investigators looking into the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, which was shot down over eastern Ukraine in July 2014, say the Russian missile that hit the plane originated from a Russian military unit.

The passenger jet crashed, killing all 298 people aboard. Moscow has denied being responsible.
I wonder if Trump will have anything to say about it.

Some humour for a Friday

Seen at The Onion:

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Joining the club

From the Guardian:
For kids in Greece, Spain and Italy, the Mediterranean diet is dead, according to the World Health Organisation, which says that children in Sweden are more likely to eat fish, olive oil and tomatoes than those in southern Europe.

In Cyprus, a phenomenal 43% of boys and girls aged nine are either overweight or obese. Greece, Spain and Italy also have rates of over 40%. The Mediterranean countries which gave their name to the famous diet that is supposed to be the healthiest in the world have children with Europe’s biggest weight problem.

Yet other European countries are still doing OK, although these lines are obviously confusing about what the true rate for Ireland is:
France, Norway, Ireland, Latvia and Denmark also have low rates, ranging from 5% to 9%. Ireland’s rate is 20%. The UK does not contribute data to the study, but about one in three children are overweight or obese when they leave primary school at the age of 11.
I'm betting Ireland would be 20% - all those potatoes and Irish stews.

Trump and the stupifying circle of Right

This article at AP explains how Trump deliberately is using "branding" to rile up his dumb sucker base, and Republican congressmen and the Wingnut media are along for the ride:
Trump has told confidants in recent days that the revelation of an informant was potential evidence that the upper echelon of federal law enforcement has conspired against him, according to three people familiar with his recent conversations but not authorized to discuss them publicly. Trump told one ally this week that he wanted “to brand” the informant a “spy,” believing the more nefarious term would resonate more in the media and with the public.

He went on to debut the term “Spygate” on Wednesday, despite its previous associations with a 2007 NFL scandal over videotaping coaches.
So, much of this time, you can't tell where within this self stupefying circle of Right wingnut spin an idea has originated - did someone at Fox News put it into Trump's head, or Andrew McCarthy's more high brow (but just as scurrilous and unfounded) conspiracy columns - but in this case it seems to be Trump's own idea.   (Probably discussed during a bed time phone call with Hannity, though.)

And once the idea is out there, you only have to read the likes of Catallaxy threads, including the comments by rich, gullible and kinda dumb JC who swings by here occasionally, to see how Trumpkins lap it all up, just as Trump intended.   [Monty, just give up.  Too. Dumb. To. Engage. With.]

We have never really seen anything like this, I reckon - particularly the role of Fox News in encouraging authoritarianism in the US. 

[Oh - and now starting to make excuses for other, murderous, authoritarians.  They're just misunderstood, it seems.]

On Roth

I haven't read a thing by Philip Roth, and the descriptions of his work and style in this article in Slate doesn't really encourage me to try him, either.   I don't know - the whole intense American Jewish introspection thing just doesn't appeal to me. 

I was struck by this paragraph regarding his most infamous book:
What you can’t really feel anymore is the shock, or the funniness. Portnoy’s problem is that it was too successful: It remade the culture in its own smutty image. Today the bawdy set pieces—crude masturbation jokes involving raw liver—seem as American as American Pie. What remains, under the antic comedy, is the familial sadness of the Portnoys, so much love leading to so much misery, and the hectoring voice that would carry so much of Roth’s subsequent work.
Yeah, thanks for nothing, Mr Roth...

Edging towards modernity

From NPR:
The Philippines, where roughly 80 percent of the population is Roman Catholic, is one of only two countries in the world where divorce remains illegal (with exemptions for the roughly 5 percent of the population that's Muslim). The only other country where divorce remains illegal is Vatican City.
I guess there's not that much need for divorces within Vatican City.

Anyway, change may be on the way in the Philippines:
But a bill passed in March by the Philippines House of Representatives is giving hope to proponents of divorce. It would allow divorce for a variety of reasons, including irreconcilable differences, abuse, infidelity and abandonment....

To become law, the bill needs to be passed by the Senate and approved by the president. But the House bill, which passed by a vote of 134 to 57, is significant since no divorce legislation has ever made it this far in the Philippines, says sociologist Jayeel Cornelio of Manila's Ateneo University. He calls the bill "unprecedented," but also logical in a country where a recent survey showed more than half of Filipinos are in favor of allowing divorce "for irreconcilably separated couples."

"The influence of the Catholic Church, when it comes to political matters and private moral affairs, is becoming weaker and weaker in the country," Cornelio says. "The resistance of the Catholic Church to the divorce bill is increasingly seen as not in the interests of the public but only the interests of the Catholic Church."

Cornelio says a divorce bill is a sensible, and even "inevitable" next step after the passage of the country's reproductive health law in 2013, which allowed poorer Filipinos in particular access to birth control. Many municipalities have been slow in implementing the reproductive health law, which took more than a decade to pass — evidence of how much power the Church still enjoys.
Still, there is an unusual level of bipartisan support for the divorce bill — a matter of concern for the Catholic Church.

China and children

Good post at The Interpreter:  Will China finally end its one child policy?

It makes the point that China has two clear demographic problems - not enough workers and not enough women:
By 2050, one in four people in China will be a retiree. This will definitely put an incredible strain on China’s one-child generation, who will have the 4-2-1 problem of taking care of kids and elderly parents, with but a nascent social safety net for support. With fewer workers paying into the system and more pensioners drawing from it, China’s pension shortfall could by 2050 reach trillions, according to a Deutsche Bank estimate.

There are, of course, other countries with greying populations. Japan takes the lead, but it has a far smaller population and a per capita GDP four times larger than China’s. That is why there’s the common saying in China, “We’ll get old before we get rich”.

It is hard to escape the conclusion that China shot itself in the foot demographically with the one-child policy. From having five people to support one retiree, the country will soon have 1.5 workers per retiree. Its bachelors need brides, its elderly need caretakers, yet its women were reduced by the one-child policy. Coupled together with a long-standing cultural preference for sons, this has led to a shortage of 40–60 million females.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Reform already finished?

The modernisation of Saudi Arabia has hit a road bump.  (Or, perhaps more accurately, the government car of modernisation has swerved to deliberately hit a few women who were cheering it on to go faster.)
For months, Saudi Arabia had been enjoying a public-relations windfall. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, or MbS, the kingdom’s charismatic future leader, seduced the world with his vision for a new, modern nation. There have been live concerts, and cinemas are opening, with many more planned. Women can attend soccer games. Last September, MbS announced a bold promise to overturn the country’s ban on women driving, a change that is set to go into effect on June 24.

Then, late on Friday, it all came crashing down: Reports emerged that the women activists who pressed for the policy change had been arrested and imprisoned. As of this morning, 13 are reported to have been arrested; most are women. Apart from the driving issue, they have campaigned against so-called guardianship rules which require Saudi women to receive permission from a male relative before making many life decisions, like traveling. One of those detained was Loujain al-Hathloul, who was photographed at the 2016 One Young World Summit with none other than Meghan Markle, who married Britain’s Prince Harry on Saturday.
The same article notes a widely told story about the modern prince:
One anecdote about MbS that seemingly every ambassador in Riyadh tells is the “bullet story.” When MbS was 22 (roughly 10 years ago), he wanted to build a business career. On one occasion, he needed a Saudi judge to sign off on a deal. But there was a problem with the contract, so the judge declined. MbS, the story goes, pulled a bullet out of his pocket and put it on the man’s desk. “You will sign or this is for you,” he said. The man signed the contract, but complained to then-King Abdullah, who banned MbS from the royal court.

I won't be booking my holiday visa to Riyadh anytime soon.   

Under pressure

I never would have thought that the concept of "pressure" would apply to the inside of a proton, but apparently it does.  And it's very, very high.  The abstract of a Nature paper just published (my bold):

The proton, one of the components of atomic nuclei, is composed of fundamental particles called quarks and gluons. Gluons are the carriers of the force that binds quarks together, and free quarks are never found in isolation—that is, they are confined within the composite particles in which they reside. The origin of quark confinement is one of the most important questions in modern particle and nuclear physics because confinement is at the core of what makes the proton a stable particle and thus provides stability to the Universe. The internal quark structure of the proton is revealed by deeply virtual Compton scattering1,2, a process in which electrons are scattered off quarks inside the protons, which  subsequently emit high-energy photons, which are detected in coincidence with the scattered electrons and recoil protons. Here we report a measurement of the pressure distribution experienced by the quarks in the proton. We find a strong repulsive pressure near the centre of the proton (up to 0.6 femtometres) and a binding pressure at greater distances. The average peak pressure near the centre is about 1035 pascals, which exceeds the pressure estimated for the most densely packed known objects in the Universe, neutron stars3. This work opens up a new area of research on the fundamental gravitational properties of protons, neutrons and nuclei, which can provide access to their physical radii, the internal shear forces acting on the quarks and their pressure distributions.

Why I am skeptical of Nassim Taleb

I look at Nassim Taleb's twitter feed from time to time, and sometimes read other stuff about his ideas.

I think he has a touch of the Jordan Peterson's about him - he does a very hard, overly self-confident, sell of his own ideas using somewhat opaque or idiosyncratic terminology, and some people are very impressed by that.  Both seem readily overcome by emotions - Peterson can be weepy and sound distraught by Lefty ideology; Taleb is surely one of the angriest, and most arrogant sounding,  Tweeters on the planet.  (I reckon he would deny being emotional, though, and claim all of his angry sounding outbursts are purely intellectually driven.)

I pretty much have to rely on what other people explain as his positions, and here is a useful one by Arnold Kling on Taleb's recent book about "Skin in the Game".   One part:
In his latest book, Skin in the Game, Nassim Taleb offers an approach to social and political philosophy that he believes will encourage socially constructive change and increased freedom. He starts with "double-negative utilitarianism," which means to minimize harm. This leads to a focus on the proper management of risk.

Taleb argues that only when people are, themselves, exposed to the adverse consequences of their choices do they take risks that are constructive for society. When they do not have "skin in the game," they take risks that are harmful and dangerous. This leads Taleb to advocate libertarianism, in which decentralized entrepreneurs are heroes, while those who impose centralized decisions are villains.
Hmmm.  "Decentralised entrepreneurs are heros" sounds a bit Randian to me.  You know how much I like Randian capitalist hero-worship.  [Sarc].

But you know what makes me most skeptical - Taleb spends a lot of time on Twitter fretting about GMO food and Monsanto (a topic on which I have some interest, as I have long thought it plain that some GMO ideas - food crops that allow for more and more herbicide to used on them - are dubious long term propositions that people ought to be skeptical of), but he seems to spend no time on climate change, which is clearly the most important global medium to long term risk of all.

As far as I can tell, Taleb is not a climate change skeptic; or at least, he has argued strongly for a precautionary approach to climate policy.   But Arnold Kling is a skeptic, and I reckon he and other libertarians like Taleb because he is part of the libertarian "do nothing" club - he manages to find (more or less) politically tribal reasons to not be concerned about politicians who deny or want to do nothing about climate change.   So, for such enlightened liberations who are not so crass to want to be aligned with Monckton, Singer or other loser and nutty sounding denialists, they can shrug their shoulders and say "no, of course I believe in climate change.  But meh, what can you do?  Now those bicycle helmet laws, anti-vaping regulation, and lower taxes - now that's what really gets me perturbed."    

Readfearn Fisks Bolt

Graham Readfearn does a rather excellent job at detailing how Andrew Bolt's editorial piece on Peter Ridd (which was likely only viewed by his small echo chamber of viewers anyway) was wrong in all key aspects.

(Incidentally, haven't had the chance to use the verb "to Fisk" for a long time.   Whatever happened to Fisk anyway.  I see he still does some reporting, but he is much more ignored than he ever used to be...)

More Peterson skepticism

A Slate article:   Jordan Peterson seems like a terrible therapist.

I think he might deny that what he was doing in these Skype sessions was therapy.  But the more I read about him, the nuttier he seems. 

In other denialists news

Wingnutty climate change denialists are fools easily parted from their money - whether it be for laying out for echo chamber denialist tomes published by the IPA, or an academic wanting hundreds of thousands of dollars for legal fees for a case which, I strongly suspect, he's going to lose.   (That really is a very large amount for legal fees for an employment dispute case, by the way.)

Denialists don't have the best track record when it comes to litigation.

Climate change denialists in trouble

Climate change denialists were motivated right from the start of the disastrous South East Queensland floods of 2011 to try to find humans to blame for the exceptional scenes of mayhem which led to many deaths in a type of sudden flood we just hadn't really seen in this region before.

Hence, apart from dam management, they latched onto one family's ground works as being the cause of deaths, and ran with it in a way that has led to a defamation action that anyone objective would have to say is not going well for Alan Jones and Nick Cater.


Probably nothing to it

Lots of news about some German researchers finding that that the likely explanation for the EM drive engine producing some tiny apparent thrust is the test apparatus interacting with the Earth's magnetic field.  

I was skeptical about this being a breakthrough from the start.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Teenagers, guns and mental health

They a very good, detailed and somewhat depressing explanation in The Atlantic about how you can never expect to have a system that catches all potential teenage gun killers in the US before they act.   It gives examples of the pre-killing behaviour of some of the guys (it's virtually always guys) who have been notorious mass shooters.  

It's always tedious hearing Right wingnuts saying that the problem is someone should have done something before the killing, when less than 10 States have "red flag" laws that might, in some cases, work to remove their guns.  And besides, for killers too young to own their own gun, they often just use their parents.

The article also notes that there has been a clear decrease in mental health beds available for those who need a lengthy and proper assessment.  And there are other complications too:
A parent of a child 14 or younger can legally commit him to a mental-health facility without an overt act—but generally, only for three days. And here, there is a practical problem: scarcity of treatment. Liza Long says that after Eric put a knife to her throat, he was taken to the emergency room, where they administered a drug to calm him down. Then the hospital informed her they had no beds for him in the psychiatric hospital. In fact, Eric’s social worker told her the only way to get Eric the mental-health services he needed was to press criminal charges against him. “So those were my options,” she says. “‘We have no idea what’s wrong with your kid. We think he needs a psychiatric bed, but there’s nothing available. Here’s a drug that will knock him out.’” She took him home with a prescription for an antipsychotic drug called Zyprexa.

Caldwell hears this all the time. “Twenty-five years ago,” he says, “if you had insurance, you could probably get the kid put into a psychiatric unit for 30 days for an evaluation and try to get a handle on what's going on. Those beds have just disappeared.”

Aside from the practical, legal, and emotional barriers—after all, who wants to commit their child?—parents have another incentive to keep their secret close, as Nancy Lanza did: fear of losing her other children. Several specialists and parents told me that social workers often believe that a child’s erratic behavior stems from abuse in the home. One woman with a violent daughter described how the local Child Protective Services department accused her and her husband of beating their daughter and depriving her of food. The agency threatened to take away their other children and investigated the parents for a year before determining there was no abuse. For her part, Liza Long lost custody of her two younger children after she published a heartfelt blog post headined “I am Adam Lanza’s Mother.” After the essay spread online, the judge granted her ex-husband full custody of the two children if she insisted on raising Eric. “Why won’t families talk about this?” Long asks. “That’s why.”
And finally, the obvious:
One study tracked school shootings in three dozen countries—incidents in which two or more people died. Half of those shooting incidents occurred in the United States. Given that, according to some studies, Americans are no more emotionally troubled than people in Europe and Canada, the stark difference is guns. Children outside the U.S. “don’t have access to AR-15s or Glocks or other weapons that our kids have access to,” says Dewey Cornell. “That’s a huge glaring obvious problem. It’s obvious to scholars in the field. It’s obvious to folks in other countries. For some reason it’s not obvious to our politicians.”

Peterson attacked

I wrote in my last post that I suspected there was less to Jordan Peterson than met the eye, and this quite effective piece looking at some of his waffley thoughts certainly indicates I was right.

It starts:
If you want to appear very profound and convince people to take you seriously, but have nothing of value to say, there is a tried and tested method. First, take some extremely obvious platitude or truism. Make sure it actually does contain some insight, though it can be rather vague. Something like “if you’re too conciliatory, you will sometimes get taken advantage of” or “many moral values are similar across human societies.” Then, try to restate your platitude using as many words as possible, as unintelligibly as possible, while never repeating yourself exactly. Use highly technical language drawn from many different academic disciplines, so that no one person will ever have adequate training to fully evaluate your work. Construct elaborate theories with many parts. Draw diagrams. Use italics liberally to indicate that you are using words in a highly specific and idiosyncratic sense. Never say anything too specific, and if you do, qualify it heavily so that you can always insist you meant the opposite. Then evangelize: speak as confidently as possible, as if you are sharing God’s own truth. Accept no criticisms: insist that any skeptic has either misinterpreted you or has actually already admitted that you are correct. Talk as much as possible and listen as little as possible. Follow these steps, and your success will be assured. (It does help if you are male and Caucasian.) 

Jordan Peterson appears very profound and has convinced many people to take him seriously. Yet he has almost nothing of value to say. This should be obvious to anyone who has spent even a few moments critically examining his writings and speeches, which are comically befuddled, pompous, and ignorant. They are half nonsense, half banality. In a reasonable world, Peterson would be seen as the kind of tedious crackpot that one hopes not to get seated next to on a train. 

Monday, May 21, 2018

A really bad idea

I've never spoken about Rick and Morty.

I have Netflix,  a son just turned 18, and a general fondness for science fiction comedy - of course I've watched it.   But I'm not a huge fan.   Anyone who knows my tastes in pop culture could probably understand why.

Nihilistic or dark comedy has never done it for me in a big way.  Short bursts of it can be OK, but I don't think anyone should dwell on it as being a meaningful reflection on life - that's corrosive to the soul and society.

There are occasions in the show where the joke genuinely surprise me and gives me a good laugh, but to be honest, it's not that often.   And thematically, with its use of the multiverse as a continual basis for its stories (as well as its own type of dysfunctional family), I thought the show had pretty much run its course at the end of the third season.

So why do I write this now?   It's because of the news that its been renewed for 70 episodes!  

This is surely a bad idea for it creatively.  At a time when it seems universally acknowledged that The Simpsons should have ended more than a decade ago, we have another creative team thinking they can keep milking a comedy set up for, what?  another 8 to 10 years? 

The truth is, any comedy show has trouble maintaining quality for more than about (I reckon) 7 seasons.   Some die faster than others.   I just think it is obvious that Rick and Morty cannot maintain its output with the same "quality" that fans like for that amount of time.

Update:   quite separately from this, I was thinking recently when scrolling through Spotify, is 7 also the accurate number for "great albums any one band is ever likely to produce"  before diminishing returns set in?

Sunday, May 20, 2018

A few comments about the wedding

I really don't pay much attention to Royal family news, but when one of them marries it's a spectacle that is pretty interesting even if only to admire all of the organisational skills at work.   And besides, they are the only weddings where you really get to see the bride and groom's faces in close detail in real time - it's a unique worldwide invasion of privacy that has pretty irresistible curiosity value.   Of course, you have to ignore much of the commentary, which can be gushing and claim inside knowledge of emotions with no reliability at all.

Harry and Meghan (I just had to check how to spell her name, that's how little I have read about her) played it pretty cool, though, and it was an entertaining event for the most part.  The missing teeth of one of the page boys as his face was caught in an open mouth grin behind the bride was a particularly funny and cute image.

And what about Teilhard de Chardin getting a mention?  That impressed me (although, to be honest, I was doing some quick tidying up in the kitchen during most of the black bishop's speech, which did seem to go on too long.)   I think de Chardin showed the way forward for modern Christianity, and he's gradually being rehabilitated within the Catholic Church, so I quite like him being mentioned anywhere.

The thing is, I reckon that if anyone remembers their own wedding service with fondness and emotion, it's hard not to like watching the wedding of any couple who look to be undertaking it with both solemnity and pleasure.   Hence, I enjoyed it. 

Friday, May 18, 2018

Random observations

*   I do find Annabel Crabb a very likeable TV presence, but she does sometimes really lay on the anachronistic 50's feminine cos-play look a bit too thick, I reckon:

Please ignore the woman to the right.  She's like the polar opposite of Crabb's fashion sense.

*  Richard Ayoade is pretty entertaining in most things he does, except for the woeful The Crystal Maze which has been showing on SBS.   Apparently, it's an update of an old, popular(?) show, but just like the truly charmless quiz show Pointless, there sometimes is just no accounting for British viewing tastes.  (Not that we can talk, I suppose - I find watching people watching TV the least interesting concept ever devised.)  

*  Bitcoin, which seems only to be a parlour game for tech nerds, is using up a quite large amount of energy.   More governments should just ban it, I say.

*  Oh for goodness sake:   South Koreans apparently share fully in the Chinese belief that certain foods are particularly good in all sorts of "woo" ways  - dog stew is supposed to make men more virile:
Many foods in Korea, such as dog meat stew (bosintang), are deemed to be “good for men.” From everyday foods, such as garlic or chives, to eel soup and gaebul—“penis fish,” a species of marine worm that resembles the male appendage—these ingredients are recommended for their ability to enhance male sexual performance. Bbeolddok-ju, or “erection wine,” is a rice-based wine that’s made with fruits, and comes with a phallus-shaped cap bearing a smiley face.
 Leave the dogs alone - they aren't going to help in the bedroom.

*  American Right wing media has fully constructed an alternative reality that, it seems, will not start to be deconstructed until the rich, old, male money behind it (Rupert Murdoch, Koch Brothers, and others) are dead.   I think it is indisputable that the globe will be a far, far better, safer and saner place when Rupert dies.  

The obvious problem with self driving taxis

The issue that I mused about a couple of years ago gets a lengthy column at Slate: 

The Dirty Truth Coming for Self-Driving Cars:   Trash. Odors. Bodily fluids. 

Will autonomous rideshares be ready for our mess?

Why I am disinclined to see Deadpool movies

From the NPR review:
No one can deny that Deadpool 2, like its predecessor, is filling a hole in the cinematic-superhero marketplace. Its graphic, gleefully gratuitous and mystifyingly mean-spirited R-rated violence is there for a rigorously focus-grouped reason. The mainstream Marvel movies — your Avengers, your Doctors Strange, your Ants-Men — are happy to maintain their white-knuckle grip on a PG-13 rating, the better to maximize their prospective audience. But that means their violence must remain assiduously entrail-free. They're eye-popping, just not literally. Visuals, not viscera.

Maybe Deadpool 2, with its merry fusillade of lopped-off body parts and mangled torsos and arterial spray, is just being more honest about what the world would look like, if superheroes truly existed. Either that, or it's just cynically indulging the bloodlust of viewers who regard badassiness as the only meaningful superhero currency, because they grew up reading the blithely violent (and not for nothing, hilariously awful) '90s comics that birthed Deadpool and many of this film's co-stars.
My simple rule:  maiming should not be condoned for entertainment purposes.

Why have so many people moved past that proposition, in the space of 30 years or so?

Update:   and more commentary I suspect I would agree with, if only I saw the movies, from the NYT review:
 What drives this franchise is the same force that drives so much culture and politics right now: the self-pity of a white man with a relentless need to be the center of attention. He is angry, violent, disrespectful to everyone and everything, and at the same time thoroughly nontoxic and totally cool.

Sure. Great. But there is something ever so slightly dishonest about this character, something false about the boundaries drawn around his sadism and his rage. “Deadpool 2” dabbles in ugliness and transgression, but takes no real creative risks.
I strongly suspect that take on the matter will upset you, Jason!

Kant and the Avengers

I quite like David Robert's article talking about Kant and utilitarianism and Avengers: Infinity War.

He's got one of the most entertaining twitter feeds around, too.  (In one series of tweets, he explained that he has been using pot recreationally since about 14.  He now has teen sons of his own - I was kind of interested what he tells them about it, as surely he is smart enough to know that suing it from  such a young age is now widely regarded as a risky thing for possible development of schizophrenia.)  

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Climate change denialism is gradually dying out - literally

I see that Fred Singer (and the Wall Street Journal) is copping a pasting for his column denying sea level rise could be a problem, which sounds so obviously amateurish, and kinda dumb, that people are really surprised it would be published, even by the WSJ.

Singer has been around forever, so I had to check his age.  He's 93! 

Richard Lindzin, the only AGW skeptic scientist who I think has been credited with at least being wrong in an interesting way, is now 78.

Ian Plimer, who's just a geologist gadfly, is 72.  (Pity, I thought he was probably a bit older than that.)

Curry is 63 or 65 - accounts seem to differ - but she looks a bit old for her age.  Monckton is 66, but could pass for older too.   I can't see how old John Christy is, but he was married for 39 years, which would indicate he is likely at least 60.  White haired Roy Spencer is 62.

I'm not sure it's possible to find a climate scientist who counts as a skeptic/lukewarmer who is under 60.   

So, I guess a few of them will be with us for a while yet, but time will eventually remove climate change denialism.   

More Malaysian weirdness

Anwar Ibrahim sure got his pardon quickly.   But I was surprised to see he is aged 70!   I think his hair might be died, but still, in my mind he was probably in his 50's, and he looks (like his pardoner) remarkably fit and youthful for his age.   Is there some mysterious key to eternal youth in Malaysian politicians?  Wannabe youthful vampire Peter Thiel should be looking into that, I reckon.

I also see details via Jason Soon of a Chinese planned (and part constructed) superdevelopment at Johor Bahru, just across the bridge from Singapore.  

What's happening with China (as far as I can make out) is pretty weird, and novel:   mega firms operating with close connections to an ostensibly communist government are engaging in something that we'd probably call rapacious global capitalism if it was coming out of America.  Or, to put it another way,  dubious developments are getting foisted onto poorer countries keen to see any economic activity at all because there seems to be a combination of too much idle money in China and a government that sees its way to global security and domination by, well, building nice things. 

I don't think anyone saw that coming.

And by the way, that Johor Bahru development seems dubiously close to the ocean waterline.   Malaysia, and the Chinese developer, seem to not be planning enough for even 100 years into the future.

As it happens, I've booked a holiday at the end of the year for Singapore, and catching the bus up to Malacca for a few nights as well.  High end hotels in Malacca are ridiculously cheap.  Yet, when I checked whether staying at Johor Bahru was cheap enough to make the commute into Singapore worthwhile, it wasn't.   Johor Bahru also seems to have a lack of interesting things in its own right, although it does have a Legoland which is presumably there to attract visitors from Singapore.   Anyway, I'll be interested to look out the window at the city on the way to Malacca.  

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Winter is coming

I'll be busy for a couple of days, by the way...

Monday, May 14, 2018

Dear Entertainment industry: please, stop shooting people in the head for entertainment

It's not just the This is America clip which has brought this to a head (no pun intended.)

I had been noticing over the last couple of months how incredibly ubiquitous the Hollywood/TV/entertainment industry use of "gun shot to one part of the head, blood sprayed out the other side" has become.

I think I can blame Stanley Kubrick, who was the first I remember to show a gun suicide up close with brain spatter on the wall behind the victim, back in Full Metal Jacket.   At least that was, at the time, an R rated movie.   Now, a similar technical device (or perhaps, post production effects?) is used in a widely popular Youtube music video?   Sensitivities have changed incredibly in the space of a few decades.

Other shows which have featured it:   Mindhunter (more a head explosion, in the first 5 minutes);  Mr Robot (Dark Army operatives in particular);  Dirk Gently (Netflix version);  Babylon Berlin (second episode.)

Honest to God, it seems I can't watch a series made for adults which does not feature in pretty close up detail the old gun shot to the head, splatter out the other side.

Is it a case of technology leading art?   Do directors think "we can make this look pretty realistic with Acme Company's patented "Head Splatter for Hollywood" explosive kit.  So let's do it!"

Now, despite my complaint, readers will know I have not stopped watching these shows because of this (with the except on Mindhunter, which was awful in other ways) - I'm not curling up in a corner  worried. 

But I do object to it on both moral and aesthetic grounds and I WISH HOLLYWOOD AND TV WOULD STOP DOING IT.

Here's the moral reasoning:

* surely it's unpleasant for those who have been touched by gun violence, be they ex military with PTSD, the relatives of those recently shot (of whom there must be many in the US, but we have our gunshot murder-suicides in this country too), or police.   And children - surely children who have not yet had the deadening effect of too much exposure to fictional violence feel an unpleasant impact from first seeing this portrayal.  Yes, they shouldn't be watching such adult shows anyway, but still we know they do.  Even free to air TV has incredibly looser censorship standards than it ever did before.

*   surely for the not-quite-mentally-right, it could play into murderous fantasy.  Mind you, I strongly suspect video games with their repeated head and body splattering violence are worse.

*  there's something just "off" about the casualisation of violence when it gets to the extent of comprising on screen maiming for entertainment.   I've never had a problem with a fist fight in entertainment - and I don't think the Three Stooges led to moral decay.    But violence when it depicts bodily maiming - it reaches a line where I just can't see it as something that people should want to see. 

Here's the aesthetic reasoning (although some may argue I've already crossed over to it in my last point):

* it never used to be necessary to made a gun shot a realistic one to make it have emotional impact as part of a story.   In fact, there's a recent example of that in the tense movie 10 Cloverfield Lane.   There is an off screen killing of someone by a sudden shot obviously aimed at his head - and it has more impact than many of the shots complained about above.  Strangely, just because you can show something in fiction that apparently looks realistic, it doesn't necessarily mean you get the most impact by showing it that way.

I've made this point here before, as it was one that occurred to me right back to the suicide scene in Full Metal Jacket:   technically accomplished, overly explicit violence can easily be enough to pull people out of the fictional story, because it heightens your awareness that it is fiction - there's not a guy really being killed for your entertainment - and you can start to wonder about how it feels to the actor to have a explosive with a bag of red jam go off on the back of their head. Why even let part of the audience start to think that way?

Now, anyone reading this will notice that my arguments seem contradictory - if the aesthetic argument is true, shouldn't I be less concerned that the images are disturbing to people who have been touched by gun violence?  

No, I'm not going to concede that:   I don't think that my feeling of being sometimes being distanced from the impact of depicted fictional shooting is a reliable guide to the feeling of those who have lived with the images they have seen or imagined of real people with gunshot wounds to the head.

I just wish there was some sort of revival of moral argument against the depictions of violence from the entertainment industry, but it seems so far from happening....

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Wonder Woman Watched

Given that it seems to me that no critics have much liked most DC comic hero movies for many years, and I have trouble taking Batman in any incarnation seriously, I had little interest in seeing Wonder Woman at the cinema, despite the good reviews.  But I caught it on Netflix last night.

I was pleasantly surprised at how much I liked it.   

First, I wasn't really expecting it to look so good.   Sure, the island of whatever that the Amazons lived on was your typical CGI conglomerate of waterfalls and mountains (still looking more realistic than Lord of the Rings, to my eye), but I was more impressed with the recreations of World War I London and Europe.   It looked like a lot of money had been spent on it, with lots of extras who I don't think were CGI.

Second, I didn't know there would be quite as much "fish out of water" humour of the titular heroine trying to make sense of the human world.   Remember, I do demand a fair amount of humour in my superhero movies, and this one had just enough.

Third, the actors were pretty good.  Gadot is a beauty, and while Pine is an actor who never appears in much that impresses me, he was suitably charming in this role.  I felt a bit sorry for whoever it was who played the mad Scotsman.  Horrendous haircut and a role that only called for him to look daft and crazy eyed in every scene.  Oh well, it's a living I guess.

Anyway, maybe it was also the novelty of a superhero movie set in an era where they normally do not appear, but I thought it was pretty good.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Money, money, money

What an interesting article, explaining about a new high security vault building just outside of Melbourne which is home to all new Australian banknotes.

Sounds like the security measures would be worthy of a Mission Impossible style attack.

The beer you have when not having a beer, I suppose...

Noted at Japan Today:  Suntory to release clear, no-alcohol, plastic-bottled beer.

Here's what it looks like:

To Berlin

For those on Netflix - I've started watching the well reviewed German series Babylon Berlin, and it's a pretty remarkable show.   Based on some crime and corruption novels set in 1929 Berlin, it's apparently the most expensive German TV series ever made, and after two episodes, I can say it sure looks like it.   It looks terrific.

Lots of emphasis on sexual and other decadence in a setting that I suppose is like a supercharged version of Cabaret minus - thus far - the Nazis.   (I'm guessing here - as it happens, I've never watched that movie.)   I'm a bit curious about the accuracy of the dancing in the extended nightclub scene in episode 2 - did the audiences teach themselves to dance together in such a choreographed looking way during popular songs?    I think that's possible, but its nothing like audience behaviour these days.  I also see that some on Reddit think the song and dancing is completely wrong for the period.  It may be, since I have no knowledge of whether such an avant garde style (almost techno sounding, some Redditers say) would have ever turned up in a Weimar cabaret, but the whole scene is so well staged, eccentric and striking that I enjoyed it anyway.

I see when I Google it that the first season (I think there are only going to be two) has a "shocking" ending.   I'm pretty sure it has me hooked.   Perhaps the sordid aspects might start to grind me down, but we'll see.

And just in case anyone hasn't realised it - if the English dubbed version bothers you (as it does me), the settings in Netflix let you watch it in German with English subtitles.   Much better.

Update:    Oh!  Here's a good article at The Guardian explaining how the dance hall featured in the series is indeed based on a real life one that was pretty exotic.   No S&M brothel in the basement, though.   Interesting.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Talking prostates

In the last couple of years, there has been a sudden outbreak of people I know (including three that I am related to) who have had prostate problems - three cases of prostate cancer with surgical prostate removal, one case of some sort of prostate problem that still required surgery.  Admittedly, these are (with one exception) all in men who are about 6 - 7 years older than me, but it does tend to give one the gloomy feeling that such an unpleasant, and medically controversial, disease is likely looking to hit me too.   (I mean, the way every site assures us that virtually all men over 80 who haven't had it removed die with some form of prostate cancer cells helps give that impression too.)

But what are the figures for the number of men who do need to end up having the operation?

A review article from 2008 perhaps gives reason to feel a bit less foreboding:
The probability of developing prostate cancer increases from 0.005% in men younger than 39 years to 2.2% in men between 40 and 59 years and 13.7% in men between 60 and 79 years.57 The current lifetime risk of developing prostate cancer is 16.7% (1 in 6 men). The probability of developing histological evidence of prostate cancer is even higher. Carter and colleagues8 showed that 50% of men between 70 and 80 years of age showed histological evidence of malignancy. A lifetime risk of 42% for developing histological evidence of prostate cancer in 50-year-old men has been calculated.8,9 In men at this age, however, the risk of developing clinically significant disease is only 9.5%, and the risk of dying from prostate cancer is only 2.9%.9
Doesn't actually tell me how many have the operation, but still...

A more recent article notes:
Worldwide, more than 1 million men are diagnosed with prostate cancer each year and more than 300,000 die of the disease1. Current U.S. statistics show that either 1 in 5 or 1 in 6 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer during their lifetime. With such a high incidence, should we be alarmed? What is a reasonable response to a risk of cancer as high as 1:5?
 One in five is pretty high, I guess - but the odds are still in favour of not ever getting a diagnosis.

But - yes, I have a brother who had it, so that makes things worse for me, risk wise:
  • Men with a brother who had prostate cancer had twice as high a risk of being diagnosed as the general population. They had about a 30% risk of being diagnosed before age 75, compared with about 13% among men with no family history.
  • Men with a brother who had prostate cancer had about a 9% risk of getting an aggressive type of prostate cancer by age 75, compared with about 5% among other men.
 Well, the odds are still in my favour of not getting it by 75.  

Too much information?

Despite George Monbiot feeling upbeat about what seems to have been a good outcome for his prostate cancer surgery, the unpleasant details he provides about complications he suffered still probably makes for worrying reading for any man about to undergo the surgery.   (I'm not sure I needed to know he is also back to - approximately, and chemically aided - full sexual functioning, but I guess he is providing some hope by telling that part.)

Nice work if you can get it

It's unclear whether (or, probably more accurately, to what extent) Trump or his administration are going to be damaged by the money to Cohen allegations, but it sure stinks of some sort of corruption (and, no, is nothing like open payments made to the Clinton Foundation.)   And what about this (via NPR):
Swiss pharma giant Novartis, which is named in the Avenatti document, confirmed to NPR that it had hired the same shell company created by Cohen to pay Daniels, Essential Consultants.

Spokeswoman Sofina Mirza-Reid said in a statement that Novartis signed a one-year agreement with Cohen and Essential Consultants in February of 2017, after Trump's inauguration. After one meeting, Mirza-Reid said, Novartis concluded that Cohen could not "provide the services that Novartis had anticipated."

Even so, because the contract "could only be terminated for cause," the pharmaceutical conglomerate continued paying Cohen a total of about $1.2 million. In short, it paid him $100,000 per month over the following year even though he was doing no work.

According to an account in the medicine and pharma trade journal Stat, Novartis company officials feared that if they tried to cancel their payments to Cohen, even though they apparently weren't getting anything from them, that might anger Trump.

The company acknowledged it has given information to Mueller's team.
Yeah, swamp really drained, wingnuts.

Don't believe the wingnuts

An article at The Atlantic notes that, despite the best efforts of Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and the rest of wingnut media, American public support for the Mueller investigation is actually pretty strong:
A Washington Post survey asked: “A special counsel at the U.S. Justice Department, Robert Mueller, has been investigating possible collusion between Trump’s campaign and Russian govt to influence the 2016 election. Do you support or oppose Mueller investigating this issue?” Sixty-nine percent said they supported the probe as of last month.

The same Post survey asked: “Do you support or oppose Mueller investigating Trump’s business activities?” And 64 percent of Americans said that they supported that.

Fox News found something similar: “About two-thirds, 67 percent in the latest Fox News poll, say it is at least somewhat important the investigation continues, and 56 percent think it’s likely that Mueller’s probe will find Donald Trump committed criminal or impeachable offenses.”
A Harvard CAPS/Harris Poll got like results.

But you’d never know any of that from the Rush Limbaugh Show, which portrays the Mueller investigation as an outrageous, undemocratic usurpation of the people’s will.
It's good to be reminded that not all of the US has gone nuts - only about 25-30% of them, and about 95% of Republican politicians.

Some of the weirdest politics in the world

I'm talking about Malaysia, not just because of a 92 year old winning, but because of the deal whereby he will let the protege he had framed and jailed for sodomy take over the leadership from him.  Talk about your hard ways to reach the Prime Ministership:
As part of his agreement with Pakatan Harapan, Mahathir will only be prime minister for two years, and then will cede power to Anwar Ibrahim.

Anwar, who was also once Mahathir’s protege, is currently in jail serving a second sentence for sodomy.

Mahathir and Anwar fell out publicly in 1999 and Mahathir was responsible for jailing Anwar, but the pair put aside their differences in their united desire to take down Najib.

The plan now is for Mahathir to have Anwar pardoned so he can take office. “He’ll be released in June,” said Mahathir. “Once he’s pardoned, he’s eligible to be PM again.” Mahathir also announced after his win he would apoint Wan Azizah, Anwar’s wife, as his deputy prime minister.
I heard of this deal in a discussion on the radio last week, but I hadn't realised Anwar was still in jail when the deal was reached.

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Does Putin want US in or out of Iran deal?

While Trumpkin conspiracy believers are always thinking that everything Trump does is part of his brilliant game of 4 (or 5 or 6) D chess (because they would rather believe that than Trump not having enough smarts to make decisions on any basis other than an egotistical whim),  when it comes to Putin such an argument (that his true aim is not the one he publicly advocates) seems more plausible.  

So, while Trumpkins are claiming that Trump's decision is proof that he's not in Putin's pocket (because the Kremlin had been urging the US to keep to the agreement),  some are saying that Trump's leaving serves a bigger purpose for Putin:
Michael McFaul, former US ambassador to Russia and author of the new memoir From Cold War to Hot Peace, has one more reason to keep the deal: Abandoning it would play right into Russian president Vladimir Putin’s narrative that the US is untrustworthy.

McFaul worked on the Iran deal under Barack Obama. In a phone interview with Quartz, he recalled the lengthy talks held between the Obama administration and the P5+1 (the five permanent UN security council members plus Germany, which allied to negotiate the deal with Iran) to create the deal. Based on the Trump administration’s current lack of “diplomatic enthusiasm” for renegotiation, McFaul predicts the US will walk away from its historic agreement.

“Russia will be fine with that because they will be on the side of the rest of the international community. We—the Trump administration and the United States—will look like the outliers; we will look like the non-cooperative ones and Russia will look they’re like part of international law and cooperation,” he said.
Or, as someone argues at Huffington Post:
As the U.S. puts more economic pressure on Iran, the Islamic republic will find it harder to acquire friends. That leaves Tehran with Moscow. Though the two are uneasy partners, they have cooperated to combat international initiatives that might challenge their own interests. In Syria, for instance, they fight side-by-side and present a united front in global organizations to defend their mutual friend Syrian President Bashar Assad. 

Hard-liners in Tehran want to deepen that relationship. In the process, they seek to boost the sense of righteous resistance to the West that keeps aggressive nationalism strong among their base and ensure that their country remains a Putin-style autocratic society, rather than gaining more exposure to the Western liberties that many ordinary Iranians have clamored for.

A more isolated and paranoid Iran means “the Russians gain geostrategically,” said Reza Marashi, the research director at the National Iranian American Council and a former State Department official.
The United States, he added, is helping reinforce a perception that the Russians want to strengthen: that today Washington may hold sway in the southern half of the Middle East, but the north ― including key areas in Syria, Iraq, Iran and Turkey ― is under Moscow’s influence.

And that plays precisely into what Putin deeply desires ― to make Russia, 27 years after the fall of the Soviet Union, once again look like an equal to the U.S.

Sounds more or less plausible to me...

Update:  noticed this via Twitter -
Two Iranian airlines have signed deals to buy 40 passenger planes from Russia’s Sukhoi Civil Aircraft Company, amid slow progress with orders of western-built aircraft.
Aseman Airlines has agreed to buy 20 of the Sukhoi SuperJet 100 planes while Iran Air Tours, a subsidiary of national carrier Iran Air, has also ordered 20 of the planes. With an average list price of $50.5m each, the orders have a total value of just over $2bn.
 The article does note that Iran already has much bigger orders with Airbus and Boeing, but the planes are coming slowly.  If the US prevents Boeing completing its orders, it's potentially a further win for Russia, and possibly Airbus?

California and big government

Why don't "small government/low taxes always is best" advocates address the matter of how California now has the world's 5th largest economy?   This was in the news a lot last week.  The New York Times explains:
As the state has blossomed, outpacing many others, it has reinforced a liberal narrative about growth, that a state can have big government and a booming economy, too. (Texas is the conservatives’ counterexample: a big, fast-growing economy under laissez-faire government.)

California has strict environmental protections, a progressive tax system and an ascendant minimum wage, now $10.50 an hour and set to rise in stages to $15 in 2023. The state welcomes immigrants, celebrates ethnic and linguistic diversity, and actively tries to combat climate change. And with all that, its economy continues to soar.

“We have raised income taxes and imposed increasingly high fees to reduce greenhouse emissions,” said Stephen Levy, director of the Center for Continuing Study of the California Economy. “None of that has overridden the attractiveness of this state for talent and innovation and entrepreneurship.”

California’s economic success underpins the state’s audacity and its defiance of President Trump. It is an invisible buttress when the governor and attorney general harangue the Trump administration, as they did recently at a news conference in Sacramento, for “basically going to war against the state of California.”
 Everyone acknowledges the state does have its problems too.   But one of the big ones (unfunded future liability for pensions) is apparently shared by many other, less liberal states.