Friday, June 29, 2018

Guru worth watching

If my blog search bar is reliable (and it generally isn't, so don't blame me if this is wrong), the last time I mentioned the Hoodoo Gurus was in 2009.  (!)

I've always had a soft spot for that band, despite my distinct lack of a general long haired rock sensibility.   For guitar heavy rock, I always thought they were pretty tuneful, and often wittily eccentric with lyrics.   In fact, they are one of the few classic Australian rock bands I have seen live in their heyday: in Newcastle circa 1986, I reckon.   Yeah, they were loud.

All of this is by way of preamble to saying how much I liked Julia Zamiro's Home Delivery episode with Dave Faulkner on the ABC last night.    I don't think I have ever heard him interviewed before, let alone talking in detail about his childhood.   As I would have hoped, he presented as intelligent and hard working in developing his musical career.  His father's story was interesting and touching too.

And I still have this conviction, despite making allowances for people sometimes just inexplicably taking a dislike to some TV personalities,  that if a person doesn't find Julia a warm, empathetic, charming interviewer, there's something a bit wrong with them.

Bored with the chef

I've been meaning to write this for some years.  Now with news that his very fancy and expensive looking Sydney restaurant Jade Temple, which I happened to walk past on a brief visit to Sydney last August, is closing, I am inspired to say it.

Neil Perry has become boring.

Not that I've eaten at any establishment that has anything to do with him.  It's just from my reading his recipes.

It seems that he has had the recipe page  in Fairfax's Good Weekend for many years, even decades?, and it has occurred to me, in the last couple of years, that his recipes just never sound interesting anymore.   I used to find them interesting and enticing, even though I can't remember if I ever closely followed one.   These days, a lot of them seem too simple to me, or contain an oddball ingredient that I would have to go searching for in some special shop.   I no longer ever read one and think "that sounds nice, I'd like to give that a go."  

He might be a nice guy in real life - I wouldn't know.   I do know he has a terribly dull TV presence - he was on that disastrously short lived instant restaurant show on Channel 7 in 2015.  But I am really not sure how he manages to still be considered a success.

I wonder whether I'm on my own in this feeling about him...

Or, it might be an alien spaceship after all?

There's an abstract up at Nature about that interstellar visitor of last year, with the tantalising title:

Non-gravitational acceleration in the trajectory of 1I/2017 U1 (‘Oumuamua')
Here's the key part:
Here we report the detection, at 30σ significance, of non-gravitational acceleration in the motion of ‘Oumuamua. We analyse imaging data from extensive observations by ground-based and orbiting facilities. This analysis rules out systematic biases and shows that all astrometric data can be described once a non-gravitational component representing a heliocentric radial acceleration proportional to r−2 or r−1 (where r is the heliocentric distance) is included in the model. After ruling out solar-radiation pressure, drag- and friction-like forces, interaction with solar wind for a highly magnetized object, and geometric effects originating from ‘Oumuamua potentially being composed of several spatially separated bodies or having a pronounced offset between its photocentre and centre of mass, we find comet-like outgassing to be a physically viable explanation, provided that ‘Oumuamua has thermal properties similar to comets.
I know it's a long shot, but I guess it still leaves it open that it was an alien spaceship venting or trying to accelerate?

You actually don't have to have uranium in your drinking water

When I first saw the story on ABC's 7.30, I assumed that the reason no action had been taken to remove uranium out of bore water used in some remote aboriginal communities might have been because it's really hard to filter it out.   (Would have to be a pretty fine filter, I figured.)   In fact I thought that it sounds like a good reason to propose closing down certain remote settlements, if you can't even get reliable water at them.

And then I Googled the topic and found that getting uranium out of ground water is far from an uncommon problem in the West, and this, from an American local government health department:
Point of use devices are installed directly at the tap and are used to reduce contaminants at that location. Several technologies are available that are effective in removing uranium. For most households, a single point of use treatment system on the drinking water tap will be sufficient to provide safe water for drinking. Point of use reverse osmosis (RO) and distillation treatment will remove many different contaminants from your drinking water, including uranium and radium.

Reverse osmosis is a process that filters most impurities from water by passing it through a fine membrane. Contaminants such as uranium are left behind on the membrane while treated water passes through. You may need to install a pre-filter before the reverse osmosis system. The World Health Organization reports that reverse osmosis treatment will remove 90-99 percent of uranium. Point of use RO systems are available from a variety of different sources, and WUPHD recommends that you purchase a unit which is “NSF certified for radium 226/228 reduction”. (NSF does not offer a uranium certification.) For more information, please visit the NSF website.

A reverse osmosis system typically costs around $300 and you can save money by doing the installation yourself. A point of use RO system will typically produce about 7 to 14 gallons a day of drinkable water. This amount of production should meet the cooking and drinking needs of a typical household. To fix a uranium or radium problem, it is necessary only to treat the water you drink because uranium gets into the body through ingestion. It is safe to take baths using untreated water because uranium or radium is not absorbed through your skin.
 Um, that doesn't sound like it's a difficult problem to fix at all.

What on earth is the reason Australian governments are saying it's years away before it can be done here?   

Great health system, America

At Vox:

A baby was treated with a nap and a bottle of formula. His parents received an $18,000 bill.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

I just don't like stand up comedy

I've explained before, but I've never been a fan of stand up comedy of the modern era.   I don't mind Seinfeld, as most of what he does is not intensely about himself.  But comedians who base their shtick on a sort of public self analysis - that's never held much appeal.   Or put it this way - I can enjoy some of that from some comedians in small doses.  For example, I've recently watched parts of Netflix specials by 3 female comedians I quite like:  Kitty Flanergan, Judith Lucy and Chelsea Peretti (the awful Gina in Brooklyn Nine Nine - I didn't know she was a stand up comic as well as an actor until this special)  All of them do a very similar style of self deprecation, with a fair amount of content about how awful a lot of their boyfriends or dates have been.   I find I can take it for a while - maybe 45 minutes, before I start losing interest.   And it's not  because I think their jokes about men are bad.    Kitty Flanergan, in particular, is about as cheery as you can expect a female comedian to be.  And although she makes jokes about men, she's pretty even handed with her attitude towards women too. 

Part of it is that I don't like the crudeness and language of much modern stand up, but even if I come across one with pretty clean language, I still usually can't help but feel a bit bored with the style.

Anyway, why am I talking about this?   It's because of the international praise being heaped upon Hannah Gadsby's "Nanette" on Netflix.    I started watching it, but apparently I stopped before it became more serious.  I had a fair idea where it was going, but still, in fairness I should go back to finish it.

My reaction to the first 30 minutes or so that I did watch:   I thought it was interesting that she, as a high profile lesbian, was complaining about the pressure other lesbians' identity politics has put upon her.   (She says at one point that it's not like she spends much of each day doing things that are specifically lesbian.   But having started with a lot of lesbian content early on, she had the problem of being accused of not being lesbian enough in her later shows.)    I thought this was a refreshing thing to hear from a LGBT comic. 

But the rest of the material - she makes the point early on that she is going to be giving up comedy because of the self deprecation involved, which she realised wasn't healthy.   Again, I think this is pretty refreshing.    But...I still have a bit of a sympathy problem for her taking 10 years to realise this. 

Actually, in the Chelsea Peretti special I watched most of, she does some weird cut away stuff that seems to be about the same point - that's she's aware that the nature of this style of comedy is not great for self esteem.    So it's not as if Gadsby is the first to realise it.

I have to admit, I have never found Gadsby's comic persona, such as on that Adam Hills' show, very likeable.   I don't understand the popularity she has in certain circles.   And yes, I guess while watching her I am often trying to self analyse why I don't like her, wondering how much of it is a reaction to her lesbianism.   (I have to admit, I find difficulty feeling empathy with butch lesbianism at the best of times.)   But I think there is more to it than that.   I think maybe I have always had a bit of sense that she was too sensitive (or smart?) to be doing comedy.

Anyway, I guess I have to go watch the last part of it, but I have my doubts I am going to find it life changing as some people claim.

And besides, I just don't like stand up...

The germs, the germs; and the bags

Does anyone with common sense really believe that people are going to be keeling over with salmonella due to their filthy, filthy re-useable carry bags?

If ever there was a study worth being sceptical about, it's the one Andrew Bolt and a bunch of no common sense Right wing plastic lovers are citing from the US about what happened when San Francisco moved away from disposable plastic bags.  Here's a pretty thorough debunking of that study.   (There are others around the place too.)   Yes, if you thought it sounded suss, it was indeed, very very suss.

You know what this reminds me of?  The ridiculously elaborate instructions that wingnuts used to circulate about how extremely careful to be when cleaning up a shattered compact fluoro bulbs.   The elaborate instructions always read like urban myth material, and was faintly ridiculous when no wingnut used to be in a blind panic about what would happen if a full length fluoro tube broke.  As it happens, the compact fluro was only an interim step to the LED, which are pretty brilliant and save many people lots of money.  

It's obvious what they do - when they don't like an environment protecting law due to the minor inconvenience it causes, they gullibly promote any alleged safety hazard of the law.  

As for the grocery bag issue itself:   I note that those sceptical of its benefits keep citing a Productivity Commission report from 2006 - 12 years ago, and presumably based on information from some years further back.   And I think a guy involved in that still thinks the ban is ridiculous.

But hey, don't Right wing folk even take into account changing circumstances?

There's been a hell of lot of emphasis since 2006 on the problem of plastics in the oceans.   There was even a Senate report about this in 2016, with submissions (which I haven't yet read) by the likes of the CSIRO.*   

I strongly suspect that the decrease in use of super thin grocery bags is justifiable in the interests of ocean and river pollution, but not for land pollution.   And if people start buying more bin liners and thicker plastic bags because of that, well, I suspect they will not end up on beaches and oceans at the same rate as thin grocery bags.   I reckon most people already buy bin liners anyway, and that use of grocery bags for rubbish is just doubling up.

So, yes, I can live with it.

Maybe a few wingnuts will think they've caught the runs from reusing a bag, and that'll be a plus.

* Update:  here's a 2017 report about plastics in the oceans, with some comments from Australian academics.   Yes, we're far from the worst plastic polluting countries, but doing something with little inconvenience helps, I can't see the problem.   

You too can have a body like this

There's a more interesting than I expected article at The Guardian about those Men's  Health "transform your body " covers, where former flabby dudes end up looking, what's the word?, "chung"?    Well, that's how one guy puts it:
After a month spent learning muay thai in Thailand, Tom Usher, 30, felt himself change. “I wasn’t scared of anyone,” he muses. “When you look chung physically, you feel chung – and that confidence translates into how you act around women, but also men.
I think I'll using that word around my kids, and see what reaction I get.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Pancakes and the cosmos

A very short post to note that whenever I am cooking pancakes, as I frequently do on Sunday mornings for breakfast, and flip them and watch it start to puff up, I always think about the expanding universe.  This happens so routinely that perhaps my thoughts are now along the lines of "here we go again, I can't stop myself thinking about the expanding universe." 

That is all.

Update:  no it's not.   Could it be that some novel scientific thought is trying to tunnel its way into my consciousness through this process?   The only thing I can think of is this:  the pancake is expanding due to the heat energy of the frying pan it's sitting on.  Is our universe's expansion similarly powered by a dark energy seeping into it from an adjacent hot universe?  Of course, someone else would already have thought of this:  wait, yes, I see someone asked the question on Quora.    At least I don't think it's been given much attention as a concept.

Tax cuts not paying for themselves

Amidst all the news about the Supreme Court decisions and the civility wars, Jennifer Rubin writes about a more important long term story:
The Congressional Budget Office is out with its 2018 long-term budget outlook, and the bottom line is not pretty. CBO finds:
At 78 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), federal debt held by the public is now at its highest level since shortly after World War II. If current laws generally remained unchanged, CBO projects, growing budget deficits would boost that debt sharply over the next 30 years; it would approach 100 percent of GDP by the end of the next decade and 152 percent by 2048. That amount would be the highest in the nation’s history by far. Moreover, if lawmakers changed current law to maintain certain policies now in place—preventing a significant increase in individual income taxes in 2026, for example—the result would be even larger increases in debt. The prospect of large and growing debt poses substantial risks for the nation and presents policymakers with significant challenges.
 We know why the debt is increasing — Congress is spending more on big entitlement items while slashing revenue. Those Republicans who insisted the tax cuts would pay for themselves should hang their heads in shame. And as “as members of the baby-boom generation (people born between 1946 and 1964) age and as life expectancy continues to rise, the percentage of the population age 65 or older will grow sharply, boosting the number of beneficiaries of those programs,” the CBO says. Rising health-care costs have increased spending on Medicare and other health-care programs. Interest on the ever-growing debt is skyrocketing while revenue is “roughly flat over the next few years relative to GDP,” according to the report. Unless Congress is prepared to see massive tax hikes in 2026, the gap between entitlements and revenue will continue to grow.
 And just a reminder as to how Australia compares, have a look at this from Statista:

I'm not sure if this factors in the recent tax cuts, or not.  (I suspect not)

In any case, it seems we are in a much better overall public debt position that the US.   Which makes you wonder (well, not really - he belongs to a cult and so is beyond reason) how Steve Kates and his Catallaxy homies whine about Australian debt all the time, but aren't in a panic about the forecast US debt.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Selfish Right defined

Spotted at Catallaxy, the same obnoxious ageing writer for Quadrant who came to attention for his bombing the ABC fantasies shows us what a selfish jerk he is:

Is he serious?   Because, um, it's not like the next person to have the misfortune to use his cabin would mind the fact that after two days of illicit smoking it's going to stink like hell.  

Restaurants and civility

I'm of two minds about the matter of the Red Hen rejection of the awful Sarah Sanders' group.

I am sympathetic to the views of David Roberts and others that establishment media like the Washington Post editorialising that this is a unwarranted breakdown of civility is rich hypocrisy when she works for a President who not only trashed civility and the norms of American democracy during the campaign, but continues to encourage his cult base to an authoritarian mindset.   The media has allowed the normalisation of Trump's mindset that is so obviously dangerous to nation's politics that getting uptight about a restaurant's rejection of one of the key Trump enablers is to have a distorted set of priorities.  

Zack Beauchamp runs a similar argument, but based more on Trump's trashing of the very concept of truth as the danger.   Here's his argument:

Incivility in the Trump era isn’t about rude tweets. It’s about lies. 

To understand what Sanders’s defenders are getting wrong about the dinner incident, let’s get straight on the difference between “incivility” in politics and simple rudeness. Our guide here will be John Rawls, by all accounts the greatest American political philosopher of the 20th century.

A major topic of Rawls’s work was the problem of political disagreement: How is it possible to have a democracy, a government allegedly for and by the people, when people disagree so much among themselves? Rawls attempted to answer this question in one of his major works, an extremely long tome titled Political Liberalism

The core of his answer, to simplify it dramatically, is that democracy depends on a certain set of principles that almost everyone agrees with. These are principles that only “reasonable” people (not Nazis, for example) can accept — ideas like “all citizens deserve to be treated equally” and “it’s wrong to imprison people on the basis of faith.”

For this system to work, Rawls argued, public debate must be free and open for people to clearly explain how their policy convictions can be justified according to the shared beliefs at the heart of a democratic society. Rawls called the obligation to adhere to these rules of discourse “the duty of civility”: If citizens in general, and politicians especially, hide and obfuscate their arguments, then people’s ability to give their informed consent to the administration disappears.

Our foremost political philosopher, in short, didn’t see “civility” in politics as identical to politeness in everyday conversation. Rather, political civility is about treating members of the opposition like reasonable people. It seems more “civil,” in this view, to honestly state disagreements with individuals, even impolitely, than to try to trick them.

Rawls never really engaged with the possibility that a democratic government might make dishonesty one of its core political principles. But as my colleague Matt Yglesias has argued at length, that is what President Donald Trump has done — using a complete disregard for the truth as a tactic for advancing his agenda and keeping his base loyal. 

The sheer breadth of this assault is jaw-dropping; according to the Toronto Star’s database of Trump lies, since becoming president Trump has made at least 1,726 verifiably false statements, a clip of more than three a day. The New York Times compared Trump’s record to Obama’s, and found a huge discrepancy: “In his first 10 months, Trump told nearly six times as many falsehoods as Obama did during his entire presidency.”

Sarah Sanders’s job as White House press secretary makes her especially complicit in this agenda.
Because the president lies constantly, a major part of her job is defending those lies — either covering for them, deflecting them, or lying herself to cover for them. Merely doing her job makes Sanders (because of her boss’s uniquely hostile approach to the truth) uncivil according to Rawls’s terms. 

The Trump administration is attacking the very heart of a democratic political system. And Sanders, by aggressively repeating and defending Trump’s lies, is a vital part of this machine.
On the other hand:   it seems a given that in private, most Republican politicians know that Trump is an idiot and is terrible for the nation long term, but they are too cowered to argue with his base that they are wrong.

If the hope for the nation is for a Republican revolt against their nominal leader, encouraging a mass uprising of harassment of all Trump administration figures regardless of whether they are engaged in private life or not may well make dealing with the idiot base harder, not easier.

I mean, look - the base already thinks that the Left must be destroyed for the sake of civilisation - and that's just from watching the news, let alone seeing a protest on the street that inconveniences them.

It's a bit of a conundrum really - are Trump supporters so self deluded that telling them in public that they are offensive, self deluded nuts will make their condition worse?    They are dangerous too, what with their love of guns and desire amongst a significant number to see actual civil war as a way of winning the culture war that they have really already lost.

I don't know.    Certainly I don't want to see riots - they routinely play into the hands of the Right.

But I do hate the normalisation of Trump rhetoric too. 

I'll have to think about it some more....

Update:  from David Corn:


Noted for the record

For those who follow climate science, you would already know that the dishonest Pat Michaels and Ryan Maue article in Murdoch's Wall Street Journal last week repeated a deception that Michaels had tried before regarding James Hansen's 1988 modelling, which turns out to have been pretty accurate.

A decent enough explanation appears now at The Guardian.  But there are lots of others around, including at Real Climate, although I think The Guardian's article puts it nice and succinctly.  

Once again, it is a case of lazy culture war climate change deniers not realising they are being conned, because they live in an information bubble.  (I wouldn't be surprised if the WSJ does allow a rebuttal to appear in it sometime soon - but deniers won't read it even if it's there.)

There have been some good twitter threads about the topic from climate scientists.  I don't know of this Ryan Maue, but he appears a real piece of work.   One  of the prominent people arguing with him is Jerry Taylor, who is president of the Niskanen Centre, the quasi-libertarians who actually believe in climate change as a serious issue.   (I think I've argued before, they don't sound all that libertarian to me.)  His twitter account is worth following.  It contains entries like this:

Transgender wars, continued

There is nothing, really nothing, like the wrath of transgender people/advocates against reporting or commentary on people who once thought they were the other gender, but later changed their minds.

Last week I  noted an article at The Altantic that reported sensitively on the matter of transgender kids and de-transitioners, and since then it has run not one, but two articles by transgender folk (and even a de-transitioner) unhappy with the original article.

I hate to say it (well, not really - it just seems an appropriately polite thing to say), but it's transparent what's going on here:  it's crucial to most transgender folk's self understanding that they can't be wrong about their self understanding, and so no matter how carefully or sensitively or accurately it's reported, they cannot bear hearing about people who now count a past self understanding on their "true" gender identity as mistaken.  

Yeah, well, sorry, but it happens, and it obviously presents a challenge to parents.   

Monday, June 25, 2018

Men are terrible after all

Well, I can understand a woman thinking that if it turns out that it's actually men who give women the unfortunate disease of bacterial vaginosis (which I've posted about twice before):
A Monash University trial is seeking to prove that, unlike other vaginal infections, bacterial vaginosis is actually a sexually-transmitted disease, which can be carried by men, as well as women.

A 2006 Monash study found 50 per cent of women who undergo treatment – an oral or topical antibiotic – for bacterial vaginosis have a recurrence within six months.

"When we looked at the associated factors with bacterial vaginosis coming back, women who were exposed to an ongoing, regular sexual partner had twice the risk," says Dr Catriona Bradshaw, who has been researching the condition for 15 years.

Subsequent studies by the team also suggest this high recurrence rate could be because the infection is sexually transmitted: the biggest risk factor for developing bacterial vaginosis is exposure to a new sexual partner, and a 2008 study of university students found the infection was unable to be detected in women who had never been sexually active.
Bacterial vaginosis is experienced by roughly one in 10 Australian women. It occurs when the vagina's healthy bacteria, known as lactobacilli, are replaced by a variety of different bacteria, resulting in a watery, white discharge and a fishy odour.
Which makes me wonder - if it's a case of bacteria on the penis being re-introduced and outcompeting a woman's normal  healthy bacteria, might not there be a higher risk of it with an uncircumcised penis?

Well, seems my guess is right.  A 2015 article:
Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is a common vaginal bacterial imbalance associated with risk for HIV and poor gynecologic and obstetric outcomes. Male circumcision reduces BV-associated bacteria on the penis and decreases BV in female partners, but the link between penile microbiota and female partner BV is not well understood. We tested the hypothesis that having a female partner with BV increases BV-associated bacteria in uncircumcised men.
Short answer:  it does.

So, for all of the hyperventilating that goes on about circumcision as a cruel practice on boys, women actually do have an incentive to support it.
 In fact, Googling on this topic indicates that some have been saying for years that BV should be considered a sexually transmitted disease.  So I'm not sure that the Monash study is all that innovative.  

Western suburbs

I found myself with 45 minutes to kill on the weekend in one of the bushy Western suburbs of Brisbane.   I went for a walk and found :

A pair of tawny frogmouths:

A swimming hole:

And some houses with really, really big front yards:

All within about 30 min drive to the CBD, at least if it is not rush hour.   Nice.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

This is sheer idiocy

Andrew Bolt (and Steve Kates) extract some Mark Latham commentary from The Spectator with approval:
Mark Latham says Donald Trump is now the hope of Western civilisation:
Trump believes in the supremacy of the individual, in judging people on merit, by their work ethic and creativity, rather than race, gender and sexuality. These are the essential elements of civilisational leadership. Trump stands for the freedom of the citizen in the nation state. That is, the right to free speech, to meritocracy, to national pride and a freestanding national culture. The key political divide is no longer between Left and Right; it’s between civilisational and non-civilisational leaders. Trump is on the right side of history, with domestic ascendancy seemingly assured. He now needs to turn his mind to an even greater challenge, promulgating a Trump doctrine: a new brand of American global leadership based on the defence of Western civilisation.
It's getting to the stage of when I hear "Western civilisation" I want to reach for my (imaginary) revolver.  (Now that I mention it, didn't the Nazis come out of the one of the national hearts of "Western Civilisation"?)

Friday, June 22, 2018

Young socialists

There's been much knicker knotting going on from the Right wing commentators about a CIS survey done with millenials to see what they think of socialism vs capitalism.  Quite a lot of young folk (58%) said they view it (socialism) favourably.   Quelle horreur.  

But wait a minute - survey results depend an awful lot on how questions are asked, and in this case, there may be an obvious problem:  did it take any care to explain in any way the meaning of the term "socialism"? 

The need to be careful with the definition comes at a time when it is those on the Right - particularly the American Right - who abuse the term in a rubbery, self serving way.  You know - single payer health care (like our much beloved Medicare) is evil, outright socialism according to many Republicans (and tantamount to setting up hospitals as death camps).    You might say that we don't have quite the same level of wingnutty branding of any government support as socialism in the Australian electorate, despite Catallaxy's ratbags and Pauline Hanson.   But we do still the complication of having someone like Barnaby Joyce musing that maybe it's fair to call him an  "agrarian socialist"!   

Even without having heard Barnaby Joyce's self labelling, if millenials think "socialism" is just government helping when it could or should, and they know National Party politicians spend a lot of time asking for help for drought or flood relief, they're not exactly showing themselves up as wannabe communists for saying they think well of socialism.

Looking at the CIS report, I can see no evidence of an attempt at an explanation of the terminology of "socialism" versus "capitalism", which should set off immediate alarm bells.   

Other parts of the survey might give more grounds for concern, such as the relatively low awareness of the big political leaders of communism in the 20th century.   Yes, school teaching of the history of the 20th century could do with improvement.  It's also clear that millenials don't have sound knowledge of levels of government spending on education or wage growth - but I would say that a large part of that ignorance comes from politician's spin at election time, rather than a fault of the education system.  But for God's sake, the beneficiaries of misleading spin can just as much be the Right as the Left - look no further than Trump for that.

As for the question of whether respondents agreed that "capitalism has failed and the government should exercise more economic control" - well, it's really a broad brush loaded question.  Anyone, save for libertarians with an allergy to government per se, can probably think of an area where private sector involvement doesn't seem to be helping much - the electricity supply, or the multitude of choice for internet or health insurance which makes comparisons of products very complicated, and prices are still increasing despite apparent the competition.   It's easy to slip into hyperbole (politicians lead by example) and go with "capitalism has failed" on the slimmest of gut feelings about a few minor irritants of the current system.   Or it may well be a case that if asked those questions separately, you would get some people disagreeing that "capitalism has failed" but still agreeing that the government should be more involved in some parts of the economy.   The joining of those two statements really stuffs up the interpretation of the results.  

So, long story short:   it's a lousily constructed survey that means very, very little.

CIS can do better than that, surely. 

Update:   John Quiggin wrote something very similar on the weekend:
In ordinary usage, “socialism” means something like “social democracy with a spine”, as I’ve argued here**. That’s primarily due to the fact that any serious social democratic policy is invariably labelled as “socialist” by the political right. In ordinary usage, the term associated with Stalin and Mao is “communist”, and if Switzer & Jacobs wanted to find out how millennials felt about communism they should have asked them.


Transgender wars

I finally got around to looking at the The Atlantic's recent long, long article about children who believe they are transgender, and the vexed issue of treating them for it with puberty blockers and even (in some cases) surgery while still a minor.  It deals with "de-transitioners" who have changed their mind after surgery, and opens with a story of a teenager who was confident of the source of her mental problems (she was a boy in a girl's body) but then pretty snapped out of it (before taking medication or going down the surgery path.)     It's a very nuanced, careful and respectful article. 

But, predictably, the world of identity politics armed with social media, being what it is, has apparently been full of outrage over it.  I only know this because Bernard Kean linked to an article by a pothead Trokskyist lesbian (pretty much her self description, and as such someone I would not generally care to follow) who says this about the article:
The piece, which was written by science reporter Jesse Singal, was thorough, nuanced, impeccably researched and fact-checked, and it caused an immediate firestorm. On Twitter, Roxane Gay said it was a travesty. Lena Dunham called it dangerous. Nicole Cliffe, a woman who has literally never spoken to the author in her life, said that Singal is “obsessed” with trans women. She also called him creepy.

“Mad” doesn’t quite capture my response to these tweets. I was enraged, particularly at Cliffe, a writer who should know better than to smear someone she’d never met to her 81,000 followers. Unlike Cliffe, I’ve actually met Singal, and he is not “obsessed” with trans women. He reports on social science, including the science (or lack thereof) of gender. He was, quite literally, doing his job, and, if you follow Singal on Twitter, you’ll quickly find that if he’s obsessed about anything, it’s basketball, not trans women. The irresponsibility of Cliffe’s tweet, which has more than 4,000 likes and 1,000 retweets, was astounding—but it shouldn’t have been. This is how Twitter works: You repeat something, no one bothers to fact check, and all of a sudden, it’s treated as fact. Jesse Singal is obsessed with trans women. I read it on Twitter, therefore it’s true.
So, yeah, social media is bad for the Left too.  But the effect it's having there is nothing the serious and bizarre rise of the Cult of Trump it has caused on the Right (well, at least by 50%, I would say.)

Alcoholic rats

A good article by Ed Yong about new rat research on alcoholism.  Seems to me it took them long enough to come to up with the experiment in which rodents had the choice of alcohol and something different.

Kates in a Deep State of panic

Look, it's hard to come up with new words to describe the inanity of Steven Kate's world view:  let's just settle on LOL ridiculous for this post today about the "Australian Deep State", inspired by an article written by Gareth Evans. 

Even though Evans (questionably, in my view) in the article gives credit to Trump for at least having the Singapore summit, Kates still finds reason to panic:

And what is his sage advice: to restructure our foreign policy so that it is, “as he has argued for some time”:
“Less America. More Asia. More Self Reliance.”
Moronus maximus duplicitus!!! What a sell-out to our enemies. And he finishes by telling us that there is about to be a meeting at the university that has self-declared itself unwilling to defend Western Civilisation, that there will be an “ANU Leadership Forum” involving the AFR, Business Council, academics and the public service – that is, a meeting of socialists and their crony-capitalist beneficiaries – to discuss our foreign policy future.

Or in other words, it is a meeting of the Australian Deep State, who should not be trusted by so much as an inch. You should, of course, be wary of the Libs, but you should be far far more wary of the ALP. It makes me sick to read such idiocies and fills me with fear as well.
Hey, Sinclair Davidson:  you do know you're hosting a blog for the mentally disturbed Right wing catastrophists of the land, who routinely report breaking contact with former friends and relatives due to whipping themselves into a frenzy of panic based on imagined conspiracies?  

Don't you feel just a little bit guilty hosting a place where they sit around reinforcing each other's increasingly nutty social isolation?  

Sort of a Hindmarsh Island in reverse?

This is one of those cases where groups associated with both sides of the political spectrum come out looking bad - Big Mining and aboriginal politics:

A north Queensland Indigenous organisation kept secret more than $2m in payments by the Adani mining company, federal court documents show.

Guardian Australia has obtained court documents that show the Kyburra Munda Yalga Aboriginal Corporation did not account for payments by Adani, then paid its own directors up to $1,000 a day cash-in-hand to conduct now-invalidated cultural heritage assessments for the Indian mining company.

The federal court last month delivered a ruling that may void the assessments, which are required to protect sacred sites from development.

It ruled that another Indigenous business, Juru Enterprises Limited, was the proper “nominated body” to represent traditional owners on a land-use agreement with Adani.

The impact of the decision could be wide-ranging. Traditional owners from near Bowen say they are “hugely worried” Adani has conducted work at its Abbot Point port based on improper or conflicted advice from the cultural assessment surveys.

Juru Enterprises could now demand Adani “redesign or reconfigure” any plans or works near sacred sites.

The court case has also exposed how Adani funding was central to alleged rorts conducted by Kyburra board members. Guardian Australia has seen letters, minutes of meetings, police reports, auditors reports and sworn affidavits that detail how Kyburra kept money paid by Adani off the books and then funnelled it to directors through “fees” and “loans”.

Kyburra declared only $50,000 total income in consecutive years: 2014/2015 and 2015/16. About $2m was paid to the organisation by Adani in 2014 and 2015, including an estimated $800,000 for cultural assessments. But none of it showed up in Kyburra’s annual financial statements.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

In today's appalling Trump and Trump supporter news

First, as David Roberts says:

Second, why isn't this story of the man baby bully making more appearances in the mainstream media?:
President Trump reportedly tossed Starburst candies to German Chancellor Angela Merkel during his tense meeting with Group of Seven (G-7) leaders weeks ago, Eurasia Group President Ian Bremmer said Wednesday.

While appearing on CBS News, Bremmer painted a grim picture of Trump and Merkel’s relationship amid heightened conflict between the president and other G-7 members over his steep steel and aluminum tariffs and suggestion that Russia be reinstated into the group.
  Bremmer went on to describe a bizarre incident toward the end of the summit, when Merkel and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau joined some of other the allies “to press Trump directly to sign the [group] communique that talked about the commitment to a rules-based international order.”

“Trump was sitting there with his arms crossed, clearly not liking the fact that they were ganging up on him,” Bremmer said to the news outlet. “He eventually agreed and said OK, he’ll sign it. And at that point, he stood up, put his hand in his pocket, his suit jacket pocket, and he took two Starburst candies out, threw them on the table and said to Merkel, ‘Here, Angela. Don’t say I never give you anything.’ ”

“The relationship is about as dysfunctional as we’ve seen between America and its major allies since the trans-Atlantic relationship really started after World War II,” Bremmer continued.
Third:   I find it weird how, for conservative pro-Life Catholics, the issue of abortion distorts their moral judgment completely.    Because the Left supports abortion rights, they (pro-Lifers)  act as if this makes all appalling treatment of the living by the any figure on the Right excusable as being relatively minor, in their eyes.    It's always a case of "but you can't complain about that, because you want to see babies killed!"

This dynamic has been clear at Catallaxy for many, many years, most routinely deployed by 1950's blow in CL.  But I see it turns up at Hot Air too:
His point about thinking twice before handing power to a party that would take kids away from their parents with no plan to reunite them and maybe with no ability to reunite them is well taken. His suggestion to replace them with a party that condones abortion on demand at any point during pregnancy — “the only party left in America that stands for what is right and decent,” Schmidt would have you believe — is not. 
What's weird about this is Popes themselves do not take this attitude.    All Popes talk of abortion as appalling evil that they want to see ended - but it never stops them issuing teachings on, and condemning, other immoral behaviour, whether it be about social justice in terms of economics, climate change, use of social media, whatever.  

And so I'll end with a David Roberts tweet on this very topic:

Update:  entirely predictable, but even after this current Pope condemns the child separation policy, those walking ugly advertisements of modern Conservative Catholics as inanely supportive of cruelty and entirely gullible from Catallaxy chime in:

DB sounds like a genuine Catholic proto-fascist these days:  uses "bugmen" all the time, which ties in with Trump's dehumanising terminology for undocumented immigrants.   It's extremely ugly, and dumb.  But that's his brand of modern conservatism for you.    

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

It can be hard to understand America

The media attention on Trump's children separation policy looks very, very bad:  as does Trump using the quasi Nazi terminology of how illegal migrants are "infesting" the country.

Look, along with the wannabe dictator cry of "lock her up", the other transparently appalling thing of the Trump candidacy was his vilification of undocumented immigrants as a class, Mexicans in particular.   Yet it seemed the media noted it, it was repeated, the media got tired of noting what appallingly dangerous vilification it was, and it became un-newsworthy.   It won't be forgotten by history, however, where this Presidency will clearly be held in contempt.   I mean, come on, when even the present Chief of Staff is saying this (apparently):
He has told at least one person close to him that he may as well let the president do what he wants, even if it leads to impeachment — at least this chapter of American history would come to a close.
..we already know the judgment of history.

So called conservatives who support the Trumpian policy of child separation fill me with disgust.

So called conservatives of Australia who shrug their shoulders about it (look how much time Andrew Bolt and Tim Blair have devoted to the topic on his blogs - precisely nil, I believe, while hyperventilating daily about really important things like what Jonathan Green said next or how much they hate the ABC) are pathetic, lightweight culture warriors who can't see immoral authoritarianism on open display.

Yet the American news reports Trump's popularity is not doing so bad.   Not great, but not in the single digits where in any reasonable country it would deserve to be.   I've said it before, but there seems something peculiar about Presidential popularity polling in that country - if you don't believe me, look at the collection of approval/disapproval graphs at FiveThirtyEight for past presidents.   There are some strange looking results there.

Still, the fact that some Republicans are coming out against the child separation policy is a sign they can tell there is a real problem with the electorate there.  

What's the bet that Trump won't take his own action, which he can at any time, without the need for legislation, until the Foxs News network gives him approval to do so?   He is that pathetic.

Hope they lose in a landside in the mid terms.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

And now for some sports commentary

I only do this about twice a year, so you're lucky to catch it.

I'm only half watching some World Cup soccer matches, but my distracted and uninformed opinion is that the style of play in the Japan and Columbia match on while I type this is faster and much better to watch than the turgid, too cautious play during at least the first 20 minutes of the Australia/France match.

So there.  I'm done with sports here for another six months.

Maths fail

At the end of Sinclair Davidson's latest post about how happy he is that he's causing the ABC "trouble" (the sort of trouble that is causing Turnbull and every other Coalition minister to grind their teeth at the vote losing potential of this issue), he notes:
So that is ($1,000,000,000/6000) $166,666,67 per job.
Should I go the full snark and end with something like "so that's the standard of RMIT economics teaching?", or just admit it's a typo of a comma that should be a full stop?  

Labor must be delighted at Davidson and Berg's almost single handed contribution (not counting Murdoch) to their next scare campaign. 

Speaking of cults (and with an Alexander Downer connection too!)

I hadn't noticed this story until now:  some weirdo cult leader is on trial in South Australia for various charges of unlawful sexual intercourse, and we're getting to hear some of the nutty detail of how the cult worked:
The court heard no decision was made without running it past Salerno and that on one occasion he had ordered all of the men to strip and wrestle naked in front of the group, before ordering all of the women to do the same.

In his opening address, prosecutor Patrick Hill told the court Salerno — also known as 'Taipan' — was always the leader of the group and the other 30 or so members were ranked by what the accused called the individual's "emotional quotient".

He said the group would hold daily meetings to discuss various ideas around the notion of the "ideal human environment" and that it was common for them to say "praise Taipan".

The court heard women in the group were responsible for looking after children, cooking and cleaning as well as tending to Salerno.

"This included caring for his hands and feet by these manicures and pedicures, running him a bath, towel drying him afterwards, brushing his hair, doing his laundry and also by giving him hand and leg massages," Mr Hill said.

The court heard girls as young as 13 were taught by older women in the group how to be a "personal server" to their leader, which included testing the temperature of his bath water with a thermometer to make sure it was to his liking.
And so on.

As for Alexander Downer's connection - the leader's family had bought a mansion in the Adelaide Hills from which to run the cult, and it was originally built by Alexander's Dad and was his (Alexander's) boyhood home.   Look at it:

Rather like an English country estate transplanted here.   No wonder he talks with a plum in his mouth!   

Brexit effects were obviously not understood

I think it is impossible to deny that Brexit proponents had no idea of the complications that it would involve, and that the country is now paying the price of populism encouraged by the ill conceived politics of Rupert Murdoch (and to be fair, some other British media owners whose motivations for being pro Brexit were not always clear.)    

Here's a list of Brexit problems I've been noticing lately:

Car industry in Britain could be in big trouble.

So could aviation.

Fisherman might be able to fish more, but most fish eaten in Britain are likely to get more expensive, and British fishermen might even earn less.

Universities could get less research funds.

Yes, the NHS is about to get more money, but from an increase in taxes, not from the claimed Brexit dividend.

What Putin wants

I watched Four Corners last night on the Russian influence on the American elections.  (I had missed the previous instalments.)   A few observations:

*  that Russian female lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya did not present well - her manner indicated someone who's a bit of an actor who is hiding something with her too emphatic "nothing to see here" claims;

*  James Clapper presented as sincere, calm and genuinely alarmed at Trump's attitude;

*  The timing of Trump's promise of new dirt on Clinton also makes it look extremely likely he knew about the upcoming Trump Tower meeting - and that would also explain why he had a hand in drafting the dishonest statement for his son;

*  I remain gobsmacked that there was not more condemnation from the media and the public over  the blatantly authoritarian atmosphere of the Republican convention with the "lock her up" chant led by an ex General (Flynn) - as well as others.   It genuinely was a low and scary point for American politics, and Trump supporters deserve condemnation for either joining in, or simply shrugging their shoulders.    To talk about jailing your political opponent when the investigators have already cleared her - there is simply no justification for it, short of wanting to become a tinpot dictatorship.

*  The conclusion, though, that Putin has got exactly what he wanted, in terms of a chaotic Presidency and administration weakening Western ties, as well as a President openly warm to him and Russian interests, is probably true, but should not have been stated as such by Sarah Ferguson as the host.   She should have left that for someone else to draw that conclusion.  Her stating it didn't sound journalistic enough. 


Not for sale

Mark Humphries is a very likeable comedy performer:

Monday, June 18, 2018

The New Testament revisited, again

Back in January I posted briefly about a new translation of the New Testament by Orthodox theologian David Bentley Hart.  Here's a review of it from Literary Review, and I'll extract a few paragraphs of paragraphs of particular interest:
No less radical, in Hart’s reading, is the young Jewish teacher, to whom he gives the title not of ‘Christ’ or ‘Messiah’ but of ‘Anointed’, whose antinomian ‘concern for the ptōchoi the abjectly destitute – is more or less exclusive of any other social class’. It has been suggested that this is a Marxist Jesus, for whom the rich are the ‘revilers of the divine name, who should howl in terror at the judgment that is coming upon them’, and it is here that Hart has attracted the most cavils and harrumphing. In this translation, Jesus’s teachings on material wealth are emphatically not advisory suggestions, counsels of good karma, but commands; far from the metaphors that we might wish them to be, they are clear injunctions urgently to rid ourselves of possessions, which keep our souls from the light.

This is stressed, in another departure from tradition, in the rendering of the word that we are accustomed to hear as ‘blessed’. For Hart, the Greek makarios conveys ‘a special intensity of delight and freedom from care that the more shopworn renderings no longer quite capture’. Thus in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:3) we hear, ‘How blissful the destitute, abject in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of the heavens.’ To lack, to be empty of possessions, is here to become a vessel imbued with bliss.
And this:
Hart is from the Orthodox tradition, which eschews the Augustinian notion of Original Sin and proposes, more congenially, that humans are born not already stained by sin but merely capable of sinning. This temperamental distinction gives rise to his most controversial translation (among Christian bigwigs), that of aiōn, aiōnios, which is generally given to us as ‘eternity, eternal’. According to Hart, there is an ambiguity in the Greek that means it has no English equivalent. Taking his cue from the Septuagint, the second century BC Greek translation of the Old Testament, he insists that it can equally mean an age, a lifetime or a temporal span. Consequently, in his version of the story of Jesus, the punishment meted out, for example, to the goats, who are notoriously divided from the sheep, is remedial rather than retributive, temporary rather than everlasting, which allows for an altogether kinder, more 21st-century-friendly outlook.

Another silly IPA inspired suggestion

Senator for the IPA James Patterson wants universities to be fined for not accepting money from the Ramsay Centre.   Because nothing says intellectual freedom like forcing a university to teach IPA approved courses.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Dutch teen happiness

The Guardian notes that Dutch teenagers are regularly at the top of teenage happiness analysis:
In report after report, the Netherlands tops OECD countries for high life satisfaction among its young people. Researchers compiling this year’s Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC) study, a four-yearly analysis on 48 countries, say Dutch children’s happiness scores are up again.
It contrasts starkly with the picture in countries like Britain, where depression and anxiety are on the rise among teenagers, and the US, where the number of young people taking their own lives has risen sharply.
So why is this flat, damp country of 17 million people with its history of Calvinism and colonialism so good at giving young people an optimistic outlook?
It is a great question, because the country is so famously liberal in many respects, yet the behaviour of the kids is more conservative than what you get in places like the Red State in the USA.  They are:
... in the bottom five for being overweight, having sex before 15, and feeling pressure from schoolwork. They were less likely than average to experience bullying and generally found it easy to talk to parents.

Despite the country’s reputation for cannabis smoking, the Trimbos Institute reports a downward trend for using alcohol and drugs and smoking in Dutch children aged 12 to 16. Such activities are described by HBSC experts as “risk behaviours” that impact happiness....

The rate of teenage pregnancies in the Netherlands is also the lowest in the EU.
The school system sounds to be behind a lot of it.  It sounds nice and flexible.  
The Dutch school system – almost entirely public –incorporates major exams at about the age of 12 and three levels of secondary education from practical to the most academic. But it is possible to progress from one to the other or repeat a year and, despite concerns about dropping standards and increasing segregation, such flexibility could make for less stress.

Yara Agterhof, 17, from Vlaardingen, has just changed her subject focus. “I was a year ahead, [taking] physics, chemistry and biology,” she says. “I figured it was too hard for me and made a decision to go back. Now I have a different profile with the things I do actually enjoy. I don’t feel like I’ve lost a year and I think my parents feel: ‘As long as you’re happy, we’re happy.’”
It's a very interesting country. 

Hard not to laugh

I rarely use the word "orgy" at this blog, but this clip from Stephen Colbert about a recent failed one at Las Vegas is pretty funny:

Owner of obnoxious clown rodeo still likes clown rodeos, apparently

So, Sinclair Davidson got his noggin on the most ridiculous and embarrassing advertisement for the state of Right wing politics in Australia - Outsiders on Sky News, headed by laughing mop head Dean Rowan and "I think Donald Trump may be the greatest man on Earth" Ross Cameron.   (Yes, something very close to those exact words was his assessment of the outcome of the Singapore meeting last week - I saw it on The Weekly.  Not to mention his various gay ridiculing comments made from time to time - a bit rich from a founding member of a parliamentary Christian fellowship who promptly lost his seat after his history of adultery was revealed.) 

He was talking up his and Chris Berg's plan on how to end the ABC as a government funded organisation, and I have to say, the details of the suggestion sound even sillier than I expected.   (Give shares in it for free it to current and ex ABC staff, who will pay capital gains tax when they sell them off if there is any profit in selling them off.   I have many questions, but honestly, am not very interested in the answers.)

What interests me more is that the hosts of the show gave a call out to Catallaxy, for which Sinclair was apparently appreciative.

The big question, which has bothered me for many years, is why isn't he embarrassed to be the owner/controller of the hate filled bile that passes for reader participation (and, increasingly, post content) at that blog?

He is, personally, socially liberal and was obviously at ease with gay marriage, supports high levels of immigration, appears open minded to Muslim immigration, and admits to being friendly with at least one Labor economist politician (Andrew Leigh).    He has always sounded cynical of Trump.

Of course, he is frequently flat out wrong or deeply eccentric in his views (I won't bother listing them again now, it gets tedious), but his libertarian social liberal bent would seem to indicate that he doesn't hate strongly.

But look at the blog!    It is brimming with Right wing conservatives who genuinely think that centre Left politics and economic views are literally evil and threatening the end of Western civilisation.   Many report how they have lost friends and take pride in their obnoxious arguing with people who do radical things like, you know, believe science on climate change.  Several have mentioned past bouts with depression - I judge that many, by the content of their contributions, have actual psychological personality defects for which they could well do with therapy.  Misogyny, ridicule of homosexual public figures and outbreaks of racism are just routine, extremely rarely moderated, and self-moderation amongst participants is rare too.

Steve Kates routinely posts his complete bewilderment of how anyone cannot see Trump as the saviour of the world, and repeats regularly the view that he is one of the few economists who understands it properly.   As for the Left culturally - just a couple of days ago he wrote  how "the scum on the left know no bounds to their vile subnormal behaviour."   And the other contributors, they are full of condescension and ridicule of the mainstream as well, whether it be on climate science, or anything really.   They don't just disagree, they invite no respect because of their complete rudeness and arrogance towards others economists or experts.   No one of a professional standing ever now appears in comments to dispute or correct a post - surely because they know it is a poisonous place in which respectful debate is impossible.

In short, the blog is full of genuine, nutty, irrational hatred, and works as a mutual support network for those obnoxiously ungenerous towards others.   It is in large part,  I have come to believe, the cry of despair of the cultural loser - but ironically, on their one unifying issue (not believing in the existence or seriousness of climate change) they continually think that they are on the verge of "winning".  

Why would he like being in control of such a clown rodeo?   He might think it gives voice to the frustrated - but they've always been able to go to other offensive unmoderated blogs to do that - Larry Pickering and  Michael Smith's come to mind.  Why would you want to hurt your own credibility by heading a blog that is the home of the bitter and nasty social conservative who doesn't even agree with his own socially liberal views?

It is a complete mystery to me.   

A good Krugman on the somewhat illusory benefits of corporate tax cuts

Again, I think Krugman has a talent for straight forward explanations of economic matters, and this one explaining that corporate tax cutting actually seems to be a lot more about profit-shifting, is a good example.  His final paragraph:
So, am I saying that the case for cutting corporate tax rates is unadulterated nonsense? No, it’s adulterated nonsense. There’s some reason to believe that lower tax rates will, other things equal, have some positive effect on capital formation. But the vision of a global market in which real capital moves a lot in response to tax rates is all wrong; most of what we see in response to tax rate differences is profit-shifting, not real investment. And there is no reason to believe that the kind of tax cut America just enacted will achieve much besides starving the government of revenue.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

A new idea: a spinning space catapult?

Don't think I have ever heard of this before, even as a vague idea:
On Thursday, a Silicon Valley startup called SpinLaunch Inc. will reveal the first details of its plans to build a machine meant to hurl rockets into space. To achieve that goal, SpinLaunch has secured $40 million from some top technology investors, said Jonathan Yaney, the founder.

The company remains tight-lipped about exactly how this contraption will work, although its name gives away the basic idea. Rather than using propellants like kerosene and liquid oxygen to ignite a fire under a rocket, SpinLaunch plans to get a rocket spinning in a circle at up to 5,000 miles per hour and then let it go—more or less throwing the rocket to the edge of space, at which point it can light up and deliver objects like satellites into orbit....

SpinLaunch’s so-called kinetic energy launch system would use electricity to accelerate a projectile and help do much of the dirty work fighting through gravity and the atmosphere. In theory, this means the company could build a simpler, less expensive rocket that’s more efficient at ferrying satellites. “Some people call it a non-rocket launch,” said Yaney. “It seems crazy. It seems fantastic. But we are actually using relatively low-tech industrial components to break this problem into manageable chunks.”
Well, spinning at that speed there won't be any smuggling of a person on board to get into space.  Nor would I assume anything very delicate in a satellite.  I am sceptical of the usefulness of the concept, actually.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Pointless fist waving continues

Ah, I hope that in retirement, like a reverse Jim Cairns, Sinclair Davidson and his best buddy Berg can be found sitting at a card table at some outdoor market selling their latest self published screed about how important it is that (in their case) the ABC sees its comeuppance

They may be admired by the more obnoxious, meat-headier parts of the Coalition and the wingnutty internet for their pointless campaigning on this, but it's a ridiculous campaign that has every chance of helping ABC loving Labor votes, rather than helping those who want to abolish it.

When Rupert dies and stops funding the IPA, perhaps the campaign will slow down anyway.

About that CO2 sucking machine

I've been waiting for some nuanced commentary on the recent report about extracting CO2 from the air for fuel production.   David Roberts does a pretty good job at that in his article at Vox:

Sucking carbon out of the air won’t solve climate change

I say again - send Jonathan Swan back to Murdochland, where he belongs

Typical Swan - look at his tweet giving support to the Trump FBI conspiracists on old news, when the report itself says it found no evidence that the political views expressed in texts affected investigation decisions.  Make sure to read the comment following the tweet too.

Swan is an idiot for thinking that anyone working in the FBI shouldn't have a private view that Trump is a dangerous idiot.   Because we all know he is.   Even a substantial proportion of his cult supporters really know it - they are just willing to encourage him anyway for culture war reasons, based on their absurd belief that Obama was the worst president ever.   Look at Hugh Hewitt's defence of Trump's quip that he'll probably never admit he was wrong about Kim, even if he is.   That's a good sign of "candor" in the perverse world of conservative politics now. 

Update:  to be clearer - of course, it is not a good look for an investigator to be texting that - and it is clearly right that he be taken off any role in the investigation when they were found.   So, yeah, the guy's been foolish.   But, ultimately, if there is no evidence of wrong doing from an investigative point of view, the view the investigator has of the suspect hardly matters.

How long can a cult last in the internet age?

There has been an upswing in people noting that the Republican Party, and about 30% of Americans, are acting like cultists when it comes to Trump.  

This is, of course, depressing in that cult members are not swayed by rational argument.   Or at least, they think they are being rational, when in fact they have lost all objectively.   Getting them out of a cult mindset usually takes a long time.

On the other hand, I was musing idly while in traffic this morning, cults, whether they be of religious or political nature, rarely last all that long, as far as the big picture of history goes.   The tensions, power plays and rivalry within them eventually cause a break up, with members finally giving up and looking for another key to life.   Think of the various Indian gurus gone bad, or your dictators with former public acclaim who end up on the end of a rope.  

What's unique about the current situation is the role of the internet and private media (principally, of course, Rupert Murdoch) in prolonging cult worship and the complete lack of objectivity that is key to a cult's existence.  

It would be more interesting if it weren't so worrying, this matter of how long modern communications and media can keep a political cult alive.    But I guess I remain somewhat optimistic that the dam wall will break, and the disgust with which history will view the enablers of the cult will be long lasting.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

The Right wing intellectual decline, continued

Niall Ferguson is copping a lot of criticism for his latest newspaper column, in which he mounts an argument that the chaotic, who-knows-what-he'll-do-or-say-next, style and instincts of Trump is just what the globe (or at least, America) needs.  This is the particularly offending part:
Yes, there is much to be said in principle for an international order based on explicit rules; and yes, those rules should favor free trade over protectionism. But if in practice your liberal international order has the consequence that China overtakes you, first economically and then strategically, there is probably something wrong with it.

The key to the Trump presidency is that it holds out probably the last opportunity the United States has to stop or at least slow China’s ascendancy. And, while it may not be intellectually very satisfying, Trump’s approach to the problem, which is to assert American power in unpredictable and disruptive ways, may in fact be the only viable option left.
As people are saying on twitter:

Yes, once upon a time, conservative intellectuals valued, well, intellectualism.  Now they're reduced to cheering the opposite because "that'll show them." 

And this:

And there are many other worthy Twitter comments as well, noting that wrecking Western alliances is playing exactly into Chinese (and Russian) hands.  

But the best analysis of how Ferguson has dumbed himself down is a Krugman thread, which you can read here.

Record rainfall watch - France this time

France soaked by record rainfall as deluge continues

Spider raccoon gets to climb another skyscraper

Well, this is a nice story.  
A daredevil raccoon that became an online sensation when it spent almost 20 nail-biting hours scaling a 25-storey office tower in Minnesota has been safely rescued and released back into the wild after making it to the top of the building unscathed.

The animal’s ascent on the outside of the UBS building in downtown St Paul city was watched across the world on social media on Tuesday, with updates on its progress posted regularly by the Minnesota Public Radio under the hashtag #MPRraccoon. Crowds also gathered at the scene to watch.

Seems about right

I've usually like William Saletan's commentary, and his take on Trump/Kim sounds nearly right to me.   (I think he gives too much credit to Trump though when he calls him a "skilled salesman".)  

Wednesday, June 13, 2018


There're millions of words being written about the Trump/Kim summit, and I'm finding it tiresome to choose which seems to me to sum it up best.   So I'll just show throw a few of my own thoughts down:

*  I think it likely that Trump's limited range of rhetorical and social skills means that he has no other way of sounding positive about a political leader without coming across as inappropriately gushing.  I mean, really - can you imagine the Republican reaction to Obama talking about a "special bond" with a "very talented" North Korean dictator who has internment camps and kills his political rivals and poorly performing generals?  It's quite absurd that conservatives (or at least, more conservatives - there are a couple) are not horrified - but then again, their childish, blind, tribalistic support of Trump is absurd at the best of times.   Ironically,  I think the regular media is actually being light on the criticism of Trump for such sycophantic language, perhaps because they have made the same judgement as me (that he just doesn't have the skill to do anything better)?

* The agreement as signed means nothing.   No one will know if anything productive has come out of the meeting for another 12 months at least, I would guess.

*  I have been a bit puzzled by South Korea being too lavish in its praise of Trump early on.  Now that he seems to be making decisions affecting them without being pre-warned (cancelling joint military exercises) I think they may be realising they're not exactly dealing with a reliable ally.    Sucked in, as teens of my era used to say.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

My best guess as to what Trump and Kim just signed ... that's a time share deal for some Trump resort, and an associated golf course membership. 

CRISPR and cancer

Techno optimists of the "let's genetically engineer humans to make them better" extreme might need to reduce their expectations of the use of CRISPR as a gene editing technique:

Editing cells’ genomes with CRISPR-Cas9 might increase the risk that the altered cells, intended to treat disease, will trigger cancer, two studies published on Monday warn — a potential game-changer for the companies developing CRISPR-based therapies.

In the studies, published in Nature Medicine, scientists found that cells whose genomes are successfully edited by CRISPR-Cas9 have the potential to seed tumors inside a patient. That could make some CRISPR’d cells ticking time bombs, according to researchers from Sweden’s Karolinska Institute and, separately, Novartis.

CRISPR has already dodged two potentially fatal bullets — a 2017 claim that it causes sky-high numbers of off-target effects was retracted in March, and a report of human immunity to Cas9 was largely shrugged off as solvable. But experts are taking the cancer-risk finding seriously.

Somewhat interesting post on GDP

Tax havens make GDP screwy

She's been told for years that uncertainty is not her friend, but still she goes on...

Both unsurprising and surprising

They ran tests on kitchen towels which had been used by families and not been washed for a month (!) and found lots of bacteria on them.   (Come on, surely families which aren't headed by someone hooked on ice or heroin wash or change tea towels more often than that?)

But even so, the bacteria found weren't the worst kind:
As for the bacteria found in the study "what's listed here doesn't initially raise concerns with me," Chapman said. The study didn't find any of the common culprits of foodborne illness, such as Salmonella, Campylobacter or pathogenic types of E. coli, such as E. coli O157:H7, he noted.
Although staph can indeed cause foodborne illness when it's found in food, the bacterium is also very common on skin. "The fact that it's [on] the towel isn't as concerning as [it being in] food," Chapman said.
That's surprising.

God looks a bit like..Jimmy Fallon with bigger hair?

Some psychologists seem to have too much time on their hands:
A team of psychologists at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have used a new technique to construct what a large sample of 511 American Christians think God looks like.

Participants in the study saw hundreds of randomly varying face-pairs and selected which face from each pair appeared more like how they imagined God to appear. By combining all the selected faces, the researchers could assemble a composite "face of God" that reflected how each person imagined God to appear.

Their results were both surprising and revealing. From Michelangelo to Monty Python, Illustrations of God have nearly always shown him as an old and august white-bearded Caucasian man. But the researchers found that many Christians saw God as younger, more feminine, and less Caucasian that popular culture suggests.
He's the uninspiring result: