Friday, August 31, 2018

The lab grown meat challenge

Vox has an article about regulatory issues with lab grown meat, about which I am very sceptical as ever being a large scale and economical substitute for real meat, and it contains a handy explanation of the challenges:
Depending on the type of cells and the medium ingredients, you can grow different kinds of tissue. Muscle cells grow more muscle cells, fat cells grow more fat cells; both are in meat as we know it. Stem cells can be coaxed into growing different kinds of tissue. 

There’s one more element beyond cells and soup: scaffolding. The cells need something to grow on. If the scaffolding is going to be part of the eventual product (as it would if you’re growing a whole muscle meat like a steak or a chicken breast), then it obviously has to be edible. If the meat gets removed from the scaffold, as it would if the product was more like ground meat, then it just has to be safe. 

That’s the simplified version of a process that, in practice, is complex and tightly controlled. It all takes place in what’s called a bioreactor — a tank where you can control the temperature, pH, oxygen levels, and a host of other factors. Right now, Santo is working with 2-liter tanks, and one of the big questions of clean meat is how scalable the process is. 

According to Ben Wurgaft, a historian working on a book about lab-grown meat, there are some significant challenges involved. First is sourcing the proteins, vitamins, sugars, and hormones that go into that medium without using serum from the blood of those actual animals, which would at least partially defeat the purpose of lab-grown meat and would certainly be cost-prohibitive. Second is creating bioreactors that are “vascularized,” or have the infrastructure to deliver serum to cells at the center of a piece of meat, as blood vessels do to animal cells. Without that, you can’t grow the thick tissue necessary for steak or chicken breast (although you can still grow the equivalent of ground meats).

“If those don’t turn out to be easier nuts to crack than they seem to be so far, we will not see cultured meat emerging at the time scale of companies and venture capitalists,” Wurgaft says — which is to say, soon.
 I say again:  all the money being poured into this would be better off put into research for making vegetable or fungal or microbial protein more similar in taste and texture to real meat.   

The Producers: Chinese version

For something more lightweight:  the BBC explains that some Chinese producers and investment companies have worked out that if they fake box office success for a movie they've invested in, the rise in the company's stock value can make just as much (or more?) money for them as a genuinely popular movie:
So a film might be on in the cinema and one of the companies which paid for it might buy out entire late night screenings. These will register as full houses when they are, in reality, entirely empty theatres.

Regulators have been catching onto this so producers have allegedly started just buying all the bad seats across many hours of screenings.

Yet the authorities have now worked out that if a showing is somewhat empty in the middle and for some reason all the seats around the walls have been purchased something must be amiss.
It's not exactly the same as The Producers, but not million miles away either...

Tim Blair - immature, dumb disgrace

As I have noted previously, Tim Blair makes jokes about real life suicides and then tries to justify it by arguing you stop suicide contagion by laughing at it.    

The latest - he responds to an ABC report, citing concerns by health professionals who have worked extensively on Nauru regarding depressed, self harming kids on the island, and tries to make a joke about it.

I guess the authorities on Nauru should be sending over copies of his post because of the public good it will do in preventing those kids from working out ways to try to kill themselves?

Or, more truthfully, Tim Blair should realise he's an immature disgrace who should give up his day job and do something useful for a change.  

Real life effects of "enemy of the people"

Eric Wemple at WAPO details how Trump's fascist friendly language affected a nutter.

Trump is a dangerous disgrace.

Sounds about right

Thursday, August 30, 2018

The glasses that make money disappear, magically

I had read one or two other less than enthusiatic reviews of a new attempt by a company to do augmented reality glasses in a way that people might want to use, unlike the response to Google Glass.   But boy, this write up from the Washington Post is really negative, and starts with this startling fact:
Magic Leap, a Florida start-up, has raised $2.3 billion (yes, billion) from investors on the promise it can mix computer-generated images into regular human sight.
It is really hard to understand what they were thinking - it sounds wildly unlikely, after the failure of Google Glass, that there is going to be a market for such a clumsy looking device.   

Quite right

A science blogger from The Guardian (sorry, but their far from ideal website design meant that I rarely ended up there, despite my big interest in science, and now I see it is closing down anyway) writes about her conclusion that she wrong to ever think that science blogging could ever beat fake news:
I believe, like many, that we are living through a dangerous era of untruth, one that will be recognised in the history books as a dark blight on our civilisation. Fascists, charlatans and propagandists are as old as time, but never before have they been mobilised with today’s powerful tools, which can coalesce forces globally and amplify messages in a flash. Ne’er-do-wells formerly had their village pub, their back-alley rendezvous, their circus stall – an influence confined by geography to a small canker. Newspapers reached more widely, but still they were binned each evening to yellow with irrelevance. Even the terrible dictators of the past who managed large-scale atrocities were constrained by the limitations of an internet-free world.

Now, it’s a free-for-all, and we’ve all witnessed the shocking spread of lies and the way their sheer frequency has numbed us into impotence. Any one of Donald Trump’s dodgy dealings would have brought down any other president, but the creeping paralysis of untruth-overload has de-sensitised the population to his many scandals as effectively as “aversion therapy”– as when an arachnophobe is thrown into a pit with a thousand spiders and soon cured. Even definitive proof that the Russians have been meddling in the elections of Western states and sowing general discontent via social media has met with a collective shrug from the inured populace – while individuals might get riled up, each bit of fake news is just another defused spider to the collected whole.

I think writers like me, who specialise in evidence-based communication, have been deluded as to the power of our pens in the face of this inexorable tide. We write our polite pieces in mainstream outlets and expect to change the world. We brace ourselves for the inevitable trolls in the comments sections and on social media, but we feel cheered and bolstered by the praise and support from like-minded members of the audience. We convince ourselves we are doing good, that we are shining a light – no matter how dimly – on an accumulation of evil disinformation. We feel smug when we get a thousand retweets – until we notice that the anti-vaxxers, the racists and the nutters are getting hundreds of thousands more.

I am now starting to think that none of this makes much difference. When does any of our evidence, no matter how carefully and widely presented, actually sway the opinion of someone whose viewpoint has been long since been seduced by the propagandists?
Yeah, I've been saying the same thing for some time, as well as noting how remarkable it is that it wasn't foreseen by anyone how successful the internet would be in promoting propaganda, conspiracy and falsehood.  

Talking apples

Slate notes this about popular apple varieties in America:
The Red Delicious is no longer the dominant apple in American orchards, the U.S. Apple Association said last week, after lasting five decades in the top spot. The Gala apple is now first; Red Delicious second; Granny Smith third. By 2020, the Honeycrisp, which so prized by consumers that they’ll pay higher prices for the privilege of eating one, may crack the growers’ top three.
It then goes on to spend the rest of the article dumping on the Red Delicious - and I am inclined to agree.  The reason I dislike them is because I think they more commonly have a softer flesh, and I really want my apples to be crisp.   But there's also not a hint of tartness in them.

I have long held the Pink Lady in the highest esteem - looks beautiful, usually crisp, and adds a certain sharpness in flavour that the mushy Red Delicious never has.

The Jazz apple, when I have had them, have been pretty good too.   They don't seem to have taken off quite in the way I thought they might, however, when I first had one years ago.

Interestingly, the Slate article mentions neither of these varieties.   What's the Honeycrisp, too?

[Update:  I just noticed in my local Coles that there are a lot of apples for sale at the moment - including two I have never tried - Eve and Modi.   Jazz are there, but much more expensive than Pink Ladies.  The inadequate Red Delicious is there too, as well as Royal Gala, which I don't find much different.   Anyway, it does seem to me that in Australia, the inadequacies of the Red Delicious have already been acknowledged by the public.]

And speaking of apples, I had a particularly nice cider on the weekend - from Tasmania, of course, which seems to now be brimming over with small scale, independent cider manufacturers.   (Was it last year that I had some delicious cherry pear cider?  I have forgotten the brand but I think I posted about it - yes I did, it was Franks.)   The one I had on the weekend was on tap, and there were two names on it - perhaps it was Willie Smiths?   It was called (I think) "wild fermented", which I suppose (if accurate) would indicate that it was relying on airborne natural yeast? - which must be a risky way of making cider if doing it commercially?   [Good and faithful reader Tim, who seems to know everything there is to know about fermentation, I certainly expect to weigh in on this in comments.]   Anyway, it was nicer than your average cider.

The bar staff suggested I also try Pagan Cider.   I should look out for it.

Why aren't we floating solar?

David Roberts has a good piece at Vox talking about where the action is, so to speak, on solar power; and one of the things that he thinks is going to be "big" soon is more floating solar farms on lakes and (possibly) at sea.

The big problem I can foresee with solar panels over salt water is the heightened need to keep them clean from salt crust - surely you would need to be washing them down almost daily.  But then again, some of the spare power could perhaps be used to desalinate some sea water so you don't have to waste expensive chlorinated potable water doing it. 

If the problems could be overcome, Moreton Bay off Brisbane seems a pretty ideal place for it - large parts are very shallow and even smaller boats have to avoid those parts at low tide, and Moreton Island provides a lot of wind shelter.   

The big picture from Robert's article is interesting though - he quotes people saying that the dramatic drop in price of old fashioned silicon panels means that all the new technology solar panels with their incremental improvements in efficiency just aren't really worth using.    That makes sense, but it's sort of depressing if you work in research, isn't it? - spend most of your career on developing the world's most efficient solar cell technology only to find that no one wants it because it's hardly worth retooling factories for the efficiency increase you've achieved. 

Anyway, remember my previous ideas:   the new Snowy Mountains plan to increase its use as power storage by hydro should have its water pumps powered by floating solar cells on the storage lakes.  

And Wivenhoe Dam should be half covered in floating solar power too for South East Queensland's power needs.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

While we're talking reproduction...

...there's quite a long article at Aeon called "The macho sperm myth" which you might dismiss as sounding too doctrinally feminist in approach, but you shouldn't.  It mentions some things about what sperm cells get up to inside of women which I don't think I had heard of before.  For example:
The entrenched notion that human sperm, once ejaculated, engage in a frantic race to reach the egg has completely overshadowed the real story of reproduction, including evidence that many sperm do not dash towards the egg but are instead stored for many days before proceeding. It was long accepted as established fact that human sperm survive for only two days in a woman’s genital tract. However, from the mid-1970s on, mounting evidence revealed that human sperm can survive intact for at least five days. An extended period of sperm survival is now widely accepted, and it could be as long as 10 days or more.

Other myths abound. Much has been written about mucus produced by the human cervix. In so-called ‘natural’ methods of birth control, the consistency of mucus exuding from the cervix has been used as a key indicator. Close to ovulation, cervical mucus is thin and has a watery, slippery texture. But precious little has been reported regarding the association between mucus and storage of sperm in the cervix. It has been clearly established that sperm are stored in the crypts from which the mucus flows. But our knowledge of the process involved is regrettably restricted to a single study reported in 1980 by the gynaecologist Vaclav Insler and colleagues of Tel Aviv University in Israel.

In this study, 25 women bravely volunteered to be artificially inseminated on the day before scheduled surgical removal of the womb (hysterectomy). Then, Insler and his team microscopically examined sperm stored in the crypts in serial sections of the cervix. Within two hours after insemination, sperm colonised the entire length of the cervix. Crypt size was very variable, and sperm were stored mainly in the larger ones. Insler and colleagues calculated the number of crypts containing sperm and sperm density per crypt. In some women, up to 200,000 sperm were stored in the cervical crypts.

Insler and colleagues also reported that live sperm had actually been found in cervical mucus up to the ninth day after insemination. Summarising available evidence, they suggested that after insemination the cervix serves as a sperm reservoir from which viable sperm are gradually released to make their way up the oviduct. This dramatic finding has been widely cited yet largely ignored, and there has never been a follow-up study.

Not a simple Pill

At the risk of encouraging a bunch of conservative Catholics (and Philippa Martyr in particular) going "See!  The Church was always right to oppose this harmful product!", I will link to this article at the BBC which explains that the hormones and hormone combinations used in the contraceptive pill are much more complicated in their source and effects than I would have guessed.

That chicken or egg question is unanswerable?

Hey, has anyone else noticed how often physicists from Brisbane seem to get mentioned in despatches, so to speak, about quantum experiments?   It makes me feel like I'm living in a smarter city than southerners like to give it credit for. 

This time its the University of Queensland being mentioned in a somewhat complicated explanation about a quantum experiment that seems to indicate that causation becomes very confusing in quantum systems:
Over many trials, the physicists implement different combinations of shape changes in the two paths, like choosing among a handful of setting for two different knobs. If each photon definitely takes one path or the other first, the correlations between the knob setting and the photon’s final polarization must obey certain limits. However, if both take both paths first, the correlations will exceed those limits, which is exactly what the physicists observe in a paper in press at Physical Review Letters.

As it stands, the experimenters chose the operations in the two paths independently. However, in principle the experiment shows that quantum mechanics allows for the possibility that the two processes could trigger each other, says Cyril Branciard, a physicist at the NÉEL Institute in Grenoble, France, who worked on the experiment. “One may have situations where some event A causes another event B, while at the same time B causes A.”
I suppose it's appropriate that I mention another recent report, this one about how a quantum entanglement experiment  used light from distant quasars to help rule out "freedom of choice" loopholes.

Don't worry, I'll explain later.  Or not.

Taleb - smart idiot

Nassim Taleb is always a good reminder that being technically smart is no guarantee of having common sense in political judgment, and can certainly be accompanied by an obnoxious personality.   Here's a tweet today indicating he is sympathetic to the ridiculous White House bleating about tech company "censorship" of the internet:

AI modelling of religious belief

I forgot to link to this interesting article in The Atlantic from July, about using computer programs to model the social effect of religious beliefs.  It starts:
Imagine you’re the president of a European country. You’re slated to take in 50,000 refugees from the Middle East this year. Most of them are very religious, while most of your population is very secular. You want to integrate the newcomers seamlessly, minimizing the risk of economic malaise or violence, but you have limited resources. One of your advisers tells you to invest in the refugees’ education; another says providing jobs is the key; yet another insists the most important thing is giving the youth opportunities to socialize with local kids. What do you do?

Well, you make your best guess and hope the policy you chose works out. But it might not. Even a policy that yielded great results in another place or time may fail miserably in your particular country under its present circumstances. If that happens, you might find yourself wishing you could hit a giant reset button and run the whole experiment over again, this time choosing a different policy. But of course, you can’t experiment like that, not with real people.

You can, however, experiment like that with virtual people. And that’s exactly what the Modeling Religion Project does. An international team of computer scientists, philosophers, religion scholars, and others are collaborating to build computer models that they populate with thousands of virtual people, or “agents.” As the agents interact with each other and with shifting conditions in their artificial environment, their attributes and beliefs—levels of economic security, of education, of religiosity, and so on—can change. At the outset, the researchers program the agents to mimic the attributes and beliefs of a real country’s population using survey data from that country. They also “train” the model on a set of empirically validated social-science rules about how humans tend to interact under various pressures.

Curious about Right wing reaction to this...

From NPR:
British Prime Minister Theresa May said she will make major investments in Africa. While on a three-day tour of the continent, May pledged 4 billion pounds ($5.1 billion) of support for African markets. May's goal of deepening trade ties with Africa, the world's second most populous continent, comes ahead of Britain's departure from the European Union next year.
I just can't imagine this being particularly well received by the British Brexiteers who were either populist nationalists, or small government types who are always leery of foreign aid and assistance. 

STD talk, again

Vox has an article about the worrying rise of STDs in the US, including the one that keeps making appearances in this blog - syphilis.

They have a map showing the different rates for that disease across America, and it's pretty hard to make sense of it.   While one might think that the number of gay men (amongst whom unsafe sex has been rising) in California accounts for the high rate in that state (and, perhaps, Florida), there are some very Red states with very high rates too:

And I presume that the lesson of Alaska might be that cold weather means less illicit sex?

Anyway, readers who have not been following my fascination with a particular STD might find this previous post useful - because it shows that even at the higher rates shown above, they are still only roughly 1/5 the rate of what they were in the 1940s.   The extraordinary historical rate of the disease (and its social effect) is still something that I say does not appear in fiction as often as you would expect...

To Berlin

Did you see last night's Foreign Correspondent about young Jewish folk migrating to Berlin to get away from the atmosphere of stifling perpetual conflict in Israel?   It was fascinating, and yet another example of the type of excellent and informative program making that only the ABC does.  

The Murdoch/IPA led right wing campaign against the national broadcaster makes me sick. 

Should never read Adam Creighton in isolation

I managed to find Adam Creighton's "ha ha, Labor is wrong about income inequality" piece in The Australian which takes the "glass is half full" analysis approach to a Productivity Commission report on inequality in Australia.   (I wonder, if Creighton's so sure about this, why does he campaign on abandoning compulsory superannuation as being the only way to let low income workers get ahead?)

Then I read The Guardian's report on the same matter, and came away with a much more balanced view of what the Commission's report said.

Update:  it just occurred to me that there is another bit of opportunistic hypocrisy in Creighton's reporting on this - he's been one to complain about how much tax is paid by the top end of town, compared to how none is paid by the bottom end.  Yet Creighton quotes this:
Launching the report in Canberra yesterday, Productivity Commission chairman Peter Harris said 27 years of economic growth had led to “significantly improved living standards” for people at every income level, while the nation’s “highly targeted” welfare system had reduced inequality — as typically defined — by 30 per cent.
Creighton:  always best ignored.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

An alert for Barrie Cassidy

Deep forehead wrinkles may signal a higher risk for cardiovascular mortality 

Or maybe he was just born with a mightily crinkled forehead?   (I shouldn't be mean - he's a very likeable journalist/commentator.)

Where did the immigration panic come from?

I don't understand why or how the Australian wingnutty Right seemingly decided overnight that immigration levels to Australia were at (what they think) is a crisis level.

I mean, I know Judith Sloan has been doing a NIMBY, pearly clutching exercise about how her Melbourne suburb is changing with too many apartments being built for too many immigrants for quite a while now, but it just seems to have been taken up in an almost unified way amongst all Right wingers in a concerted panic attack on the issue. 

Is there an explanation?   Is it a matter of the Sydney wingnut broadcasters getting really annoyed at the George Street light rail delay disrupting their drive to work and them deciding to blame it all on TOO MANY IMMIGRANTS?   But what's going on in Melbourne (apart from the African gangs issue) that led Bolt and Sloan to ramp up their attack on immigration more generally?

Fruity news

*  Am I the only person who has noticed how cheap, big (and good quality) pineapples are at the moment?    I don't normally notice them, but this year they have caught my attention and we've bought a few since my daughter has decided they are just about her favourite fruit.   A $3 gigantic one does last a long time, cut up in the fridge.

* Radio National this morning was talking about some Queensland strawberry farmers going out of business because of the ridiculous oversupply which is seeing them sold for $1 a punnet (less than the cost of production.)    While farmers not having the business sense to see an oversupply coming is part of the problem, they did talk about the big supermarket contracts with set prices as being relevant too.  I guess it's sort of obvious that something goes wrong in situations like this, but is doing anything other than letting the market sort itself out worse than the disease?     I don't entirely trust the distorting power of the big supermarket contracts, though. 

Too soon

I thought Four Corners and Media Watch last night on the Liberal leadership changeover last week were both pretty dull with nothing interesting to add. I think the basic problem with the Four Corners show was that it was made too soon - you need more time before more politicians will talk about it in the detail necessary to give some new information we don't already know.

Media Watch seemed pretty bland and cautious on the question of media commentators involvement - particularly given this morning that Alan Jones was on 7.30 (apparently - I didn't see it) saying that he was ringing government members privately about the need to dump Turnbull.  And he says that it was to do with the energy policy, which is, at its heart, about emissions and climate change.   I continue to feel that the media is not emphasising enough the fact that this changeover was at its heart about climate change denialists in the media insisting that Turnbull be dumped because he wants to reduce emissions.

(It's true that Turnbull hurt his credibility by seeking to placate the denialists in his party,  but it was absurd hypocrisy that it was Abbott - a man with a kama sutra history of positions on climate change - who was the one criticising Malcolm for not being consistent on the matter.)

But the extracts that Media Watch played of Bolt, Jones, Credlin and Murray criticising Trunbull, do show how nasty and ridiculously over the top their criticism of a politician can be.  This Fox News-ification of right wing commentary in Australia is very unfortunate, and is destined to poison political discourse here just as it has in the US.  

Monday, August 27, 2018

Says it all

Pretty remarkable, isn't it?   Goes to show that at least previous leadership change plotters were right to think hat a new PM would be at least a bit more popular than the current one. 

Those involved in this one - nope, just wanted Turnbull gone because he had an energy policy that, despite being pretty useless, climate change denialism still couldn't accept. 

Back to physics and the universe

In all of the political intrigue of last week, I overlooked the news that Roger Penrose thinks he may have found some observational evidence for his pet cyclical universe alternative theory to the normal Big Bang with inflation. wrote about it, but then Sabine Hossenfelder expresses some mild to moderate skepticism of the whole theory at Backreaction.

The worst news I am likely to read all day

So, Kevin Rudd has a big spray on the political power of Rupert Murdoch today.

While what he says sounds very true, it would feel more appropriate if it wasn't coming from someone who had sucked up so much to the media - including News Corp - for his own political gain.

I had forgotten until I read the other piece in Fairfax about Kevin's piece that he was personally close to Chris Mitchell:
Mr Rudd courted News Corp editors during his time in politics and was the godfather to the son of Chris Mitchell, former editor-in-chief of The Australian.
I have my doubts they send each other Christmas cards any more.

But here's the worst thing about the Nick O'Malley piece:   I don't follow international media intrigues all that closely, but I had always assumed that the Murdoch kids were likely more liberal and had more morals than Rupert, who looks physically frail and can't be with us for too much longer, surely.  But it seems that may be wrong:
Political and News Corp sources have also told Fairfax Media that they believe that News Corp co-chairman Lachlan Murdoch has a particular dislike for Mr Turnbull. They also believe that over the years Lachlan Murdoch has become even more conservative in his world view than his father, and far more conservative than Mr Turnbull. They also confirmed that Lachlan is known to be close to both Ms Credlin and Mr Abbott.
Still, if the Packer family is any guide, things still won't be the same when the Dad dies and the rich kids get to make all decisions.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

I'm getting a bit frustrated

While lots of commentators on the Liberal leadership mention climate change denial as a key factor in why Liberal conservatives could never tolerate Turnbull, I still feel that there is inadequate emphasis on this as the reason why the Liberals cannot continue to be an attempted coalition between climate change denialist/conspiracists and the moderates who believe science and the need for a policy to reduce emissions.

You see, this is typical of what Trump loving, alternative reality so-called Australian conservatives believe about climate change and energy policy:

We've all read the continual stream of climate change denialism from Bolt, Blair, Ackerman, lots of guest writers in the Australian, and in the posts and comments at Catallaxy for more than a decade, and one thing is clear:   nothing  will change their minds.    They are convinced by ageing fools who will never concede error, and argue in various combinations of bad faith, ideological blindness, and self interest.   

It has become a core belief aligned with nearly all social conservatives (and with most libertarians) that climate change is not real and/or is nothing to worry about.


It's that simple.

Remember in 2012 that show on the ABC where a young global warming advocate travelled around with Nick Minchin trying to convince him that his climate change "skepticism" was wrong?  I posted about it at the time.   At the end, there was a fake resolution in which Minchin said he would agree that it wasn't a bad thing to encourage renewables because fossil fuels were not going to last forever.

This was a disingenuous attempt to come up with some sort of "we can work this out" happy ending, but which didn't make sense for a denialist or realist - Australia could easily burn coal for hundreds of years if it kept it to itself and had no concerns about emissions.   And no climate change denying "conservatives" has ever agreed with Minchin, then or now.

So, yeah - as I say, it is that simple.

The Liberals are never going to be come up with an energy policy which will keep a significant chunk of their Federal members (and I do mean "members") or their apparently increasingly right wing "base" happy.

The party will be stuck in internal conflict about this forever, or at least - I would guess - another 10 to 20 years, while we wait for Rupert Murdoch and all of the handful of ageing contrarian scientists who keep the denialism alive to literally die off.

It needs to split, or it is going to be hobbled by that internal conflict for that long

Update:  On Insiders this morning, I saw an extract from Malcolm Turnbull's farewell press conference in which he said word to the effect that it seemed that for the Liberals there were some with ideological reasons preventing agreement on energy policy.

True, but it is not enough to just mildly say that on the way out.  They need to be called out as  simply wrong in their climate change denial and they need to get out of the party!

Friday, August 24, 2018

Quantum computer sighted

It occurred to me this afternoon that I had no idea what a quantum computer physically looked like.

So I Google it, and found this photo from an Engadget article earlier this year, showing the innards of an IBM 50 qubit quantum computer:


Actually, it does literally need to be very cool - but the article does a very poor job of explaining how exactly it is cooled down to liquid helium temperatures.   Does the whole thing sit in a liquid helium bath?  

Doubting the choice

I had forgotten how much I disliked Scott Morrison as Immigration minister under Abbott until I searched back through posts here.   He has, deliberately, softened his image since then; and to be honest, I think I did feel more kindly towards him after he appeared with Annabel Crabb on her one-on-one in the kitchen show.

But, he really does strike me as a blustering flim flam man at heart in interviews.  

In a way, I think he shares a bit of the same (in)sincerity problem that Shorten suffers from.   Something about both of their deliveries in interviews and debates often hits notes of blustery insincerity.  

But Labor does not have at its heart a corrosive internal culture war/climate change denial fight going on for its soul.  And, genuinely, they have been doing decent policy work on at least tax.

Labor will deserve to win the next election, and I would be very surprised if Morrison can help the Liberals avoid a significant defeat.

Lulz, as they say (and by the way - just split, Liberals)

Morrison and Frydenberg.  They're not really to be trusted on climate change, but nor are they rabidly into denying it, and so are already being declared a major disappointment for the right wing/conservative denialists in the party.   (Catallaxy commenters are appalled.)  

The decades old, fundamental problem in the party is still unresolved.

Just get out of the way and let Labor govern for a while.

Public butchery not a good idea

I see that The Sun has run an article showing graphic pictures of the animal sacrifices taking place, often on roads or other public places, for Eid in Muslim countries.   (A few posts back, however, I noted how at least one big city - Cairo - was trying to stamp out the practice on public health and hygiene grounds.)

Having a look at the photos - which I don't really recommend - it reminds of me of my theory as to why public attitudes towards gruesome executions have changed so much in the West.   (Even allowing for some people wanting to shock themselves by looking up real life beheadings and gruesome mangled bodies on the 'net, it's pretty much impossible to imagine anything other than public outrage in the West at the idea that public should want to watch any criminal beheaded, hung, or drawn and quartered, when such things did use to be a public spectacle in Christian countries.)

I think that that commonplace public butchery of animals is a possible reason why people used to be not shocked at seeing a "deserving" person butchered in public as well.  But when such animal butchery got hidden away from the market to the interior of a slaughterhouse, public sensitivity to seeing humans broken and cut increased over time too.

And you would have to say that it is Islamic nations (public beheading in Saudi Arabia) and Islamic terrorism that is the main source of such maltreatment of human bodies now. 

I know that you can argue that the public slaughter of animals is more "honest" about how those of us who enjoy meat get our food - many people say that a visit to a slaughterhouse is one of the best ways to be converted to vegetarianism - but being sensitised to the slaughter of animals by keeping it hidden has the added advantage of sensitising people to the slaughter of humans too.

And that is actually a good thing.

So yeah, I wish Muslim countries would stop the public slaughter of animals, for the sake of all of us.

PS:   a handy update on the matter of when and why Judaism stopped animal sacrifice.

PPS:   it is an interesting intellectual exercise to wonder what would happen to Islam if, in an equivalent to the Temple being destroyed in 70CE, its key sacred sites in and around Mecca were to be destroyed.  (Was it one of the three sites fake nuked in Mission Impossible 6?  I forget.)    I guess the immediate aftermath would depend on who caused the destruction.   An asteroid strike might raise particularly difficult questions as to how to interpret it! 

Imre surprises

I have never known much (or more accurately, anything really) about Imre Salusinszky beyond the fact that he was presumably pretty conservative since he and Tim Blair had a short lived stint on ABC radio in one of the early attempts to give a right wing balance, which was cut short and seems to have made Blair absolutely obsessed with wanting to destroy the organisation and all within it ever since. 

But on his twitter feed, he has been fully supporting Chris Uhlmann's attach on the Right wing media's direct and private intervention in cajoling Liberals to dump Turnbull.   He sees no equivalence with Left leaning journalists criticising, say, Abbott:

Well, good on him.

Does he talk to Tim Blair any more?   I can't see that Bolt would want to talk to him after this, either.

Come on Liberals, just split

I saw Amanda Vanstone on TV last night saying that she viewed the "broad church" of the Liberal Party as a positive thing.  She told the story of John Howard in the cabinet or party room siding with the policy of spending a billion dollars on the environment in (I think) 1996, because he said that although he agreed with the conservatives, he thought it was what the electorate wanted.

All very nice in theory, Amanda, but can't you admit that the conservatives, all due to their intransigence on the matter of climate change denial, have caused electoral turmoil over the last decade?

What's more, your pragmatic hero John Howard, once out of politics, went over to the dark side of encouraging the very climate change denialism that has stuffed up energy policy ever since.

Sorry Amanda, the "broad church" has broken down and just doesn't work anymore, and it's not because of moderates like you.

The party needs a proper split.   And the mainstream side needs to stop sending party operatives over to learn how to deny reality from Republicans; tell Murdoch to get stuffed - he and his media outfits are simply wrong about climate change; and similarly to tell the IPA that everyone knows they are just a mouthpiece for Gina Rinehart who's as self interested in her climate change denial as it is possible to get.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Ah, so it all makes sense now [sarc]

I mean, that's just amongst L/NP voters (which is arguably a better take on public sentiment, because it's not confounded by Labor voters who went for Dutton because they think he's hurt the Libs.)

Who the hell has told him he'll do great at the next election?    Has some cabal of Murdoch figures been gaslighting him about how the public will warm to him?

It's very bizarre.

Update:  I've just got around to watching Chris Uhlmann's spray against Sky News and 2GB for them apparently getting directly involved by privately ringing Liberal Party ministers and MPs.   I think he's pretty conservative himself, and no friend of green energy policy, so for him to be so upset with the likes of Alan Jones etc is a pleasant surprise.   

And it does seem to be the only plausible explanation - the climate change denying idiots of Sky and 2GB who have never liked Turnbull were freaked out over his energy policy sticking to Paris targets, and decided to take him down by encouraging the only dimwit able to be gaslit about his own popularity into challenging.     Still doesn't really explain why 35 MPs would go with it, but that's the parlous state of the party at the moment.

And now we cross to a live feed of Malcolm Turnbull in Canberra...

Update:  Or perhaps that should be Peter Dutton, not Turnbull.

I'll pay that...

Yes, quite the coincidence

A long history of demanding loyalty, and not returning it

Now that Trump has dumped Cohen like a hot potato (and tries to keep Manafort on side by praising him - man, he is so transparent), this article at Politico looks at the history of Trump giving no loyalty back as soon as it suits him.  He's really an incredible jerk.

The strange death of the Turnbull government

The bizarre thing is that it seems that no one other than half of the Liberal politicians in Canberra, and the LNP organisation in Queensland, thinks well of Peter Dutton.

I mean, can't they read preferred leader polls?   And lots of people say that for every seat in Queensland that Dutton may hypothetically save, there'll probably be a seat in Victoria or elsewhere that he'll lose.  As I noted yesterday, there's not even obvious support for him in the bitter, aged white male world of Catallaxy.  For many of them, he's not even conservative enough!

And then there's the doubt over whether he is entitled to be in Parliament at all.  What nutty challenger tries to take over leadership when there is that cloud over their head?

Finally, there's the matter of the Coalition polling actually having risen to 51/49 in the last couple of Newspolls.  I couldn't see why this had happened, and it worried me that it put Turnbull in range of another scrappy win at the next election.   So, obviously, what does the party do?  Tear itself apart.

My big hope, that this would cause a proper split in the Party to rid it of climate change denialism once and for all, is seemingly not going to happen.   Turnbull seems to love the top job too much to tell a chuck of his parliamentary supporters to leave the party - but there's no doubt that a new conservative party would form some sort of coalition with the Liberal/Nationals rather than support Labor, which is not going to give up support for higher reduced emissions targets.

Anyway, one of the best discussions I have read about this means for the future of the Liberals is from Ben Eltham, and appears in New Matilda.  A few key bits:

As Tim Colebatch noted this week in Inside Story, the struggle for the future of the party is existential, even ontological. Colebatch notes that “in most of Australia, the Liberals’ shrinking party branches increasingly comprise a narrow base of cultural protesters rather than the broad base of mainstream Australians they had when national development was the issue.”

As I pointed out in an article about the rise of Australian far right, modern conservative thinking has moved rapidly in recent years. Amongst the contemporary conservative base, the onrush of tribalism has resulted in the abandonment of enlightenment values like scientific knowledge, liberal pluralism, or academic expertise. 

As a result, movement conservatives quite literally live in a different reality to moderates and progressives, a world where conspiracy theories flourish, climate change is a myth, and western civilisation is under threat from immigrants, feminists and university lecturers. 

In the longer term, genuine questions must be asked about the future of the conservative project. Can the Liberal Party continue in its current form? Will conservatives succeed in taking over the party machinery and melding it into a much more muscular, far-right apparatus – just as movement conservatives have done in the United States? Or will the party split apart?

In mainstream Australia, the endless culture war has so far been going very badly, as the marriage plebiscite showed. But the culture war within the Liberal Party has been another matter altogether: in the party machinery, the far right is winning.

As out of touch as the conservatives are with mainstream Australia, they are extremely in touch with the active and increasingly radical right. Indeed, it could be argued that this weeks’ events represent the logical conclusion of the radicalisation of the Liberal right.

t’s no coincidence that energy policy proved the spark that ignited the current Liberal conflagration. The passage of virulent climate denialism from fringe right-wing conspiracy theory to the centre of current Liberal policy shows just how radicalised the right of the party has become. Similar trends are apparent on issues like immigration. Such is the drift that a section of the party is more than willing to sabotage a sitting Liberal prime minister in order to secure political and ideological hegemony. 
Such actions do not augur well for a sensible and balanced politics in this country. In fact, they suggest precisely the opposite: the rise of a powerful and dangerous far right movement, well on the way to taking over one of the two major parties in Australia’s democracy.
 Actually, I don't agree with that last paragraph - I think the nutty Right of Australia is just having a temporary confidence boost by the Trump ascendancy, but that is going to crash in a screaming wreck very shortly.  Besides, my feeling is that wingnuttery is not as big in Australia as it is in the States, and is artificially boosted in prominence and influence by the Murdoch media.  

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

While we're on a theme...

I'm a bit amused to read about how, in times past, professional poets to Irish kings and chieftains had to give some pretty extreme, um, lip service to the boss:
The cult seems rooted in the notion of the poet’s relationship with his royal or chiefly patron being equivalent to a marriage, the two sharing the same bed. The following English translations from the original Irish may be cited. One poet tells his patron that it is no act of adultery towards his wife to “lie with me and my kind”, while another who has fallen out of favour seeks reconciliation by urging: “Let us not refrain any longer from lying on one couch, O fair one.” A 14th-century poet calls on his patron to “proffer your red lips to me, give me a fervent kiss . . .” The same states: “To him [the poet] is due loving favour, the primest [sic] liberality, precedence in counsel, the king’s counsel, the sharing of his bed . . .” Some of the language employed is even more extravagant. Thus, an elegy by Brian Ó Gnímh over the spiked head of Alasdair Mac Donald (1586) runs: “I love the still-unbleached red mouth/Head of silk complexion . . ./ . . . smooth delicate cheek/ . . . fine soft abundant curling tresses/ . . . gaze-holding green eyes . . ./ . . . perfect tresses”.
Whether this should be seen as really, truly gay or not seems to be a matter in dispute:
However, we are cautioned by Prof Pádraig Breatnach that “the guise of ‘spouse’ could be adopted by a poet towards several patrons at once”. The poet’s “full assumption of a feminine role” occurs within terms of an established literary “conceit”, and “we must be wary of drawing hasty conclusions as to his psychology...” A parallel study by Prof Katherine Simms draws attention to the contemporary “traditional role of the poet as in some sense his patron’s spouse or lover”. However, “the bard has no intention . . . of implying a homosexual relationship with his patron . . . Bed-sharing was a general mark of esteem and trust in this society, peculiarly appropriate between a king and his poet.” Both the foregoing base their observations in large part on the earlier work of Prof James Carney.
 The guy who wrote the article goes on to argue "yeah, nah", but who is right I don't know.

I do think it kind of funny though to imagine a 100% straight poet having to gush like that to keep his job.

Just when you thought Malaysia was making sudden improvements...

..The Guardian reports that:
The general election in May has been celebrated for ushering in a new era, but the new government’s first 100 days in power have been marked by increased discrimination, harassment and violent hate crime against the LGBT community.
Which is pretty odd, given the anointment of Anwar Ibrahim, alleged sodomite, by Mahathir as the next leader.   Anyway, some particular incidents behind the report:
In the early hours of Saturday, the police and government officials raided a small nightclub in Kuala Lumpur.

The venue, Blue Boy, was known to be popular with the LGBT community, but for years had been relatively left alone by the authorities. Until the weekend. Twenty men were detained and ordered into counselling for “illicit behaviour” by the Federal Territory Islamic Religious Department of Malaysia (JAKIM).

Government minister Khalid Samad later released a statement on the motivations behind the raid. “Hopefully this initiative can mitigate the LGBT culture from spreading into our society,” he said....
Just two days before the raid, a trans woman was brutally beaten on the street in Seremban while seven others watched. The attack left her with broken ribs, a broken backbone and a ruptured spleen.

In the same week, a sharia court ordered a lesbian couple to be caned after they were caught having sex in a car, the first time in years such a punishment had been handed out in Malaysia. The judge said it was “a lesson and reminder to not just the two of you, but the members of society”....
The minister for religious affairs, Mujahid Yusof Rawa, has said the government would “take proactive measures to curb the growing lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender issues, and help them to return to the right path and lead a normal life”. The deputy minister for public affairs, Dr Lee Boon Chye, stated last week that LGBT people have an “organic disorder”.

Not a great day for Trump

Just don't do it

Here's conservative Catholic Philippa Martyr's remarkably un-detailed assessment of how to respond to the Catholic Church's crisis with regard to sex and sexual behaviour:
I don’t know a soul, clerical or lay, who hasn’t been damaged by the sexual revolution. But I also know there’s no point in saying, ‘It’s always been like this.’

The solution is not married clergy, gay clergy, or even married gay clergy. It’s the same solution it’s always been: a renewal and restoration and re-catechesis of the Church’s complete teaching on sexual morality, and practical advice on how to get it right, at least most of the time.

For the last 40 years we have had Catholic marriage promoted, explained, and supported at every level of the Church. Perhaps it’s time to look at the chaste and/or celibate state in the same way.

We all know many faithful Catholics who can’t marry – or re-marry – for a whole range of reasons. All of us could benefit from some help to live lives that are just as holy and as countercultural as faithful married Catholic couples.

What, exactly, does she see as a system of helping those who can't have sex?  

[Update:  and, I might add - I would love to know her "practical advice on how to get it right".   I'm looking forward to Dr Philippa Martyr's book "The Joy of No Sex": richly illustrated with some hairy, clothed dude getting distracted in novel ways from sexual thoughts?   I think cats would likely feature a lot, somehow.]

The whole problem with her approach is that it really is only looking at the historical context as far back as the 1960's.   Yes, it's true, the 1960's did invoke a challenge to the Church's authority in the matter of sex and sexuality, but the true historical context needs to go back at least a century earlier - to the turmoil of the 19th century, and the scientific, philosophical and theological challenge of modernity to the Church, and the way people understand the very nature of humanity.    

Poor old Philippa seems to think you can just set the clock back a few centuries and that's that.

You can't.

Update:   I said in comments I would link to a piece that appeared recently from a guy who had been a seminarian in the 1960's, but left and didn't become a priest.   As he says:
From my personal experience, I would guess that obligatory celibacy plays an important role. To paraphrase Saint Paul, for some people the burning sexual energy cannot and should not be contained. The effort often infantilizes men, subverting normal sexual urges into strange pathways, blocking sexual maturity.

For a few priests, celibacy appears to deepen devotion to God; many simply ignore it; for others it is a source of malaise and unhappiness. For far too many men, it has led to criminal depravity.

The Catholic hierarchy has primary responsibility to find the answer and to make the indispensable cultural and institutional changes in the priesthood. Prosecution of abuses has become more common, but it’s not enough. I don’t see evidence that the clergy — priests, bishops, the Vatican or even the much admired Pope Francis — are willing to address the elephant in the room: What is wrong with the institution of the priesthood and how can it be fixed?
Or how about a former priest, writing in 2010, who puts it this way:
No, celibacy does not “cause’’ the sex abuse of minors, and yes, abusers of children come from many walks of life. Indeed, most abuse occurs within families or circles of close acquaintance. But the Catholic scandal has laid bare an essential pathology that is unique to the culture of clericalism, and mandatory celibacy is essential to it. Immaturity, narcissism, misogyny, incapacity for intimacy, illusions about sexual morality — such all-too-common characteristics of today’s Catholic clergy are directly tied to the inhuman asexuality that is put before them as an ideal.
A special problem arises when, on the one hand, homosexuality is demonized as a matter of doctrine, while, on the other, the banishment of women leaves the priest living in a homophilic world. In some men, both straight and gay, the stresses of such contradiction lead to irrepressible urges that can be indulged only by exploitation of the vulnerable and available, objects of desire who in many cases are boys, whether prepubescent or adolescent. Now we know.
Update 2:   Here's a point I may have missed before.   Even though (as I noted in an earlier post) Philippa loves to blame homosexuality as at the core of the problem, the irony is that the proportion of gay priests in the priesthood has almost certainly increased over the last 50 years before of the outflow of straight priests who leave to marry!:
In the last half century there’s also been an increased “gaying of the priesthood” in the West. Throughout the 1970s, several hundred men left the priesthood each year, many of them for marriage. As straight priests left the church for domestic bliss, the proportion of remaining priests who were gay grew. In a survey of several thousand priests in the U.S., the Los Angeles Times found that 28 percent of priests between the ages of 46 and 55 reported that they were gay. This statistic was higher than the percentages found in other age brackets and reflected the outflow of straight priests throughout the 1970s and ’80s. 
So even if it was fair [it isn't, in the broad way she does] of Philippa to, um, blame the gays,  the fact that celibacy has caused heaps of straight priests to leave the priesthood would still pretty much be consistent with "celibacy is a factor in the sexual abuse crisis."  

How politics now works

Hey, I think this is a pretty good explanation of how Labor (and Liberal) politics now works from The Conversation - Labor now does politics better than the Liberals - here's why.

American politics gets a mention too.

It doesn't get into the whole culture war/climate change issue that has poisoned the American Right and bled into Australian Right too, but the big picture it paints still seems sound.'s all about climate change

It was a bit frustrating listening to Fran Kelly interview a couple of Liberals this morning about their leadership crisis and not have her or her guests get to the crux of the divide between the conservative and moderate split within the party.

It's obvious:  it is climate change.   The so-called conservatives in the party deny reality on this,   commentators should be not shy about calling this out as being at the heart of the Liberal crisis.

Update:  yes, Graham Readfearn said the same thing yesterday
Climate change denial is at the root of the half-baked policies and outright wrecking that have blighted the past decade
Why aren't more commentators saying it?

And why isn't there anyone calling for an outright split in the Liberals over it?   

A positive look at New Guinea

I've missed a lot of Foreign Correspondent this year, but caught last night's remarkable show in which ageing and ill former New Guinea correspondent Sean Dorney returned to the country where he worked (and found his wife) many years ago.  

It was good to see such a personal story, incorporating a rare positive look at village life, get an airing.  

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

A particularly good time not to be in Cairo

It's Eid, the holiday dreaded by sheep.   I see that Cairo is trying to get on top of a street slaughter problem:
Faced with scenes of blood flowing in rubbish-strewn roads and of streets littered with animal entrails, authorities in the Egyptian capital say they aim to crack down on the outdoor slaughter that marks one of Islam’s main holidays.

Eid Al Adha, or the festival of sacrifice, is marked by Muslims sacrificing animals according to religious traditions at the end of the Haj annual pilgrimage.

Ahead of the holiday, which this year starts on Tuesday, temporary sheep markets have sprung up amid the exhaust fumes and garbage heaps of the sprawling metropolis.

But the governor’s office in Cairo insists it is on a “cleanliness” drive to stop the widespread slaughter of animals in the distinctly unhygienic surroundings of the city’s streets.

To prevent the “barbaric and unacceptable” spectacle, officials in each neighbourhood have been ordered to “strictly” enforce laws prohibiting the practice, city spokesman Khalid Mustafa said....

Traders like Hussain Abul Al Aziz say they welcome the push to eliminate the killings in the streets and claim they don’t engage in the practice.

“It is unacceptable to slaughter in the street, it must be done in an abattoir with a veterinarian who examines the animal and under the supervision of the health ministry,” Aziz said, standing among his well-fed beasts.

But it is clear that the message from the authorities has not reached most people.

Local resident Ahmad Ragab shops around for a sheep for Eid Al Adha.

The father in his fifties confides that he has not heard of the official sanitation drive and was planning to slaughter his animal in the street outside his house.

India is...a bit of a worry

Spotted in Gulf News:
Malayalam actress and fashion designer Poornima Indrajith and award-winning music composer Shaan Rahman, who have been at the forefront of Kerala flood rescue efforts, on Monday slammed haters who were spreading bigotry and hate in the wake of mass destruction.

While the majority of civilians and officials have stepped up to help the rain-ravaged Kerala to return to normalcy, there is a section of people on social media who displayed bigotry by claiming that the South Indian state had invited the floods due to their beef-eating habits.

Another hate-spewing comment was that an Indian deity was showing its fury on the state, when a section of its residents demanded that women be allowed in the temple that housed the idol.
More broadly, from a recent editorial piece from the ANU based  East Asia Forum:
Modern Hindu nationalism is not mere traditionalism, says Arun Swamy. The Hindu nationalists seek not so much to preserve existing social hierarchies in Hindu cultures as they do to rewrite social orders fascistically to the benefit of Hindu populations. The Modi government appears to be actively pursuing ‘history rewriting’ and ‘historic romanticism’ agendas and has appointed what seems to be a historical revision committee to ‘prove that today’s Hindus are directly descended from the land’s first inhabitants and make the case that ancient Hindu scriptures are fact not myth’. Other concerns include Modi’s pick for Uttar Pradesh chief minister, a Hindu priest who has incited violence against Muslims, and legislative developments in BJP-controlled states that presume guilt until proven innocent in cases of cow slaughter and urge the enforcement of archaic laws against cattle slaughter (even in Muslim-majority communities).

‘The Hindu nationalist rhetoric was played down (at least by Modi)’, as Adeney explains, ‘in favour of a development narrative. He put himself forward as a normal man, contrasting his humble origins with the “little princeling” Rahul Gandhi, presumed to be prime minister-designate of the Congress though never officially named as such’. The long-term electoral project of the BJP is rather to showcase right wing majoritarianism as the natural force synonymous with the welfare and development of India — hence perhaps that choice of chief minister in Uttar Pradesh.

Events since 2014 raise the question of whether the BJP is the new dominant party of Indian politics. It has captured a raft of state legislatures, and although it did not manage to win a majority in the recent state election in Karnataka, it did win the largest number of seats.

Mr Potato Head thinks he's PM material?

I am surprised that Dutton made a run for the Prime Ministership.   Surely was too early.   Surely was too presumptuous that any voters actually like him.   (A quick survey in my office confirms - no one does.  There was even little support at Ratbag Central - Catallaxy.)  The Murdoch press has adopted an "anyone but Turnbull" line - Bolt and Blair are so convinced that Malcolm is rotten - rotten I say - that they obviously set aside any concern about how the public really dislike the decade's old Prime Ministerial chocolate wheel selection system that the Federal democracy has become.  Round and round she goes, where she stops, nobody knows.

But that 35 Liberals went with Dutton??  As Annabel says:

I'll keep saying it - the Liberals need a split.    It can't stagger on for another decade with climate change denialism poisoning everything.  

What a decent human

As The Guardian writes:
The son of murdered New South Wale police accountant Curtis Cheng has called for an end to political “scapegoating” of Muslims in Australia following last week’s speech by senator Fraser Anning calling for a ban on Muslim immigration.

Alpha Cheng’s father was shot in cold blood by a 15-year-old Muslim boy, Farhard Jabar, outside the NSW police headquarters in Parramatta in 2015. Two others were jailed for planning the attack and supplying the weapon.

But he said that was no reason to victimise a community.

“I am tired of needing to explain to adults that the actions of these individuals cannot be attributed to an entire group of people. If I, of all people, can think this way, then sure as hell our ‘elected’ representatives can think this way too,” Cheng wrote in an opinion piece in Fairfax Media.

How not to legalise marijuana

Both The Atlantic and Vox have articles up talking about marijuana addiction, and explaining the concerns of experts that the method of legalisation of marijuana being followed in most American States is pretty much asking for trouble.  (Basically, just by letting capitalist interests promote and drive the market, and with next to no control over the strength or form of THC sold.)

I think the point made is obviously true.

Monday, August 20, 2018

A historical knowledge gap

Someone on Twitter linked to a 6 month old, very extensive critical article about Ben Shapiro, who I find pretty easy to ignore.   [He has said stupid things about climate change - my rule of thumb means he's unlikely to be reliable on any topic.]

But in the article there was a reference to the very big death toll from the expulsion of German speakers from Eastern Europe in the first couple of years after World War 2.   Here's what it says:
There is only one problem with the precedent cited by Shapiro: it is actually a forgotten historic atrocity, which was characterized by mass rape, torture, and murder, and left at least 400,000 people dead. Germans were interned in concentration camps and endured horrific journeys in which pregnant women froze to death. As Tara Zahra explains in a review of R.M. Douglas’s Orderly and Humane: The Expulsion of the Germans After the Second World War:

This is indeed not a subject I was at all familiar with, and I have had a look at the book review linked to above.  Some extracts:
It was one of many ugly episodes in 1945. On a summer day in Horní Moštenice, a small town in central Czechoslovakia, 265 people, including 120 women and seventy-four children, were dragged from a train, shot in the neck, and buried in a mass grave that had been dug beside the local railway station. It was a common enough scene in Central and Eastern Europe during World War II, when Nazi extermination policies threatened entire ethnic groups. But despite the similarity of means and ends, the massacre in Horní Moštenice was different. For one thing, it occurred on June 18, after the war in Europe had officially ended. Moreover, the perpetrators were Czechoslovak troops, and their victims were Germans who had been a presence in the region for centuries....

After the Nazi defeat, the Volksdeutsche fled or were expelled to the West, and were stripped of their citizenship, homes and property in what R.M. Douglas calls “the largest forced population transfer—and perhaps the greatest single movement of peoples—in human history.” Douglas amply demonstrates that these population transfers, which were to be carried out in an “orderly and humane” manner according to the language of the Allies’ 1945 Potsdam Agreement, counted as neither. Instead, he writes, they were nothing less than a “massive state-sponsored carnival of violence, resulting in a death toll that on the most conservative of estimates must have reached six figures.”  .....

The so-called “wild” or spontaneous expulsions in Czechoslovakia began almost immediately after liberation, in May to June of 1945. But there was nothing “wild” about this first wave of what Czech officials referred to as národní ocista (“national cleansing”). These expulsions, which resulted in the removal of up to 2 million Germans from Eastern Europe, were planned and executed by troops, police and militia, under orders from the highest authorities, with the full knowledge and consent of the Allies. Eastern European and Allied observers alike remarked on the utter passivity of the victims, the majority of whom were women, children and the elderly (most German men had been drafted during the war and either killed or interned in POW camps). But the “wild expulsions” were justified as self-defense on the basis of exaggerated or invented reports of ongoing resistance activity by Nazi “Werewolf” units. One of the most infamous postwar pogroms was sparked by the accidental explosion of an ammunition dump in Ústí nad Labem in northwestern Bohemia in July 1945. Most of the victims of the explosion were themselves German, but local workers, Czechoslovak Army units and Soviet troops wasted no time blaming Werewolf sabotage and taking revenge. Germans were beaten, shot and thrown into the Elbe River; many observers recall a baby carriage being thrown into the river with a baby inside. The massacre resulted in at least 100 deaths.

During the “wild” expulsions, lucky expellees were given a few hours’ notice and taken on foot by force to the closest border with only the clothes on their back. The unlucky were interned in concentration and forced labor camps organized explicitly on the Nazi model. At least 180,000 ethnic Germans were interned in Czechoslovakia as of November 1945; another 170,000 were interned in Yugoslavia. The internees included many women, children and even several thousand German-speaking Jews. In many cases, former Nazi concentration camps and detention centers like Terezín/Theresienstadt were converted overnight into camps for ethnic Germans. At Linzervorstadt, a camp administered by a former Czech internee of Dachau, the motto “Eye for Eye, Tooth for Tooth” replaced Arbeit macht frei on the camp gates. Inmates were stripped naked and shorn of their hair upon arrival at the camp, forced to run a gantlet while being beaten with rubber truncheons and then, during their stay in the camp, systematically flogged, tortured and made to stand at attention in all-night roll calls. Interned women throughout Czechoslovakia and Poland were subject to rampant sexual abuse, rape and torture. Germans were also forced to wear armbands or patches marked with the letter “N” for Nemec (German)—collective payback for the humiliation that the Nazis had inflicted on populations in the East. When they were finally transported west, the expellees traveled by cattle car, sometimes going with barely any food or water for up to two weeks. One victim recalled that each morning, “one or more dead bodies greeted us…they just had to be abandoned on the embankments.”
Update:   while I feel I should have known more about that, it did, after all, fall into that part of the world that I have long considered to be:

The necessary Party purge that never arrives

What's been clear for more than a decade is that the Coalition needs to purge itself of the climate change denying rump that cannot be reasoned with because they disbelieve the science underlying a really important policy area, and cannot be placated unless policy endorses their disbelief.

My impression is that the climate change denialists have lessened in number and overall influence,  but their dimwitted supporters in the Liberal base are feeling energised by the temporary political win of their nonsense in the US.   And besides, it's incredibly easy to cause destabilisation in a government with a wafer thin majority.

It's disappointing that Malcolm Turnbull cannot bring himself to instigate the necessary purge, at least for the Liberals. I'm a bit torn as to whether I would prefer to see him stagger on, or resign on principle.   Neither are satisfactory, and he will never be  viewed as a very significant Prime Minister unless he does come out swinging and tell the wrecking denialists (and their backers in the Murdoch press, talkback radio and the Rinehart front known as the IPA) that they are simply wrong and need to get out of the Party.      

Japanese population getting smaller in more ways than one

I didn't notice this story getting any attention in the media a couple of weeks ago after it appeared in Science - which is a bit surprising.  Because I, for one, did not know that it was well acknowledged that the Japanese have started getting shorter!:
Japan's obsession with slender women may harm unborn children and create long-term health problems for the Japanese population. Already, a high proportion of Japanese women is starting pregnancy underweight, and many scientists have criticized the country's official guidelines for weight gain during pregnancy as too strict. Now, a survey shows many pregnant women strive to keep their weight gain below even those targets. This combination of factors has led to an unusually high percentage of low-weight births, which is likely the reason that the height of the average Japanese adult has declined every year for those born after 1980....

The shortening of the Japanese is subtle, but unmistakable. An international study published in 2016 found that since the late 19th century, the average Japanese adult male height rose 14.5 centimeters, peaking at 171.5 centimeters for those born in 1978 and 1979. But by the 1996 birth cohort, it had dropped to 170.8 centimeters. Over the same period, average female height jumped 16 centimeters, topped out at 158.5 centimeters, then dropped by 0.2 centimeters. Some other countries have also experienced height declines, which the study variously linked to economic privation, an influx of shorter immigrants, or—in the United States—poor diet quality, which can impair growth both in the fetus and in newborn babies.

In Japan, experts say the evidence for a link with lower birth weights is strong. As the country recovered from World War II, the percentage of low–birth weight babies—those weighing 2.5 kilograms or less at delivery—declined from 7.3% in 1951 to 5.5% in 1978–79. As babies grew heavier, however, doctors worried about preeclampsia, a complication that can put the lives of both mother and baby at risk. In the late 1970s, some Japanese obstetricians suggested a low-calorie diet could lower that risk, a view incorporated into 1981 guidelines from the Japan Society of Obstetrics and Gynecology. "Previously, mothers-to-be were told to ‘eat for two’; now, the ideal is to ‘give birth small but raise a big baby,’" says Hideoki Fukuoka, an obstetrician at Waseda University in Tokyo.