Sunday, July 21, 2019

The (lack of) clear memory of the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 post

I write this knowing that at this exact  time 50 years ago I was keenly watching Armstrong step onto the moon.  But as I have confessed before, despite my great interest in all space related news as a child, my 8 year old brain did not record permanently enough whether I was watching at school or at home. 

I know I saw some Apollo stuff at school, but I am pretty sure the lunar step was not the only time they got the TV out.  I also am pretty sure I watched some of the lunar walk at home,  and what might have happened is that I saw the first part at school and the rest at home, having been allowed to go home early.  Even staying at school all afternoon, I might have caught the tail end at home.  Or did they allow us to go home when there was some uncertainty, I think, as to when they would leave the module?  I have an idea that someone complained about how long it was taking for them to get out, but was that my Mum or a nun?  (I'm leaning towards Mum.) 

There are two people from my class that year that I could probably track down.  One was a best friend that I lost all contact with  from the age of perhaps 16 or 17.  He went to a different high school and (so I was told by the other person I could probably contact, as I met her again 10 or 15 years ago) had become a bit of a wannabe, or actual, Lothario as a teenager.  People change, obviously; but I was pretty much the opposite, so it may have a case of a hormonally induced loss of friendship even if I had seen him much as a teenager.

So, this post has gone off a bit more personal than intended!

Anyway, I am pleased to see how much attention the anniversary did eventually attract.  A pity Armstrong himself didn't live to see it.  

Modern technology should address the memory uncertainties I discuss here.  Any kid watching today would probably have at least some selfies showing him or her watching it.  That's at least one advantage of the way technology has evolved that is perhaps under-appreciated. 

Update:   I was somewhat surprised to hear a man on ABC News saying that he was in Britain, working on a satellite project, at the time of the moon walk, and despite his great interest, was asleep at the time of the moon walk because it happened there in the "middle of the night" (yes, I checked - started just before 4 am) and he thinks the BBC has closed for the night and didn't carry any live telecast anyway!    I had sort of forgotten about TV ending overnight and, even on this occasion, apparently refusing to break that rule.   I guess that would not have seemed odd at that time if it had happened similarly in Australia, but the 24 news cycle - and even 24 sport -  we have all become used to now makes it seem a very antiquated world.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

A great Boris explanation

Turns out I was way more accurate than I realised when I opined here that Boris Johnson seemed to have the same rank political opportunism of Tony Abbott.  As explained in detail in this great read from New York Review of Books, Boris was very equivocal on the matter of whether he would support Brexit or not, finally settling on the pro side almost by accident (despite having played a key role in writing the often inaccurate tabloid level "the EU is bureaucracy gone mad" press stories for years):
To grasp how Johnson’s akratic character has brought his country to a state approaching anarchy, it is necessary to return to the days immediately before February 21, 2016, when he announced to an expectant throng of journalists that he would support the Leave campaign. This was a crucial moment—polls have since shown that, in what turned out to be a very close-run referendum, Boris, as the mayor of London had branded himself,2 had a greater influence on voters than anyone else. “Character is destiny, said the Greeks, and I agree,” writes Johnson in The Churchill Factor, his 2014 book about Winston Churchill, which carries the telling subtitle “How One Man Made History.”3 While the book shows Johnson to be a true believer in the Great Man theory of history, his own moment of destiny plays it out as farce, the fate of a nation turning not on Churchillian resolution but on Johnsonian indecision. For Johnson was, in his own words, “veering all over the place like a shopping trolley.” On Saturday, February 20, he texted Prime Minister David Cameron to say he was going to advocate for Brexit. A few hours later, he texted again to say that he might change his mind and back Remain.

Sometime between then and the following day, he wrote at least two different columns for the Daily Telegraph—his deadline was looming, so he wrote one passionately arguing for Leave and one arguing that the cost of Brexit would be too high. (Asked once if he had any convictions, Johnson replied, “Only one—for speeding…”) Then, early on Sunday evening, he texted Cameron to say that he was about to announce irrevocably that he was backing Leave. But, as Cameron told his communications director, Craig Oliver, at the time, Johnson added two remarkable things. One was that “he doesn’t expect to win, believing Brexit will be ‘crushed.’” The other was staggering: “‘He actually said he thought we could leave and still have a seat on the European Council—still making decisions.’”4

The expectation—perhaps the hope—of defeat is telling. Johnson’s anti-EU rhetoric was always a Punch and Judy show, and without the EU to play Judy, the show would be over. But the belief that Britain would keep its seat on the European Council (which consists of the leaders of each member state and makes most of the EU’s big political decisions), even if it left the EU, is mind-melting. Not only was Johnson unconvinced that he was taking the right side on one of the most important questions his country has faced since World War II, but he was unaware of the most basic consequence of Brexit. Britain had joined the Common Market, as it was then called, in 1973 precisely because it was being profoundly affected by decisions made in Brussels and was therefore better off having an equal say in those decisions. Johnson’s belief that Britain would continue to have a seat at the European table after Brexit suggested a profound ignorance not just of his country’s future but of its entire postwar past.

This ignorance is not stupidity—Johnson is genuinely clever and, as his fictional alter ego Barlow shows, quite self-aware. It is the studied carelessness affected by a large part of the English upper class whose manners and attitudes Johnson—in reality the product of a rather bohemian bourgeois background—thoroughly absorbed. Consequences are for the little people, seriousness for those who are paid to clean up the mess.
 Incredibly, Asian Latham Jason seems to think this is the kind of flim flam person who will make a good Prime Minister.

My rules for life (updated, again)

This is proving a slow process.  My book based on this will be out by 2030, at this rate.

Attentive readers (ha!) will remember I am up to 4, but something occurred to me today that is worthy of being rule 5.  The first four:

1.  Always carry a clean, ironed handkerchief in your pocket.  Always.
2.  Never buy into timeshare apartments or holiday schemes.
3.  If you have a choice, buy the washing machine with a 15 minute "fast wash" option.
4.  Always buy reverseable belts. (You know, usually black on one side and brown on the other.)

And now, number 5:

5.  The best souvenir when on a good holiday is a distinctive cup or mug, which is to be used semi-regularly on your return.  (Don't get in the rut of using the same mug daily for years - you need to rotate through all of them.)  Use will prompt good memories and make you happier.  

[My rabbit patterned cup from Okunoshima, and my mug with Julia Gillard's face on it from Canberra, both make me happy.]

Friday, July 19, 2019


Boris Johnson is, according to the BBC, just flat out wrong on one of the tabloid level "EU red tape is outrageously holding us back" examples he just used.

He'll still be PM, apparently, because people fall for bluster and don't care about details.

Spot the difference?

(Trump has long reminded me of the mugging speech performances of Benito, and it struck me again this week after seeing the rally in which he tried hard, really hard, to stop the "send her back" chant.)

Update:   the Colbert discussion of the rally is pretty funny - and it is incredible to see other parts of the rally and how dumb he truly comes across:

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Great reviews for Thiel

Reason takes a bat to Thiel's speech that my "Asian Latham" reader Jason thinks was "a good thought provoking speech"*:
Thiel used to be roughly identified, including, at times, by me, as a libertarian. One reason was his decision to fund what started as a libertarian-rooted wild idea, Seasteading. Another indicator was his big-money support of an ultimately feckless Ron Paul-oriented SuperPac. These decisions made his warm embrace of Trump back in 2016 confusing, but he has now made it clear he has, and wants, nothing to do with the idea that human liberty is overall good and enriching.

Instead, Thiel has some interests and some enemies, and he wants to use the power of the state as a weapon to help one and harm the other. The main enemies are Google, China, and the U.S. university system. He advocated vigorous police actions against the first and third, and a trade war (at least) against China.
One of the comments following the article contains a handy list of things Thiel's President buddy has done:
You probably can’t but try to imagine how fast Obama would have been thrown out of office and probably arrested if he had done and said the a 10th of things Trump has said and done in office. Whether it’s threatening people, paling around with dictators, using the public office to enrich his businesses, spending $100 million dollars playing golf, putting his children in positions of authority, lying everyday, inviting foreign help in his election, engineering a disaster on the border for political gain, encouraging police to beat people up, encouraging his supporters to commit violence, the obstruction of the special counsel investigation, the attempt to rig the census, singlaling out certain states for punitive attacks such as withholding disaster aid or writing a tax law designed to damage states that didn’t vote for him and more. I can’t help but chalk up the double standard to racism but maybe it’s partisanship which probably comes from the same place in the brain as the racism. Anyway one day a future generation is going to look and this time from a detached perspective and they will recoil in horror at the madness of it all just as we do so now at the madness that existed in our past.

*  Yeah, I would agree if the thought provoked was "what an outrageous and dangerous nut, using his influence on the dumb-as Trump to try to incite investigation of a rival company."

Zen terrorist discussed

Aeon has an interesting article up, talking about a Zen Buddhist terrorist who sort of kicked off the military/imperial power period in Japan that led to World War 2.

I didn't realise that things were quite this dire in that country in the 1920's - 30's:
Following his father’s death in 1926, Emperor Hirohito had ascended the throne at a time of great social and political domestic instability. Across Japan, banks were closing, and the government was arresting Left-wing activists, accusing them of harbouring ‘dangerous thoughts’ as defined by the Peace Preservation Law.

The Great Depression that began in the United States in 1929 greatly reduced both demand and prices for raw silk, Japan’s single largest export product. At the same time, Japan’s population was increasing by nearly 1 million people a year. Its workforce was growing at an annual rate of approximately 450,000 people, all seeking jobs in a shrinking economy.

In addition, successive poor harvests in the early 1930s, especially in the northern prefectures, brought widespread starvation to many parts of the country. Rural debt rose rapidly, leading to delinquent tax payments, and more and more farmers either lost their land altogether or were forced to take desperate measures, such as selling their daughters into prostitution. Japanese society was in a state of crisis that in many people’s eyes required immediate and drastic remedies.
The article goes on to note that Nissho Inoue, the Zen terrorist, saw his revolutionary role as entirely consistent with Buddhism:
Inoue threw himself into the work of training a small group of about 20 young people. He drew on a variety of Zen training methods, including meditation practice; assigning koans (Zen riddles) and conducting private interviews with his disciples, all to create an intrepid group of volunteers with a ‘do or die’ spirit.

At first, Inoue planned to train young people for legal political activism. However, by 1930, under the pressure of events and young civilian and military activists, Inoue decided to take more resolute measures. ‘In an emergency situation,’ he wrote, ‘emergency measures are necessary. What is essential is to restore life to the nation. Discussions over the methods for doing this can come later, much later.’ Inoue fully expected that his political actions would lead to his death: ‘We had taken it upon ourselves to engage in destruction, aware that we would perish in the process.’

In his previous Zen training, Inoue found the basis for his commitment to destruction. Drawing on the lessons of a 13th-century Zen collection of koans known as the Mumonkan, or ‘The Gateless Barrier’, he claimed:
Revolution employs compassion on behalf of the society of the nation. Therefore those who wish to participate in revolution must have a mind of great compassion toward the society of the nation. In light of this there must be no thought of reward for participating in revolution. 
In other words, in the violently destructive acts of revolution one would find the mind of Buddhist compassion.
And there is more:
In October 1930, Inoue and his band shifted their base of operations to Tokyo. From there, he recruited more young people, including some from Japan’s most prestigious universities. One of Inoue’s band members later explained: ‘We sought to extinguish Self itself.’

Inoue’s band chose assassination as their method of revolution. Assassination, Inoue explained, ‘required, whether successful or not, the least number of victims’. He also thought it ‘was best for the country, untainted by the least self-interest’. He and his band members were prepared to die in the process of the revolution. By being prepared to sacrifice themselves, they believed they could ensure that as few people as possible would fall victim to revolutionary violence.
Well, that was big of them.  

Anyway, read the whole thing.

Comedy analysed

An opinion piece at the Washington Post notes that some prominent Hollywood comedies have not performed well at the box office, regardless of whether well reviewed or not.

He thinks comedy as a movie genre may be suffering because of the culture wars, and he might be right.

But he ends on a good point - which ties in with my take that I only like Marvel films if they are funny enough:
Still: I’m not entirely sure big-screen comedy is as bad off as some suggest. Indeed, it may be flourishing. You just have to squint a little. The biggest comedies in the world right now come wrapped up in spandex and armor: What is the Marvel Cinematic Universe but a series of spectacularly done (and spectacularly successful) action comedies?

“Spider-Man: Far From Home” is almost entirely a teen rom com wrapped up in a superhero bow: My audience was rolling at the mentions of “Peter Tingles” and polite Dutch hooligans and the amateurish high school news program explaining life after Thanos. “Captain Marvel” is basically a buddy comedy with a dreadfully dull straight woman and her wacky S.H.I.E.L.D sidekick. (This is among the reasons that movie didn’t really work, but I digress.) And “Avengers: Endgame,” with its Fat Thor and Smart Hulk, is almost an existential action comedy, a darkly comic look at how to deal with tragedy that culminates in a lot of punching.

The staff room chat must be interesting

What's this?   An economist at RMIT, who presumably runs into Sinclair Davidson from time to time, has an article up at The Conversation finding this:
Wholesale prices in the National Electricity Market have climbed significantly in recent years. The increase has coincided with a rapid increase in the proportion of electricity supplied by wind and solar generators.

But that needn’t mean the increase in wind and solar generation caused the increase in prices. It might have been caused by other things.

Colleagues Songze Qu and Tihomir Ancev from the University of Sydney and I have examined the contribution of each type of generator to wholesale prices, half hour by half hour over the eight years between November 1, 2010 and June 30, 2018.

We find that, rather than pushing prices up, each extra gigawatt of dispatched wind generation cuts the wholesale electricity price by about A$11 per megawatt hour at the time of generation, while each extra gigawatt of utility-scale solar cuts it A$14 per megawatt hour.
Surely she knows that Sinclair runs Catallaxy, which campaigns relentlessly on the alleged cost disaster of renewables?   Doesn't that annoy her?   I hope she is at least sarcastic and condescending.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

The strange Thiel in the news again

Axios has some questions for Peter Thiel which are nicely sarcastic:
Peter Thiel doubled down last night on his "Google has maybe been infiltrated by the Chinese government" claim, which was eventually picked up by President Trump. When (lightly) pressed for evidence, Thiel simply said he was "asking questions."

Why it matters: You don't propose that someone deserves to face a firing squad without at least a single receipt.

So a few questions for Mr. Thiel:
  1. Have you shorted Google stock or is Palantir currently competing with Google for a major U.S. government contract?
  2. You've said on the record that you're "not a vampire." Are you able to provide independent verification of this claim? Because, were you a vampire, it could pose a national security risk given your ties with senior U.S. officials.
  3. Is it because you're actually a vampire that you deny being a vampire? And would that not be seemingly treasonous, in that the generally accepted societal punishment is death (albeit by wooden stake, in this case)?
He remains a weirdo.  

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Yeah, that was cool

Mind you, any real soldier doing this anywhere near a battlefield could not be a bigger target.  But yeah, looks cool.
His next feat:
Zapata, who first developed his device flying above water, says that the flyboard has the power to take off and reach speeds up to 190 kilometres an hour (118 mph) and run for 10 minutes.

He is now eyeing a crossing of the English Channel which, for the first time, will require a refuelling in mid-flight.

Zapata aims to make the crossing on July 25, 110 years to the day after pioneering aviator Louis Bleriot made the first airplane flight across the Channel.

Big solar, big battery

In Science magazine:
This month, officials in Los Angeles, California, are expected to approve a deal that would make solar power cheaper than ever while also addressing its chief flaw: It works only when the sun shines. The deal calls for a huge solar farm backed up by one of the world's largest batteries. It would provide 7% of the city's electricity beginning in 2023 at a cost of 1.997 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh) for the solar power and 1.3 cents per kWh for the battery. That's cheaper than any power generated with fossil fuel.

"Goodnight #naturalgas, goodnight #coal, goodnight #nuclear," Mark Jacobson, an atmospheric scientist at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, tweeted after news of the deal surfaced late last month. "Because of growing economies of scale, prices for renewables and batteries keep coming down," adds Jacobson, who has advised countries around the world on how to shift to 100% renewable electricity. As if on cue, last week a major U.S. coal company—West Virginia–based Revelation Energy LLC—filed for bankruptcy, the second in as many weeks.

The new solar plus storage effort will be built in Kern County in California by 8minute Solar Energy. The project is expected to create a 400-megawatt solar array, generating roughly 876,000 megawatt hours (MWh) of electricity annually, enough to power more than 65,000 homes during daylight hours. Its 800-MWh battery will store electricity for after the sun sets, reducing the need for natural gas–fired generators.
The article goes on to note that the battery storage is only good for a few hours, but I guess if it deals with the evening peak, it might have a disproportionate effect on emissions.

There is a long, long way to go with solar and battery storage - and I have my doubts that lithium batteries will end up the key player for grid level storage.   But solar with some form of storage is some very sunny places - such as California (and the Northern half of Australia) seems to have a lot of potential.

Late to the aviation party

Google doesn't seem all that wise about what to recommend to me on Youtube, otherwise I would have known about aviation and travel blogger (and vlogger) Sam Chui before now. 

Anyway, he popped up on recommendations last night, and I watched his recent 22 minute video in which he takes an 8 hour flight that costs $20,000, on Etihad's "Residence" - in which you get your own bedroom, private bathroom and even caviar and champagne breakfast in your double bed.

I felt at one point that the butler was so obsequious that he was going to offer "extras" in the same way as might a massage therapist, but it doesn't go quite that far.  Right up to the line, but not that far.

The service from the flight lounge on is so ridiculously over the top it's pretty funny - but I suppose at $20,000 a flight, the airline can buy a lot of cigars, caviar, champagne and grovelling.   Watch it if you will:

Do news editors read the article before they write the headline? ran an article yesterday with this headline:

Plastic bag ban: Critics warn it isn’t helping Australia reduce waste

The major supermarkets’ bag ban has kept billions of single-use plastic bags out of landfill in the last year, but critics say the policy isn’t working.
Yet the actual study by the economist (from America, but now in Sydney) showed this:
Using quasi-random policy variation in California, I find the elimination of 40 million pounds of plastic carryout bags is offset by a 12 million pound increase in trash bag purchases—with small, medium, and tall trash bag sales increasing by 120%, 64%, and 6%, respectively. The results further reveal 12–22% of plastic carryout bags were reused as trash bags pre-regulation and show bag bans shift consumers towards fewer but heavier bags. With a substantial proportion of carryout bags already reused in a way that avoided the manufacture and purchase of another plastic bag, policy evaluations that ignore leakage effects overstate the regulation's welfare gains.
So a net benefit of 28 million pounds less plastic in bags thrown out in California is meant to be showing us the ban isn't working here??  

And if people want to argue about the thickness of resuseable bags being an environmental problem in waste tips - I find this remarkably ironic, given that the same people are likely the ones who have recently taken to arguing that recycling any plastic is all a crock and we should just bury it all.

I think it extremely likely that thicker bags are not so readily going to end up in the ocean, which is where the great concern over lightweight bags, which are more easily windblown and resemble food to too many sea creatures, has been coming.  Thicker bags, simply by the way they are going to be re-used for groceries until they break, are more likely to end up in the tip, and stay there.   That would be my strong, common sense, hunch, at least.

If you want a genuine study as to the environmental impact of the change, you would need to be looking at whether it has made a difference to beach, river and ocean pollution, and where the thicker bags are ending up.

Britain in safe hands

A harsh, but somewhat amusing, take on a TV debate between Johnson and Hunt:
Brexit dominated the first 45 minutes and as expected neither man had any answers. But then a lack of realism has been the default position of both Boris and Hunt throughout and they weren’t about to change now. Brexit was something that would happen providing you believed in it enough. What had been missing was someone who would look the EU in the eyes and tell them we were mad and self-destructive enough to trash the entire country to get things done. Of course there would be casualties along the way, but true patriotic Brits should be prepared to lay down their lives so that everyone who survived could be made poorer.

On and on the nonsense went. Both men unilaterally ditched the Northern Ireland backstop and put their faith in alternative border technologies that did not yet exist. Boris even promised to take back control by increasing immigration. Not exactly what many Brexiters had voted for, but trust in politics is now so low that no one really cares what anyone says. Coherence is a state to which no one now even aspires. Lying is now truth.

Johnson was just as confused on a trade deal with the US. This time he had at least read clause 5(c) of Gatt 24 but he still hadn’t bothered to mug up on clause 5(d). Details, details. Asked to condemn President Trump’s tweets about four Democrat congresswomen, Hunt said that his three children were half-Chinese. Boris avoided talking about his children. Mainly because he can’t always remember how many he has. Or what their nationalities might be. Both men couldn’t bring themselves to say what they thought was racist about the racist tweet. That’s the strong type of leadership that’s on offer. Britain standing up to the US by lying down.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Against Assange

A collection of links showing the carelessness and endangerment inherent in the Wikileaks enterprise, and the flakeiness of Julian Assange:

The Wiki leak is more and less important than you think

Private lives are collateral damage in WikiLeaks' document dumps


That last link is to a story summarised in a Vox article.   This is worth extracting in full (and Graeme, your comments about this are bound to be deleted.  Don't even bother.):
Shamir, who has gone by six names over the course of his life, was born Izrail Schmerler, in Russia. He converted from Judaism to the Greek Orthodox Church later in life, and turned viciously on his former co-religionists. He has denied the Holocaust, called Jews “a virus in human form,” and, in 2010, published a book titled Breaking the Conspiracy of the Elders of Zion.

Shamir was also a longtime friend of Julian Assange, who tasked him with helping to disseminate WikiLeaks documents in his native Russia in early 2010.

“Shamir has a years-long friendship with Assange, and was privy to the contents of tens of thousands of US diplomatic cables months before WikiLeaks made public the full cache,” James Ball, a former WikiLeaks staffer, wrote at the Guardian the next year. “Shamir aroused the suspicion of several WikiLeaks staffers — myself included — when he asked for access to all cable material concerning ‘the Jews,’ a request which was refused.”

The first thing Shamir did with the documents was hand some off to Russian Reporter magazine, a Kremlin-friendly newsweekly. He then offered to sell access to them to the highest bidder, David Leigh and Luke Harding write in the book Wikileaks: Inside Julian Assange’s War on Secrecy.
But what he did next was exceptionally curious. Shamir traveled to Belarus, a country ruled by dictator Alexander Lukashenko and perhaps Putin’s staunchest ally in Europe. Shamir was a fan of Lukashenko; in a 2010 piece, he called Belarus “the Shangri-la of the post-Soviet development.”
In Belarus, Shamir shared State Department cables pertaining to the country with government officials — in unredacted, unedited form.

In January 2011, Belarusian state-run media began publishing what it said were US diplomatic cables from Shamir’s cache, alleging that Lukashenko’s opponents were funded abroad. According to several Belarusian dissidents who spoke to Tablet, the names in the cables were also used to identify lower-level dissidents.

“The extent to which WikiLeaks and Israel Shamir have endangered the lives of pro-democracy activists in Belarus will become chillingly clear as innocent men and women continue to disappear,” Kapil Komireddi, author of the Tablet piece, writes.

WikiLeaks issued a weak public disavowal of Shamir’s Belarusian caper in February 2011, saying “obviously it is not approved.” But according to Ball, the internal discourse on Shamir was somewhat different.

“Assange shamefully refused to investigate [the Belarus incident],” Ball recalled in his Guardian piece. “The two [Shamir and Assange] remain close.”
Next link:  a lengthy piece in The Atlantic, containing amongst other stuff a claim about Assange's attitude to release of names of Afghan informants:
I might further direct you to Assange’s own unique brand of journalism, when he could still be said to be practicing it. Releasing U.S. diplomatic communiqu├ęs that named foreigners living in conflict zones or authoritarian states and liaising with American officials was always going to require thorough vetting and redaction, lest those foreigners be put in harm’s way. Assange did not care—he wanted their names published, according to Luke Harding and David Leigh in WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange’s War on Secrecy. As they recount the story, when Guardian journalists working with WikiLeaks to disseminate its tranche of U.S. secrets tried to explain to Assange why it was morally reprehensible to publish the names of Afghans working with American troops, Assange replied: “Well, they’re informants. So, if they get killed, they’ve got it coming to them. They deserve it.” (Assange denied the account; the names, in the end, were not published in The Guardian, although some were by WikiLeaks in its own dump of the files.)**
It is very clear that Assange lied about matters during the Trump campaign:  hence lying about this is not hard to imagine.  (He claimed he would sue The Guardian, he never did.)

The strange world of American evangelical "heaven tourism"

Slate has a long, sad story about a book that sold well amongst  US evangelicals, but the guy at the centre of the story denies that it was true.  (He was in a bad accident and the book was about his journey to heaven and back.)

As I don't keep up with the peculiar world of American evangelical circles, I did not know about this:
The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven sold more than 1 million copies and spent months on the New York Times’ bestseller list. It was also on the leading edge of a boomlet of “heaven tourism” stories in Christian publishing, including Heaven Is for Real, a memoir about 4-year-old Colton Burpo’s experience that came out later in 2010 and was eventually adapted into a movie starring Greg Kinnear. Time magazine published a cover story in 2012 titled “Rethinking Heaven,” opening with Burpo’s story—even more detailed than Alex’s—about seeing a rainbow horse and meeting the Virgin Mary. Other such books included 90 Minutes in Heaven (2004, car accident), Flight to Heaven (2010, plane crash), To Heaven and Back (2012, kayaking accident), and Miracles From Heaven (2015, fall into a hollow tree, made into a Jennifer Garner movie). After the Malarkeys’ success, “all Christian publishers were looking for the next heaven book,” said Sandy Vander Zicht, a former editor at Zondervan, a large evangelical publisher based in Michigan.

Until things came crashing back to earth. The cover of The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven calls the book “a true story.” But the boy himself now says it was not true at all. Four years ago, Alex sent a letter to a conservative Christian blog dramatically renouncing the book. “I did not die. I did not go to Heaven,” he wrote. “I said I went to heaven because I thought it would get me attention. … People have profited from lies, and continue to.” Alex’s retraction also became a sensation, with reporters unable to resist the sudden, hilarious perfection of his last name: Malarkey. 

Although The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven has been off shelves for years now, yanked by the publisher after Alex’s disavowal, the drama around it has quietly continued to roil. Last year, Alex filed a lawsuit against Tyndale House, a major Christian publisher based in suburban Chicago, accusing the company of defamation and exploitation, among other charges. He’s seeking a payout at least equal to the book’s profits. Alex, who recently turned 21, now lives with his mother. He was valedictorian of his high school, but he has been a quadriplegic since the accident and requires full-time care. Kevin and Beth divorced last year, and Beth says she has no idea what happened to the money Kevin earned from the book. The suit alleges that she and Alex are “on the verge of being homeless.” Alex was a minor when the book was published, and claims he was not a party to the contract. (Tyndale says in court filings that Kevin entered into an agreement on his own and Alex’s behalf, and that while Beth was not party to the contract, she “consented as a matter of fact” to the book’s production by helping to arrange interviews and supplying family photos.) A judge has dismissed most of the lawsuit’s counts. The next court date is in August.
More generally, the article is of interest for the way it describes how some evangelicals frequently think they are sensing the presence of angels or demons.  Some really do live in a world of high imagination. 

Back on the domestic front

In another of my "I am a wannabe 'influencer' but I am a complete failure at it" posts, I endorse the following products, having consumed them this last weekend:

The "tacos" in this are soft tortillas, and they are best heated up in a hot fry pan.  The "flame grilled BBQ taco sauce" in this kit is not like your usual bland taco sauce, and is very delicious.   I fried an onion and red capsicum with the steak strips, and threw in a drained can of black eyed beans at the end, too, which extends a relatively small amount of steak into enough for 4. 

This is the best of the pre-made butter chicken sauces out there.  Some fresh cream added at the end probably makes all the difference.  Add carrots, and beans (and even some red capsicum) to make a more balanced meal.  Having no naan bread handy, I tried heating up some ordinary wraps in the dry fry pan last night, and they still puffed up a bit and were a decent substitute.

I should have been a home economics teacher. 

A rare, pro-scooter, opinion piece

I still haven't been on one.  Still tempted.  But someone writing at the Washington Post now loves using them. 

Sunday, July 14, 2019


I found a surprising amount of sticky, brown crud stuck in the front loading washing machine today, behind the mould affected rubber seal and in a hard to reach crevice on the outside of the drum.   

I suspect it may be to do with rarely running the machine at the top temperature of 60 degrees.  (Or perhaps to do with using fabric softener, which I recall a plumber/repairman telling us never to use.  But for towels, it really needs something, and vinegar does leave a bit of a smell and doesn't do much softening.)

Anyway, I ran the machine at 60 degrees with a cup vinegar, after removing as much crud as I could with a sponge and my finger.  Hopefully, this has cleaned it all out.

I love the front loading washing machine, but it is an interesting challenge to keep clean.

That is all in today's edition of "The Domestic Life of Steve".  Thank you.

Update:  Yes.  The brown gunk build up in front loading washers is a well discussed problem on the 'net.   Glad it's not just my household...

Saturday, July 13, 2019

The weird crisis of the image and perception of masculinity - on the Right

There's a funny column by Marina Hyde at The Guardian that points to something pretty obvious:

Ruining a country near you soon: the beta males who think they’re alphas 
After a week in which paddle-less Britain has found itself once more caught in dangerous transatlantic currents, it’s clear that there are two kinds of political men. Strong men and weak men. Which one is our most likely next prime minister? I’m afraid Boris Johnson is the worst kind: he’s a weak man who thinks he’s a strong man. See also selective antiracist Jeremy Corbyn, whose unshakeable conviction that he hasn’t been wrong in several decades has left him stubbornly incapable of being the bigger person. See also gratefully submissive Donald Trump fanboy Nigel Farage, who has spent much of the past three years hanging wanly around Washington on the off-chance of a half-hour 6pm burger with the alpha male to his beta. And see also Donald Trump himself, the leader of the free world, who spent about 48 hours this week tweeting like some homicidal 11-year-old Justin Bieber fan about the leaked comments of the British ambassador. Who, apparently, we now let him pick. More on toxic insecurity’s poster boy shortly.
This whole talk of alpha males brings to mind the changing popular image of masculinity in my lifetime:   it is genuinely weird, is it not, that the progression of popular perception of strong masculinity went from, if Hollywood was a guide, the "gentle but strong" masculinity of characters played by Gregory Peck, Jimmy Stewart, Paul Newman and Robert Redford (most of whom were, I think, liberals in politics in real life) to the fathead, muscle bound, shoot-their-way-out-of -trouble image of Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis and perhaps even Mel Gibson.   What exactly was going on in the 1980's into the 1990's?   A last hurrah for over-the-top masculinity that the ageing support base for Donald Trump still longs for now?   I felt it was weird at the time - how even toy manufacturers came out with muscled up versions of cartoon or movie characters (muscle bound Luke Skywalker, for God's sake.) 

And the funniest thing is how the wingnut Right's figureheads for a return to the good old days of generic national strength and masculinity are both overweight, buffoon haired, patently bad husbands that are nothing like what normal people used to associate with an image of confident masculinity.  

As for Boris Johnson, Marina writes:
Great leaders show, rather than tell, their skills. Yet Johnson never lets up with telling people that he is not “defeatist”, that he will “put some lead in the collective pencil”, that “energy” is needed, that what the EU really fears is a big strong man like him. Mm. I hear they talk of little else in the 27 European capitals. “O Fates, please spare us the dreaded ‘positive energy’ of a guy internationally ridiculed as the worst foreign secretary in memory; and the unplayable charm of a surprisingly indifferent orator who knows the Latin for ‘can we just take out the backstop?’”

 And Johnson does know Latin, as he never misses a chance to remind us. No one could accuse him of wearing his learning lightly – or, indeed, wearing any of it lightly. Witness his excruciating promise to reach out to something he pointedly referred to as “Oppidan Britain”. To which the increasingly despairing response has to be: YES YES! I KNOW WHAT SCHOOL YOU WENT TO! I KNOW WHAT HOUSE YOU WERE IN! I KNOW YOU GOT A SECOND CLASS CLASSICS DEGREE! I KNOW THIS SOMEHOW ENDS WITH YOU CONSIGNING OUR ENTIRE COUNTRY TO THE CATACOMBS THEN BEATING US TO DEATH WITH YOUR RELATIVELY MIDDLEBROW ACHIEVEMENTS! But mate: you are 55 – FIFTY-FIVE – years old. How, how can you possibly still be wanking on about any of this, in public, as though it was still the best thing you’ve ever done? Can it really be because it was? [Spoiler: yes.]...

...He may use longer words, but Johnson’s sledgehammer self-admiration does not differ materially from the US president’s diurnal reminders that he is a strong, good-looking and very stable genius.
Because I don't see as much of Boris Johnson, I don't have any clear idea of how insecure he comes across, but Marina makes a good argument that he is as bad as Trump.

Trump's insecurity, narcissism and lack of knowledge on so many issues is plain to see to everyone except (apparently) his base base.   Or, as might be more likely, it's a case that perhaps half of his base see it but nonetheless celebrate it.   Just as he embodies a poor person's caricature of what it would be like to live rich (gold toilet - cool), his Tweeting behaviour might be seen as ridiculous on one level, but they get a proxy thrill at seeing a jerk being able to say anything and no one can stop him.  You sense this celebratory attitude at Catallaxy all the time - along with their admissions that they comment there specifically in order to say things they cannot say in front of their spouses, or at work without getting into trouble (for being obnoxious).     

As I have said before, this is actually a sign of frustration at being losers on issues they identify as part of a culture war - on matters of changing attitudes to sexuality, gender roles, masculinity and environmentalism.  Unfortunately, though, it is at the cost of good government and policy for everyone.

And before I go, some funny comments that followed that Guardian column:
The juxtaposition of Trump MAGA guys banging on about masculinity and Trump is so funny.

They spent eight years throwing a fit at Obama being effeminate because he drank a Cafe Latte, but Obama was probably a pretty good example of what an "alpha male" would look like, if such a thing existed.

Trump, meanwhile, is a guy who has the personality of a bitchy cheerleader from a dated romcom, tweeting all day about how Anna Wintour's party was soooooo lame since he wasn't invited, or bullying Rosie O'Donnell for being fat.

But you have all these men saying "oh yeah, so good to have a Real Man in charge doing Real Man stuff. Finally!", as their hero obsessively messages Robert Pattinson once more imploring him not to take back Kristen Stewart.
And this: 
Worth noting that every second one of these "alpha" guys is in hock to some "masculinity" guru like Peteron who is is selling their followers some sort of masculinity supplement, masculinity guide, special diet to make them more masculine or all of the above. This is what alpha males do, you see: buy books on how to be manly and take snake oil diet pills.

As women, we find it irrestistible when men are constantly whining about how they're disempowered by feminism, somehow. Even hotter is when they spend all day online and have obsessive faddy diets. So manly. Grrrr...
Funny because it's true - from Alex Jones to Ben Shapiro with the "diet supplements".

I'm surprised Sinclair Davidson hasn't endorsed his own range of supplements, now that I think of it. 

A handy list

Found via the Anomalist, a very basic web page that looks like it might be from the 1990's, but with interesting link content:

Every Insanely Mystifying Paradox in Physics: A Complete List 

(I have heard of Cliff Pickover, who made that page, before, and I see that he has a very active Twitter account too.  Worth following, I think.)

Friday, July 12, 2019

Growth down

Singapore certainly seems to be ahead of the "slow down" curve:
SINGAPORE: Singapore’s economy grew by a meagre 0.1 per cent year-on-year in the second quarter, the lowest in a decade, according to official estimates released on Friday (Jul 12).

That widely missed economists' forecasts of 1.1 per cent and was the lowest since the second quarter of 2009 when gross domestic product (GDP) contracted by 1.2 per cent, according to Bloomberg data.
and this:
Retail sales in Singapore decreased 2.1 per cent in May 2019 as compared to a year ago, according to figures released by the Department of Statistics (Singstat) on Friday (Jul 12).
The estimated total retail sales value in May 2019 was about S$3.7 billion, with online retail sales making up about 5.3 per cent. 

Dear Graeme

Did you have trouble following the rules at school?

I've told you what the rules here are:

*  Any inane, slanderous comment to do with Jews - which is 99% of all comments you make which reference them - will be deleted.   No ifs, no buts.   Just deleted.

*  Swearing at me (or anyone else) will also cause deletion. 

And yet you continue to break them.

Re-activate your own blog if you want to slander Jews and publicise your nutball anti-Semitism and eccentric cosmology.

I also encourage you to start a GoFundMe page devoted to raising enough money to have Elon Musk shoot you towards Mars where you can take happy snaps of the ancient glass farms and prove us all wrong.   It would give me great relief if this was you in the spacesuit:

Update:   If I provide you with a link for a profound new idea, will that make you go away while you research it for a year or two?: 

Tall Aliens May Be Humans Altered By Living for a Time on Mars

"Not at all" says Barnaby Joyce

At the ABC:
With the long-term decline in fertility rates among western men, how worried are you about you or your partner's sperm?
Hence the title to the post.  Back to the article:
Up to now, getting sperm tested has involved going to a clinic and navigating embarrassing scenarios while avoiding eye contact with receptionists
The tech world claims it has the answer: A wave of startups are offering home-testing technology that's almost as easy as taking a photo of your semen and uploading the results.
Mail-order kits containing a clip-on phone microscope and transparent slides test both sperm count as well as motility - the wriggliness and vitality of the little fellas.

The results for some products have been tested as 97 per cent accurate.
But back to Barnaby.  Apart from crapping on in climate change denial, I see that he has been musing about other big picture things:
With both chambers in a fortnight’s recess, the ASX in blackout period and school holidays in full swing, the sultan of the non-sequitur declared that “if you want zero emissions but you don’t want nuclear power, you should shut up” and “if New York can live with two senators, why does Sydney get nine?

This latter remark informs his wish to reconstitute the Australian Senate into 38 constituencies, from its existing eight. “Instead of having 12 senators per state, you have two senators per region. By its very nature … it will most definitely represent Aborigina­l people in a better way.” Marvel as, in one utterance, Joyce whitesplains Indigenous constitutional recognition and appropriates it for agrarian socialism.

The plan, like its author, is predictably daft and self-serving. Subdividing the Senate further into geographical zones would be to duplicate the House. 118 years and 46 parliaments in, how has that representative premise served Australia’s first peoples?

The Beetrooter’s semblance of reconciliation imperative evaporates in his real gripe: that “the Senate was supposed to represent the geographic diversity of Australia but all it’s really done is re-entrenched the power of the capital cities, where overwhelmingly all the senators live”. But if nine of 12 senators elected to represent New South Wales live in Greater Sydney that’s probably because 5.2 million of their 7.9 million constituents live there, too. And if you want your inland rail but don’t like the system funding it, you should shut up, right?

The poor fallen hero thinks he’s cooped up on Elba, scribbling riding orders and smuggling them by pigeon to the front line. Funny, 'cos his ideas do emanate that syphilitic whiff of madness.

Joe Aston in the Fin Review wrote that.  He really does not care for Barnaby.

Sort of like the prisons in TV Batman

As a child, I wasn't the biggest fan of TV's Batman, and I still don't care for anything related to the character.   [I've thought of a new way to explain why he does nothing for me - it's the equivalent of the uncanny valley in animation.  By being a purportedly more realistic superhero who just relies on strength and technology, yet still dressing stupidly and with villains that are also costumed up, it perversely feels less realistic to me than the semi mythical or silly physics superheroes like Thor, Aquaman or Superman, where I find suspension of disbelief comes easier.]

Anyway, one thing I do recall from TV Batman was the occasional dig they had at allegedly super liberal rehabilitation prisons:  you know, a super villain being allowed to live with his entourage almost exactly the same as if he were free.  It was a fairly sophisticated joke for a show with a large children's following, really.

So it's remarkable to read of the genuinely super-liberal sounding approach to prisons in Norway that seems to work:
It could be a yoga class at any holistic health retreat anywhere in the world but the participants here at Norway's maximum security Halden Prison are rather far removed from the usual yummy mummy spa clientele. Barefoot murderers, rapists and drug smugglers practise downward-facing dog and the lotus position alongside their prison officers, each participant fully concentrating on the clear instructions from the teacher.

"It calms them," says prison governor Are Hoidal approvingly, as we watch from the sidelines. "We don't want anger and violence in this place. We want calm and peaceful inmates."

Tranquillity does not come cheaply. A place at Halden Prison costs about £98,000 per year. The average annual cost of a prison place in England in Wales is now about £40,000, or £59,000 in a Category A prison.

A uniformed prison officer on a silver micro-scooter greets us cheerily as he wheels past. Two
prisoners jogging dutifully by his side, keep pace.

Hoidal laughs at my nonplussed face.

"It's called dynamic security!" he grins. "Guards and prisoners are together in activities all the time. They eat together, play volleyball together, do leisure activities together and that allows us to really interact with prisoners, to talk to them and to motivate them."
Having had a prison guard once living in the rental house next to mine, who was loud, often drunk, and offered to have his daughter's ex boyfriend's legs broken, I think we might have to scrap all of ours and start afresh if we wanted to follow this approach.

Anyway, back to the big Norwegian turn around:
When Are Hoidal first began his career in the Norwegian Correctional service in the early 1980s, the prison experience here was altogether different.

"It was completely hard," he remembers. "It was a masculine, macho culture with a focus on guarding and security. And the recidivism rate was around 60-70%, like in the US."

But in the early 1990s, the ethos of the Norwegian Correctional Service underwent a rigorous series of reforms to focus less on what Hoidal terms "revenge" and much more on rehabilitation. Prisoners, who had previously spent most of their day locked up, were offered daily training and educational programmes and the role of the prison guards was completely overhauled.

"Not 'guards'," admonishes Hoidal gently, when I use the term. "We are prison 'officers' and of course we make sure an inmate serves his sentence but we also help that person become a better person. We are role models, coaches and mentors. And since our big reforms, recidivism in Norway has fallen to only 20% after two years and about 25% after five years. So this works!"

In the UK, the recidivism rate is almost 50% after just one year.
Even the architecture is chic:
The architecture of Halden Prison has been designed to minimise residents' sense of incarceration, to ease psychological stress and to put them in harmony with the surrounding nature - in fact the prison, which cost £138m to build, has won several design awards for its minimalist chic. Set in beautiful blueberry woods and peppered with majestic silver birch and pine trees, the two-storey accommodation blocks and wooden chalet-style buildings give the place an air of a trendy university campus rather than a jail.
Here's a cell:

 There is a lot more of great interest in the article at the BBC.

A French peculiarity

Is France the only country where homoeopathy has a genuinely large popular following?   For a country that is pretty modern and capable of high tech stuff, this feature of the place is very peculiar:
In a country where nearly 60% of the population uses homeopathic remedies, the French ministry of health’s decision to slash reimbursements for the alternative remedies has sparked outrage among users of alternative medicine.

For the 38 million people in France who depend on homeopathic remedies to cure insomnia, backaches and other medical conditions, getting a good night’s sleep just became a little more difficult. 

“Homeopathic medicines do not provide sufficient public health benefits to justify their reimbursement by the federal government,”the ministry of health announced in a statement released on Wednesday.

Time to talk turbulence

I've never experienced really severe turbulence in an aircraft, but incidents like this one sound really frightening.   

Last year, there was considerable publicity to a study that said global warming will make turbulence over the Atlantic routes, at least, worse by mid century. 

Today's story made me think - do we know whether turbulence is getting worse already?  Major incidents certainly seem to come up in the news more often, but this must be a very tricky topic due to several complicating factors:

*  the increase in global aviation generally
*  whether the increase is happening on routes more, or less, naturally prone to turbulence
*  the active steps airlines, and airline manufacturers, may be taking to avoid the risk of running into it (for example, I presume that modern aircraft radars might be better at detecting danger areas ahead).

It seems there is some research indicating it has already increased:
There is evidence that clear-air turbulence (CAT) has already risen by 40-90% over Europe and North America since 1958 and studies by researchers from the universities of Reading and East Anglia in the UK have shown that as a consequence of climate change, the frequency of turbulence on flights between Europe and North America could double by 2050 and the intensity increase by 10-40%. The same researchers have since extended their previous work by analysing eight geographic regions, two flight levels, five turbulence strength categories and four seasons, and found large increases in CAT.

Not sure if I have posted about this before or not.

Still, an interesting topic, and a somewhat worrying one for the future for the slightly nervous flyer.

Hurricanes getting wetter

Seeing that increased flooding under global warming is a theme here this week, I was interested to read this NYT article:  
As Climate Changes, Hurricanes Get Wetter

In recent years, researchers have found that hurricanes have lingered longer, as Barry is expected to do, and dumped more rainfall — a sign of climate change, said Christina Patricola, a research scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and a co-author of a study that found that climate change is making tropical cyclones wetter. (Tropical cyclones include both hurricanes and tropical storms, which are hurricanes’ less speedier kin.)

Researchers have been studying the effects of climate change on tropical cyclones because those sorts of storms are driven by warm water. Water in the gulf is 0.5 to 2 degrees Celsius warmer, according to Dr. Prein, who said: “This is really increasing the likelihood of a hurricane to form in this basin. And it will increase the intensity of the hurricane as well.”....

The researchers used climate models to simulate how tropical cyclone intensity, or wind speed, and rainfall would change if hurricanes like Katrina, Irma and Maria had occurred absent climate change and under future climate scenarios. They found that for all three storms, climate change increased rainfall by up to 9 percent.

This study is not the first to find that climate change is causing tropical cyclones to have more rainfall. Studies on Hurricane Harvey found that climate change contributed as much as 38 percent, or 19 inches, of the more than 50 inches of rain that fell in some places. Dr. Patricola’s study broadens the research by using global climate models and analyzing a large number of storms.
 My stupid reader JC will say "don't talk to me about models", probably while New Orleans goes under.   Again.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Own your own crime scene

I see via Washington Post that Michael Jackson's former home, Neverland Ranch, is for sale for $31 million.  (Used to be on the market for $100 million.)

It's..kinda ugly in parts:

And doesn't do much for me in others (that ceiling looks so heavy and oppressive):

But, it is on a pretty nice looking piece of land:

You would think that if it wasn't for the icky associations, it could be made into some high class accommodation.  But good luck with that, buyers.

The jokes write themselves

From Dezeen, the jokes one can make from this are just too easy:
Pratt Institute graduate Garrett Benisch has proposed using biosolids, the organic matter derived from treated sewage, to produce a compostable ballpoint pen and its ink.

Benisch, who just graduated from New York's Pratt Institute with a degree in industrial design, created the Sum Waste pen for his thesis project.

The curvy, translucent writing instrument made from biosolids was featured in the university's year-end design show and won first place in a national competition organised by research group Healthy Materials Lab.

Populist governments and their disregard for expertise

Just as the Trump government has a solid reputation for disdain of expert advice on topics ranging from environmental issues to trade and international treaties, it seems that the populist government in India likes to tell its followers what it wants to hear.  See this (pretty angry) article at Foreign Policy, mainly about India's terrible air pollution, but also other topics:

Speaking from the headquarters of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on May 9, the cabinet member Nitin Gadkari promised a rapid elimination of air pollution. “Delhi will be free of air and water pollution in the next three years,” he said. Gadkari is now the minister of road transport and highways now, but in the years before Modi first became prime minister in 2014, Gadkari was president of the BJP. He said he expected that the air would clear because of the achievements of his political party, which “has done 100 percent corruption-free, transparent, time-bound, result-oriented, and quality work.”

Bringing air pollution down to acceptable levels—not just in New Delhi, but also throughout north India—would indeed be a tremendous accomplishment. But promising to do so within three years is absurd. China, for example, has successfully directed policymaking efforts toward reducing particle pollution, after decades of catastrophic pollution in the north and public pressure once air quality data became easily available online To do so has taken China several years (more than three), has certainly not eliminated pollution altogether, and has required facing unpleasant facts. Central Chinese officials held local governments to account for improving pollution—and moved to address the problem when statistical analysis showed that local bureaucrats were manipulating the numbers. But Gadkari’s unbelievable numbers are coming from the top.

Such absurdities have become commonplace. Gadkari’s promise echoes Modi’s claim the government could eliminate open defecation from rural India by 2019. (Open defecation rates improved, but it remains dangerously common, as independent demographic data shows.) Both numerical deadlines combine wild ambition and a good cause with needless quantitative precession and the absence of any plan that could achieve the result. 
And more about the general attitude of "we know better than experts":
 Unfortunately, the pattern extends beyond the environment. Increasingly, many of India’s leading economists and statisticians have spoken out about the dismantling of India’s systems of official statistics and expertise. Respected statisticians—including an economist whom I know personally from my time at the Delhi School of Economics—resigned from the National Statistical Commission in January, in protest of the government’s refusal to release credible unemployment data.

The government’s top economic advisors and policymakers report being as surprised as everyone else when in 2016 the prime minister, in a move remembered as “demonetization,” suddenly declared that a large fraction of India’s notes no longer counted as currency. In my own field of child health, the Economist reported that UNICEF suppressed data on child stunting because the prime minister’s home state scored poorly. I do not think any of my colleagues in sanitation research seriously believe the government’s response to a December 2018 parliamentary question, which was to insist that sanitation coverage in rural Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh is 100 percent.

Nice of them...

Searching that Samuel Gregg who Helen Dale re-tweeted (he's one of those irritating conservative Catholics who like small government because God wants people to suffer - see how easy it is to argue like him!) led me to a conservative Catholic site which had this news item of some interest:
The Russian Orthodox Church is debating an end to the practice of blessing large scale weapons, including nuclear missiles.
Last month, a committee on ecclesial law met in Moscow and recommended ending the practice of blessing missiles and warheads, and suggested that priests should instead bless only individual soldiers and their personal weapons.

According to a report by Religion News Service, Bishop Savva Tutunov of the Moscow Patriarchate said that it would be more appropriate to bless only the warrior who is defending their country, and their own personal weapon–instead of bombs.

“One can talk about the blessing of a warrior on military duty in defense of the fatherland,” said Tutunov.

“At the end of the corresponding ritual, the personal weapon is also blessed — precisely because it is connected to the individual person who is receiving the blessing. By the same reasoning, weapons of mass destruction should not be sanctified,” he said.

The proposal to end the blessings for larger weapons has yet to be approved by Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, head of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Weapons systems, including Topol-class intercontinental ballistic missiles, are frequently blessed by members of the Russian Orthodox clergy during military parades and other events. These blessings are seen as a way of spiritually protecting the country.

The ridiculous technique

What's the name for this type of bad faith, nonsensical style of argument, whereby your opponent says X and you claim that this must mean they want Y, while surely knowing Y is a wild exaggeration and caricature of their point?  

Ironically, those on the Right rally against SJW's for using it when talking about gender and sexuality (for example), but they deploy it themselves when it suits.

Drives me nuts, whoever uses it.

Gives me mixed feelings

I mean, who wouldn't want to see the IPA staff, membership, 98% of commenters at Catallaxy, and all hosts on Sky News at Night rounded up and forced into re-education schools in which they are all taught to dance, paint and give up all radical ideas (as defined by me.)  Of course, it would have to be conducted in what would look more like an aged care facility than a young person's school, but still, it's a pleasant dream:

A short history of the "we didn't go to the Moon" conspiracy

This article at The Guardian isn't bad, and reminded me that Fox News - that unique source of the dumbing down of America - revived it with a "documentary" in 2001.

Stand proud, Rupert Murdoch, and all who support him.

Yet more "as I have been saying"...

I recently noted how I have been posting for a while about how solar power expansion should be looking at not replacing otherwise useful uses of land (like agriculture), but working within it.   (Including being deployed on water storage dams and reservoirs.)

Today I read of some paper that says the same thing:
A study released today provides the most complete list yet of the advantages of solar energy—from carbon sequestration to improvements for pollinator habitat. The paper offers a new framework for analyzing solar projects to better understand the full suite of benefits.

The study, published in Nature Sustainability, was conducted by researchers from the University of California, Davis; Lancaster University in the United Kingdom; the Center for Biological Diversity and 10 other organizations.

It suggests a framework for understanding more completely, and ultimately quantifying, the benefits of , identifying 20 frequently overlooked advantages. For example, paired with native plant restoration can add habitat while also increasing panel efficiency.
And more:
In the report, the authors:
  • Suggest a model for engineering solar energy systems that maximizes both technological and ecological benefits.
  • Create a framework for characterizing 20 benefits of installations on different spaces, including rooftop solar; solar on contaminated land; solar over functional bodies of water like reservoirs, water treatment areas and irrigation canals; and solar co-located with agriculture and grazing.
  • Make the case for understanding that as renewable energy development is ramped up to address the climate crisis, it shouldn't create unnecessary negative impacts, especially when technology and resources are available to maximize positive effects.
  • Suggest how this framework might be useful in policy and regulatory decision-making in order to ensure a sustainable energy transition.
I'm glad my common sense suggestions eventually get taken up in universities, eventually...

A very stupid idea

I'm pretty sure that gender reveal parties started in the USA, although I see they have now spread to Australia too, if this story is anything to go by.

I think they are just the silliest idea, objectionable from both liberal and conservative perspectives, and I do  not understand at all why people would want to have them.

Just be thankful if you're getting a healthy baby of any gender, even intersex for that matter, for goodness sake.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Gunshot wedding noted

From Gulf News, about an unfortunate incident in India:
Patna: A groom was killed in celebratory gunfire during a wedding in Bihar moments after the exchange of vows....
As per the itinerary, a wedding procession reached the house of the bride on the scheduled day and this was followed by the garland exchange ritual.
While the groom was walking towards the wedding venue after the garland exchange ritual, his elder brother whipped out a pistol and started firing in celebration.

Witnesses said the brother fired thrice but the gun got stuck. As he tried to clear the bullets, they fired one by one, hitting him as well as the groom. Both sustained seriously injuries in the incident and were immediately rushed to a nearby hospital. The groom succumbed to his injuries on Monday afternoon while his brother is battling for his life.

“Who will marry my daughter now? Now everyone will call her doomed,” said Kumari’s father Bhuletan Rai, sobbing inconsolably.
Wow.  An idiot brother-in-law kills the groom, and the worry is that the bride will wear the long time consequences?  

What's more, this is a recurrent problem in that part of the country, apparently:
Celebratory gunfire go on unchecked in Bihar despite the authorities putting a ban on them. It has claimed many lives during the wedding season over the years. According to a report, 15 people have been killed or wounded in celebratory gunfire in the past six months.

A wild actor

To be honest, I thought that Rip Torn had stopped appearing in Men in Black movies because he had already died! 

But now that he really has, I see that he had a "colourful" life, continuing into old age:
In 2010 he was arrested after breaking into a bank branch in Connecticut and was charged with carrying an unlicensed firearm, burglary, trespass and carrying a firearm while intoxicated. Police said Torn had broken into the bank thinking it was his home.

After pleading guilty to a number of charges surrounding his possession of a loaded weapon while drunk, he was given a two-and-a-half-year suspended jail sentence in 2010.

Torn also infamously fought director Norman Mailer during the filming of counterculture film Maidstone. In an improvised on-camera scene, Torn — playing Mailer's brother — attacked Mailer with a hammer and attempted to strangle him. Mailer bit Torn's ear in response.

The scene made it into Maidstone's final cut and was apparently planned, but the blood shed by both actors was very real. Torn was reportedly angered by Mailer's direction.
I have a feeling I probably read about the 2010 incident at the time, but it sure didn't stick in my memory.

All about palm oil

At the Jakarta Post, a couple of lengthy, detailed articles about growing palm oil, and whether EU attempts to influence its production are counterproductive, or not.

As I've been saying...

The New York Times writes, after this week's flash flooding in Washington:
WASHINGTON — When almost a month’s worth of rain deluged this city on Monday morning, turning streets into rivers and basements into wading pools, it showed just how vulnerable cities with aging water systems can be in the era of climate change. 

The rainfall overwhelmed the capital’s storm-water system, much of it built almost a century ago to handle a smaller population, far less pavement and not nearly as much water. 

“We’re still approaching this 21st-century problem with 20th-century infrastructure, and it’s completely inadequate,” said Constantine Samaras, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Carnegie Mellon University. “And it’s only going to get worse.”

Updating that infrastructure will be enormously expensive, experts warn, not just in Washington but around the country. That’s not only because upgrades are required. In many cases, cities are facing huge backlogs in general maintenance.

Spiderman viewed

Went to see Spiderman: Far From Home last night.   It's very enjoyable.  Tom Holland remains ridiculously charming;  the special effects featuring destruction in locations we don't normally see destroyed were a bit different from the standard Marvel look*; and it is very funny.   (Actually I was laughing a bit more than other members of the audience at some of the silly romance bits between Ned and what's-her-name.)  

I keep telling my son that I am glad Tony Stark is dead - Marvel is lighter and funnier and better off without him. 

*  Sort of a spoiler comment here:   when first watching Mysterio flying around trailing a lot of green smoke I thought of the witch in Wizard of Oz, but I was pleased that later in the movie the theatricality of the look made sense.   Some of his stuff also looking a bit "Dr Strange", who I am very keen see return.

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

The gripping hand

A somewhat interesting article at Nautilus about how much we should (or shouldn't) read into studies showing that grip strength is weakening pretty rapidly in us modern humans.   (Well, Americans in particular.)

I liked this bit of history:
Pound per pound, babies are remarkably strong. The parent learns this the first time they proffer their finger. In a famous series of experiments in the late 19th century—of the sort one can scarcely imagine today—Louis Robinson, a surgeon at a children’s hospital in England, tested some 60 infants—many within an hour of birth—by having them hang from a suspended “walking stick.” With only two exceptions, according to one report, the infants were able to hang on, sustaining “the weight of their body for at least ten seconds.”9 Many could do it for upward of a minute.  In a later-published photograph, Robinson swapped out the bar for a tree branch, to bring home his whole point: Our “arboreal ancestry.”
Going back further:
As the evolutionary biologist Mary Marzke argues, our hands today were literally shaped around millions of years of using and making tools (our cerebral hemispheres, notes John Napier, author of the classic study Hands, expanded as our tool making did). The human hand became an almost perfect gripping machine. That long opposable thumb, enabling what has been termed the “power grip” and the “precision grip,” looms most obvious. But consider also the Papillary ridges, those tougher, thicker parts of the skin, found on the human heel, but also on the human palm—a vestigial souvenir from our time as quadrupeds. Their placement, as Napier writes in Hands, “corresponds with the principal areas of gripping and weight bearing, where they serve very much the same function as the treads on an automobile tire.” Eccrine glands perfectly line the papillary ridge, Napier notes, providing a grip-enhancing “lubrication system.” This sort of “frictional adaptation” does not kick in until we are around 2, writes Frank Wilson in The Hand (before then, we just grip harder).

Gripping, then, is a deep part of our biology and evolution as a species. It’s also part of a long story in which we have been getting weaker for millions of years, largely because of a decline in physical activity. The human skeleton, for example, is “relatively gracile” (weak) compared to hominoids.12 Those infants tested by Robinson, stout hangers-on though they may have been, can hardly compete with infant monkeys, who can hang on for upward of a half hour. Why? Because they need to. “Modern infants,” as one researcher notes, “as well as their fairly recent human antecedents, do not need to hang on with their hands and feet from the moment of birth.”13
I would have guessed that men not sexually partnering much in countries like Japan or China might have activity which compensates for gripping strength loss from automation, if you get my drift.   But perhaps I am wrong...