Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Yeah, thanks, Netflix

Seems fairly likely that what some people feared would happen with the release of teen suicide story "13 Reasons Why" did:
The Netflix show "13 Reasons Why" was associated with a 28.9% increase in suicide rates among U.S. youth ages 10-17 in the month (April 2017) following the shows release, after accounting for ongoing trends in suicide rates, according to a study published today in Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. The findings highlight the necessity of using best practices when portraying suicide in popular entertainment and in the media. The study was conducted by researchers at several universities, hospitals, and the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), part of the National Institutes of Health. NIMH also funded the study.

The number of deaths by suicide recorded in April 2017 was greater than the number seen in any single month during the five-year period examined by the researchers. When researchers analyzed the data by sex, they found the increase in the suicide rate was primarily driven by significant increases in suicide in young males. While suicide rates for females increased after the show's release, the increase was not statistically significant.

"The results of this study should raise awareness that young people are particularly vulnerable to the media," said study author Lisa Horowitz, Ph.D., M.P.H., a clinical scientist in the NIMH Intramural Research Program. "All disciplines, including the media, need to take good care to be constructive and thoughtful about topics that intersect with public health crises."
I have to say, though, that I would have expected it would be a show watched by more girls than guys, so the increase in male teen suicide is a surprise.  I hope they looked for any other possible media event that might have been related.

Pauline does the right thing

Gawd, what's coming over me?   When I heard Pauline Hanson's comments on her horrible* candidate Steve Dickson's resignation for the video of him carrying on like an absolute yobbo at a strip club, I thought she put it very well.   The Guardian reports it as follows:
Speaking at an early morning media conference, an angry Hanson said the footage “cannot be ignored or condoned” and she had accepted Dickson’s offer to resign. She said she would not tolerate her children behaving that way towards women, and would not condone her candidate’s “dealing with women in this fashion” either.

“Steve’s language and behaviour was unacceptable and does not meet my expectations nor the greater public’s expectation of a person who is standing for public office,” the One Nation party leader said.

“Steve Dickson yesterday offered his resignation from all positions within the party, which I have accepted.”
It was actually better than that - she referenced being the mother of 3 boys, and that she would find their similar behaviour unacceptable.

I offer, probably for the one and only time in my life, congratulations to her for not mincing words and saying that expects men (whether politicians or not) to behave better towards women.

*  I had previously noted in two posts his appalling smarmy hypocrisy when dealing with the NRA and the Christian element in their ranks.

Poets and depression

As I don't care for poetry, I didn't know much about the late Les Murray, but heard on the radio this morning that he had suffered from depression for a long time as a younger man. Which made me think:  are my less-than-positive feelings about this art form because it seems to be the preferred artistic outlet  of angsty teens and (later) adults with depression? 

I don't know that I have really thought about this much before, but I see that the matter has been studied, particularly in relation to female poets.  From the Wikipedia entry on "The Sylvia Plath effect":
The Sylvia Plath effect is the phenomenon that poets are more susceptible to mental illness than other creative writers. The term was coined in 2001 by psychologist James C. Kaufman. This early finding has been dubbed "the Sylvia Plath effect", and implications and possibilities for future research are discussed...

In one study, 1,629 writers were analyzed for signs of mental illness. Female poets were found to be significantly more likely to experience mental illness than female fiction writers or male writers of any type. Another study extended the analysis to 520 eminent women (poets, fiction writers, non-fiction writers, visual artists, politicians, and actresses), and again found the poets to be significantly more likely to experience mental illness.[1]
In another study performed by the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Kentucky Medical Center, female writers were found to be more likely to suffer not only from mood disorders, but also from panic attacks, general anxiety, drug abuse, and eating disorders. The rates of multiple mental disorders were also higher among these writers. Although it was not explored in depth, abuse during childhood (physical or sexual) also loomed as a possible contributor to psychological issues in adulthood. The cumulative psychopathology scores of subjects, their reported exposure to abuse during childhood, mental difficulties in their mothers, and the combined creativity scores of their parents represented significant predictors of their illnesses. The high rates of certain emotional disorders in female writers suggested a direct relationship between creativity and psychopathology, but the relationships were not clear-cut. As the results of the predictive analysis indicated, familial and environmental factors also appeared to play a role.[5]

I see at Quora someone asks:

Do poets get depression or do depressed people write poetry?

Anyway,  Tim, you seem a jolly enough fellow whose poetry is not a downer.  But has anyone done a study on how much published poetry could be categorised as "cheerful" as opposed to "deals with a depressing subject" or at best "melancholic"?  

Drug problem in Bangladesh

A detailed article here from the BBC about a large drug problem in Bangladesh with something called Yaba:

Hundreds of thousands of people in Bangladesh have become hooked on yaba - a mixture of methamphetamine and caffeine sold as cheap red or pink pills. The official response has been harsh, with hundreds of people killed in alleged incidents of "crossfire"....

"In the early stages of using yaba it has a lot of positive effects. Everything is enhanced with yaba," says Dr Ashique Selim, a consultant psychiatrist specialising in addiction.

"You become more sociable… You enjoy music, cigarettes and sex more. In Bangladesh there's a very unhealthy association between yaba and sex - you're awake longer, you've got more energy, you feel more confident. If you stop using yaba, there are no withdrawal symptoms, it's not like alcohol or heroin. But it's the effects of yaba that are really addictive. It's a very, very dangerous drug."

Yaba first appeared in Bangladesh in 2002 and its use, and abuse, has steadily risen since then. Manufactured illicitly in industrial quantities in Myanmar, it is smuggled into Bangladesh in the far south-east of the country, where the border partly follows the River Naf.

It was across this river that hundreds of thousands of desperate Rohingya refugees fled into Bangladesh in 2017, to escape from the Burmese military. Now nearly a million destitute refugees live in makeshift camps in the region and dealers have succeeded in turning some of them into mules - often women, who smuggle packages of pills inside their vaginas.

Experts believe the dealers see an unmissable business opportunity. At a time of rapid growth - Bangladesh has one of the world's fastest growing economies - traffickers are dumping huge quantities of yaba, and selling it cheaply to create a captive market. Anecdotally, it seems its use is becoming more prevalent among go-getters riding the economic boom.
As usual, the story behind how certain types of drugs get a hold in different countries and societies is often interesting, and a bit surprising.

Am I a bad person...

...for being somewhat amused that it seems quite a lot of people, after having devoted so many hours for so many years to Game of Thrones, found that (what I gather was) the climatic battle of the entire series was so poorly lit that they often couldn't tell what was going on?

Or perhaps I should instead feel a little sorry for them, but happy for myself that I was didn't suffer the same fate.

Update:   I have noticed comments about the too fast editing too - something that drives me nuts, but many people these days have become acclimatised to.  I can safely predict I would have hated this episode.  I mean, even though it seems this BBC reviewer overall thought it was good, he freely admits to a lot of negatives:
The direction and cutting makes events frenzied, scrappy and yes, due to the lack of lighting, difficult to follow – a clever visual articulation of how this fight would really feel. This is an admirable artistic choice in theory, but after a while it starts to translate as tiresome, incomprehensible noise. In interviews leading up to the episode, Sapochnik cited The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers’ Battle of Helm’s Deep as his main inspiration. But The Battle of Winterfell never quite achieves the elegance or clarity of Peter Jackson’s sequence – nor matches its remarkable balance of character and action. This is not to say that The Battle of Winterfell is bad. It is not. But based on first viewing, it is perhaps not impressive enough to live up to its own hype.
 Update 2:  continuing to sound like a Redditor, I will assert my unpopular opinion that the only decent cinematic fantasy character based battles that took place on a field were those in the first two Narnia movies.   They were well directed, not overly choppy editting, and were thrilling without obvious blood letting.   (Marvel also does it without blood, but the editing often leaves a lot to be desired.)

Unpopular opinion No 2:   the climatic battle in Avengers: Endgame was a little too reminiscent of that in Reader Player One.

Unpopular opinion No 3:   Dr Strange is the most important Marvel Universe character, and deserves at least two more movies.   (Although it seems I often do not care much for the follow up movie for a Marvel movie that I liked.)

Monday, April 29, 2019

Some sordid history

Today I learned that Tolkien's eldest son became a Catholic priest who was accused of sexually molesting boys in at least the 1950's.   Said son died in 2003, but claimed in 1994 that he had been sexually assaulted by more than one of Dad's Oxford academic friends, who would sometimes sleep over in the son's bed.  Given that they probably all stank of pipe tobacco (but then again, I bet the whole house did), this was likely an unpleasant experience for a child even without the sexual assault.   

Poor old CS Lewis gets a mention as one of Tolkien's friends, but I think he was likely too busy having an affair with his deceased mate's mother (and later, his wife to be) to be interested in molesting boys.   I sure hope so, anyway.  

Australian politics

Here's my current gut feeling:

*   I have read on Twitter some analysis showing that today's Newspoll showing TPP at 51/49 in favour of Labor (but with a worrying small swing towards the Coalition) is a specific result of a change in how they were handling Clive Palmer's dumbass support.   In other words, if they had left him grouped with "other", it would still have been 52/48.   Sounds plausible to me.

*  Perceived campaign performance is such a fickle thing, isn't it?   It's so much a question of "the vibe" over content, and looking positive and cheerful is simply enough to sway some, regardless of being an inch deep on actual policy.   This is why I think both Morrison (groan)  and Palmer (rending of shirt sound at the goldfish like memory of the Australian - especially Queensland - electorate) have had better than expected campaigns, and Shorten has been the victim of some momentary crankiness that has to be avoided at all costs in the next two weeks.

*  I don't think the Labor TV ads have been very good either.   Isn't the public a bit skeptical of statements about how much money has been taken from health, and schools, etc, unless it has happened really recently and had an obvious, direct effect on services?   I don't think the advertising agency they are using is doing a great job.

*  I think everyone expects that seat by seat plays are going to be unusually important this time,  and not in favour of the Coalition, what with so many Liberals having jumped ship before the election.  I therefore remain relatively confident of a substantial enough majority government for Labor.

* It's good to see One Nation support down, and if history is any guide, any Senate wins by Palmer will just mean we have more independents soon enough, and they didn't work out too bad last time.   But is he attracting a nuttier group of candidates this time around?   I mean, the advertising about the Chinese airstrip in WA indicates that he is, so perhaps we'll end up with nutty independents of the ex-One Nation kind.   I just hope he gets none up.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Time for the Endgame (review)

It was...OK-ish.

I don't think it deserves a lot of analysis, really.  Remembering that I wasn't invested in Avengers or Ironman  movies anyway, it was perhaps a bit of a fluke that I liked Infinity War, which set me up as keen to see its resolution.

I was somewhat underwhelmed.  While it does have humour, I seem to recall finding Infinity War funnier.  It took a while to build up momentum, and to be honest, to my mind, it was a lazy sort of script generally speaking.  For example, there are at least two key plot points (I won't say them here - it's a bit spoiler-ish too early after its release) which just happen, without any real foreshadowing or explanation as to how they could just fall in place as they do.   And (while my son disagrees), I think the whole explanation of the way this movie's version of time travel works is quite confusingly done:  I didn't expect it to be plausible, but I just wanted it to have some clearer exposition than it got.

I suppose fan boys (and girls) might argue that it's a really complicated and intricate script, the way it ties certain things together from past movies. I suppose I can see that - I assumed it was revisiting the past movies accurately in a somewhat Back to the Future 2 sort of way.  But given my lack of familiarity with the past movies, any pleasure in that went over my head.  (I have read one or two reviewers saying that it works as a stand alone movie, and I think that's a silly suggestion.)

Oh dear, I am doing more analysis than I said I would, but I'll just note that I actually thought at least one more role would be retired than what we got.   It needed more in the way of good guy deaths.  

I hope things pick up in the next Marvel outing - although I don't think the trailer for the next Spiderman movie looks all that enticing.  We shall see...

Update:   I make the point in comments that there is at least one Youtube video up noting some inconsistencies in this movie compared to previous ones.   (Although it also points out some foreshadowing from them too.)

I just wanted to note something else, too:   in my comments on Infinity War, I noted that Thanos's Malthusian justification for killing half of all life struck me as possibly appealing to the nutty Right that thinks all environmentalism is semi-religious, inaccurate panic mongering that actually hates humanity (the kind of people who think you can ignore climate change because Hitler was a vegetarian greenie, dontcha know?)

In this movie, I had the feeling that the vibe was swinging a bit too obviously in the politically correct direction, with the role of the female good guys played up pretty explicitly: not as extraordinarily blatantly as in the last Star Wars movie, but still with a distinctly "this is Disney, we respect and encourage female empowerment" vibe.

Sure, most of the heroic characters remain male, but the effort to increase the female importance seemed a touch too obvious to me.

Guess I'm hard to please, hey?
Update 2:   hey, Jason.   I feel somewhat vindicated in my complaint about the time travel explanation being poorly handled when I read this guy's very lengthy piece trying to justify how what a lot of people have started to argue is a lack of internal consistency is not really a "plot hole" at all.   I kind of can't be bothered following the argument as to whether he is or isn't right:   the simple length he has to go to make the argument I think justifies my take.

Friday, April 26, 2019

An attack of humourlessness at The Atlantic

Red warning lights should be flashing whenever you read someone who says "but late night comedy shows just aren't funny anymore", especially when we know that shows like Stephen Colbert's have been rating very well.

I say this after looking at a piece by one Andrew Ferguson at The Atlantic, the headline of which suggested it was going to make a very plausible argument that America is too deeply politically divided under Trump for the White House Correspondents Dinner to continue as a form of political roast.   (I would agree with that.)

But instead, the argument is really  a broad whinge that he does not find any humour in late night television comedy anymore.  He even references in passing Conan O'Brien,  who is not intensely political, has always done some very funny, often somewhat absurdist, material and who appears happier and revived in a new half hour format.   His complaint seems to be that the humour is not much in traditional "joke" punch line format anymore - it's more a case of stating the facts as they are and the audience finding it hilarious.

This seems a ridiculously tin-earred complaint to me.  Presumably, he longs for the day of the relatively non-political humour and joke structure of Bob Hope and Jimmy Carson.  The latter, in particular, always struck me as bland and not particularly funny.  If I recall correctly,  even in his heyday some found his sidekick lame: today, at least the sidekick is usually with their own talent (often the bandleader, or someone like Andy Richter who has a genuine comedy gift).  By contrast, I remember an old sarcastic complaint that Ed McMahon's only talent other than forced sounding guffaws was doing dog food advertisements.

Ferguson's take was, of course, taken up enthusiastically by Hot Air because it lets them say "see, it's not just us conservatives, our complaint for the last 5 years must be right!"

But honestly, no one in their right mind can deny that Trump is the most absurdly non-Presidential acting President we have ever seen, who lies and bullshits continually and has a barely functioning administration with extreme turnover and leaks against the boss.  Even without the Mueller investigation, he is the biggest and easiest target for political humour that has ever existed.

Trump is intrinsically absurd - that might be the explanation as to why humour about him does not need much construction as a old time-y "joke".   But I'm even skeptical of his take on that - I still think if you watch enough, there is a joke structure to their delivery that Ferguson just can't really see anymore.

I doubt that Ferguson is a conservative politically, but generally speaking, provided you aren't a conservative fretting about having lost the culture wars, the late night show humour about Trump has often been hilarious.

Whatever the explanation, there is something definitely "off" with Ferguson's sense of humour - and I expect most readers of The Atlantic will be saying the same.  

UFOs back again?

In a report which seems to take too unskeptically the comments of someone from the dubious "To the Stars Academy", the Washington Post nonetheless reports on the Navy setting up a more detailed scheme for its pilots to report UFOs (my bold):
A recent uptick in sightings of unidentified flying objects — or as the military calls them, “unexplained aerial phenomena” — prompted the Navy to draft formal procedures for pilots to document encounters, a corrective measure that former officials say is long overdue.

As first reported by POLITICO, these intrusions have been happening on a regular basis since 2014. Recently, unidentified aircraft have entered military-designated airspace as often as multiple times per month, Joseph Gradisher, spokesman for office of the deputy chief of naval operations for information warfare, told The Washington Post on Wednesday.

Citing safety and security concerns, Gradisher vowed to “investigate each and every report.”
He said, “We want to get to the bottom of this. We need to determine who’s doing it, where it’s coming from and what their intent is. We need to try to find ways to prevent it from happening again.”
I'm not sure of the source of that claim of recent numbers of unidentified aircraft - but I also note that if something seems to be moving just like an aircraft, it probably is one. 

Is it a case that the Navy is concerned about unidentified aircraft only, and this report conflates that with UFO's?

Transgender health

Nature has an article about a larger than usual European study on the on-going health and effects of transgender treatment.   It certainly supports the criticism that hormonal treatments have been readily offered without knowing the long term consequences.   Look at this, for example:
In 2017, the NIH launched a prospective study of 400 transgender adolescents. It will be the first study to examine the effects of drugs that block puberty until a teenager’s body and mind is mature enough to begin cross-sex hormone treatment.

Questions of how — and when — to allow transgender youth to transition medically and socially are among the stickiest in the field.
I hadn't heard of this surprising figure before, either:
Mental health tends to rank highly among health concerns, along with HIV. According to some studies, 25% of transgender women and 56% of African American transgender women in the United States are living with HIV, although this estimate could be high because it is based on people seeking treatment.
This is such a complicated area....

Beyond Meat going public

That's a co-incidence:  after having just tried one of their burgers and finding it pretty satisfying, Vox says that the US company is going public and has had good growth in the last few years.  Not profitably yet, but it seems everyone expects it to be:
Now, the company has filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission for an IPO, scheduled for next week. They’ll sell shares in the company for between $19 and $21 per share, allowing them to raise $183 million for additional manufacturing facilities, research and development, and sales. If their stock sells at the high end of that, the company would be valued at $1.2 billion. They’ll be listed on NASDAQ as BYND.

Founded in 2009 by CEO Ethan Brown, the Los Angeles-based company’s products first hit supermarket shelves in 2013. Its rapid rise — food is not an easy industry to break into — reflects intense consumer demand and investor interest in meat alternatives. The company has never been profitable, and lost $29 million in 2018, but its rapidly growing revenues made it a good bet to many investors — as did its positioning on the frontier of a transformation of our food system.

Unusual economic idea

From Axios:

How depreciating money could save the global economy

Some explanation:
Central banks have unloaded trillions of dollars of stimulus in efforts to push inflation above 2% in countries from the U.S. to Japan and across the eurozone, but nothing seems to be working.

Driving the news: One radical idea that could boost spending and help resuscitate moribund economies is Silvio Gessell's proposal for depreciating money, writes Stephen Mihm, an associate professor at the University of Georgia, in an editorial for Bloomberg.

What it means: Money, if not spent, would lose its value by 5% a year. That would encourage people to spend, rather than hold onto it. Such a plan would radically boost the "velocity" of money, giving a major boost to developed economies where services account for a hefty majority of economic growth.
  • "In Gesell's formulation, money became a 'hot potato' that note holders tried to use before it lost value," Mihm writes. "As far-fetched as they seem, his writings had practical implications because they pointed a way out of the impasse the world confronted in the Great Depression."
Context: The idea has been tried before. The mayor of W├Ârgl, Austria, used the town’s funds to put Gesell's depreciating currency into rotation and managed to stimulate a minor boom in the midst of the Great Depression.
Um, not sure how you make money depreciate by a set figure in the current system...

Incompetence results in slightly better news

Gee, the Sri Lankan government is looking pretty spectacularly inept:
Sri Lankan authorities have revised the death toll from Easter Sunday’s string of bombings down to 253 people from the previous estimate of 359.
At least the ineptitude on this means better news, of sorts.

The downfall of capitalism, by George Monbiot

While skeptical of the need to "declare capitalism dead", perpetual pessimist George Monbiot's piece in The Guardian is actually pretty well argued, and there are parts I think sound right.  Like this:
There is no going back: the alternative to capitalism is neither feudalism nor state communism. Soviet communism had more in common with capitalism than the advocates of either system would care to admit. Both systems are (or were) obsessed with generating economic growth. Both are willing to inflict astonishing levels of harm in pursuit of this and other ends. Both promised a future in which we would need to work for only a few hours a week, but instead demand endless, brutal labour. Both are dehumanising. Both are absolutist, insisting that theirs and theirs alone is the one true God.
I guess I don't mind his previous points before this one, too:  in which he notes that it is not really useful just to argue that because capitalism worked spectacularly well in the past that it must continue in the same way in the future:
Economic growth, intrinsically linked to the increasing use of material resources, means seizing natural wealth from both living systems and future generations.

To point to such problems is to invite a barrage of accusations, many of which are based on this premise: capitalism has rescued hundreds of millions of people from poverty – now you want to impoverish them again. It is true that capitalism, and the economic growth it drives, has radically improved the prosperity of vast numbers of people, while simultaneously destroying the prosperity of many others: those whose land, labour and resources were seized to fuel growth elsewhere. Much of the wealth of the rich nations was – and is – built on slavery and colonial expropriation.

Like coal, capitalism has brought many benefits. But, like coal, it now causes more harm than good. Just as we have found means of generating useful energy that are better and less damaging than coal, so we need to find means of generating human wellbeing that are better and less damaging than capitalism.
But he is a bit light on where we move forward from here:
So what does a better system look like? I don’t have a complete answer, and I don’t believe any one person does. But I think I see a rough framework emerging. Part of it is provided by the ecological civilisation proposed by Jeremy Lent, one of the greatest thinkers of our age. Other elements come from Kate Raworth’s doughnut economics and the environmental thinking of Naomi Klein, Amitav Ghosh, Angaangaq Angakkorsuaq, Raj Patel and Bill McKibben. Part of the answer lies in the notion of “private sufficiency, public luxury”. Another part arises from the creation of a new conception of justice based on this simple principle: every generation, everywhere, shall have an equal right to the enjoyment of natural wealth.

I believe our task is to identify the best proposals from many different thinkers and shape them into a coherent alternative. Because no economic system is only an economic system but intrudes into every aspect of our lives, we need many minds from various disciplines – economic, environmental, political, cultural, social and logistical – working collaboratively to create a better way of organising ourselves that meets our needs without destroying our home.
But yeah, on the whole, a reasonably argued take on the matter.   I think perhaps all it really amounts to is saying that capitalism as a system needs greater shaping by government intervention, but need not be abandoned in its entirety.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Local wildlife continues to surprise

Over the years, I've posted photos of a kangaroo in my street (twice), possums under the deck (here's one example, but there are many more), cockatoos, corellas and more unusual birds.   Of course we get more wildlife that I haven't photographed:  brush turkeys, blue tongued lizards, as well as your lorikeets, flying foxes, kookaburras, etc.   Lots of Australian wildlife, all within 18 km of the heart of the city, but it's not as if my house borders bushland, although it is within a couple of kilometres of patches of it.

Anyhow, last night the dog was doing its job of unnecessarily guarding our house by looking out the front window and barking at passing humans and their canines, when she obviously spotted something walking past closer to the house.  I couldn't see anything, but she was highly excited, and I eventually went out the front to find this:

Yes, a bundle of spikes* that is an echidna, with its head buried in the corner, I suspect in order to eat ants which are always in that area.   It was breathing and scraping, but we just let it be.  I checked half an hour later and it had moved on.

I had once seen one of these on a footpath near the bushy riverbank a couple of kilometres from me, but never really expected to see one in my street.

If only I ever spot a koala in the gum trees in the small park in front of the house (very unlikely, but the way things are going, seems I shouldn't rule it out entirely) I'll have some sort of Australian wildlife bingo game triumph that I never have expected to when I moved into this suburb.

*  now that I think of it, looks a tad like a bicycle helmet as designed for Mad Max; or one for a severe swooping magpie deterrent.

Chinese Australians and ANZAC Day

I'm starting to think it must be quite a onerous task for news services to come up with some fresh historical aspect of Australian war time service for each ANZAC Day.  But they usually do manage something of interest, and this year I choose to highlight the ABC stories on Chinese Australians who served in the World Wars.
There were at least 213 Chinese-Australians who enlisted in World War I, and potentially many more in World War II — however nobody knows exactly how many there were, due to Australia's race-based enlistment policies at the time.

"There were race requirements for entering the armed services during the World Wars," historian Meleah Hampton from the Australian War Memorial told the ABC.

The enforcement of these rules came down to how "European" a would-be soldier appeared in the eyes of the man taking down his enlistment — but Dr Hampton said their assessments became more lax as the need for soldiers grew.

"When they started getting very desperate for men, they started seeing whiter and whiter people I guess," she said.

The article supports this with a photo of someone who tried to enlist in World War 1 but was rejected:

The article notes the story of Billy Sing, of mixed Chinese Caucasian heritage, who was a crack sniper at Gallipoli and served in France too:

He does look quite the badass dude in the next photo

Moving forward to WW2, and Wellington Lee, later a deputy mayor in Melbourne, said he was rejected by the Navy (on pure racial grounds, he believes) but did get to enlist in the Air Force.  (Ahem, always the best service to be in, I say with some direct knowledge.)  Here's a photo of Lee from the article:

I see from another story from 2018 on the ABC, the Air Force again features as the service a Chinese Australian was able to join in WW2:
The White Australia policy treated her father as a "foreigner and enemy" and resulted in her mother's citizenship being revoked.

But despite that, in 1945 — at the age of just 18 — Kathleen Quan Mane enlisted as a decoder in Australia's Air Force for what would be the final year of World War II.

Ms Quan Mane and her sister Doreen, the youngest of five girls in their family, were among the first 21 Chinese-Australian servicewomen to join the war effort.
Here she is in uniform:


Good on these people for giving service to our country even when, with its policies, you could argue it didn't really deserve their help.  

Update:   I just found via Twitter that someone writing in the South China Morning Post has an article about his great Uncle, Fred Goon, who did this:
Eight times Goon tried to sign up, and eight times he was rejected. But on his ninth try, on January 12, 1917, he succeeded. The medical officer noted the 23-year-old recruit’s dark complexion and hair, but not his Chinese heritage.

A little over a year later, Goon was gulping down German drift gas in the trenches of the Western Front, and he was hospitalised for months. He returned to the Belgian front in time to take part in the last battle of the war involving Australian troops.

The persistence of Goon, my great-uncle, may be some kind of record.
Here's his photo:

The image on the right is how he appeared in the Bendigo Advertiser when it reported news of his gassing.

Goon had a Chinese father but Irish descended mother.  This combination was not that unusual around Bendigo, oddly enough:
Goon was the son of Louey Fong Goon, a merchant from Taishan in Guangdong who joined the 19th century Australian gold rush. In Bendigo, he married Elizabeth Johnson, daughter of Irish immigrants, in 1896 – three years after she had given birth to their son, Fred.

My great-grandparents’ pairing was not unique; there were 28 marriages between Chinese men and Irish-born women in Victoria in a five-year period at the height of the gold rush, and many others involved Australian-born Irishwomen like Johnson.

But Fred was born into an Australia where racism was already endemic – anger about Chinese men marrying white women had helped trigger violent unrest, including the infamous 1861 Lambing Flat riot, in which Chinese miners were expelled from goldfields by white diggers. By 1901, the White Australia Policy was enshrined in law and would prevent most Chinese immigration for almost 50 years.
The article explains the discretionary nature of the racial criteria for enlistment:
Cheah Ah-Qune said the racism faced by ethnic Chinese would-be recruits was institutionalised, but application of the European-origin rule was up to individual recruitment medics. Some were sticklers. Others would bend the rules.

“One might say, well, you’re Sino in appearance, you have an olive complexion, but your heart is in the right place, so let’s put you in. It was discretionary … especially as the war progressed and more and more men were needed,” she said.

Some Chinese-Australians went to great lengths to enlist, said Cheah Ah-Qune, citing one recruit who travelled from Melbourne to Queensland to sign up, at least 1,700km north.
Interesting stuff.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Beyond the burger

Last weekend I went to burger outlet Grill'd and found that they had a new vegetarian burger being heavily promoted.  It was the Beyond burger - which I had read about in articles that usually talked more about how fantastic the Impossible burger is, with Beyond being mentioned as a good (but not as good as IB) alternative.   I still don't know that we can get Impossible here, but they supposed to be expensive in the US and would presumably even more costly here.

So I had one.

Certainly, in appearance it's a totally convincing replica of your standard beef burger made with very finely ground beef.   (Commercially made burgers always seem to be like that  and have little of the coarser quality of a home made burger patty.)  The internal texture was a bit softer than a meat patty, though.

As for taste:   pretty good, actually.  But I was a bit confused as to whether some of the grilled meat like flavour was as a result of it being grilled on the same surface as real meat patties?  I was half tempted to ask the staff if they did grill it separately, as I can imagine it would upset some vegetarians if they didn't, but in the end I didn't bother.  

Interestingly, I see that one American thinks the Impossible burger is over-praised, finding it usually has a mushy centre, and prefers Beyond.   

I am prepared to have another one, perhaps from a different burger outlet, and see if tastes the same. 

What was I saying about Poland? (It's weird)

When not busy burning Harry Potter books, it seems that Catholics like to turn Easter into an uncomfortably anti-Semitic fun time:

Polish Judas ritual 'anti-Semitic' - Jewish congress

The finger pointing Uhlmann

Chris Uhlmann complains in Michael Rowland's piece about nasty twitter criticism of journalists:

While the hyper-partisans are alert to any perceived "bias", Uhlmann believes one side is way more offensive than the other.

"While one of the memes of the early 21st century is the rise of the aggressive right, the emergence of what I would call the "post-Christian left" is much more of a worry," he said.
"They are the moralisers-in-chief and can be absolutely vicious."
Chris has a long standing problem with the Left:   he has a history of sounding like a climate change denier.   Climate change advocates were using it as a substitute religion, he claimed years ago, and with that "post-Christian left" comment, it's clear that he still brings some dubious (and conservative) analysis to modern politics.

As I used to complain, he was always a soft Abbott/coalition interviewer on 7.30 Report when he hosted it.   I just don't think he is very good as a journalist.

I am skeptical of his take that the Left are much more "vicious" than those on the Right.    I suspect there may be more Left leaning attack Tweets just because I think it's a forum more likely used by a younger demographic.   The nasty older wingnut is more likely to use other outlets - Catallaxy, ringing Alan Jones, etc.   Or they can write about their violent death fantasy about people on an ABC show in Quadrant. 

Tuesday, April 23, 2019


The first twitter responses to Avengers Endgame are out and all very positive.

Cinemas may as well run it 24 hours a day for the first 4 days here.   It will be that popular.

Some other things that were "Socialism!"

I see that the history of the American Right decrying US government actions as "Socialism!" is longer than I realised.  Have a look at this thread by Kevin Kruse listing some of its ridiculous use in the past.  (Free polio vaccine, for God's sake.)  

What's the current ludicrous revival about?   Probably due to the intractable nature of properly fixing the American health system and the talk of single payer systems, as well as the "success" amongst dimwits of Jonah Goldberg's rebranding of Hitler and Nazis as dedicated socialists from start to end. And, of course, the intellectual rot of the Right caused by Fox News and social media generally.

That difficult "12 years to act" issue

Myles Allen tries to clarify what climate activists should be saying, rather than some of the sloppy sloganeering they are currently using: 
My biggest concern is with the much-touted line that “the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says we have 12 years” before triggering an irreversible slide into climate chaos. Slogan writers are vague on whether they mean climate chaos will happen after 12 years or if we have 12 years to avert it. But both are misleading. 

Using the World Meteorological Organization’s definition of global average surface temperature, and the late 19th century to represent preindustrial levels (yes, all these definitions matter), we just passed 1 degree Celsius and are warming at more than 0.2 degrees C per decade, which would take us to 1.5 degrees C around 2040. 

As the relevant lead author of the IPCC’s “Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C,” I spent several days last October, literally under a spotlight, explaining to delegates of the world’s governments what we could and could not say about how close we are to that level of warming.
That said, these are only best estimates. We might already be at 1.2 degrees C and warming at 0.25 degrees C per decade—well within the range of uncertainty. That would indeed get us to 1.5 degrees C by 2030: 12 years from 2018. But an additional quarter of a degree of warming, more or less what has happened since the 1990s, is not going to feel like Armageddon to the vast majority of today’s striking teenagers (the striving taxpayers of 2030). And what will they think then? 

I say the majority, because there will be unfortunate exceptions. One of the most insidious myths about climate change is the pretense that we are all in it together. People ask me whether I’m kept awake at night by the prospect of 5 degrees of warming. I don’t think we’ll make it to 5 degrees. I’m far more worried about geopolitical breakdown as the injustices of climate change emerge as we steam from 2 to 3 degrees. 

So please stop saying something globally bad is going to happen in 2030. Bad stuff is already happening and every half-degree of warming matters, but the IPCC does not draw a “planetary boundary” at 1.5 degrees C, beyond which lie climate dragons. 

What about the other interpretation of the IPCC’s 12 years: that we have 12 years to act? What our report said was, in scenarios with a 1 in 2 to 2 in 3 chance of keeping global warming below 1.5 degrees C, emissions are reduced to around half their present level by 2030. That doesn’t mean we have 12 years to act: It means we have to act now, and even if we do, success is not guaranteed.

And if we don’t halve emissions by 2030, will we have lost the battle and just have to hunker down and survive? Of course not. The IPCC is clear that, even reducing emissions as fast as possible, we can barely keep temperatures below 1.5 degrees C. So every year that goes by in which we aren’t reducing emissions is another 40 billion tons of CO₂ that we are expecting today’s teenagers to clean back out of the atmosphere in order to preserve warm water corals or Arctic ice.

Some ridiculous things coming out of Mueller

*   How do the members of the Cult of Trump rationalise to themselves that their leader did not have a guilty conscience over something when his first reaction to the news of the investigation was that it was a disaster that would end his Presidency.   I mean, honestly, how can that possibly be interpreted as the words of an honest man who feels he has nothing serious to hide?  

*  I do not understand why there is any debate over Sarah Sanders keeping her job.  She completely made up story to give her boss some credibility, not once but twice.   Shouldn't every reporter's response to her future unsourced claims now be "how do we know you're telling the truth this time, Sarah?"   Her keeping the job is just untenable.

*  Rudy Guiliani - what a hyper partisan joke.  Seriously, how could any Republican hold their head up and say "well, if Hilary had sought to benefit from hacked emails being provided from Russia via an intermediary, we would have said that's fair enough too."  As Jennifer Rubin writes:
Let’s not gloss over what Giuliani in essence is saying: Yeah, why not let a foreign power help him win?! (Someone should ask Trump if he intends to ask Russia to help him out again in 2020.) No, in a democracy we — not a foreign dictator — get to pick our leaders. (In case you think this might have been a slip of the tongue, Giuliani repeated this argument on CNN’s “State of the Union.” He told Jake Tapper that “there’s nothing wrong with taking information from Russians.”)

Monday, April 22, 2019

The Sri Lankan terror attacks

I just had a look at the Wikipedia entry on the history of terror attacks in Sri Lanka, and as I suspected, while it has plenty, they have nearly always been directly political/sectarian in nature and mostly to do with the civil war.  There seems to be no significant history of Islamic terrorism, and at barely 10% of the population, it's not as if they could possibly have ambitions of taking over the place.

So it appears to be one of those particularly pointless examples of extremist Islam attacks which are more like childish tantrums:  "if we can't run the place like we would, we're going to blow you up."   (It might be that the Church specific bombings were in "retaliation" for the Christchurch killings - but that hardly explains the attacks on hotels.)  

I mean, this is what's so frustrating about Islamic terrorism when it happens in nations for which there is no chance of it actually achieving anything for radical Islam.   I can see a bloody-minded point in, say, terrorism within Islamic nations if they think it will weaken a moderate Islamic government and give their brand of Islam a better chance of taking power.  But attack within nations with a small Muslim population?   It's ridiculously pointless.

And as for Sri Lanka's pre-knowledge of likely terror attacks and then doing (apparently) stuff all about it?  It would cause political heads to roll here (sorry, perhaps not the best metaphor on this topic) but will it there?

I think I'll be giving the place a miss as a tourist destination for the next few years.

The Pentecostal PM

I see that Jason has retweeted a James Morrow tweet having a go at those mocking the PM for the shots of his Pentecostal style Easter worship because they would never have a go at Muslim's prostate form of worship in the same way.

OK, let's agree that there is often a Lefty double standard in terms of all Australian Muslims getting a "hey, we respect all of your faith beliefs, save for the extremists who want to blow up people, of course; but we understand they are not true Muslims" versus a conservative Christian  getting a "you and your Church's  condemnation of gay marriage and attitudes to women absolutely appals us and is so medieval and disrespectful."   I get that.

BUT:   the simpler issue here that I would bet is behind a lot of Twitter criticism of Morrison is Australians' dislike of the ostentatious use of religious worship by any politician.

James Morrow ("Prick with a Fork" - he's like those Catallaxy commenters who think they are being amusingly self depreciating in name choice, without realising that most readers just find it accurate)  is from America, I think, where ostentatious worship is still a political thing.  (Curious as to how long it will last, though, given the dramatically reducing faith of the American public as a whole.)

But the Australian standard is to roll our eyes at seeing a politician even just walking into or out of Church when it electorally suits them.  We know most politicians are not regular Church goers and it's only for show, particularly during election campaigns (like Bill Shorten yesterday).  But even for those who do regularly attend (which I think includes the PM?), it's still cringeworthy to see them trying to get self serving publicity by being happy to have the media there as they enter or leave.  Remember Rudd's regular use of that?  It was pretty sickening, especially once the full extend of what a jerk of a boss he could be came to light.

Taking it a step further and getting the cameras inside to watch the PM participation is at another level of cringeworthy.

A dignified politician at most lets cameras show them going in or out, and does not want private worship turning up on the news.

The only good thing about it is that Morrison, who deserves to lose big time, might not realise that it probably hurts more than it helps in public perception?   I think his PR smarts are very lacking.  

Update:   typically, Sinclair Davidson can't understand why many Australians have a problem with Morrison allowing photos of him inside his church to be used during an election campaign.

But he has all the political judgement of a libertarian - which is close to nil.

Hey Sinclair, can you do me a favour and start pressing for more publicity about how many Liberal Party members like the idea of privatising (or "giving away") the ABC?   There's a good chap.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

News out of Singapore, again

Once again, I feel like recommending Channel News Asia for really interesting news and current affairs content on Singapore and all of South East Asia. 

There is a lot of content on their smart TV app, which I find an easy way to enjoy it.

This story, about the role of social media in the Indian election, is something I found particularly interesting this morning. 

Update:  I also recommend this episode of their "Get Real" program, talking about how social media was used by political parties in the run up to the recent Indonesian election.  

Movies seen

Hereditary (on Netflix):   this apparently had a cinema release last year, and received enthusiastic reviews but didn't make much money.  (Although it looks pretty modestly budgeted. and probably was profitable.)     I thought it was a terrible, terrible screenplay:  intended as a spooky/horror family drama, it inspired no tension or frights at all in this viewer, and moved very, very slowly for nearly the entire thing.  The climax became just sillier and way more over the top than necessary.  I said to my son that if he wanted to see a movie that properly built up a sense of mystery and dread as to whether something malevolent is going, he should watch Rosemary's Baby, and when I checked the negative reader reviews on Metacritic,  a few said exactly the same thing.  The one professional critic listed at Metacritic with whom I agreed was Rex Reed - he really disliked it too.

Shazam!   Pretty enjoyable, but the more I think about it, the more I realise how much was derivative of other movies and stories.   Like the last Spiderman movie, it featured an overweight Hispanic student (I would be complaining about Hollywood if I were Mexican) and ended with a Ramones song over the credits.  The doors into other dimensions were rather Narnia, as was the ultimate role of the foster family.   The bus falling over the rail had a sequence that was well done, but very reminiscent of the second Jurassic Park movie.  At least the debt owed to Big was wryly acknowledged with a brief floor keyboard bit.  I also thought that some scenes were probably a bit too violent for young kids for whom the movie seeming intended as part of a family audience.   Kids of all ages can handle characters having their head bitten off these days, apparently.   I have to say that some of the human/CGI interactions looked pretty unconvincingly done, too.

Sounds like I didn't enjoy it, but I did for the most part.   I think it could have been better, but had enough laughs to keep me going. [Update:  I also kind of liked that there was one key aspect of the story which was not sugar coated - which was a bit of a novel approach, I thought.]

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Some Mueller commentary I liked

Frank Bowman at Slate as to what the report as a whole shows:
The picture of the current president painstakingly etched in the Mueller report is of a man with three dominant characteristics.

First, his narcissism overwhelms all other considerations. Even a more balanced and self-aware person would have found the Russia inquiry politically and personally troublesome. But one cannot escape the feeling (to which Mueller obliquely alludes) that a primary factor in Trump’s desperate efforts to squash the investigation was the fragility of his ego—a manic determination that the epic achievement of his election not be tarnished by even a hint that forces other than Trump played a role. 

Second, Trump believes that, having been elected, the powers of government are to be wielded for his personal and political benefit and the law exists only as a tool to serve his ends. No institution, no law, no set of traditional norms, no professional standard, certainly no moral consideration deserves any deference if it stands in the way of his immediate wishes. 

Third, the thread running through the entire report is Trump’s essential falsity. Mueller confirms that Trump not only lies constantly as part of his public act, but does so privately among his advisers and intimates, and he expects others to lie for him on command. Among the most revealing vignettes is Trump’s effort to convince Don McGahn to lie about the fact that Trump ordered him to secure Mueller’s firing. McGahn, to his credit, refused and showed Trump his notes documenting the order. Trump exploded in astonishment that “lawyers don’t take notes. … I’ve had a lot of great lawyers, like Roy Cohn. He did not take notes.” That a subordinate might have personal integrity and be unprepared to sacrifice it on Trump’s command had seemingly never occurred to him....

Whether Donald Trump violated a particular federal obstruction statute is in the end a peripheral matter. The fundamental lesson of the Mueller report is simply that he is fundamentally unfit for office and presents a persistent danger to the integrity of the American legal system. That is the question that Congress and the country must now address. 
The Mueller report also indicates that the president didn’t much care if the results of the Russia investigation made him seem unethical, greedy, or treasonous. He was only worried that any corroboration of Russia’s interference in the 2016 election would undermine the flattering connotations of his victory: that he won America’s popularity contest all on his own. “Several advisors” told the special counsel that Trump believed it would detract from his election triumph if people thought Russia had propped him on top of a few phone books to help him reach the dinner table. 
 Ezra Klein has a very detailed look at the question of impeachment based on the Mueller report (he is against it, but on well considered grounds.)

David Frum summarises what the report finds (particularly of interest to the matter of Julian Assange too - weird anti-Hilary Lefties like Greenwald believe everything Assange asserts):
Did Russia intervene in the 2016 election with the conscious and articulated intent to help elect Donald Trump? Yes.

How important were these interventions to the outcome? Large, possibly decisive.

Did the Trump campaign know that Russia was doing the intervening? From the beginning, cybersecurity experts said Russian hackers had obtained leaked Democratic emails. The Mueller report decisively refutes Julian Assange’s alternative explanation—the lie that WikiLeaks had an “inside source.”

American under a leadership cult

Allahpundit still strikes me as the most sensible conservative commenter at Hot Air - not that I agree with him much of the time, but he's under no illusions about the nature of Trump and his followers.  Here he is talking about Ann Coulter, a nut who has at least retained enough grip on reality to get dismayed at Trump's lying on her pet issue, who has pointed out that Hilary Clinton would have handled the immigration problem better:
She’s overstating her case in the clip below to get under Trump’s and his fans’ skin but a few realities are undeniable:
1. Trump will lie and lie about progress at the border (and everything else) and his more cultish fans will believe anything he says. A Democrat “couldn’t just tweet something out and have everybody say ‘yay,'” an annoyed Coulter notes at one point in the video. For months she’s tweeted sarcastically to counter Trump’s border reassurances. “NUMBER OF MILES OF WALL BUILT ON OUR SOUTHERN BORDER SINCE TRUMP HAS BEEN PRESIDENT: ZERO,” she wrote in a column last month titled “Trump By The Numbers.” There’s not a shred of doubt that a Democratic president presiding over the crush of phony asylum seekers Trump is coping with right now would be rhetorically shredded by border hawks every day, just as there’s no doubt that obstruction allegations about a Democrat like the ones Mueller laid out in his report yesterday would have Republicans demanding impeachment. A Democrat would need to show progress on the border, not merely claim it.

2. The partisan flip side of the argument in point one is that rank-and-file Democrats would have been muted in their criticism of tougher border enforcement measures implemented by a Democratic president. ...

3. It’s possible that Trump’s tough talk about the border without commensurately tough action is actually making the border stampede worse. Various news reports about migrants traveling north from Central America have noted how coyotes and other traffickers have tried to take advantage of Trump’s policies, warning would-be immigrants back home that the border is closing soon so they’d better act now. Trump’s recent “threat” to dump illegals on sanctuary cities might also be backfiring:
Still seems to me that although he understands the nature of the Trump cult, he is way too willing to downplay the disturbing nature of any personality cult in politics and the shocking willingness of Republican politicians to play along because it delivers them power which they fear losing if they contradict the cult membership  "base".   

And what strange bedfellows such American conservatives have - some on the Left, and the libertarian right, who hated Hilary Clinton so much (for reasons I still find pretty puzzling) that they also have developed a shrug-shoulders response to the most impulsively authoritarian, dumb ass President and barely functioning administration by nincompoops we have ever seen.     

Which leads me to the Mueller report:  in all likelihood the Cult of Trump will protect Trump from impeachment, even though there's no doubt that in their heart, a large slab of Republican politicians think it is deserved and would be greatly relieved to see Trump out of office.  (And as soon as he is, there will be yet more stories of his appalling statements and behaviour in private from such politicians suddenly seeking to distance themselves from him.)   But what do Democrats do in the meantime? - they can't really deny that impeachment is deserved, but they know a cult is a cult and that it has all Republicans cowered.

Also, I suspect that the average politically un-engaged American who still sometimes votes sees impeachment as a pretty time wasting exercise almost regardless of the reason, and as such there is risk of it turning them off due to the relative proximity of the next election.    

I strongly suspect that the cowardice of the those Republican politicians who ride on the Cult of Trump's tailcoats will be the great historical takeaway from this weird political era.   

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Why never a neat, short-haired Jesus?

We're in the Easter season, so let's talk about it.

I watched some of a documentary Jesus - Countdown to Calvary the other night, hosted by that actor Hugh Bonneville.   It was of some interest, although they kept inserting some pretty cheesy looking  re-enactments with a Jesus played by an actor whose physical appearance was all scruffy helmet hair and anger.   Here:

I mean, does this look like a charismatic bloke?  And the (I think) apostles behind him look like they walked off the stage from the latest production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.  
Sure, I suppose Hitler looked a dork yet persuaded millions, but really, I'm getting rather sick of long haired Jesus.

Why?  Because there is a good chance he was pretty short haired, perhaps with a short beard, or maybe with none at all:

When early Christians were not showing Christ as heavenly ruler, they showed Jesus as an actual man like any other: beardless and short-haired. 
But perhaps, as a kind of wandering sage, Jesus would have had a beard, for the simple reason that he did not go to barbers.

General scruffiness and a beard were thought to differentiate a philosopher (who was thinking of higher things) from everyone else. The Stoic philosopher Epictetus considered it "appropriate according to Nature".

Otherwise, in the 1st Century Graeco-Roman world, being clean-shaven and short-haired was considered absolutely essential. A great mane of luxuriant hair and a beard was a godly feature, not replicated in male fashion. Even a philosopher kept his hair fairly short.

A beard was not distinctive of being a Jew in antiquity. In fact, one of the problems for oppressors of Jews at different times was identifying them when they looked like everyone else (a point made in the book of Maccabees). However, images of Jewish men on Judaea Capta coins, issued by Rome after the capture of Jerusalem in 70AD, indicate captive men who are bearded.

So Jesus, as a philosopher with the "natural" look, might well have had a short beard, like the men depicted on Judaea Capta coinage, but his hair was probably not very long.

If he had had even slightly long hair, we would expect some reaction. Jewish men who had unkempt beards and were slightly long-haired were immediately identifiable as men who had taken a Nazirite vow. This meant they would dedicate themselves to God for a period of time, not drink wine or cut their hair - and at the end of this period they would shave their heads in a special ceremony in the temple in Jerusalem (as described in Acts chapter 21, verse 24).

But Jesus did not keep a Nazirite vow, because he is often found drinking wine - his critics accuse him of drinking far, far too much of it (Matthew chapter 11, verse 19). If he had had long hair, and looked like a Nazirite, we would expect some comment on the discrepancy between how he appeared and what he was doing - the problem would be that he was drinking wine at all.
I did post briefly on this topic back in 2011, but it would seem no matter how many times people with knowledge of the era point out that neat hair was common back in the day, we just never get movies or re-enactments which depict him and the apostles that way.

Time for this to be rectified. 

Not hard to imagine why, at all

An article at The Atlantic asks:

Why Are So Many Teen Athletes Struggling With Depression? 
“The professional consensus is that the incidence of anxiety and depression among scholastic athletes has increased over the past 10 to 15 years,” says Marshall Mintz, a New Jersey–based sports psychologist who has worked with teenagers for 30 years. As one 2015 study by the National Athletic Trainers’ Association found, “Many student-athletes report higher levels of negative emotional states than non-student-athlete adolescents.” Though parents and coaches are often best positioned to remedy the problem, they also often make it worse.
Gee, I don't know:  who'd have thought that intense pressure to perform and the enormous amount of time that training can involve at the cost of normal teenage socialising could possibly be harmful? 

Satellite temperatures in the news

As explained in the Washington Post:
A high-profile NASA temperature data set, which has pronounced the last five years the hottest on record and the globe a full degree Celsius warmer than in the late 1800s, has found new backing from independent satellite records — suggesting the findings are on a sound footing, scientists reported Tuesday.

If anything, the researchers found, the pace of climate change could be somewhat more severe than previously acknowledged, at least in the fastest warming part of the world — its highest latitudes.

“We may actually have been underestimating how much warmer [the Arctic’s] been getting,” said Gavin Schmidt, who directs NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, which keeps the temperature data, and who was a co-author of the new study released in Environmental Research Letters.
The satellite record in question is called AIRS, and raises questions about the accuracy of Roy Spencer's UAH record.   But I thought I had seen that UAH did incorporate some Aqua 2 (the satellite) information?   Could be wrong about that, and no time to check.  Spencer will no doubt be weighing in with some criticisms soon.

More from Sinclair Davidson's nut haven

Just when I thought that scenes of (presumably) religious Catholic Parisians walking through the streets singing hymns and lamenting the damage to Notre Dame may have given the conservatives of Catallaxy some heart, I read ageing prat "Percy Popinjay":
The French are quite possibly the most vile people to have existed in human history. Never, ever forget that.

People really need to be more careful with social media

Look at this:  a Democrat (!) politician makes a tweet about something a friend in Paris claims he heard, quickly deletes it, but it's too late. Already it is grabbed by Infowars and nut sites and a key part of a Notre Dame "truther" conspiracy.

Have you ever seen a more intense desire by those on the nutty Right to discover an incident was Islamic terrorism?  

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

I blame Donald Trump

An unusual topic gets a run in Nature news:
The number of children in the United States who swallowed coins, toys and other small objects nearly doubled between 1995 and 2015, an analysis shows. Some of these objects can cause serious harm when ingested, and possibly even death.

In 1995, an estimated 22,000 children under the age of six visited hospital emergency departments across the country after swallowing items such as marbles, buttons or rings. In 2015, the number had risen to about 43,000, an average annual increase of 4.4% over the two decades. Researchers published their analysis1 on 12 April in Pediatrics....

Coins were by far the most common type of object swallowed (62%), followed by toys, jewellery and batteries. And between 1995 and 2015, there was a 60-fold increase in the proportion of children ingesting batteries, from 0.14% to 8.4% (see ‘Small objects’). Button batteries — used in watches, remote controls and electronic toys — were the most common type swallowed. These small, flat objects can damage or even puncture the walls of the oesophagus if they become stuck.
Yeah, the cases of kids dying from a swallowed coin battery can be really tragic.  

Cult member in state of panic

Steve Kates seems to have missed the news that the Cathedral is not entirely lost:

Kates, surely Australia's leading academic member of the Cult of Trump, is (like all of the conservative and alt. Right) in a constant froth that All of the Great and Glorious Western Civilisation is About to Collapse.   I am sure if I bother looking back that he was in a huge panic that Islamic State was going to sweep in from the East and be burning down the Vatican within mere years.   (He's not even, as far as I can tell, particularly religious.  A lot of the nutty Right seems to be like that - ex practising Christians who nonetheless think the Christianity is crucial to the ongoing moral and financial health of the globe.)

I see that even one regular at Catallaxy gives Kates a "pull yourself together" slap in the face:

Nice sarcasm!

Count me as amused

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Notre Dame and my slidebox

I visited Notre Dame in about 1986, and was very impressed.   On the same trip, I had found the cathedrals of England too light inside to give any great sense of age, and their role felt more as  architectural tourist destination than living place of worship.   But Notre Dame was darker, had the haze of incense in the yellowish light, and held masses which gave a real sense of reverence.   Its atmosphere was distinctly medieval, or how I felt medieval should be, at least.  

I must have some photos of it in the slide box.  I do have a slide scanner that I haven't used for many, many years, and probably gives a much lower quality than what you can get now. 

Still, this gives me motivation to scan some and see what I can "save".  

Meanwhile, I see that its partial destruction is like catnip to alt.right conspiracy theorists.   I'll link to stuff later.

And finally, if ever there is a company which ought to contribute to its reconstruction, it would be Disney.  It is planning a live action version of Hunchback of Notre Dame, and almost certainly it would have been a complete CGI creation anyway.   The company should make the movie and donate all profit to the re-construction.   Given that could easily be several hundred million dollars, it should go a long way towards the task.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Everything you needed to know about medieval parasites

AEON has a fairly long essay up on the above topic, full of interesting details, some of which I have not heard before.  Like this bit about a perceived Jewish custom:
At the same time, the filthiness of medieval people should not be exaggerated. Much evidence shows that personal hygiene mattered to medieval people, that they made an effort to keep clean. Popular advice books recommended washing the hands, face and teeth on rising, plus further handwashing throughout the day. Other body parts were washed less frequently: daily washing of the genitals, for example, was believed to be a Jewish custom, and thus viewed with suspicion by the non-Jewish population.
Hmm.  I would have thought that having smelly genitals might have given medieval folk a clue that the Jews were onto something there (whether or not they really did it); but no, apparently not.

The article spends a lot of time noting how perceptions that parasites just arose spontaneously out of the body meant that people didn't hold any hope of preventing them:  they had no idea that they are "caught":
Children were thought to be particularly vulnerable to intestinal parasites because they were naturally warm and wet. Mothers were advised not to give under-sevens too many phlegmatic and viscous foods, such as fruit and oily fish. Convention held that these types of food impeded digestion and unbalanced infant humours, leaving them vulnerable to worms. The susceptibility of adults also depended on diet, among other things. According to Bernard of Gordon, professor of medicine at the University of Montpellier from 1285, gluttons were particularly prone to worms. When the barber of Thomas Cantilupe, bishop of Hereford, asked another servant why their master had so many lice, he replied that ‘it happened naturally to some men more than others’.
They would try to remove them, though, with some herbal ideas, and others more dangerous.  (A head lice treatment with mercury in it, for example.   I wonder - is it just the shiny, interesting attractiveness of that element that led people to believe it was good for all that ails us?  It has surely caused a great deal of human suffering over the centuries.)

The final section explains how the one part of society that embraced lice and parasites was the clergy, viewing suffering from them as a sign of ascetic devotion to God:

The most devout Christians not only thought about parasites, but also embraced them as part of their daily lives. Numerous doctors remarked on the clergy’s susceptibility to parasites, including John of Gaddesden, to whom it was clear that the religious were prone to lice because of their lack of grooming. Bernard of Gordon blamed their consumption of phlegmatic and melancholic foods. Medieval literature is scattered with examples of monks and nuns who are troubled by lice. In the 12th-century verse Planctus monialis, a young nun complains about the hardships of her life, and begs a young man to sleep with her. Among her problems were the unhygienic conditions in which she was forced to live: ‘The shift I wear is grim, the underwear unfresh, made of coarse thread … there’s a stench of filth in my delicate hair, and I put up with the lice that scratch my skin.’....

Throughout the middle ages, holy men and women ignored conventional hygiene, and consequently suffered. Laurence of Subiaco, a 13th-century hermit, wore a coat of chainmail that continually ripped his flesh and was ‘full of lice’, while St Margaret of Hungary (a Dominican nun of royal birth) refused to wash her hair so that she would be tormented by lice. The 14th-century Dominican mystic Henry de Suso wore a hairshirt and was often ‘tortured by vermin’; eventually, he took to wearing leather gloves with sharp tacks sticking outwards, so that if he tried to scratch at his bites in his sleep he would claw at his flesh. Even rich and powerful churchmen might embrace this form of suffering, concealing their penitential garments (and the creatures that lived in them) under their splendid vestments. After Thomas Becket was murdered in his cathedral, the monks who prepared his body for burial discovered that he wore hair undergarments, and
This goat hair underwear was swarming, inside and out, with minute fleas and lice, masses of them all over in large patches, so voraciously attacking his flesh that it was nothing short of a miracle that he was able to tolerate such punishment.
The monks interpreted these vermin as a form of martyrdom. During the canonisation inquiry for Thomas Cantilupe, his servants reported that his bedding and clothing were full of lice. One claimed that there were whole handfuls of them. Another said that he had never seen so many lice, either on paupers or on the rich.

I think I had read that about Thomas Becket before (maybe posted about it?), but I didn't know that more generally, the devout held that ignoring lice and other parasites was a good thing to show their holiness.

The 21st century is a pretty good place to be.