Friday, November 29, 2019


Against my expectations, a New South Wales court has found negligence proved in the class action against the operators of Wivenhoe dam in the 2011 floods.

Of course, I don't know the exact detail of the evidence presented, but what always seemed fishy to me was the complexity of modelling, compiled from overseas,  to show what level of flooding would have happened following different release patterns.

From memory, the modelling didn't even show that earlier releases would have guaranteed no flooding, just reduced heights.  If so, it should not be as if every house flooded deserves compensation - it should only be those in which flooding reached above the level that would have happened under the best scenario.  But maybe the judgement incorporates that?

I will be curious to see whether the litigants end up happy with the final results, or indeed, whether there might be an appeal.  The problem is, with an election looming, State Labor probably does not want to appear to be the one holding up "justice", even if there is doubt about the weighting given to conflicting expert evidence.

Update:  I wrote (surprisingly extensively!) about the details of flood levels discussed at the inquiry into the dam operation back in 2012.   It should be clear from that why I was extremely dubious of a court win on the negligence case.

Fast food review

It's been a long time since I tried a Hungry Jacks burger, but I wanted to give them a go with their fake meat burger.  I thought I had read that the patty was made by Beyond Burger, but I see from Lifehacker that (in Australia at least) it's by an Australian start up.   Cool.

So I had it last night.

First - I think it's amusing marketing (which probably causes some irritation to conservatives) that they have called it the Rebel Whopper.   Yeah - us real rebels are now the one disdaining meat [at least once a week, anyway.:)]  It was also at the very top of the drive through order board, indicating either that there is high demand for it, or the company is trying to generate high demand.

Second:  I had the Rebel Whopper Cheese.   No need to go completely hair shirt just because I'm not eating meat on my burger.

Thirdly:  the taste - really good, actually.   Sure, if you think about the texture too much, it is softer than a beef burger, but the flavour is very similar.  There was a lot of some creamy sort of sauce, but I didn't mind that.

Fourth:  even the chips seemed nicer than what I remember from HJ's.  Pretty salty, but nice texture and less fatty than McD's french fries.

Fifth:  the price - $11.70 for the medium meal.  Compares very well with the golden arches.

I will buy one again.  I liked it.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

So this is what has become of the White House press corps under Trump...


"TruNews" has a person in the White House press corps.  Completely normal times, hey?

(It would be rather like Graeme Bird getting press corps credentials.   And no - Graeme, I can and will still delete your comments at will, even if I mention you in a post.)

Can actual academics talk about this?

Re the Bruce Pascoe/ "Dark Emu" fight between Andrew Bolt and Leftists attacking Bolt's attack:

*  Andrew Bolt can, obviously, be a terribly sloppy and careless (not to mention stupid) polemicist, and being (more or less) on his side on any issue should give anyone sensible pause for concern.

*  That said, those on the liberal Left are clearing responding reflexively against him in defence of a book that is seen as supportive of aboriginal rights;

*  I have tried finding detailed reviews of Pascoe's book from when it first came out, but they are few and far between, and as far as I can tell, nearly all by people who are  not experts in this field but are broadly sympathetic to the aim of improving cultural perceptions of the aboriginal inhabitants at the time of colonisation.  Even so, there does seem an admission in them that Pascoe's claim might not be "fully proved", or such like, while still praising the enterprise overall.   Certainly, this has been enough to enable the book to be endorsed by the soft Left within the education departments of most States. 

* I am suspicious that there are academics out there who would be very critical of some of Pascoe's interpretations of historical reports, but they are probably reluctant to "stir the pot" and find it far more convenient and politically correct within the circles they work to remain silent on the matter.

* My impression, which I almost hate to admit, is that the Bolt take on the matter is likely more correct than those who think the book a brilliant work of valid revisionism.   I think it is very likely that it is really a political book based on scant evidence that hasn't been discussed much before only because it is quite properly considered scant and unreliable evidence by real academics who are choosing to remain silent.

That's my current take on it all, anyway.

What "you can't believe the modelling" looks like

Tamino at Open Mind has done an updated bit of graphing, and while it looks a lot like what Gavin Schmidt does from time to time, it's worth publicising anyway:
I took the data for global average temperature from climate model simulations in the CMIP5 archive; those are computer models used in the latest IPCC report. I used only those models with the “RCP4.5” emissions scenario (a middle-of-the-road choice). I then aligned them all so their average value was zero during the 1961-1990 “baseline” period. Finally, I calculated yearly averages for each of the 108 models included.

That enables me to compute the “multi-model mean,” the average of all the models at each moment of time. Also at each moment of time, I computed the standard deviation of the model values and recorded the highest and lowest model values (which can be different models at different times).

Now I can graph the multi-model mean over time as a thick red line, together with a yellow outermost envelope showing the range from highest to lowest, a tan-colored middle range the limits of the 2-sigma range (about 95% of the models) and a pink band the 1-sigma range (about 2/3 of the models).

And I can also plot actual observed global temperature from NASA (yearly averages using the same 1961-1990 baseline) as a black line:
 Someone in comments notes that Ross McKitrick has done a similar thing, but it's not as good as it ignoring coverage bias with HadCRUT.  Yet, when you look at his graphing, it still indicates a relentless climb, just lower in the "pink" band.   Which makes his scepticism look kinda pointless...

In other obituary news

Sir Jonathan Miller, the writer, theatre and opera director, and member of the Beyond the Fringe comedy team, has died at the age of 85.

In a statement his family said Miller died “peacefully at home following a long battle with Alzheimer’s”.
I thought Miller gave one of the funniest Parkinson interviews I ever saw, and his series The Body in Question was just terrific viewing.    I'm not sure that I saw another series referred to in his Guardian obituary - Madness - if I did it obviously did not leave the same memory traces as did his first series.

In any event, a very clever and witty man.

Hey, he brought it up first

When I heard of Clive James' death, and heard his obituary on the ABC, I did think about his late-life climate change scepticism, and thought it best not to mention it today in light of the pleasure he brought to lots of people.

BUT:   look who did bring it up on Twitter in his very first comment about him:

I would have thought that Ridley might have realised that claiming James as a part of the climate change disbelief club hardly does more than illustrate what is so, so, obvious:   it's an old (mostly white, mostly male) persons' game, held mainly by those with no actual science education who think they can see a conspiracy that those damn young ones who keep getting on their lawn cannot.

But no, Ridley wasn't bright enough to stop his bank from crashing, so it was too much to imagine he might have realised this too.  

Update:  look who else is running the line "He was one of ours!  A poet, novelist and former media star who came out as a climate sceptic at the age of 77 when he had terminal cancer was one of ours!  What a sad day."

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

First world consumer complaint

I've put up with this enough:  the ACCC should take immediate action to direct any maker of frozen, crumbed fish pieces (and frozen chips) to be more realistic in their time estimates for when the product will be ready (when oven cooked) to a nice, crispy, finish.

I have come to the conclusion that the times on these products, regardless of manufacturer, are all at least 50% underestimated, if not more.  Have you ever got your oven baked frozen chips to a nice, non-soft finish in the 20 or 25 minutes these companies claim?   And yes - I preheat the oven to 200 degrees, and turn the chips or fish over half way through, taking the tray out to do so in order to keep the oven as hot as possible.   The oven seems to work within the margin of error you might expect from those given in cookbook recipes, but for frozen fish and chips - I reckon it is a clear case of misrepresentation. 

Alan Fels still gets his noggin on TV a lot.  We need him back to take on this important issue.

Sleep paralysis at home and abroad

I don't think I have mentioned this before - my teenage daughter has, over the last year or so, began to experience episodes of sleep paralysis.   All the classic stuff:  waking up and unable to move, and a dark entity moving towards her bed.  Tries to call out but can't.  She recognises that it most likely would happen when very tired before bed, and sleeping on her back instead of her side.  She said that in successive events, the dark entity was getting closer and closer to her bed. 

Fortunately, I think I had told her about this before she had her first episode.  (Seems to me it's probably a good idea to warn all children that this is a not so rare occurrence that they might experience, and they should not read too much into it.)   The point is, my daughter finds the experiences disturbing, but also understood what was going on from the first time.  (I think she realises what it is during the event, even though she can't stop it.)

Anyway, I'm talking about this now for two reasons:  there is an article at NPR summarising the phenomena, and a couple of weeks ago I was reading a Reddit thread about it, where someone commented that they thought it likely that this was the likely explanation for widespread belief in demons, witches and/or malevolent spirits across all old societies.

Oddly enough, that latter thought had not really occurred to me before - it may be a key element in the widespread belief in a supernatural realm generally.  

Here is some interesting information along those lines from the NPR article:
About 75% of the time, those experiencing sleep paralysis will hallucinate. "Most of the time, we'll hear that it's something frightening," Kushida says. "But there have been instances where a person will report that one of their loved ones was there."

In fact, the hallucinations typical of sleep paralysis are frequently influenced by a person's culture and described in terms of "paranormal activity." There are descriptions from Newfoundland of an "Old Hag," or witch sitting on the person's body. In Japanese folklore, the same phenomenon is called kanashibari, which means "bound in metal." Some researchers think sleep paralysis is to blame for reports of alien abductions.

This prevalence across cultures makes sense in light of Pennsylvania researchers' systematic review of scientific studies across a 50-year period. The review estimates that 8% of the general population has one episode of sleep paralysis in the course of their lifetime. The study found that this number is variable within populations. For example, more than 30% of psychiatric patients had an episode of sleep paralysis, and the disorder is most common in adolescents.
This is not to say that I don't believe in supernatural events at all - but it does seem a very plausible argument that people believe in devils and demons in particular because of this natural, medical phenomena. 

The most miserable country

I saw some of the documentary series on SBS last night "Russia to Iran: Across the Wild Frontier" and it was pretty interesting.

The thing that always strikes me about shows which travel through the lesser known parts of Russia is how miserable the country and its inhabitants routinely seem.   Sure, they drink and sing a lot, but the average Russian on the street always seems to look tense and miserable.  Not to mention the extreme level of police and secret service scrutiny that they still have to put up with. 

Last night, there was a large, largely abandoned, former mining town of the Soviet Union, set in a very spectacular looking valley.  There was an old guy who was paid to caretake something - it wasn't entirely clear what.  It was like meeting a character in a dystopian computer game.   Even his dog looked depressed.

I find it perversely interesting - how miserable a country can be.

I agree with the sentiment

b-boy is wrong to suggest that no one tweets about these Right wing armed "we will fight socialism on the streets" conspiracy freaks;  but he's right that it makes the hyperventilating by Right winger  about things like colleges students being rude to conservative speakers on campus and trying to shout over them look like trivia.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Food and racism

So I see that blanket dismissal of Indian and Chinese food as generically bad now causes cries of "racism".  

Seems a tad over the top, both the opinion and the most accusatory responses.  While the criticism of what foreigners eat can be closely aligned with racism,  it's not much fun if you can't go over the top in your dismissal of an entire cuisine once in a while.

I get into trouble routinely by dismissing Greek food with some acquaintances who have invited me to a local restaurant that they say is good.

I respond with:  it's the least interesting national food that I know of, although more than likely Russian cooking is even worse.  It's just that Russian restaurants don't really exist here, and so I can't compare.

There is nothing sophisticated about the seemingly very limited range of recipes that come out of Greece, and while it is certainly edible, it's also so uniform that all Greek restaurants or cafes seem to me to be virtually interchangeable in their bland-ish quality.   I may have mentioned before, I was pleased to hear Rick Stein say, when he did a series through that country, that his friends back in England said they thought it was a dull food destination.  He tried his best to talk it up, but the recipes he cooked or watched being cooked all looked just like pretty standard, pretty basic, Greek food to me.  And their desserts - just sweetness overload.

So there...

At least they're not very good at it?

Not sure whether I agree entirely with this "what's the big deal?" take on the story of an (alleged) direct attempt by China to have a government spy in Parliament:

but I at least take some comfort in the fact (assuming its true), they don't seem to be real good at  keeping the process a secret.   If your target runs to ASIO and then ends up dead, you haven't done it right.

And for all those who are going to say "of course the sell-out Left isn't as upset about this as they should be" (hi Jason) - yeah, I do find it ironic that they were not upset at all with the blatant, bad faith spying on East Timor by Australia.  (Someone notes that in Bruce Haigh's tweet thread, too.) 

Another failure for libertarian/small government economists

Along with their failed predictions of high inflation due to government spending to help deal with recession, economists on the American Right (and at Catallaxy) have warned about minimum wage increases being a disaster for employment.

Axios says (in a pretty detailed post for that site) that it hasn't happened:
Eighteen states rang in 2019 with minimum wage increases — some that will ultimately rise as high as $15 an hour — and so far, opponents' dire predictions of job losses have not come true. 

What it means: The data paint a clear picture: Higher minimum wage requirements haven't reduced hiring in low-wage industries or overall.

Tuesday philosophy

*   You know it's my blog keeping contract that I have to diss on Nietzsche at least once every 6 months?   Well, here's a good one, from Philosophy Now;  a review of a book very aligned with my scepticism of modern sympathetic revisionism of him: Dangerous Minds: Nietzsche, Heidegger, & the Return of the Far Right.

Here's the first part:
Searching for ‘Nietzsche’ on YouTube will summon up a slick, insightful clip that has been viewed more than three million times. That’s impressive for a nineteenth century philosopher: Mill is lucky to reach six figures. As well as demonstrating his popularity, the clip tells you how Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) is perceived, closing with praise for “our endearing, fascinating, often lovable” guide.

This is precisely the sort of fawning, soft-pedalling whitewash that Ronald Beiner wants to torpedo. The central message of Dangerous Minds is that there is no reading of Nietzsche that can make him morally acceptable to the political centre or left. Any interpretation that portrays him so is wishful, immature, and dangerous.

I agree with Beiner, and I also think that this is the most urgent discussion we could have about Nietzsche. We live at a time when the far right, sometimes inspired by Nietzsche, is resurgent; where he is revered by influential commentators such as Jordan Peterson; and where populist authoritarian leaders such as Putin, Erdogan, Orban and Duterte have in a Nietzschean manner downplayed the importance of rules and truth in favour of heroic visions of strength and destiny. As for Trump, his post-truth, ‘alternative fact’ reality is such a spooky echo of Nietzsche’s idea that ‘there are no facts, only interpretations’ that it prompted headlines asking whether the German could be blamed for Trump’s rise or whether he merely predicted it. [A question asked by this magazine too, in Issue 122, Ed.]

Beiner cannot get over how Nietzsche, so explicit in his attacks on liberalism and egalitarianism, has become such an influential philosopher to the left. It is not as if Nietzsche tried to conceal his dismissive views about liberal morality or about the general populace. He shouts them from the rooftops. To set up the argument against leftish interpretations of Nietzsche, Beiner simply has to repeat some of Nietzsche’s most repugnant expressions: here is Nietzsche advocating slavery; there an incitement to genocide; and everywhere the contemptuous repudiation of equal human dignity.

Some Nietzsche scholars excuse these extreme outbursts by reading them as metaphorical, rhetorical, or comical, rather than literal, action-guiding imperatives. Although Nietzsche does often leave himself open to interpretation, I can’t see a shred of evidence that Nietzsche was anything but deadly serious about these issues.

There are two key parts of Nietzsche’s philosophy that are unambiguous: he finds egalitarianism disgustingly decadent, and he wants humanity to grow out of the idea of universal morality. Each individual must decide their own moral code. The concepts of good and evil are to be scrapped.
Go read the rest of the review - seems a pretty good and succinct summary of the problems with Nietzche's ideas.

*  And here's a take on John Rawls, whose A Theory of Justice I had to read in university (and I thought it was pretty good.)    It's a review of a book on Rawls, looking at his work from the perspective of the old Catholic fight between Augustinian grace and the Pelagian views that lost out. 

First, a bit of history of Rawls, about whom I knew little, and the key part of one author's argument:
Nelson opens his book by placing Rawls’s recently discovered Princeton University senior thesis, written in 1942, in the long Augustinian tradition of Christianity that denied that sinful humans could save themselves. For Augustine and his followers, Pelagianism—named after a late-antique theologian who was condemned as a heretic by the Catholic Church—overstated the extent to which human beings can earn their salvation. Such a belief verged on an ideology of self-redemption of individual sinners or of humanity itself that (as Rawls put it at age twenty) “rendered the Cross of Christ to no effect.” For Rawls, at the time a committed Christian who planned a career in the Episcopal priesthood before World War II service in the Pacific caused him to lose his faith, it followed that “no man can claim good deeds as his own.” To contend otherwise inflated human capacity and courted sacrilegious idolatry of humanity itself.

Nelson contends that this Augustinian response to Pelagianism lurked in Rawls’s defense of fair distributional justice long after he had moved on to secular philosophy. In A Theory of Justice, Rawls remarked that “no one deserves” their social ascendancy and the natural gifts—intelligence or industriousness—with which they achieved it. The fact that one person was endowed with them and another not was “morally arbitrary.” A theory of justice aiming at fairness rather than fortune would reject any sense that people deserved their class position. Some redistribution from the rich to the rest was therefore just.
Then soon follows an argument that I am not sure is convincing:
“Liberalism,” writes Nelson, “began as a theodicy.” By this he means that for the major liberal thinkers in the early-modern period, the attempt to justify the ways of God to men almost always included the belief that God is unfailingly good. It is their own autonomy that leads humans, if they choose not to conform to God’s plan, to introduce evil into the world on their own. What made for the correlation of Pelagianism with liberalism is that the theological defense of human freedom—including freedom to err—implied that individuals should be allowed politically to seek perfection on their own, without the interference of states or sects. Liberalism was born out of the insistence that, since agents were free enough to save themselves, they had to be left alone enough to have a chance to do it.

Observing that early liberals embraced the very theology that Rawls rejected, Nelson thinks Rawls’s followers are left with a big problem. Liberalism originated in the Pelagian heresy that refuses to saddle human beings with original sin, or to make them utterly dependent on the divine, but instead grants them autonomy, dignity, and (at least potential) self-made perfection. How, then, can Rawls and his followers reject Pelagianism without also rejecting liberalism?

Nelson’s answer: they can’t. Either you adopt the Augustinian line that, while no one earns their gifts and talents, any seemingly unfair distribution is part of God’s mysterious design, whose meaning is to be revealed only at the end of time; or you adopt the Pelagian view that you do earn them—that greater wealth really might reflect greater merit. You can’t have it both ways, as Rawls and his followers want.
I am feeling pretty sure there is some muddled thinking here, and I think it is in seeing too much influence of Augustinian thought on Rawl's post faith philosophising.  Surely Pelagianism leaves open that humans can engage in Rawls's thought experiment to come with a fairer way to view justice;  Augustinian thought, with its sense of human salvation being (to a degree, at least) outside of human control can leave too great a sense of helplessness to change social justice. 

In any case, kinda interesting.

Monday, November 25, 2019

The early bird considered

What annoys me most is that it is so loud for the first hour, and then it stops to acceptable daytime levels.  In Brisbane at this time of year, it means being woken up, often, at between 4.30 and 5 am.

So, why do they do it?  See this - Why do birds sing in the morning?

But why choose the hours around sunrise to sing? There are a number of theories, and they're not necessarily mutually exclusive.
One idea is that in the early morning, light levels are too dim for birds to do much foraging. Since light levels don't affect social interactions as much, it's a great opportunity to sing, instead.

Another idea is that early morning singing signals to other birds about the strength and vitality of the singer. Singing is an essential part of bird life, but it's costly in terms of time and energy. Singing loud and proud first thing in the morning tells everyone within hearing distance that you were strong and healthy enough to survive the night. This is attractive to potential mates, and lets your competitors know you're still around and in charge of your territory.

For many years, scientists theorized that the atmospheric conditions in the early morning — typically cooler and drier than later in the day — might allow birdsong to travel further through the air. However, recent research shows this isn't the case. Birdsong travels just as far, if not farther, at noon as at dawn.

A somewhat negative review

So, The Guardian gives UK comedian Jack Whitehall a rather bad review that starts:
It’s not an auspicious start to Jack Whitehall’s show when he opens with a crude mime about hard, soft and “thumbing it in” Brexit. Of course, no one’s here for political insight: notwithstanding that he has always come across as the Conservative party in standup form, the state of the world has never been Whitehall’s concern. But even by his own flimsy standards, Stood Up is thin gruel from the 31-year-old, with one flouncing routine after another about diarrhoea, wanking, farting and photographs of his inflamed anus.

Two hours of exposure to that photograph could scarcely be more dispiriting than Whitehall’s touring set, which combines puerility, hack joke-writing and rampant inauthenticity in equal measure. The latter doesn’t concern his poshness, that is as complacently upfront a feature as ever.

And ends:
No 3D personality arises from these by-numbers jokes, nor any sense of an interest in people or the world. Environmentalism is lightly mocked; there’s a chirpy Auschwitz punchline and a routine about how to speak to people with a lazy eye. And then there’s all those jokes about pooing in the swimming pool, pooing at Chernobyl, farting in front of his ex, farting in a urinal. That Whitehall’s show is full of crap becomes, by the end, less matter of opinion than statement of irrefutable fact.
Even allowing for the reviewer obviously having a political objection to Whitehall, it does appear that it may be just another case of a comedian I can find OK in some contexts, but put them on stage in stand up, and I don't like much at all.

(I see that The Telegraph reviewer gave the same show 4/5 stars -  but I can't read the whole thing.)

As for his Netflix series Travels with My Father - even my son has lost interest with the latest series (set in America), and he has a higher tolerance for crude humour than me.    The show quickly developed far too many scripted bits pretending to be real.

Stiglitz complains - again - about GDP as a metric

In The Guardian:
In Europe, the impact of 2008 was more severe, especially in countries most affected by the euro crisis. But even there, apart from high unemployment numbers, standard metrics do not fully reflect the adverse impacts of the austerity measures, either the magnitude of people’s suffering or the impacts on long-term standards of living.

Nor do our standard GDP measures provide us with the guidance we need to address the inequality crisis. So what if GDP goes up, if most citizens are worse off? In the first three years of the so-called recovery from the financial crisis, about 91% of the gains went to the top 1%. No wonder that many people doubted the claims of politicians who were then saying the economy was well on the way to a robust recovery.

For a long time I have been concerned with this problem – the gap between what our metrics show and what they need to show. During the Clinton administration, when I served as a member and then chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, I grew increasingly worried about how our main economic measures failed to take into account environmental degradation and resource depletion. If our economy seems to be growing but that growth is not sustainable because we are destroying the environment and using up scarce natural resources, our statistics should warn us. But because GDP didn’t include resource depletion and environmental degradation, we typically get an excessively rosy picture.

These concerns have now been brought to the fore with the climate crisis.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Go for the history, if nothing else

I ended up going to see the stage version of Chicago at QPAC last night.  I had declined the original invitation of my wife when she bought tickets, as the plan was she would go with my daughter, who pulled out due to, well, generic teenage malaise and/or a recent period of mother/teen daughter tension, so I ended up there instead.

It was...interesting.   Somehow, I had managed to avoid knowing anything about this show apart from the vague understanding that it was something to do with a woman in jail for murder in the jazz era.  (Obviously, this means I didn't see the movie version.)   I didn't realise that it was entirely about women in jail for murder.

Which struck me as an odd thing to write a musical around.  So I was interested to read after the show how this came to be, and Wikipedia, as usual, has a handy summary:

The musical Chicago is based on a play of the same name by reporter and playwright Maurine Dallas Watkins, who was assigned to cover the 1924 trials of accused murderers Beulah Annan and Belva Gaertner for the Chicago Tribune. In the early 1920s, Chicago's press and public became riveted by the subject of homicides committed by women. Several high-profile cases arose, which generally involved women killing their lovers or husbands. These cases were tried against a backdrop of changing views of women in the Jazz age, and a long string of acquittals by Cook County juries of female murderers (jurors at the time were all male, and convicted murderers generally faced death by hanging). A lore arose that, in Chicago, feminine or attractive women could not be convicted. The Chicago Tribune generally favoured the prosecution's case, while still presenting the details of these women's lives. Its rivals at the Hearst papers were more pro-defendant, and employed what were derisively called "sob-sisters" – women reporters who focused on the plight, attractiveness, redemption, or grace of the female defendants. Regardless of stance, the press covered several of these women as celebrities.[3]
Annan, the model for the character of Roxie Hart, was 23 when she was accused of the April 3, 1924,[4] murder of Harry Kalstedt, who served as the basis for the Fred Casely character. The Tribune reported that Annan played the foxtrot record "Hula Lou" over and over for two hours before calling her husband to say she killed a man who "tried to make love to her". Her husband Albert Annan inspired the character, Amos Hart. Albert was an auto mechanic who bankrupted himself to defend his wife, only for her to publicly dump him the day after she was acquitted. Velma Kelly is based on Gaertner, who was a cabaret singer, and society divorcée. The body of Walter Law was discovered slumped over the steering wheel of Gaertner's abandoned car on March 12, 1924. Two police officers testified that they had seen a woman getting into the car and shortly thereafter heard gunshots. A bottle of gin and an automatic pistol were found on the floor of the car. Lawyers William Scott Stewart and W. W. O'Brien were models for a composite character in Chicago, Billy Flynn. Just days apart, separate juries acquitted both women.[5]
Watkins' sensational columns documenting these trials proved so popular that she wrote a play based on them. The show received both good box-office sales and newspaper notices and was mounted on Broadway in 1926, running 172 performances. Cecil B. DeMille produced a silent film version, Chicago (1927), starring former Mack Sennett bathing beauty Phyllis Haver as Roxie Hart. It was later remade as Roxie Hart (1942) starring Ginger Rogers, but in this version, Roxie was accused of murder without having really committed it.

In the 1960s, Gwen Verdon read the play and asked her husband, Bob Fosse, about the possibility of creating a musical adaptation. Fosse approached playwright Watkins numerous times to buy the rights, but she repeatedly declined; by this point she may have regretted that Annan and Gaertner had been allowed to walk free, and that her treatment of them should not be glamorized.[4] Nonetheless, upon her death in 1969, her estate sold the rights to producer Richard Fryer, Verdon, and Fosse.[4] John Kander and Fred Ebb began work on the musical score, modeling each number on a traditional vaudeville number or a vaudeville performer. This format made explicit the show's comparison between "justice", "show-business", and contemporary society. Ebb and Fosse penned the book of the musical, and Fosse also directed and choreographed.
So there you go - as with Anything Goes, and its strange storyline of a female evangelist who was big in 1920's America but of whom I had never heard before, I learnt some interesting social history by having seen a stage musical.

What did I think of the show, apart from its educational value?   It's not bad, and I think the three female leads in particular were very good.   (It's quite a demanding show, physically, for the two main leads.)

But it does suffer worse than your average musical from the second act problem - wherein most shows struggle to match the high at which the first act usually ends.  In particular, the dance and musical ending of this show, after the trial, feels quite underwhelming.   My wife said that the movie ended differently, and that sounds like a good idea.

My other main reservation about the show is that I'm not sure if every production has to (contractly?) look as if it was still choreographed and costumed to be a 70's Bob Fosse production clone, but this version certainly does.  And, well, I have always thought this style looked cheesy:

That photo is from a review of a 2018 production in American, but the styles in last night's show were very, very similar.  Not sure it makes sense in any respect other than wanting to make 70's era homo and hetero sleeze styles look nostalgic.

Anyway, I also got to scope out a possible second balcony seat for next year's Ring Cycle - which I still haven't booked for myself.   Soon, soon. 

Friday, November 22, 2019

Quick casting call

If ever they are going to make a movie about the Trump impeachment, surely they would have to go with Laurie Metcalf to play Fiona Hill:

The regretable rise of conspiracy belief in the GOP noted by current prime conspiracy monger in the GOP

The problem with pretending something, as I have noted before, is that if you do it long enough, you start to believe it.   Hence it seems to me quite possible at least some portion of the American Right have gaslight themselves into genuinely believing conspiracies that they initially only pretended to believe to suck up to Trump.

It is such a disturbing thing to watch.

Thinking out loud

Various things going through my mind:

*   conservatives and their pro-nuclear for Australia attitudes:   I've always had the feeling that countries with snowy, freezing winters were ones where going completely renewable was going to be the biggest challenge, because they have weak and not many hours of sunshine in winter, and it's not always windy when it snows.  I therefore completely understand a strong "nuclear must be in the mix" approach there (in, say, Britain and parts of North America.)   

But Australia?   We've got enormous amounts of marginally useful (or useless) land in the centre of the county, and a climate whereby huge parts of it are sunny during winter, and with still fairly lengthy daylight hours as well.   Who freaking cares if there were a solar farm a 100km by 100 km near Birdsville?   If transmission issues are solved, my  hunch is that we're about the most suited nation in the world for gigantic scale solar - with a friendlier geography for building it than places like the Sahara, I would guess too.  (Too much hilly, moving sand there.)  

Yes, there are energy storage issues, but with nuclear there are huge costs and slow construction, decommissioning costs, and few people who want to live next door to one.   Why?:  because events like Fukushima show us that when they go wrong, they go really wrong and completely upend the lives of tens of thousands of people.   53,000 people are still displaced by Fukushima.   And this:
Along with cleaning the nuclear residues and enabling those displaced to return to their homes, the Japanese government aims to dismantle the Fukushima plant, a process that is expected to take at least 30 years and the cost for which could reach 20 trillion yen ($180.2 billion).

Renewables just do not carry anything like that financial and humanitarian risk - especially when you have a country where virtually no one is going to freeze to death if power fails in the depths of winter.  And let's face it - the technology for useful amounts of household energy creation and storage already exists.  I would prefer to see every new house built mandated to have either solar power and/or a fuel cell and a Tesla battery before I would want a nuclear power station within 50km of me.

*  This November in Brisbane is far, far from normal.  So many bushes and plants in my yard are dropping leaves massively to try to cope with the dry and heat:   it's really unclear how many are going to survive.   The rainwater tank is nearly dry, and given the cost of tap water now, most residents prefer to hope for the best instead of spending hundreds of dollars on keeping a green lawn or a bush alive.

We should have had heavy rain with storms throughout SE Queensland by now: instead it has been extremely patchy, and everyone is fearing a really dry summer that is going to kill off gardens in much the same way the last drought started to.

I must admit, though, that native plants are showing the hardiest resolve in getting through this.

We need rain, badly.

Climate change, drought, and bushfires

Interesting article at The Guardian, talking about the question of the Indian Ocean "dipole", which is linked to Australia's current drought, is increasing under global warming:
Recent research suggests ocean heat has risen dramatically over the past decade, leading to the potential for warming water in the Indian Ocean to affect the Indian monsoon, one of the most important climate patterns in the world.

“There has been research suggesting that Indian Ocean dipole events have become more common with the warming in the last 50 years, with climate models suggesting a tendency for such events to become more frequent and becoming stronger,” Ummenhofer said.

She said warming appeared to be “supercharging” mechanisms already existing in the background. “The Indian Ocean is particularly sensitive to a warming world. It is the canary in the coalmine seeing big changes before others come to other tropical ocean areas.”

Australian climatologists have pointed to this year’s dipole as at least one of the contributing factors in the bushfires. Jonathan Pollock, of Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology, said this dipole was “up there as one of the strongest” on record.
The article goes onto note that the dipole has been causing flood problems in East Africa - something getting scant attention in the rest of the world, it seems:
Gemma Connell, of the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, raised concern over the impact of stronger and more regular Indian Ocean dipole events on Africa.

“What we are seeing from the current record events is large-scale flooding across the region. Entire swathes are under water, affecting 2.5 million people,” she said.

“And putting it in the broader picture of the climate crisis, this flooding is coming on the back of two droughts. What we are seeing, and what we are going to see more of, is more frequent climatic shocks coming. And all that is on top of the violence and conflict that has already displaced many of the people involved.
What's that?  Increased global warming leading to both big droughts and big floods?    Stoopid people like Andrew Bolt have not been able to get their tribal brains around that prediction for decades.

Mind you, as always, prediction of the exact effects on average local rainfall under climate change is much harder than predicting average global temperature rises:
Another concern for Connell and other humanitarian officials is that although climate scientists are racing to try to develop predictive modelling, there is disagreement over whether stronger Indian Ocean dipole events will lead to a wetter climate for Africa or a drier one.
 And if some reader comes here and says "so that means anything will "confirm" global warming?" - don't be an idiot:  global warming/climate change is settled science on one level, but they've always been open that changes to rainfall patterns on a regional level are hard to predict.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

When rich nuts meet and plan the future...

By the way - does anyone in the world really think that any of those three made their billions/millions by really praiseworthy contributions to the betterment of humanity?  

Oh, please...

Just as sincere as his "this is the most humble day of my life" claim to the Parliamentary enquiry into his paper's phone hacking.

In pictures

Australia, November 2019:

 Australian conservative commentary, November 2019:


Former thoroughbred racehorse gets into the Christmas spirit

Too soon?  I mean, don't get me wrong - I'd either ban or at least halve the horse race industry, if it was up to me as benevolent dictator.

Projecting Idiot watch

Yes, Steve Kates plays his favourite song again:
It is almost impossible to have imagined more destructive despicable people than those who now inhabit the left. They want power only for themselves because they see only themselves as having virtue and good will. Everyone else is an enemy, and not just an enemy, but immoral as well. I must confess that I find everything about the modern left disgusting and immoral if it comes to that.
This from a man who thinks climate change is a grand conspiracy of socialist scientists, and who has no concern about a President who laughs at the calls for his political opponents to be locked up, who bragged about grabbing women's privates, who lies and/or bullshits just continuously, who has blown out the deficit, etc, etc.

And get this - CL in comments is playing his old projection game of "I've lost interest, so everyone's lost interest":
The US networks have scaled back their impeachment coverage because nothing has happened and nobody is interested. 
I have said this many times before - my impression is that Sinclair Davidson personally does not believe such vicious political Manichaeism - he just runs a blog that is devoted to promoting it.  Same with anti-gay, misogynistic and racist sentiment - not for him, he just runs a blog that people full of it like to participate in.

Why do it? 

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Things I'd like to do too if I was a mad authoritarian President...

I said "things", but the post is inspired by this one example:
Philippines' Duterte Says He Will Ban E-Cigarettes, Threatens To Arrest Vapers
Oh look, here's another mad thing it would amuse me to do:
All tattoos exposed within North Korea must show praise towards the Kim (leaders) family or otherwise have some kind of approved political purpose attributed to them.
Fantastic - I wouldn't ban tattoos, just legislate their content (and parts of the body they can be applied, of course.)   Let's see:  characters from Steven Spielberg movies permitted, but only on upper arms and chest, under the shirt line.   Neck and back tattooing completely banned.  Tattoo on the face means jail time.  

Update:  people who commute to work on bicycles wearing lycra - confiscate the bike.  If they were in the centre of a main road lane - a $10,000 fine too.   Groups riding on a road, in lycra, and not in single file - jail time.

Commuting cyclists should only wear ordinary clothes.  And stick to bicycle lanes.  

Noah argues

I've started following Noah Smith on Twitter, and boy, he tweets a lot and has a lot of opinions.

I am not entirely sure how much to trust him, but he at least argues his positions pretty well.  I liked a recent thread dismissing the "coming automation unemployment crisis" claim (of Andrew Yang, for example), and perhaps I will find it again soon amongst the ridiculously high tweet output he delivers.

He also did not much like that recent article by David Graeber "Against Economics" that I extracted at length.   His criticisms in this article at Bloomberg, however, seems a bit light on to me, though.  It's a bit "well, yeah sure, one absolutely key part of the field of economics is in an absolute shambles, and people have gone back to scratch to see if starting start all over again can help, but do we really need to say economics as a whole is in a bad state?"

Going well, then

Noticed on Twitter:

And from Axios:
  • Volker testified that allegations by Ukraine's former prosecutor general against Joe Biden and former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch are baseless, and that he knows both to be honorable people.
  • Volker also said in his opening statement that he was not aware of a linkage between military aid and Zelensky's announcement of investigations, and that he opposed the hold on security assistance.
  • In a major change from his closed-door testimony, Volker said that Sondland raised "investigations" in a meeting with Ukrainian officials in the White House, and that he thought it was inappropriate.
  • Morrison testified that he recommended that access to the Trump-Zelensky call transcript be restricted, but that its placement onto a highly classified computer system was an "administrative error."

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Cats smarter then we knew??

This really is a remarkable clip, the one shown in this tweet:

As a couple of people in comments say:

Some stuff

At the Conversation - an article about the limited effectiveness of controlled burns for preventing bushfires in extreme conditions contains this statement which conservative "it's all the Green's fault" ignore (my bold):

Evidence is mounting of increased bushfire frequency and extent in both Australia and the US - a situation predicted to worsen under climate change. Changing weather patterns mean opportunities for controlled burning will likely diminish further. Coupled with expanding populations in high fire-risk areas, Australia’s fire agencies - among the best in the world - have a challenging time ahead.
* JC, who occasionally comes here to make stupid comments, thinks US Attorney General Barr's intensely partisan speech on how wrong it is to restrain executive power is really important.   Yeah, it is important, if you want an AG endorsing the most clearly wannabe authoritarian President we have ever seen.   Here are a couple of articles ripping into Barr's pair of recent, disturbing, speeches.   As usual, he is an example of how conservative Catholics have made Catholicism deeply unattractive.

JC, I keep telling you - you're gullible and just swayed by the last thing you read, and you self filter to read mainly Right wing alternative reality .  You said you watch a lot of Fox News when you are in the US, I think.  Yeah, I can tell, because you make stupider comments while you are there.  Or am I being too generous - you do make stupid comments all the time.

* Rand Paul:    never liked him.  Now he's the libertarian most in the tank for Trump.  What a disgrace.

* On a Netflix note:   have been watching two French horror/supernatural series - Marianne, and the French/Belgium production Black Spot.

My son and I are pretty much enjoying both.   Both, curiously, feature eccentric and somewhat comic male police investigators, which keeps making me think how the Pink Panther series was ahead of its time.

Both also feature some really fast dialogue, with some really rapid subtitle reading required.   You do have to concentrate.  Lots of people smoking, too.

Marianne is often very creepy and somewhat disturbing, and also features the most aggro modern Catholic priest you are ever likely to see portrayed on TV.  The town where it is filmed is very odd looking - very exposed to the uninviting looking ocean, and it's one of the least pretty French towns I have ever seen portrayed.  This site begs to differ:
“Elden” is actually Doëlan, a quintessential French harbour town located in the commune of Clohars-Carnoët. And yes, Doëlan is as idyllic as it seems in Marianne. At the port of Doëlan, little multi-colored fishing boats float in green water, surrounded by charming thatched cottages. Each afternoon, fishermen sell their catch directly from their boats. A lighthouse – the lighthouse in Marianne — stands at the edge of the port. 
Unlike Elden, which is a nest of gloom, Doëlan seems like a good place to get an Airbnb. Just compare Elden’s foreboding motto, “You’ll be back,” with Doëlan’s simple “A port of two halves.” The former translates to, “Stay away!” and the latter to, uh, “A port of two halves.” 
Also, Doëlan is appears to be relatively untouched by tourists. According to Brittany Tourism, “There are also just one or two boutiques, but this place hasn’t been invaded by tourist shops to date.” Brace yourselves, fishermen of Doëlan. The Marianne fans are coming for selfies.
Maybe it's just the way it is filmed that makes it look unattractive to me.

Anyway, the show is pretty good, if you like this genre. 

Black Spot, especially the first episode, seems to have really lifted too much from Twin Peaks.  Again, it really doesn't look much like the Europe we are used to seeing, but it's good looking and I liked the second episode more, so we will keep watching.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Rumours - Part 2

Well, if only:

The world of woe

Speaking as I just was of the 1960's, I think it fair to note that the globe seems to be in a pretty unusually tumultuous political state at the moment, at least in terms of the number of countries having riots in the last month or so.

Let's see - there's Hong Kong; Iran; Iraq; Lebanon; Chile; Bolivia; France (at least Paris, anyway); Spain (or at least Barcelona); Ecuador; Haiti; Indonesia.  Have I missed any?

Some figures needed

I note that conservative twit James Morrow re-tweeted this yesterday:

The ABC reports this morning:
The burnt area statewide now covers more than 1,650,000 hectares — more than during the past three bushfire seasons combined.
Gee, sounds like it could be pretty much "unprecedented" going by those figures (and bearing in mind there is no way the current bout of fires is going to suddenly stop anytime soon.)

The downside of the 60's

Yeah, I do get the feeling that the drug experimentation outbreak of the 1960's is largely romanticised in hindsight.  I mean, there was excellent reason for social unrest, but did hallucinogenic drug taking really have to be part of that?  

You don't read too many accounts of people or families that were broken by the experimentation, but here's one that has appeared in the Washington Post.  All very sad.

The ultimate goal?

I'm sure everyone in the West feels sorry for Hong Kong and is broadly sympathetic to the protests going on.

But does anyone know what the (in particular) younger protesters think they can ultimately achieve?  


So, Trump made a sudden trip to hospital on the weekend, and lots of people are sceptical of the explanation ("the first part of his annual check up - he's fine.")  

I don't see anything at all wrong with wishing his presidency end suddenly due to ill health.   (The funniest thing would be if he was compulsorily admitted for psychiatric assessment by White House staff, because I would love to watch GOP insiders have to deal with the "you're part of the Deep State" wildfire that would then erupt around them, despite their having benefited from conspiracy belief for the last 20 years).  But when his wife was in hospital unexpectedly, it turned out it wasn't due to a scandalous attempt at escaping her marriage, so I don't know that I should be getting my hopes up.

More oddly, I saw on Twitter that someone has started a rumour that Scott Morrison's almost complete disappearance from public appearances or statements in the last (what?) 5 or 6 days is due to a liberal leadership spill being underway, probably by the forces of Dutton (!)   That just seems so wildly unlikely that I can barely credit that someone would speak it out loud.  

Mind you, I suspect someone in the media knows what he's been up to, but they are just not talking about it.  This is usually what they do when a PM takes a plane to visit service personnel overseas, isn't it? 

Sunday, November 17, 2019

David Roberts on the impeachment

There's a lot of praise on Twitter for this David Roberts take on the impeachment in light of his 2017 excellent take on what he calls the epistemic crisis in American politics.  It is very good.

In Australia, you see the epistemic crisis writ large in the conservatives (and that is what 99% of them now are) at Catallaxy.  Sinclair Davidson has handed over the keys to CL, the Catholic stuck forever in pre-Vatican 2 Catholicism and society, who is posting at such a pace that it now reads pretty much as his personal blog.  He posted at 1.39am (?) the Australian conservative Right's take on the impeachment:
To recap: the impeachment hoax was designed to cover up the crimes of the Biden family … which came to prominent public attention during the Ukraine hoax … which was conceived to cover up the Russia hoax … which was orchestrated to cover up the illegal surveillance of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.
The epistemic problem means it is essentially impossible to argue with these self-blinded twits.  

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Also true...

Look, can you really blame any country for not wanting to let these two in...

I mean fair's fair; they're both annoying prats.  

If it was up to me, I'd have any person who has ever been to an IPA function on a watch list of undesireables I wouldn't want in my country.


Friday, November 15, 2019

All about money, and the state of economics

There's a very lengthy review/essay at the New York Review of Books - Against Economics - all about the parlous state of economics.  I don't know the writer, David Graeber, but he makes reference to having written on economics before, and the book he is reviewing is by a Brit, Robert Skidelsky.

But it's all rather interesting.  There is so much I want to extract.  Here is the opening:
There is a growing feeling, among those who have the responsibility of managing large economies, that the discipline of economics is no longer fit for purpose. It is beginning to look like a science designed to solve problems that no longer exist.

A good example is the obsession with inflation. Economists still teach their students that the primary economic role of government—many would insist, its only really proper economic role—is to guarantee price stability. We must be constantly vigilant over the dangers of inflation. For governments to simply print money is therefore inherently sinful. If, however, inflation is kept at bay through the coordinated action of government and central bankers, the market should find its “natural rate of unemployment,” and investors, taking advantage of clear price signals, should be able to ensure healthy growth. These assumptions came with the monetarism of the 1980s, the idea that government should restrict itself to managing the money supply, and by the 1990s had come to be accepted as such elementary common sense that pretty much all political debate had to set out from a ritual acknowledgment of the perils of government spending. This continues to be the case, despite the fact that, since the 2008 recession, central banks have been printing money frantically in an attempt to create inflation and compel the rich to do something useful with their money, and have been largely unsuccessful in both endeavors.

We now live in a different economic universe than we did before the crash. Falling unemployment no longer drives up wages. Printing money does not cause inflation. Yet the language of public debate, and the wisdom conveyed in economic textbooks, remain almost entirely unchanged.
On the question of how money is created, I have not heard of this debate before; but then again, the reviewer suggests, that's probably because it has been sort of ignored by the mainstream media:

There are plenty of magic money trees in Britain, as there are in any developed economy. They are called “banks.” Since modern money is simply credit, banks can and do create money literally out of nothing, simply by making loans. Almost all of the money circulating in Britain at the moment is bank-created in this way. Not only is the public largely unaware of this, but a recent survey by the British research group Positive Money discovered that an astounding 85 percent of members of Parliament had no idea where money really came from (most appeared to be under the impression that it was produced by the Royal Mint).

Economists, for obvious reasons, can’t be completely oblivious to the role of banks, but they have spent much of the twentieth century arguing about what actually happens when someone applies for a loan. One school insists that banks transfer existing funds from their reserves, another that they produce new money, but only on the basis of a multiplier effect (so that your car loan can still be seen as ultimately rooted in some retired grandmother’s pension fund). Only a minority—mostly heterodox economists, post-Keynesians, and modern money theorists—uphold what is called the “credit creation theory of banking”: that bankers simply wave a magic wand and make the money appear, secure in the confidence that even if they hand a client a credit for $1 million, ultimately the recipient will put it back in the bank again, so that, across the system as a whole, credits and debts will cancel out. Rather than loans being based in deposits, in this view, deposits themselves were the result of loans.

The one thing it never seemed to occur to anyone to do was to get a job at a bank, and find out what actually happens when someone asks to borrow money. In 2014 a German economist named Richard Werner did exactly that, and discovered that, in fact, loan officers do not check their existing funds, reserves, or anything else. They simply create money out of thin air, or, as he preferred to put it, “fairy dust.”

That year also appears to have been when elements in Britain’s notoriously independent civil service decided that enough was enough. The question of money creation became a critical bone of contention. The overwhelming majority of even mainstream economists in the UK had long since rejected austerity as counterproductive (which, predictably, had almost no impact on public debate). But at a certain point, demanding that the technocrats charged with running the system base all policy decisions on false assumptions about something as elementary as the nature of money becomes a little like demanding that architects proceed on the understanding that the square root of 47 is actually π. Architects are aware that buildings would start falling down. People would die.

Before long, the Bank of England (the British equivalent of the Federal Reserve, whose economists are most free to speak their minds since they are not formally part of the government) rolled out an elaborate official report called “Money Creation in the Modern Economy,” replete with videos and animations, making the same point: existing economics textbooks, and particularly the reigning monetarist orthodoxy, are wrong. The heterodox economists are right. Private banks create money. Central banks like the Bank of England create money as well, but monetarists are entirely wrong to insist that their proper function is to control the money supply. In fact, central banks do not in any sense control the money supply; their main function is to set the interest rate—to determine how much private banks can charge for the money they create. Almost all public debate on these subjects is therefore based on false premises. For example, if what the Bank of England was saying were true, government borrowing didn’t divert funds from the private sector; it created entirely new money that had not existed before.

One might have imagined that such an admission would create something of a splash, and in certain restricted circles, it did. Central banks in Norway, Switzerland, and Germany quickly put out similar papers. Back in the UK, the immediate media response was simply silence. The Bank of England report has never, to my knowledge, been so much as mentioned on the BBC or any other TV news outlet. Newspaper columnists continued to write as if monetarism was self-evidently correct. Politicians continued to be grilled about where they would find the cash for social programs. It was as if a kind of entente cordiale had been established, in which the technocrats would be allowed to live in one theoretical universe, while politicians and news commentators would continue to exist in an entirely different one.
 And then we get to a key question: what is the nature of money anyway?:
What it [Skidelsky's book] reveals is an endless war between two broad theoretical perspectives in which the same side always seems to win—for reasons that rarely have anything to do with either theoretical sophistication or greater predictive power. The crux of the argument always seems to turn on the nature of money. Is money best conceived of as a physical commodity, a precious substance used to facilitate exchange, or is it better to see money primarily as a credit, a bookkeeping method or circulating IOU—in any case, a social arrangement? This is an argument that has been going on in some form for thousands of years. What we call “money” is always a mixture of both, and, as I myself noted in Debt (2011), the center of gravity between the two tends to shift back and forth over time. In the Middle Ages everyday transactions across Eurasia were typically conducted by means of credit, and money was assumed to be an abstraction. It was the rise of global European empires in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and the corresponding flood of gold and silver looted from the Americas, that really shifted perceptions. Historically, the feeling that bullion actually is money tends to mark periods of generalized violence, mass slavery, and predatory standing armies—which for most of the world was precisely how the Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, French, and British empires were experienced. One important theoretical innovation that these new bullion-based theories of money allowed was, as Skidelsky notes, what has come to be called the quantity theory of money (usually referred to in textbooks—since economists take endless delight in abbreviations—as QTM).

The QTM argument was first put forward by a French lawyer named Jean Bodin, during a debate over the cause of the sharp, destablizing price inflation that immediately followed the Iberian conquest of the Americas. Bodin argued that the inflation was a simple matter of supply and demand: the enormous influx of gold and silver from the Spanish colonies was cheapening the value of money in Europe. The basic principle would no doubt have seemed a matter of common sense to anyone with experience of commerce at the time, but it turns out to have been based on a series of false assumptions. For one thing, most of the gold and silver extracted from Mexico and Peru did not end up in Europe at all, and certainly wasn’t coined into money. Most of it was transported directly to China and India (to buy spices, silks, calicoes, and other “oriental luxuries”), and insofar as it had inflationary effects back home, it was on the basis of speculative bonds of one sort or another. This almost always turns out to be true when QTM is applied: it seems self-evident, but only if you leave most of the critical factors out.

In the case of the sixteenth-century price inflation, for instance, once one takes account of credit, hoarding, and speculation—not to mention increased rates of economic activity, investment in new technology, and wage levels (which, in turn, have a lot to do with the relative power of workers and employers, creditors and debtors)—it becomes impossible to say for certain which is the deciding factor: whether the money supply drives prices, or prices drive the money supply. Technically, this comes down to a choice between what are called exogenous and endogenous theories of money. Should money be treated as an outside factor, like all those Spanish dubloons supposedly sweeping into Antwerp, Dublin, and Genoa in the days of Philip II, or should it be imagined primarily as a product of economic activity itself, mined, minted, and put into circulation, or more often, created as credit instruments such as loans, in order to meet a demand—which would, of course, mean that the roots of inflation lie elsewhere?

To put it bluntly: QTM is obviously wrong. Doubling the amount of gold in a country will have no effect on the price of cheese if you give all the gold to rich people and they just bury it in their yards, or use it to make gold-plated submarines (this is, incidentally, why quantitative easing, the strategy of buying long-term government bonds to put money into circulation, did not work either). What actually matters is spending.
I've probably pushed the friendship with the magazine too far - go read the rest on their site.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Yet more doctors against vaping

Some European cardiologists really don't like vaping:
Prof Münzel and his colleagues investigated the effect of e-cigarette vapour on flow in the in the upper arm in 20 healthy smokers before they vaped an e-cigarette and then 15 minutes afterwards. They also measured how stiff the artery became.

They also did a mouse study.

The conclusions:

They found that just one vaping episode increased heart rates and caused the arteries to stiffen and the inner lining of the arteries, the endothelium, to stop working properly in the smokers. The endothelium is responsible for maintaining the correct dilation and constriction of blood vessels, protects tissues from toxic substances and regulates inflammation and blood clotting processes. Endothelial dysfunction is involved in the development of cardiovascular disease.

Prof Münzel said: "The results of the present studies identified several molecular mechanisms whereby e-cigarettes can cause damage to the blood vessels, lungs, heart and brain. This is a consequence of toxic chemicals that are produced by the vaping process and may also be present at lower concentrations in the liquid itself. Importantly, we identified an enzyme, NOX-2, that mediated all the effects of e-cigarettes on the brain and cardiovascular system, and we found that a toxic chemical called acrolein, which is produced when the liquid in e-cigarettes is vaporised, activated the of NOX-2. The beneficial effects of macitentan and bepridil indicate that e-cigarettes have the capacity to trigger constriction of and to impair our cells' antioxidant and survival systems.

"Our data may indicate that e-cigarettes are not a healthy alternative to traditional cigarettes, and their perceived 'safety' is not warranted. In addition, we still have no experience about the health side effects of e-cigarettes arising from long-term use. The e-cigarette epidemic in the US and Europe, in particular among our youth, is causing a huge generation of nicotine-addicted people who are being endangered by encouragement to switch from traditional cigarettes to e-cigarettes. Research like ours should serve as a warning about their dangers, and aggressive steps should be taken to protect our children from health risks caused by e-cigarettes."

A limitation of the study was that no healthy non-smokers were included. However, the researchers point out that a strength is that they have received no funding from the e-cigarette industry. "Recent studies indicate that industry funding is more likely to lead to results that indicate that e-cigarettes are harmless," write the researchers in their paper.

Colonoscopy considered

A study from England finds a really big difference in the apparent effectiveness of colonoscopy conducted by the NHS, and those done by "independent providers".   Which is not exactly an intuitive result - you might suspect that the NHS ones would be more conducted in more of a rush.  

I would guess the difference must really be down to the experience level of the doctors doing it.

It is consistent with something I heard on (I think) The Drum a few weeks ago - a doctor and some other health system expert saying that if they had cancer, they would choose to get treatment via the public system rather than private, based on the better outcomes found in the public system by virtue of their experience level.

Anyway, this from the study on colonoscopy and the subsequent rate of cancers:
a team of UK researchers set out to compare PCCRC rates between all providers in England to measure variation in colonoscopy quality.

Their findings are based on more than 120,000 individuals undergoing colonoscopy in England between 2005 and 2013 and subsequently diagnosed with colorectal cancer. The proportion of those diagnosed six months to three years after the colonoscopy were identified to calculate a PCCRC-3yr rate.

After taking account of potentially influential factors such as age, sex, and medical history, the PCCRC-3yr rate declined from 9.0% in 2005 to 6.5% in 2013.

However, rates for colonoscopies performed within the NHS Bowel Cancer Screening Programme (BCSP) were better (lower) at 3.6% than those performed by independent providers (9.3%) which are increasingly being used to meet the rising demand for colonoscopy.
Yay for socialised medicine, I suppose.