Friday, April 23, 2021

The technology works

I still strongly suspect that its not worth the amount of orbital space that it's taking up, but I have to admit, even with it being far from complete, the download speeds people get from Musk's Starlink satellites is pretty impressive:

 

If you can be bothered watching - he easily gets 123Mbps without fussing too much about setting up the antenna.

In Australia, it apparently costs $139 per month.  And the equipment, about $800.

Blows out our NBN satellite service out of the water, it seems. 

I still don't like Musk personally, though...


Thursday, April 22, 2021

More than a touch of "What have the Romans ever done for us?"


Look, it's not that I expect indigenous people to say they are grateful for European colonisation.   Of course, their experience is considered negatively.  But does it really help the cause of modern indigenous descendants to refuse to acknowledge that some things out of  a more technologically advanced Western culture were beneficial to them (at least, once they started being treated as people)?

Dumb, unhealthy, angry.... and happy?

Some stuff on Twitter has got me thinking about that favourite topic:  How the Right Got Consumed by the Culture Wars and Went Nuts.

This, for example:

And this:


That article by Richard Hanania (who I don't know) briefly makes the point that lots of research has shown that people who say they are on the Right are happier than those on the Left.   And I used to think that made sense when I was younger - the motivation to social change that is typical of the Left seemed to me to come mainly from people from unhappy family backgrounds.  

But the typical anger profile has, in large part, flipped now.   Sure, on the Left, there's lot of angry emotion over identity politics, but not all of it is ill founded.   And comedy has moved to be completely liberal dominated.  Happy people laugh more, don't they?

I wonder - is social research into happiness (which I suspect is actually quite a slippery thing to measure accurately) lagging behind the current state of the Right?   Because you sure as hell don't get the impression from social and Right wing media that the current Trumpy/Murdoch led American Right (and those Australians who align with it) has been happy for years.   A boiling pot of resentment that their ideas are not overwhelmingly accepted (by and large) by media, academia, big business and the public - yes.   A vast echo chamber of resentment and conspiracy mongering to explain why they find they find themselves in a minority - yeah.  

I note that some on the Right who were eulogising Rush Limbaugh recently said how much humour was a part of his early career - but I suspect that in the last decade, as with Right wing media generally, the attempts at humour became less important and got pushed out by anger, resentment and conspiracy.  

So, does it come down to the question - to what degree can you be angry all the time, and still count yourself as "happy"?      

Things to ponder over...


Wednesday, April 21, 2021

It does look like how science fiction imagined it

It is kind of surprising that the SpaceX Starship lunar lander could, apparently, be this big, going by this NASA illustration:


It does make the future look very much like it has the size imagined by science fiction writers and illustrators of the 50's and 60's.

Mind you, the Starship does not go from Earth to lunar landing.  I don't quite understand, really:

The agency’s powerful Space Launch System rocket will launch four astronauts aboard the Orion spacecraft for their multi-day journey to lunar orbit. There, two crew members will transfer to the SpaceX human landing system (HLS) for the final leg of their journey to the surface of the Moon. After approximately a week exploring the surface, they will board the lander for their short trip back to orbit where they will return to Orion and their colleagues before heading back to Earth.

The firm-fixed price, milestone-based contract total award value is $2.89 billion.

 So is the gigantic lander going to be re-fuelled - how?   

Took a while for it to get there, but India and COVID is bad

I wrote this a little over a year ago:


 And now:

And:

So, the prediction in the Science article that India might reach 300 million or more cases last year appears way out; but on the other hand, if they hit and maintain 300,000 cases a day, they are going to have a couple of million added each week.  (And also, really, how accurate are case numbers from that country, anyway?   There must be many not being diagnosed.)    Not to mention the problem of variants being spread.

And in Brazil, the news is also dire, with their local strain hitting more young people than old:

 When Covid first hit Brazil last February it was, as elsewhere, considered mainly a threat to the ageing or infirm. A year later, as Brazil grapples with by far the most traumatic phase of its epidemic, a troubling trend has emerged, as intensive care units fill with younger patients such as Castro, some seemingly battling more severe forms of the disease. An unusually high number of infant fatalities has also been reported with more than 1,000 Brazilian babies dying last year compared with 43 in the US.

Brazilians have been particularly shocked by the case of Paulo Gustavo, a 42-year-old television star who has spent the past month fighting for his life in a Rio ICU despite being previously fit and healthy. Last week, the Brazilian Association of Intensive Care Medicine said that for the first time, most Covid patients in ICU were under 40 – a finding echoed by frontline doctors.....

The explanation for the generational shift remains unclear, although some suspect a highly transmissible new variant linked to the Brazilian Amazon may be partly to blame. “It’s clearly connected to the P1 variant,” said Marcos Boulos, a infectious disease specialist from the University of São Paulo who believes the virus is now both spreading faster and hitting young people harder.

Boulos said the vaccination of older Brazilians partly explained the increasing proportion of younger patients in ICU. “But there’s no doubt young people are being [physically] more affected by this new variant. It’s unquestionable.”

“Sometimes … these young people will die after just a few hours or days with very acute, severe illnesses – and you won’t find any comorbidity or factor to explain why. It’s dramatic,” added Boulos, pointing to similar suspicions that the South African variant might be affecting the young more.

Makes me despise Adam Creighton all the more.  But just seeing his face tends to have that effect on me....


Deaths in custody, noted

At the risk of starting to sound like Andrew Bolt lite (and I really, really don't want to), there was article earlier this month in the SMH by someone from ACU pointing out things that mainstream journalists seem very reluctant to point out about aboriginal deaths in custody:

Let’s set the record straight. Yes, any death in custody is sad, but the reality is people die. Whether they are in custody or not, Aboriginal or not, people die. The Australian Institute of Criminology, reporting in 2019 on the first 25 years since the royal commission, found the majority of prison deaths for Aboriginal prisoners were due to natural causes.

The next highest group was due to hanging, and investigations must get to the bottom of suggestions that two of the recent deaths in custody occurred when prisoners found hanging points in their cells: the commission recommended the removal of all hanging points.

However, there has been a decrease in the hanging death rate of Indigenous prisoners. Indeed, the 2019 report found that since 2003–04, the hanging death rate of Indigenous prisoners had been lower or the same as that of non-Indigenous prisoners. The report also noted that to that time, no Indigenous hanging deaths had occurred in police custody (as opposed to jail) since 2008–09.

Further, an Aboriginal person in custody is less likely to die than a non-Aboriginal person in custody, and this fact it rarely reported in the media. According to David Biles, a criminologist, who for three years headed the criminology research group of the royal commission: “In the early days of the royal commission, when I and a small team of researchers were able to prove unequivocally that Aboriginal people were slightly less likely to die in prison or police custody than non-Aboriginal people, we were met with derision and disbelief. We were even accused of disloyalty to the royal commission.

The Australian Institute of Criminology publication states that the same remains true today. “Indigenous people are now less likely than non-Indigenous people to die in custody, largely due to a decrease in the death rate of Indigenous prisoners from 1999–2000 to 2005–06. ”

However, these objective facts have not stopped some Aboriginal leaders from portraying an alternative narrative.

But on the matter of the high profile death in custody in the US (George Floyd), Sinclair Davidson's Home for Australian Rednecks is no doubt hopping.  Let's check:

Uhuh.

The Fox News, Tucker Carlson response to this will be ...interesting.  And, more than likely, appalling.

Update:   more from the Catholic conservatives of Catallaxy -

(And yeah, Pelosi did say something silly and kinda stupid.  But it's small change in offensiveness compared to the Right's attitude that it's the end of American civilisation caused by people being too sympathetic to a dead black guy.)

Update 2:   As expected, Carlson acts like the full blown jerk that he is:


 


Monday, April 19, 2021

It's not just a "not listening" problem - it's a "needing something concrete to listen to" problem

We're having another bout of "why won't governments stop incarcerating aborigines at such a high rate" commentary, because the high incarceration rate explains the high deaths in custody rate.    A lot of it is coming from aboriginal activists and academics.

I will find this more than mere useless handwringing when said academics - and all journalists sympathetic to the problem - come up with the very specific plans to deal with stuff like this without incarceration being the ultimate step:

2012:

The former manager of the community store at Kaltjiti in northern South Australia, says law and order has broken down, and the community is out of control.

Kaltjiti is in the Pitjantjatjara Lands, about 137 kilometres from Marla on the Stuart Highway.

About 200 people live there.

Allan Tremayne says he and his wife have lived and worked in other Aboriginal communities, but have never seen anything like the hostility they encountered in Kaltjiti.

He says they left before Christmas, following three months of physical and verbal abuse from customers, and after witnessing countless acts of violence.

"There is no respect for Australian law that we all have to live by," he said.

"What is even worse is there does not appear to be any respect for traditional law.

"Sometimes traditional law is far more effective than the white man's law.

"But there is no respect for either.

"The place is totally out of control as far as I am concerned."

 2020:

A retired remote area doctor who worked with murdered outback nurse Gayle Woodford has told a coronial inquest that Fregon was the most violent community she had ever worked in.

Mrs Woodford's body was found in a shallow grave near Fregon in South Australia's remote Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands in March 2016

Also in 2020:

Extra police officers have been flown into a remote Indigenous community in Far North Queensland after the fatal stabbing of a 37-year-old man on New Year's Day and a riot overnight, with police saying the situation remains volatile.  

More than 250 residents at Aurukun in Cape York took to the streets in the early hours of this morning, armed with star pickets, metal bars and spear guns.

Six homes were burnt to the ground and a further two are now uninhabitable.

The town's police station and government buildings were put in lockdown as an angry mob went from house to house "seeking retribution" after the man was stabbed in the stomach on New Year's Day.

So, not only was remote community housing destroyed, but hundreds fled the town out of fear of further clan violence, no doubt causing over-crowding in some other aboriginal person's house.

In 2021:

It is that widely held view — that youth crime is getting out of control — that in part explains Townsville's active vigilante community.

But Brett Geiszler said such people are misguided.

The youth in question are mainly, it would seem, aboriginal.  And stealing cars and causing (sometimes fatal) car accidents in them is what has brought it to national attention. 

Also in 2021:  Alice Springs appears to have the same problem:

Mario Nishikewa, the security guard, has lived in the town for the past decade and said he has watched the community deteriorate.

Police are forced to use capsicum spray and taser the man with the shovel, who they eventually corner in a carpark, where he surrenders.

Mr Nishikewa said the people who were just arrested will likely be released.

"The same day - the same day. The sad thing is you can have somebody that assaulted you, come out the next day and smile at you," he said.

And, again, just recently in 2021:

In some of the Northern Territory's biggest remote communities Aboriginal organisations say youth crime is now so out of control that they can no longer deliver essential services.

They had hoped after the Northern Territory's Royal Commission into Youth Justice they'd get more support to help break their young people out of a cycle of offending.

 

Did Creighton & Fritjers notice?

In the New Daily:

Fears COVID lockdowns would prompt global ‘suicide epidemic’ shot down by latest stats

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on mental health has been profound, but the widespread warnings that it would see suicide rates soar has proved to be a myth.

“If anything, the opposite has been true,” according to Lifeline chairman John Brogden.

 (In truth, I know the situation is a little complicated in the US.  Still...)

Saturday, April 17, 2021

As seen on Twitter

This made me laugh, and I have never even owned a cat:



Friday, April 16, 2021

Interesting, but...

The woman in the video makes the point I have before - you really need more context than the short video clips being enthusiastically accepted by some as proof of UFOs.  But on the other hand, we do seem to have Pentagon past or present officials indicating that there is substantial evidence out there of genuinely unidentified flying objects.  I mean, the account of the pilot as to how his tic tac sighting went I have always said is pretty compelling.

There is another video out, maddeningly short and with no context again, from 2019 which is genuinely from the US Navy, but what are we looking at?:

 

I don't find it all that compelling, because the flash rate looks normal aircraft flashing lights, doesn't it?  Is it something out of focus, or is the triangular shape real?  Was it filled for routine purposes, or because it looked weird to the crew? 

It's annoying the way we're getting this piecemeal stuff released.

Why did it have to be... clots in the brain?

Just a random Friday thought for you:   a large part of the PR problem for the AstraZeneca and now Johnson & Johnson vaccines is (I reckon) that the exceeding rare but very dangerous side effect is one that sounds like a particularly nasty way to die:

In another hiccup [you don't say?] for AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine, data suggest it is in fact linked to blood clots that have formed in the brains of some vaccinated people, the European Medicines Agency announced April 7....

The EMA had previously concluded that the vaccine, developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford, was not linked to blood clots overall (SN: 3/18/21). But experts were uncertain about 18 case reports of blood clots in the sinuses that drain blood from the brain, a rare condition called cerebral venous sinus thrombosis or CVST...

As of March 22, countries had reported 62 cases of CVST out of around 25 million people who got the AstraZeneca vaccine. There were also 24 reported cases of clots in veins that drain blood from the digestive system, called splanchnic vein thrombosis or SVT. Eighteen of the people with CVST or SVT died. 

It's only human to have risk assessment affected by the imagination of what it would be like to die from the particular danger.   I mean, do we really blame people for breaking out in a sweat if they hear someone yell "shark" at the surf beach while their kids are out in the waves, even though they will stand a million times bigger chance of dying in a car accident on the way home? 

And I mean, while I know a stroke is, basically, often just a single blockage in the brain, the idea that could develop several clots at once sounds very dire and, um, icky?

It's also the fact that the clotting problem arises (so it seems) a few days after the injection.   People are, I imagine, now going to be hypersensitive to headaches and stomach cramps post vaccination.   If it were a case of some people dying within, say, an hour due to immediate reaction, you could at least have people hanging around the clinic until the danger period is over. 

This is all very unfortunate, but people really hate the idea of dying accidentally from something meant to prevent death.

I haven't decided what I would do if told the AstraZeneca is available next month:  call me unscientific, if you want, but if I'm not planning on heading overseas soon, I would just as soon wait until the vaccine which does not cause clots in the brain is available.

Update:   speaking of serious blood clotting - I seemed to recall that was the way the outer space  bug in The Andromeda Strain killed people.  I was right:

The Wildfire team, led by Dr. Jeremy Stone, believes the satellite—intentionally designed to capture upper-atmosphere microorganisms for bio-weapon exploitation—returned with a deadly microorganism that kills through nearly instantaneous blood clotting

Maybe my unreasonable fear of death by massive blood clot can be put on Michael Crichton.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Musk on the brain


 I hope the Chinese aren't interested in the technology.

Update:   an article at The Conversation explains the technology.   It also goes into the good and bad potential of using a brain link to swap information with another human or an AI.

George makes a case, but not entirely sure if I agree

George Will, who retains at least some credibility as a conservative due to his anti-Trump attitude, makes an interesting comparison between the technological changes that sped up communication in 19th century America (rail and the telegraph) and internet communication today.

I had missed this about Lincoln (my bold):

In the 1850s, the rhythm of Abraham Lincoln’s political career had been quickened to what he called the “eloquent music” of railroads that whisked him around the North and into the West. And as telegraph lines marched six miles a day toward the Pacific, the velocity of news — and fake news about Washington burning, enslaved people rebelling, President James Buchanan resigning, Republicans sharing their wives, Lincoln being a cannibal — increased exponentially.
Will's conclusion:

Today, the Internet and social media enable instantaneous dissemination of stupidity, thereby creating the sense that there is an increasing quantity of stupidity relative to the population’s size. This might be true, but blame it on animate, hence blameworthy, things — blowhards with big megaphones, incompetent educators, etc. — not technologies. Technologies are giving velocity to stupidity, but are not making people stupid. On Jan. 6 the Capitol was stormed by primitives wielding smartphones that, with social media, facilitated the assembling and exciting of the mob. But mobs predate mankind’s mastery of electricity.

Humanity is perpetually belabored by theories that human agency is, if not a chimera, substantially attenuated by the bombardment of individuals by promptings from culture, government propaganda and other forces supposedly capable of conscripting the public’s consciousnesses. A new version of such theorizing is today’s postulate that digital technologies are uniquely autonomous forces in need of supervision or even rearrangement by government because they rewire the brains of their users.

Like railroads and the telegraph, today’s technologies have consequences about how and what we think. They do not relieve anyone of responsibility for either.

Maybe Zuckerberg encouraged him to write this column?

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

A plausible rumour


 It feels so long since we had a not embarrassing Federal government.   

And what about this Andrew Laming?   Seems you can be a jerk in politics (and life) for years and years before members of the Party will finally act on it.

Not important in the scheme of things...

....but honestly, this really was one of the strangest and silliest ideas someone in Navy/Defence ever came up with:


 

Not to mention "has got tickets on herself"


 Further tweets from her:


 And:


The attitude, well on the rise in aboriginal activism in the capital cities, that the real problem is undoing everyone else's sovereignty that has been in place for more than a century and produced a modern functioning society, just makes me grind my teeth somewhat.  

Update:  and what does this even mean?:



Reliably unreliable

Axios notes:

The Taliban will not attend "any conference that shall make decisions about Afghanistan" until "all foreign forces completely withdraw," a spokesperson for the group tweeted on Tuesday.

Why it matters: That's an explicit rejection of an upcoming peace conference in Istanbul. It also follows President Biden's announcement that the U.S. will withdraw its troops by Sept. 11, but miss a deadline to do so by May 1.

I wonder what exactly the Taliban expects in a post foreign involvement country?  They seem against all modern things except guns, bombs and heroin.   Why does that attitude survive?

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Stross explains Spiked

The description/explanation of Spiked that Charlie Stross gives in his tweet amused me:




Prediction confirmed

I posted my prediction of this on Friday evening, within a hour or so of hearing about the Duke's death.

And it came true (not a hard one to predict, but still):

Sometimes the predictions that a narrative around “Meghan and Harry’s Oprah interview contributing to Prince Philip’s untimely death” were uncanny in how they bore out.

It didn’t take long, for example, for the Daily Mail to trot out a piece that emphasized Prince Philip’s “tough final year” and the way the end of his life was marred, in part, by “bitter fallout from ‘his favourite’ grandchild Harry and Meghan’s decision to quit ‘the firm.’”

Notably, however, it was American outlet Fox News that seemed to get there first.

 

Monday, April 12, 2021

Dead or alive?

I can't remember why this came to mind the other day, but of all the people who I haven't heard of for a long time, and wondered whether they had died but I just can't recall the reporting of it with any clarity, prime among them would have to be Burt Bacharach.

I see that he is in fact still alive, aged 92.

I wonder if he still plays?  

Oh, yes, he is still working at song writing, at least.   Nice.

 

A quick review

The White Tiger, which was released on Netflix a month or so ago and seems to be popular there, is really good - an entertaining take on the problems in Indian society, so well directed and acted.   It's one of those very transporting, great sense of place, type films too.   

As I said to my daughter after it - the caste system has to go down as one of the all time great really bad cultural ideas of the world.   

One other minor note - I think I mentioned before, when discussing the Indian series Sacred Games, and even Typewriter, that it seems Indians are very florid with their swearing in their own language.   It's very odd - in all Indian shows, the characters conversationally mix English with their native language, and the really strong swearing only (or mainly?) turns up in translation from the native language.   They don't seem to swear in English much, but some of the swearing in Hindi or whatever other language they are using often seems oddly over the top in the context.  (And did I mention before, but I asked an Indian client about that last year, and he confirmed - most, or a lot, of Indians swear like troopers.)

Anyway, a good film.

Saturday, April 10, 2021

An accurate summary

An article at the Washington Post about a new memoir begins:  

John Boehner in a new memoir derides today’s Republican Party as unrecognizable to traditional conservatives like himself, held hostage by both former president Donald Trump and by a conservative media echo chamber that is based on creating “chaos” for its own financial needs. 

Speaking of physicists...

....it's worth reading this review of a new, somewhat critical, biography of Stephen Hawking.   

I would have mentioned before that it had long been obvious that his achievements were over-hyped in the popular press and the public mind.    The review contains further confirmation of that.

 

Good to see physicists excited

Yeah, this muon test stuff seems a genuine indication of some sort of "new physics" lurking in the background. Let Fermilab explain:

 

Update: Oh. I see there is another explanation going around which does not involve new physics, but seemingly leaves the awkward Standard Model secure. I wonder which take on this is going to turn out right.

Friday, April 09, 2021

Has someone in the Murdoch press blamed Meghan yet?

"Broke his heart" or some such.

Yet more intriguing gut microbiome news

In Science:

Food supplements that alter gut bacteria could ‘cure’ malnutrition

To save a starving child, aid workers have long used one obvious treatment: food. But a new study suggests feeding their gut bacteria may be as important—or even more important—than feeding their stomachs. In a head-to-head comparison against a leading treatment for malnutrition, a new supplement designed to promote helpful gut bacteria led to signs of improved growth and more weight gain, despite having 20% fewer calories. The study also highlights how important gut bacteria—the so-called microbiome—can be to human health.....

About 30 million children worldwide are so hungry that their bodies are wasting away. Their growth slows, their immune systems don’t work well, and their nervous systems fail to develop properly. To combat malnutrition, health clinics often administer prepackaged, ready-to-use supplementary food (RUSF), which is easy to store and turns into goo after kneading. But malnourished children’s health improvements are rarely permanent, and many never fully recover, even after they eat enough. “It’s a problem that previously didn’t have an available solution,” says Ruslan Medzhitov, an immunologist at Yale University not involved with the work.

For more than 10 years, Jeffrey Gordon, a microbiologist at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, has studied the role the microbiome plays in malnutrition recovery. He and his colleagues discovered that 15 key bacteria are needed for normal growth in mice, pigs, and to some degree people, and that children whose microbiomes fail to “mature” to include these species do not recover from malnutrition as well as children whose gut bacteria do mature. “Current therapies do not repair this disrupted microbiome,” Gordon explains.

So he and Tahmeed Ahmed, a malnutrition expert scientist who heads the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research in Dhaka, Bangladesh, tried with colleagues to find out which of a half dozen combinations of easy-to-obtain foods most encouraged the growth of these healthy bacteria. In the new study, they tested their best performing candidate: a complex mixture of chickpea, banana, soy, and peanut flours and oils that they call microbiota-directed complementary food No. 2, or MDCF-2.

About 120 malnourished toddlers from a Dhaka slum received either MDCF-2 or the standard RUSF supplement twice a day for 3 months. Every 2 weeks during treatment, and again 1 month after treatment ended, the researchers weighed and measured the children, sampled their blood, and analyzed the bacteria in their feces.

Not only did MDCF-2 boost blood components linked to growth—such as proteins needed for the proper development of bones, the nervous system, and the immune system—but it also resulted in a growth rate twice as high, measured by change in a weight-to-length score, as in those receiving RUSF, the researchers report today in The New England Journal of Medicine. What’s more, 21 types of beneficial bacteria increased in abundance. Enhanced growth in children continued even after the treatment ended. “A small amount of this food supplement can actually cure malnutrition in children,” Ahmed concludes.

What a fascinating area of research, this gut bacteria stuff.

 

 

A feeling of disgust

I have been wanting to note for a while that my assessment of Adam Creighton and his ilk (economist Paul Frijters, for one, who Nicholas Gruen has let overrun his blog with "BUT YOU ARE ALL WRONG AND PANICKING UNNECESSARILY" guff about COVID) has moved from something like "dismissive of such clownishness" to "you absolutely disgust me".   

I mean - it is just so freaking obvious that COVID spread and optimal responses to it are hugely complicated questions with wildly varying effects across wildly varying cultures and populations such that it is going to be years, if ever, that unpicking the evidence is going to provide anything like definitive  answers that are 100% clear.   Yet Creighton, Frijters and other economics types (for the most part) decided a position at the very start and are determined to promote it and attack all others (including, of course, public health officials whose lifetime job has been devoted to these issues) as if the answers are obvious and that those against them are the real ones causing unnecessary trouble.

It's a level of arrogant certainty and pig headedness that just makes me sick to read.   I guess I could say I tend towards the same feeling now towards climate change denial - certainly towards the likes of politically motivated gadflies like Andrew Bolt and Tim Blair who promote stupidity in the media - but with COVID it's the immediacy of the problem that has intensified my anger and disgust with the economists who think they know best and will not change position or admit there is substantial evidence against them.

Update:  just a couple of days after I wrote this, Adam outdid himself:

There are many funny replies rubbishing him.


 

 

Thursday, April 08, 2021

Genius at work

I don't post much about Catallaxy any more - the intensity of the stupidity, misogyny, racism and crank conservatism is now so off the charts that talking about it is about as useful as noting that 8Chan is a bunch of obnoxious boys not worth even looking at.  

Not only that, as I mentioned recently, the site doesn't even work property any more, and Sinclair Davidson doesn't seem too perturbed.  I half suspect he thinks it good if the routinely defamatory comments about things like, you know, likely rape victims, are harder to find.   

But I do note the irony of a man who has a run a blog devoted to promoting climate change denialism and clean energy scepticism for years is now also against proposals that scientists start serious research into the possible geo-engineering that may only be needed because of the very positions Davidson has shamelessly promoted.   

I'm not the biggest fan of the concept of geo-engineering myself, as I would prefer aggressive actions to stop the emissions; but for someone effectively pro-emissions to also be against it is just numbskullery. 

Bowie considered, again

Last night, there wasn't much on TV and I found myself watching a repeat of the very interesting BBC documentary David Bowie: Finding Fame, about his struggles in the late 60's which finally paid off in fame in the early 1970's.

He certainly had a rough ride, in terms of false starts and projects that went no where.   You have to admire his dedication to finding a way to break through.

However, I will still, for the life of me, never understand the appeal of the garish looks of the Ziggy Stardust performance character to Bowie, the audience of the time, or any audience since.   As the show makes clear though, he rose to fame on it, but quickly recognized its limitations, and perhaps in a calculated sense, quit the character at its peak.   The aesthetics of 1970's glamour rock will always remain a historical puzzle, I reckon.

There was a producer on the show who I have seen on Youtube explaining how certain later Bowie songs were created.  The one about Heroes was particularly interesting, and showed the surprisingly circuitous and multi-contribution way modern pop music is sometimes created:   

Wednesday, April 07, 2021

Scepticism well founded

I was sceptical from the start about the EM drive, and it seems it has now been definitely disproved.

I feel I should be more excited, but...

I'm talking about the prospect of a US Defence report that might issue soon confirming that they know there are some drone-like flying things of inexplicable capabilities, which are either secret new foreign technology, or possibly the tool used by extraterrestrial observers.   Read the post here at Hot Air about it.  Also, this article at Washington Post.

A large part of the reason my interest is tempered is due to the fact that a key figure who has recently given the story legs is John Ratcliffe, the Trump appointee to an intelligence job who was widely criticised as being completely unqualified for such a role.

I would not be at all surprised if he has oversold the story.

As I noted recently, it is kind of odd that it is the Right of politics that has suddenly developed an interest in UFO's and wanting to know "the truth".  It's the side more associated with keeping secrets and crushing release of information. 

Education and voting

Noticed this on Twitter:




A boring dream of largely uncertain origins

So, Elton John was in town (Brisbane) and sold out a couple of concerts.  He put on a special extra one in a park (fantasy park - it looked nice) and you had to be lucky to get a ticket.   Despite my having no interest in ever seeing him in concert in real life, in the dream I ended up there and was happy about it, and found that a bunch of people I hadn't seen since high school were also there.

(I recently was talking to friends about high school people, so I know where that bit came from.)

OK, so the boring bit.   Donald Trump was also there, up the back, and I was sitting quite close to him.  The pre-show entertainment included 3 separate drummers who were in some sort of solo drumming competition, with Trump indicating when the next one could start.  I thought "typical that this guy would be into the most boring form of musical entertainment conceivable."   After that went on and on, some other stage entertainment started, and it was all incredibly dull.  At one point I thought Elton had come out and I started clapping, but it was someone else.  After a couple of hours, I thought that the whole concert may be a prank, but eventually Elton came out, a bit apologetic.  I remember nothing of his performance.

The next bit I remember is that I slept in the park overnight, and was disappointed in the morning to realise I had no brought no change of clothes, and I had to catch public transport home looking dishevelled.

It was the intensity of the boredom of the pre-show entertainment that was the key feature, and I can't work out why such an idea was rattling around my mind.

 

Tuesday, April 06, 2021

More on China and digital currency

The Wall Street Journal has put up an article explaining what China is doing with digital currency, and it is not paywalled via Twitter.  Some bits:

A thousand years ago, when money meant coins, China invented paper currency. Now the Chinese government is minting cash digitally, in a re-imagination of money that could shake a pillar of American power.

It might seem money is already virtual, as credit cards and payment apps such as Apple Pay in the U.S. and WeChat in China eliminate the need for bills or coins. But those are just ways to move money electronically. China is turning legal tender itself into computer code.

Cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin have foreshadowed a potential digital future for money, though they exist outside the traditional global financial system and aren’t legal tender like cash issued by governments.

China’s version of a digital currency is controlled by its central bank, which will issue the new electronic money. It is expected to give China’s government vast new tools to monitor both its economy and its people. By design, the digital yuan will negate one of bitcoin’s major draws: anonymity for the user.

Beijing is also positioning the digital yuan for international use and designing it to be untethered to the global financial system, where the U.S. dollar has been king since World War II. China is embracing digitization in many forms, including money, in a bid to gain more centralized control while getting a head start on technologies of the future that it regards as up for grabs.

The dollar has faced challengers before—the euro, to name one—only to grow more important when rivals’ shortcomings became apparent. The dollar far outstrips all other currencies for use in international foreign-exchange trades, at 88% in the latest rankings from the Bank for International Settlements. The yuan was used in just 4%.

Digitization wouldn’t by itself make the yuan a rival for the dollar in bank-to-bank wire transfers, analysts and economists say. But in its new incarnation, the yuan, also known as the renminbi, could gain traction on the margins of the international financial system.

It would provide options for people in poor countries to transfer money internationally. Even limited international usage could soften the bite of U.S. sanctions, which increasingly are used against Chinese companies or individuals.

Josh Lipsky, a former International Monetary Fund staffer now at the Atlantic Council think tank, said, “Anything that threatens the dollar is a national-security issue. This threatens the dollar over the long term.”

Also:

The money itself is programmable. Beijing has tested expiration dates to encourage users to spend it quickly, for times when the economy needs a jump-start.

It’s also trackable, adding another tool to China’s heavy state surveillance. The government deploys hundreds of millions of facial-recognition cameras to monitor its population, sometimes using them to levy fines for activities such as jaywalking. A digital currency would make it possible to both mete out and collect fines as soon as an infraction was detected.

A burst of cash-accumulation in China last year indicates residents’ concern about the central bank’s eye on every transaction. Song Ke, a finance professor at Renmin University in Beijing, told a recent conference that China’s measure of yuan in circulation, or cash, popped up 10% in 2020.

What about volatility? Cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin are famous for that. But the People’s Bank of China will strictly control the digital yuan to ensure there aren’t valuation differences between it and the paper bills and coins.

That means it won’t make sense for investors and traders to speculate in the digital yuan as some do with cryptocurrencies.

So, I do seem to understand this right:   Sinclair Davidson and the jolly band of RMIT blockchain swooners and conference attenders have been busy promoting a technology that libertarians fantasise reduces government reach into financial lives, but is actually more likely to increase it?   Right.

It's about as funny as his inability to run a website that actually works properly in the comments section.   Yay, free marketeers can do anything - except make their website run properly.

 

Lazy weekend

My Easter weekends are usually pretty lazy:  too many people on the road and the weather is often hit or miss for holiday fun.  (It was a pretty big miss this year.)   I was especially lazy this year, but not in a particularly edifying way.   

Netflix viewing:   I actually do recommend the unusually aggressive alligators standing in for Alien movie Crawl, if you are up for well made trashy scares.   (Remember, I did enjoy The Meg last year for similar reasons.  Sometimes you just want to see monster animals eating people.)   I continually felt for the actors while watching it - they are in water for perhaps 75% of the movie's run time, and I can just imagine how tedious an acting day spending hours wet could be.  But the biggest surprise:  watch the end credits, and it turns out that it is Serbia standing in for Florida!   Pretty convincingly too.  Honestly, you can film anything anywhere these days.

The second movie more-or-less pleasant surprise:  Bad Trip.    Bad taste prank movies are not usually my thing, and I am not very familiar at all with Eric Andre.   But I agree a lot with The Vulture review which is headed:  

Netflix’s Bad Trip Might Help You Feel Better About Our Broken Nation

Yes.  Provided you can put up with things like pranking zoo visitors that a gorilla is raping a man - twice - (no doubt the worst taste scene in the movie, although to the Netflix viewer it looks sufficiently fake that it takes away some of the offensiveness),  the surprising thing about the movie is that it shows so many people (black Americans in particular) willing to help strangers.   

I was anxious a lot of time, though, as to how they could involve strangers without the concern that one of them was going to pull out a handgun to scare away the actors.

As the review says at the end:

I don’t want to oversell Bad Trip — if it doesn’t make you laugh, chances are it will annoy the shit out of you — but its generosity toward our fellow humans can, at times, be genuinely moving.