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:


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...'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.”


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.


Thursday, April 01, 2021

Jinn fizz

An unusual jinn story found in Gulf News:

Kuwaiti woman pays $96,000 to get rid of jinn

Cairo: A Kuwaiti woman has accused two other women of swindling nearly 30,000 dinars from her by purportedly ridding her of jinn, local media reported.

The woman, whose name was not disclosed, claimed that another Kuwaiti woman and her stateless Bidoon assistant had duped her into believing that she was possessed by a jinn.

In her report to the police, the 37-year-old woman provided evidence of paying KD25,080 via bank transfers and an additional 4,000 dinars in cash to expel the alleged jinn.

The alleged victim had been tricked by the two charlatans into paying the money on different occasions during the sorcery sessions, according to a security source.

“She presented a bank statement proving the payments,” the source said.

An investigation into a fraud case has been opened and the two alleged defendants will be summoned for interrogation.

I always feel I don't know enough about how widespread worrying about jinn might be in the average Arab mind.



Time travelling at the University of Queensland

I have written many posts over the years about time travel, and while I am pretty sure I read this article in 2020 about some theoretical work at UQ, I don't think I got around to posting about it.    

Paradox-free time travel is theoretically possible, according to the mathematical modelling of a prodigious University of Queensland undergraduate student.

Fourth-year Bachelor of Advanced Science (Honours) student Germain Tobar has been investigating the possibility of time travel, under the supervision of UQ physicist Dr Fabio Costa....


“The maths checks out – and the results are the stuff of science fiction,” Dr Costa said.

“Say you travelled in time, in an attempt to stop COVID-19’s patient zero from being exposed to the virus.

“However if you stopped that individual from becoming infected – that would eliminate the motivation for you to go back and stop the pandemic in the first place.

“This is a paradox – an inconsistency that often leads people to think that time travel cannot occur in our universe.

“Some physicists say it is possible, but logically it’s hard to accept because that would affect our freedom to make any arbitrary action.

“It would mean you can time travel, but you cannot do anything that would cause a paradox to occur.”

However the researchers say their work shows that neither of these conditions have to be the case, and it is possible for events to adjust themselves to be logically consistent with any action that the time traveller makes.

“In the coronavirus patient zero example, you might try and stop patient zero from becoming infected, but in doing so you would catch the virus and become patient zero, or someone else would,” Mr Tobar said.

“No matter what you did, the salient events would just recalibrate around you.

“This would mean that – no matter your actions - the pandemic would occur, giving your younger self the motivation to go back and stop it.

“Try as you might to create a paradox, the events will always adjust themselves, to avoid any inconsistency.

“The range of mathematical processes we discovered show that time travel with free will is logically possible in our universe without any paradox.”

The research is published in Classical and Quantum Gravity (DOI: 10.1088/1361-6382/aba4bc).

 Actually, while searching this place for previous time travel posts, I realised that I had been thinking about a certain idea since at least 2013 - much longer than I would have estimated. 

Time flies, I guess.


Has anyone else noticed that news camera operators (I was going to say "camera men", which most of them surely are, but I decided to be PC) in Australia are taking particular delight in showing needles going into arms in clear close up in any story they are doing about Covid vaccinations?

I am not needle phobic - in fact, I used to donate blood in my younger days - but I still don't particularly care to watch needles going into arms, whether it be mine or anyone else's.   I do get people's squeamishness about it, and it seems to me the media is not helping vaccination rates when they ensure that any needle phobic person is reminded each time they watch the news about how far in the needle goes.

Someone should tell them to stop it.   (I reckon there is much greater reticence in the American news I have seen to do the same thing.) 

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Some drug comedy

It's a couple of weeks old now, but I thought this sketch on Conan was pretty funny:

Pet ownership is great, but really...

The SMH reprints a story I had missed in the Washington Post:

Taiwan is home to one of the world’s most active communities of pet psychics - or animal communicators, as Hsu and her colleagues prefer to call themselves. The cottage industry is fuelled by residents’ growing devotion to their animals - increasingly a replacement for children - and desire for companionship during the pandemic.

Every few months, the Taiwan Animal Communication Centre graduates a new class of students, keeping a roster of more than 80 certified professionals for hire. Hundreds like Hsu have been trained by other teachers at home or overseas, including the United States and Britain, where the idea of pet telepathy emerged earlier but has not been as popular as in Taiwan. It takes months to get an appointment with the most popular communicators.

“There are more communicators per capita in Taiwan than anywhere else I’ve seen,” said Lauren McCall, a British American animal communicator who has run workshops for students in Taiwan for seven years.

This takes the idea of fraudulent mediums to another level. 

China and crypto

I haven't been paying much attention to the situation of China with cryprocurrency, but last night on China's All Propaganda, All the Time news network, I watched a video of a guy explaining Bitcoin:


So, oddly, it says at the start that China is going to wind down some coin mining in Mongolia because it is using up too much energy, but the general gist of the video still seems to be to encourage acceptance of cryptocurrency as the future of currency.

Which reminded me of some stories I had briefly seen but not paid too much attention to in the middle of last year about how China was going to introduce a digital currency that may challenge Bitcoin.

But the digital currency being talked about last year had the distinctly un-Bitcoin feature of enabling better government tracking of financial dealings?: 

China's version of a sovereign digital currency is set to revolutionise the ability of regulatory authorities to scrutinise the nation’s payment and financial system as officials will acquire more power to track how money is used by its citizens.

“Looking back years later, the two defining historic events of 2020 would be the coronavirus pandemic, and the other would be [China’s] digital currency,” said Xu Yuan, a senior researcher with Peking University's Digital Finance Research Cen­tre.

Here's another recent story about it:

One of the ways the PBoC can keep companies like Ant Group and Alibaba on a leash in future is to embed the e-renminbi into the monetary system. It is arguably a perfect example of how the most central of authorities can use a distributed technology network to its advantage.

“You can say it [blockchain] is decentralised, but actually if you want to track everything you can do it easily,” says Zabulis, “they can see all the flow, all the wallets. It’s extremely powerful.”

China has long been concerned about regulating and limiting shadow banking activities. Blockchain ledgers are the perfect way to monitor loans. Before stricter oversight was introduced late in 2017, much shadow lending had been via banks’ off-balance sheet wealth management products, along with various trust products from non-bank institutions.

So, yeah, I guess I am a little confused about this.   Cryptocurrency has never made much sense to me, and its appeal to libertarians and small government types like Sinclair Davidson and Chris Berg seemed to always be based on it reducing government control of money.   Because of that feature, I assumed that all governments would eventually legislate to control it.  

And is the reality that the blockchange technology that the RMIT crowd swoon over actually will ultimately allow real Big Brother government knowledge of all financial dealings?  

Update:  recent stories like this one  have talked about the complicated situation with cryptocurrency trading from China.

I don't really understand all of this, but it all smells a bit like big trouble to come, if you ask me...


Tuesday, March 30, 2021

New Age men and Qanon

At the Washington Post, an article about the odd cross over between some New Age masculinity fans (like the horned guy at the 6 January riot/insurrection) and Qanon.   This goes back a long way:

Jules Evans, an honorary research fellow at the Center for the History of Emotions at Queen Mary University of London, has investigated the history, philosophy and psychology of well-being. In an article for Medium called “Nazi Hippies: When the New Age and Far Right Overlap,” Evans wrote about how leading members of the Nazi party in the 1930s and ’40s were followers of alternative spirituality and medicine. “There was an idea that western culture has lost its way and we need to return to traditional sources of wisdom, whether that be Hinduism or Sufism or traditional gender roles,” Evans told me. It’s a concept that’s popular today with the alt-right. “There is an overlap,” he says, “between New Age and far-right populism in traditionalist thinking, that the West has lost its way with feminism, multiculturalism, egalitarianism, and we need a return to order.”
Moving forward:

...the men’s movement took off in the ’70s and ’80s. It manifested in three expressions, says Cliff Leek, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Northern Colorado and vice president of the American Men’s Studies Association: “You get pro-feminist [men’s] groups that do work around reproductive health and sexual violence; and, on the other end of the spectrum, men’s rights groups that say, ‘We are gendered and the system is out to get us.’ The middle way is the mythopoetic: tying masculinity back to the sacred and mythological.”

 The prevailing figure in the mythopoetic movement is the poet Robert Bly. In 1990, Bly, who was in his 60s (he’s now 94), published “Iron John: A Book About Men,” which includes lines like, “Where a man’s wound is, that is where his genius will be.” Bly’s idea, told through Jung-influenced archetypes and fairy tales, was that men had been robbed of true masculinity via emotionally withholding fathers who raised soft sons. With some reflection — and maybe some banging on drums with other dudes in the forest — they could reclaim their inner Zeuses and thrive. The book was sometimes the butt of jokes, but spent over a year on the New York Times bestseller list.

 And further down:

“As soon as we tie masculinity to spirituality, we turn masculinity into something ‘sacred’ as well as distinct and exclusive of women,” says Leek. “I’m not entirely sure that is something that can be done in a way that doesn’t reinforce or naturalize inequalities.” These retreats seem to be encouraging strong behavior from a group — White, ruling-class men — who are already the most privileged in our society. But you also see this core message about strong men in socially conservative packaging. There’s a fear of women getting too powerful and a veneration of the housewife that, frankly, reminds me of the Proud Boys, the alt-right group with a history of violence that believes women are best left at home raising children.

“The wellness and spirituality world is very parallel to the evangelical Christian world, especially when it comes to the messaging around masculinity,” Leek explains. “The mythopoetic aspect of the men’s movement is very much rooted in patriarchal notions of chivalry and men as protectors and warriors. Evangelical masculinity is basically identical.” He wasn’t surprised to see the QAnon Shaman beside evangelical groups at the Capitol. QAnon, with its fixation on pedophilic conspiracies led by Hollywood and the liberal elite, can give a certain kind of man in search of purpose a way to feel like a literal protector.


So that's how the Right goes wrong with an unwarranted emphasis on the differences between masculinity and femininity, but does the Left do the same with its uncritical takes on transgenderism? 

Space sounds even more unhealthy than expected

Gee, I seem to recall that Arthur C Clarke and other science fiction optimists used to speculate that heart patients might benefit from a period in freefall in orbiting hospitals, the idea being that it would help recovery for the heart to have less "work" to do.

That idea has probably long gone out the window, but this article at the BBC sheds more light on the matter:

Spending very long periods of time in space has something in common with extreme endurance swimming: both can cause the heart to shrink.

That's the conclusion of a study that compared the effects of astronaut Scott Kelly's year in space with a marathon swim by athlete Benoît Lecomte.

Both remove the loads on the heart that are usually applied by gravity, causing the organ to atrophy.

Exercise wasn't enough in either case to counteract the changes to the heart.

I didn't know endurance swimming could have that effect, but here's the explanation:

On 5 June 2018, Benoît Lecomte embarked on an effort to swim the Pacific Ocean, having previously traversed the Atlantic.

He swam 2,821km over 159 days, eventually abandoning the attempt.

Swimming for very long periods also changes the loads placed on the heart by gravity because the person is in a horizontal position rather than vertical.

Lecomte swam an average of 5.8 hours per day, sleeping for around eight hours each night. This meant that he was spending between nine and 17 hours each day in a supine state.

Scientists sometimes use bed rest studies to simulate spaceflight because lying down eliminates the head-to-foot gradient that places a load on the heart. But Prof Levine said water immersion for long periods in a prone position is an even better model for time spent in orbit.

"Now you take away the head-to-foot gradient and then you put the person in the water, so you adjust that gradient too. It's just about like being in space," said Prof Levine.

The possible health consequences of a smaller heart in space:

The heart adaptations, however, aren't long-term - both men's hearts returned to normal once they were back on terra firma.

But chambers in the heart known as the atria expand in space, in part because of changes in the way fluid passes through. This might lead to a condition called atrial fibrillation, where the heart beats fast and in an irregular manner. It can impair exercise, but may also increase the risk of stroke.

And what's this?  A whole new idea as to how radiation may hurt health?: 

There's also another risk to this vital organ from space travel. The higher radiation levels in space might accelerate coronary heart disease. Astronauts are screened for atherosclerosis, but they are generally middle-aged when they go into space and scientists know this is a problem that builds with age. 

Monday, March 29, 2021

The Pentagon blowing up the ship and the canal not necessary after all

News just now:

A huge container ship that has been wedged in the Suez Canal since Tuesday has reportedly been refloated.

Video posted social media on Monday appeared to show the stern of the Ever Given swung towards the canal bank, opening space in the channel. Maritime services company Inchcape also reported the vessel was freed.

Which reminds me of the stupidest take on the whole matter by one T Carlson:


Fertility worries

A somewhat interesting interview with a professor of environmental medicine who is sounding the alarm bell about declining fertility and chemicals.

Earlier this month I mocked Tucker Carlson running a story about falling sperm counts, and he perhaps was inspired by this professor's new book?     I still mock him anyway - because it's not as if conservatives and Republicans (and Trump) had or have the environment runs on the card when dealing with environmental contamination of any kind.     (And the key blame appears to rest on chemicals.)

Friday, March 26, 2021

The stool of wisdom

Well, this gut flora influences everything idea might be able to be taken to the next level:

The new Frontiers in Psychiatry study involved 187 participants, ages 28 to 97, who completed validated self-report-based measures of loneliness, wisdom, compassion, social support and social engagement. The gut microbiota was analyzed using fecal samples. Microbial gut diversity was measured in two ways: alpha-diversity, referring to the ecological richness of microbial species within each individual and beta-diversity, referring to the differences in the microbial community composition between individuals.

"We found that lower levels of loneliness and higher levels of wisdom, compassion, social support and engagement were associated with greater phylogenetic richness and diversity of the gut microbiome," said first author Tanya T. Nguyen, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry at UC San Diego School of Medicine.

The authors said that the mechanisms that may link loneliness, compassion and wisdom with gut microbial diversity are not known, but observed that reduced microbial diversity typically represents worse physical and mental health, and is associated with a variety of diseases, including obesity, inflammatory bowel disease and major depressive disorder.

Of course, while it might be a simple as wise and socially engaged people eat better and that encourages a certain healthy gut flora, it would be funnier if wisdom and compassion could be spread by, say, our Einsteins and (I dunno) Dalai Lamas of the world providing their poop for fecal implants amongst the unhappy. 



Going to a Roman pub was a little different back in the day?

From an interview with a historian who has written a pop history book about murder in ancient Rome, she explains why she got into ancient history (my bold in the paragraph itself):

Ars Technica: They rarely teach you the good stuff in history classes.

Emma Southon: It's true. Everything's hampered by curricula, is the problem. Curricula are never, like, "You know what you should do? You should show them a tintinnabulum [a decorative bell mounted on a pole] and then get people to talk about the tintinnabulum and about why somebody might put a penis-headed lion with a penis for a tail [on it]."

This is why I ended up doing ancient history. I did modern history at school, until I was 16. It's all battles and treaties and Hitler, and then some more treaties and battles. It just was so tedious. Ancient history sounded more fun. I got a copy of Suetonius and read it and thought, "These guys are great." It's all just gossip and people having rude pictures and ghosts and omens. And then I read Aristophanes, a Greek comedy playwright; it's just dick jokes all the way down. I thought, "Clearly, this was where I was always meant to be."

The history of ancient Rome is not this boring world of Cicero shouting or Julius Caesar marching around. It is this world where they would get really upset if they stubbed their toe while they were going to an important meeting, so they'd have to go home and end the whole day because that meant the gods didn't want them to do it. Or where they were nude all the time in the bars and had all seen each other's penises. They're such a weird and contradictory set of people. I love them more every year.

 The article opens by noting this story:

There once was a wealthy Roman man named Vedius Pollio, infamous for maintaining a reservoir of man-eating eels, into which he would throw any slaves who displeased him, resulting in their gruesome deaths. When Emperor Augustus dined with him on one memorable occasion, a servant broke a crystal goblet, and an enraged Vedius ordered the servant thrown to the eels. Augustus was shocked and ordered all the crystal at the table to be broken. Vedius was forced to pardon the servant, since he could hardly punish him for breaking one goblet when Augustus had broken so many more.

That servant seems to have been spared, but many others had their "bowels torn asunder" by the eels.

and lots of people in comments say "really?  your run of the mill eels don't have significant teeth."   

Googling the topic shows that there is the possibility that it was moray eels - and if they are kept hungry enough...maybe they become instant maneaters?   The Romans were really into eels, for some reason:

In researching this story I realized that there is some confusion as to whether Vedius Pollio had a pond filled with the razor sharp toothed moraena (moray) eels or the jawless, funnel mouth blood sucking lamprey. Both were popular in the diet of wealthy Romans.

The muraena (moray) eel was larger and more spectacular. Pliny the Elder wrote the fish was actually named after Lucinus Murena who is credited with the first muraena eel farm, although Lucinus might have been called Murena because of his love of the eel. The eels were considered more valuable than the slaves who tended the ell ponds.

During the 1st century Roman elite made pets of their eels. Antonia the Younger, the daughter of Mark Anthony and mother of the Emperor Claudius fastened earrings to the dorsal fin of her pet eel.

Lampreys, which I would have thought one is hard pressed to find on a menu these days, apparently don't taste like eel (which, having been to Japan, I've eaten quite often).  And maybe they still get lamprey to eat in England?:

I’ve been told Lamprey meat tastes like squid. Eel pies (made with lamprey) have been an English tradition since the 19th century. You can still find Eel, Pie and mash (potato) shops in the UK.

So, there's your oddball history for the day...