Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Rambling on about retail woes

Oh good - an ABC report talking about the worrying decline in retail in Australia.

I almost daily walk through 2 suburban shopping centres - one a major sized one, with 3 supermarkets and 3 of the big retailers; and the other a smaller, local one with one supermarket and maybe 20 other small shops and food outlets.

Both were substantially renovated and extended about (I think) 7 or so years ago.

Walking around them these days, you just get the unavoidable feeling that the centre owners expanded too far - they just can't fill all of the space that is now available.  In the last year or so it has become clearly worse in the bigger centre - new tenants who took up leases for 5 or 6 years in the expansion just aren't renewing.

People blame on line shopping for the downturn, but I am not sure it can account for too much of the problem.  (Or is that just my bias because I buy very little on line as I actually want to support retail on the ground?   For some things, though, on line is ridiculously cheaper.   I am astounded at the almost throw away price of some electronics coming out of China.   For example, my car is old enough that it does not have Bluetooth built in, but a device that plugs into the cigarette lighter works fine by rebroadcasting from my phone to the FM radio.  That hi tech, tiny device cost all of $15.)

And the problem is just not Australia.   One of the very, very few useful things  I learn from reading the madhouse comments at Catallaxy is that even in NYC, retail in former swanky retail areas is emptying out.

Another old commenter at that blog was saying recently that he thinks people might just have reached a realisation that they have everything they need.    And I am feeling inclined to agree.  For some electronics stuff (big screen TVs for example), the quality has become so good that you can't imagine needing to upgrade for increased viewing pleasure;  and the build is such that they would seem to have many years of life in them.   I guess TVs always were a bit that way - you never bought one not expecting it to last a long time - but there used to be room for improvement in the basic function in a way that is hard to imagine now.   Other technological changes make some items hardly necessary - DVDs and DVD players are being replaced by streaming services; I hardly ever bother trying to record something off free to air TV now, even with higher definition broadcast.  

Clothes tend to mostly last a long time,  and if I go to DFO I can buy a good business shirt for all of $30 any day of the year.   Any purely cotton item is more likely to need to be replaced more for being completely outdated in fashion terms  rather than for developing holes.  (Except in pockets - that remains the weak spot in pants.)

So, yeah, I am feeling a bit lately like I do have everything I need.   I couldn't think of anything to ask for from my family for my recent birthday.   Or is this just a function of older age?   And busy-ness generally?

Anyway, failing retail feels bad, because of the knock on effect on investment in retail space.   Mind you, maybe part of the problem is ridiculously greedy landlords, too.

A busy marketplace makes everyone feel good, and confident in the economy.   I would like to see retail on the ground at more confident levels than it is now, but I am sure how that is going to happen in current circumstances.... 

Rich kids and acting

Somewhat interesting article about the serious faced young actor Will Poulter in The Guardian, notable because it talks about a disproportionate number of British actors coming from rich kids' schools:
...he was a pupil at the Harrodian School in west London (current fees: upwards of £6,000 per term), whose alumni also include Robert Pattinson, Jack Whitehall, Tom Sturridge and George Mackay....

I wonder how it felt to hear Daniel Mays observe, in 2016, that the industry was “awash” with privately educated actors, or to read the Sutton report’s findings that the same group takes a disproportionately high share of awards (42% of British Bafta winners and 67% of British Oscar winners). Is it like being under attack? “No, no. Not at all. I’ve undoubtedly benefited from my middle-class environment. I hold my hands up to that. And I know that unless we try to make pathways into the industry more open and accessible, then we can’t expect it to reflect society.”
I wonder how that compares with the backgrounds of Australian (and American) actors.  Not something I have thought about all that much...

A bigger problem than we knew at the ABC

This story has legs, surely:  
ABC chairman Justin Milne told former managing director Michelle Guthrie to sack high-profile presenter Emma Alberici following a complaint from then-prime minister Malcolm Turnbull.
In an extraordinary intervention that underlines the political pressure on Ms Guthrie before she was axed on Monday, Mr Milne appeared to acquiesce to government complaints about “bias” by calling for the chief economics correspondent to be fired because she was damaging the public broadcaster's standing with Coalition MPs.
Also, it shows Turnbull in a bad light for having made such a song and dance about the report, too.

So, all we need now is a change of government, a new ABC Chairperson, and a new ABC managing direction.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

About Kavanaugh

I said a few days ago that I don't get that much into the minutiae of things like the odd, highly politicised way America goes about appointing Supreme Court judges.  But this Kavanaugh case is very strange in more ways than one.  

Isn't it unseemly for him to be going on Fox News to talk about his (lack of) a sex life at high school/college?   Have previous nominees treated it all as a big PR war that have engaged in outside of the hearing room? 

And the evidence seems clear from several people that he was a young, obnoxious drunk.  Take this statement:

It seems entirely plausible that he would make a drunken grope at a woman, or expose himself, and not remember the next morning.   Being a repeat, aggro, young drunk doesn't mean he did do those things - but it does tend to raise questions about how much to trust his recall and denials as to what he may have done.

His sycophantic suck up to Trump too was really remarkable (and not in a good way):
Brett M. Kavanaugh thanked President Trump for his nomination to the Supreme Court on Monday night. Almost immediately, he made a thoroughly strange and quite possibly bogus claim.

“No president has ever consulted more widely, or talked with more people from more backgrounds, to seek input about a Supreme Court nomination,” Kavanaugh said.

It may seem like a throwaway line — a bit of harmless political hyperbole. But this was also the first public claim from a potential Supreme Court justice who will be tasked with interpreting and parsing the law down to the letter. Specificity and precision are the name of the game in Kavanaugh's chosen profession. How on earth could he be so sure?
On the other hand, oddly for a conservative, he seems to be on record for saying that climate change is real and man made and is a serious policy issue.   But apparently there is still such concern about his narrow view as to the limits of government power that he will be very bad for climate  action anyway.

Isn't it time America put its mind to a less politicised way of getting its Supreme Court chosen?  I don't know - let there be a panel selected and then a random draw, or something.   And compulsory retirement ages.  

It's too weird the way it is...


Stupid solar / good solar

Why would anyone have ever taken solar cells embedded in roads seriously?   The problems are obvious - and are set out in this article about a couple of tests of the concept that gave very underwhelming results.

On the other hand, why is no one in Australia talking about floating solar on our dams and lakes? :
....installing Solar PV system on water bodies like oceans, lakes, lagoons, reservoir, irrigation ponds, waste water treatment plants, wineries, fish farms, dams and canals can be an attractive option. Floating type solar photovoltaic panels have numerous advantages compared to overland installed solar panels, including fewer obstacles to block sunlight , convenient, energy efficiency, higher power generation efficiency owing to its lower temperature underneath the panels . Additionally, the aquatic environment profits by the solar installation because the shading of the plant prevents excessive water evaporation, limits algae growth and potentially improving water quality.
Floating photo voltaic power plant:A review | Request PDF. Available from: [accessed Sep 25 2018].

My Rules for Life (updated)

As indicated in a previous post, I have two firm rules already.   But sometimes I think of a new one, and unless I get it down quick, it may be forgotten.   So I might just keep updating them here, when inspiration strikes.  So, the list now:

1.  Always carry a clean, ironed handkerchief in your pocket.  Always.
2.  Never buy into timeshare apartments or holiday schemes. 

And now:

3.  If you have a choice, buy the washing machine with a 15 minute "fast wash" option.   

More as they occur to me.

Pretty much agree

I wonder if this anecdote is true

I haven't followed the Guthrie story with any great care, but I never felt she seemed particularly impressive, and certainly seemed to be a bit all over the shop in terms of defence of the organisation at a time it needed strong pushback against culture war idiots in the Coalition.

I don't really like the changes that have taken place in ABC content under her leadership.   But if she had any hand in the cancellation of Tonightly, I'll give her credit for that...

Aldi's big adventure

I didn't read about this before:   a 19 year old gets stuck aboard a floating "fishing hut" and drifts from Indonesia to Guam before rescue:

Sort of cool, actually.  Read about it at NPR.


Bernard Keane is a TMBG fan too?:

I shouldn't be surprised:  I can imagine him liking Hopeless Bleak Despair, for example.   (It is a great song, typical of TMGB unique ability to make you feel happy about darkness.   Come to think of it - by rights they should be big in Mexico.   That Day of the Dead stuff is along similar lines.)

Monday, September 24, 2018

Netflix update

I'm sure readers are fascinated to know what I've been watching on Netflix recently:

Grimm:   a long running crime/fantasy series which I had never watched before, although I have a feeling it used to be on free to air TV.    (I can't be bothered watching  this type of show on commercial television any more - the week to week changeability of programming that's become its hallmark over the last couple of decades just means you can't get into a set weekly pattern of viewing like you used to.)

Anyhow,  I find this a pleasing enough show - the acting can be a little hammy, but its got a light touch and I see that it's actually filmed in the town where it is set - Portland, Oregon.  The frequent trips it makes into green forests and quaint looking suburban streets and houses do make it look like a nice part of the States.  (I half expected it would turn out to be shot in Canada, but no.)    Only into the first season so far:  it's not earth shattering but it's good enough to keep watching.

Fargo:   because my son started watching the first season without me, we've started watching together season 2.   Quite a lot to like - visually very cinematic, good acting and the same, dry sort of approach to character and humour as I recall from the movie.  (Which, incidentally, I never held in particularly high regard.  It was more-or-less harmless, but I never understood the strong critical enthusiasm.  I have only seen it once and have little interest in re-watching.)   It seems to me this show, or this season, is more enjoyable than the movie.  Good.

* Godless:  I had trouble convincing my son to watch it - he's not the biggest fan of the Western.  But the first episode last night was really impressive - again, the cinematic looks and fine acting (and some unexpected scenes - riding the horse into the church service was something you don't see in Westerns every day) all worked a treat.   Very happy so far.

American Horror Story:   I know it's a different story every series, but the season I first tried is unimpressive.   Won't continue after 2 episodes.

Returning soon:    The Good Place (yay!), and (I saw by accident last night) another series of the very under-watched Norsemen (comedy Vikings from Norway.  I don't know why it doesn't seem to be better known.) 

Yay for solar in hurricanes (and why aren't we floating solar?)

David Roberts has linked to two renewable stories that impress:

*  A report that despite having quite a lot of solar farms installed in North Carolina (again - a bit of a surprise that a conservative region in the US has been quietly going about installing renewables - would Judith Sloan and Alan Moran care to explain why it's happening in those parts of the US?), the solar farms seem to have come out of Hurricane Florence with little damage.

*    California is building some floating solar farms on water reservoirs.   Why aren't we?   Especially in South East Queensland, where the water cooling effect in summer may be welcome as a side effect.

More about Lachlan

I noted recently that I was surprised to read somewhere that Lachlan Murdoch was actually more conservative than his Dad Rupert. 

More detail on this is provided in The Guardian today.

I'm pretty sure, now that my memory is refreshed, that I had assumed he was not like his Dad because he had seemed to act with great haste on sacking Roger Ailes, the late sleazy head of Fox News.

But as The Guardian explains, there was likely bad blood between them going back years.  In fact, the article suggests that people think Lachlan is not one for overtly taking revenge, but take revenge he does.

So, I used to think things would improve re Fox News when Rupert died.   Now, all we have to hope for is some family wide tragedy instead.   Do Lachlan and Rupert ever take the same flight, I wonder?

Friday, September 21, 2018

Amateur, defaming detective at work

This really is a remarkably inane thing to do - but we're talking a Republican attorney here:  he's from a group that has hardly been showering itself in glory with its defence of all things Trump. 

I read the Tweet thread concerned because Jonathan Swan re-tweeted it, saying that lots of people in the White House were giving it close attention.  Then Swan realised that it was a ridiculously defaming thing to do (well,he called it irresponsible) and deleted it.   As did that NYT journo whose name I forget.

But Whelan has left them up.   It's like he's riding around Washington in the back of a pick up truck yelling through a bullhorn "So sue me!  I mean it - you, Sir, give me name so I can accuse you of attempted rape, and you'll be a million bucks richer!" 


China and privacy

A short article at MIT Technology Review tries to make the case that China's "big data" interest in social control may actually be a bit better than the more ultra-local forms of social control they used to be known for:
Better or worse than what?

China’s surveillance culture existed long before the rise of big data. In his book The Government Next Door, Luigi Tomba details how Chinese politics have been micromanaged at the neighborhood level. Residential communities are monitored by neighborhood committees performing semigovernmental functions: reporting dissent, resolving conflicts, and managing both petitions to the government and protests against it. These functions used to be the task of retired elderly women, whom the former Wall Street Journal reporter Adi Ignatius memorably called the “small-feet KGB.” (In traditional China, women had their feet bound at birth.) The question is whether monitoring and repression through impersonal technology is better or worse than these personal intrusions.

One of the most important roles of the small-feet KGB was to enforce China’s one-child policy. The Chinese fertility rate fell dramatically while the policy applied, from 1979 to 2015—a testament to the effectiveness of these personal surveillance tactics.

In ancient China, there was a joint liability system under which three to five households were linked together. If a member of one household committed an offense, all the households were punished. During the Cultural Revolution, punishments for political dissenters were routinely meted out to their immediate family members. The political system compensated for a lack of data on individual activities by deterring dissent broadly and harshly.

Big data would be a threat if Chinese citizens could be expected to have an abundance of political and civil liberties in its absence. But China is a repressive, authoritarian society with or without big data. Technology has made the repression more precise, but precise repression might be an improvement over indiscriminate repression.
The article also talks about how the Chinese have traditionally distrusted privacy as a concept:
One reason Chinese attitudes are different is that as recently as the 1980s, the word “privacy” had negative connotations in China. Chinese norms are anchored in 2,000 years of a Confucian culture that values the intensity of interpersonal relationships. One way to solidify those relationships is through transparency and full disclosure. A circumstance that triggers secrecy is typically an unsavory one. If something is good, why not tell us? Privacy in this context was equated with preserving a dirty secret. To be private was to be antisocial.
 The point is made that the wide surveillance now underway may be changing that.

Message for monty

I don't even know that you drop in here much anymore, but I see you are trying to have a debate with someone who thinks that the world is about to be saved by energy to be mined from the quantum vacuum or some such, who seemingly thinks that the Kansas Laffer experiment was not a failure - despite the fact that Republicans themselves reversed it.   Could you ask him why that happened? 

I am also dying for someone - anyone - amongst Lizzie's myriad admirers to raise the slightest doubt about the wisdom of repeatedly  leaving her children to the care of nannies (or whoever) in Australia while she and her rich husband take extended overseas holidays - this one for 3 months.  Parenting over Skype is not quite the same as being there...

A word that makes me reach for my (imaginary) revolver

An article in the SMH by the NSW education minister (a Liberal too!) talking about concerns regarding teacher education standards (my bold):
Both the government (as the largest employer of teachers in the state) and current teachers and principals (as guardians of the profession) have a legitimate expectation that universities produce graduates who are capable of making significant contributions to the pedagogical landscape.
Hey Minister:  you could improve the public's confidence that you are on the right path by not adopting the professional jargon by which self serving (and Left leaning) teachers who teach teachers have sought to increase their status. 

Politics is kinda weird in America

Can you imagine another other county where parties rush into PR campaigns like this to defend their Supreme Court nominee of choice?:

Speaking of weird politics:   why on Earth would our new PM think it wise, or funny, to imitate the dumbest, most character deficient world leader by doing this:

I just can't see Morrison's PR flim flam winning over voters.  

Election please...

Jaws Lite - Just what the Whitsundays didn't need

I've been feeling sorry for the Whitsunday Islands for years - resorts closing down even before cyclones came and tore them up, people who invested money there 30 years on the assumption that it would always be popular getting burnt.   And now, two shark attacks in 24 hours.

Rather unusual.

The remarkably increasingly popular Japan

From a BBC story about a couple of YouTube stars (who I had occasionally looked at before), I get this:
Global interest and international visitors could have something to do with it. Tourism numbers are rising at lightning speed – 250% between 2012 and 2017. The World Tourism Organization says that Japanese tourism has seen six straight years of double-digit growth, with a record 28 million foreign visitors travelling to Japan within the last year, a figure especially powered by China. The government aims to attract 40 million visitors in 2020 for the Tokyo Olympics.
YouTube content from the country has also been on the up and up:
The rise in J-vlogging is part of a bigger trend: YouTube is more popular in Japan than ever. “The hours of content uploaded from YouTube channels in Japan has more than doubled between 2016 and 2017,” says Marc Lefkowitz, YouTube’s head of creator and artist development for Asia-Pacific.
Its popularity is well deserved.  

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Another maybe, possibly, useful line of Alzheimer's research

From Ed Yong in The Atlantic:

Wiping Out the Brain’s Retired Cells Prevents a Hallmark of Alzheimer's

Don't what to be there when the big one happens again

A brief note at Nature News explains that if the Himalayas have a repeat of the very big earthquakes of the 16th century, the death toll today (due to population rise) could be huge:
A quake in the western Himalayas in 1555 may have been as large as magnitude 8. Today, a quake of this magnitude could kill 221,000 people and injure 884,000. Meanwhile, the 1505 earthquake that struck the central Himalayas may have measured as much as magnitude 8.7. A repeat could kill 599,000 people and injure more than one million. 

Australia going in the right direction

The Guardian notes that in the UK, immunisation rates are going slightly in the wrong direction:
Data from NHS Digital revealed the proportion of children receiving the MMR vaccine by the age of two fell to 91.2% in England in 2017-18, from 91.6% the year before. The figures showed 87.2% of five-year-olds had received both MMR vaccines, well below the 95% recommended by the World Health Organization.
I wondered how Australia compared, and it's pretty good:
In 2016-17, 93.5 per cent of Australian five year olds were fully immunised, this is up from from 92.9 per cent in 2015-16 and 90.0 per cent in 2011-12. The national target is 95 per cent.
So for 5 year olds, we're a full 6% higher rate of immunisation.

A little surprisingly, it would seem that US rates of MMR vaccination for up to 35 months old kids is 91.9%.  Close to the UK rate.

Still, Australia does vaccination pretty well.

I'm suffering from an urge... reach through the screen and hit this plate from below, with an upwards and backwards trajectory:

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Mad as Hell's satiric perfection

The Liberal Party having provided Mad as Hell's writers and actors an embarrassment of riches to work with, I had high hopes for  tonight's series return, and they were more than met.

It was spectacularly funny, smart writing and performance:  a perfect episode where not a line was out of place.  The opening segment was especially great - I hope it appears on YouTube sometime.

Go watch it on iView if you missed it...

Pill testing and the limits of hedonism

OK, I have to admit, no matter the low regard in which I hold his work now:  my initial inclination was to agree with Tim Blair on the question of pill testing and the open drug taking culture of music festivals.

I see Bolt has done some editorial on it as well, but I don't know what position he eventually came to.

Meanwhile, of course, I've noted the vast swathe of Left leaning journalists and commentators who are appalled that conservatives don't want to just admit that the yoof will never stop dropping E and God knows what else at raves, and the war on drugs has never worked, and look at Europe where pill testing is working, etc etc.

Having surveyed a lot of pieces about this, I'm somewhat torn.   It will be too much work to link to everything, but here are my impressions:

* of course I sympathise with the conservative take that an open slather attitude to all drug taking encourages hedonistic indulgence which should not be endorsed.  (An explanation of the pragmatic conservative approach to wanting to chemically adjust mood follows).   [Update:  I also meant to mention that in the comments following a Guardian pro pill testing piece, there was a surprisingly high number of readers saying - just don't do drugs.  Given the non-conservative readership of that paper, it certainly indicates that even for Lefties, this issue is pushing the limits of toleration for demands to make hedonism safer.]

* on the other hand, harm minimisation is often an appropriate component of the response to public health issues, and I can see how it is not implausible that rigorous pill testing could save some lives in some circumstances;

*  however, the state of research on pill testing at festivals seems pretty limited and much of it seems pretty anecdotal in nature.  For example, you have people who watched the testing regime saying that some pills were dumped when the intended consumer were told that they had a dangerous ingredient.   But the research on how attendees view pill testing is often based on survey results which I am not sure are all that trustworthy, and the overall research on the effect in terms of long term reduction of deaths and hospitalisations seems pretty thin, really.   (It is, probably, a hard thing to research, given the variability of the illicit drug market from year to year.)

* drug legalisation proponents - like Alex Wodak - have always been so wildly pro harm reduction that I don't trust their advocacy at all.   It's like euthanasia - if you want to convince me, don't even think of bringing obsessive Phil Nietzsche into the debate.

* not all harm minimisation is the same, and you can draw pragmatic lines:  for example, I don't think it is hypocritical to support heroin safe injecting rooms and not endorse pill testing for other drugs.  The heroin addict has a real need to get the drug for avoidance of feeling awful and not being able to function; the party goer faces no similar down side of not taking their preferred temporary high.

* I do, once again, wish that those who think illicit drugs are simply inevitable in society would at least acknowledge that it's not impossible to imagine a functioning, rich, basically successful society where the drugs are limited to the old standbys of alcohol and tobacco - because in fact you do have a few, modern examples which are pretty much exactly like that - Japan, Singapore and (to a lesser extent - but crucial because of it being a Western society example) Sweden.   Young folk of those nations are not throwing themselves off tall buildings because life is not worth living if you can't go to a rave every second week and hug strangers under the influence of ecstasy.  Can you admit that, drug softies? 

* the practical advantage of societies with one crucial, good time, legal drug (hello, alcohol, and Japan) is that its medical effects both temporary and long term are very well known and understood.  You can target public health messaging accordingly, and set up treatment using well understood methods and drugs.   One of the unacknowledged things that drug legalisation advocates never talk about is that the state of research on the brain effects of  illicit pleasure is at a much, much less advanced stage, and it's kind of irritating that there even needs to be research on stuff that the cool kids are taking for purely hedonistic reasons and just because mere alcohol is not enough for them.

* I could fully endorse pill testing at festivals if it were done on some placebo sort of basis.   Just lie, testers ("oh wow, that's really bad - rat poison chemical in those"), or hand out substitute sugar pills pretending that they are from a stash that someone surrendered and, in an act of generosity, let the testers give out as a safe substitute.   Given what we know of placebo effect, half of the users will probably feel at least a bit high from them anyway...

Buddhism, sexuality and Asians

I'm not 100% sure, but I think most people probably know that the Western pop Buddhist view that the religion has an easy going, shrug-shoulders attitude towards matters of sex and sexuality is not exactly well founded in its origins.    But I hadn't read before this story, which appeared recently in  an AEON article indicating the amusingly extreme degree to which you can say that the Buddha himself was far from "sex positive":
The inciting incident was when a man named Sudinna left his wife and parents to become a monk. Some time later, he came home and made love to his wife – not for love or lust, but at the urging of his mother. She worried that if she and her husband died without an heir, the king would seize their property. Although there was no rule against monks having sex at the time, Sudinna felt guilty and told some other monks what had happened. Those monks tattled to the Buddha, who summoned Sudinna for perhaps the worst scolding in Buddhist literature:
Worthless man, it would be better that your penis be stuck into the mouth of a poisonous snake than into a woman’s vagina. It would be better that your penis be stuck into the mouth of a black viper than into a woman’s vagina. It would be better that your penis be stuck into a pit of burning embers, blazing and glowing, than into a woman’s vagina. Why is that? For that reason you would undergo death or death-like suffering, but you would not on that account, at the breakup of the body, after death, fall into deprivation, the bad destination, the abyss, hell.
Over the long history of Buddhism, most of its vast literature has been composed by celibate monks. Sexual intercourse – defined as the penetration of an orifice even to the depth of a sesame seed – was the first transgression to entail permanent expulsion from the monastic order. Monks have written works of particular misogyny, such as the ‘Blood Bowl Sutra’ where the blood is menstrual blood. They’ve also sought to control the sex lives of Buddhist lay people by imposing a wide range of restrictions, such as prohibiting sex during the day or the penetration of any orifice other than the vagina. These rules have remained in place, cited in modern discussions of Buddhist attitudes toward gay and lesbian sex. Buddhist texts across Asia have presented monks as models of chastity. However, their depiction in the plays and novels of various Buddhist lands can be quite different – like in medieval Europe, monks were often portrayed as lechers.
The article then goes on to talk about how the Indian idea of tantric sex, which apparently came along about a millennium after Buddha's death (really? - I wouldn't have guessed that timing), was a theory that elevated sex as spiritually important.   (I thought tantra was more of a Hindu idea that one related to Buddhism, but I've never made a study of it.)

Such efforts to spiritualise sex have always struck me as unconvincing and pre-modern; particularly so in light of an understanding of evolution.   

But as far as I know, the Indian attempt to make sex something divine still only extended to heterosexuals, and it seems you actually have to go back to later Buddhism, at least in Japan, for making the same attempted justification for homosexual activity, particularly of the pederast variety.    I was surprised to learn recently that there is a common belief there that the founder of one of the Buddhism branches gave endorsement of sodomy amongst his monks.  It's explained in detail in this lengthy (and really quite interesting) scholarly article on Buddhism and  homosexuality in Japan, from which I extract this: 

Although present, Tantric sexual imagery which involved the unification of male and female was of marginal influence in Japan.  Far more pervasive in male Buddhist institutions was the influence of homoerotic and even homosexual imagery where beautiful acolytes were understood to embody the feminine principle.  The degree to which Buddhism tolerated same-sex sexual activity even among its ordained practitioners is clear from the popular myth that the founder of the Shingon school, Kooboo Daishi (Kuukai), introduced homosexual acts upon his return from study in China in the early ninth century. This myth was so well known that even the Portuguese traveller, Gaspar Vilela had heard it.  Writing in 1571, he complains of the addiction of the monks of Mt. Hiei to ‘sodomy’, and attributes its introduction to Japan to Kuukai, the founder of Koyasan, the Shingon headquarters[6].  Jesuit records of the Catholic mission to Japan are full of rants about the ubiquity of pederastic passion among the Buddhist clergy.  What particularly riled the missionaries was the widespread acceptance these practices met with among the general populace.  Father Francis Cabral noted in a letter written in 1596 that ‘abominations of the flesh’ and ‘vicious habits’ were ‘regarded in Japan as quite honourable; men of standing entrust their sons to the bonzes to be instructed in such things, and at the same time to serve their lust’[7].   Another Jesuit commented that ‘this evil’ was ‘so public’ that the people ‘are neither depressed nor horrified’[8] suggesting that same-sex love among the clergy was not considered remarkable....

The homoerotic environment of Buddhist monasteries actually inspired a literary genre, Chigo monogatari (Tales about acolytes), which took as its theme the love between acolytes (chigo) and their spiritual guides.  These homoerotic relationships were ‘firmly grounded in the familiar structures of monastic life’[10] and were meant to appeal to their Buddhist audience. A common theme of these tales is the transformation of a Buddhist deity, usually Kannon (Sanskrit Avalokite'svara), Jizoo (skt. Ksitigarbha) or Monjushiri (Sanskrit Ma~nju'srii)[11], into a beautiful young acolyte.  The acolyte then uses his physical charms to endear himself to an older monk and thereby lead him to Enlightenment.  In the fourteenth-century Chigo Kannon engi, Kannon takes the form of a beautiful novice to become the lover of a monk who is longing for companionship in his old age.  After a few years of close companionship, however, the acolyte dies, leaving the monk desolate.  Kannon then appears to the monk, reveals that he and the acolyte were one and the same and delivers a discourse on impermanence.  Childs comments that:
The homosexual relationship between the monk and the novice implied in this tale expresses both Kannon’s compassion and his accommodation to the needs of a situation.  Kannon has appeared to the old man to teach him about human transience and the futility of earthly pleasures.  This goal is accomplished, because, as the monk’s lover, Kannon has become fully integrated into his life.[12]

The article then goes on to give other examples of how the love of "beautiful youth" was given a metaphysical context.   (Some of the other examples from literature of the time are pretty surprisingly graphic.)

Now, while I had read before that the Samurai class in Japan had a pederastic mentoring thing going, I hadn't realised that it was connected to Buddhist justification for such activity too:
As pointed out above, many sons of the samurai were educated in Buddhist monasteries and Buddhist paradigms of intergenerational friendships, often sexual in nature, influenced male-male relations in the homosocial world of the samurai more generally.  This was especially true in the Tokugawa period (1600-1857) when the samurai became concentrated in great castle towns like Edo (present-day Tokyo) where there were comparatively few women.  That there was a ‘positive moral value attached to male-male love relationships among the samurai during this period’ is clear from the large amount of literature dealing with these relationships.

I think it fair to say that there has never been anything similar in Christian history.   (By which I mean, while obviously there would have been monks having gay sex, no one ever tried to paint it as something with a divine purpose or endorsement.)   And, obviously, the question can be asked as to how much of the attempted rationalisation of pederasty is really just opportunistic.    (In fact, the description in the article suggests the Japanese monks' practice was bordering on paedophilia rather than pederasty - but it's not 100% clear.)   It also suggests that amongst Samurai, while open and nothing to be ashamed of, the sexual aspect of mentoring relationships was not emphasised, and it was expected that it would end at the boys' coming of age, even if the close friendship was to continue.

Both articles I have linked to here make the point that Buddhism was fully on board with the idea of women being defiled by menstruation - something that I think Christianity didn't dwell upon, although I am not sure why.    The second article suggests that the lower status of women in Japan helped account for the greater value put on male to male relationships, and I suppose I have read the same thing about Greece.    Did Ancient Roman culture not go down the pederastic path to the same extent because they weren't quite as dismissive about the status of women?   I'm not sure.  Certainly, in the case of Afghanistan's creepy boy love scene amongst the dirt poor rural Muslims, the low status of (and separation from) women must figure prominently into how such a cultural practice arises.

Or so you would think.   I mean, India is supposed to have long been very conservative in the matter of pre-marital sex, which apparently means some opportunistic same sex activity amongst the likes of male truck drivers, for example.  [I remember this was a concern for the spread of HIV].   But I don't think it has any kind of reputation for a cultural acceptance of pederastic interests.   Each culture seems complex in its own way when it comes to these matters, it seems.   [Update:  here's an article arguing that the prudish version of Hinduism dominating modern India is the fault of the Victorian English rule!  Who knows how accurate that is?]

Anyway, the whole attitude to sexuality thing seems to be in some state of flux again throughout Asia, where it seems that China has decided to officially panic about the current fashion for young male feminisation spreading through youth media:
China's 'sissy pants phenomenon': Beijing fears negative impact of 'sickly culture' on teenagers
Everyone should blame South Korea for this.   As anyone who has ever strayed onto SBS's Popasia program in the last 6 months would have seen, it is very, very, very clear that someone in that highly controlled and somewhat weird K Pop industry has decided that the market wants not just the former soft, gay/androgynous, non threatening version of young masculinity that it (and the Japanese equivalent) used to be known for, but actually fully fledged feminised fashion which looks more akin to guys going through a transgender process.   It's really weird to see, and personally, I can't see how it can appeal to its (presumably) predominantly female audience on a long term basis.

I still wonder though whether the big gender imbalance in China is going in future to once again lead to a softening of Chinese cultural attitudes to same sex relationships.  But obviously, the government fears that this may make them look weak.

Perhaps they should be sending out experts to look at how it worked in Sparta and amongst the Samurai as examples of  how to make gay activity look masculine.   Perhaps they can give the Japanese Buddhist example a bit of a miss, though...

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Oh, so that's why libertarians have a soft spot for the "gig economy"...

The Financial Times has an opinion piece noting that the so called gig economy is not really something new: it's a high tech reversion to ye olde methods of worker exploitation: the low-paid economy that sits alongside — and often services — the higher-paid workforce, new technology has enabled the return of some very old ways of working. The courier companies that shuttle documents between London’s banks and law firms, for example, disperse the work available to couriers who they pay on a piece rate.
“It drives you crazy,” one bicycle courier told me. “You always want to be doing 20 or 30 deliveries, minimum. If it’s five o’clock or six o’clock and you haven’t reached that, you’re going to have to work extra hard another day. But it doesn’t really matter how hard you work, because it’s up to someone else how many jobs you get.”

The way she works is not so different to the vast “gig economy” that was London in the 18th century, where piece rates were the norm. It is a similar story for an agency worker on a zero-hours contract I spoke to recently, who was told to come to work in a food factory by text message that morning, only to be sent home after just two hours of paid work because of a production lull. It was the middle of the night and the first bus was not due until dawn. His working life is not so different to that of the “lumpers” who once worked at the docks unloading cargo, hired as casuals for each boatload.
I wonder - did she mean the 19th century rather than the 17th?

As I've observed before, some libertarians have a fondness for either Victorian England or 19th century America as representing the great, exciting days when government just let people get on with things (never mind the slavery, half of the population not having the vote, dangerous factory work, etc etc).   As I think it would fair to say that libertarians have been big supporters of the gig economy, you can see the connection between these two ideas.

So Rupert definitely wanted Turnbull gone

Joe Aston in the AFR says Rupert Murdoch definitely wanted Malcolm Turnbull gone:
In this context, bear the following in mind: Rupert Murdoch was in Australia the week Turnbull was toppled. The Sun King and the Crown Prince of Point Piper spoke by telephone before the Liberal leadership was spilled on August 24. The media proprietor denied his empire was campaigning for the PM's ouster, besides The Australian. "Boris [nickname of the paper's editor-in-chief Paul Whittaker] is the only one". 

But only days earlier, Murdoch met with Seven West proprietor Kerry Stokes and implied the very opposite. "Malcolm has got to go," he told the Perth billionaire.

Stokes, whose interests extend well beyond media into mining services and energy, pointed out that a change of Liberal leadership meant a certain change of government next year. "That means we get Bill Shorten and the CFMEU."

KRM was unswayed. "They'll only be in for three years – it won't be so bad. I did alright under Labor and the Painters and Dockers; I can make money under Shorten and the CFMEU." Problem is, it won't be for three years, and it's liable to be very f---ing bad.
Not sure of the source for that conversation.   Stokes himself?  (And by the way, that last quote is supposed to be Murdoch's words, not Stokes.)

Anyway, it suggests that for Rupert, it's all about making a buck.   Great...

Party like it's 1899

What a glorious time for women in the Liberal Party, hey?    When a bunch of women parliamentarians start complaining about how they are bullied and treated in the party, the new Vice President (female) tells them to stop their bloody whining, toughen up and start acting more like men.  (Well, that's my paraphrase, but it's not too far off the meaning.)

Andrew Bolt is completely on board, of course: 
Teena McQueen, new vice president of the Liberal Party, has no time for the Liberal Left women complaining of bullying and demanding quotas:  “Women always want the spoils of victory, without the fight.”
Can't we have an election now, instead of watching this muppet clown show for another 8 months?

More takes on the news from Sinclair Davidson's Assorted Nut Blog

Gee, Sinclair almost doesn't bother turning up personally at Catallaxy anymore, abandoning it to Trump cultist Steve Kates, ageing climate change denialist Rafe Champion, and never-saw-a-Muslim-he-could-trust anti-renewables obsessive Alan Moran.  (Oh, and an anonymous old conservative unhappy with the Coalition for not being conservative enough, who thinks he's witty but it's hard to tell seeing I can't be bothered reading him.)

Anyway, with this crowd, you can imagine how they have received the controversy over the female  professor who says she had a bad encounter with the Trump pick for the Supreme Court.   (I really haven't read that much about it - I think Australians who obsess with the intricacies of every American political controversy, down to who says what during a Supreme Court confirmation process, must have too much time on their hands.)

But sometimes Tom: ageing, cranky, the-Socialist-Apocalypse-is-upon-us-unless-Trump-prevails-in-everything commentator,  still manages to amuse with his hyperventilating hyperbole:

It's very clear - to be a fully fledged Trump-will-save-us cultist who forgives every single stupid lie and the appalling ignorance and behaviour of Trump which has been plain for the world to see, you have to have this Apocalyptic vision of the World in Crisis if Things Continue the Way They Are as a precursor.   As I noted a while ago, this applies as much to the rich (Peter Thiel) as it does to a crank obsessive from country Victoria (hi Tom.)

The weird thing is, of course, that they perceive crises which aren't there (refusing to believe that he economic recovery was strong under Obama and barely improved under deficit increasing Trump policies) and cannot believe the real long term looming crisis of global proportions (climate change.)

In short, the culture war and Conservative media has turned them completely stupid.

Sometimes, so stupid it's funny.  

Update:   I forgot to point out - it would appear from Tom's comparison that he thinks the current "scum of the earth" (Democrats) are worse than the Nazi/Imperialist Japanese enemies of WW2.  Huh.    Never thought of it that way before - because it's freakin' nuts.

Monday, September 17, 2018

A common experience

David Roberts tweets:

Haunted movies

I don't mind a good ghost story, so I tried The Conjuring on Saturday.

It's OK - rather derivative in parts, although I did like the creepiness of the clapping game - but it was not, for me, at all lingering.   (A really good ghost story should creep you out a bit as you get ready for bed.)  

I knew nothing of the Warrens, the paranormal investigators whose "true story" featured in it.  The wife is still alive and had a cameo in the movie.   Skeptics don't find them convincing, and I must admit, the whole idea that they would keep a room of their house for cursed objects is a pretty good indication of huckster-ism.   I get the distinct feeling that the way the characters were played in the film was much more "rational" than they were/are in real life.

Back to Copenhagen

There's a lengthy but relatively comprehensible paper at arXiv called "To the rescue of the Copenhagen interpretation" which talks at length about the particular thought experiment "Wigner's friend".

Of course, I don't follow every word, but it's an interesting read as far as these sort of papers go. 

I also got the feeling that there were parts of it which could be argued as supporting a case for God (probably of the Omega Point variety) being behind all wave function collapse. 

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Self regulation fail

I wonder what libertarians and their love of low regulation have to say about this:
The series of deadly explosions and fires that tore through suburban Boston on Thursday has thrown a spotlight on proposed upgrades to safety standards for natural-gas pipelines, something that has languished amid opposition from utilities.

“We have been pushing for more regulations for years and there has been some huge regulations in the works but for some reason they have been stalled,” Carl Weimer, executive director of the Pipeline Safety Trust in Bellingham, Washington, said in a telephone interview. “The industry does a whole lot to slow these things down.”

At least one person died and dozens were injured Thursday after a series of explosions and fires along NiSource Inc.’s natural gas network in Massachusetts. Investigators say it’s too soon to say what the cause is, but past incidents have led safety advocates to issue proposals for tighter rules or closer oversight that have gone unheeded.

Federal filings show NiSource, which owns seven local gas distribution companies from Ohio to Virginia, has joined the broader pipeline industry in opposing rules on when certain pipelines need to be inspected, frequency of corrosion monitoring, and reporting leaks.
The enormous scale of the Boston incident outright killed only one person.  I didn't even remember this deadly gas pipeline problem from 2010:
U.S. oil and gas pipeline-related deaths jumped to the highest level in seven years in 2017. The 20 fatalities were the most since 2010, when a natural gas pipeline explosion in San Bruno, California, leveled a neighborhood and killed eight people. 
Another article ends by saying that "serious consequences" from natural gas distribution aren't all that common, but then gives some figures that make that sound a dubious proposition:
Even though natural-gas leaks are fairly common, serious consequences aren’t. From 1998 to 2017, 15 people a year, on average, died in incidents related to gas distribution in the U.S. “Significant incidents”—those that do things such as cause an injury or death, result in at least $50,000 of damage, or lead to a fire or explosion—happen about 286 times a year.

That might sound like a lot. But then again, the streets of Boston carry an average of four gas leaks a mile.

Myer-Briggs discussed

I've never done a Myer-Briggs test, and really only knew that it had some foundations in Jungian ideas and seemed to be a bit of a fad in the 1980's.

So, it's interesting to see it discussed in more detail due to a new book about its origins.   Turns out Myer and Briggs were women (a mother and daughter as it happens).  From the Nature review:
Isabel Briggs Myers (1897–1980) was an autodidact who eschewed formal psychological methods of test development and validation. She became interested in personology, as she called it, largely as a result of an obsession her mother, Katharine Cook Briggs (1875–1968), had with the ideas of psychoanalyst Carl Jung. Emre charts the women’s competitive relationship and expanding ambitions with sensitivity and skill.

Initially Cook Briggs wanted to make a landmark contribution to the practice of child-rearing. In popular-magazine articles, she presented Isabel as a triumph of an “obedience-creativity” regime. In this model, kindness, warmth and play were won only after authoritarian orders to study and work had been complied with. Before reading Briggs Myers bedtime stories, Cook Briggs required her to complete a demanding programme of study. By her early 30s, Briggs Myers was an accomplished polymath and award-winning writer of formulaic but engaging detective fiction.

These ventures paved the way for both women’s fervent interest in personality. Cook Briggs hoped to make Jung’s obscure writings accessible to the world by cataloguing the character of everyone she met on index cards. Briggs Myers formalized her mother’s project into the MBTI, after losing the proceeds of her novels in the 1930s economic crash.
The Guardian has an interview with the author, and is also well worth reading. I thought that this was a particularly interesting observation:
Attitudes towards the Myers-Briggs indicator have varied over the years. In its early incarnation, especially the 1950s and 1960s, it was deemed more desirable to be an introvert. “There was something very suspicious about the extrovert,” Emre notes. “The extrovert is the people-pleaser, the social man, the superficial one. And the introvert is the serious, creative intellectual who commands respect because he or she will not change herself to meet the demands of others.”

This flipped in the 1970s, Emre thinks, and since then we’ve lived in “the age of the extroverts”. She says: “Despite the fact that introverts are being summoned by someone like Susan Cain [in her book Quiet], there still is a really strong bias towards extroversion. Towards a person who is incredibly flexible with their personality and who can change themselves to meet the demands of any given situation. In some ways it is because that’s what is utterly necessary to succeed in today’s economy, right? You have to be a kind of constantly flexible labourer.”

There are clearly problems, though, with reading too much into a Myers-Briggs score. Peer-reviewed scientific papers on the effectiveness of the indicator are hard to find. It is criticised for giving binary outcomes – you’re either extrovert or introvert – and human personality is often more slippery and changeable. Moreover, one of the central tenets of the instrument is that you can’t change your type: it is innate, fixed from birth. Yet the company that now publishes the MBTI concedes that half of subjects change at least one of their four types when they answer the questions a second time.
Then, to my surprise, I see that David Roberts had a tweet thread in which he explains that he thinks the critics of it go a bit overboard. You can read his take on it here. 

Sort of all makes me want to do the test now....

Friday, September 14, 2018

Beer gets more ancient

Not sure that I am entirely convinced by the evidence as explained in this report, but this is what they say:
A new study published in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports suggests beer brewing practices existed in the Eastern Mediterranean over five millennia before the earliest known evidence, discovered in northern China. In an archaeological collaboration project between Stanford University in the United States, and University of Haifa, Israel, archeologists analyzed three stone mortars from a 13,000-year old Natufian burial cave site in Israel. Their analysis confirmed that these mortars were used for brewing of wheat/barley, as well as for food storage.

Sardines in history

Must be time for me to re-visit the topic of sardines.   (I had a can of John West lemon, chilli and garlic yesterday.  They were OK.  I think I prefer the rosemary and sea salt ones, though.)

Anyway, from a 2007 article in The Atlantic.  I didn't realise that Cannery Row was about canning sardines:
Sardines have had a surprising and important revival in the Pacific. For decades in the 20th century their abundance gave birth to an industry that fed millions of soldiers fighting both world wars and sustained thousands of Sicilians, Asians, and other foreign-born workers—the fishermen and packers of Cannery Row, in Monterey, California—during the worst years of the Depression. Visitors to the Monterey Bay Aquarium can see photographs and machines from the cannery that originally occupied the building, and promotional films from the 1930s and ’40s showing the factory life that was the backdrop of John Steinbeck’s novel Cannery Row. (You can also watch the films at The California sardine fishery was the largest in the Western hemisphere, and in its peak season, 1936–37, fishermen took 726,000 tons of sardines. 

But even as Steinbeck wrote the novel, which was published in 1945, the sardine population was mysteriously declining, and by the early ’50s the industry had collapsed. By the middle of the decade, Cannery Row was practically deserted. The easy explanation was overfishing: In the ’30s, “reduction” operations were grinding sardines into meal for animal feed and oil for paint, glue, and industrial purposes. But decades of close study of sardines after the collapse revealed that Cannery Row might have turned into Skid Row even without the voracious reduction plants. For 2,000 years the Pacific coastline had seen roughly 60-year cycles of sardines and anchovies (their cousins), following temperature cycles: Sardines prefer warmer water, anchovies prefer cooler, and their populations fluctuate in similar cycles around the world. After severe restrictions and moratoriums on sardine fishing that lasted from 1967 to 1986, the fish began coming back in numbers that made commercial fishing thinkable again.

But the canneries were gone for good. Pacific sardines caught today are frozen and sent to tuna-fattening farms in the waters off, for example, Australia

Dead government walking

Has Canberra ever seen a clearer case of a dead government walking than it has in the Morrison led coalition government?   OK, well, alright - it probably did with the second coming of Kevin Rudd.  But the signs are still very, very bad at the moment:  that embarrassing "let's get cool with the kids" video on Twitter;  the refusal to deal with doubts over Dutton's eligibility to be in Parliament; the women in the team suddenly all agreeing that the Party has done a crap job of getting women into seats; Morrison not being able to stamp his authority on the Turnbull replacement preselection.  Not to mention bad, bad polling.

It's one of those situations where the public pretty much just wants to see the government put out of its misery, I reckon, and can't wait for the electoral opportunity.

News on TV

As much as I love the ABC, I have to say that they still do one thing pretty badly - breakfast news television.

I've tried watching it for a few days this week, as I didn't have to do school morning drives.   Then today, after watching it from about 6.20 to 7am, I switched over to Channel 7.  The level of detail in both local and international news put the ABC show to shame.  

On the downside, I then had to sit through uber-prat Mark Latham as a guest commentator with Jeff Kennet for a segment, and the show has been absolutely key in successfully promoting populist bad politicians from Pauline Hanson to Kevin Rudd.  It has a lot to answer for in Australian politics.

While the hosts on the ABC show are pleasant enough, it just seems that despite having a 24 hour news channel, the ABC lets whoever it is who compiles their normal news not get into work until 9 am or something, because they really have poor coverage of actual news on the breakfast show. 

I think Channel 9's breakfast TV is pretty bad too, but that's largely because I have never liked Karl Stefanovic (and never cared for Lisa Wilkinson either.)   David Koch is pretty harmless, I think, although with him absent today, possibly I enjoy Sunrise more without him. 

In other TV news news:   sometimes I get to see the PBS Newshour on SBS at 1pm - it is really high quality news commentary, made cheaply but effectively.  

Stan Grant on his evening show:  the guy really bores me.   A good voice, but he just tends to waffle on to fill up time.  

I seem to have left no natural way to end this post.   Let's try this:


Thursday, September 13, 2018

Has anyone done this before? (Hope it wasn't me)

I've done a lot of Tim Wilson posts over the years, pointing out his remarkable fondness for...himself.    So:

Stupid whining losers

You know the big picture - the Trump Right has already lost the culture war and the youth vote and barely won the Presidency by virtue of where the votes fell, not how many the nation gave them;  they got their narrow win in significant part by using social media owned by people who are always going to be more Left than sclerotic Trump voters, and which also gave inadvertent platform to Russian mischief makers.

Yet the wingnut Right is speculating on government control of Google because its management was upset with the Trump win!

What a bunch of morons.   John Hinderaker at the Powerline blog:
 The question is what to do about the left-wing tech monopolies of Silicon Valley. Start conservative companies and platforms to compete with them? Break them up under the Sherman Act? Turn them into regulated public utilities, with public employee-level salaries and no stock options? Those are all possibilities. After watching the video, you no doubt will be ready to take action.

When nothing is stopping them from taking that first option - trying to set up their 100% guaranteed conservative controlled competition in the search engine and social media fields - why are they even speculating about forcing a government intervention into the existing players?  

I would tempted if I were a Democrat politician over there to say:  "OK, Republicans, we'll have a hearing about your paranoia about how Google allegedly tweaks its search results against you, provided we also have a hearing as to how exactly Fox News manages to have 98% of its content with an intensely pro Trump take on all issues.   Both private companies - why should one get away with complete and patent bias while you want to micromanage the other?"

Revisiting Australian volcanoes

There was a recent article at The Conversation about the active volcano field that runs across Victoria and South Australia.   ("Active" in the sense that the last eruption was only 5,000 years ago, at Mt Gambier, and we could apparently get another any time.)

One of the authors had an earlier post in 2016 on much the same topic, in which he explains:
So what can we expect the next volcanic eruption to be like? It depends where it happens.

If the next eruption occurs in the northern areas of the Newer Volcanics Provinces (around Bendigo, Ballarat or Hamilton), we can expect lots of lava flows and fire fountains.

But if it occurs in the southern part (Colac, Camperdown, Warrnambool or Mt Gambier), the presence of groundwater could make it much more explosive.

We could be up for an eruption just like the 2010 Iceland eruption where a big plume of ash was sent high in the atmosphere. In this case disruption will occur in Eastern Australia and New Zealand.

Will it happen any time soon? Well, the Newer Volcanics Province has been active for more than 4.5 million years, with eruptions occurring at least once every 10,000 years.

It could happen in our lifetime, but more likely it will happen after that.

Oh, another outcome of the research was that the first warning signs with Mt Gambier would have been noticed only by the most sensitive equipment up to two days in advance.

Such equipment is not present in the area at the moment.
I see that in 2011 I had a post on the same topic, with a Professor suggesting it might be a good idea for local governments to think about what to do if a volcano suddenly emerges.

But gee - with only a couple of days notice, what could they do anyway?

More creating their own reality

Seriously, Andrew Bolt thinks this?:
For three weeks the ABC obsessively pushed fake news: claims that the federal Liberals had a culture of bullying, particularly of female MPs.
So how about an apology, now that this fake news has gone splat?
The rest of the column explaining how, against the evidence of my eyes and ears, it has "gone splat" is behind a paywall.  But this just appears to be a case of the current Right wing quasi post-modernistic "I interpret evidence in the manner that best creates my own chosen reality".  

It's all of a kind with Trump's "we did a fantastic job on Puerto Rico - A Plus!".

Who exactly do they think they are fooling?  It's weird.

Not just my age

BBC Culture has a sympathetic story on the rise of the "acid house" clubbing scene in London in the 1990's:  "The 30-year-ol soundtrack to hedonism".

I am completely unconvinced, and not just because of my age.

Any hedonistic movement based largely on the consumption of illicit drugs specifically designed to hone into the brain's pleasure centres, and protracted periods of being off your face with no sleep, does not warrant endorsement of any kind.   Unhealthy both physically and mentally, it was and remains a bad thing.

And I have always felt that way...


Hey, it was my birthday a couple of days ago, and now I see that it was apparently David Roberts' birthday yesterday.   It's a bit funny, isn't it, how we tend to think a shared or close birth date might partly account for why we like someone?   Feels like a hangover from astrology even though it overall has much less hold on the public imagination than it did (say) 40 years ago.*

Speaking of people getting older, Youtube yesterday popped up this new Dial-a-Song from They Might be Giants:  two guys who are my age - late 50's - who just keep pumping out songs which are witty, dark, eccentric and upbeat - all at the same time, in most cases:

[Look, I know there is a case to be made that their sound and song construction hasn't changed much since 1986 - but for me it's a case of "if I liked it then, why wouldn't I like it now?"]

*  Checking who else is born on my day:  Harry Connick Jr, TV vet Chris Brown - check, check - both nice enough guys.   Moby - don't know enough about him.  Oh wait:  Bashar al-Assad.   Hmm...

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

The hypocrisy is off the scale

From WAPO: 
House Republicans bracing for November's midterm elections unveiled a second round of tax cuts on Monday that could add more than $2 trillion to the federal deficit over a decade, aiming to cement the steep cuts they passed last fall despite criticisms of fiscal profligacy and tailoring their policies to help the rich.

Yeah, but wingnuts trust his instincts...

I read this in the AFR yesterday.   Remarkable:
The exchange is one of several detailed in the book showing how many of Mr Trump's now-former staffers spent the first year of the administration attempting to deflect the President on trade, with him quoted repeatedly saying he didn't want to "hear that" and that "it's all bullshit".

Mr Woodward describes an episode in which Mr Cohn enlists the help of Defence Secretary Jim Mattis to conduct a kind of "off-site corporate retreat" for the President, at a venue known as "The Tank" within the Pentagon.

They hoped to draw links between a healthy economy, and the strength of intelligence partnerships with foreign allies, writes Mr Woodward.

"Together they would fight Trump on this. Trade wars or disruptions in the global markets could savage and undermine the precarious stability in the world.

"Mattis and Cohn organised the presentations as part history lesson and part geo-strategic showdown.

"Maps depicting American commitments around the world – military deployments, troops, nuclear weapons, diplomatic posts, ports, intelligence assets, treaties and even trade deals – filled two large wall screens, telling the story of the United States in the world."

"The great gift of the greatest generation to us," Mr Mattis opened, according to Mr Woodward, "is the rules-based, international democratic order."
Mr Woodward observed: "This global architecture brought security, stability and prosperity to the world."

The book describes how the pitch fell on deaf ears, as Trump pressed his cabinet, including Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, to declare China a currency manipulator.

"Mnuchin explained that China had, years ago, been a currency manipulator, but it no longer was.
"What do you mean?" Mr Trump asked. "Make the case. Just do it. Declare it."
Next Mr Trump railed against the cost of maintaining troops in South Korea, dismissing their role in guaranteeing security in the region.

"So, Mr President," Mr Cohn said, "what would you need in the region to sleep well at night," Mr Woodward writes.

"I wouldn't need a f---ing thing," the President said. "And I'd sleep like a baby."

The meeting ended, after the President walked out of the room, with former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson saying: "He's a f---ing moron."

Hurricanes in the news

With all of the attention on the American East coast, it's easily overlooked that a big typhoon is off the Philippines too:
Superstorm expected to make landfall with speeds of up to 260km/h; 1.2m hectares of rice farms could face severe damage.
(Typhoons seem so routine to that country, they seem to only make the international news if they are a mega disaster, not just an average disaster.) 

So, how's that Brexit going?

Well, it's certainly not helping with the remarkable understaffing of the NHS:
The NHS was short of 41,722 nurses – 11.8% of the entire nursing workforce. That is the highest number yet and a big rise on the 35,794 vacancies seen at the end of March.

Similarly, there were 11,576 vacancies for doctors across all types of NHS services inside and outside of hospitals. That was again a record and a significant increase on the 9,982 posts that were vacant three months before. Across England, 9.3% of posts were vacant.

Experts warned that NHS understaffing was so widespread that it was becoming a “national emergency”.

Siva Anandaciva, the chief analyst at the King’s Fund thinktank, said: “After a punishing summer of heatwaves and ever-increasing demands on services, today’s report shows that the NHS is heading for another tough winter.

‘Widespread and growing nursing shortages now risk becoming a national emergency and are symptomatic of a long-term failure in workforce planning, which has been exacerbated by the impact of Brexit and short-sighted immigration policies.”
Bit of an irony going on there if some anti-immigration pro Brexit voter has to wait months longer for their operation because foreign doctors and nurses are reluctant to go there now...

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

A bit of a twit after all

English philosopher John Gray has got a mention here a couple of times over the years, including recently where I noted an "interesting" article he wrote, but I don't know much about him. 

I think the evidence of this latest piece of his is that he is a bit of twit after all.   Obviously, he hates "illiberal liberalism", but if you're going to start calling out liberals as being the paranoid ones when it comes to comparisons with the state of the American Right at the moment, you need your head read:

Visiting New York a few weeks after Trump’s victory in the presidential election, I found myself immersed in a mass psychosis. The city’s intelligentsia was possessed by visions of conspiracy. No one showed any interest in the reasons Trump supporters may have had for voting as they did. Quite a few cited the low intelligence, poor education and retrograde values of the nearly 63 million Americans who voted for him. What was most striking was how many of those with whom I talked flatly rejected the result. The election, they were convinced, had been engineered by a hostile power. It was this malignant influence, not any default of American society, that had upended the political order.

Conspiracy theory has long been associated with the irrational extremes of politics. The notion that political events can be explained by the workings of hidden forces has always been seen by liberals as a sign of delusional thinking. A celebrated study by the political scientist Richard Hofstadter, The Paranoid Style in American Politics (1964), linked the idea with the far Right. Yet in New York in December 2016, many of the brightest liberal minds exhibited the same derangement. Nearly two years later, they continue to reach to conspiracy theory as an explanation for their defeat....
For those who embrace it, a paranoid style of liberalism has some advantages. Relieved from any responsibility for the debacles they have presided over, the liberal elites that have been in power in many western countries for much of the past 30 years can enjoy the sensation of being victims of forces beyond their control. Conspiracy theory implies there is nothing fundamentally wrong with liberal societies, and places the causes of their disorder outside them. No one can reasonably doubt that the Russian state has been intervening in western politics. Yet only minds unhinged from reality can imagine that the decline of liberalism is being masterminded by Vladimir Putin. The principal causes of disorder in liberal societies are in those societies themselves.
There are problems on the Left, but seriously, the greatest and most dangerous paranoid conspiracy belief in the world is that held almost exclusively by the American Right - that climate change is a UN hatched socialist plan to bankrupt Western civilisation with no basis at all in science.

Call out the identitarian Left  as illiberal and annoying by all means - and even somewhat "post truth" in its revisionism -  but I can't take anyone seriously if they pretend it represents the same level of real, physical, humanitarian and environmental danger as the American Right's desire to ignore climate change with their myriad excuses for not believing that it either doesn't exist, or that it is worth addressing. 

Recent movies considered

I've been thinking lately that this year seems to be a pretty underwhelming one as far as enjoyable movies go.

It's not that I strongly disliked any of the big blockbusters I've seen, but to be honest, all of these felt somewhat underwhelming in one way or another.   Last Jedi, Antman and the Wasp, Ready Player One, Incredibles 2, and even (I have to admit) I wasn't quite as happy with Mission Impossible 6 as I should have been.   (On reflection, I think it needed more humour.  I have re-watched much of MI:4 since seeing 6, and its lighter touch was one reason I found it so pleasing.)   

Surprisingly, the main movie which surpassed my expectations was Infinity War - perhaps because I have not followed the Avengers movies before, only to find that it did combine humour with final gravitas in a satisfying way. 

I didn't even go to see the new Jurassic World movie, as it had so-so reviews, nor Solo

As for anything new or unexpected - no sign of that.  Perhaps that's why I enjoyed a weird movie like A Cure for Wellness when I saw it recently. 

He really dislikes the Murdoch tabloid press

As I said last week, I know little about Imre except that he presumably used to be pals with Tim Blair.

Given Imre's dislike of the tabloids Blair works for, are they still friendly?

Honestly, has the barracking for one side this far out from an election ever been as crudely blatant as this?: