Saturday, November 17, 2018

William Goldman

Famous screenwriter/novelist William Goldman has died.   You know, I don't recall knowing what he looked like until now, despite having read a few of his books.

I had forgotten that he wrote Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid - a film which, incidently, I felt was vastly over-rated when I saw it as a child.  (My mother was a big Robert Redford fan - I think I was tagging along with her when I saw it.  Not sure if my father was there too.)   I wonder if I would feel differently about it as an adult?   I still have this gut feeling that it was very lightweight and trivial. 

Anyway, Goldman interested me more for his books about the industry, and I suspect that he might have become slightly dismayed that, despite "nobody knowing anything" in Hollywood, studios have become pretty good at knowing what franchise material will make a killing in the first week or two, regardless of critical reception.   (Although, I guess, that Solo movie's failure almost certainly came as a surprise.)

Thursday, November 15, 2018

As spotted on Twitter



A fair few anti Taleb comments follow the tweet, too.

Death by social media

The BBC has been trying to tally up how many people in India have died as a result of social media spreading false rumours.  And one appalling story is told in detail:
Across India mob attacks are on the rise, fuelled by false rumours on WhatsApp and social media. According to the BBC's analysis of incidents between February 2014 and July 2018, at least 31 people have been killed and dozens more injured. These are the incidents the BBC was able to verify, many more have been reported.

Many of the false rumours warn people that there are child abductors in their towns, driving locals to target innocent men who are not known to the community. A total of 25 men, 4 women, and two people of unknown gender have died. Here is a timeline of those incidents the BBC has verified.

In one striking example, a video clip shared on WhatsApp went viral in India in June 2018, with tragic consequences. In the clip, a man on a motorbike appears to be kidnapping a child from the street. The messages that accompanied the video as it was shared from phone to phone alleged that the incident had occurred in Bangalore and warned the community to be on the lookout for “potential child-lifters”. Vigilante mobs formed and killed an estimated 10 people.

But the outrage overshadowed the true story.

The clip was in fact part of a safety video produced by a child welfare group in Pakistan. At the end of the original video, the supposed “kidnapper” returns the child to his friends and holds up a sign that reads “It takes only a moment to kidnap a child from the streets of Karachi.” This was edited out in the viral version.

Another bad, high profile, Netflix movie?

The Guardian reviewer really dislikes a new Netflix movie with some big star power in it.  [Sandra Bullock, John Malkovich, Jacki Weaver (!)]

Seems to me that, for a company that plans on being such a major player in movie content, they have to do something about quality control, fast.

Dutch tradition considered

I didn't know about the Dutch "Black Pete" controversy.  An interesting article at The Guardian.

Freud, Jung, sex

Quite a nice summary in this Aeon essay about how Jung and Freud's professional and personal relationship started and broke up.

Jung is deservedly the more interesting character and theorist.  And yeah, it's true:  Freud went off the rails over sex. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Washington intrigue

So, articles are being written about Trump's foul mood on the trip to Europe (he was very aggro with poor old Theresa May on the phone before he even landed - and it would seem that the only person he was really happy to see was Putin).   Only the most foolish cult followers could think that the trip was a success for Trump in any respect.   Hello, Steve Kates?

The other big issue is his chronic staff in-fighting, with Politico noting that, apart from the Homeland Security Secretary about to get the chop for not being rabid enough, economic and trade advisers  Kudlow and Navarro are fighting:
And earlier in the day, Trump’s chief economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, lashed out at White House trade adviser Peter Navarro after Navarro, a trade protectionist, took aim at Wall Street and corporate influencers pushing a less aggressive stance against China. Navarro did Trump a “great disservice,” Kudlow told CNBC.
...not to mention the oddity of Melania choosing to go public in order to ensure someone is sacked. 

As Politico says:
“It’s like an episode of ‘Maury,’” one former Trump aide observed to POLITICO as the spectacle unfolded. “The only thing that’s missing is a paternity test.”
Ha. 

I think I overlooked mentioning before that it had been noticed, but not widely reported, last week that Rupert Murdoch had a meeting Mitch McConnell:
SPOTTED BY NYT’S NICK FANDOS (@npfandos): “An empty Capitol, but Mitch McConnell is receiving visitors. Rupert Murdoch in this case.” A photo of Murdoch walking into McConnell’s Capitol office … Also in the shot: Robert Thomson, the CEO of News Corp. (h/t Bill Grueskin)
Given that Murdoch appeared in Australia just before Turnbull was dumped, it's easy to read this a possible message being delivered to the GOP that Rupert was not going to let his companies (or at least, all of them) promote or protect Trump any more.  (And as I noted last weekend, the WSJ did run an important anti-Trump article - I think after the McConnell meeting?) 

Perhaps there is a connection between the Murdoch meeting and Trump's foul weekend mood?   Did he get word of Murdoch telling his editors it's time to put pressure on Trump to go?   I hope so!

It's a wonder that the Murdoch visit didn't attract more speculation in the press along those lines - sure there were people on Twitter wondering out loud, like me,  but I'm not sure the mainstream media has touched it.

Only in Japan...No, wait - Taiwan

Taiwan grandpa catches 'em all playing Pokemon Go on 15 cell phones
A photo of him and his set up:


I wonder what eccentric interest I might indulge in after retirement.   Suggestions welcome...

Why on Earth would Morrison think being mini-Trump is a good idea?

In case you hadn't noticed, flaky PM Scott Morrison spent last week on a high profile, campaign style tour of Queensland, wore a lot of caps, tried to look as "blokey" as possible, and sounded off about Muslim community and terrorism.  All very mini-Trump in appearance (although, actually, probably putting more effort to mix with the public than Trump - who just flies into a rally and flies out again.)

And his Newpoll numbers are just getting worse - on Monday, had blown out to 55/45 TPP.

Why would Morrison think that appearing or sounding like Trump is a good idea?   He seems to have no sense of what goes over well in the Australian public.  

Social media paradox

A study in which some young folk were required to limit social media (and others weren't) showed that those that were in the "limit" group were feeling less lonely and depressed:
Each of 143 participants completed a survey to determine mood and well-being at the study's start, plus shared shots of their iPhone battery screens to offer a week's worth of baseline social-media data. Participants were then randomly assigned to a control group, which had users maintain their typical social-media behavior, or an experimental group that limited time on Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram to 10 minutes per platform per day.
For the next three weeks, participants shared iPhone battery screenshots to give the researchers weekly tallies for each individual. With those data in hand, Hunt then looked at seven outcome measures including fear of missing out, anxiety, depression, and loneliness.
"Here's the bottom line," she says. "Using less social media than you normally would leads to significant decreases in both depression and loneliness. These effects are particularly pronounced for folks who were more depressed when they came into the study."
Hunt stresses that the findings do not suggest that 18- to 22-year-olds should stop using social media altogether. In fact, she built the study as she did to stay away from what she considers an unrealistic goal. The work does, however, speak to the idea that limiting screen time on these apps couldn't hurt.
"It is a little ironic that reducing your use of social media actually makes you feel less lonely," she says. But when she digs a little deeper, the findings make sense. "Some of the existing literature on social media suggests there's an enormous amount of social comparison that happens. When you look at other people's lives, particularly on Instagram, it's easy to conclude that everyone else's life is cooler or better than yours."
It's not a huge study, and given the state of psychology at the moment, I half expect no one else will be able to replicate it!   But, I want it to be true.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Ooh...pilot sighted UFOs

I'm pretty sure it will turn out to be a misperception of a breaking up meteor or space junk, but I could be wrong...
The Irish Aviation Authority is investigating reports of bright lights and UFOs off the south-west coast of Ireland.

It began at 06:47 local time on Friday 9 November when a British Airways pilot contacted Shannon air traffic control.

She wanted to know if there were military exercises in the area because there was something "moving so fast".

The air traffic controller said there were no such exercises.

The pilot, flying from the Canadian city of Montreal to Heathrow, said there was a "very bright light" and the object had come up along the left side of the aircraft before it "rapidly veered to the north"....
The pilot said he saw "two bright lights" over to the right which climbed away at speed.

Fox News propaganda

Amazing story at WAPO:
A father of a Parkland school shooting victim appeared on “Fox & Friends” over the weekend and suggested, without evidence, that Democrats registered the accused shooter to vote from jail as part of an effort to steal Florida’s election.

“It just shows you how despicable these Democrats are that they’ll stoop that low to go into the prison, the jail, and register these criminals,” said Andrew Pollack, whose daughter Meadow was one of 17 people Nikolas Cruz allegedly shot and killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in February. “It’s never been done in 20 years.”

Citing a “tip from deputies at the jail,” Pollack said the plan failed because Broward County — which is now involved in a recount battle that could swing Florida’s Senate and gubernatorial elections — failed to send the inmates their ballots in time to vote.

“They probably shouldn’t be voting anyway,” Fox’s Katie Pavlich remarked after listening to Pollack’s accusations, which neither she nor her two co-hosts challenged at any point, although they contradicted all public evidence.

There was a kernel of truth at the heart of the segment and the spiraling social media outrage that accompanied it: Nikolas Jacob Cruz really did register to vote in July, listing his home address as the county jail where he awaits trial after police say he confessed to the mass shooting.

He registered as a Republican, which “Fox & Friends” didn’t mention.

There is nothing suspicious or mysterious about what Cruz did from his cell. In general, jail inmates are constitutionally entitled to register and vote before their trials, assuming no prior convictions or legal disqualifications. Broward County records show that in 2016 and previous elections, several inmates did exactly that from the same jail where Cruz now sits.


Funny..sort of

The Weekly Standard released the recording at the center of an article describing King’s comments after a Twitter fight with the newly reelected Iowa Republican, who had accused the magazine of lying and fabricating the story.

A poor excuse

A pretty searing take down of Trump's performance in France over the weekend by Fred Kaplan at Slate.   Interesting to see that some simply do not believe the excuse about the presidential helicopter not being able to handle flying in a moderate amount of rain.   I mean, isn't this supposed to be the way the President escapes out of Washington just before an asteroid/nuclear strike/alien attack occurs?  If it's drizzling, he has to stay in the White House bunker instead? 

Update:  Allahpundit at Hot Air also notes Trump bunked out of visiting Arlington on his return, when it was the Veterans Day holiday.   Something seems wrong...

Update 2 Jennifer Rubin lists all of the ways things are suddenly going wrong for Trump, and speculates that he's "cracking".    (I think it is obvious that the Paris trip was a PR disaster, which even his supporters recognize.)

Authoritarianism and Trump

This is a pretty good, lengthy thread from Twitter looking at explanations of why authoritarianism is appealing to some, and how it is reflected in the Trumpian politics of the US at the moment.

Update:  I am constantly amazed, when reading Catallaxy threads, at how support for Trump is tied up with over-the-top, apocalyptic pessimism about the end of the glorious rein of the West and all that is good and proper in it.    It's all about retreat (see Brexit too) into a hermetically sealed cultural, philosophical and even economic world, in which the Righteous will look after each other and - maybe - save the world from itself.    Very backwards looking, in the worst ways (they are, essentially, impervious to evidence) and even though they continually obsess about "winning" and "destroying" their perceived enemies, it's more like the cry of the vanquished that is having trouble coming to terms with reality.

Sorry, I have said this all before - perhaps I just enjoy trying to find pithier ways of putting it.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Odd bits from the end of the War

I was listening to a good radio documentary on the ABC about World War 1 and its effect on Australia.   Some things that got a brief mention that I don't recall seeing depicted in TV, movies or fiction books before:

*  the food riots in Melbourne caused by great cost of living increases during the war (and affecting food in particular).  Here's a bit I found elsewhere about that:
The cost of living issue and the associated food riots caused two months
of turmoil in Melbourne during September and October 1917. Recent work
by John Lack adds to our understanding of the significance of these riots by
tracing the reasons particular commercial establishments and places of work
were targeted and demonstrating the deep-seated, class-based resentments
about economic injustice that preceded the war and were aggravated by it.161
This embedded anger underpinned the extensive involvement of Melbourne
workers in the Great Strike of 1917, which, as a number of historians have
argued, was driven by ordinary workers, especially the unskilled at the grass
roots of the labour movement, rather than their leaders.162 While the strike
about the introduction of the Taylorist timecard system began and remained
centred in New South Wales, by early September more than 20,000 workers
in Melbourne were also affected – a third to a half of them actually on strike
or locked out and the rest stood down or on short time. The wharf labourers
were already out over the cost of bread, but now added a refusal to handle
black goods (goods handled by non-union labour) to their cause. As the
mainstay of the Victorian strike – first out and last back – they comprised
over a quarter of the state’s strikers. 
*  the impossibility of a fast return of soldiers to not only Australia, but all Allied nations.  (They said there just were not enough ships in the world to get soldiers back home within a year.)   On that topic, I see this today:
Despite the war being over, and Australian troops not constituting part of the Allied occupying force in Germany, it was to be a long time before many Australians would return home. The day after the armistice, Private A. Golding wrote:
They told us we would be another 12 months in France.
Repatriation to Australia was organised by Lieutenant General Sir John Monash, on a first come, first go basis.
While awaiting transport, some men took advantage of the opportunity to travel around France and Britain- one of the incentives for enlisting in the first place. A few hundred Australian servicemen went on to serve in Russia as part of a British force fighting Bolshevik forces. Some light horse units also helped with suppressing an Egyptian nationalist revolt in early 1919.
Had I heard about Diggers fighting Bolshevik's before?  Maybe.   Surely there would be some good material for a story there.

* that some returning soldiers jumped overboard from their ships, probably (in come cases) from the stress of the thought of having to explain to wives or family that they had contracted a venereal disease.   On that topic, I also note an article today about a book written all about the Australia experience with VD during that war:

Two of Australia's Victoria Cross recipients had been sent home with VD and at least six men on board The Wiltshire – that ship of shame – ended up being highly decorated. Initially, army regulations made it difficult for men who had committed acts of misconduct, including contracting VD, to be awarded medals but this was later retracted: around 15 per cent of the entire AIF contracted VD.
How this fits with the overall statistics amongst allied soldiers depends on who you ask. Dunbar says: "Some people like to think that Australian soldiers caught more VD than those in other combatant countries and other people say they caught less. I think it depends on the extent to which the person you are talking to upholds the myth of the heroic digger."
It would be a challenge for any writer to make an entire book on sexually transmitted diseases appeal to a wide audience, but Dunbar's sensitive probing of the human psychology and social mores involved transcends the First World War experience and is a timely reminder of the damaging effects of glossing over our human flaws.

Another late, late movie review

The Pianist, the Roman Polanski directed World War 2 movie is on Netflix, and now I've seen it.

It's a fine movie, based on the true story which Wikipedia makes it easy to compare with the screenplay.   (You know I always like looking up where such movies diverge from the real story.)

It would seem that the movie is quite close to the book, with relatively few embellishments.  

I am curious as to why the movie underplays Szpilman's suicidal thoughts while living in permanent hiding for a couple of years.   Indeed, the movie certainly offers no internal thoughts of the main character at all - which makes for a kind of realism but does make it very emotionally cool in most  respects.   Don't get me wrong - the depiction of casual cruelty by Nazis to Jews is just about as effective as that in Schindler's List - but I guess I still feel it's a pity there was no way devised to give us any of Szpilman's internal dialogue.   

The comparison with Spielberg's film is inevitable.   Of course, List is often criticised for its made up ending (in which Schindler has an emotional breakdown), and I have always felt this was fair enough (the criticism).  But even without that, it is a more emotional (and devastating) film.  Its most famous scene (the lost little red-dressed girl) was highly emotional but, importantly,  made sense of Schindler's motivation.   I presume it was an invention too, but one that worked completely convincingly, unlike the final scene with him.

So it's interesting - both films have an "issue" with emotion - just from the opposite direction.

But both are very good.  (I don't think Schindler's List will ever be beaten as the definitive film of the Holocaust, despite the issue discussed herein.)

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Melbourne and violence

Melbourne seems to be having a particularly bad run with immigrant related violence over the past few years.   It would seem that yesterday's inner city attack by a radicalised Muslim could have been much worse if explosions from gas bottles had occurred.   But then again, why was the vehicle burning like that in the first place?   Were some gas bottles opened?   In any case, when I saw the video of people filming the scene, I though to myself that there is no way I would have hung around that close to the vehicle in case there was an explosion.   Must have been worrying the police trying to catch the guy, too. 

I half-watched the Four Corners show this week on the issue of African youth gang violence, and the degree to which it is or isn't being blown out of proportion.   I feel a bit of a fence sitter on the issue:  the show was good in that it didn't shy away from personalising the story both from the perspective of victims, and of young black guys unfairly caught up in the backlash.   It's one of those cases where  you can say both that it's silly to pretend it isn't a problem but still dislike the way the Murdoch media treats it as a problem.

Anyway, I've long been curious as to why this seems to centre on Melbourne.  Some Brisbane suburbs are known for the African immigrants but as far as I know there is no significant issue with youth gangs here.   And now that I check, Sydney had nearly as many Sudanese migrants as Melbourne, at least in 2011. 

Melbourne is a great place for eating and for people with ridiculous obsession with sports;  it's now just so-so for cultural pursuits, I reckon.   But all of those things are indoors (I'm counting sitting in a stadium as indoors) and I assume of marginal interest to current African youth.   If you aren't involved in those three things during the long, grey winters of that city, I think it probably is a pretty boring place.   Sydney and Brisbane don't have the same winter grey doldrums that Melbourne has.

So yeah, I'm going out on a limb and blaming gang violence on crappy weather.  But as time goes on and younger family members get absorbed in that Melbourne Borg of the footy and cricket (God help them), it will reduce. 

Hey, it's a theory.

As I suspected...

The view that it really was a Blue wave midterm election has become more popular, as late counts increase the number of House seats going to Democrats, and likely recounts in the Senate might even reduce GOP wins.

I was also interested in the question of what the popular vote would indicate if repeated in the 2020 Presidential election, and I see that Nate Silver has done that guesstimate, with the result being a solid Democrat win.

I'm also surprised that it was the Wall Street Journal which ran with the story overnight about Trump being highly involved in arranging the payments to silence two women he had affairs with.  It's not usually the paper to do investigative stuff to harm a Republican.   Is Murdoch turning on Trump? 

Friday, November 09, 2018

The Trump personality

While the fake reason for banning the somewhat annoying Jim Acosta from the White House was nauseating (seriously, all women who defend Trump to the death make me queasy, but Sarah Huckabee Sanders deserves ignominy til the end of time), I was bit more interested in the earlier clips of a raccoon faced* Trump gloating over Republicans who didn't support him and lost.  Jimmy Kimmel ran it last night and made the correct call - "he is an absolute child, he really is".




* Isn't it telling that no one has the guts to say to him, "Seriously, Donald, the white eyed look is really noticeable today.  A more natural face looks better on TV."

Friday science

Have you noticed the lengthy New York Times magazine article on the always fascinating topic of the placebo effect?   It's really good, and I particularly liked the explanation of how it was more or less discovered as a thing when Benjamin Franklin was involved in French ordered investigations as to how Mesmerism seemed to be effective, for some.

I will extract some of that:
In a way, the placebo effect owes its poor reputation to the same man who cast aspersions on going to bed late and sleeping in. Benjamin Franklin was, in 1784, the ambassador of the fledgling United States to King Louis XVI’s court. Also in Paris at the time was a Viennese physician named Franz Anton Mesmer. Mesmer fled Vienna a few years earlier when the local medical establishment determined that his claim to have cured a young woman’s blindness by putting her into a trance was false, and that, even worse, there was something unseemly about his relationship with her. By the time he arrived in Paris and hung out his shingle, Mesmer had acquired what he lacked in Vienna: a theory to account for his ability to use trance states to heal people. There was, he claimed, a force pervading the universe called animal magnetism that could cause illness when perturbed. Conveniently enough for Mesmer, the magnetism could be perceived and de-perturbed only by him and people he had trained.
Mesmer’s method was strange, even in a day when doctors routinely prescribed bloodletting and poison to cure the common cold. A group of people complaining of maladies like fatigue, numbness, paralysis and chronic pain would gather in his office, take seats around an oak cask filled with water and grab on to metal rods immersed in the water. Mesmer would alternately chant, play a glass harmonium and wave his hands at the afflicted patients, who would twitch and cry out and sometimes even lose consciousness, whereupon they would be carried to a recovery room. Enough people reported good results that patients were continually lined up at Mesmer’s door waiting for the next session.
It was the kind of success likely to arouse envy among doctors, but more was at stake than professional turf. Mesmer’s claim that a force existed that could only be perceived and manipulated by the elect few was a direct challenge to an idea central to the Enlightenment: that the truth could be determined by anyone with senses informed by skepticism, that Scripture could be supplanted by facts and priests by a democracy of people who possessed them. So, when the complaints about Mesmer came to Louis, it was to the scientists that the king — at pains to show himself an enlightened man — turned. He appointed, among others, Lavoisier the chemist, Bailly the astronomer and Guillotin the physician to investigate Mesmer’s claims, and he installed Franklin at the head of their commission.
To the Franklin commission, the question wasn’t whether Mesmer was a fraud and his patients were dupes. Everyone could be acting in good faith, but belief alone did not prove that the magnetism was at work. To settle this question, they designed a series of trials that ruled out possible causes of the observed effects other than animal magnetism. The most likely confounding variable, they thought, was some faculty of mind that made people behave as they did under Mesmer’s ministrations. To rule this out, the panel settled upon a simple method: a blindfold. Over a period of a few months, they ran a series of experiments that tested whether people experienced the effects of animal magnetism even when they couldn’t see.
Go read it all, as it goes onto to talk about recent research indicating a molecular reason why placebos seem to work so well on some people, at least.   

Malcolm Turnbull continues to disappoint, even as an ex PM

I had something of a hope that Malcolm Turnbull would use his exit from politics to try to blow up the Liberals by stating the obvious:   there is no working with those in the party who deny climate change.   The party needs to split, as there is within it too large a rump of Right wing, American style "conservatives" who are more obsessed with trying to win back an already lost culture war, and it poisons their judgement against good and necessary policy on climate, economics, and even humanitarian issues.  (The first two because evidence is ignored in favour of conspiracy and ideology; the latter because fighting a culture war means being obsessed with strength and never admitting you have gone too far - hence punishing wannabe refugees can continue forever as far as they are concerned.)

But Malcolm on his Q&A session last night gave no hint of understanding his party that way.  Sure, he makes a good point that the electoral evidence from 3 former safe Liberal seats (now with independents) is that people are wanting Liberals to be centrist, small "l" liberals; but he just does not still seem to appreciate that the conservative wing who dumped him will continue to make it impossible to market the party as the one that he wants it to be.

"Broad church" fails when it tries to accommodate those who won't even acknowledge that a key and urgent issue such as climate change, with its broad impact on energy and economics policy, really exists.

Even Andrew Bolt seems to understand this better than Malcolm, since he has muttered about a split recently. 

So, bring on an election, and let the Liberals have their crisis in Opposition where they can do less harm.



Thursday, November 08, 2018

Election talk

Gee, it's hard to find a list of historic popular vote results for US midterm elections.   But I finally turned up this graph, which shows the popular vote swing back to the Democrats is very significant:


The other vote analysis coming out all seems to be showing the old story of the Republican's demographic problems - the party is wildly unpopular with young voters, blacks, Latino/Hispanic and Asians:
When you pile these patterns in the white vote on top of the now-familiar racial divides — CNN’s exit poll shows Democrats winning 90 percent of black voters, 69 percent of Latino voters, and 77 percent of Asian voters — you get a clear sense of what lead to last night’s results: Democrats winning big with minorities and educated whites.   
The party remains strongest with under-educated older white guys.  Way to go, Republicans...

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Triumph's return

Triumph the Insult Comic Dog is reliability funny, especially on politics:



I see that the US midterms have gone pretty much in accordance with polling - Democrats have taken the House by what looks like a pretty substantial number (even though there seems to have been considerable reservation in US media early in the count to call it a "blue wave"), but the Republicans keep the Senate.

Ted Cruz seems to have been returned by the skin of his teeth, but as someone at Nate Silver's place says, it means Beto O'Rourke might have a better run this way to go for the Presidential nomination. 

I have not seen his media performance at all, but I assume he must have some pretty strong charisma.

Watching other people fish

Somehow, on the weekend, I stumbled across a Youtube channel of Jon B, a young American guy who seems big in the world of spectator fishing.   He also recently had a trip to Australia to meet up with some local, somewhat bogan-ish, guys who do the same thing.   Amusingly (I thought) Jon flew into Sydney, then up to the Gold Coast, only to find his Australian hosts had decided to take him fishing on islands off Airlie Beach (!) a 13 hour drive away.   I have no idea why they didn't suggest he fly up there instead of having to endure the long drive on not very great Queensland highways.

I have to admit, I do find Jon B's videos enjoyable.  He's very positive, doesn't swear to any significant extent, and has an amusing line in American youth slang.   And, of course, video cameras have become so cheap, and editing so easy, that amateur Youtube travel/fishing content now looks more like David Lean or Spielberg than the Leyland Brothers.    I find his videos sort of relaxing, too.

I see that he is all of 22 years old.  He seems to have travelled widely.  I am not sure whether he manages to live off Youtube income, or just comes from a rich family.   I haven't found much biographical detail about him yet.

Anyway, good luck to him, I reckon. 

Brisbane weather

I've been meaning to talk about the local weather for, oh, 6 months or so.

The 2018 winter in Brisbane was, I think, colder than recent ones, certainly at night anyway.  It was also very dry, even though winters here usually are.   One odd result:   a distinct lack of winter weeds.  In previous years when we have had a serious bindi problem in the backyard in (if I recall correctly) early spring, we have nothing this year.   There was no mowing needed for a long, long time too.

Then, with a recent burst of rain, grass everywhere grew suddenly.

This week, as I think often occurs in November, felt like a flip of the switch into summer.   It's been hot (about 34 or 35 degrees) in Western Brisbane for about 4 days now, and humid.   No big storm activity, yet, though.

Toads have suddenly come out of hiding and into the yard at night.   Our dog's hunt for them during the day has resumed.  She has a good memory of where she saw one the night before, and as soon as she is let outside of a morning, she goes and has a good sniff around the area, acting for all the world like a bloodhound.  If she finds one, she bites or mouths it, drops it, and continues harassing it.   This can lead to frothing mouth and the risk of poisoning, but I think the theory that some dogs like the "high" that toad poison gives them has a lot going for it.

You may now resume your regular reading.


Tuesday, November 06, 2018

Run properly or else

Another horse has died at the Melbourne Cup meeting? 

Look, I think it clear that they're just not trying hard enough to be careful where they put their feet.

You can't expect a horse to understand the consequences of carelessness without a demonstration.

Therefore, I suggest that before the start of each race, when they are all at the barrier, a bit of theatre needs to be performed:  a two person pantomime horse races onto the track, feet all over the place, and stumbles and falls.   A guy in an overcoat rushes out and pulls out a fake rifle and shoots the stupid panto horse, shouting loudly all the time, like Basil Faulty attacking his car with a stick.   If that's not enough, someone can fake chainsaw the "horse" in two, and other assistants drag away the two halves by the feet.

Race track cleared, the event can begin.

You know it makes sense.

[Now that I think of it, I fear that Roy and HG may have already proposed this, many years ago.  My apologies if that's the case.]

Lee Kuan Yew's immodest proposal

Well, the South China Morning Post knows how to write an attention getting headline.   This is mentioned right at the top, but you have to get to the bottom of the article (interesting if you are into Singaporean modern political history, I guess) to find it mentioned in scant detail:
As an aside, Lee Kuan Yew was more liberal than we think. Or more practical. When the tourism sector was down, he floated the idea of allowing a nudist colony on Sentosa or an offshore island to bring them in! The younger ministers vetoed him.
I'm not sure who would want to be naked in the sweltering sun of the equator, but I guess he was open to new ventures.

Floating solar is suddenly "hot"

Hey, I started saying the stuff in this article months ago:

Floating solar is more than panels on a platform—it’s hydroelectric’s symbiont

For example:
Solar panels prevent algae growth in dammed areas, and they inhibit evaporation from occurring in hotter climates. (According to Yale's School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, major lakes in the southwestern US like Lake Mead and Lake Powell can lose more than 800,000 acre-feet of water to evaporation per year, and the adorably-described "floatovoltaics" could prevent up to 90 percent of that evaporation.") Additionally, floating solar avoids taking up space on land that is priced at a premium.
I still say it should be incorporated into the Snowy Mountains 2 project to actually power the pumps that make the scheme work like a giant battery.

Get me the Prime Minister's phone number?    Oh, he's touring the country in Trump like caps.  He's a dill.

Sordid, rubbery history

I think I knew that the vulcanization of rubber had led to cheap condoms.  I didn't realise it had another sex related product boom:
When I was teaching nineteenth-century literature and social history, I told my students to remember at least one significant date: 1844, the vulcanization of rubber. Charles Goodyear’s invention of that process went on to bring effective contraception to Britain and the United States. But I didn’t know that it was also the origin of the rubber dildo. One of the many fascinating asides in Amy Werbel’s study of Anthony Comstock, the tireless crusader against pornography in late nineteenth-century New York, is an account of the modernization of this ancient sex toy. The first rubber condoms, diaphragms and cervical caps came on the market in 1869, quickly followed by dildos in many colours and shapes; one company sold twelve versions.

Comstock – who was, on paper, a Postal Inspector like any other, charged with catching “crimes that may adversely affect or fraudulently use the US mail” – was astounded to find these “articles for self-pollution” widely advertised, as he described in his indignant and baffled report to Congress in 1872: “One concern was engaged almost wholly in this manufacture. Who were its customers?” Certainly not prostitutes or the married or the poor, he concluded; indeed the “white rubber Dildoe [sic]” was being sold for $6, a steep price in 1870, roughly equivalent to $116 today. The Grand Fancy Bijou Catalogue of the Sporting Man’s Emporium, which carried dozens of advertisements, called it a “happy and harmless” penis substitute for “reserved females”. By 1874, through his allies in the New York Police Department and the Post Office, Comstock had confiscated and destroyed thousands of dildos in a round-up of 60,300 “articles made of rubber for immoral purposes”. But, predictably, an ingenious sex industry made and marketed the products faster than he could condemn them, and writers and photographers quickly exploited their erotic, instructive and commercial possibilities.
Well, count me as surprised at the apparent number being sold.  

I've always been a bit surprised that anyone would buy one, too.  How has C20th understanding of sex changed this, I wonder?   Did they used to be around from ancient times because it was assumed the male appendage in some form was essential for female pleasure?   Has the sexual revolution meant that they are bought less now, even if more widely available?

Someone else can Google that for me, and let me know.

Monday, November 05, 2018

Lulz Cameron

It's very hard not to be amused by the sacking of Ross Cameron at Sky for using "slant eyes" in the course of a rambling defence of the Chinese.   And sacked by Paul Whittaker, who has come over from running the appallingly tabloid Daily Telegraph.   What fun.

"But the context! He was being ironic"  say some of his defenders at Catallaxy, some of whom are  are busy cancelling subscriptions to Fox.       

The trouble is, of course, that a history of buffoonery is its own worst enemy against that defence.  If you are making a show that frequently attacks political correctness, how are viewers supposed to know when they are being ironically racist. 

Someone at Catallaxy says they know that Cameron gets up early to run a business in the day, then does (or did) his Sky News garbage dump at 11pm.   They do their pathetic attempt at political entertainment live at 11 pm?   The guy's been getting by on 4 or 5 hours sleep, perhaps?   Getting sacked was probably a blessing in disguise.

Hilariously, the guy at Catallaxy who knows Cameron is trying to cast it as some sort of scary "they're coming for us" bit of thought policing:
Just remember, first they came for the SkyNews after dark commentators.
Um, yeah, sure.  Might be a tad more credible if it weren't a long time Murdoch flunky doing the sacking. 

Andrew Bolt is talking about some change or other too - dropping his show, perhaps?

I'm pretty pleased that the Fox News-ification of Sky News at night has such a terrible reputation and low ratings.   The Australian political landscape is much saner than the American due to this.

A personal ban on Netflix original movies

Google the topic "why are Netflix original movies so bad/mediocre" and you'll find much discussion along those lines.

On Saturday, despite getting a bit overdosed on Netflix haunting material lately, we watched the lengthily titled "I am the Pretty Thing that Lives in the House": a very minimalist and peculiar ghost story that doesn't just flag where it's going, but draws a diagram within the first 5 minutes and doesn't divert from it.  As a result, there is nothing of surprise (save for one bit of sudden violence), even though I expected it must have a twist ending which never came.

The movie, surprisingly, was considered very good by some reviewers:  it seemed to me (and my son) more like a complete waste of 90 minutes.  I thought it had the feel of a student project, really.   Certainly, it should have been cheap to make.   Could the lead character have any less charisma, I wonder?

Given this poor experience, I'm very inclined to not try any more Netflix original material.

Update:   speaking of hauntings, we have started to watch The Haunting of Hill House series on Netflix.  

I have not seen the original movie that it is based on,  and I gather that this series is a very divergent  modern updating of the themes in the original, rather than re-playing the story.   (Now that I think of it, rather like how the re-invented Lost in Space goes all into family drama as a major them.)

I think I will continue watching it, but I have to say, I am getting tired of certain haunted house tropes:

a.  if you wake up very scared by a sound at night, the first thing normal people do is turn on a light.    People in haunted houses would rather stare out into the dark, it seems.

b.  On the occasions they do turn on the light, it becomes clear that they have no idea about wattage strength for their light bulbs.   (Always buying ones that are about a third as bright as they would be in a normal house.) 

c.  People who are renovating haunted houses are much more interested in money than the psychological health of their children.


Taleb being ridiculed

For entertainment, you could do worse than read the perpetually angry and arrogant Nassim Taleb attracting many attacks on twitter for an initial mistake which he then doubled down on, convincing no one in the process.

As I have said before, there is something seriously wrong at a personality level with him.

Great minds going astray

I very much enjoyed this article in The Atlantic:  My Grandfather Thought He Solved a Cosmic Mystery.

The problem was, no one could understand what he was trying to explain. 


Saturday, November 03, 2018

Very satisfying

Um, it might just be that I know the young woman playing this lead last night pretty well.   She practised this a lot, and (especially when mic-ed up as she was at her school music gala last night), it sounds (I think) pretty damn impressive:


[And, as I have written before, getting drawn into the world of young musicianship - even for a musical dunce like me - makes it hard to feel pessimistic about the future not being left in good hands.   People should seek out their communities' local youth orchestras and see how optimistic their individual and joint effort can make them feel.]

Update:  In the interests of even handedness, I might also know the young man who does a sax solo during this Big Band opening last night:

Friday, November 02, 2018

Evangelicals and tech nerds will be the death of us

Given that there is much concern being expressed that Brazilian President Bolsonaro will be giving companies the go-ahead to bulldoze and mine the Amazon rainforest, and his support base amongst Evangelicals is probably the only religious group n the world that refuses to take climate change seriously, it's disturbing that (once again) the misuse of social media for political lies featured so heavily in the election.  As in India, where it has been blamed for riots and deaths by spreading false rumour, WhatsApp is getting a lot of the blame:
...Aos Fatos, the fact-checking organization that I lead, crowdsourced from over 6,000 WhatsApp users more than 700 false or misleading posts being shared on the app. These rumors distorted at least four key categories of information: statements by political candidates, news of electronic voting and legislation, the nature of protests and the outcomes of opinion polls. These messages were largely aimed at right-leaning political groups, Catholic and evangelical churches, trade and business associations, and military groups.
There were widespread false reports, for example, of how the Venezuelan government hacked Brazil’s electronic voting system and of how Bolsonaro’s rival, Haddad, handed out baby bottles with penis-shaped tops at schools to combat homophobia. One of Bolsonaro’s own sons, Flávio, helped spread such rumors. On Oct. 7, the day of the first round of presidential voting, he tweeted a video that had already been zinging around WhatsApp falsely claiming that the Brazilian voting system was rigged to automatically give all votes to Haddad. When the video was later debunked, Flávio subsequently deleted his tweet, but the damage was done. At least 800,000 people shared the video on Facebook and Twitter. Because of encryption, however, we don’t know how many of WhatsApp’s 120 million active users in Brazil saw it.
That's awful.

The barely human looking (or acting) Zuckerberg is helping bring down the planet while making
squillions.   Who would have guessed 20 years ago that a combination of Evangelicals, tech nerds (and libertarians) would be responsible for global environmental catastrophe?

Things not understood

In life, you only have so much time to learn about the rest of the world. 

I've confessed before about the large chunk of Western Europe that I consider too complicated to get a good grip on its history, but I'm starting to feel my ignorance zone should probably extend down into the Southern Hemisphere too.

Because I've realised lately I don't really understand why good government seems such a difficult thing to achieve in virtually every country in Central and South America.   Sure, there will be lingering issues with exploitation from the West and all, but it seems to be taking a remarkably long time for it to be overcome.

I should probably also admit that it would seem I didn't even have the right impression of Brazil, culturally.   I thought the gaudy display of  Carnival, the small bikinis on the beaches of Rio, as well as the mixed skin colours showing a relaxed attitude to intermarriage between races,  all indicated an openness to sensuality that would mean they are not all that culturally conservative, even if religious.  Which would mean the election of an obnoxious Trump-like President is a bit hard to understand.

I guess I was sort of right, as this WAPO article starts with:
Brazil for years reveled in its image as a post-racial, left-leaning society. Now Jair Bolsonaro — a far-right outsider who says he “loves” President Trump — has surged to the front of the pack in Sunday’s presidential election, sharply dividing Latin America’s largest nation.   
But - I had also missed how big the swing to evangelical Christianity had been in the last decade or so:
 In recent years, as crisis has consumed Brazil, there has been a notable shift in political, social, and religious attitudes. According to a 2016 survey, 54 percent of the Brazilian population held a high number of traditionally-conservative opinions, up from 49 percent in 2010. The shift is particularly evident on matters of law and order: Today, more Brazilians are in favor of legalizing capital punishment, lowering the age at which juveniles can be tried as adults, and life without parole for individuals who commit heinous crimes. Observers have ascribed this phenomenon to Brazilians’ increasing fear of violence over the last few years. This rightward shift has been accompanied by a massive growth in the country’s Evangelical Protestant and Pentecostal churches, which constitute the greater part of Brazilian Protestantism. The percentage of those who identified as evangelicals in Brazil has grown from 6.6 percent in 1980, to 22.2 percent in 2010.
Another article I read recently, but which I am having trouble finding now, indicated that the society is more conservative than first impressions give.   A third article from earlier this year explains how Carnival is a bit misleading:
Irreverence is a fundamental element of carnival, as are costumes mocking politicians or political scandals. In his 1979 book Carnivals, Rogues and Heroes, anthropologist Roberto DaMatta detailed how carnival’s temporary libertarianism and role-playing actually expose the rigid social structures and codes of Brazil’s deeply conservative society. The classic carnival costume of a poor man dressed as a king shows how hierarchical Brazilian society is. “It has a sociological role. It is an escape valve,” he told the Observer. “What happens in carnival dies in carnival.”
Anyway, it's incredible how closely Bolsonaro's policies, behaviour and life are closely aligned with Trump's - he too has been married several times, and has risen to the Presidency on the back of social media and the creepy, cultish worship of his followers that indicate they are voting for him more for emotional reasons than rational.   Maybe he is more sincerely Right wing than the mere opportunism of Trump - and certainly he actually has done military service.   But the similarities as political figures are still pretty amazing.


Thursday, November 01, 2018

Bugs at home

From a review in Nature of a new book Never Home Alone: From Microbes to Millipedes, Camel Crickets, and Honeybees, the Natural History of Where We Live:
The book is structured around sub-habitats in our homes — our bodies, rooms, water supply, pets and food. It considers an awesome range of organisms, from the rich fungal flora on bakers’ hands to the diversity of fly larvae in our drains.

We discover that warm, moist shower heads are ideal for the growth of biofilms containing trillions of bacteria, including Mycobacterium species that are harmful to human health. Dunn and his colleagues invited thousands of volunteers globally to send in samples from their bathrooms. The researchers are finding, for instance, that the more a water supply is treated with chemicals designed to kill microbes, the greater the abundance of pathogenic strains of mycobacteria. We also learn that the numbers of plant and butterfly species in our gardens are correlated with the robustness of the community of microbes on our skin; that some German cockroaches have evolved to perceive glucose as bitter, thus avoiding poisoned bait; and that dogs can give us both heartworm and a top-up of beneficial bacteria from their microbiomes.
Don't recall knowing that dog heartworm can spread to humans - but it's not quite as bad as it could be:
 Human infections seem to be quite uncommon and, interestingly, while this is a serious problem in dogs, it tends to be rather innocuous in people. In fact, the biggest problem with heartworm infection in people is the fact that it can be confused with other, more serious problems, leading to invasive testing.

After infecting someone, D. immitis works its way to the blood vessels in the lungs. This can result in  a small area of inflamed tissue in the area. If a chest x-ray is taken, a "coin lesion" (a small, usually 1-3 cm spot) is often present. The parasite infection usually doesn’t cause any problems in people, but lung cancer and tuberculosis can look the same on x-rays. Usually, open-chest surgery ends up being performed to get a biopsy of the area because of the concerns about cancer. In heartworm cases,the biopsy identifies the problem as D. immitis, which is much better than cancer, but the risks associated with having undergone such an invasive procedure are much greater than that of the parasitic infection itself.

Typically, treatment is not recommended in people because the infection rarely causes problems and people are "dead end" hosts, meaning they cannot pass on the infection. (Unlike in dogs, infected people don’t have the parasite microfilaria in their blood, which is how the infection is passed on to  mosquitoes and other animals).
 In any event, prevention in dogs is now easier than ever, with a once a year vaccination.   Here's our pup, giving me the side eye:



 She couldn't harm me, could she?

Birth right history

Interesting bit of history here, in the story of a Chinese American who went to the Supreme Court over the 14th Amendment.

Just keeping track of what's inside the Trump "reality distortion field"

As the NYT summarises:
He has asserted that construction has begun on his border wall (it has not), that he is one of the most popular American presidents in history (he is not), that he “always” opposed the Iraq war (he did not), that the stock market reopened the day after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 (it did not), that his tax cut was the largest in history (it was not) and that the United States is the only country that guarantees citizenship to those born here (it is not).

As he embarks on a final eight-state, 11-rally blitz before Tuesday’s midterm elections, Mr. Trump has hammered Democrats — not just for their actual policy positions but for some they have not taken. He accused them, without proof, of helping to orchestrate a caravan of Central American migrants; complained that Democrats had opposed opioid legislation when in fact they universally voted for it; and asserted that they would not protect patients with pre-existing conditions — even though that was the heart of President Barack Obama’s health care program.
Today's other news which won't happen:
The US president floated his latest hardline proposal just two days after announcing the deployment of 5,200 troops to the border and with the midterm elections imminent.

“We’ll do up to anywhere between 10 and 15,000 military personnel on top of border patrol, Ice and everybody else at the border,” the president told reporters at the White House before departing for a campaign rally in Florida. “Nobody’s coming in. We’re not allowing people to come in.”
Even if, as I suspect likely, the total sent there tops out at the original 5,000, I actually expect that using his army for such political theatre is going to decrease his popularity within the disturbingly conservative military.   The fact that they will have little to do when they get there, and the effort planners will have to go to for a useless exercise, is surely not going to impress many.
  





Wednesday, October 31, 2018

In which I tell a scary camping story

Hey it's Halloween, and I just read an account given by a couple of young American guys of the fright they received while camping:
23-year-old Wil Neill of Utica and 20-year- old Tyler Kroetsch of Livonia were camping at Waterloo State Recreation Area last month, near the Waterloo-Pinckney Trail. In a message posted on the discussion website Reddit, one of the two Marine reserves wrote that they may have had an encounter with Bigfoot. According to MLive, around 2am one morning, they wrote they were awoken by footsteps that sounded as though they were 20 to 25 feet away. The duo heard what they could only describe as the most “loud, freakiest, inhuman yell, scream” or “roar” shouted at them twice. The creature then took off running in what sounded like a two-footed run.

When it was suggested that it may have a been a cougar, the Marine reserve wrote that the sounds of the impact made by the feet of the creature crashing through the woods weren’t made by something running on four feet. The screams from the animal, he said, weren’t at ground level, either, but instead coming from 5 to 7 feet above ground. The growling filled the entire forest. The Department of Natural Resources has confirmed 35 cougar sightings in the Upper Peninsula since 2008, but not one has been confirmed in that time in the Lower Peninsula.
This gives me an excuse to tell the story of the night I got frightened by a particularly loud insect while camping in South East Queensland.   (Have I told this before?  - don't think so.)

Although I was not alone at the bush campsite (in the middle of State Forest where, even then, you were not really supposed to be camping) I was in my own little tent, and woke up in the middle of the night to what sounded to me, after some speculation, very much like a shovel being scrapped along a dirt surface.   It was quite loud, and a tad disturbing to think about why a person would be outside my tent making sounds with a shovel.  

I called out "who is it", and (if memory serves right) the sound stopped for a short time, then started up again.

No one else around the camp site said anything from their tents - which, of course, might have meant that I was the last to be bludgeoned by a shovel wielding outback maniac.  I'm sure I called out a second time, possibly to the same pause and re-start reaction. 

When calling out, I had stayed pretty still inside my tent.  I finally decided that the continuing noise was a sign that, whatever was making it, there was not intention to attack me.

I flipped around in my sleeping bag and looked outside, puzzled.  I undid the zip on my tent, and with my head now released from the sleeping bag hood, I realised that the sound was actually coming from very close to my head.

I released that it was coming from my little aluminium camping cooking kit, like one of these, only round:



which I had left virtually at the entry to my little tent.  Inside it was a large insect, the variety of which I did not know, but it was pretty big and very busy scrapping its legs over the surface, possibly eating some small amount of leftover dinner stuck to the pan.   The sound was amplified by the concave shape, towards my head, and yes, it was quite loud.   My ears had interpreted as coming from some distance away.   As it turned out, everyone else in the campsite was still alive.

In the morning, I was asked some embarrassing questions about why I had been calling out, sounding nervous, in the middle of the night.  

So there - the dark night (and bugs) can play tricks on the ear.  

[Underwhelmed?  OK, well you come up with a better "camping noises at night" story.]

Libertarian no more

So, if I understand this post correctly, the Niskanen Centre - the nice libertarians who don't disbelieve in climate change and who were seemingly pretty centrist on lots of issues - has recanted and decided it can't really call itself libertarian anymore.

Seems a reasonable conclusion.

Instead,  founder Jerry Taylor talks about moderation as an alternative to ideology.  I can agree with the sentiment:
What is the alternative to ideology? There is no easy answer. Without some means of sorting through the reams of information coming at us every day, we would be overwhelmed and incapable of considered thought or action. Without any underlying principles or beliefs whatsoever, we are dangerously susceptible to believing anything, no matter how ludicrous, and to act cruelly without moral constraint. Yet any set of beliefs, if they are coherent, are the wet clay of ideology. Hence, the best we can do is to police our inner ideologue with a studied, skeptical outlook, a mindful appreciation of our own fallibility, and an open, inquisitive mind.

Politics and policymaking without an ideological bible is incredibly demanding. It requires far more technocratic expertise and engagement than is required by ideologues, who already (they think) know the answers. It also requires difficult judgments, on a case-by-case basis, about which ethical considerations are of paramount concern for any given issue at hand, and what trade-offs regarding those considerations are most warranted. 

To embrace nonideological politics, then, is to embrace moderation, which requires humility, prudence, pragmatism, and a conservative temperament. No matter what principles we bring to the political table, remaking society in some ideologically-driven image is off the table given the need to respect pluralism. A sober appreciation of the limitations of knowledge (and the irresolvable problem of unintended consequences) further cautions against over-ambitious policy agendas.
I had previously posted about, with approval, their endorsement of moderation given by Will Wilkinson.   I think abandoning the title "libertarian" is probably a good idea.

Dissent in the ranks

This is, given the weird state of wingnut politics, big news.    Someone (presumably, a producer of the suckiest suck-up-to-Trump show on Fox News) has decided to send the message to him to drop the "enemy of the people":
On Tuesday morning, Fox & Friends aired the relevant excerpts from the Ingraham interview and then cut back to the three hosts, who were all sitting outside for some reason. They all looked incredibly uncomfortable, though I could not tell whether Trump’s phrasing bothered them personally, whether they were simply nervous that they were about to criticize the president, or whether they were just cold. 

“So there he is, talking about his term, ‘enemy of the people,’ which … bothers a lot of people,” said Steve Doocy, tapping his hand on a table. 

“I really wish he would lose that term,” said Brian Kilmeade. “It doesn’t help anybody.” (This may well be the most reasonable thing that Brian Kilmeade has ever said.) “It doesn’t push back on the media that he wants to push back on. And I think that it gets too many other people [inaudible] shrapnel with that statement. Because the press isn’t the enemy of the people,” Kilmeade continued. “ … That broad statement does a lot of damage.” 

“Well, I think he probably feels like they are not doing him any favors and so he doesn’t like them, ultimately,” said Doocy. “But are they the enemy of the people? I don’t think so, either.”

As artistically uninspiring as a big statue can be

I've admitted before that I have a fondness for really big statues, and so it's with interest that I see India is about to open a truly gigantic one:


But, but....the figure itself makes for (what I would like to bet) is the most mundane, artistically uninspiring image for a big statue in the universe.   Here's who it is:
India’s new Statue of Unity, which will be formally unveiled Wednesday, depicts Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, an independence-era leader credited with uniting the fledgling nation in the 1940s when he served as India’s first home minister.

But the homage to Patel has far deeper symbolism. 

Patel, known as India’s “Iron Man,” has become a right-wing icon for Hindu nationalists. And the statue is located in the western state of Gujarat, which has been the site of some of the fiercest clashes between Hindus and Muslims in past decades.

I mean, the guy may have had his good points, but gigantic statues should, in my view, either be of religious figures looking awesome, or (as in Russia) some sort of idealised or stylised image of humanity looking dramatic or muscly or about to get something done.

Instead, it looks like the guy who runs a discount variety store who is so bored he's having a standing nap.

And despite this, I'm betting it would be still be awesome to be up close to.   Big statues are just inherently awesome.

Another long term environmental issue

As if climate change isn't enough of a long term worry, Real Climate has a lengthy post explaining the rise of mercury in the environment, and how it is not really possible to clean it up in the same way, in theory, you can remove CO2 from the atmosphere.  Kinda depressing.