Monday, March 02, 2015

Emulsified

Widely used food additive promotes colitis, obesity and metabolic syndrome, research shows

Hmmm. A mouse study testing a couple of widely used emulsifiers in processed food suggests that they make changes in the gut microbiota which are not good for us.

Most interesting comment in the report:

While detailed mechanisms underlying the effect of on metabolism remain under study, the team points out that avoiding excess food consumption is of paramount importance.

"We do not disagree with the commonly held assumption that over-eating is a central cause of obesity and ," Gewirtz says. "Rather, our findings reinforce the concept suggested by earlier work that low-grade inflammation resulting from an altered
microbiota can be an underlying cause of excess eating."

Storms noted

I don't know what an average summer there is like, as it is one Australian city I have never lived in for any length of time, but it really seems Sydney has had an unusually large number of big storms this summer. 

Brisbane, on the other hand, has been hot but seems to have had fewer storms than average.  (Although the billion dollar hail storm was a big one.)

Cold beer

BBC News - Why Iceland banned beer

Here's quite a long article on Iceland's odd history of alcohol control, including full strength beer being banned for most of the 20th century.

For amusement, here are some more peculiar drinks from the island:

  • Brennivin - a clear schnapps, made from fermented grain or potato mash and flavoured with caraway; also known as Black Death, which one Icelandic blogger
    says "explains a lot". She continues: "Many Icelanders never touch it,
    and a majority of the ones who drink it only do so when feeling
    patriotic, such as... when trying to impress foreign visitors."
  • Whale beer - the Icelandic micro-brewery
    Stedji has produced a number of ales flavoured with different parts of
    whale, including Hvalur 2, a brew infused with dried whale testicles; Stedji's beer has proved popular in Iceland, although the company has been criticised by conservationists

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Mixed emotions

Well we seem to be in one of those anomalous polling periods.   A couple of polls have indicated something of a move in voting intention back towards the Coalition, even taking into account the spectacularly ugly attacks on Gillian Triggs last week.   Just as with Kevin Rudd's popularity, there is sometimes no accounting for what is going on in the mind of the swinging voter.  (Is it tough talk on security, or the abandonment of a couple of budget measures that is doing the trick?  Some even suggest people are already factoring in a new leader, given that Abbott still has such a low approval rating, and they don't expect him to last to the next election.  Who knows...)

One thing I feel certain about, though - those who already disliked Abbott before the last fortnight have had the intensity of their feeling against him greatly enhanced last week.  I mean, probably half of his backbench feel that way too.

I presume this deflates the rebels in his own party who want him replaced.  Which, for those who want to see the entire party lose next election, is almost certainly a good thing.   Still, he does deserve to be turfed out after an embarrassingly short run - he really does...

Update:  I forgot to mention Chris Uhlmann's comment on  Insiders yesterday that Four Corners are doing a story around Parliament House, with rumours that they have documents that will be very embarrassing for Abbott regarding a deal to buy Japanese submarines.   Hope it's true...

When libertarian idealism hits reality

Krugman recommended this article about how Silk Road began with libertarian inspiration but imploded.  Here's the key paragraph that sums up what it's about:
Ulbricht built the Silk Road marketplace from nothing, pursuing both a political dream and his own self-interest. However, in making a market he found himself building a micro-state, with increasing levels of bureaucracy and rule‑enforcement and, eventually, the threat of violence against the most dangerous rule‑breakers. Trying to build Galt’s Gulch, he ended up reconstructing Hobbes’s Leviathan; he became the very thing he was trying to escape. But this should not have been a surprise.
It's a good read.

Still charming to read comments from a real von Trapp

BBC News - The truth about the Sound of Music family

I think most people know by now that the film bears scant resemblance to the way the real life story unfolded, but the family was not terribly unhappy with the way it was portrayed.  They wished the father had been shown differently, though:

Far from being the distant rather domineering father of the Sound of
Music, Johannes says he was "a very charming man, generous, open, and
not the martinet he was made out to be both in the stage play and in the
film. My mother did try to alter that portrayal for the film, but she
was not successful."

Is it really that bright?

'Bright Spot' on Ceres Has Dimmer Companion | NASA

I have been wondering whether the intensity of the bright spot(s) on the photo of Ceres is at least partly due to image processing.  They do say that the brightest spot is "too small to resolve with our camera".

It certainly looks odd. 

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Possibly the stupidest Comment is Free column I have ever read

Give me cheap beer, or give me sobriety. Just stop this craft beer 'revolution' | Eleanor Robertson | Comment is free | The Guardian

I think it's just clickbait, actually.   No sensible person regrets the arrival of interesting variety in beer.  (She's right about the hops, though.)

Friday, February 27, 2015

Gift comparison

What Gillian Triggs has received in her office...


What George Brandis deserves in his:


(Nice bookshelf, incidentally...)

A tale of Tims


One of these commissioners from the Human Rights Commission was conspicuously at the Senate Estimates inquisition hearing this week behind Gillian Triggs in what was clearly a supportive role.

One of these Commissioners was appointed by George Brandis directly into the job, and went to the Opera with him in January this year.

One of these commissioners, according to one of his close friends, would become acting President of the Commission if Triggs were to resign.

George Brandis is claiming that he had information from inside the Commission that Triggs was considering resigning and wondering if the government would give her another job.  Triggs categorically denies instigating inquiries as to that possibility.

All very curious....

If Freedom Boy makes a clear denial of any involvement in this, I am happy to publish it...

Update:  it remains possible that this has all been a comedy of errors, with someone clearly supportive of Triggs within the Commission talking to Brandis about her feelings and accidentally giving the impression to him that a job offer would be welcome.   But it speaks a lot to Brandis' competency that he would in fact authorise any proposal be put to her before she resigned, because of how incredibly damaging it would look if it was rejected and leaked, but also, even if it was accepted it would raise eyebrows.   

And as for Wilson - I don't see why journalists should not be asking him to clarify, as a known friend of Brandis, whether he has been acting as his Deep Throat* from inside the Commission.    

* sorry, irresistible historical quasi pun.  No implication of actual, you know, intended...

Update 2:  Triggs has issued an emphatic denial of the version of events being circulated by Brandis, Bishop and their News Corp lickspittle Chris Kenny in the Australian this morning.

Brandis' statement at the hearing was this:
"I was informed on condition of anonymity, by numerous sources within the Human Rights Commission that that was so, and that Professor Triggs was taking counsel from individuals about her position and about what she should do. In particular, I was told that she was concerned and had raised concerns with an individual about the reputational damage she may suffer if she resigned or stood aside as president of the commission." 
Frankly, this does not sound all that plausible to me - that several people from the Commission would be telling Brandis what was going on in the Commission, on condition of anonymity.   The former Disability Discrimination Commissioner was on the radio today (and in the press) putting the boot into Brandis - and given the way Wilson was parachuted in, I would think it very likely that everyone who works there (apart from his opera guest) holds the AG in moderate to high disdain.     

Something weird is going on,  that's for sure.   Oh for access to some metadata, hey?

And here's Andrew Bolt, joining us yet again on the topic of Malcolm Turnbull as possible Prime Minister


Thursday, February 26, 2015

Another Thursday, another Savva attack on Credlin

Isn't it fun watching Niki Savva explain in more and more explicit detail why Peta Credlin has caused deep unhappiness within the Abbott government? 

Something's got to give, Captain Australia.   Preferably, you and Peta.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Back to the 70's

Men's shorts are getting shorter and should be worn with pride

Apparently, men will be wearing short shorts again, everywhere, soon.

It puts me in mind of how short Stubbies were in the 70's and into the 80's.  It's funny how what looks normal in fashion at the time looks weird and embarrassing 20 years later.

What next?  Women to deem chest carpet sexy again? 

Would love to know if this is true

TRUSTED SOURCES have stated to me that Wilson was actually promised the presidency several years ago as an inducement to leave his role as a director of the Institute of Public Affairs, often described as a conservative think tank by some, a non-think tank by others.
That promise was also allegedly more recently affirmed in secret discussions held at the behest of the Attorney General George Brandis, himself acting on direct instruction from besieged Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
Problem is, I certainly don't trust Independent Australia as being the most reliable publication for matters like this.

Still, I do note that Abbott has not answered the question in Parliament as to whether he knew the offer was being made to Triggs.  I think it certainly likely it was discussed with Brandis, in which case the role of Wilson may well have come up.
 

Some commentary on "inducement"

Gillian Triggs 'inducement'? George Brandis, Chris Moraitis probe

I think Moraitis should simply have refused to pass on such a legally dangerous message in the absence of his boss.

As for the commentator in the article who says that Brandis will now ignore everything that comes from Triggs:  what difference will that make?  The government is completely ignoring everything from Tim Wilson too.

A very good Last Dog

Last Dog on the Moon's take on the Triggs matter is particularly funny.  I like the accurate depiction of Peter Dutton:


The asterisks besides "No need to call the police"  lead to "Call the police" at the bottom of the cartoon.

On a more serious note:  the Abbott government attack on Triggs in Senate Committee and under parliamentary privilege is a truly sickening act of a shockingly bad Prime Minister.   He genuinely has become repulsive.  

Last chance to nude up

Well, looks like if I go mad and want to turn this into a exhibitionist's porn blog, I only have a month in which to do it.  Although, it does seems I could still appear if tastefully nude. 

I think a certain other blogging style service starting with T has cornered the market for pornography anyway, hasn't it?   This is good - stopping pornography on certain domains helps with filtering.   If you ask me, the world should all agree to shove adult, explicit pornography off to a special .xxx domain.   Both the porn industry and Stephen Conroy (Labor's most gormless Minister in the last government) oppose it, so it is almost certainly a good idea.

As I have said before - people would take a dim view of Adult shop style porn magazines being on open display at the newsagent or supermarket checkout next to New Idea.   The internet is now just as an essential service as the local supermarket, even for kids, and just as you don't want them stumbling across copulating couples at Coles, the internet should be set up to make it easy to filter it such material too.  Nothing to do with preventing adults seeing it - just a sensible bit of organisation.

Some history to remember

Exxon-Mobil, Bush, and global warming.

Just a reminder to anyone who thinks the IPCC Pachauri scandal is all a Lefty affair (so to speak):  Pachauri was the favoured pick of George W Bush for the job, with some suspecting at the time that it was because Exxon thought he would not be effective.

In other "libertarians who fail to impress" news

I don't think it is really worth anyone's effort to watch Helen Dale's video of a speech she gave to the recent, widely ignored, LDP conference (from which I gathered that the party's plan is to ensure that all married "queers"* who want to carry a gun for self protection can do so), but if you do, I defy anyone to claim she made a legitimate point about gun control and suicide.

She made a ridiculous connection between those who want gun control (partly) out of concern of an increased suicide rate from guns with a desire to made suicide illegal.

A patently absurd suggestion.   People do not want to see gun suicide because, nearly all of the time, suicide is an act (often implusive) by people who are depressed or falsely believe there is no alternative, and which devastates the deceased's family and friends.   Guns provide a particularly easy way to act on an impulse.  I have linked before (although I cannot find it now) to articles about how research shows that reducing people's ability to act impulsively on suicidal thoughts reduces suicide.  Indeed, Helen says that there is "some" evidence that tight gun control does have an effect on suicide rates.

It's common sense - and it obviously has nothing at all to do with any thought that it would be a good idea to make suicide a criminal act.

*  Incidentally, I note that Helen self identifies as such now.  Not entirely sure what that means in practice, but whatever.  

Nomination for one of those "You had one job" posters


Here's the start of a report in The Australian:
HUMAN Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson is “seriously concerned” Australia is going backwards in its support of free speech
Seems clear to everyone, doesn't it, that Wilson is having no effect on the government at all in terms of a "freedom agenda".  

If anyone should resign from the HRC for general uselessness, it's him.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Oh look - Triggs being silent during Labor's term [not]

PM - Commission slams conditions on Christmas Island 12/12/2012

Another great IPA pick

I see the IPA is bringing out another person to tell them what they already think they know.  Normally, it's "climate change - rubbish", this time, it's "taxes - who needs taxes!" from Arthur Laffer, of Laffer curve fame.

Funny thing is, the latest Laffer inspired experiment is going spectacularly poorly:
Back in August 2012, Laffer told a crowd at the Johnson County Community College, if Kansas would slash its income tax rates, it would result in “enormous prosperity.”
He told a reporter at the time that he had not produced an economic model on when Kansas will notice meaningful economic growth.
Two-and-a-half years later, Kansas is staring at a budget crisis, with more than a billion dollar gap between revenues and expenses projected in the current and next budget years. The state is also experiencing a low private job growth rate, as well as a slow-growing economy.
In a 45-minute phone interview, Laffer said while he is “not surprised,” he didn’t know why the deficits have occurred. He still believes adamantly in his supply-side economic theory: If you reduce income taxes, you will raise more revenue, not less.
Just when the revenue starts to rise is another matter.
“You have to view this over 10 years,” Laffer said. “It will work in Kansas.”
10 years!   Looks like his experiment is going to have to be terminated before then.

It's rather peculiar that Laffer is said to be influential amongst Republicans again, when the Kansas experiment isn't working.   All a matter of ideology not caring about evidence, just like in climate change.  (Although it appears Laffer may be somewhat more sensible about a carbon tax than most Republicans.)


Read more here: http://www.kansascity.com/opinion/opn-columns-blogs/steve-rose/article7024256.html#storylink=cpy

Blowhard-ing a gale

Holy heck:   Andrew Bolt's blowhardery (to coin a term) is at Cat 5 cyclonic strength lately, even if it turns out Marcia might have been a Cat 4.  (What sort of idiot does a song and dance about whether a cyclone was really a Cat 5 or 4?   Of course it's not a totally precise assessment at the time.  Jennifer Marohasy and Jonova are climate change denying clowns.)

Question time should be interesting today...

I assume that Labor will ask the PM if he was aware of the Attorney General's attempt to get Triggs to resign, and authorised it.
Triggs is telling the committee the secretary of AGD suggested to her a new position would be found if she’d vacate her spot at the Human Rights Commission.
Triggs:
It was definitely said to me that an offer would be made for me to provide work for the government in areas of my expertise in international law.
(This is amazing. Truly.)
I cannot see how this extraordinary episode cannot hurt the government...

Update:  plot thickening - Secretary says Triggs called the meeting to ask about Brandis' view of her.

Brandis says he had heard from "others in the HRC" that she was considering her position.

My hunch about the involvement of blatant political appointee and Brandis friend "Freedom Boy" Wilson looks like it might have some legs....

Update 2:   Triggs' counter explanation of the meetings went pretty well. 

Abbott refused to answer question in Parliament as to whether he knew Brandis was going to offer her another job.  Not a good look, to put it mildly.

The government is leaking like a sieve, and from Cabinet too.

It made for a very glum looking lot on the government benches in Parliament during question time today, particularly when listening to what Abbott was going to say about the Triggs affair.  They then sat in unhappy silence while a string of questions quoting leaks consumed the rest of the session.

Hiatus that's not much of a hiatus might continue for a while yet

Quantifying the likelihood of a continued hiatus in global warming : Nature Climate Change : Nature Publishing Group

Interesting sounding paper here, and I'll just cut and paste the abstract:

Since the end of the twentieth century, global mean surface temperature
has not risen as rapidly as predicted by global climate models1, 2, 3 (GCMs). This discrepancy has become known as the global warming ‘hiatus and a variety of mechanisms1, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17
have been proposed to explain the observed slowdown in warming.
Focusing on internally generated variability, we use pre-industrial
control simulations from an observationally constrained ensemble of GCMs
and a statistical approach to evaluate the expected frequency and
characteristics of variability-driven hiatus periods and their
likelihood of future continuation. Given an expected forced warming
trend of ~0.2 K per decade, our constrained ensemble of GCMs implies
that the probability of a variability-driven 10-year hiatus is ~10%, but
less than 1% for a 20-year hiatus. Although the absolute probability of
a 20-year hiatus is small, the probability that an existing 15-year
hiatus will continue another five years is much higher (up to 25%).
Therefore, given the recognized contribution of internal climate
variability to the reduced rate of global warming during the past 15
years, we should not be surprised if the current hiatus continues until
the end of the decade. Following the termination of a variability-driven
hiatus, we also show that there is an increased likelihood of
accelerated global warming associated with release of heat from the
sub-surface ocean and a reversal of the phase of decadal variability in
the Pacific Ocean.


Rat empathy

This Rat Experiment Will Haunt You, But Not For The Reason You Think

Have a read of the comments too, where lots of people note that rats are much nicer than mice...

National security noted

Some pretty reasonable commentary here on Abbott's national security speech yesterday.  This paragraph puts terrorism numbers in perspective:
 Let's focus on the 'abroad' part of the claim. According to the Global Terrorism Index, '17,958 people were killed in terrorist attacks last year, that’s 61% more than the previous year.' Which is horrific, of course, but 82% of those deaths occurred in just five countries: Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria and Syria. As you can see in the graph, deaths from terrorism in the rest of the world have been pretty stable since the peak in 2001:


As I was saying last week...

Mars One plan to colonise red planet unrealistic, says leading supporter | Science | The Guardian

Monday, February 23, 2015

Movie talk

I usually write something about the Oscars each year,  and usually end up watching a fair slab of it, as you never know, I might get to see Steven Spielberg in the audience, and that makes it all worthwhile. 

Not that I have seen more than about 20 minutes of this year's show yet, but here are some quick comments:

*  It seems Neil Patrick Harris' job as host has had distinctly lukewarm reviews.  Good - I really don't care for the guy.   On the other hand, how many years has it been since anyone said - "gee, he/she did a great job hosting that show last night"?   I have no idea - but it seems like decades.  I remember finding Steve Martin funny one year, and then I think he hosted again and was flat.  Chevy Chase was funny once too, if I recall correctly.  But the show just seems to defeat everyone now, alternating each year between "flat" and "awful". 

* The only big nominated movie I have seen this year was The Grand Budapest Hotel - and I didn't care for it.   Birdman, the best movie winner, I see has made all of $38 million in the US, and as an eccentric black comedy, it was likely destined to not do well commercially.  They really don't go out of their way to reward box office success these days, do they?  

* By far the most critically praised movie of the year - Boyhood - came away with just one actor award.  I saw a funny tweet about that (remembering that it was a film made over 12 years):




Heh.  Haven't seen it, but I heard it has reappeared at the cinema.  Perhaps I should make the trip.

*  Hey, if weren't convinced before that tattoos are a terrible distraction from everything else about a nicely presented woman, didn't Lady Gaga's inside arm tatts make for a change of mind?



* Clint Eastwood's movie won a gong for sound editing only?  Lots of liberal critics liked it, so I am a bit surprised.  Maybe it was the fake baby that put them off...  

* That screen writer for The Imitation Game looked awfully young.   Yeah, he's 34, and a very young looking 34 at that.   It sounded like he was going to say he was gay like Turing, but apparently he's not.   Well, he seemed a nice enough guy, I guess, except it is precisely because of his screenplay's inventions that I don't want to pay to see the movie.  Sorry. 

ADL (Abbott Desperation Level) has been raised to "6"

It's a handy measure based on the number of Australian flags he appears with during media events.


Abbott's lunge to paint himself as the "The Best Protector of the Nation During its Greatest Crisis, Ever" is just way too transparent to do him any good, isn't it?

Seriously?

The story itself is behind a paywall, and so far, I only see Latika referring to it:


Update:   Latika later notes that this was reported at the time - I had forgotten....


Freeman Dyson on spies he has known

Scientist, Spy, Genius: Who Was Bruno Pontecorvo? by Freeman Dyson | The New York Review of Books

What a fascinating insider take here by Freeman Dyson about spies in physics....

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Record cold in perspective

This is why some record cold days in one part of the world does not prove the world is not warming:


One would think you could get the concept of the Eastern part of the North American continent not being "the world" into the head of an economist like Steve Kates, but it appears one can't.

Mr Kates and his RMIT pal Sinclair might also like to read this explanation of the matter of the warming Arctic being suspected of being behind the jet stream wobbles that help bring cold air temporarily down to parts of the US and Canada.  Jennifer Francis writes clearly on the matter, being one of its main proponents, if I recall correctly.

Lincoln and the Mediums - a great read

The Spiritualist Who Warned Lincoln Was Also Booth's Drinking Buddy | History | Smithsonian

A fascinating article here about the Lincolns and mediums they (well, mainly Mary) consulted.

You know, I often get the feeling that the influence of spiritualism in Western society over the century of 1850 to 1950 has been given short shrift in popular histories or movies.   As this article indicates, it was a very big movement that attracted a following from all parts of society, but people seem to know little about its early "success".

Uplifting

BBC - Culture - The bra: An uplifting tale

Here's a moderately interesting account of the history of the bra, and I extract this paragraph partly because I am immaturely amused by the name of the authority, but also because I have not read the term "breastbag" before:

 “Evolution sometimes takes a break,” argued Beatrix Nutz, an
archaeologist and researcher at the University of Innsbruck in Austria, in smithsonianmag.com.
“The Greek mathematician and geographer Eratosthenes (276 BC–195 BC)
knew our planet was a globe and even calculated its circumference, but
throughout the Middle Ages people believed it to be a flat disc. Bras
are certainly not even remotely as important as the actual shape of the
earth, but they were obviously invented, went out of fashion, were
forgotten, and supposed to be invented (again) in the late 19th
Century.” Nutz also cited two earlier written sources referencing what
could be perceived as early versions of the bra. “The French surgeon
Henri de Mondeville (1260-1320) reported what women whose breasts were
too large did. They ‘insert two bags in their dresses, adjusted to the
breasts, fitting tight, and put them into them every morning and fasten
them when possible with a matching band,’” she said, adding: “An unknown
German poet of the 15th Century wrote in his satirical poem, ‘Many make
two breastbags, with them she roams the streets, so that all the young
men that look at her, can see her beautiful breasts.”

 

Roof walking

As I have mentioned over the years, our house has regular visits by possums and (unfortunately) rats:  the latter always start turning up in the ceiling in autumn when the summer oven like temperatures in the roof space start cooling.   We hear them, I go up into the ceiling and lay baits and look for dead bodies.  (Fortunately, they mostly seem to die elsewhere.) 

As for possums - they are not infrequently seen on the balcony rail, or heard scurrying along the lower part of the roof (which, conveniently for them, comes close to a very large tree in which you can also hear them rustling at night.)

In the morning, sometimes we have had birds hopping on the roof, too.

So I've heard animals on or in the roof, a lot.

But lately, including early this morning, there is something on the roof which makes a sound which is oddly like footsteps.  It does not have a scurrying quality at all, it sounds like the slowish thump, thump, thump of a person walking carefully on a roof.

I mentioned it at lunch, and my daughter says she has heard it in the evening.  I've only heard it later at night, or very early in the morning.

I'm a bit puzzled about what Australian  animal can make a roof noise like that.  Googling the topic I see from this handy American guide to things in the attic that raccoons can make a walking sound.
The things is, based on past experience, I am a bit skeptical that possums, even large ones, move in such a way that they can sound like footsteps.   Can't see what else it could be, though.  A very large  cat is not out of the question, I suppose, but we will have to see.

The incident has put me a bit in mind of the "devil's footprints" story from 19th century Devon, minus the snow, of course.     I can imagine people in, say, the midst of a witch panic, being wound up over the sounds of (what they think is) footsteps on a roof.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Australian ramping up the attack

Every person interested in politics will be reading The Australian's lengthy, detailed, leak filled report on the totally dysfunctional Prime Minister's office under Abbott/Credlin, served with a side of "how nuts is Abbott anyway, for wanting to unilaterally deploy thousands of Australia troops to Iraq again?"

Interestingly, it says Abbott can't sack Hockey because Hockey will retaliate with damaging payback (in that he won't wear all the blame for a crook budget.)

And in comments following the article, the usual bunch of ideologues who say "replace Abbott with Turnbull and I'll never vote Liberal again."

As I said before - this is a crisis for the Coalition because it is split about 50/50 on the matter of belief in the reality of AGW and climate change; not a matter of mere personalities as it was with Labor.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Astronaut stuff

Neil Armstrong’s closet: What I found when I went through the belongings of the astronaut in my family.

Just a bit of interesting stuff here about what it's like to know an ex-astronaut.

Incidentally, I will probably always remember the names of the Apollo 12 astronauts (Conrad, Gordon, Bean) because my sister  at the time was living in the US and sent me a mission patch which she got from somewhere or other.  (Actually, she was probably living in Alabama at the time.)  I had it sewn onto a shirt or jacket, I forget which.

I think I have mentioned before that I spotted Apollo 11's Michael Collins in the bookshop of the Air and Space Museum in Washington when he used to run it.  I also saw Andy Thomas give a talk once.

Thus ends my list of proximity to astronauts. 

Daytime cyclones?

With the news this morning of quite an intense cyclone soon to hit the Queensland coast, it has occurred to me that it seems much more common that cyclones in Australia come ashore at night, rather than during daytime.   I wonder if I am right, or if it is just the lingering impression of Cyclone Tracey and Darwin?

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Tim fails

Human Rights Commissioner offers no defence of Gillian Triggs over Forgotten Children report - ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

I had a read of Tim "Freedom Boy" Wilson's speech to the Press Club yesterday (which he personally tweeted was "a cracker" - the number of selfies is not the only reason to believe he has high self regard), and thought it was full of his usual light weight, platitudinous waffle.

Funny how a gay right wing mouthpiece for "property rights" and free speech can try to turn a Human Rights job into one that's about gays, property rights and free speech.   Oh, and the kids in indefinite detention: "yeah, well it shouldn't happen; but let me talk about s 18C again and how inhibiting it is for Andrew Bolt".

I have noticed some people on the net saying the talk was not well attended (and I had figured that there must have been low interest from the number of times I saw him reminding people that it was on in the last week or two).   Sorry, Timbo, it's like, they're just not that into you.

The amount of bravery he showed by not wanting to comment on the fact that the politician who appointed him was now wanting to remove his boss for blatantly political reasons was on the low to non-existent end of the scale of possible responses.  I think he made the point that she can't be sacked unless Parliament changes the law - true, but not exactly the point.  Still, I suppose it is hard for a blatant political appointment to make comments about other blatant political interference, isn't it Tim?

Funnily enough, I also see that this photo of Tim in action is on the innerwebs:


Gee, how did the photographer get that shot?  "Tim, Tim:  now if you could pose like a self-satisfied, smug git... Great, ta."  (OK, maybe its just a screenshot.)

There, my Wilson hate is sated for another day...

Update:  is that right?  Sinclair Davidson says that if Triggs resigned, Freedom Boy would be the acting President of the HRC.

So sounds like Brandis really did want his direct appointee to be head of the Commission?   Maybe it would only be temporary, but still, this is a bad look for cronyism.   If anything, that is all the more reason for journalists to ask Wilson for his views on this tawdry affair.

Update 2:  oh for crying out loud - Timbo presumably approves this HRC post today (just extracting part of his underwhelming speech) which is  plastered at the top with his beaming mug. 





I'm guessing he has to clean his shaving mirror regularly - all of those smugly lip prints that he leaves on it every morning make it hard to see clearly.




Fish wars

Climate change redistributes fish species at high latitudes

I hadn't heard of this before (the bit about the Suez Canal causing big changes to Mediterranean fish species):
Redistribution of species and interchange will cause a tremendous increase in fish
biodiversity in coastal areas around e.g. Greenland and Svalbard, and
thus dramatic changes to interactions between species.
History has shown that such biotic interchange can result in severe ecological consequences. For example, the construction of the Suez Canal in 1869 resulted in the invasion of the Mediterranean Sea by Red Sea marine fauna. The Mediterranean fish community is now dominated by Red Sea fishes, and this has had harmful ecological and for Mediterranean biodiversity and its fishing industry.

Not exactly on the feminist wavelength

In Bid to Allow Guns on Campus, Weapons Are Linked to Fighting Sexual Assault - NYTimes.com

Somehow, I don't think this female gun nut politician is quite on the same wavelength as feminists:
The sponsor of a bill in Nevada, Assemblywoman Michele Fiore,
said in a telephone interview: “If these young, hot little girls on
campus have a firearm, I wonder how many men will want to assault them.
The sexual assaults that are occurring would go down once these sexual
predators get a bullet in their head.”
Given that I would bet my last dollar that "hot little girl" sized cans of mace are already available in every state these gun fetishists are pushing for these laws, I wonder why these idiots think that it wouldn't work during a college rape, whereas a gun would?

Monkeys banned from actorly activity

Anger at bid to fly monkeys to Australia for Pirates of the Caribbean film | World news | The Guardian

Animal rights activists object to a couple of pampered monkey actors being flown over to Australia for a movie.  Funny that millions of cats and dogs aren't rendered insane by aircraft flights, and one would also assume that these monkeys have travelled that way before.   I think animal rights activists are starting to have trouble finding things to object to...

But what is this about?:
The Department of Environment has proposed conditions on the import
permit, stipulating that the monkeys be used only for filming, that they
should not be allowed to have sex with each other or have contact with
monkeys of any species.
Now that's cruel.  

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Uneven temperatures

This seems to be happening each year now:  while parts of the US are having some record cold temperatures this winter, other parts (this time, the West coast - I should check how Alaska is faring too) are having record warmth:

SEATTLE — Flowers are blossoming. Bees are buzzing. The sky is blue. Sunsets have been stunning. Temperatures have crept north of 60 degrees, and joggers are going shirtless.
This isn’t a typical February in the Pacific Northwest.
While the Northeast is buried under snow, the opposite corner of the country has been hosting the opposite of the winter weather spectrum. The Northwest has had a record-breaking winter, but for warm temperatures.
On Monday, record highs hit parts of Washington and Oregon as one of the mildest winters continues in the Northwest.
The National Weather Service reported record highs of 59 at Sea-Tac Airport, 60 at Olympia, 62 at Hoquiam, 62 at Vancouver, 61 in Portland, 62 at Hillsboro, Ore., and 66 at Salem, Ore.
Oh, and as for Alaska - yes, this article from the end of January suggests it was a relatively mild winter, at least up to then.

This all perhaps suggests why the average global temperature for January was not low at all:

January_2015-2nd-warmest-January_NASA_GISS

George Will writes a sensible column

Curb your pessimism - The Washington Post

Quite a shock, this is...

News media is such a sucker for PR

I am rather puzzled by the fact that the news media keeps treating Mars One stories seriously.  Last night, it was about a first selection of 100 potential astronauts willing to go live in a can on a cold, airless red planet until they die within a few months.   (Well,that's the estimate I have seen somewhere.)

I have never taken this project seriously:  without even bothering to read up on it in any great detail, anyone could tell that the proposed timing of the mission and funding sounded fanciful in the extreme.   It always sounded like a PR hack's fantasy that had everything going for it  except the following:  the money, the rockets, the capsules, the spacesuits, the habitat, the long term life support system, the credibility.

It is simply a marketing exercise which, if anything, is about attracting smart people who are into playing pretends.   They apparently have done pretty well in that regard;  but that is where the story will end.

See here for a lengthy, critical article about the project.

The other reason I wanted to post about it is because at my daughter's school, where I had to go the other night, there were at least a couple of Mars One posters in classrooms.  It may be that one of the teachers applied - I think that seemed to be the story circulating.   Bit of a pity the school is pretending it's real too - I would rather they spent time using it an example of media manipulation or the scientific difficulties in long distance space flight.   Maybe there is hope for that yet...

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

IPA twerp joins in Triggs attack

Triggs criticism well-deserved | FreedomWatch

I am amused by Simon Breheny's final paragraph:
The content and timing of The Forgotten Children report is
merely a symptom of a much more serious disease – the agenda of the
Australian Human Rights Commission has been distorted by an unrelenting
bias against individual liberty.
The Australian Human Rights Commission is beyond salvation. The
Abbott government was right to criticise the commission and it should
now move to abolish the commission in favour of civil society
organisations that actually defend our human rights.
I wonder what "civil society organisations" he refers to.  The IPA?   lol

Update on droughts

The New York Times has an update on the Brazilian drought:
As southeast Brazil grapples with its worst drought in nearly a century, a problem worsened by polluted rivers, deforestation and population growth, the largest reservoir system serving São Paulo is near depletion. Many residents are already enduring sporadic water cutoffs, some going days without it. Officials say that drastic rationing may be needed, with water service provided only two days a week.

Behind closed doors, the views are grimmer. In a meeting recorded secretly and leaked to the local news media, Paulo Massato, a senior official at São Paulo’s water utility, said that residents might have to be warned to flee because “there’s not enough water, there won’t be water to bathe, to clean” homes.

“We’re witnessing an unprecedented water crisis in one of the world’s great industrial cities,” said Marússia Whately, a water specialist at Instituto Socioambiental, a Brazilian environmental group. “Because of environmental degradation and political cowardice, millions of people in São Paulo are now wondering when the water will run out.”

For some in this traffic-choked megacity of futuristic skyscrapers, gated communities and sprawling slums, the slow-burning crisis has already meant no running water for days on end.

“Imagine going three days without any water and trying to run a business in a basic sanitary way,” said Maria da Fátima Ribeiro, 51, who owns a bar in Parque Alexandra, a gritty neighborhood on the edge of São Paulo’s metropolitan area. “This is Brazil, where human beings are treated worse than dogs by our own politicians.”
 In other drought news, there has been much publicity given to a study that says climate change is very likely to lead to multi-decadal megadroughts across a huge slab of America.   (The country has actually suffered severe droughts in the mid West in the middle ages, but with higher temperatures the equivalent drought would only be worse.)

I wonder how the economists can factor in 30 - 40 years of agriculture destroying drought in America in the second half of the century to their estimates of GDP harm under climate change?

Changing Asia

I was catching up on the (always good) Interpreter blog and noticed that the biggest gay dating app is now apparently one based in China.  If Chinese society develops high tolerance for gay relationships, it will be quite a global change.   (I always suspected that the government and parent induced gender imbalance in China would likely contribute to changing attitudes to other-than-traditional relationships.  May be happening faster than previously envisaged.) 

Update:   just out of interest, here is a section from a 2006 paper talking about the possible effects of gender imbalances of the type in China and India:
There is also evidence that, when single young men congregate, the potential for more organized aggression is likely to increase substantially (45, 53). Hudson and Den Boer, in their provocative writings on this subject (45, 46), go further, predicting that these men are likely to be attracted to military or military-type organizations, with the potential to be a trigger for large-scale domestic and international violence. With 40% of the world's population living in China and India, the authors argue that the sex imbalance could impact regional and global security, especially because the surrounding countries of Pakistan, Taiwan, Nepal, and Bangladesh also have high sex ratios. 

A number of other consequences of an excess of men have been described, but there is very little evidence for causation. It is intuitive that if sexual needs are to be met this will lead to a large expansion of the sex industry, including its more unacceptable practices such as coercion and trafficking. The sex industry has expanded in both India and China in the last decade (55, 56); however, there are a number of reasons for this expansion, and the part played by a high sex ratio is impossible to isolate without specific research addressing this question. Indeed, in China the highest numbers of sex workers are in areas where the sex ratio is least distorted, for example in the border areas of Yunnan Province (57). The recent rise in numbers of sex workers in China has been attributed more to greater mobility, increased socioeconomic inequality, and a relaxation in sexual attitudes, than to an increase in the sex ratio (57, 58). 

There is much anecdotal evidence regarding increases in trafficking of women, both for the sex industry and marriage, in both India and China (59, 60), although it is impossible to say whether gender imbalance is a contributory factor in this rise. Reports would suggest that trafficking is more common in parts of Africa and Eastern Europe where the sex ratio is normal (61). It has also been suggested that a shortage of women may lead to a rise in homosexual behavior (31), not implying that the shortage of women will produce homosexuals, but rather that an increasing tolerance toward homosexuality, together with the surplus of males, may lead to large numbers of covert homosexuals openly expressing their sexuality.

Another backyard scene

Just taken now, I believe they are corellas:


They've been visiting a lot lately.

He's just showing off now...

Overwintering, again

How to Survive Winter in Antarctica - The Atlantic

There's not too much new in this article about the staff at the US South Pole station who stay 9 months over winter - all 50 of them.  Some corrections appear in comments, too.   I did like a couple of other points in comments:
During my winter-over at Pole 6 out of 47 Polies were women. Women in
Antarctica have a saying: "The odds are good, but the goods are odd." :)
I have to laugh when people talk about living on Mars. We can barely
live on Antarctica with water, oxygen and a plane flight away!

Thanks for coming in, Malcolm..

I agree with Michelle Grattan (as does every other sensible person in the country):  Malcolm Turnbull's job application interview last night went pretty well.

Andrew Bolt is spitting chips, of course. Tim Blair hates him too, and sees something that I can't say is all that obvious except to Tim. 

This is all about da climate change:  that is all it is about.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Shifty maids of "Hey?!"

Well, you try to come up with a worthy pun for a movie that I really wish people would stop writing about.

As far as I can tell, about 90% of people reckon the book was a poorly written heap of bollocks that nonetheless showed us something about women and eroticism and sex and money and power and gender relationships and feminism, or something.   About 80% of people reckon the movie is a mild improvement (by cutting out some of the more ludicrously written lines in the book) but nonetheless is still a filmed heap of bollocks that shows us something about women and eroticism and sex and ...etc.

However, given that few women in their 20's are ever going to be seduced by handsome young billionaires with fetishes and an even bigger obsession with contract law, I find it very difficult to conclude that the film really reliably tells us much at all.

And one of the more over-wrought bits of writing about it seems to have come from Ross Douthat, who takes the opportunity to propose that the sexual revolution:
...looks more like a permission slip for the strong and privileged to prey upon the weak and easily exploited. This is the sexual revolution of Hugh Hefner and Larry Flynt and Joe Francis and roughly 98 percent of the online pornography consumed by young men. It’s the revolution that’s been better for fraternity brothers than their female guests, better for the rich than the poor, better for the beautiful than the plain, better for liberated adults than fatherless children ... and so on down a long, depressing list.   At times, as the French writer Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry recently suggested, this side of sexual revolution looks more like “sexual reaction,” a step way back toward a libertinism more like that of pre-Christian Rome — anti-egalitarian and hierarchical, privileging men over women, adults over children, the upper class over the lower orders.
I'm distinctly unconvinced.

Look, the "sexual revolution" (a thing of unclear definition in itself) is tied up with changes in technology, economies, and feminism, and making it easier for men to have sex with a quite low risk of pregnancy is of obvious "benefit" to them - just that that benefit is surely spread around all classes, not just the rich, who I don't think have ever had that much of a problem finding lovers.

Sure, I'm sympathetic to the view that prostitution is inherently exploitative, and undesirable, and I dislike quasi-feminist justification of it as empowering; but I would have thought the sexual revolution has lowered its prevalence in most countries, rather than increased it.

And as for the young being exploited:  while there is no doubt more parent tolerated, open sex amongst teenagers today than 50 years ago, I can't say that I have noticed any big cultural move towards approving of guys in their 20's (or older) having sex with girls under 16. (Some changes which have been mooted to age of consent laws - making the age difference a key issue, rather than mere age of one partner - is actually  sensible in terms of what is deservedly criminalised.)

There are, no doubt, winners and losers in the recent changes in Western attitudes to sex.   I think culturally, there are clearly matters to regret, particularly on the issue of commitment in a relationship and the downgrading of marriage.

But to suggest it's turned back into pre-Christian Rome, where men could sleep with a slave (be it male or female) as part of his ownership rights:  I don't think so.....  

Bad neighbourhood

Drug abuse in Iran rising despite executions | GulfNews.com

This article says that drug addiction is a major, and increasing, problem in Iran:
Anti-narcotics and medical officials say more than 2.2 million of Iran’s
80 million citizens already are addicted to illegal drugs, including
1.3 million on registered treatment programmes. They say the numbers
keep rising annually, even though use of the death penalty against
convicted smugglers has increased, too, and now accounts for more than
nine of every 10 executions.
Living in a bad neighbourhood doesn't help:
Officials say Iran’s taste for illegal narcotics is certain to expand into greater abuse of heroin, simply because next door is Afghanistan, maker of three-fourths of the world
supply.
Abbas Deilamzadeh, whose Rebirth Society organisation runs dozens of rehabilitation centres, predicts that more people currently experimenting with meth soon will be
using heroin, simply because Iran is the main route for Afghan heroin dealers to export the drug worldwide.
The United Nations drug agency said the total area under opium poppy cultivation in neighbouring Afghanistan in 2014 was estimated at 224,000 hectares, a 17 per cent
increase from 2013, producing about 6,400 tonnes of opium. Most is grown
in the often-lawless Helmand and Kandahar provinces in the south.
Regardless of what people think about "the war on drugs", surely everyone can agree that the world  would be better off if Afghanistan, well, didn't exist.   (Nothing personal, all nice Afghanis out there.  It's just that your country has been exporting trouble for a very, very long time.)

Much mirth ensued

I trust no one missed Chris Kenny's column in The Australian on the weekend which caused much mirth around the nation by opening thus:
FOR all the Coalition’s failings and missteps it is surely incontestable that Tony Abbott has provided the best 16 months of government Australia has seen in more than seven years.

So how is it that he seems to be on borrowed time?

Triggs sounding reasonable

Oh look - Gillian Triggs is in Fairfax sounding reasonable and making the point about numbers of children in detention that I always said would be relevant:
The year 2013 saw a peak in the number of asylum seekers globally – largely as a result of the unrest of the Arab Spring. This impacted on Australia, with asylum seeker numbers rising to a record high in July 2013. There were 1992 children in detention in that month. By October 2013, efforts to move children into the community had reduced this number to 1045.

In stark contrast, over the six months after the new government took office, it became clear that children were being held for significant periods and were not being released. While the boats were stopping, the children were being detained for lengthening periods of time. When the inquiry was announced in February, 2014 children had been held on average for seven months and 1006 remained in closed indefinite detention.
Of course, amongst her fiercest critics are pea-brained climate change "skpetics" who have never been able to get their head around understanding how changes in intensity in the water cycle can mean both bigger precipitation events and worse droughts. 

Richest company ever has trouble with work hours

Apple factories slip in enforcing work hour limits during iPhone blitz
Apple sold more iPhones last year than anyone could have imagined.
But the company found that a lower percentage of factories assembling
its products complied with a policy preventing excessive work hours.

The company's policy limits factory workers to a 60-hour workweek. Apple
said it had found that 92 per cent of the more than 1.1 million workers
in its supply chain worked no more than 60 hours a week last year,
compared with 95 per cent in 2013.
I assume that most of this work would also be of the highly repetitive, assembly line type; and as such, limited work hours of even 60 hours a week seems to be pushing the limits of reasonable.

I do not care for the Apple company...