Friday, October 24, 2014

Read it for the Tol bashing, if nothing else

The 2 degree threshold | …and Then There's Physics

Richard Tol appears in the thread, and cops a bit of a pasting from the others for his disingenuous approach.

Awesome engineering of Tokyo

Speaking of Japan, if you like to see large scale engineering, you really must watch this story from last night's Catalyst, regarding the jaw dropping flood mitigation system that runs under Tokyo.

Sounds dull?   No, it's stunning - and not something you are ever likely to have heard of before.

Catalyst has had (with few exceptions) a brilliant run of fascinating stories this year.

But back to Tokyo - here's hoping their drainage system is going to survive the next big earthquake.   If it collapsed, I imagine it could affect a lot of what's on the surface above it.

Still not encouraged

Colossal volcanic eruption could destroy Japan, study says
"It is not an overstatement to say that a colossal volcanic eruption would leave Japan extinct as a country," Kobe University earth sciences professor Yoshiyuki Tatsumi and associate professor Keiko Suzuki said in a study publicly released on Wednesday.

The experts said they analysed the scale and frequency of in the archipelago nation over the past 120,000 years and calculated that the odds of a devastating eruption at about one percent over the next 100 years.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Spurred on

Wow.  An extraordinarily effusive piece by a former female Chinese student from Sydney University appears in The Australian today defending Professor Spurr.  In fact, it is so enamoured of the Professor, and so full of the same defences that the Right immediately tried on (before we read the fuller extracts of the emails) that the first thing that comes to mind is whether it was actually written within hours of the first report by one of his "abo" trashing friends.

Look. Lily, I hate to break it to you, but if a professor engaged to do a curriculum review, when said curriculum has been controversial because of the extent to which it attempts to incorporate indigenous issues, turns out to refer in private to the PM as an "abo lover", it's pretty damn clear to (I would say) 95% of Australians that he is not an appropriate person for the job.   As such, New Matilda does have public interest on its side. 

I was interested to note in Lily's article, though, that he is apparently supportive of, or active in, some religious group.   I thought one comment in his emails indicated he might be Catholic, but it is not clear.

I would not be surprised if he turned out to be a conservative, latin loving, Catholic of the kind who turn up at Catallaxy, with their ugly lack of charity.  

And by the way, doesn't The Australian ever get tired of defending jerks?

Update:  on the matter of the way New Matilda got the emails, I thought it was interesting to note this from a recent post there:

One more time, for the record. The information technology policy of the University of Sydney – of which all staff are explicitly warned – is that their university emails are not private. It is a public institution.

Generally speaking, New Matilda does not comment on issues related to sources and leaked documents. However, Ms Markson’s story – and the allegations leveled within it - are demonstrably false, and the public record requires correction.

The first error is a suggestion that Professor Spurr’s email account was ‘hacked’. This is false. It did not occur. Neither New Matilda nor the source in the story hacked Professor Spurr’s account.

The second error relates to a suggestion in Ms Markson’s article that the source was motivated by “payback” for Professor Spurr’s involvement in the National School Curriculum review. This is also false.
While the source was broadly aware of Professor Spurr’s involvement in the review, the source was unaware of the contents of Professor Spurr’s submissions. What motivated the source to come forward was two specific email exchanges.

One of those exchanges relates to Professor Spurr’s views about a matter of substantial public importance. At this stage, New Matilda has decided not to divulge the contents of this email. The comments, however, are extreme and reinforced the view of the source that Professor Spurr’s involvement in the National Curriculum Review was a matter of substantial public interest.

The second email, which also reinforced this view related to Professor Spurr’s comments in relation to the sexual assault of a woman.
The email exchange regarding the apparent sexual assault of the woman is, in my view, the worst by far of what is in the emails.  It presents an extraordinary challenge for the University as to how to respond.

Update 2:   even Andrew Bolt concedes the seriousness of the matter, although he does not discuss the sexual assault email:
But those emails are now public, like it or not, and the racist abuse is deeply unpleasant. I do think this badly damages Spurr’s credibility when pontificating on how the curriculum deals with Indigenous issues, and could damage the credibility of his teaching at university, too, depending on the subjects taught and, indeed, the ethnic and religious background of his students. 
I actually think that, despite what a female Chinese fan may say, the matter is probably going to be resolved by enough students (especially female ones) saying that they cannot in good conscience engage with the Professor given his disclosed private commentary.

Update 3:  just thought I should mention the last para in Lily's article:
He should not be made a scapegoat for an ideology of which he is not an advocate. He is not the parody the media presents. The university should not lose a jewel in its crown. If I, a small, sensitive, feminist, patriotic Chinese girl, am not offended by these leaked emails, why should anyone else be?
A laughably strange feminist if she is not bothered by the email exchange regarding a sexual assault story.

Update 4:   I see an interesting Comment is Free piece on the Professor appeared at The Guardian a few days ago, too.

Update 5:  a bit of Googling indicates he is Anglican, perhaps of the Anglo-Catholic variety.  He has published (quite some time ago) an entire book on "Anglican and Catholic Reactions to Liturgical Reform".  As well as a book on TS Elliott and Christianity. 

Wow.  Further confirms my view, expressed here before, that liturgical worriers are often the worst representatives for their faith.

Update 6Ben Pobjie's column on this today is right.  It appears a near certainty that Barry Humphries did not know of the detail of the emails before his defence, and I suspect Lily has not gone through them so carefully either.

Update 7:  Well, thank God for that - I can stop being embarrassed by having Bolt on my side, because he's been swayed by Lily's testimony (or something) and now has seemingly reversed position!   Read what Bolt was saying before (update 2 above) and what he says now:
This country is going mad. A gifted professor is publicly vilified by people claiming to be outraged by rude words said in private.
Ahahahaha.  What an inconsistent moron you've become, Andrew.  I don't need to use an email to express that...

Update 8:  Jonathan Holmes agrees:
It seems to me a lay-down case of a breach of privacy justified by the public interest. 
Update 9:   professional hyperventilating contrarian loudmouth, Brendan O'Neill, does his stock standard double standards/moral hypocrisy shtick in a laughably unconvincing column that starts of with criticism  for those who think hacking naked photos of a celebrity is wrong, but think there is an obvious public interest element in knowing the contents of some work account emails of Spurr.  The article is so full of bad argument, it's hardly worth the effort, but I'll put a minimal amount in:

a.  Brendan seems to have not noticed that there is no attempted justification by anyone, anywhere, on the grounds of public interest for the breach of privacy of a celebrity's nude photos held in the celebrity's iCloud account.  

b.  He ignores the basic point in this post - would anyone in their right mind, knowing the contents of these emails (at least those with racial comments) beforehand, think that they could avoid the perception of bias (if not actual bias) in appointing Spurr to review a curriculum that was notable for the amount of indigenous issues raised? 

I also see that, as with Lily, O'Neill mounts a vigorous de facto defence of Spurr but does not go near the "rape" email.  Gee, I wonder why they won't there, and explain the "linguistic game" in that exchange?

Update 10:  quite a reasonable column in Fairfax about it all by Rick Feneley, including this paragraph:
"I think there is an irony in all this," says Catharine Lumby, a former acting head of school at Sydney University, now professor of media at Macquarie University. "Both Professor Spurr and Kevin Donnelly [heading the National Curriculum Review] are on the record strongly advocating the western literary canon on the basis it has a civilising influence on us. That may be the case. However, I don't see the evidence of that in Professor Spurr's emails."
That Spurr was prepared to send them to his colleagues, Lumby says, raises questions about his judgment, an important consideration given his role on the curriculum review. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

I'm not encouraged...

The last ten years have been a remarkable time for great earthquakes. Since December 2004 there have been no less than 18 quakes of Mw8.0 or greater – a rate of more than twice that seen from 1900 to mid-2004.
Don't think I had heard that before.  Source here.

Whitlam spending went where?

While it seems that everyone from Ken Henry to the IPA says that the Whitlam increased Federal government spending to levels to which it has roughly stayed the same since, I was interested to see where the increased spending went.  This series of graphs from a 2007 paper is perhaps the best summary I can find:

It's curious how the second chart shows the Whitlam "real spending" was far from exceptional when you look at the long term trend.   The first chart indicates how closely government spending since then has bounced around 24% - 25% of GDP.   (And no, Rudd/Gillard spending did not significantly deviate from the range, either.)

And the last two charts show Whitlam spikes on spending as a proportion of total spend did show up mainly in education, health and social security.   However, the country did get Medicare and much broader access to higher education, money which many would say was deservedly spent compared to the pre-1972 situation.

International comparisons indicate that the 25% range for spending is well within mid range of what other countries have been doing for a while now, with some economically successful countries spending far higher (see Germany, Scandinavia.)    In fact, it's probably true to say that with very few exceptions, spending below 20% of GDP indicates the sort of poorer country most Australians would not care to emulate in terms of services.  

Of the exceptions, I think we can pretty much ignore Singapore, as a case of a city state which only has to deal with providing services to a dense population on a tiny area.  

Canada seems truly exceptional, though, as a country of similar size to ours that has been spending considerably under our rate.  I wonder what's going on there...

Update:  Stephen Koukoulas made much the same point today, but without the graphs.   I think my post was up first!

Some straight talking from a physicist

Remember Garrett Lisi, who had a brief period of high publicity some years ago for his novel work on finding a Theory of Everything?  He's still working on it, as this interesting interview shows, and thinks he is making some progress.

But the most amusing part is here, where he talks about string theory hold-out Ed Witten:
Horgan: Edward Witten, when I asked him in a recent Q&A if string theory had any serious rivals for a unified theory, replied, “There are not any interesting competing suggestions.” Comment?

Lisi: That stings a little. I don’t imagine other physicists working on fundamental non-string theories appreciate it either. Ed Witten has done incredibly impressive work, opening new doors with his insights in mathematics and physics. His papers are things of beauty. He, his students, and his colleagues have dominated the high-energy theoretical physics community with string models for decades now. However, even the most enlightened foresight from the most brilliant mind can be wrong, so it would be better if he wasn’t a dick about it.

Labor Prime Ministers and their ego

I was watching Annabel Crabb's very entertaining show with Bob Hawke last night, and it left me wondering about the string of Labor Prime Ministers we've had with very big egos.

Whitlam, Hawke, Keating and Rudd - all big ego men, and none of whom I found especially likeable personalities.  Julia Gillard genuinely broke the ego mould, and this has a lot to do with my regard for her.   But Beazley was also OK in this respect, and it helps explain why he never made it to PM.

Of other Labor Opposition Leaders who didn't make it:   not sure how I would categorise Simon Crean, and Mark Latham is just rather generally oddball. 

The Liberals don't seem to suffer from this to the same extent, with the exception of Turnbull, perhaps.  Yet for me he manages the trick of having a very high self regard but retaining likeability.  His eulogy yesterday in Parliament for Gough was a fantastic example of his very endearing ability to engagingly speak off the cuff with great charity towards everyone:

As for Howard, his modest demeanour was always his most endearing feature.

But going back to Fraser, I remember being told by someone who was a former Liberal staffer in Canberra that at the time he acquired the leadership he was shaking like a leaf.   So it appears he gave off an arrogant air, but covering a modest ego.

Technology and poverty

What Role Does Technology Play in Record Levels of Income Inequality?
Here's a lengthy article looking at the debate over the role of technology in rising income inequality.   Even the opening, scene setting, part is interesting, talking about inequality in Silicon Valley.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A reasonable decision

White House suspends enhanced pathogen research : Nature News Blog

On Gough Whitlam and social and cultural change

A lot of obvious things will be said about Gough Whitlam:  tried to do too much too quickly; big on ideas, not so good on their implementation;  let down by his cabinet colleagues who badly needed some prior experience in being part of an actual government; but he was still the Prime Minister we had to have both culturally and (to the extent that a general shake up was overdue) economically.

From the cultural point of view, his government came at a very distinctive period of change, and his personal life of a long (and as far as I know, happy and scandal free) marriage, and military service, stood somewhat at odds with the social ideas of free love, marriage as a redundant institution, and great cynicism over the value of the military per se which were swirling around the Left at the time.  That Jim Cairns appeared to be living up to the "anything goes in love" standard was a scandal to social conservatives, and I still think that a PM appearing in a Barry McKenzie movie was sort of undignified.   (As was going to that sex education movie - the name of which escapes me for the moment - with Margaret.)  He was a man who presented as both very serious, but sometimes self-deprecating, even if still in a self-congratulatory sort of way. Rather like Keating, now that I think about it.

I was just listening to someone on Radio National saying that he was a champion of the arts, but also shouldn't be seen as valuing Australian art merely because of parochial bias:  his encouragement of the National Art Gallery to acquire good international works went beyond Blue Poles, apparently.   I personally don't see much value, culturally, in the Australian movie industry he is said to have revived - the claustrophobically Left leaning, secular naval gazing nature of most of the output has always left me cold; and after 40 years, perhaps I can feel justified that most of the population now seems to agree, given the tiny following Australian movies tend to have.  Still, economically it has been of some value, as it allows decent enough foreign films to be made here.  

I'm not sure that there was ever really a "right" way for politicians to respond to the social changes underway at the time, but the Whitlam Labor government represented (I think) a particular challenge to Catholics.  The social programs which they (Catholics) could have approved of were always at risk of being overwhelmed in their minds by the apparent embrace of too rapid a change to views about sex and family.  I don't think the Church was particularly enamoured of the idea of no fault divorce, either, although no doubt many Catholic women in difficult marriages welcomed it.

It perhaps only took to the 1980's until a bit of equilibrium had returned, and some of the extreme ideas of the theorists of the swinging 60's were recognized as not really being realistic.   (If one took some ideas of the 60's seriously, we'd all be living in open or group marriages now with communal child raising, and be able to walk nude to the shops if we felt like it.  Or perhaps I've just read too much bad, later Heinlein!)  Sure, there is the matter of gay marriage which has seen another remarkable turn around in cultural attitudes, but there is the view that it is in a sense a vindication of the conservative value of marriage - even though I am not convinced.

The wild, very parochial, enthusiasm for "Australian stories" to be told in schools and cinema had also died a bit by then, I think.   This cultural aspect of the 70's was always going to be somewhat stymied by the fact that our national history actually had little in the way of great drama, compared to most other countries, anyway.  But as with the later Keating, it seems a tad ironic that a PM who is seen as the champion of all things culturally Australian was very keen on knowledge of European history and arts (or so I take it, given his later work as European tour guide that I have heard about.)  

In a way then, I think it a bit unfortunate that Gough's turn as PM came when it did.   Even if he was in power in the second half of the 70's, instead of the first half, it might have felt somewhat different.  But who knows - we don't get a choice in these things.

PS:  Can someone tell Sinclair Davidson that it is rather ridiculous of him to be incorporating an attack on the ABC for letting a guest on a TV show make a disrespectful comment on the death of Margaret Thatcher (how Tony Jones was meant to prevent it remains a mystery), when we all knew that the very same thread at his own blog would contain some of the greatest bile that we will see with respect to the death of Gough.   As indeed it already does...

Update:   this is one of my posts where I keep doing minor re-writes for a while to try to improve it, so perhaps it's a bit better by now than the last time you read it!

Ken's thinking big

Ken Parish writes at Troppo about the idea of a "charter city" for refugees in Northern Australia.

It's the kind of big idea that has appeal, but as some people in comments are already noting, shoving a bunch of people from very disparate cultures and races into a new, small, remote, settlement "city" would be a pretty novel social experiment with potential for some major social problems...

Monday, October 20, 2014

Being able to fly didn't help

Century After Extinction, Passenger Pigeons Remain Iconic—And Scientists Hope to Bring Them Back

I heard someone talking on Radio National about this last week:  the remarkable extinction of a North American pigeon breed which numbered in the billions, and was (reliably) said to darken the skies for at least hours, if not days, during its migrations.

Here's a description from another article:
In May 1850, a 20-year-old Potawatomi tribal leader
named Simon Pokagon was camping at the headwaters of Michigan's Manistee
River during trapping season when a far-off gurgling sound startled
him. It seemed as if "an army of horses laden with sleigh bells was
advancing through the deep forests towards me," he later wrote. "As I
listened more intently, I concluded that instead of the tramping of
horses it was distant thunder; and yet the morning was clear, calm, and
beautiful." The mysterious sound came "nearer and nearer," until Pokagon
deduced its source: "While I gazed in wonder and astonishment, I beheld
moving toward me in an unbroken front millions of pigeons, the first I
had seen that season."
These were passenger pigeons, Ectopistes migratorius, at the
time the most abundant bird in North America and possibly the world.
Throughout the 19th century, witnesses had described similar sightings
of pigeon migrations: how they took hours to pass over a single spot,
darkening the firmament and rendering normal conversation inaudible.
Pokagon remembered how sometimes a traveling flock, arriving at a deep
valley, would "pour its living mass" hundreds of feet into a downward
plunge. "I have stood by the grandest waterfall of America," he wrote,
"yet never have my astonishment, wonder, and admiration been so stirred
as when I have witnessed these birds drop from their course like meteors
from heaven."...
In forest and city alike, an arriving flock was a spectacle--"a
feathered tempest," in the words of conservationist Aldo Leopold. One
1855 account from Columbus, Ohio, described a "growing cloud" that
blotted out the sun as it advanced toward the city. "Children screamed
and ran for home," it said. "Women gathered their long skirts and
hurried for the shelter of stores. Horses bolted. A few people mumbled
frightened words about the approach of the millennium, and several
dropped on their knees and prayed." When the flock had passed over, two
hours later, "the town looked ghostly in the now-bright sunlight that
illuminated a world plated with pigeon ejecta."
 Update:  from another article, talking about the ease of getting dinner when a gigantic flock was overhead:
These flocks were so densely packed that a single shot could bring down 30-40 birds. He birds could be brought down and killed just by hitting them with pieces of wood as they flew over hilltops. The bird's only natural predators were hawks and eagles. As they flew, they covered settlements with droppings, once an important way of spreading seeds, but viewed as a nuisance by settlers.
 The massive, industrial scale over-hunting for food and fun in the 1800's is also described:
After 1830 the pigeons were hunted for sport, hog feed and even for agricultural fertiliser. In the 1870s, 250,000 Passenger pigeons a year were released from live traps for shooting practice. Its decline began in earnest with the onset of large-scale commercial hunting carried out by well-organised trappers and shippers supplying cheap meat to the developing cities on the east coast of the USA. The opening of railroads linking the Great Lakes area with New York meant 300,000 Passenger pigeons were sent to New York during 1855 alone. The most devastating killings were during the 1800s and 1870s. Th figures were recorded as a normal part of commerce: 23rd July, 1860 (23 July) saw 235,200 birds sent east from Grand Rapids in Michigan; 1874 saw 1,000,000 birds shipped east from Oceana County in Michigan; 1876 saw 1,600,000 shipped east from Oceana County (400,000 per week during the season). In 1869, Van Buren County, Michigan, shipped 7,500,000 birds to the east. In 1880, 527,000 birds were shipped east from Michigan.
 I'm surprised I hadn't heard the details of this extraordinary animal and its extinction before...

Cross dressing soldiers

Earlier this year that I noticed a story of an Australian woman who had got on board an Australian troop ship heading off to World War 1.  She was found out fairly early, but it appears that in the American Civil War, some women managed to carry out the subterfuge for a very long time.

I think this review of a book on the topic might have come out earlier this year, but it's just turned up on my Zite account, hence I have only noticed it now.  I was particularly struck by this part:
Though once found out, these female soldiers were discharged from the army for “congenital peculiarities,” “sexual incompatibility,” or the unambiguously termed offense of “unmistakable evidence of being a woman,” most of these women went undetected, at least for a while — a fact not all that astounding in the context of Victorian society where the single most revealing litmus test, nudity, was a rarity given bathing was a rare occurrence and people often slept in their clothes. (But today, in an age when the tip of the devastating iceberg that is sexual assault in the military is only beginning to emerge, one has to wonder what happened to the women who did get found out.)

Thanks to the poorly fitted uniforms, some women were even able to disguise their pregnancies until the very end, startling their male platoon mates with the delivery. Others chose to continue dressing as men after the end of the war, raising gender identity questions also not discussed in the book. But perhaps most interesting of all is the question of how women got the idea for this in the first place. Blanton argues that much of it had to do with cultural influence — cross-dressing female heroines permeated Victorian literature, with military and sailor women often celebrated in 17th-century ballads, novels, and poems.
I'm guessing that 17th century reference, coming after talk of the Victorian era might be a mistake, but in any event, I was not aware of the general popularity of cross dressing women stories from back then.

I also think this is part of what makes the true stories of pretend male soldiers so remarkable - because if we see it in a movie, it always looks so improbable.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

More tales of the Saudi religious police

Married couple mistakenly arrested |

Members of the powerful Saudi Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice were left red-faced after they arrested a married couple thinking the husband and wife were not related.

Acting upon a report that a man and a woman who were not relatives were spotted inside a house in the Suwaidi neighbourhood in the Saudi capital Riyadh, members of the
Commission rushed to the place and proceeded to arrest the couple. Dismissing arguments by the man and woman that they were husband and wife, the members took them to their office on the grounds that they were caught in khilwa, local daily
Okaz reported on Sunday.
The khilwa offence in Saudi law consists of being in private with a member of the opposite sex who is not an immediate relative.
Don't worry, they got an apology, and a kiss on the nose:
“It looks like it was a malicious report targeting the couple, and the Commission should never follow up to the end without verifying the claims,” she said. “Even though there were apologies and traditional kisses on the head and nose to show regret and sorrow, there is always the negative feeling of bitterness that hit the couple in this case,”
she said.

Great nature news headline of the day

Cannibal harlequin ladybirds now threaten native species with STDs

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Germs, sex, minds, behaviour, maths, philosophy and religion. (Not necessarily in that order.)

I am reminded, via a link tweeted today by J Soon, that I don't think I have ever noted here the odd theory of Greg Cochran that has been around for a few years that exclusive male homosexuality has arisen via an infectious agent.  I am not sure whether Cochran ties his theory to the "modern" version of the homosexual, but Peter Frost, at the last link in the following paragraph, certainly does, and he argues that it might be either an infection or an environmental chemical which led to what he thinks is a change in homosexuality since about the start of the 20th century.

Here's the first link from Jason (more generally about how certain sexually transmitted diseases might affect behaviour), and then you go to Frost's blog, and follow his series of posts on the topic.

It seems to me that the idea of Frost becomes unreliable at the first step, where he argues that it was only from the late 19th to early 20th century that there arose a lot of exclusively homosexual men.  Sure, the argument goes, there has always been homosexual behaviour, but:
In the Middle Ages, this behavior was seen as a ‘vice’ of older heterosexual men, typically with young boys or men of a servile status. In contrast, far fewer men were exclusively homosexual in the sense of being uninterested in women and resembling women in their sexual orientation (i.e., having a woman’s search image and desired self-image). This relative rarity is implied by the astonishment that European explorers felt on encountering Amerindian berdaches during the 18th and early 19th centuries (Désy, 1978).
Now I know Foucault argued that the idea of "the homosexual" is a modern construct (basically, a fundamental change in the way people understood sexuality and themselves), and I have written before that much of his theory sounds plausible;  but this "gay virus" idea (at least as adopted by Foster) takes it a step further, and suggests there is a biological reason as to why people started experiencing sexuality differently.

Surely, this is an improbable step too far.   For example, isn't it very likely that the matter of "third sex" categories turning up in quite a few indigenous societies must have encompassed not just what we would now call transgender individuals, but at least some exclusive homosexuals?   

And what of the difficulty of judging the experience of homosexuality based on historical records?   Just because most of the contemporary commentary we have of homosexual behaviour in a society might be about (say) the pederasty of older married men (see Greece), it may simply never have occurred to anyone to research carefully what men as a group felt about their own experience of sexuality over a lifetime.  I mean, it's even controversial now, the scientific studies of bisexuality that involve trying to work out what gets certain men subconsciously aroused.   (There was a good article about this earlier this year in the New York Times.  It seems that a study a few years back which got widely reported as showing that bisexual men really did respond more as homosexual is now accepted as having a particularly poor experimental set up.)

The point is this - what hope do we really have of a detailed understanding of subjective experience of sexuality across a population of men from 2000 years ago, before anyone really had ideas of objective, scientific surveys or any other detailed form of psychological research?

Foster is especially unconvincing when he argues that the "flapper" fashion of the early 20th century - where women strove to look more boyish and flattened breasts were in vogue - indicates anything meaningful about the heterosexual male "search image".   Doesn't the advent of Marilyn Monroe and other famous, buxom stars of a mere 30 years later put a serious dent in this suggestion?  

We certainly know there has always been a lot of concern in Abrahamic religions through the centuries as to how much homosexual behaviour was going on.   The article "The Experience of Homosexuality Across the Middle Ages" gives a good idea of that.   (And interestingly, its author now says in an updated preface that he has changed his mind about many of the paper's conclusions.  I don't really know what he believes now.)   My point would be:  who knows whether a monastery which had a particular reputation as a haven for homosexual activity in 1500 CE was that way because it had attracted exclusive homosexuals, or because of jail-like opportunistic homosexual behaviour, or in what proportion it was a case of one and the other?  Bishops and saints didn't really care to psychologically investigate it before condemning it.

In any event, not that I have made any detailed study, but it still seems to me that no one really understands the interaction between gender identity, sexual identity and sexual experience.  Sure, there is strong reason to believe the widely reported phenomena of a gay man who has "always known" he was different from other boys - but why does the difference sometimes manifest in conviction that they are the wrong gender, not just attracted to their own gender?

It's something of an understatement to observe that the brain and mind are complicated.  For example, I find anorexia as a psychological disorder incredibly hard to fathom - how it is that the rational part of the mind cannot convince the other part of something that I would have thought obvious from looking in the mirror, along the lines of  "OK, this is really getting unhealthy now, you look like skin and bones and as the doctor says, you're going to die unless you start getting food into your body."   I have a similar attitude towards late onset transgender cases - come on, fellas, you've been married, climbed mountains, had kids and presumably quite a few orgasms with your wife.  Why is changing gender now going to be some kind of fulfilment?  Can't you just take up quilting, or something a bit less dramatic?

In any event, history at least teaches us that varieties of same sex activity have always had some appeal to some people, and anthropology also indicates that people who want to be the other gender have always been with us .  It seems that in some societies, homosexual behaviour was treated as a mere matter of taste and not the subject of much in the way of analysis.   So much of the controversy about it since then seems to have come from attempted overanalysis which may well be forever doomed to be an example of one of the suggested implications of Godel's incompleteness theorem, that the mind may never fully understand itself.  See this quote from Hofstadter:
The other metaphorical analogue to Gödel’s Theorem which I find provocative suggests that ultimately, we cannot understand our own mind/brains … Just as we cannot see our faces with our own eyes, is it not inconceivable to expect that we cannot mirror our complete mental structures in the symbols which carry them out? All the limitative theorems of mathematics and the theory of computation suggest that once the ability to represent your own structure has reached a certain critical point, that is the kiss of death: it guarantees that you can never represent yourself totally.
No wonder the current Synod is fretting about what to do, if (as I suspect) our whole understanding of sexuality, being an aspect of mind and personality, is always likely to be incomplete.

Update:   on re-reading this post, I think I need to clarify my position, because it perhaps got lost a bit in the ramble:

a.  it may be that a lot more men in the 20th century have started thinking of themselves as exclusively homosexual, but the reason for this is most likely the Foucaultian explanation about the change in thinking about sexuality - broadly, along Freudian lines that there is a large hidden element to it that people sooner or later uncover.  

b. But as to whether the number of pretty much exclusively practicing homosexual males has changed over history is very much guesswork, given the lack of any detailed interest in anyone until about the 20th century in trying to work out such numbers.

c. Even current thinking, of what we think to be enlightened modern thinking on sexuality, is very much a work in progress, and one in which people seem always too sure of themselves that they understand it and its intersection with gender, sexual experience and culture. 

Friday, October 17, 2014

Cheap at half the price!

Virgin buys low-cost airline Tigerair Australia for $1 | Business | theguardian.comgay

I was told by a gay Virgin flight attendant (comments made below by readers from Catallaxy will likely need to be culled)  some months ago that this is what would happen:  Virgin would finish an acquisition of Tiger to allow it (Virgin) to operate as the upmarket equivalent of Qantas, and use Tiger as the "downmarket" equivalent of Jetstar.

A conclusion that defies its elements

Ambitious foreign policy push yet to coalesce

Michael Fullilove's article in the SMH this morning seems to me to reach a conclusion that is rather at odds with the details.

He thinks Abbott has done well on foreign affairs, yet notes that in two respects (being a "globalist" not a "regionalist", and enthusiastic use of the UN Security Council) he is doing quite the opposite to what he indicated in Opposition.   Maybe "Windvane Comes Good" should be the true title of the piece.

But it gets worse.  Fullilove acknowledges that Abbott has had at least one really crook idea, but fortunately was been talked out of it:
A related concern is that Abbott shows a tendency towards imprudence.
The shirt fronting saga is a trivial example, but there is a more
serious one. According to news reports, in the aftermath of the MH17
crash he wanted to put one thousand Australian troops onto the crash
site in Eastern Ukraine. Such a deployment would have presented
unacceptable risks to Australian personnel as well as unprecedented
logistical problems for the Australian Defence Force. Why on earth would
we put so many of our people between such bitter enemies? Luckily,
cooler heads prevailed.
So Fullilove thinks the "shirt front" episode was just a bit of trivia:  I would have thought it a sign of stupid imprudence in language, which tends to be important in foreign affairs.

I really don't get how Fullilove then gets to the conclusion that Abbott has been impressive in foreign affairs:   especially since I think this week lots of people are probably starting to question what an odd look it is to be willing to spend hundreds of millions on a military deployment to Iraq that appears to be doing very little*, while at the same time looking scared and shy of getting meaningful assistance to the Ebola affected nations up and running.**

I will grudgingly agree that Bishop has performed better than I expected in her role.  It seems odd, doesn't it, the way some people turn out to be reasonable as foreign ministers - I always thought that Downer was a surprise success as well.  I think it probably just takes lawyers who are good in face to face "people skills", and perhaps being too intellectual (hello, Bob Carr) works against a foreign minister.

Anyway, I am rathered surprised at Fullilove's article, and have to view him with suspicion from now on!

* since I wrote this, it was announced that the RAAF had a couple of terrorist "kills", but we don't know any details.

**  And when, by the way, are any journalists going to start questioning the wisdom of sending over ground advisers who have nothing to do for weeks until the lawyers get the status of forces issue sorted out with the Iraqi government?)  

Fusion in 10 years? I don't think so....

People who don't want action to reduce CO2 like to promote any report that all of our clean energy problems are about to be solved by new forms of nuclear power.   "No need to worry, folks, the climate change [stage whisper:  which isn't real anyway] solution is just around the corner and you don't have to do anything now."

So we see the headline in The Australian today "Nuclear Fusion on the way" above an article by the ever unreliable Graham Lloyd, with the first line "THE “true atomic age” of limitless electricity without any radioactive waste or carbon dioxide emissions could be a reality within a decade."  As is usual with The Australian, Lloyd's writing contains some reservations further in, but the headline never gives that indication.  

Sounds good, hey?   But have a read of the somewhat more realistic take in Wired, a magazine not exactly known for its technological pessimism:
McGuire designed a magnetic container that shifts the strength of its magnetic field to match those plasma ripples. “If we have a perturbation or a ripple that sends it closer to the wall, the magnetic field gets stronger and stronger, so it has the right kind of feedback to keep it stable,” McGuire says.
The problem with that reactor? It doesn’t exist yet. “Some key parts of the prototype are theoretical and not yet proven,” says Nathan Gilliland, CEO of Canadian fusion company General Fusion.
And there are more skeptical takes on the matter from scientists in the field in this report in Business Insider.

As for the other new energy source, the mysterious E-cat, ridiculous anti climate science website NoTricksZone was keen to promote the paper that claimed it had been "independently verified".   But for some detailed response to how inadequate that paper is, have a look here and here and here and here:

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Re-watching Fiddler

Last weekend, having an idle Saturday afternoon to kill, I noticed that ABC was showing Fiddler on the Roof.  I'm pretty sure it was the first time I had watched it since I had seen it in the cinema in 1971.

I remember my parents were a bit underwhelmed by it, as was I at the time.  I think the basic problem was that, after The Sound of Music, there was a particularly high expectation that big musicals should end happily, and ones that didn't felt a tad unsatisfactory.   And it certainly seems, looking back on it, that with the end of Rodgers & Hammerstein, the not-quite-so-uplifting musicals seemed to be quite in vogue in the 60's:  Camelot, Sweet Charity, that little seen Julie Andrews movie Star!, Paint Your Wagon (which I haven't seen, but my mother said it featured lots of mud); and even Oliver and Mary Poppins have a somewhat melancholy feel about their happy endings, if you ask me. 

Re-watching Fiddler, though, I did enjoy its music more than I remembered, and was reminded of its strong thematic relevance to the 1960's. The same challenges that Tevye, the father, faced in terms of his daughters not following his authority and that of "tradition" were certainly the same ones you could see sweeping the West, particularly (I think) in Catholic households.   Yet the Broadway musical was from 1964, pretty much at the dawn of the sexual revolution and all the angst about contraception, and de facto relationships, etc.   It seems in retrospect to be a pretty prescient work.      

There's a very interesting recent article about the show up at the Guardian, written because it is its  50th anniversary.  (Perhaps that why it showed up on TV too?)    I see that the movie version was a big commercial success, although I wonder whether it was to the same extent here,  since at that time I don't know that Australians had had all that much cultural exposure to Jewish humour and characters.

I do still think the story makes one regrettable choice which doesn't work as well as it should.   Why couldn't Tevye's final scene with his 3rd daughter, the one who rejected tradition in the most direct way by marrying a Christian, have been more emotional?   He is packing his cart, about to leave the village forever, and cannot bring himself to look directly at his daughter and her husband who have come to say goodbye.  Tevye finally mutters softly, "And God be with you", which is relayed on by his other daughter, who is upset at her father's behaviour.  

And that's it.  Now, Tevye's attitude may be realistic, but if he is going to be shown to still care for his daughter, wouldn't it work better if he could soften just a bit more and look at, or embrace, the child who he may never see again?  I think it sort of also sours a little the final appearance of the Fiddler metaphor, where Tevye invites "tradition" along with him as he heads his way to America.

Still, a very worthy movie musical.

The "race to the bottom" question

I see that the headline is: Ireland moves to close corporate tax loophole" Well, about time, I think most people would say.

But I did note on his twitter feed a couple of days ago that Jason Soon thought that Bono defending Ireland's low tax regime was "sensible".

I would have been more sarcastic myself:  "Super rich tax minimiser thinks countries that charge less tax are great."  I generally would go along the line in this article.

Bono argues that lower tax is the only thing that Ireland has got going for it on which to build prosperity.     Yet aren't there plenty of other small countries that are doing OK in fairly niche fields?   Some of Scandinavian ones, with their corporate tax rates that range from about from 20 to 27%.  Even New Zealand, which (as far as I can tell - correct me, anyone) is riding high on the cow's back, of all things, to be doing OK, and with a corporate tax rate of 28% (versus Ireland's "standard" rate - before the offshore business - of 12.5%.)     International corporate tax rates all appear at this site.

They make for some interesting reading, and (as one would expect) national economic health is not always  co-related to the corporate tax rate.   Obviously, infrastructure and security issues matter.  The oddest example is at the extreme, where it would seem Vanuatu looks particularly attractive to companies at 0%, but then again, the note contains this summary:
Corporate income tax is not levied within the Republic of Vanuatu. Furthermore, there are no income taxes, estate duties, gift duties, capital gains taxes, tax treaties or withholding taxes.
I'm not at all sure what this means for how the country runs...

The main question I have to lovers of competitive tax regimes (who, largely, by not so odd co-incidence, also want governments to be as small as possible) is this:    how do you avoid the "race to the bottom" - that if all governments undercut each other, they must at some point develop the problem of not raising enough revenue to do the things reasonable people expect governments to do.

And don't just give me some rubbish that is along the lines of "well, government can just never get small enough, and people have to adjust to that."  Only a tiny minority of science fiction loving libertarians go along with the extreme views of how small government should be - the rest of the world is happy with the role of government in welfare developed over the 20th century, in a broad sense.

We know that governments can suffer from cuts that are too severe - look at Kansas, which seems to have Laffer-ed itself into some serious fiscal trouble.   (By the way, I know that the Right's answer to that is "just you wait and see.  They'll work....eventually."   Unfortunately, Stephen Moore, when defending himself on these grounds against Krugman seems to have made some embarrassing mistakes in his figures which had to be publicly corrected.)

And of course there has been much commentary that the Bush tax cuts just didn't work, and have cost "trillions" in revenue.

So tell, me, international tax competition advocates:  how does your theory avoid a race to the bottom that is going to harm countries?  

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Sensible and Rotten

Johnny Rotten and I agree: neither of us wants Russell Brand’s ‘revolution’ | Polly Toynbee | Comment is free | The Guardian

I really don't care for Johnny Rotten's perpetually angry/aggro act (or genuine demeanour?), but he comes across as rather sensible and astute on politics in this interview. 

It's also remarkable to note how few young people vote in England.   Compulsory voting has a lot going for it.

Fear and loathing of divestment

I'm rather confused about the Right wing fury over the ANU divestment campaign.   I'm not sure Judith Sloan is sleeping at nights:  she seems to be too busy practising attempts at satire, perhaps because her "logic" is not gaining ground?

Back in February, Sinclair Davidson posted about how the South Africa divestment campaign was not actually a financial success.  (And he got very cross that anyone should argue that being anti fossil fuel mining is in any way a worthy cause - or at least worthy in the sense that being anti-apartheid was.) 

So if that's right, why is the divestment campaign against all that lovely, lovely coal being burnt such an outrage?   Are they worried for the universities losing money, or for the mining companies?

For the university, the ANU shares are apparently only 2% of its investment portfolio.  How much trouble can that cause?

For the mining companies, the hope is that divestment campaigns causes public pressure for them to move away from fossil fuel mining, but how bad does reputational damage have to be before it really does hurt them when there is a market paying good money for their product?

Given the fury on the Right, the suggestion is that this is a sign the campaign can have serious effects.  The best look at the issue seems to me to be this one by Frank Jotzo, who obviously thinks they can ultimately "work", but also notes the points I made above - the current reaction from the Right is rather over the top, and (in reality) probably works to give encouragement to those pushing divestment as worthwhile.

A good case can perhaps be made, then, that the Right wing hand wringing about it is actually counterproductive to their "interests".   Hee hee indeed, hey Judith?

Update:  Sinclair Davidson has missing out on the hyperbole, so he adds to it in a column on the Drum:
Australian universities simply do not have the social licence to trash the domestic economy or place the livelihoods of thousands of Australians at risk on a whim.
 Yes, it's economic apocalypse because a university made an investment decision he doesn't agree with.

And by the way:  the Drum article just contains the usual by-line that he's a Professor of Economics at RMIT.  Isn't it especially relevant to this topic that it also disclose this:
A paper to be released on Monday by the Minerals Council of Australia says the campaign "may contravene the letter or me spirit" of the Corporations Act, and calls on the corporate watchdog to assess tile potential breach.
The council commissioned Sinclair Davidson, a professor of institutional economics at Melbourne's RMIT University, to write die paper, in its most aggressive push-back to the anti-coal collective's urging investors to sell shares in coal companies.
'To the extent that stigmatisation deliberately causes investors to make valuation errors and consequently rebalance their portfolios away from fossil fuel stocks, a violation of the Corporations Act has occurred," Professor Davidson writes.
Has anyone other than an economist associated with the IPA ever found that Corporation Act argument convincing?   How did that other IPA big legal claim go - that tobacco companies could get $3 billion a year in compensation from the government for plain packaging laws?   Oh, that's right:  a complete bust.   (Well, subject to the outcome of a rubbish Hong Kong arbitration.)    Come to think of it, perhaps the Australian government should be sending Davidson over to the arbitration to give evidence - he's the one who thinks plain packaging hasn't had any effect on smoking rates, after all.  As with divestment, the Right can't seem to keep its argument straight.  

I suspect there is less to Thiel than meets the eye

Today in “Peter Thiel says things.” Does society really hate tech? | PandoDaily


Do venture capitalists say controversial things to get attention? Are Peter Thiel's Fall 2014 comments part of a larger trend?

and what about this from a recent interview:
You hold up the Apollo program, the freeway system, and the Manhattan Project as examples of the kind of big leaps in technology we need more of. But those were all government projects. Should the U.S. government return to funding such things?

There is an argument that there should be state funding to help things get started where there are not many profits that could be captured. It’s in the public interest. But the way the U.S. government today is dominated by lawyers rather than scientists or engineers suggests that it is very poorly suited for evaluating these kinds of projects. For example, you probably could not restart nuclear power in the U.S. without the role of government. But because our government does not believe in complex coördination and planning, it will not restart the nuclear industry.
It’s quite possible it will just not get restarted.
Really?  As if the US government was ever dominated by "scientists and engineers"?   Roosevelt and Kennedy, responsible for two of those things, were virtually raised to be politicians, weren't they?
The difference perhaps was that they listened to scientists as to what was possible.  The chronic problem today is that politicians on Thiel's side of ledger do not.  

New estimate for sea level rise

Rising sea levels of 1.8 meters in worst-case scenario

While Graham Lloyd is busy crapping on about how there is so much uncertainly about climate change, I haven't noticed the Rupert Murdoch mouthpiece mentioning a new study that gives an estimate of sea level rise that is worrying:
The researchers have combined the IPCC numbers with published data about the expectations within the ice-sheet expert community for the evolution, including the risk for the collapse of parts of Antarctica and how quickly such a collapse would take place.

"We have created a picture of the propable limits for how much will rise in this century. Our calculations show that the seas will likely rise around 80 cm. An increase of more than 180 cm has a likelihood of less than 5 percent. We find that a rise in sea levels of more than 2 meters is improbable," Aslak Grinsted, but points that the results only concern this century and the sea levels will continue to rise for centuries to come.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Non existent wingnut donations to ANU to dry up

Well that's odd.  Judith Sloan, who has taken to commentary that includes photos of women she doesn't like and wondering if their tan is fake, is now stamping her foot about the ANU divestment campaign and telling her wingnut readership not to donate to the university.

Somehow, I can't imagine much cash from the aging, wingnutty fanbase at Catallaxy ever heading to ANU in the first place.  (Any spare cash they have has probably flowed into the already filled coffers of the IPA after Professor Stagflation has asked, yet again, for donations to help the IPA whinge about free speech and get their heads on the TV network they want shut down.)
Now, to be fair, I have noticed that even Craig Emerson has questioned the logic of some of the ANU's divestment decisions.  To be even fairer, Sloan actually makes a point I can partially sympathise with:
This whole episode is one reason why I have reservations about the government’s policy on university fee deregulation.  The governance of universities is a complete crock and the additional revenue will simply be pissed up against the wall in terms of more highly paid administrators, including the VC.
But seriously:  Sloan has surely done enough over the last couple of years with her increasingly bitchy, shrill, and dumb ("climate change? ha!") internet and media commentary that she would be about the last person to head an effective campaign to attract anyone other than the likes of Gina Rinehart.

Update:    seeing Judith likes photos so much now:

Update 2: I was reminded when doing this photoshop about Sarah Hanson Young suing Zoo for photoshopping her face onto a bikini model, with part of the grounds being it suggested that being a sex object was the only thing she was good for. I would like to go on the record as not intending to imply that Judith Sloan is only good for being a sex object.

A complete fool of a PM

Tony's Abbott's 'coal is good' line is familiar, and troubling | Lenore Taylor | Australia news |

Gee, Abbott's lines yesterday were worse than the mere "it's good for humanity" bit:
 “Coal is good for humanity”, Tony Abbott declared as he opened a new coalmine on Monday, and its use should go “up and up and up in the years and decades to come”. It’s a pronouncement at odds with the international climate goals his government says it supports but remarkably similar to the coal industry’s own global public relations campaign.
And more from the link in that quote:
"The future for coal is bright and it is the responsibility for government to try to ensure that we are there making it easier for everyone wanting to have a go."

“It is a great day for the world because this mine will keep so many people employed … it will make so many lives better.

“This mine epitomises the have-a-go spirit,” he said.

In May, Abbott told a minerals industry parliamentary dinner he could think of “few things more damaging to our future” than leaving coal in the ground.
This just continues the Abbott line of saying whatever he thinks his particular audience wants to hear, regardless of consistency with what he will say elsewhere.

Completely unreliable; clinging onto pet policies which are clearly unwarranted;  incorporating military leadership in press conferences and non military issues as much as possible for PR purposes like a 3rd world dictator; unable to please the Left or Right with an idiosyncratic set of budget choices that have little rhyme or reason:  he's a shocker of a Prime Minister. 

Serious drought getting very serious for 6.5 million

Sao Paulo Facing Water Shutoffs If Sabesp Withdrawals Cut - Businessweek

And here I was, thinking it was looking serious when a million or so people in Brisbane had our water dam down to about 17% (after very tight usage restrictions) before the rains came.   In Sao Paulo, it looks like about 6.5 million have a dam system at 5%, and the water supply is going to start stopping during parts of the day.

So Rupert like monopolies? What a surprise...

I see that "extreme libertarian" Peter Thiel likes monopolies, and so does Rupert Murdoch. What a surprise.

Update:  for a bit more nuance on Thiel's views, here's an extract from a review of his book:

You see, Thiel is not interested in funding entrepreneurs trying to build a business that will beat the competition; competition, in fact, is precisely what he thinks every company should avoid. The true goal of every startup is to become a monopoly, a company so dominant in its technological arena that it can give investors enormous financial returns with cash to spare for the intensive R&D that can ensure its long-term viability. Google, Thiel points out, is a handy case study. The profits from dominating the Internet search business since the early 2000s have allowed it to diversify into cloud computing, mobile devices, and robotics. According to Thiel, this kind of market supremacy offers returns to more than just investors: companies that create de facto monopolies and use the profits to innovate, as Google has, are truly valuable to society. “Monopolies drive progress,” he writes, in his contrarian way. “The promise of years or even decades of monopoly profits provides a powerful incentive to innovate.”

His point is a good one—at least as a source for debate. Consider that today’s communications infrastructure is largely built upon innovations—the transistor, UNIX, digital signal transmission—that came out of AT&T, the U.S. phone monopoly for most of the 20th century. For contrary evidence, you might look to Microsoft, which has typified a powerful company’s use of bullying and market share to limit consumers’ choices without creating innovations of comparable magnitude. In any event, Thiel seems bothered by the fact that many economists focus on the dangers of monopolies without considering the potential benefits. In his cosmology, they’re simply mistaken. His faith in the ameliorative forces of the marketplace assures him that even a dominant company (such as Microsoft) will eventually be eclipsed by a younger and more creative company (such as Google). Capitalism, he promises us, has a habit of righting technological wrongs in time. ...

Thiel has been asking a huge question for a few years now: How can we avoid a dismal future of resource depletion, environmental degradation, mass unemployment, and technological stagnation? He thinks the answer is a new wave of startups that grow as large as Microsoft, Google, and Amazon but take on bigger problems, such as curing cancer or providing cheap, clean energy. He claims we aren’t making progress on such things now because we’ve grown less ambitious as a society.
As the review then goes to note, Thiel (and I would add, libertarians generally) have an unrealistic take on how research happens, and their disdain for government money going into research is against the evidence and is merely ideologically driven:
You wouldn’t know it from Thiel, but investing is most of all about providing the feedstock with which some of the larger companies—not to mention universities and government agencies like NASA or DARPA—work to solve difficult problems. Our ecosystem for innovation is no doubt imperfect, but it has an established logic and a proven success rate. Sometimes a good idea is seeded through government funding: a 1994 NSF grant led Stanford grad students Larry Page and Sergey Brin to found Google. In other cases, a startup’s ideas only really start to spread after the company gets swallowed by a larger one. The biotech companies that have been bought by pharmaceutical giants such as Pfizer and Novartis provide good examples. Startups that wisely resist getting bought up, such as Facebook or Google, usually don’t have much impact until they grow much larger (as Thiel acknowledges in his arguments for monopolies). Tesla—which took a $465 million government loan in its early days—manufactures 35,000 electric cars a year, making it interesting and successful. Producing 100,000 electric cars a year, as Tesla hopes it will by 2016, would make the company important and transformational.
The other thing about monopolies is that we only get to see Google as a "benevolent" monopoly for the future of the planet because of the attitudes held by its leadership, which does not dispute the need for action on the planet wide issue of CO2.  Can you imagine the difference if somehow Rupert was in charge of that company?

There's no doubt in my mind that because of its ideological views, libertarianism is the enemy of effective action on climate change.

How many Australians are now imagining the G20 meeting....

Update: I was curious as to how The Australian would report this. I see it's no big deal to them. Of course, can you imagine the reaction if it had been a Labor PM using such a term? We simply have not seen such an intensely anti-Labor media outlet since the time of Whitlam, except that in economic and good governance terms, the public then genuinely did have reason to be concerned. This time around, the Murdoch sentiment is irrational, fickle (see his changing attitude to climate science), and ideologically driven.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Lead poisoning revisited

Look, we've all read about the sorry history of lead poisoning, but this lengthy BBC magazine article still manages to contain some stories I didn't know about concerning the various ways it has sickened people.   (The wine poisoning aspects I had either forgotten or didn't know much about.) 

Potential weird physics refuted

Old textbook knowledge reconfirmed: Decay rates of radioactive substances are constant

I'm pretty sure I must have noted here before a study which indicated that radioactive decay was weirdly connected to the seasons.  Appears it was a measurement problem, which is a bit of an anticlimax, as so many weird physics suggestions turn out to be.


Google straps Street View camera on a camel to map Liwa Desert | SBS News

Eating crustaceans considered

They don't seem to appear in the frozen section of all Woolworths, but several months ago, my wife and I independently noticed that at one we visited they were selling boxes of frozen, raw scampi.   (We both tend to look at the seafood section of the supermarket when we are in a new one.)  

These interesting crustaceans come from somewhere in the North Atlantic, and we don't have anything very similar in Australian waters.   I am very fond of Moreton Bay bugs, which have a lot more meat in the tail, but they are so ridiculously expensive I pretty rarely eat them.

In fact, Australia has a pretty limited range of affordable crustaceans.  Sure, farmed prawns are now very reliable in terms of taste and often quite affordable.   But our blue swimmer crabs, the type most often available, tend to be somewhat watery and weak flavoured.  Mud crabs have a better flavour and can be nice, but tend to be expensive and I've never tried to cook one at home.   They tend to be an occasional treat from an Asian restaurant.    The lobsters from Tasmania we saw on holiday there can be enormous and (from little we ate of them) tasty, but again, they are really expensive.

So, I quite like eating crustaceans from other parts of the world, and when on holiday.   It's been a long time since I had one, but I remember being impressed with the gigantic prawn like thing served in Singapore.   When in Japan, it is definitely worth eating their crabs.  My wife believes that crabs from colder water are always tastier, and I think the Australian experience with blue swimmers backs that up.   I see that some supermarkets here now sell sections of the huge spiky crabs from somewhere cold - I've never tried them, as I am generally not so keen on defrosted, cooked, crustaceans.    (I'll take defrosted raw prawns though; they seem to do OK in the process.)

So, what about the scampi?    We had some in a soup some months ago, and they seemed OK, but their flavour was not all that obvious.

This weekend, we split some down the middle and grilled them, before serving them on a paella.    Well, this went quite well - it seemed quite clear that the meat (what little of it there is in each tail) was distinctly sweet and flavoursome.  The claws contain some meat but are very hard to get into.   Still, they were a pleasant surprise.

Only a week ago, I had been watching some SBS cooking show (Ottolenghi's Mediterranean Island Feasts) when he was on Mallorca (aka Majorca) and eating a local, very expensive, species of prawn which was famous for its sweetness (and also for being very red straight out of the sea.)   I thought it odd that a prawn should be "sweet", but this seemed definitely to be the character of the scampi meat too.

So, what about scampi generally?    I see via that authoritative source, the Daily Mail, that deep fried nuggets of what is called scampi have become a popular British pub food, after they were introduced as a way of dealing with (what appears to be) the unwanted catch when they were trawling for white fish.   However, the cheapest versions of pub scampi are apparently like our "crab sticks"  (who on earth actually buys those?) - a small amount of the actual crustacean with heaps of "extender" added.

Scampi thus seems to have followed the reverse culinary trajectory of oysters in Britain:  the latter went from being food for the working class until they were all dredged up (the English seem to have long been keen on fishing methods which scour the sea bed) to something for more exclusive tastes;  scampi have become a food that apparently is still only eaten on special occasions in Spain and Portugal but is mere "pub food" in England. 

Anyway, they were nice, and now I know more about them...

Sunday, October 12, 2014

My path to creative riches ruined by advancing science

Study: Frozen poop pills may make fecal transplants simpler and safer - LA Times

Curses!  My proposed television series based on time travelling, fecal transplanting doctors (the scene involving Hitler plays particularly well in my mind) has already, probably, been made redundant by medical science.

It's been reported that taking the healthy poop by way of oral frozen capsule might work just as well as the tube in the butt method.

My path to riches is foiled again...


Saturday, October 11, 2014

Galaxy song 2014

I'm glad I am not a big enough Monty Python fan to have paid to see their London farewell show livecast at the cinema  (I think they did that here?) seeing it turned up on SBS a couple of weeks ago.

I just watched most of it online.  Some dubious sketch choices early on, I thought, and I have to say that in the current world of porn at the touch of a keyboard, the main theme of Gilliam animations (riffs on dirty old men wanting to see nudity in any form) is well beyond redundant.  (He did have a weird imagination though.) 

But the highlight for me was the cameo at the end of the Galaxy song.  Most amusing:

Friday, October 10, 2014

Would be good if the Korean problem was suddenly resolved

The Koreas: Till Kimdom come | The Economist

Hmmm.  Young Kim hasn't been seen for more than a month, and while he's gone, 3 powerbrokers turn up to shake hands with South Korea?  Seems a potentially good sign?

Capitalism and legalisation

Colorado pot shops reaching out to marijuana novices | CPR

The stupidest heritage move ever?

Northbourne redevelopment in doubt after public housing registered by Heritage Council - ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

The biggest, most embarrassing, eyesore in Canberra has a provisional heritage listing?   This is such a ridiculous idea, I think the offices the Heritage Council work from will need a listing to prevent people from burning them down.

Now that's a trailer

I was recently dissing Nolan fanboys for their excitement over the mundane trailer for Interstellar.

Now this is a teaser trailer that really gives a thrill:

As Brad Bird is the director, I am really looking forward to this.

A pulsing mystery

Pulsar as bright as 10 million suns baffles astronomers