July 29, 2012

Because todays music really is all the same


 *Phew*.  Not an old foggy after all.  A few months ago I resorted to changing my morning radio station, because I could no longer stand the music (or the "news":  some twerp from One Direction kissed some girl in New Zealand is NOT fucking news, people!!) 
But it seems that believing today's music is samey, boring and, well, just too loud does not necessarily make you a miserable reactionary. Rather, it is the scientific truth.

An analysis of the pitch, timbre and loudness of half a million songs, from Bill Haley in 1955 to Lady Gaga in 2010, has found that, over the past 55 years, the melodies have become simpler and converged stylistically. At the same time, volume has increased.
It's true, songs today all sound the same - Nature Scientific Reports 

Because playing amateur psychoanalyst pays the rent


I don't begrudge Martin McKenzie-Murray a means by which to buy groceries or pay the rent, but I have a real problem with anyone playing fast and loose and inexcusably shallow when it comes to the too frequent mass murders in America.  

The gist of Mckenzie-Murray's argument is that these mass murders are nothing more than a call for attention, much in the way some flibbertigibbet will audition for Big Brother, The Shire or a walk on part on Being Lara Bingle.  

His argument is summarized in his first line: "Giving murderers the buzz of attention may only encourage others."

I don't know where he gets his figures from, since he quotes none, he just assumes that the public at large is obsessed, rather than repelled, by mass killers.  He assumes that the media bombardment after every such event is a reflection of public want.  

He also believes that perfectly ordinary people, or even people unwell or unsuited to society at large, wake up one morning and think to themselves:  "I know, I'll get famous by shooting people.  Career move!"

It's trite, grubby and wrong.  

Liberty or death, and unfettered access to weapons:  he ends his shallow piece on that note, yet Mckenzie-Murray doesn't write a single word about American culture or guns or violence or mental health.  Instead has has a few words to say about the numerous Underbelly series from Australian television, which couldn't be more divorced from the topic of his opinion piece.

If our print media are determined to do themselves out of a job, crap like this is the way to go.  

The dead and the living deserve a great deal more respect.


Because life involves food


Last week, Masterchef crowned Andy Allen, a 24-year-old electrician from Maitland, as its 2012 champion cook (not chef, because if he was a chef he wouldn't  be entering reality shows to perform cook-offs; and he is, by his own admission, an elecrician.)

After winning, Andy said:

''I'm feeling over the moon, I'm so happy that I know my life will involve food."

As will my life and your life, because life requires food.

This is what Andy learned after three months on Masterchef.   


Incremental shift in thinking about drugs

The inhabitants of our close and adored cousins in the USA are not prone to shift their thinking in relation to guns*, but there is a tiny spark that their thoughts on the rationality of the "war" on drugs might be turning, ever so slightly.  Nothing radical, mind, no decent policies being mooted, but some encouraging mumbles.
“The policies the United States has had for the last 41 years have become irrelevant,” said Morris Panner, a former counternarcotics prosecutor in New York and at the American Embassy in Colombia, who is now an adviser at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. “The United States was worried about shipments of cocaine and heroin for years, but whether those policies worked or not doesn’t matter because they are now worried about Americans using prescription drugs.” 

The same sense that there is a need for a new approach was expressed last week by Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, a former federal prosecutor, who declared the war on drugs “a failure” that imprisons people who really need treatment. 

While a major change in policy is not imminent — “It’s all aircraft carriers, none of it moves on a dime,” as one senior Obama administration official put it — the election of a new president in Mexico, Enrique Peña Nieto, is very likely to have an immediate impact on the debate. Mr. Peña Nieto has promised to focus not on drugs but rather on reducing the violent crimes that most affect Mexicans. 

Mexico and other countries nearby, especially Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, are withering under a metastasizing threat: violence caused by drug traffickers battling for power, to move drugs, extort businesses, and kidnap and kill for ransom. The American response so far has mostly involved a familiar escalation of force, characterized by the addition of law enforcement and military equipment and personnel to help governments too weak to combat trafficking on their own. 

Even some officials with the Drug Enforcement Administration and Justice Department say they now recognize that arresting kingpins and seizing large drug shipments have failed to make Mexico more stable, largely because of corruption and other flaws in the Mexican justice system. 

American officials say they are now focused on training Mexican prison guards, prosecutors and judges, while supporting Mexican programs aimed at keeping at-risk youths from joining gangs. 

And the Obama administration has ruled out drug legalization, despite expanding support for the idea in Latin America, while designating about 60 percent of the federal antidrug budget of roughly $25 billion a year to supply-side efforts, with 40 percent to demand, as the government has for decades. 

Eric L. Olson, a security analyst with the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, said the growing debate had, so far, mostly led to confusion. “Some U.S. officials favor building institutions; others think it’s hopeless,” he said. 

Other experts are more critical of the Obama administration, pointing to the continued focus on cocaine interdiction, especially in Honduras, where the D.E.A. squad has been involved in a series of recent raids. One left four people dead, including two pregnant women, and in another one, last week, two people who were said to be smugglers were killed. 

“It just hasn’t worked,” said Mark L. Schneider, a special adviser on Latin America at the International Crisis Group. “All interdiction and law enforcement did was shift cultivation from Colombia to Peru, and the increase in interdiction in the Caribbean drove trafficking to Mexico, and now with the increase in violence there it has driven trafficking to Central America as the first stop. So it is all virtually unchanged.”

Now the drugs most likely to land Americans in emergency rooms cannot be interdicted. Studies show that prescription painkillers, and stimulants to a lesser extent, are the nation’s biggest drug problem. The same survey that identified 1.5 million cocaine users in 2010 found 7 million users of “psychotherapeutics.” Of the 36,450 overdose deaths in the United States in 2008, 20,044 involved a prescription drug, more than all illicit drugs combined.

* The rush to buy new guns and ammunition, the day after the Denver murders.  American logic being:  a) if someone had been armed, they could have taken out the killer (with one crack-shot, for sure, because that's easy with tear gas in your face and a moving target in armor); and b) "omg" I see films, therefore I'm in danger of being killed - this, from those who never thought they needed a gun, but now realise they do.  Expect similar upswings in gun sales when someone shoots up a supermarket for the first and last time.)

July 27, 2012

July 25, 2012

Penis stolen

It's been a while, penis chronicles has been suspiciously quite of late.

Not a laughing matter, Fei Lin, in China, has had his penis stolen.

Lin didn't initially grasp the gravity of the attack, which occured in his home, was unaware that his manhood was missing - until he noticed he was bleeding and his penis was no longer about his person. 

Lin has denied he was having numerous affairs with local women.

His penis has not been found.

Police are in search of jealous lovers. 

(But not jealous husbands, apparently.)

Penis stolen by thieves

Big rip, big bang, big bounce

Does it matter, for humans, how the Earth will end?

The persistent estimates tend to be two to three billion years hence.

I'm certain that humans and all other recognisable life forms - recoginisable to us - will be long, long, long gone before the universe rips or bounces or wobbles or expands to popping point and ultimatley sees the end of the Milky Way and our Earthly home.

Dark matter makes up 24 per cent and dark energy the remaining 72 per cent.

Once this dark energy takes over, it will cause more space to expand, creating more dark energy, "which can then push harder against gravity, creating even more space".

"The creation of space eventually can happen even more quickly than light can travel."

This could lead to one of the "craziest theoretical ideas" and one of Professor Schmidt's favourites - the Big Rip.

"You will see the stars in the sky start disappearing as they accelerate beyond the speed of light.
"Then one day the sun will go out.

"Then, not too long after, you and the Earth will be ripped into pieces."

Or it could end in a less dramatic fashion.

Either way, Professor Schmidt said, unless dark energy suddenly disappears very quickly the universe it seems is fated to expand and fade away.
Current options then:  it will be BIG, really BIG, or it will be a whimper.

Much like humans, one extreme or the other.

Universe could end with big rip


Wednesday Wisdom

Nothing contributes so much to tranquilizing the mind as a steady purpose - a point on which the soul may fix its intellectual eye.

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

July 23, 2012

The long slow tatters of Julia and her government

... whether Gillard is capable of changing course is hardly certain. Kicking away the ladder takes more than the streak of granite she readily displays; it takes intellectual stringency and political judgment she shows no sign of possessing.

Rather, trapped in a world view dominated by unresolved anger over the injustices of the Welsh valleys of her birth, Gillard has lost the aspirational voters who should have been her mainstay. Ominously for the future, ALP support among the young is now weaker and less stable than in any previous postwar generation, while the party has failed to find a common language with the upwardly mobile Asian communities that are the most rapidly growing group in the population.

Labor therefore seems set to wait for the end flapping and flailing, like dying fish on a deck. For ultimately, what is special to democracy is its insistence that it be the people who decide the direction in which the nation moves. Gillard ignored that in 2010; the consequences could haunt Labor for years to come.
The commentary is becoming crueler, but painfully deserved. 

Henry Ergra nails Gillard, and leaves her flapping in the wind, or on a deck ...  it no longer matters where. 

Electorate right about PM's left turn

Religious tolerance

Nussbaum is one of America’s leading liberal thinkers ... good for her, too. Wish I could be so liberal.
In Europe, there is obviously a much greater need for her message of tolerance. Yet one also wonders whether Nussbaum could have used a bit more sympathetic imagination in analyzing European anxieties about Muslim minorities. Yes, Anders Behring Breivik deserves to be condemned in the strongest terms. But so does Muhammad Bouyeri, the Muslim extremist who shot and stabbed the Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh to death in 2004. And the Muslim terrorists who killed nearly 250 and injured 10 times as many in the Madrid and London bombings of 2004 and 2005. And Mohammed Merah, who just this past March executed a rabbi and three children at a Jewish school in Toulouse, France. Here we see an additional way in which America is exceptional: Its Muslim minority is considerably smaller and less radicalized by Islamic ideology than those living in many European countries, making tolerance considerably easier to practice.
Nussbaum is right to insist that Europe’s democratic governments owe Muslim minorities tolerance and respect — and to hold up the United States as a model of how to fulfill this obligation. But her book could have used a more clearly presented, and strongly worded, statement of what, in return, these minorities owe to ­democracy. 
Agree with that last sentiment. 

I continue to struggle, and always will, with being forgiving, tolerant and respectful of any murderous religion, any religion with it's core mission statement being the killing of everyone else, and most often, each other.

Only politicians, diplomats and academics would ever try to convince me to be forgiving, tolerant and respectful of political regimes that murder men, women and children - just because they can - (a big howdy to China and Syria and Darfur, for starters!) - the rest of us see it for what it is and don't feel too many pangs of forgiveness or respect.  For me, same with Islam.  Same with any government or religion determined to keep their people in a barbarous dark age.

July 21, 2012

Olympic Dreams

''If you want a sense of how far the Olympic ideal has been corporatised, McDonald's are the official restaurant, Cadbury the official treat provider and Coca-Cola the official drink provider,'' he says. ''BP is the London 2012 sustainability partner. I don't know if any of that strikes you as ironic.''

The IOC's brand police, Casimir says, have ensured that the brand names stamped on toilet bowls and soap dispensers in the athletes' village are covered.

''They have a huge security force that is roaming around, making sure that you will not see any brand that hasn't paid for it. There are 75,000 companies that have contributed to the making of the 2012 Olympics that aren't allowed to mention they did it. Unless suppliers go on to pay the extra money to become an official supplier, they don't get to say it.''

One step ahead of the games 

What Google Knows About You

Ever stayed awake at night fearful of the volume and detail of data collected about your being; your every Internet thought and fancy captive to some corporate dweeb or supercomputer analyzing your waking existence and targeting your proclivities?

In other words, have you ever wondered who Google thinks you are? Or who all the government agency spooks do, or will, think you are if they get their hands on your Internet footprint? 

I'm here to assure you, they know surprisingly little.

Ever checked your Google preference settings, you know, in your Gmail profile, where you indicate if you want targeted ads or not?   There's a whole pile of fields, but the most interesting is down the page a bit,  where you'll find a handy dandy summary of who Google thinks you are, which changes frequently, and changes even more when you clean out your cache (you do that once in a while, don't you?).

This week, Google is quite sure I'm some really old guy.  At other times Google has been persistently convinced that I'm a youngish guy with an abiding interest in technology, history and Europe (also a bit up myself too, I guess, but they would never tell me that).

In other words, don't be troubles.  Google is dumb, the Internet is dumb:  they might be able to find you, but they don't know you at all - much like real life. 

No embarrassment to see here

The latest mass sacking of Ford workers in Victoria has embarrassed the Gillard government and revived questions about the use of more than $1 billion a year of taxpayers' money to prop up the ailing car industry.
Oops, no, scrap that:  Gillard government not embarrassed. Gillard government thrilled to bits at saving thousands of hypothetical jobs.
Ford Australia's announcement yesterday that it would shed 440 jobs at its Geelong and Broadmeadows plants came just six months after Julia Gillard unveiled a $34 million bailout of the company and declared it would lead to more jobs.

''There will be an additional 300 jobs as a result,'' the Prime Minister said in January.

Faced yesterday with news of Ford's sackings due to sagging sales of the locally built Falcon, Ms Gillard said the job losses would have been in the thousands without the recent government help.

… Ms Gillard said Ford had guaranteed to keep making cars here until 2016 at least, and that she was determined to keep ''Aussie car makers and those Australian jobs''.
Ford has been in a spiral for a decade, at least. Ten years to sniff the wind and make adjustments. They might even like to advertise their wares, like other capitalists. (Ever seen their green car, did you know they have one?  Developed with government grants.)  It’s the usual privatisation of profits, socialise the losses. The invisible and even hand of the market, hey? The invisible sticky hand of private sector constantly nicking stuff from the collective cash bowl.  Well, that, and truly appalling business management.

Ford cuts leave PM red faced

July 20, 2012

Duck Friday

This - THIS -  is what becomes of Duck Friday followers:  remember Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Richard Dreyfuss making mountains out of mash potato?  Well, it's much like that; unsuspecting blog readers compelled to make duck cookies, over and over and over and over and over again.
My thanks to Tim and Lexie and (contribution unknown) the Badger.

July 18, 2012

Wednesday Wisdom

I believe serious progress (in the abolition of war) can be achieved only when men become organized on an international scale and refuse, as a body, to enter military or war service.

Albert Einstein
(Sorry Al, we're still waiting for the liberation of men.)

July 16, 2012

Euphemism Lessons

 State of Play in Syria:

According to the Red Cross the situation in Syria is now regarded as a: "non-international armed conflict".

That would be "civil war" to you, me, and anyone else not enamored of weasel language. 

July 14, 2012

Besties

Tone - slapping on the latex in solidarity with the workers.
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott declared that Australian workers would find he was ''their best friend'' - prompting Julia Gillard to retort that ''with friends like that who needs an enemy?''
 [Yes, Gillard tries for the clever retort, and as always it's beyond her natural abilities.  Like that vaunted clever exhortation to journalists:  "don't write crap, can't be that hard"; sure Julia, preaching to the pot; "don't talk crap, can't be that hard", sweetie.]
The government seized on Mr Abbott's promise to the tourism industry on Wednesday that he would get more flexibility into workplaces, saying a Coalition government would attack penalties.

Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten said: ''Let's decode what Mr Abbott is saying. He's saying to hospitality workers, to retail workers - who are amongst the lowest paid in Australia - that he will cut their penalty rates because he wants to make the big end of town happy with him on industrial relations.'' He challenged the opposition to ''come clean'' with its IR policy.

But Mr Abbott, who says he wants to restore the industrial relations pendulum to the ''sensible centre'', flatly denied he wanted to cut penalty rates in the tourism industry. Pressed on what he meant by flexibility, he said the Coalition workplace policy would be sensible, responsible, careful, cautious and based on real problems not ideology.

''The one thing that the Australian workers will find is that I am their best friend. What I want to see is higher wages and more jobs. That's what I was like when I was the workplace relations minister.''
 Ok, sounds good. 

Gillard, Swan, the ALP Government, are not besties to workers, haven't been for four long tortured years.  Company after company folds, tens of thousands of workers are losing their future livelihood each year under Labor.  They are the worsties for most employees.

Could Abbott really be worst-er than this bunch?

I doubt it.

Might turn out that he is our future bestie.  Stranger things have happened under Liberal governments.

I'm best friend of workers - Abbott

July 13, 2012

July 11, 2012

History: meh, why bother?

Apparently Australian history is so irrelevant and uninteresting that it doesn’t warrant a dedicated subject in Years 11 and 12 in the national curriculum.
Even commenters seem to be of almost mind that unless it’s Aboriginal history, Australia’s story is short, prosaic, not worthy.   Students march with their feet, preferring to study revolutions, of which we’ve had none (unless you count Julia’s empty buildings, and dud laptops for all, which continues to be labelled an Education Revolution).
For a traditionally parochial little country, this is all a bit strange, although I do appreciate that our history is a bit bland, certainly lacks the colour and movement of most other countries, especially older countries.    
The assumption seems to be that our history has ended, so we can kill the subject off, as if children in 2100 will have no more interest in Australian history than the children of today, that omitting a few hundred years of our country’s past from formal studies is, well, inspired.  It will hold no interest or relevance in future decades or millennium:  let it lapse; let it die on the vine. 
Utterly stupid.
At the very least, Australian history could be given its own Facebook page, so that students can poke and like, to express their support and interest. 

Skepticism 101

 c/o eSkeptic Newsletter:

I am exceptionally proud to announce today the beta launching of Skepticism 101: The Skeptical Studies Curriculum Resource Center, where we provide skeptical resources, freely available to anyone, anywhere, anytime. Brought to you by the Skeptics Society and under the direction of Anondah Saide and William Bull, Skepticism 101 is a resource center for educators, teachers, administrators, students, and skeptics in all fields and walks of life to provide you with the resources you need to teach people how to think skeptically and critically about any and all claims.
We Are All Teachers. We Are All Educators
  
Every time you talk to someone anywhere about anything you have an opportunity to teach skepticism and critical thinking, both of which are at the core of science. We want to change the world. Ideas and how to think about them is at the foundation of all change, especially beliefs. To that end we have launched Skepticism 101 and invite you to get involved by contributing any materials that you think might be relevant, interesting, and important to our cause of making the world a better place through reason and science. We are looking for suggested readings, course syllabi, PowerPoint presentations, student projects, papers, and videos that you have written and/or produced, and anything else you can think of that might be relevant. You can browse resources by topic (e.g. psychics), resource type (e.g. course syllabi), academic discipline (e.g. biology), or academic level (e.g. college). 

 
Thank you to everyone who has contributed thus far—in both educational materials and financial support—and I invite you all to make a contribution in any way you can. Think of this as the launching of a Skeptical Library of Alexandria! To participate contact the Skepticism 101 Resource Center Director Anondah Saide: skepticism101@skeptic.com
 
In addition to those who contributed teaching materials we are especially grateful to our significant supporters in last year’s fundraising campaign on behalf of Skepticism 101: Bill Nye, Steven Ridley, Robert Engman, Richard Epstein, Jones Hamilton, James Alexander, Jean Bettanny, Arnold Lau, David Kaloyanides, Jeff Kodosky, Marvin Mueller, and Michael Roberts. Special thanks go to Tyson Jacobsen, who also attended Michael Shermer’s first official course in skepticism last fall, “Skepticism 101: How to Think Like a Scientist Without Being a Geek.”

Wednesday Wisdom,

Great abundance is heaped up as the result of brutalizing labor, but a miserable life is the result.

Epicurus

July 7, 2012

Shock restaurant close


With membership required (including a training tour before booking) and a long list of eating rules, I can't believe this restaurant has had to close.  

Ichikawa is closing her restaurant for the dual reasons that she can't stand the greedy pigs who won't follow her rules, but insists they eat everything on their plate.  

I'm confused.