Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Richard Denniss on grandfathering the Australian dream

There's a great essay in The Monthly by Richard Denniss: Grandfathering the Australian dream: House prices, insecure work and growing debts … Who can afford a stake in today’s society?

Trump's win and misleading maps

One of the interesting features of the 2016 US presidential elections is that Trump won most of the counties (2,649 to 503 according to Time), but Clinton won the most votes (by around 3 million). When you see a map showing the counties Trump won, you see a sea of red. According to an article from Chris Wilson of Time, cited below, if you add up the size of the counties, Trump won something like 75.6% of the US's land mass, excluding water. Reportedly Trump loves this map because it seems to show his "yuge" victory.  The thing is, most of these counties have small populations. This tends to be because they're predominately rural. On the other hand Clinton won most of the urban counties with large populations. So the map is in many ways misleading.

In Here's the Election Map President Trump Should Hang in the West Wing Chris Wilson provides us with an alternate map.
A simpler way is just to place a dot over each county that is proportional in area to the number of votes that the winner received, like so:
Here's a screen shot of the map:

Note, please visit the above site to see the full interactive map. It allows you to move the mouse over a dot to see the tally. Have a read of Wilson's article while you're there. He explains things much better than I do.

When is something terrorism?

I don't know. But apparently you're more likely to be a terrorist if you're Muslim, and have darker skin.

Arwa Mahdawi writes in How a neo-Nazi turned Islamist flipped terror narratives upside down
There are lots of ways to be a disaffected, disenfranchised young man. You can spout anonymous abuse online. You can shoot up a school. You can bomb abortion clinics in the name of being pro-life. You can kill black people peacefully praying at church, in the name of white supremacy. You can murder teenagers singing joyfully along at a pop concert, in the name of Isis and Allah.

What you are called, when you do those things, varies. Sometimes you’re a criminal. Sometimes you’re a terrorist. Sometimes you’re a mental health statistic. How you are treated, when you do those things, varies. Sometimes you’re headline news around the world for days; you make an ignominious mark on the history books. Sometimes you’re a few paragraphs in the local papers, and barely make it into the national press.

There are a few key variables which determine what you are called and how you are treated when you commit a deadly act designed to cause widespread fear. Namely: how many people you killed; where you killed them; whether you shouted “Allahu Akbar” as you killed them and the colour of your skin. The whiter your skin, it seems, the more likely you are to be classified as a criminal rather than a terrorist.
She then cites the case of the young white supremacist Dylann Roof who killed nine African Americans in a church in South Carolina. He was convicted on 33 federal charges. These included murder and hate crimes, but not terrorism.

Mahdawi then discusses Devon Arthurs. Arthurs had been a white supremacist but converted to Islam. He killed his two roommates because they reportedly disrespected his religion and, he claimed, were planning a terrorst act. Police investigations in the caes led to the subsequent arrest of another roommate, Brandon Russell. Russell, a Florida national guardsman had been storing explosives in his garage and a photo of Timothy McVeigh in his bedroom. He's facing a charge of “possessing an unregistered destructive device and unlawful storage of explosive material”.

Mahdawi then looks at the statistics on domestic terrorism in the US:
According a recent report, A Dark and Constant Rage, from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), rightwing extremists have been responsible for planning at least 150 acts of terror in the United States over the past 25 years. They’ve killed 255 people in these attacks and injured 600 more. White supremacists and anti-government extremists are the biggest subset of rightwing extremists (which also includes groups such as anti-abortionists and anti-immigrant extremists) and are responsible for 85% of these incidents.

However, as the ADL points out, while “rightwing extremists have been one of the largest and most consistent sources of domestic terror incidents in the United States for many years”, this fact “has not gotten the attention it deserves.” What’s more, “it has garnered far less notice than … Islamic terrorism”.

Can you imagine how much more press Brandon Russell’s basement full of explosives would have received if it had belonged to a man called Mohammed with a picture of a 9/11 bomber in his bedroom?

Rightwing terrorism doesn’t just get less media attention than Islamist terrorism – it gets less attention in policy. As the ADL report notes, the US still doesn’t have a federal domestic terrorism statute and “federal spending on training law enforcement on issues such as rightwing violence and terrorism is extremely low”. This is clearly ridiculous. 
Then there's the case of Jeremy Joseph Christian. Jason Wilson reports on this case in Suspect in Portland double murder posted white supremacist material online:
Police in Portland, Oregon, have charged a white supremacist with a double murder and hate crimes, after he allegedly cut the throats of two passengers and stabbed another on a commuter train late on Friday afternoon.

According to police, while riding the MAX train in suburban northeast Portland, Jeremy Joseph Christian, 35, began “yelling various remarks that would best be characterized as hate speech toward a variety of ethnicities and religions”.

When fellow passengers attempted to intervene, Christian stabbed three of them.

Two of them died.

So would this be terrorism if Christian had been a Muslim and had shouted Allah Akbar as he stabbed the three people? 

Evidence supporting claims pirated Australian ship visited Japan unearthed

In Australian convict pirates in Japan: evidence of 1830 voyage unearthed Joshua Robertson reports on evidence confirming the visit of a ship from Australia to Japan in 1830. The ship had been hijacked by convicts being transported from Hobart to Macquarie Harbour.

An amateur historian has unearthed compelling evidence that the first Australian maritime foray into Japanese waters was by convict pirates on an audacious escape from Tasmania almost two centuries ago.

Fresh translations of samurai accounts of a “barbarian” ship in 1830 give startling corroboration to a story modern scholars had long dismissed as convict fantasy: that a ragtag crew of criminals encountered a forbidden Japan at the height of its feudal isolation.

The brig Cyprus was hijacked by convicts bound from Hobart to Macquarie Harbour in 1829, in a mutiny that took them all the way to China.

Claims Australia's unemployment data is dishonest are wrong

In To those who claim Australia's unemployment data is dishonest – please stop Greg Jericho explains why journalists need to be very careful about claims the government is lying about unemployment numbers - for that leads us down the path of "fake news".
In an era where fake news is like a virus, media organisations need to be very careful that they are not adding fuel to the bonfire of fantasies. Even with the best of intentions journalists should be wary of arguing that government data is dishonest – such as recent suggestions that the real unemployment rate is much higher than what the ABS would have us believe.
But there is no one measure that tells the whole story.

We should ensure our coverage reflects that. There is nothing wrong with creating new labour force measures, but we should be very wary of dismissing the official rates as dishonest.

Doing so only serves to reduce people’s confidence in the impartiality of the ABS. And we should discourage anything that would give succour to politicians – such as Trump – who seek to undermine institutions by suggesting any data inconvenient to their policies is fake.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Features of working class Trump voters

In 12 Features of White Working-Class Trump Voters Confirm Depressed and Traumatized Multitudes Voted for Him Steven Rosenfeld identifies some of the features that were more common amongst working class Trump voters than amongst the general public.
Looking to the past, not the future. Feeling lost, resenting immigrants. Feeling broke, picked on. Self-medicating, rejecting education. Wanting a rule-breaking leader to end the misery.

These are some of the characteristics of white working-class voters who were three times more likely to support Donald Trump in the 2016 election, according to an expanded analysis of more than 3,000 people surveyed before and after the election by PRRI/The Atlantic of white Americans who are marked by “cultural dislocation.”

Reality is complicated

In Reality has a surprising amount of detail John Salvatier explains that there are a lot more details involved in doing things than we generally expect.
It’s tempting to think ‘So what?’ and dismiss these details as incidental or specific to stair carpentry. And they are specific to stair carpentry; that’s what makes them details. But the existence of a surprising number of meaningful details is not specific to stairs. Surprising detail is a near universal property of getting up close and personal with reality.

You can see this everywhere if you look. For example, you’ve probably had the experience of doing something for the first time, maybe growing vegetables or using a Haskell package for the first time, and being frustrated by how many annoying snags there were. Then you got more practice and then you told yourself ‘man, it was so simple all along, I don’t know why I had so much trouble’. We run into a fundamental property of the universe and mistake it for a personal failing.

If you’re a programmer, you might think that the fiddliness of programming is a special feature of programming, but really it’s that everything is fiddly, but you only notice the fiddliness when you’re new, and in programming you do new things more often.

You might think the fiddly detailiness of things is limited to human centric domains, and that physics itself is simple and elegant. That’s true in some sense – the the physical laws themselves tend to be quite simple – but the manifestation of those laws is often complex and counterintuitive.
Before you’ve noticed important details they are, of course, basically invisible. It’s hard to put your attention on them because you don’t even know what you’re looking for. But after you see them they quickly become so integrated into your intuitive models of the world that they become essentially transparent. Do you remember the insights that were crucial in learning to ride a bike or drive? How about the details and insights you have that led you to be good at the things you’re good at?

This means it’s really easy to get stuck. Stuck in your current way of seeing and thinking about things. Frames are made out of the details that seem important to you. The important details you haven’t noticed are invisible to you, and the details you have noticed seem completely obvious and you see right through them. This all makes makes it difficult to imagine how you could be missing something important.

That’s why if you ask an anti-climate change person (or a climate scientist) “what could convince you you were wrong?” you’ll likely get back an answer like “if it turned out all the data on my side was faked” or some other extremely strong requirement for evidence rather than “I would start doubting if I noticed numerous important mistakes in the details my side’s data and my colleagues didn’t want to talk about it”. The second case is much more likely than the first, but you’ll never see it if you’re not paying close attention.

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Is beetroot the secret to increased endurance?

In Secrets of two-hour marathon men may alter running for ever Jamie Doward describes the work of Professor Andrew Jones, a specialist in endurance running. Jones is currently involved in the Nike project attempting to lower the record for the marathon below the two hour mark.

Jones has identified nitrates as a key ingredient in performance. Sources of nitrates include leafy green vegetables as well as beetroot juice.

Genetics also helps.
So what is it about their physiology that has allowed African runners to dominate distance running so comprehensively in recent years? “Their body types tend to be smaller and naturally leaner,” Jones said. “Their limbs have slightly different proportions, which make them run more efficiently. They have slightly longer shanks; their lower legs tend to be relatively long compared to their thighs, they don’t tend to carry a lot of muscle on their calves and they have quite long achilles, which can be quite advantageous. Their V02 Max [maximum oxygen uptake] may not be much higher than what you’d find in a good class of distance runner in the UK, but they’re much more economical and they’re able to operate at high fractions of their max almost without fatigue.”