Noted in passing – 3rd October 2015

October 3, 2015

The first snow of this winter fell in Kiruna yesterday. Early, but it is no record since snow has come as early as 21st September.

 Jessica Nildén

photo Jessica Nildén via SvT

NASA: Pluto’s largest moon Charon is revealed in this image from New Horizons’ Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI), taken late on July 13, 2015 from a distance of 289,000 miles  (466,000 kilometers).

Charon by New Horizons - NASA

Obama to Putin: ” You’re bombing the wrong targets. Why don’t you do as we do?”   US air strikes hit Medecins Sans Frontieres clinic in Afghanistan.

Jeremy Corbyn: I love Britain but I will not defend her with nuclear weapons.

Sycophancy is alive and well in Indian politics. A BJP politician who was passed over by the party as Chief Minister candidate of Delhi tries to curry favour with his leader by comparing Modi with Gandhi.

NASA made a huge PR exercise about finding that briny water flowed on Mars – though their solution to the great mystery that they claimed to have solved has been postulated for years. But actually the NASA media campaign was almost certainly timed to hype the new Ridley Scott movie “The Martian” which was released the same week. (Reviews look interesting and I shall see the movie tomorrow).

Donald Trump’s campaign has been predicted to implode by the media and politicians for a long time now. The more left-wing, liberal media (HuffPo, WaPo) are bursting with indignation at his success. But his campaign is still going strong. Jeb Bush’s campaign is vanishing into his own navel. But Trump can no longer be ignored. Even the New York Magazine analyses The Importance of Donald Trump  and even the New York Times Magazine – albeit reluctantly – carries a profile of Trump by Mark Leibovich.

I always thought that the “birther” theory that Obama was born in Kenya was something invented by the Republicans and the Tea-Party mob, but apparently it was first created by Hillary Clinton’s more fanatic supporters in 2008 when she was battling Obama for the Democratic nomination.

FactCheck: This claim was first advanced by diehard Hillary Clinton supporters as her campaign for the party’s nomination faded, and has enjoyed a revival among John McCain’s partisans as he fell substantially behind Obama in public opinion polls.

A Swedish study shows that taller people have a higher risk of cancer. “The average height of Swedish women is 167.7 centimetres while men are on average 181.5 centimetres tall”. Fortunately Sweden has cancer survival rates of 64.7 percent compared to an average of 59.6 percent in Europe.

The Oregon mass killing  only shows – again – that such an event is a routine, once-a-week, matter with 45 such events so far this year. Everybody goes simplistic. The liberals have a go at the lack of gun control and the availability of guns. The right points out that all such killings have been in declared “Gun free zones” and that it wouldn’t have happened if the victims had been armed. Obama makes a speech and blames everybody else. (I thought he was President). Jeb Bush – ever insightful – points out that “stuff happens”.

But it is all too simplistic. Was it nature or was it nurture or was it both which created the killer? And what is it about nurture in the US which creates so many of them?

Sania Mirza and Martina Hingis continued their magnificent form in 2015 by clinching their seventh doubles title of the year.

A street I knew/know very well, but from before my time (but only just).

Chowringhee Clacutta, 1947


Hurricane Joaquin moves away

October 3, 2015

US hurricane strikes are at an all-time low and there has been much alarmist excitement this week about the possibility of hurricane Joaquin striking the US mainland. First, it was going to strike N Carolina. Emergencies were declared. Then it was going to hit New York. Emergencies were extended. The hurricane declined to follow the computer models. Now Boston and New England were the targets claimed the modellers. Hurricane Joaquin moved even slower and moved further East.

The latest is that it is now headed for Bermuda. Some of the UK media are now concerned it may hit the UK. Not to underestimate the power of the hurricane since a cargo ship with 33 on board which was near the eye has gone missing. But, so much for the infallibility of computer models which claim that climate is a settled “science”. “It is weather that is variable and unpredictable”, I hear them cry. “The climate is perfectly predictable and the science is settled”. Ah Yes. But climate is nothing more than weather integrated over space and time.

Modellers who change the data rather than change their mathematical models which don’t fit reality, ought to be beyond the pale. But apparently it is acceptable to fudge data if it preserves political correctness.

Joaquin 1

Joaquin 2

This image from RealScience shows how the predicted track has moved.

In spite of the alarm of extreme weather the reality is that US hurricane strikes are at an all-time low.

Data from:  HURDAT Re-analysis Chronological List of All Hurricanes

GDP gives innovation …. or is it the other way around?

October 2, 2015

From The Economist.

To be fair it is quite easy to argue that the absolute value of GDP is conducive to innovation but that innovation leads to GDP growth.

Global Innovation Index 2015 image The Economist

Global Innovation Index 2015 image The Economist

…. The Global Innovation Index and a related report, which were published this morning by Cornell University, INSEAD, a business school, and the World Intellectual Property Organisation. The ranking of 140 countries and economies around the world, which are scored using 79 indicators, is not surprising: Switzerland, Britain, Sweden, the Netherlands and America lead the pack. But the authors also look at their data from other angles, for instance how countries do relative to their economic development and the quality of innovation (measured by indicators such as university rankings). In both cases the results are more remarkable. The chart above shows that in innovation many countries in Africa punch above their economic weight. And the chart below indicates that, even though China is now churning out a lot of patents, it is still way behind America and other rich countries when it comes to innovation quality.

Indian monsoon season ends – deficient but no disaster

October 2, 2015

The official 4 month monsoon season (June – September) has ended and the cumulative rainfall falls into the “average” category (from -20% to + 20% of the long-term average), but only just, at -14% for the country as a whole. Rainfall was high in June, quite low in July and August and recovered somewhat in September. Good rainfall continues in October as the monsoon withdraws. Much of this is in deficient regions of Central and South India which will further mitigate the deficiency numbers.

There is some relief that in spite of 2015 being an El Niño year, the overall picture is one of some deficiency but no disaster. Locally there have been wide variations, even between contiguous regions:

  • Jammu & Kashmir recorded 15% excess rains, while next door, Himachal Pradesh was 23% deficient.
  • West Rajasthan recorded 46% excess, while East Rajasthan ended 10% down.
  • Telangana remained rain deficit to the tune of 20% and Andhra Pradesh recorded 10% excess.
  • West Madhya Pradesh recorded normal rains and was at +4% while East Madhya Pradesh was 29% in deficit.
  • West Bengal recorded 8% excess while adjacent Jharkhand was 14% in deficit.
  • Both Marathwada (-40%) and Vidarbha (-11%) were in rain deficit but the variation was large.

From a growth perspective, the 2015 monsoon will be a neutral event (i.e. it will make its “normal” contribution to the economic cycle). The impact will not provide any additional impetus to growth but will not hinder growth either.

As the Reserve Bank has now reduced its reference interest rates by 50 basis points and most of the banks now seem to be passing on about 40 basis point reductions to their lending rates, the cost of lending is likely – for this year – to be have a much greater impact on the economy than the effects of the monsoon. But at least the monsoon will now play its “normal” part in feeding the economic cycle. The monsoon deficiency should not contribute too much to inflation in food prices.

The immediate impact of a good monsoon is increased employment in rural areas (September – October) followed by increased rural consumption of consumer goods (October – December) and even sales of two-wheelers and tractors (November – March). Pesticide sales increase during the monsoon and again in the following pre-monsoon period. Fertiliser sales pick-up strongly in the pre-monsoon period following a good monsoon. The December – June period following a good monsoon is when rural “investments” are mainly made (machinery, equipment, construction, consumer goods). The indirect effects of agriculture on the services and manufacturing sectors are critical. However, even more important is the effect of a good monsoon on food price stability and general economic sentiment.

But I foresee no booms or fireworks in Indian economic activity over the next 6 months. That requires – among other things – the “feel-good” factor that a bumper monsoon brings. Still, 12 months of steady, sustainable growth is probably more valuable than some short-lived volatile balloon of activity.

After the China circus, steady rather than spectacular will be a welcome relief.

Monsoon 2015 - Deficient but no disaster Source IMD

Monsoon 2015 – Deficient but no disaster Source IMD

Idioms of the world unite

October 1, 2015

Idioms cannot always be translated literally across languages.
Some idioms of the world created by Matt Lindley:

Idioms of the WorldSource – HotelClub


A port in motion

October 1, 2015

Just watch. Especially the tall-ships “parking”.

Port of Amsterdam during Sail 2015


No collisions.

From Drone Addicts

Pope opposes gay marriage but is afraid to admit it

October 1, 2015

The Pope had a secret meeting with Kim Davis while he was in the US. That was actually the defining moment of his visit.

I don’t like any organised religions. I find them – every one – oppressive in the space of ignorance. So, I don’t have a very high opinion of any “religious leaders” in their formal roles. Jorge Mario Bergoglio is a decent, well-meaning guy but, as Pope Francis, he has the task – uneviable though it may be – to oppress not only his own catholics with dogmatic mumbo-jumbo, but to try and spread his particular creed of ignorance to others not of the faith.

I found the circus surrounding his recent visit to the US irritating, not just because of the “populist”, politically correct facade he presented, but even more because of the fawning media hanging on his every word, and the politicians slobbering over his pronouncements as they tried to pander to their catholic voters. (There are 70 million catholics making up 22% of the US population).

But just one secret meeting is the real take-away from his 6 day visit. Publicly he said all the right things about minorities and he even met victims of abuse by priestly members of the catholic church. (Though, when he was reported as saying that “God weeps” for these victims, I wondered whether that was all his God could do? And was his God weeping at His own inability to do anything for the suffering that He had caused?)

His secret meeting was with Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk who refused to authorise gay marriages.

HuffPoThe Vatican has confirmed that the meeting between Pope Francis and Kim Davis took place. “I do not deny that the meeting took place, but I have no further comments,” Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said in a statement. 

A Kentucky clerk who went to jail for defying a federal court’s orders to issue same-sex marriage licenses says she met briefly with the pope during his historic visit to the United States. The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, didn’t deny the encounter took place but said Wednesday in Rome he had no comment on the topic.

Rowan County clerk Kim Davis and her husband met privately with Pope Francis last Thursday afternoon at the Vatican Embassy in Washington, D.C., for less than 15 minutes, said her lawyer, Mat Staver.

Why was the meeting in secret?

And how come the fawning media missed this even though the Pope was being scrutinised for every second of his visit?


Several thousand journalists recently covered Pope Francis’ historic visit to the United States — and yet, his meeting with controversial Kentucky clerk Kim Davis remained a secret until two days after the pontiff left the country. 

Robert Moynihan, who first reported the news Tuesday night for Inside the Vatican, a magazine he launched in 1993, met Davis in her Washington hotel room shortly after her Sept. 24 meeting with Francis, but sat on the scoop for days as the pope’s trip made headlines. 

…. Moynihan wrote that Davis told him about her meeting with Francis shortly after it occurred, though he did not specify where or when she gave the account:

“The Pope spoke in English,” she told me. “There was no interpreter. ‘Thank you for your courage,’ Pope Francis said to me. I said, ‘Thank you, Holy Father.’ I had asked a monsignor earlier what was the proper way to greet the Pope, and whether it would be appropriate for me to embrace him, and I had been told it would be okay to hug him. So I hugged him, and he hugged me back. It was an extraordinary moment. ‘Stay strong,’ he said to me. Then he gave me a rosary as a gift, and he gave one also to my husband, Joe. I broke into tears. I was deeply moved.”

…… ABC News’ Terry Moran asked Francis if he would support individuals, including government officials, who refuse to carry out duties such as issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples if they believe doing so violates their religious liberty.

Francis said that “conscientious objection is a right that is a part of every human right.” When Moran asked if his response includes government officials, Francis responded that, indeed, “it is a human right.”

The messages I take are that

  1. The Pope actually disapproves of gay marriage, but
  2. He is afraid to say that publicly (because it is not politically correct).

For the Pope to claim conscientious objection as a human right is almost naiveI find that conscientious objection is one of those flexible concepts that every government thinks that others must do but never accepts within its own ranks. Nazi soldiers were wrong – and were even war criminals – for obeying orders and not being conscientious objectors. But I can’t see any government anywhere which would accept conscientious objection within the ranks of its own armies. Or its bureaucrats such as Kim Davis. “Your whistle-blower is a good guy, but my whistle-blower is a traitor”.


In feministic Sweden, being unfaithful is considered justifiable provocation for a husband’s violence

September 29, 2015


I wouldn’t have expected this decision in “feministic” Sweden. It was just two days ago that the Swedish Prime Minister caused his audience to cringe in New York

“Hello Central Park, hello New York,” he said. “I am proud to lead the first feminist government in the world. We may live in a cold country, but our hearts are big.” – The Local

According to Göteborgs-Posten:

A police officer who beat his then wife gets to keep his job even though he has been convicted of assault, reported several media. According to Expressen the judgement states that the “violent event was preceded by a provocation in that the complainant had been unfaithful.”
In April, the man, who lives in West Sweden, beat his his wife with a clenched fist in front of the couple’s two minor children. Since the assault was classified as “minor” he gets to keep his job, which he would not have been allowed to do if the assault was “normal”.

Provocation clearly can justify a crime. Presumably if a husband murders his wife in a fit of rage because she has been unfaithful, it would be just a “minor” murder.


Obama’s ISIS strategy revealed – follow behind Russia (and Iran)

September 29, 2015

A vacuum in leadership will be one way in which Barack Obama’s 2 terms are remembered. But in Syria and concerning ISIS, US “strategy” has been of avoidance, if not quite of denial, of the issues.

And the vacuum provides Putin (and therefore Iran and even Assad) the chance to set the agenda. Of course a strategy implies having a picture of what is to be achieved and the available paths to lead to achieving that picture. I suspect Obama and Kerry are not even very clear of the end-scenario to be targeted.

Since 9/11, the entire US Middle East “policy” (if it could be called a policy) has been of short-term actions without any clear picture of what is to be achieved subsequently. From removing the Taliban (temporarily) from power in Afghanistan, to the removal of Saddam Hussein without a vision of a subsequent Iraq, support of a “democratic” Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt followed by support to the Egyptian army, and the removal of Gaddafi which helped create and arm ISIS and now the attempt to remove Assad without an end-game, US policy, I think, has consisted of ad hoc actions without any coherent, underlying strategy.


For the second time this month, Russia moved to expand its political and military influence in the Syria conflict and left the United States scrambling, this time by reaching an understanding, announced on Sunday, with Iraq, Syria and Iran to share intelligence about the Islamic State.

Like Russia’s earlier move to bolster the government of President Bashar al-Assad by deploying warplanes and tanks to a base near Latakia, Syria, the intelligence-sharing arrangement was sealed without notice to the United States. American officials knew that a group of Russian military officers were in Baghdad, but they were clearly surprised when the Iraqi military’s Joint Operations Command announced the intelligence sharing accord on Sunday.

It was another sign that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia was moving ahead with a sharply different tack from that of the Obama administration in battling the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, by assembling a rival coalition that includes Iran and the Syrian government. ……….

Russia’s moves are raising difficult questions for the Obama administration, which remains deeply conflicted about American military involvement in the Syria conflict. Ensuring that the Russian military and the United States-led coalition, which is carrying out airstrikes against the Islamic State, “deconflict” and avoid running into each other is only part of the problem: The Obama administration and the Kremlin do not appear to agree even on the main reason for the conflict.

American officials, who have long cast Mr. Assad as the primary source of instability in Syria, assert that the Syrian leader’s brutal crackdown provided an opening for jihadist groups and that the crisis cannot be resolved until a political transition is negotiated that requires him to leave power. But Russian officials see the Syrian government as a bulwark against further gains by groups like Islamic State and Nusra Front and sometimes suggest that the defeat of the Islamic State should come before a negotiated solution for the Syrian conflict. ……..

Just as with the Taliban, a short-term military win is of little value if the political climate still leaves them with physical space to move in and ideological air to breathe. ISIS will not disappear until they are

  1. defeated first militarily,
  2. and are given no physical space to occupy,
  3. and a political climate exists which gives them no air to breathe.

But then, what do I know?

Last gun shop in San Francisco – and so what?

September 29, 2015

Saw this:

san francisco gun shops

and then I saw this:

san francisco crime rates

Murder rate is 50% higher in San Francisco than in the US as a whole and robbery rates are almost 5 times higher.

Not much of a correlation then.



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