And the next thing….

FACEBOOK TV

Yes, it’s a thing. A thing where Facebook makes videos about science and posts them on Facebook. Yay! Science! By Facebook! It’ll be great!

Today’s vid told me that memories are inherited in your DNA because your parents DNA changes in response to different environmental stimuli. There was even a mouse experiment that proved it! OMG this totally explains why I get, like, really panicky in the presence of, like, books. Because my Mum was once given a series of electric shocks every time she opened a book!

I don’t even need to do any research at all to spot the first problem; – epigenetic transmission of behaviours is about methylation. It does not change the DNA. If it did I’d be a fucking legend cricket player who could successfully load a dishwasher.

Actually, the mouse experiment is kind of interesting. There have been many experiments and much research into methylation and epigenetics, but that mouse experiment stands out because of one thing; the results were completely unlikely. This article pulls the experiments apart in a reasonably straightforward way that I’d probably understand in its entirety if I wasn’t such a fabulous cricketer;

An article reporting statistical evidence for epigenetic transfer of learned behavior has important implications, if true. With random sampling, real effects do not always result in rejection of the null hypothesis, but the reported experiments were uniformly successful. Such an outcome is expected to occur with a probability of 0.004.

0.004. That’s pretty small odds. The article basically takes a series of guesses as to how the reported results were so amazingly coincidentally completely in line with the researchers’ hypothesis, but what it makes clear is how research design is often quite shonky. Obviously drug companies edit out their failures but I was a bit surprised to read this article detailing all the ways in which people bugger it up in other fields too,

How could the findings of Dias and Ressler (2014) have been so positive with such low odds of success? Perhaps there were unreported experiments that did not agree with the theoretical claims; perhaps the experiments were run in a way that improperly inflated the success and type I error rates, which would render the statistical inferences invalid. Researchers can unintentionally introduce these problems with seemingly minor choices in data collection, data analysis, and result interpretation. Regardless of the reasons, too much success undermines reader confidence that the experimental results represent reality. Even if some of the effects prove to be real, the findings reported in Dias and Ressler (2014) likely overestimate the effect magnitudes because unreported unsuccessful outcomes usually indicate a smaller effect than reported successful outcomes.

Next stop; chaos theory, closed loop control systems and my fucking car.

 

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Here we go….

I’ve spent the better part of a couple of weeks developing a rudimentary knowledge of turbo diesels into a fine grained, forensic understanding of every fucking system that could ever shit itself. Don’t get me started….

Aside from turbo diesels, a few other ridiculous ideas have caught my way; one of which is the furore over old Pakehas receiving an small payment to help them with their winter power bill.

 See where the bulges sit above? European New Zealanders are older and thus far more likely to own their own homes (and, increasingly, the homes of others as property investors). Europeans far outpace all other ethnic groups when it comes to home ownership, being around twice as likely to own their home as Māori, and more again than Pasifika.

It’s fine to suggest that rich people shouldn’t really receive more money. This isn’t what the article is saying. It says; Pakeha New Zealanders are asset rich and live on pensions (which I think is about 20 grand per annum). Apparently these baby boomers should take out reverse mortgages in order to supplement their pensions. This seems wrong to me somehow. Yes, these people are cash-poor. Yes, they struggle to pay the power bill. Yes, they own their own homes. All that would happen is that their children would have less capital passed on to them when they die. Or, not mentioned in the article, that money might get spent on medical treatment and retirement homes….Unless and until someone addresses the complete fucking rort that is the retirement industry in NZ it will remain hard to make an argument that kids are going to inherit much at all. But let’s leave that aside for a moment.

Say those kids DO inherit something. What will they spend this largesse upon? Paying their enormous fucking student loans and outrageous mortgages. They might go to the dentist.

It’s all very well to portray Baby Boomers as living high on the hog but you have to look at a broader range of implications when you talk about making pensioners get reverse mortgages. It’s not just a simple case of taking one thing (reverse mortgages for asset rich/cash poor) and discussing it in terms of one implication (inheritance and intergenerational wealth). There are simply too many other factors in play. This is called ‘modelling’. It’s the kind of thing that dog whistling journos don’t do much of.

They prefer to make arguments on the basis of simpler concepts. Concepts everyone can understand. Like racism. Apparently Pakeha people are all home owners and that’s not fair. No-one else is a home owner! There’s even a nice piccy in the article to show you how baby boomers are all pakeha

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Of course, the more observant amongst you will notice that it is age, rather than ethnicity, that is the variable of interest here. Young people don’t buy houses. And young New Zealanders aren’t Pakeha. Is the cure for racist housing inequality to be older?

So that’s one thing……

 

Is 2018 The Year of the Mandal?

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It’s holidays, and we’re in the midst of the annual migration of well-laundered baby boomer men. They’re at The Beach, enjoying Leisure with their Family.

At a certain age, men wriggle out of the last vestiges of their adult form and return to a pre-pubescent larval stage. They begin to wear children’s velcro sandals.

Initially scientists assumed this was due to the Mandal’s superior level of comfort and versatility, however this theory was quickly disproved. Unlike children’s velcro sandals that roughly follow the child’s footprint, Mandals extend at least three centimetres beyond the toes, providing a large footbed that frequently trips the wearer, compounding the their lack of proprioception due to chronically swollen feet. Congestive heart failure is a tricksy beast.

Initially it was assumed the wearer had simply purchased a sandal that was too large – exhibiting the boomer’s deep and unremitting fear of any level of discomfort, no matter how minor, in everyday life. However, closer inspection reveals that the Mandal is in fact designed to extend out the front of the foot. The sizing is correct.

Perhaps the explanation is cultural; the large, frontal extension resembles the suburban verandah? Or maybe it serves to maximise one’s footprint, a literal expression of the baby boomers moral purpose? Perhaps it is a boomer expression of ethnic identity, referencing a nostalgic time when Australia was cleanly divided into skippies and wogs. Australians of southern European extraction would not be seen dead in velcro fucking sandals.

The only threat to the Mandal is the burgeoning trend of NormCore, where hipsters are busily inverting the inherent ugliness of 90s Boomer-Dad-fashion. If you can’t buy their houses, gently mock their footwear.  Take that!

500 words – morons in the wheelhouse

I’m constantly baffled by why some people continue to be completely driven by ego. It is always to their detriment. Always.

Imagine, for example, if every scientist responded to legitimate criticism of their work with;

‘I’m familiar with all the work in this field. So, you’re wrong. I’m right’.

Oh, right then. Well, you’re probably on the money. Because that’s the kind of attitude that suggests a life-long dedication to learning. No, no, don’t get up, I’ll see myself out. After all, I’ve been around doors my whole life, so I know how they work. Surely this maxim will put me in good stead when I encounter every possible facet of existence on this planet and beyond. Surely.

Most people know they don’t know everything. Smart people have some inkling of exactly what they don’t know. Total fucking grasping idiots assume they know everything and their knowledge is exhaustive.

 

 

Politically, egregiously, disastrously wrong

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Meet Mong Bear.

At the tender age of three, my daughter designed this bear. I’m unsure of how Mong-Bear got her remarkable moniker, but let’s go with the excuse de jour; The Russians made us do it*.

I’m sharing Mong Bear with you all because I was recently asked how to encourage creativity in young children. I don’t think Mong Bear is quite what the nice woman in the hand-shibori skirt had in mind when she asked. And yet, here we are.

Mong Bear is a girl. All my daughter’s teddies are girls, including Bruce, the chain-smoking camel from Tennant Creek. Bruce went through a bit of a rough patch during in the plastic-sheet floods of 2012 but he perked up a bit with a touch of lippy. Bruce, however, is a ‘normal’ teddy – he came from a shop. As you can see, it’s going to take more than a smear of Cinnamon Blush to set Mong Bear to rights.

But here’s the thing; Mong Bear is  actually perfect. Like the squid that swims backwards or Gina Reinhart in a pair of safety goggles (think: shrink-wrapped polyp with windows), Mong Bear is the pinnacle of her species.

I know this because teddies, all teddies, are designed to make little people happy. And, four years on, Mong Bear has delighted, captivated and comforted my daughter in ways that a normal teddy could never do.

Mong Bear’s perfection lies in her design; she was made to the exacting specifications of a three year old. Armed with a pen and huge piece of paper, my kid and I thrashed out the blueprint for the World’s Most Loveable Ted. It went something like this;

Small ears.

Roundy eyes.

A head shaped like this.

No, no, more like this.

A biiiiig tummy.

A long thin body.

Arms, not too long. Shorter. No shorter. NO MUM! Shorter! Yes, short legs too. Very short.

Kids are acute observers of humans. Good teddies must be teddy-ish but also human-ish. That is, wobbly, myopic orange nerds that are at once too thin and too fat and evoke the suspicion that Teddy’s mum got stuck into the mint julep at a critical juncture. Mong Bear is eminently patient and cuddly, but also, clearly, requires thick glasses and endless operations. Perfect.

Mong Bear has provided my daughter with years of love and fun. But she’s also taught me an important lesson: Big People have no business designing teddies. Big People have troubling pre-conceptions about Cute and/or Fluffy and discernible limbs. Indeed, Mong Bear made me realise that, aside from the ones that look like animals, most store-bought teddies resemble Kevin Rudd. They are small eyed and biscuity, with wobbly heads and a penchant for being smarmy in Mandarin.

Three year olds do not design Kevin Rudd. (Maybe they should).

All children should design at least one teddy. They will, of course, need your help.

Now I realise that a lot of adults have trouble being creative in this way. So I’ve devised two simple guidelines;

  1. Your teddy should be completely unique – see above.
  2. the end result should look like it could win a heart-wrenching class action suit against the Federal government at some point in the future.

Now, get stuck in!

 

*Sometimes it’s way dodgier to explain why the name that sounds ‘good’ isn’t actually good at all, than to just cough loudly and say ‘Oh, yes she’s named after our daughter’s favourite bean sprout’.

Again

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No no, don’t get up.

It’s hovering around 40c again. I’ve got something to say about America, but I can’t make it come out, so this more of a stream of consciousness. If only it was enough to keep my zucchinis alive. But they’re foreign too, so it’s curtains for them!

What? She’s gone mad. It’s the heat.

I’m reading Paul Theroux, specifically, the Patagonian Express. Published in 1979 it’s a bloody interesting insight into the American expansionism of the era. Take, for instance, Theroux’s visit to Panama. The Panama canal zone, in case you didn’t know, was more or less a US colony. The deal was; we Americans will run the canal, the ex-Columbians and Panamanians can just kind of hang out and NOT BE COMMUNISTS.

But you see in the face of rapacious extraction and the looming control of international predatory lenders, South Americans in general started to get the feeling that they were being generally destabilised in order for the US to continue its interests. They also had quaint ideas about running their own countries. Sovereignty means not everyone gets a crack at doing a shit job.

What’s particularly interesting is that Theroux gives an everyday account of Panama, including discussions about Panama’s leader, Omar Torrijos. He wasn’t a communist, he was more like what we would today recognise as a centrist – he believed in social welfare and education. Most importantly, however, he represented the majority of people in Panama, instead of the small cabal of American interests.

Theroux left Panama, and I wondered how the transition panned out. So I looked it up. Torrijos died in a plane crash. And Noriega took over. You see I remember Noriega (child of the 80s) but not Torrijos. So that was interesting to me.

Now, coming back to 2017….because I live in a left wing bubble, I’m perpetually surrounded by earnest social media posts that sound something like this;

I’m compelled to speak up with love and respect about the harms that this blah blah has done and this is not the America I know and love, the place that welcomes everyone and we love everyone and this is a time for strength not division etc., etc.,

It’s worth remembering that this isn’t the America that many non-Americans know. They know a posturing, illiberal super-power, one that is admired and feared, exploited for its economy and reviled for the interventionism that feeds it. In short, there are a lot of people in the world who have a mixed view of the US. It’s not the one that pops up underneath an artfully composed flat-lay on instagram.

Theroux talked frankly about Americans lack of awareness of their place in the world and the shenanigans carried out by their government. I think this is perhaps more true now than it was in 1979. The political sphere seems entirely domestic. Americans are protesting about American women’s rights, American muslim’s rights, American LGBT rights, African American rights, American workers rights. And well they should. I’m just surprised at the domestic focus I suppose…

Maybe I’m must engaging in that thing where I claim to be more righteous than everyone else, because I’ve got some interest in global history. But I don’t think this is it. I think politics is a cultural thing, and I generally think most people want to do what they think is the right thing to do. It’s the juxtaposition between the ‘soft’ domestic politics and the ‘hard’ bundling people into diplomatic bags politics that intrigues me.

See, I told you this wouldn’t make a lot of sense. See what you can do in 40 degree heat.

 

Opportunity Knocks

 Prominent ears and moustaches

A selection of headlines and bylines from the NZ mainstream media, regarding Gareth Morgan’s new political group, The Opportunities Party (with some artistic licence provided for clarity)….

Morgan Compares Self to Trump! (stuff.co.nz)

When asked who he most resembled, Donald Trump, Ghengis Kahn or that sidekick chicky from Zena with the fringe, Morgan compared himself to Trump, saying he was not really like him.

Gareth Morgan; good for ‘local colour’ (nzherald.co.nz)

John Key’s opinion of Morgan, who has consistently provided informed criticism of his National Government, is that he’s cashed up and good for a laugh. Don’t pay any attention to him.

Gareth Morgan Only Relevant to Cats! (thespinoff)

A searching treatise on Gareth Morgan’s new political party, completely comprised of cat-puns! It’s hilarious! Forget Morgan’s long-time, studied engagement in some of the most pressing issues of economic management and social justice, THE MAN DOESN’T LIKE CATS! Stand-by for Morgan’s position on leaf-blowers and microwaving vegetables with the Glad Wrap still on.

Morgan Too Arrogant For Parliament* (stuff.co.nz)

Gareth Morgan thinks he is Socrates. And he thinks he’s so clever he can solve all New Zealand’s problems single-handedly. He thinks politicians won’t solve New Zealand’s problems because they don’t want to ‘disturb the voters’.  Also, his son is rich, not him. Also, he’ll never make it. Also, he’s not very good at political spin, which, as a journalist dealing in political spin, clearly makes him an idiot.

*yes, really!

Sure, it’s easy to pass off all this negativity as normal New Zealand treatment of anyone who has,

A) given some thought to something,

and,

B) decided to do put some skin in the game.

Belting the shit out of their own is what kiwis do best.

However, I think there’s more to it than that. Anyone who is subject to such an immediate (clumsy and feeble) attempt at marginalisation by the media is obviously a very real threat to the status quo.

I know bugger all about Morgan (except his economic thinking, of which I know almost bugger all) but his appeal is evident from space. Morgan appears to be continuing an informed, intellectual interest in some pretty important social issues that the government keeps telling New Zealanders they don’t really care about.

Watch this space.