Rebalancing the news

I’d have been happier if the AFR had been pouring out on its front page how hopeless the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd Government had been if they had done it at the time. The front page headline across the page yesterday, under a picture of the four top members of the new Government, read as follows:

Poll confidence rebound stalls

Then above the headline it says, “RBA worried about business investment”.

Does the AFR not know that all this is Labor’s handiwork? That what you see is what they did? That trying to fix this mess is the work of years and will require patient persistence. These are page 10 stories. It is not about “the Coalition’s post-election economic honeymoon is already fading” which is the opening phrase of the article.

What they did not do is place these words at the front which are instead found in para 5:

Reserve Bank of Australia deputy governor Phillip Lowe reassured Australians that all the ingredients are in place for a broad economic rebound.

Might have changed the sense of where things are going, specially since consumer sentiment is the worst of all economic indicators. It’s not a Labor government however so all the news but perhaps a different balance. But what got me was why the deputy governor thought things were about to improve:

Record low interest rates and a weaker dollar meant that Australia was well placed to weather the end of the resources investment boom, he said.

What can I say. Record low interest rates will slow recovery not speed it up but in the low state in which economics has fallen, how is anyone to know.

The Obama legacy

Nothing like self interest to wake people up. Many a disaster in the Obama maladministration but they are either remote in place or in time. Debt levels and the deficit, Benghazi and the all round mishandling of foreign relations in the Middle East, the NSA, the IRS. All water off a duck’s back for the Obama constituency. But with the Affordable Care Act, now that’s getting close to the bone. Now people are paying attention and they will pay more attention as time goes by and their access to medical care disintegrates. From Drudge.

More states warn against Obamacare fraud…
SICK: Seniors lose their doctors…
‘Glitches’ hit paper, phone applications too…
Zero enrollments in Oregon…
Premiums double in Wisconsin…
School District Hit with $6M in New Costs…
10 Senate Dems demand delay…
PROPOSED LAW: ‘If You Like Your Health Plan, You Can Keep It Act’…

So far as the Obama legacy goes, this is it and it is a perfect fit.

Evolution by natural selection is just incredible

Just look what they’ve turned up now: “Biology is capable of evolving functional mechanical gears“.

Through a combination of anatomical analysis and high-speed video capture of normal Issus movements, scientists from the University of Cambridge have been able to reveal these functioning natural gears for the first time. The findings are reported in the latest issue of the journal Science [abstract].

The gears in the Issus hind-leg bear remarkable engineering resemblance to those found on every bicycle and inside every car gear-box. Each gear tooth has a rounded corner at the point it connects to the gear strip; a feature identical to man-made gears such as bike gears – essentially a shock-absorbing mechanism to stop teeth from shearing off.

The gear teeth on the opposing hind-legs lock together like those in a car gear-box, ensuring almost complete synchronicity in leg movement – the legs always move within 30 microseconds of each other.

Amazing. It’s almost as if someone had designed it. I also saw this the other day which was even more startling:

A paper by a dozen German biologists, while discussing new findings about an ammonium ion transporter, includes descriptions of the many actions that occur when the Venus flytrap snaps shut on an insect.

The traps open wide to the environment, exposing trigger hairs and attractive red leaves.

Electrical action potentials are established for the trigger hairs on the inner leaf surface.

The digestive glands remain quiescent till activated. Abscisic acid regulates their sensitivity, but is balanced by 12-oxo-phytodienoic acid (OPDA), which makes them more sensitive to touch.

A trigger hair on the inner leaf is touched. If only one is touched, nothing happens.

A second touch after a short delay, or touch of a second trigger hair, begins a cascade of events.

Anion channels open. The action potential collapses, activating the motor center.

Vascoelastic energy snaps the trap shut in a fraction of a second.

If the triggering substance was not an animal, the trap re-opens after a short period.

Escape movements by the trapped animal triggers synthesis of a touch hormone, and acidifies the trap.

The trap edge hairs wrap more tightly around the edges, preventing escape.

The trap seals hermetically around the prey like a “green stomach,” exposing it to densely packed glands and chlorine ions.

OPDA stimulates production of jasmonic acid, which triggers the glands to secrete an acidic cocktail with more than 20 ingredients, including chitinases to dissolve the saccharides of the exoskeleton, proteases to dissolve the proteins, nucleases to dissolve the nucleic acids, lipases to dissolve the fats, and phosphatases to isolate the phosphates. These only digest the prey, not the leaf. The proteins are hydrolyzed into their constituent amino acids.

The amino acid glutamine is deaminated into ammonium, NH4+.

Genes to make an ammonium transporter are activated, depending on the action of touch hormones and elicitors, so as to adapt to varying, prey-derived ammonium sources.

The cell membrane becomes depolarized, ready to accept ammonium, even though it is not activated by pH. Only activation of the genes prepares the transporter for ammonium transport.

The ammonium transporter increases uptake of NH4+ from the prey into the plant cells, satisfying the need for nitrogen in the nutrient-poor soils of the plant’s habitat. It is described as “a voltage-dependent high-affinity NH4+ transporter optimised for NH4+ uptake at the membrane potential of gland cells.” Counteracting the acidification of the trap, the transporter can “serve to counter the depolarising effects of electrogenic NH4+ uptake and help to maintain intracellular pH homeostasis.”

“At the same time, progressive acidification of the trap digestive fluid will allow optimal digestion of a wide range of protein and other substrates.” If the pH drops below 3, additional digestive enzymes are synthesized to benefit from the additional NH4+ provided by the insect’s haemolymph.

Upon successful completion of the digestive cycle, the trap re-opens, and action potentials are set up for the next capture.

The world is a mystery but some possibilities are more possible than others, much more possible.

The scandals just keep on coming

The top story at Drudge:

NSA monitored calls of 35 world leaders after US official handed over contacts

• Agency given more than 200 numbers by government official
• NSA encourages departments to share their ‘Rolodexes’
• Surveillance produced ‘little intelligence’, memo acknowledges

I wonder if it’s the top story at The New York Times.

It will, of course, be disappointing for Kevin if he’s not amongst the 35.

UPDATE: And now the top story at Drudge: Germany, Brazil Turn to UN to Restrain American Spies:

Brazil and Germany today joined forces to press for the adoption of a U.N. General Resolution that promotes the right of privacy on the internet, marking the first major international effort to restrain the National Security Agency’s intrusions into the online communications of foreigners, according to diplomatic sources familiar with the push.

It was all well and good when we were on the same side, but now is different.

Obama and the Middle East

If you’ve been reading every email and listening to every mobile conversation of every journalist in the United States you are sure to have a very docile press corps. And a very docile press corps it is indeed. Take the latest news about foreign policy and the Saudis which is an exceptionally quiet story for an event this momentous. But we do have some analysis for what it’s worth. Like this:

What should worry the Obama administration is that Saudi concern about U.S. policy in the Middle East is shared by the four other traditional U.S. allies in the region: Egypt, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and Israel. They argue (mostly privately) that Obama has shredded U.S. influence by dumping President Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, backing the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi, opposing the coup that toppled Morsi, vacillating in its Syria policy, and now embarking on negotiations with Iran — all without consulting close Arab allies. . . .

The problem was clear in the fall of 2011, when I was told by Saudi officials in Riyadh that they increasingly regarded the U.S. as unreliable and would look elsewhere for their security. Obama’s reaction to these reports was to be peeved that the Saudis didn’t recognize all that the U.S. was doing to help their security, behind the scenes. The president was right on the facts but wrong on the atmospherics. [My bolding]

Obama was “peeved” was he? Not appreciated enough, was he? And as far as “the facts” go, the first of the paras quoted ought to be facts enough for anyone, so which are the “facts” that the President was so right on? It’s nothing to do with “atmospherics” and everything to do with national security. On present form you would be crazy to trust Obama and the US unless you were some radical fringe group out to destabilise your community. That the journalist sides with Obama is just par for the course. Which brings me to the second foreign policy story of the day.

Someone at the State Department was fired this week who had apparently been secretly tweeting national security information under a false name. In his tweets a top Obama official had been specifically named as having released top secret information to the world at large. From the story:

Jofi Joseph, the National Security Council official fired last week for Tweeting secretly under the moniker @natsecwonk, had publicly, albeit anonymously, accused a senior White House official of leaking classified information related to United States intelligence operations against Iran.

Joseph, who was outed in a report Tuesday in The Daily Beast, criticized and insulted dozens of Obama administration officials, lawmakers, Capitol Hill staffers, and journalists during his two-year stint on social media. But his number-one target was Deputy National Security Advisor for Communications Ben Rhodes, a senior official close to President Obama. Rhodes worked for the same department as Joseph, albeit at a much higher level.

In the summer of 2012, Joseph issued multiple tweets under his @natsecwonk account suggesting that Rhodes was the source of classified information leaked to the press about the Stuxnet virus, a joint U.S.-Israeli cyber warfare effort to sabotage Iran’s nuclear centrifuge program. Joseph, as an official in the non-proliferation bureau of the State Department and later inside the White House, was part of the administration’s team working on the Iranian nuclear issue.

Well, of course the whistleblower has lost his job and Rhodes, like Alger Hiss before him, has been exonerated at the highest levels. But someone has been leaking the Stuxnet information and if not him then someone. That the Saudis, Israelis, Jordanians and the Emirates show a lack of trust in Obama has hardly come from nowhere. Everybody is looking for new partners because relying on the US may no longer be part of anyone’s long game going forward. Which brings me to this, Quietly, Israel and the Gulf States Draw Closer Together:

A clear distinction is made by the Saudis between the world of ideology/media/culture and the realm of raison d’etat. Hence, there is no reason to think they would not be able to publicly vilify Israel, while maintaining off the radar links with it against more immediate enemies.

In this regard, it is worth remembering the Wikileaks revelation of remarks made in private by Saudi King Abdullah to American General David Petraeus in April, 2008, in which he recommended military action against the Iranian nuclear program. The king referred to Iran as the “head of the snake,” which should be cut off. No similarly venomous remarks on Israel were quoted from the conversation, which took place far from the public eye.

Of course the common interests only go so far. Saudi Arabia supports Salafi Islamist forces in both Syria and Egypt. Saudi money finds its way to Salafi elements among the Palestinians. But the areas of commonality are on issues of cardinal importance to both countries.

The de facto, unseen alliance between Israel, Saudi Arabia and the GCC countries is one of the most intriguing structures currently emerging amid the whirling chaos of the Middle East.

Chaos, all right, direct to you from the same people who brought Obamacare to the health care system in the US.

A few scattered thoughts and questions

On Wednesday this week there was a small article on the editorial page of the AFR under the heading, “Sell Assets and Spend up Big”.

I wouldn’t normally have paid much attention to it except that it’s by Tony Shepherd who is about to head up the Commission of Audit. The headline is not a bad summary of the contents so let me do a bit of a review.

Governments and business and community leaders are increasingly united in recognising the merits of selling publicly owned assets to unlock funding for badly needed new infrastructure.

Here’s the problem which I will start with a question. How does the sale of assets translate into an addition to our resource base to allow us to undertake these projects? Looking separately at the financial side and the real resources side allows plenty of room for conceptual misjudgment. Sell up Medibank and Medibank is still there and operating. What resources have now been freed up? The Government now has more money to spend but has this sale increased the real level of national savings? I don’t see it but am willing to be convinced. But what must be done is to demonstrate that wherever these resources come from they are not crowding out other even more urgently needed and value adding investments. Selling assets won’t ensure that in any way.

Contributing to a rethinking of privatisation is the opportunity to draw on superannuation funds as an alternative source of infrastructure investment.

Those superannuation funds are not presently idle. They are not just sitting around doing nothing. They are invested somewhere, in whatever places the various trustees see as the place where the highest returns can be found. What will be different now? How will these funds become available to governments? What will happen to the projects that are currently being funded by superannuation? There is nothing new here, and if the government is in any way intending to divert these funds using some kind of guarantee or what will appear to provide a more certain monetary return, we are going to see our resources being used less efficiently and our growth rates diminish. Infrastructure is not a magic word that guarantees the money will provide a positive return or the resources used productively. See the NBN for a reality check.

The private sector can shoulder the lion’s share but governments will continue to have a substantial funding role when it comes to non-commercial or social projects.

There’s no doubt about that. No business will go anywhere near this kind of thing. The one certain province for governments is to invest in loss making projects. They do it all the time whether they intend it or not. But if it is loss making then it is slowing the economy and lowering our living standards. There may be equity and other considerations but do not confuse any of these with economic growth. This is four percent of GDP we are talking about, $760 billion on their own reckoning. Bad news to start wasting so much on government projects with no positive return.

We should be seeing a virtuous circle where governments funds get good projects started and, once the asset is mature, it is then sold.

Whatever this is, virtuous is not the word I would use. Governments have NO ability at picking value adding projects, none whatsoever. Before you start on something new, give us the list of previous projects, over the past fifty years let us say, where government money has built some kind of value adding profitable investment. There is no history this side of the Snowy River which may well have been done by the private sector had it been given the opportunity. Governments should never be allowed to choose projects and where they do they should start by admitting that the project will never be profitable but is being done for some other reason. Governments should stick to national defence and road building. Maybe schools and hospitals, maybe. But for the rest, they should leave alone. They have no history of getting it right and there is no reason to think this will change and every reason to think they will get it wrong.

Governments should be encouraging more private investment in green field projects by properly dealing with the problem of early market risk. There are ways to use the government balance sheet to do this.

Danger, danger, danger! The way to deal with early market risk is to leave it to the market. It is the only way. Every business would love to have its risks covered by some kind of government bail-out guarantee. That is the certain way to end up with sub-optimal projects, misdirected investment, slower growth and lower living standards.

But in the end, this is only one man’s view although it is the particular man who will be chairing the Commission of Audit. Hopefully by the time he has come to the end of this process and released his report he will see things in a completely different way.

How does one make a complaint to ACMA?

There is a story at Andrew Bolt On the Campaign to Silence Alan Jones which is about how this body, ACMA, had censured Jones for some things he had said on air. This is from the story:

The regulator was critical of Jones’ use of exaggerated and emotive terms, such as ‘white elephant’ and ‘disaster’. ‘His delivery was emotional, the language judgemental and hyperbolic, and the statements lacking in specificity,’ ACMA said. All in all, Jones was deemed to be expressing his opinion, not fact.

Is it actually illegal to express opinion and not fact in the media? Is it wrongful conduct to use emotive terms and exaggeration? Is one not allowed to be judgmental? Well every time I head over to the ABC it seems to me that I am witness to all kinds of illegality and hadn’t even known it.

So I thought I would check out how to make a complaint myself. I don’t watch much TV but I do occasionally catch a moment or two of the 7:30 Report or Lateline and have spent a painful fifteen minutes with Q&A on occasion. But if Alan Jones can be the subject of a complaint so can all of these.

But how does one do it? And what exactly can one complain about? I went to the Making a Complaint page on the ACMA website but I must confess being no farther ahead. The people who set this page up must have taken jobs with Obama in the US because try as I might, I could not find out what exactly I am allowed to complain about.

Someone’s reading my emails

I am doing a presentation on Tuesday next week and wrote the following note to the coordinator of the seminar:

This is the paper I will speak to which is an update on my previously published paper. I cannot believe how much things have evolved from then. I will also do a set of overheads which will help me keep track of where I am and might even be of use to those who come to listen.

Attached to it was my paper named nowhere other than in the paper itself:

The Use of Multiple Choice Questions with Explanations for Economic Assessment

This was the same title for a paper I had written in 2008 and put up on an academic website along with an abstract. But for the past five years the paper had simply been a paper that could be accessed but no one had. And then, a few hours after sending my note off to the coordinator of the seminar I received the following email:

Hi Professor Kates,

Hope you are doing well.

I would like to introduce myself as [redacted], one of the fastest growing research acceleration firm. We have been working with academicians from 35 of the top 100 universities across the globe including researchers from Harvard, Wharton, Stanford, MIT, NUS, and INSEAD.

We help researchers with Data Harvesting, Analytics, Visualization and Technology Implementation. As an organization, our primary focus is to increase research productivity, reduce research costs, and enable researchers focus on the most important facets of their research. You can read more about us here .

As we read through the abstract of research paper on The Use of Multiple Choice Questions with Explanations for Economic Assessment, we thought it would be a good idea to set up some time for a short call and explore how we can help you accelerate your research. Let me know a good time and we can schedule a call accordingly. I look foward to hearing from you.


I do not believe in coincidences, specially not one in a million shots like this would have been. This was, moreover, not just someone who had read my email but had been able to open my attachment, read its title and presumably anything else they chose to read, and then send me a follow up email, all on the same day.

It’s not just the NSA and it’s not just our foreign enemies. My google account information is not just being shared but my attachments can be opened by total strangers. And the more I think about it, the more it burns me up.

UPDATE: I have just noticed that there was the following next to the email address of the sender which suggests some suspicion by gmail about the way this note was generated:


Clicking on “via” led to this:

Why am I seeing extra information next to the sender’s name?

Gmail believes that by adding more information about the origin of a message, you can be better informed about who sent the message and can avoid confusion. For example, if someone fakes a message from a sender that you trust, like your bank, you can use this information to see that the message is not really from your trusted sender. The information that we use to display this information is included in the message headers but these headers can be hard to understand. Gmail analyzes this information and displays it in a simple to read format.

Why am I seeing an email address next to the sender’s name?

If the sender’s full email address is displayed, then Gmail thinks that you have not communicated with this sender in the past. If the email address is quite long, we’ll show you a shortened version.

Once Gmail concludes that you communicate with this sender (for example, if you reply to emails from this sender, or if you add this sender to your address book) we’ll stop displaying their address next to their name.

Why am I seeing “via” followed by a domain name next to the sender’s name?

Gmail detected that the email was sent via another mail service. This means that the sender may be using a third-party email service to generate this message. For example, the message may have been sent through a social networking site which offers an email service or sent through a mailing list that you’re subscribed to.

Gmail displays this information because many of the services that send emails on behalf of others don’t verify that the name that the sender gives matches that email address. We want to protect you against misleading messages from people pretending to be someone you know.

How can I remove the extra information next to the sender’s name?

Once Gmail concludes that you communicate with this sender (for example, if you replied to emails from this sender, or if you add this sender to your address book) we’ll stop displaying the full email address.

However, if the sender sends the email through a third-party service or a mailing list we may continue to show ‘via’ followed by the service that sent the message.

I’m a sender and I don’t want my recipients to see the “via” link. What can I do?

Gmail checks whether emails are correctly authenticated. If your messages are sent by a bulk mailing vendor or by third-party affiliates, please publish an SPF record that includes the IPs of the vendor or affiliates which send your messages and sign your messages with a DKIM signature that is associated with your domain.

If he’s not a delusional fantasist then how do you explain it?

Obama is a sink hole of incompetence. Disaster follows him at every step and it is impossible to know whether this is by accident or by design. There is this minor story today, or at least it looks minor by the way it is placed on the page at Drudge, that the Saudis may be about to break diplomatic relations with the US. Now that is some level of incompetence! And given the low, low bow Obama gave to the Saudi king, suggests he just screwed up. It is not what he wanted. But do you think his constituency cares. I don’t even think they notice.

Anyway from Instapundit there are three related stories on the Obama approach. Not just tuned out but positively mentally ill. It’s more than just disengaged and aloof. He doesn’t want to know any of the bad stuff. Perfection will not accept that it has flaws. Each of these stories reinforces the others, but they are from obscure websites and never from the mainstream media where Obama remains a god. But this is the Obama that is readily seen if one actually looks.

OBAMACARE AND THE Absentee Presidency. “He and his close-knit advisers insist on a bad-news-ban around the Oval Office. Obama operates in a world without critical information — and that is his defense to two debacles. Critics understate the reluctance and inability of this president to lead and to govern. . . . This is a president who set up a system in which he imagines he is relieved of responsibility.”

Related: “He often appeared impatient or disengaged while listening to the debate, sometimes scrolling through messages on his BlackBerry or slouching and chewing gum.” Plus: “If the story were about a conservative GOP President, one suspects the Times editors would have used stronger language and done much more to bang readers over the head with the clear inference that the man in the Oval Office engineered what the story calls a worst case scenario in Syria (maximum bloodbath, maximum danger of al-Qaeda gains, maximum chance of ugly Assad survival, maximum chance of Iranian victory, maximum danger for Jordan, maximum damage to prestige, interests and alliances of the United States) through a mix of empty and unrestrained rhetoric, awkward flip flops and half measures.”

UPDATE: Obama Disassociates From Reality. “The president spoke about ObamaCare as if it were a work of art, one or two brushstrokes away from being a masterpiece. Which created the impression that the president is living in a make believe world. . . . Mr. Obama, who at this point in his presidency has developed certain stale and unhealthy rhetorical habits, mocked Republicans and said it’s time for them to ‘stop rooting for [ObamaCare’s] failures.’ But the problem the president faces isn’t Republicans rooting for its failures; it’s that the program is collapsing on its own. The GOP had nothing to do with its development. The president desperately wishes he could share the blame for what has gone wrong. Except that every Republican in Congress opposed the Affordable Care Act. This is Barack Obama’s signature achievement; he and his party are joined at the hip to it. They are as inseparable as salt and water in the ocean.”

What do they all have in common?

What’s the matter with these people? This is the new socialist America. The old America, the pre-Obama America, the America built on the free market and competition, that’s the old America. Here’s the way things are now. Poor people are as likely to get sick as rich people. People without jobs are as likely to get sick as people with jobs. Illegal migrants are as likely to get sick as citizens and legal migrants. So the rich, the working and the citizens should be made to pay for the health care of their opposites. And if the rich, the working, the locals and the legal must experience a downwards trajectory in their own level of healthcare to support the others, well that’s just how it has to be. And if the system doesn’t work, if health care deteriorates and it becomes impossible to see a doctor, well so what. Obama never promised you competence, honesty, sound policy and a better life. He promised you only equality, and that my friends, is exactly what you are going to get. Except for those well connected elites who will rise even higher on the backs of an increasingly desperate middle class.