“The clear problem of the outlawing of insult is that too many things can be interpreted as such. Criticism, ridicule, sarcasm, merely stating an alternative point of view to the orthodoxy, can be interpreted as insult.” – Rowan Atkinson.
Monthly Archives: August 2017
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has decided, in the wake of the Charlottesville melee, that it will no longer defend protestors who carry weapons. I don’t have any argument with that one, for although open or concealed carry may be legal according to the courts, it’s not a First Amendment right and thus can take lower priority over the many cases where freedom of expression is being suppressed. What did worry me were intimations in the press that the ACLU was rethinking its policy of defending speech in a “neutral” manner; that is, defending speech of all sorts from across the political spectrum, and that includes “hate speech”, such as that promulgated by white supremacists. In other words, there were rumors that the ACLU would ratchet back in defending those promulgating “offensive” speech.
Well, those of us with that worry can rest easy, for the ACLU is not changing…
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The censorship is metastasizing: first statues, now movies. The movie we’re discussing is “Gone With the Wind”, the 1939 classic starring Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh, with Oliva de Havilland and Leslie Howard, as well as the slave characters Hattie McDaniel as Mammy and Butterfly McQueen as Prissy. Well, the showing of that movie has just been canceled as part of Memphis, Tennesee’s Orpheum Theater movie festival. The cause was obvious: complaints by people that it was racist. As the New York Timesreports:
A Memphis movie theater’s announcement that it will discontinue its annual screening of “Gone With the Wind” over concerns that the film is insensitive has prompted a heated discussion online.
The Orpheum theater has shown that 1939 film each of the past 34 years, as part of its classics series. It won 10 Oscars, including one for Hattie McDaniel as best supporting actress for her portrayal…
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“I have no religion, and at times I wish all religions at the bottom of the sea. He is a weak ruler who needs religion to uphold his government; it is as if he would catch his people in a trap. My people are going to learn the principles of democracy, the dictates of truth and the teachings of science. Superstition must go. Let them worship as they will; every man can follow his own conscience, provided it does not interfere with sane reason or bid him against the liberty of his fellow-men.” —Kemal Atatürk
President Recep Erdoğan’s dismantling of Turkey’s secularism continues, and this time it’s personal.
Several sources, including Turkish Minute and SolInternational report that the Turkish Education Ministry has removed a chapter on evolution from a 12th-grade textbook. The earlier chapter was called “The beginning of life and evolution,” but, beginning with the 2017/2018 school year, it’s been replaced…
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After Turkey just removed evolution from the secondary-school science curriculum, we get a report (as of yet unconfirmed) that the same is happening in Iraq. On his website Primate’s Progress, Paul Braterman gives a link to a rather scattered page on The Medium in which Abdulrahman Al Makhzomy reports that Iraq is dropping evolution from its high-school curriculum. Al Makhzomy gives an August 16 photo of the sixth-grade biology text (apparently in Arabic) and notes that evolution is now missing, and it used to be there. (Translations welcome.)
Well, I don’t understand Arabic, and I’ll take Al Makhzhomy’s word for it, as he links to a Facebook page which is said to confirm his report.
Islamic countries have proven resistant to teaching evolution since the Qur’an explicitly gives a creation story in which humans are initially created from dirt, and the Qur’an is read literally far more often than is…
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This may not be the ‘biggest flu season on record’, but it is a big one – here are some possible reasons
This year, the number of laboratory-confirmed influenza (flu) virus infections began rising earlier than usual and hit historic highs in some Australian states. If you have been part of any gathering this winter, this is probably not news.
States in the south-east (central and southern Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania and South Australia) are more inflamed by flu than those in the north and west. For example, Queensland has seen more hospital admissions than in the last five years, mostly among an older population, while younger demographics more often test positive without needing hospitalisation.
Meanwhile, flu numbers in New Zealand and elsewhere in the Pacific have not matched the same elevated levels. But is Australia really experiencing the biggest flu season on record in 2017, or are we just testing more and using better tools?
This is hard to answer for certain because the information we need is not usually reported until later and public databases only show the past five years. We can say for sure that 2017 is on track to be a historically big flu year.
Really, a big flu season
Flu can be a nasty illness. Sometimes it’s deadly. Other times it can be mild. But even for cases that fall in the middle you may not be able to work for days, or you’ll have to look after ill children home from school, or visit the very sick who have been hospitalised.
Years ago, detection of influenza viruses mostly relied on slow, finicky methods such as testing for virus in artificial cell cultures. But, in Australia today, most laboratories use either sensitive tools to detect viral gene sequences in samples from the patient’s airway, or less sensitive but rapid dipstick methods, where a special strip is placed in a sample to detect viral proteins.
These tools have been in use since 2007 in the larger Australian laboratories, so it’s unlikely we are just seeing more positives in 2017. While newer versions of these tests are being rolled out this year, they are unlikely to detect more cases. Equally, it’s unlikely more people with suspected flu decided to change their behaviour in 2017 and get tested, compared to 2016, or the year before.
As in all years, there are many people in the community with flu who don’t get tested. The proportion of people with flu who are tested likely remains roughly the same year to year.
State-wide flu reports provide reliable, laboratory-confirmed results. By looking at them, we can also be confident that “man flu” and severe common colds aren’t contributing to this specific and large increase in flu. We’re very likely seeing a truly huge flu season.
Why so bad this year?
Flu, caused by infection with an influenza virus, is mostly a disease with an epidemic peak during July and August in non-tropical countries. Flu viruses are broadly grouped into two types: Influenza-A and Influenza-B. Influenza-B viruses have two main sub-types while the Influenza-A viruses are more variable.
The Influenza-As you get each year are usually A/H3N2 (the main player so far this season) or A/H1N1, which lingers on from its 2009 “swine flu” pandemic. Multiple flu viruses circulate each year and serial infections with different strains in the same person in a single season are possible.
H3N2 has played a big role in the past five flu seasons. When it clearly dominates we tend to have bigger flu seasons and see cases affecting the elderly more than the young.
H3N2 is a more changeable beast than the other flu viruses. New variants can even emerge within a season, possibly replacing older variants as the season progresses. This may be happening this winter, driving the bigger-than-normal season, but we won’t know for certain until many more viruses are analysed.
Outside winter, flu viruses still spread among us. This year, in particular, we’re being encouraged to get vaccinated even during the peak of flu season. Vaccines are a safe way to decrease the risk that we or loved ones will get a full-blown case of the flu.
The flu vaccine
Each season new flu vaccines are designed based on detailed characterisation of the flu viruses circulating in the previous season. But the viruses that end up dominating the next season may change in the meantime.
It is not clear whether that was a factor for this year’s high numbers in Australia this year or precisely what the vaccine uptake has been in 2017. Much of this detail will not be reported until after the epidemic ends. Some testing suggests this year’s vaccine is well matched to the circulating viruses.
Future flu vaccines promise to account for the ever-changing nature of flu virus, reducing the current need for yearly vaccination. Until they are available, though, it remains really important to book an appointment with your vaccine provider and get a quick, safe vaccination, because we are unarguably in the midst of the biggest flu season Australia has seen in years.
We have both vaccines and drugs to help us prevent and minimise disease and the extra load on hospitals caused by flu. The young, elderly, those with underlying disease and Indigenous Australian people are most at risk of the worst outcomes and this is reflected by government-funded vaccination for these groups.
Reader Phil sent me this recently-posted 20 minute video which proves through SCIENCE that pop music has gone downhill since the Sixties, a thesis I raised yesterday. (I have to say that many responses were uncivil, and some positively nasty: one calling me a “retard” because I didn’t like a particular song. I’m not sure why the incivility is increasing here: it may either reflect a general increase in irritability of people on the Left, or may simply be that, with a larger number of subscribers, a fixed percentage of uncivil people will manifest as an increasing absolute number of nasty comments. If you haven’t commented here before, read “Da Roolz” first!).
But I digress. The topic is the video below is by “Thoughty2” (the “2” is an exponent), which asks the provocative question, “How did we go from Bob Dylan to Britney Spears, from Led Zeppelin…
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Here’s comedian Tom Walker, in his role as newsman Jonathan Pie, ranting about Milo Yiannopoulos’s speech and the Berkeley protests, claiming (correctly) that the Berkeley violence “hands the moral high ground to Trump.” This is serious satire, not just pure comedy.
Pie’s only error: blaming UC Berkeley on the protests and justifying Trump’s threat to rescind federal money to the University. In fact, the University did everything it could to keep the peace, including hiring extra police and publishing a letter from the Chancellor defending the free speech but calling for protest to be peaceful. It’s time to stop blaming Berkeley for the violence—unless, that is, you think that (like some of the professors), they should have rescinded Milo’s invitation to speak from the Berkeley College Republicans.
It’s amusing—though sad—to see Leftist after Leftist confect arguments why free speech isn’t what it’s cracked up to be. Isn’t the Left supposed to defend freedom of speech? Sadly, much of that side seems to have abandoned the principle—mainly because they want to suppress what they call “hate speech.” That of course is a dangerous argument, for one person’s “hate speech” (say, criticism of abortion, affirmative action, or Islam) is another person’s free speech—and who is to be the arbiter of which is which?
Nevertheless, the Left persists in its attacks, and now we have a new argument by Mike Sturm at Coffeelicious (reprinted at Medium.com, a venue almost as Regressive Leftist as Puffho). Here’s the title; click on the screenshot to go to the piece—an argument that free speech is overrated:
I’ll let Sturm give the argument himself (indented):
So here I am asking two questions:
- What value do we…
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The ancient Babylonians – who lived from about 4,000BCE in what is now Iraq – had a long forgotten understanding of right-angled triangles that was much simpler and more accurate than the conventional trigonometry we are taught in schools.
Our new research, published in Historia Mathematica, shows that the Babylonians were able to construct a trigonometric table using only the exact ratios of sides of a right-angled triangle. This is a completely different form of trigonometry that does not need the familiar modern concept of angles.
At school we are told that the shape of a right-angled triangle depends upon the other two angles. The angle is related to the circumference of a circle, which is divided into 360 parts or degrees. This angle is then used to describe the ratios of the sides of the right-angled triangle through sin, cos and tan.
But circles and right-angled triangles are very different, and the price of having simple values for the angle is borne by the ratios, which are very complicated and must be approximated.
This approach can be traced back to the Greek astronomer and mathematician Hipparchus of Nicaea (who died after 127 BCE). He is said to be the father of trigonometry because he used his table of chords to calculate orbits of the Moon and Sun.
But our new research shows this was not the first, or only, or best approach to trigonometry.
The Babylonians discovered their own unique form of trigonometry during the Old Babylonian period (1900-1600BCE), more than 1,500 years earlier than the Greek form.
Remarkably, their trigonometry contains none of the hallmarks of our modern trigonometry – it does not use angles and it does not use approximation.
The Babylonians had a completely different conceptualisation of a right triangle. They saw it as half of a rectangle, and due to their sophisticated sexagesimal (base 60) number system they were able to construct a wide variety of right triangles using only exact ratios.
The sexagesimal system is better suited for exact calculation. For example, if you divide one hour by three then you get exactly 20 minutes. But if you divide one dollar by three then you get 33 cents, with 1 cent left over. The fundamental difference is the convention to treat hours and dollars in different number systems: time is sexagesimal and dollars are decimal.
The Babylonians knew that their sexagesmial number system allowed for many more exact divisions. For a more sophisticated example, 1 hour divided by 48 is 1 minute and 15 seconds.
This precise arithmetic of the Babylonians also influenced their geometry, which they preferred to be exact. They were able to generate a wide variety of right-angled triangles within exact ratios b/l and d/l, where b, l and d are the short side, long side and diagonal of a rectangle.
The ratio b/l was particularly important to the ancient Babylonians and Egyptians because they used this ratio to measure steepness.
The Plimpton 322 tablet
We now know that the Babylonians studied trigonometry because we have a fragment of a one of their trigonometric tables.
Plimpton 322 is a broken clay tablet from the ancient city of Larsa, which was located near Tell as-Senkereh in modern day Iraq. The tablet was written between 1822-1762BCE.
In the 1920s the archaeologist, academic and adventurer Edgar J Banks sold the tablet to the American publisher and philanthropist George Arthur Plimpton.
Plimpton bequeathed his entire collection of mathematical artefacts to Columbia University in 1936, and it resides there today in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library. It’s available online through the Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative.
In 1945 the tablet was revealed to contain a highly sophisticated sequence of integer numbers that satisfy the Pythagorean equation a2+b2=c2, known as Pythagorean triples.
This is the fundamental relationship of the three sides of a right-angled triangle, and this discovery proved that the Babylonians knew this relationship more than 1,000 years before the Greek mathematician Pythagoras was born.
Plimpton 322 has ruled space on the reverse which indicates that additional rows were intended. In 1964, the Yale based science historian Derek J de Solla Price discovered the pattern behind the complex sequence of Pythagorean triples and we now know that it was originally intended to contain 38 rows in total.
The tablet also has missing columns, and in 1981 the Swedish mathematics historian Jöran Friberg conjectured that the missing columns should be the ratios b/l and d/l. But the tablet’s purpose remained elusive.
The surviving fragment of Plimpton 322 starts with the Pythagorean triple 119, 120, 169. The next triple is 3367, 3456, 4825. This makes sense when you realise that the first triple is almost a square (which is an extreme kind of rectangle), and the next is slightly flatter. In fact the right-angled triangles are slowly but steadily getting flatter throughout the entire sequence.
So the trigonometric nature of this table is suggested by the information on the surviving fragment alone, but it is even more apparent from the reconstructed tablet.
This argument must be made carefully because modern notions such as angle were not present at the time Plimpton 322 was written. How then might it be a trigonometric table?
Fundamentally a trigonometric table must describe three ratios of a right triangle. So we throw away sin and cos and instead start with the ratios b/l and d/l. The ratio which replaces tan would then be b/d or d/b, but neither can be expressed exactly in sexagesimal.
Instead, information about this ratio is split into three columns of exact numbers. A squared index and simplified values of b and d to help the scribe make their own approximation to b/d or d/b.
The most remarkable aspect of Babylonian trigonometry is its precision. Babylonian trigonometry is exact, whereas we are accustomed to approximate trigonometry.
Read more: Curious Kids: Why do we count to 10?
The Babylonian approach is also much simpler because it only uses exact ratios. There are no irrational numbers and no angles, and this means that there is also no sin, cos or tan or approximation.
It is difficult to say why this approach to trigonometry has not survived. Perhaps it went out of fashion because the Greek approach using angles is more suitable for astronomical calculations. Perhaps this understanding was lost in 1762BCE when Larsa was captured by Hammurabi of Babylon. Without evidence, we can only speculate.
We are only beginning to understand this ancient civilisation, which is likely to hold many more secrets waiting to be discovered.