A live toad every morning

Corrections to the blogosphere, the consensus, and the world

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

From Crooked Timber

The fundamental fallacy implicitly accepted by nearly all comments above is that external powers intervening in a nation’s affairs can design the outcomes they wish to see. The only choice interveners have is the side that they back from among the genuine contenders. After that, if you succeed you get the kind of state that your proxies want, and if you lose you get the kind of state that your proxies’ adversaries want. If you stay out, you can’t influence which side wins. But you can’t invent a side (incidentally, have you noticed that Chalabi’s back on the news?), and you can’t really modify a side, because the only sanction you have is to move to one of the other sides that you’ve already decided are even less desirable.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Lear cheer

Went to the Simon Russell Beale Nat Theatre Lear at the Nova.  The best Lear I've ever seen, in that it didn't try for pathos, made no bones about Lear being a horrible person at every point of the play, and had Lear kill the fool himself. Beale's invocation of clinical dementia was masterly - that hand crooked behind his back, the alternation between whining and shouting - and the battle/devastation scenes underlined how idiotic it was for Lear to split the kingdom.  When I have a chance I will write a short Lear from the point of view of the King of France, who really does seem to have a keen eye to the main chance.

Hogwarts chapel

That was another of the unlikely things about Hogwarts; there didn't seem to be any religious observance.  By which I don't mean that it should be denominational (Anglican, one might guess) but that wizardry seemed to be entirely secular - no higher unearthly power, no Hecate even as a personification.  This might be a way of taking, so to speak, the curse off the notion of pacts with the devil, but it's still hard to envisage a world that contains wizardry but not the supernatural.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Sink the B again

I wondered why a Yank C&W singer would hymn an encounter that happened before the US entered the war, and there is in fact a reason:
"Sink the Bismark" (later "Sink the Bismarck") is a novelty song, written by country music singer Johnny Horton and Tillman Franks, based on the pursuit and eventual sinking of the German battleship Bismarck in May 1941, during World War II. Horton released this song in 1960, where it reached #3 on the charts. As originally released the record label used the common misspelling "Bismark", this was corrected for later releases of the song. It was inspired by the 1960 movie Sink the Bismarck! and was in fact (with the English producer John Brabourne's approval) commissioned from Johnny Horton by 20th Century Fox who were worried about the subject's relative obscurity. While the song was used in U.S. theater trailers for the film, it was not used in the film itself.

Sink the Bismarck

Lyrics:
In May of nineteen forty-one the war had just begun
The Germans had the biggest ship that had the biggest guns
The Bismark was the fastest ship that ever sailed the seas
On her deck were guns as big as steers and shells as big as trees
Out of the cold and foggy night came the British ship the Hood
And evry British seaman, he knew and understood
They had to sink the Bismark, the terror of the sea
Stop those guns as big as steers and those shells as big as trees
We'll find that German battleship thats makin' such a fuss
We gotta sink the Bismark 'cause the world depends on us
Hit the decks a-runnin' boys and spin those guns around
When we find the Bismark we gotta cut her down


Surely, though, that should be  "On her deck were shells as big as steers and guns as big as trees"?
(Most) trees are larger than steers, all guns are bigger than shells.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

A Catch

Star Wars, Draft 3;

Version:1.0 StartHTML:0000000167 EndHTML:0000001810 StartFragment:0000000492 EndFragment:0000001794
LUKE
Don't you have a Kiber crystal?

BEN
I had one, but it was taken at the battle of Condawn...

LUKE
That's where my father was killed.

BEN
Yes. It was a black day. One of my disciple's [sic] took the crystal and became a Sith Lord. 
It was a black day. The few crystals that remain are in the possession of the Sith Lords on Alderaan. 
That's how they've become so powerful.

LUKE
Do the Sith know the ways of the Force?

BEN
They use the Bogan Force.

LUKE
Like Bogan weather, or bogan times. I thought that was just a saying.

BEN
There are two halves of the Force of Others. One is positive and will help you if you learn how to use it. 
But the other half will kill you if you aren't careful. This negative side of the Force is called the Bogan, 
which is where the expression came from, and it is the part that is used by the Dark Lords 
to destroy their opponents. Both halves are always present. 
The Force is on your right, the Bogan is on your left. The Kiber Crystal can amplify either one. 
The Crystal Darth stole was the last one in the possession of the Jedi. 
When he joined the Sith, the power of the Dark Lords was completed.

Artoo and Threepio are already in the speeder, as Luke and old Ben climb in. 
The speeder starts with a low hum.

Friday, May 09, 2014

Age bin

Christopher Pyne complains that too few Australian universities are in the Times top 200.  In Shanghai University’s top 500 ranking, a rather better measure, we have as many universities in the top 100 as Germany and more than Japan, Canada, or France – how is that a problem?  And we have a better provision overall, too.  Australia has a university in the top 500 for every 1.2 million citizens, compared to 1.7m in the UK, 2.1m in the US, 4.5m in Korea, 6.3m in Japan, and 48.7m in China.  More elite universities would be better for the elite, certainly, but if funding shifts in that direction the average citizen would lose out.  Which is probably the point of the exercise.

For reference, the full stats, from my comments at the Conversation;

Me
Looking at the THES new unis table, it's worth noting that while Australia doesn't feature in the top ten we've got 14 unis on the list overall, as many as the UK and well ahead of the US (on 8) as well as Spain, France, Germany and Taiwan. Australia has a much more even spread, because we deliberately don't do elite. if we wanted a top ten we could go back to the days when Menzies backed the ANU with special research funding; if we don't do that then we shouldn't snark about a consistent but midlevel standard.
Looking at the THES list of the top 200 unis (http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/world-university-rankings/2013-14/world-ranking) Australia has only 7, equal fifth with Switzerland and Canada. If you weight for both score and population size (yes, yes, rough as guts, but quick and dirty) Australia comes 10th out of 24, three times as bad as Switzerland and well below the UK but just ahead of the USA and well ahead of Canada.
Out of the THES top 400 world universities, 19 are Australian – equal fourth with Canada, behind USA, UK and Germany; per population (can’t do a score weighting, THES doesn’t score 201-400) behind New Zealand, Eire, Sweden, Switz, Denmark, and HK, but just ahead of Norway, Netherlands, and the UK, solidly ahead of Canada and the USA.
If you want 8 out of the top 10, USA; if you want a top-400 (passable) uni for every 1,235,170 people, Australia.
Taking it another way, 44.2% of Australia’s universities are in the top 400, 30.2% of the UK’s (actually, after trimming off some single-faculty minnows that’s 34.5%), and 0.39% of the USA’s.

Gavin Moodie (with whom I have some issues relating to his reviewing a volume of Peanuts comics without reading it, but that's not relevant here)
The TES and QS league tables are not credible and not worth wasting time on. There are several more robust league tables, such as Shanghai Jiao Tong University’s academic ranking of world universities

Me again
Thanks for the tip.
OK, I did the same thing to the Shanghai figures and the outcomes are;
Countries with 10 or over unis in the top 500 - pop'n per scored uni;
Australia 1.2m
Netherlands 1.4m
Canada 1.5m
UK 1.7m
Germany 1.9m
USA 2.1m
Italy 3.1m
France 3.2m
ROK 4.5m
Spain 4.6m
Japan 6.3m
China 48.7m
We have as many unis in the top 100 as Germany and more than Japan, Canada, or France.

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