About that war on drugs…

From the Times (behind a paywall):

“At nearly 22 [drug-related] deaths per 100,000 people, Scotland’s death toll has overtaken the United States and is now three times the UK average.”

According to the article:

“A deadly cocktail of opioids and “street valium” is driving drug deaths in Scotland, which now has the highest mortality rate in the developed world.”

Scotland, you have a problem.

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Cannabis

This falls under the ‘You learn something new everyday‘ category.

From ‘Can Cannabis Fix the Opiod Crisis?‘ in the July 2019 issue of Scientific American:

“…These polarized views can, in part, be explained by the drug’s complexity: cannabis is not a single substance, but rather a mixture of more than 500 individual chemicals whose proportions vary from one plant strain to another.”

That complexity (and the fact that most cannabis is prepared for the illegal market) is also one reason why it has proven difficult to draw clear research conclusions about whether cannabis is good for you or bad for you.

Fascinating.

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Total English?

In short, no.

The following appeared on a Ra’anana building fairly recently. (It’s still there as at the time of posting.)

Expect correct English?

This rubbish arises because it’s a direct word for word translation from the Hebrew way you would say expect more. The lack of a capital letter after the full stop is, so to speak, the icing on the cake.

In a country brimming with native English speakers, this is inexcusable from – presumably – a professional company; whether Total-E or their marketing people, they should have done better.

As far as I can tell, it’s some kind of gym/fitness venture. For their sake, I hope their business is more fit for purpose than their marketing.

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How to Make More Money by Paying More Taxes

This may be a first. Companies in Israel have been making money by paying too much tax.

I’ll pause while you take that in.

In essence, after a reduction in the tax rate, companies did not reduce their tax payments. Whether this was done deliberately or otherwise is not certain. However, when it came time to reconcile payments, these companies were due a refund. And here’s the kicker. The refunds attracted interest at 4%, a rate higher than the companies could have received had they paid the money into a bank… In short, the tax man became a kind of bank!

The worst effect is that because of this somewhat strange set of circumstances, the budget predictions are off, and the state is looking at a deep deficit. Oh dear.

Check out the report in Globes, here.

Only in Israel?

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Alan Abel

Alan Abel. Source: Wikimedia


This, from the Times obituary, should brighten up your day:

In the late 1950s Alan Abel, a young jazz drummer, was driving through Texas and found the highway blocked by a copulating bull and cow. The horrified expressions on the faces of other motorists gave him an idea. He founded the spoof Society for Indecency to Naked Animals (Sina), which campaigned to “clothe all naked animals that appear in public, namely horses, cows, dogs and cats, including any animal that stands higher than four inches or is longer than six inches”.

Abel hired an actor friend to play Sina’s earnest, bespectacled president, G Clifford Prout. He invented slogans — “A nude horse is a rude horse” and “Decency today means morality tomorrow”. He air-dropped clothes into a field of cows, added shorts to the Greyhound bus logo, and staged a demonstration outside the White House to urge Jacqueline Kennedy to cover her horse’s private parts.

The hoax — a satirical take on the moral censoriousness of the times — succeeded beyond his wildest expectations. The media was totally hoodwinked.

It gets better. But the finish is, I believe, unique:

Alan Abel, hoaxer, was born on August 2, 1924, and really did die, after a heart attack, on September 14, 2018, aged 94.

The whole thing is here (behind a paywall). The Wikipedia version is here.

I have never heard of Abel before reading the obituary. Sounds like he was one of those guys that gives power to the saying ‘nowt so queer as folk.’ But I do like how often he took the media for a ride.

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Billboards, Hours, and the Post

Three micro reviews of movies recently watched.

Warning: plot spoilers!

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri

Great acting by Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell. Woody Harrelson plays Woody Harrelson. The film is, on the whole, enthralling and tense right up until the time Harrelson’s character dies. After that, the pace was too uneven, and the atmosphere was somewhat limp. I cannot make my mind up if Peter Dinklage is there as a court jester or a serious character. He plays it straight, but the script veers too close to exploitation comedy for my tastes. Glad I saw it, but – unsurprisingly – not the brilliant film the critics seem to think.


Darkest Hour

The story is known, and it is not an action packed encounter. Lord Halifax’s cowardly streak has been fashioned out of thin air, and stretched beyond breaking point to create dramatic tension and a counterpoint to solid Winston. Oldman’s acting is just as over the top as the real Winston was, so that’s on target. The scene in the underground is daft, though it does mean I got my name on the screen for the first time in cinema history. See if you can work out how that happened. Better overall than ‘Three Billboards’ in my opinion.

The Post

S. L. O. W. Similar to Darkest Hour in that the story is known and lacks punch. Sure, people were risking their liberty, but a movie has to do a lot more than this one does to make the threat feel real. I thought Meryl Streep was on autopilot some of the time, and the script gave her little to work with. Similarly, Hanks was left high and dry by the ineffectual narrative he is asked to portray. The film looks good in all the right places, but has no punch, no bite, and little that endured in my memory. Blah.

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The Politicization of Science

The New Scientist (20 January 2018 issue) has an editorial on the cover story: the “worrying signs that civilisation has started to collapse.” The editorial includes the following:

THE idea that we are living in a historic, even apocalyptic, age exerts a powerful pull on the human mind. Eschatology – the theology of end times – is a religious concept, but crops up in many other systems of thought. Marxism and neo-liberalism were both driven by an “end-of-history” narrative. Scientific thinking isn’t immune either: the technological singularity has been called eschatology for geeks, and the study of existential risk even has its own centre at the University of Cambridge. You don’t have to believe in the four horsemen to see the apocalypse coming.

After noting that the end may not be so imminent after all, the editorial points out that a real threat to our world – climate change – has been badly handled. Why? The threat was politicized: used as a stick by political faction alpha to beat political faction beta about the head, and of course the other way round.

The point is not that the activists’ answers are wrong. Business as usual is a sure way to climate catastrophe. It is that they prematurely politicised the science and hence provoked pushback from people on the other side of the fence.

Evidence for an impending civilisational collapse is much weaker, but is already being politicised in a similar way. The causes being offered are familiar bugbears of the left: inequality, population growth and resource depletion. The proposed answers are equally predictable and contentious.

That’s the backdrop.

The main article on the topic includes this:

“The idea that Western power and influence is in gradual decline, perhaps as a prelude to a precipitous fall, has been around for a while. But it has gained a new urgency with recent political events, not least the election of US president Donald Trump. For some, his turning away from international commitments is part of fulfilling his promise to “make America great again” by concentrating on its own interests. For others, it’s a dangerous move that threatens to undermine the whole world order. Meanwhile, over in the old world, Europe is mired in its own problems.”

So the editorial cautions against politicization of the issue, and the main article politicizes the issue!

Let’s be clear: Donald Trump is not the best man to be president of the USA. Will he be the worst? It depends on what media you base your judgement. But the suggestion that it is tenable to hold the end of the world is nearer because of Trump’s election is scaremongering in the extreme. It’s reckless, and panders to the same narrow focus of thought that says only socialism has the answer.

In short, the New Scientist‘s contribution to the discussion is tainted by politicization.

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Let’s Be Careful Out There

I ended my my blog post Secure? You better believe it about the discovery of microprocessor security vulnerabilities with this:

I wonder what Bruce Schneier will say?

The question has been answered. Here are some notable points:

“Throw it away and buy a new one” is ridiculous security advice, but it’s what US-CERT recommends. It is also unworkable. The problem is that there isn’t anything to buy that isn’t vulnerable. Pretty much every major processor made in the past 20 years is vulnerable to some flavor of these vulnerabilities. Patching against Meltdown can degrade performance by almost a third. And there’s no patch for Spectre; the microprocessors have to be redesigned to prevent the attack, and that will take years.

In short, we are all stuck in a hole not of our making.

Later on, there is some practical advice about what you should do:

This isn’t to say you should immediately turn your computers and phones off and not use them for a few years. For the average user, this is just another attack method amongst many. All the major vendors are working on patches and workarounds for the attacks they can mitigate. All the normal security advice still applies: watch for phishing attacks, don’t click on strange e-mail attachments, don’t visit sketchy websites that might run malware on your browser, patch your systems regularly, and generally be careful on the Internet.

As they used to say on Hill Street Blues, let’s be careful out there.

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