ScoMoFo Meets PingMoFo

Zhao Lijian, who has been hilariously described as a “diplomat“, has posted a mean tweet.

Zhao, who is, of course, a hypocritical little toad, posted a faked image of an Australian soldier with a bloodied knife over the throat of an Afghan kid. The image was created by Lu Yu, another hypocritical little toad, and hilariously described as a “political computer graphic artist“. Lu Yu’s image is outrageous, and so ScoMoFo sprang into action and confected outrage.

Let’s remind ourselves what this is about. Zhao’s post was in reference to the Brereton Report into alleged crimes by the Australian Defence Force, which ScoMoFo is already undermining. Specifically, Zhao was referring to an alleged incident raised by Dr. Samantha Crompvoets, a sociologist specialising in military culture. In 2015, the Special Operations Commander Australia appointed Dr. Crompvoets to undertake a “cultural review” of the Special Operations Command, which resulted in two documents referred to in the Brereton Report (pp 119-121): “Insights and reflection” (January, 2016); and “Perceptions reputation and risk” (February, 2016). In her January report, which is short and which should be read by everyone, Dr. Crompvoet records a number of specific incidents reported to her by military personnel (p 120 of the Brereton Report):

“A specific incident described to Dr. Crompvoets involved an incident where members from the [Special Air Service Regiment] were driving along a road and saw two 14-year-old boys whom they decided might be Taliban sympathisers. They stopped, searched the boys and slit their throats. The rest of the Troop then had to ‘clean up the mess’, which involved bagging the bodies and throwing them into a nearby river. Dr Crompvoets says she was told this was not an isolated incident.”

In regard to incidents such as the above not being isolated, Dr. Crompvoets wrote,

The gravity of these descriptions does not simply come from the details of particular events, it comes from the emphasis that most often accompanied these stories – ‘it happened all the time’.  

The above is the incident latched onto by Toad Lu and Toad Zhou. Which leaves us with a choice. On the one hand, we can consider the probable murdering of kids by Australian military personnel, and we can ponder just how often such horrors occurred. Or, as ScoMoFo would prefer, we can focus on a couple of toads and a fucking mean tweet. Take your pick.

WitCH 45: Learning from Our Betters

OK, we’ll get back into this slowly, and let others do the work. (Yes, at some point soon we’ll write about the seventy million knuckle-draggers who voted for Trump.)

A couple days ago The Conversation published a math ed article by some familiar maths ed folk:

Fewer Australians are taking advanced maths in Year 12. We can learn from countries doing it better.

To be fair, and making our way past the pithy title, we’re not sure the article is crap: we’re just not sure what it is. See how you go.

How to Cancel Culture

Yes, of course we’ve read on this nonsense, as have probably most readers of this blog; it’s either that or reruns of Bachelor Chef Island. For those divorced from virtual reality, however, here is:

There are plenty of left-wing thugs pretending that “cancel culture” is a fraud, and there are plenty of right-wing thugs pretending that they and their thuggish cronies don’t play the same nasty sport. For us, the smartest takes are:

But, really, “cancel culture” is what we gotta solve right now? One would think that being inundated with plague, and having the World heating to the point of no return, and with the three superpowers being led by homicidal maniacs, that would be plenty enough on our to-do list. But, if taking hair-trigger offense and being a Blockleiter is your thing then, sure, go ahead and have fun.

UPDATE (21/07)

A new article:

Read it. Yeah, you’re busy but, trust me, read it.

Another Message to Fellow Melburnians

1) Stay home.

2) If you don’t stay home, wear a fucking mask.

3) Forget that, just stay home.

UPDATE (22/07)

Some gentle observations, after our first shopping trip in a month, and with Uncle Dan on the car radio:

4) If you’re sick and you don’t isolate before your test, you’re a fucking moron.

5) If you’re tested and you don’t isolate before your results, you’re a fucking moron. 

6) Just because it is not yet mandatory to wear a mask, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t, you fucking morons. 

7) Bunnings is lying through their fucking teeth. 

The Descent of Man

In 1973, the BBC televised The Ascent of Man, the brilliant series by Jacob Bronowski on the development of science and society. In his final episode, The Long Childhood, Bronowski sums up what he regards as special to being human, and the essence of a healthy scientific society:

If we are anything, we must be a democracy of the intellect. We must not perish by the distance between people and government, people and power, by which Babylon, and Egypt, and Rome failed. And that distance can only be … conflated, can only be closed, if knowledge sits here, and not up there.

That seems a hard lesson. After all, this is a world run by specialists. Isn’t that what we mean by a scientific society? No, it isn’t. A scientific society is one in which specialists can indeed do the things like making the electric light work. But it’s you, it’s I, who have to know how nature works, how electricity is one of her expressions, in the light, and in my brain.

And we are really here on a wonderful threshold of knowledge. The ascent of man is always teetering in the balance. There’s always a sense of uncertainty as to whether, when man lifts his foot for the next step, it’s really going to come down ahead. And what is ahead of us? At last, the bringing together of all that we’ve learnt in physics and in biology, towards an understanding of where we have come, what man is.

Knowledge is not a loose-leaf notebook of facts. Above all, it is a responsibility for the integrity of what we are, above all, of what we are as ethical creatures. You can’t possibly maintain that if you let other people run the world for you, while you yourself continue to live … out of a ragbag of morals that come from past beliefs. That’s really crucial today. You see, it’s pointless to advise people to learn differential equations, “You must do a course in electronics or in computer programming.” Of course not. And yet, fifty years from now, if an understanding of man’s origins, his evolution, his history, his progress, is not the commonplace of the schoolbooks, we shall not exist.

Bronowski spoke those words forty-seven years ago. Three more years.

Nuclear Fishin’

H. R. Currie and G. M. Currie, Open Access Journal

This one was brought to our attention by the Evil Mathologre. It is a tricky one, since it involves the work of a school student, and the student is in no way a target for our criticism. Out of such concerns, we haven’t made this post a WitCH; it should be considered in the same vein as this Maths Masters column.

As reported in Wagga’s Daily Advertiser a couple weeks ago, and as picked up by The Canberra Times, IB student Hugo Currie was given a “mathematics assignment” (presumably an Internal Assessment) on the golden ratio:

“… we had to investigate an element of the golden ratio in the built or natural environment so I decided to look at atomic structure …“.

Hugo considered the atomic mass number A (protons plus neutrons) of nuclides (isotopes), comparing A to the number N of neutrons and the number Z of protons. Of course, A = N + Z. Hugo then looked for “fibonacci nuclides”, nuclides for which the ratios A/N and N/Z are very good approximations to the golden ratio. He found a bunch, and suggested his results as a guide to hunting for new elements and nuclides. Hugo’s graphic above is a good illustrative summary of his investigation; the horizontal axis is N, the vertical axis is Z, and the black line indicates known stable nuclides.

OK, no big deal. From our perspective, having a class sent off to hunt for the golden ratio is asking for trouble, but it’s just an IA, and Hugo’s work seems interestingly exploratory-ish, in the manner the IB foolishly demands. But why did Hugo make the news, and what’s the problem?

In May, Hugo published a paper, co-authored with his father Professor Geoffrey Currie, in the peer-reviewed Open Science Journal. And, yes, of course that made the news. And yes, that’s the problem.

Unsurprisingly but unfortunately, we can see little if anything research-worthy in the Curries’ paper, and we noticed a number of “Uh-oh”s. A fine IA, sure, but not a research paper, and not news.

We’ll leave it at that. Readers are free to hunt for the uh-ohs.

Vanessa’s Appt Concerns

Today, the Australian government released COVIDSafe, the Government’s coronavirus tracking app, based on Singapore’s TraceTogether version. The release comes complete with the Government’s predictable reassuring and cajoling and guilt-tripping. Should Australians trust them and use the app? Really? For us, there is a very simple answer: when and only when Vanessa Teague gives the all clear.

Vanessa is an expert on cryptography and, as it happens, is an ex-student and a good friend. She is very smart and is as principled a person as we have ever met. Along with many of her colleagues, Vanessa has been critical of the Government’s needless (and entirely predictable) secrecy over COVIDSafe. She has written a series of blogposts about their underlying concerns, and in particular the Government’s failure to follow up on promises and release COVIDSafe’s source code. This is Vanessa’s current stance on using the app (as of 23/04):

“In its TraceTogether form, I would be happy to run it on the train but refuse to run it in my home or office. I need to see the details of Australia’s version before I decide.”  

And, if that’s what Vanessa suggests then that’s what we’ll do, right up until Vanessa and her colleagues suggest otherwise. We’ll regularly be checking on Vanessa’s blog and twitter account.


Postscript: We had planned on writing about Vanessa a month or so ago, when she made the news. That story is highly relevant, since it involves privacy concerns, government screw-up, an arrogant and inept minister, a limp lettuce watchdog, a thuggish department secretary being matey matey with a vice chancellor, and a spineless university. Yep, same old, same old. But, given the speed of the times, we’ll probably have to leave that story be.


UPDATE (27/4)

The Minister for Health has today made an undertaking to release the source code “within two weeks”. We’ll see. (The formal agency response on privacy (26/4) states that such release will be “subject to consultation with the Australian Signals Directorate’s Australian Cyber Security Centre”.)

Vanessa and her colleagues have a new blog post (27/4). The post has been written “on a best-effort basis using decompiled code from the app, without access to server-side code or technical documentation.” Their conclusion:

Like TraceTogether, there are still serious privacy problems if we consider the central authority to be an adversary. That authority, whether Amazon, the Australian government or whoever accesses the server, can

    • recognise all your encryptedIDs if they are heard on Bluetooth devices as you go,
    • recognise them on your phone if it acquires it, and
    • learn your contacts if you test positive.

UPDATE (01/05)

We’re not going to bother with the nasty guilt-tripping on the COVIDSafe app, including from numerous media nitwits who should know better. This from Bernard Keane suffices.

Vanessa now has a very good twitter thread on the seemingly contradictory safe/not-safe messages from IT folk.

UPDATE (11/5) Vanessa has a twitter thread (08/05) on ScoMoFo’s latest round of silly buggers.

UPDATE (13/5) This will come as a great surprise, but it turns out that Greg Hunt is a dishonest piece of shit.

UPDATE (15/5) Vanessa and her colleagues have a new blog post (14/5): The missing server code, and why it matters.

UPDATE (20/5) Vanessa and her colleague Chris Culnane have a new blog post (19/5), on flaws in and corrections to the UK covid app (and why this was possible). Vanessa also has an accompanying twitter thread.