The strange Russian dossier story

While I was away for the birth of our grandchild, I could only follow the news in a cursory manner but what I could catch dealt primarily with two things: the confirmation hearings of the Trump administration nominees and the story of a dossier that detailed some bizarre activities by Trump while visiting Russia as well as claiming that Trump associates were working with the Russian government and intelligence agencies. While we now should not be surprised by bizarre and even repulsive behavior by Trump, the more explosive element of this story was that this dossier had been prepared as part of an ongoing attempt by Russian intelligence agencies to co-opt and assist Trump. That raised the seriousness of the issue to a far higher level.
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The end of ethics

There is a cliché that what is scandalous in Washington are not the things that are done that are illegal but the things that are legal. They system of laws that we have contain an inbuilt bias to protect and enhance the wealth of those who already have money and influence. It should be no surprise that with few exceptions, the halls of government have elected officials who are already wealthy or have become immensely wealthy as a result of what we euphemistically call government ‘service’. The hard edges of this system is softened by so-called ethics guidelines that supposedly bind legislators and limit how much influence-peddling they can be the recipients of while in office and how much they can do after they leave, but those guidelines can be circumvented by those determined to do so.
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‘Proving’ a negative

There has been an interesting discussion in the comments on my post When can we conclude that dark matter does not exist? with commenter Establishment Liberal taking strong exception to my statement that one cannot prove the non-existence of entities. I started posting my response in the comments but it got rather long and I thought, what the hell, why not make it into a separate post? All these are things that I go into in some detail in my forthcoming book The Paradox of Science but I will sketch out my response here.
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I’m back! And am now a grandfather!

I have just returned from a trip to welcome our first grandchild! He was born on Tuesday and we managed to get there in time to see him a couple of hours after he was born. Everything went well and I had a wonderful few days with him and his parents.

Being a grandfather is a strangely wonderful experience, hard to describe really. It definitely feels like the passing of the baton to a new generation, more so than with the birth of your own children, because you are now much older and you know that you have not many years left to live. When your own children are born, you think that you will be around long enough to protect them until they reach adulthood. With grandchildren, you realize that your children have that responsibility because it is unlikely that you will be there that long.

While I have always had the sense that we have a duty to leave the world in a better place for future generations, that feeling gets even stronger when you see a grandchild entering it now and wonder what it will be like for him when he grows up.

TV Review: Sherlock: The Lying Detective (no spoilers)

The second episode in the latest series was shown on PBS on Sunday and is now available online. This was a good episode, even if Sherlock was more manic than usual. There were, as has become the custom, some major surprises at the end that left a lot of questions open, presumably to be resolved in the final episode of this series to be shown on Sunday. I am not sure if that marks the end of the run for this show or whether future series are scheduled. The two main stars have other engagements and they may not want to be too identified with their roles here.
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Cyrano was a man before his time

Most people are familiar with the fictional title character in the play Cyrano de Bergerac, a man who was so self-conscious about his big nose that he hesitated to declare his love for the beautiful Roxanne because he thought it was hopeless. However he was willing to compose beautiful love letters that Christian, his inarticulate rival for Roxanne’s affections, could pass off as his own, and Roxanne is so charmed by Christian’s borrowed eloquence that she falls in love with him. We might think that Cyrano was a bit of a dope to be so self-sacrificing but people can do surprising things when they are in love.
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Is twice-boiled water bad for tea?

The lively discussion that followed my post on how the British really cared about their tea reminded me of an issue that I had idly thought about some time ago when I visited relatives in New Zealand. They are Sri Lankan and thus, like the British, take their tea seriously so that they make sure that the ‘tea things’ (tea kettle, tea pot, tea, sugar, milk, cups, strainer, and spoons) are located in prominent and easily accessible places in the kitchen so that no one dies due to tea-deprivation. Their tea kettle is a powerful electric one that heats water very quickly, not the wimpy one that I have that you heat on the stove.
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