Sunday, July 31, 2005

John Lennon fights Islamic fundamentalism

Life is too short to spend too much time exploring the truly weird and wacky corners of the Web, but sometimes a site gets brought to one's attention that is worth at least 10 minutes.

Perhaps this couple (the Polleys) are better known in the USA because their site mentions some appearances on Jimmy Kimmel's show (who, I think, was the smarter looking co-host of the original "Man Show" before getting his own chat show.) I assume he would not have them in for a respectful interview.

Broadly, they appear to be spiritualists of a sort, but with a very specific and idiosyncratic set of metaphysical beliefs. Their website is chock full of interviews and messages from Jesus, Peter, and many, many famous deceased persons etc.

Just to give you a taste, have a look at this edition (one of many) of their on-line journal "Voices From Spirit Magazine". I like the way the direct messages from Jesus begin "Jesus here."

Turns out Jesus really, really hates gay sex, supported Arnold Schwarzenegger, supported the Iraq war, etc. (Apparently, attempts at gay sex in the afterlife eventually lead to the souls exploding.) I guess Jesus is a conservative, after all.

But perhaps the best part of their weird (after) world is the stuff about John Lennon and his role in helping Muhammad fight off Islamic fundamentalists (although I think this is all happening in the Kingdom of God, not down here.) There are even drawings to illustrate it.

Not only that but a lot of channeled songs from John as well, who performs in the afterlife with "Beatles and Friends" which gets its own special web site.

Turns out that John divorced Yoko in the afterlife due to her support for homosexuality. A drawing of the ceremony is here. (I don't know why, but even though all of the afterlife drawings seem to be done by Linda Polley, they seem to emphasize the women's breasts, or at least nipples, in particular. They look more like they were done by a 13 yr old boy.)

Just about every page I look at has a weirdly amusing aspect that I want to mention, but I have to get to bed. It is well worth a browse.

Friday, July 29, 2005

I've heard of weeping statues, but walking?

World news from The Times and the Sunday Times - Times Online

The link is to a story of a "walking", semi-human statue of Mary in Italy, alleged to have been caught on mobile phone video. This I want to see. Why isn't it on the net already, if it exists?

From an aesthetic point of view, sounds like a particularly creepy sort of miracle too. Inaminate things should stay that way.

The science of dating

Also from New Scientist, just what we need, more science on dating stategies:

"Men who spend big money wining and dining their dates are not frittering away hard-earned cash. According to a pair of UK researchers, they are merely employing the best strategy for getting the girl without being taken for granted.

Using mathematical modelling, Peter Sozou and Robert Seymour at University College London, UK, found that wooing girls with costly, but essentially worthless gifts – such as theatre tickets or expensive dinners out – is a winning courtship strategy for both sexes.

Females can assess how serious or committed a male plans to be and males can ensure they are not just seducing 'gold-diggers' – girls who take valuable presents with no intention of accepting subsequent dates.

Sozou came about the idea after reading about a man in his local newspaper. The man had been paying the rent of a woman he considered was his girlfriend – he was giving her a valuable gift. But she had been heartlessly manipulating him, dating another man on the sly while accepting money from her unwitting sugar daddy."

I suppose I can see value in this research...especially if it leads to tricky ideas like this:

Sozou and Seymour believe their conclusions about people find support in the actions of animals, such as the dance fly. Males of this species give worthless cotton balls to entice partners into mating – and they work – although other scientists interpret this as male trickery."

I was always bad at the strategies of dating, so I find it hard to come up with something witty now! Suggest an end joke here please.

Trees cause deserts?

This is the sort of story (from New Scientist)that Tim Blair loves to have fun with:

Planting trees can create deserts, lower water tables and drain rivers, rather than filling them, claims a new report supported by the UK government.

The findings - which may come as heresy to tree-lovers and most environmentalists - is an emerging new consensus among forest and water professionals.

“Common but misguided views about water management,” says the report, are resulting in the waste of tens of millions of pounds every year across the world. Forests planted with the intention of trapping moisture are instead depleting reservoirs and drying out soils.

Over to you, Tim.

Death rates in Iraq

News about Attrition at's How to Make War.

The above link is to an interesting article (on a web site that may or may not be all that reliable) regarding death rates now and historically in Iraq. This claim is particularly relevant to arguments about the "immorality" of the current death rate since the downfall of Saddam:

The Iraqi government now believes that at least 12,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed during the last 18 months. In the last ten months, about 800 Iraqi civilians and police have been killed each month. Adding a bit more to account for unreported deaths (especially in Sunni Arab areas where chaos, not the government, runs things) the death rate is running at the rate of about 45 dead per 100,000 population per year. This is far higher than the usual rate in Middle Eastern countries (under 10). Well, most of the time. During civil wars and insurrections, the rate has spiked to over a hundred per 100,000, sometimes for several years in a row. During Saddam’s long reign, the Iraqi death rate from democide (the government killing its own people) averaged over 100 per 100,000 a year. This does not include the several hundred thousand killed during the war with Iran in the 1980s. There are other parts of the world that are more violent than Iraq. Africa, for example, especially Congo, Sudan and South Africa. Only South Africa has a sufficiently effective government to actually keep track of the death rate, mostly from crime, but it’s over 50 per 100,000. It’s worse in places like Congo and Sudan, but the numbers there are only estimates by peacekeepers and relief workers.

During the 1990s, Saddam used access to food and medical care as a way to keep the Shia Arabs under control, but this process caused at least twenty thousand or more excess deaths a year (from disease and malnutrition). Foreign media, especially in Sunni Moslem nations, played down Saddam’s homicides, just as they play up the current death toll in Iraq (which is still largely the result of violence by Sunni Arabs.) "

I am sure there are some other sites I can check about the claimed death rates during the 1990's, although no doubt much of the argument will revolve around whether it was the West's embargo actions that caused the deaths rather than Saddam's.

And by the way, can't they get on with his trial faster than October? Really, you sometimes wonder what the point of "due process" is in extreme cases like his. If some guard was mad enough to just kill him now, he would be doing us all a favour.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Miscellaneous stuff

A quick round up from this morning's browse of the web:

Daniel Pipes and Janet Albrechtsen in the Australia : both good reads.

The Economist gave George W a tick for education reform (it seems to be working).

Christopher Hitchens points out that the legislation at the core of the Plame/Rove debacle was always a bad idea.

An academic in The Age suggests the forced closure (or take over by the government?) of all private primary schools as a way of forcing all children to learn the "civic values" of Australian society. I can imagine the State Treasurers rolling their eyes at this one. Get real, Dennis.

In Indonesia, they take their cricket farming very seriously (it sounds like something being discussed on Landline):

"He added that the association would not accept crickets bred outside its membership because their quality could not be assured.

"We tried buying crickets from common farmers once. The crickets they bred had a very high water content. Only 1 kg of dried crickets was derived after roasting four kg of them, whereas only 2.5 kg of live crickets bred through the program could produce one kg of dried crickets. Besides that, due to inferior feeding techniques, their protein content was found to be lower too," said Bayu, who comes from Gunung Kidul.

Dried crickets can last for six months after being vacuum packed. Before being packed, live crickets are immersed in hot water at 70 degrees centigrade.

They are then roasted in an oven for seven to 12 hours. A one-kg pack of dried crickets can be sold at Rp 110,000.

"These crickets are also delicious, crispy when fried and eaten immediately," said Bayu, while offering a plate of fried crickets."

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Fun from Scamming

Aimless web surfing while I should be working has led me this morning to this site, which is quite amusing. (It's copies of email correspondence between scammers and their attempted victims, who in fact are just taking the scammers for a ride.)

I haven't the time to read too much yet, but this one (involving Marty McFly as the "victim" is fun. As is this one, with Juan Perez Jnr as the correspondent. Actually, just about every second story is pretty damn funny.)

I don't spend much time on internet humour, but this is good.

Monday, July 25, 2005

A Brain Change?

Goodness, what odd things can happen in this world of blogging. Alan Brain (see left) kindly recommended this site in a post a few weeks ago, and now appears to be undergoing a not unwelcomed dramatic alteration in his life, due to hormonal changes the source of which he says are a medical mystery. Not only that, he wants to complete the task, as it were, inviting donations.

I don't think he is joking; he sounds sincere. But unusually "matter of fact" about it. He wasn't on 4 corners tonight, was he?

No one has commented on this yet as far as I can see from my blog role. Certainly there are no comments on his site to his "new image" post. I can just imagine everyone out there being slack jawed like me wondering what to make of it.

That is all I can think of to say about it ....

Pearson on Ronald Wilson

Christopher Pearson's article in the Weekend Australia about the late Ronald Wilson was a sizzling read, and I expect a strong counter attack will be mounted by Wilson's liberal admirers.

It is my understanding that Wilson's close involvement with the Uniting Church, which had a historic role in the "stolen children" issue, made him eminently unsuited to head that enquiry. Too much potential for misplaced guilt by association to make him an objective judge of the matter.

Feeling away morality

I am sure Currency Lad could do a better job on this, but I can't let today's peculiar opinion piece by Michael Read in The Age go without comment.

The writer feels that, although he now has a perfectly good life, and can't remember much of his earlier difficulties due to a birth defect, he is so sorry for the pain his Mum went through that he believes it would have been better for her to have aborted him. As he summarises:

"My life in many ways has been a wonderful experience, but it has been achieved through the suffering of my mother. It would have been better for her had she aborted me. After all, my life then would never have been, and logically, I could not have regretted not living it, but my mother would almost certainly have had a better one."

Talk about your liberal death wishes....

The main thrust of the article, though, is about not being too judgmental on women who want abortions, even late term ones, such as the notorious incident involving a woman who aborted late due to probable dwarfism in the child.

There are many issues I have with the "logic" of this article.

Firstly, the point about a hypothetical abortion meaning that he would not be around to regret not living adds nothing to the argument about the morality of abortion or killing. I mean, adults killed don't harbour regrets either. Let's judge an act at the time it happens. (And let's not be too confident of being able to perceive alternative futures and the degree of happiness in them either.)

Perhaps inadvertantly, Read's comment on his hypothetical termination can be read to relate to issue of "personhood" and its relevance to the Peter Singer's utilitarian arguments about abortion. That is, if you abort a child before it has any significant self awareness, it is no moral wrong at all. (Remember, Singer would even allow a period of, say, a month after birth for parents to "accept" a child, and by his logic killing even a healthy new born is not necessarily "immoral".) This is where you can trust your intuition more than your "public intellectual".

Read is surely a utilitarain himself, with his emphasis in the article of wanting to see the maximum happiness. There are many, many problems with utilitarianism, but for the sake of the argument, if we try to apply it to his case, why does Read not factor in the happy ending? Having an adult son with a successful life is a good thing for his mother, surely. Achieving that happiness after overcoming physical adversity should make it especially profound, shouldn't it? Not to Mr Read, it seems.

And what does his mother think about this? He seems to deliberately avoid telling us her opinion (she is still alive.) Isn't this a vital factor if we are going to attempt some calculation of maximum happiness?

No, his aim is just to have us avoid judgement on the poor mother facing a possible hard life. So there is no point in being rigorous about it, he just wants us to concentrate on the negative possiblities and fears of the mother, regardless of how realistic they may be.

This points to one fundamental problem with utilitarianism: the nature of happiness itself and the difficulties in measuring it. I have posted here before on cognitive therapy for depression. It appeals to me becuase its fundamental idea (that all of your moods are in fact created by your thoughts, including your perceptions, your mental attitudes, beliefs and the way you interpret things) sounds right. And besides which, as a therapy it seems to clinically work.

If you philosophically agree with this understanding of moods, it makes the emphasis on "happiness" decidedly shaky grounds for deciding moral issues. Happiness (or the lack of it) is a cognitive reaction to events that may or may not be built on sound foundations in your cognitive world. What's more important is to look at those foundations.

(There's a lot of good stuff on the problems of trying to base morals on utilitarianism on the internet. Unfortunately, it is treated as a vague default position for many people who have never had the inclination or education to really think about the basis of morals.)

It's all well and good for Michael Read (and liberals generally) to emphasise sympathy for mothers who fear unhappiness. But when it comes to matters of life or death of a fetus/baby which would be viable outside of the womb (we are talking late term abortion), it is hardly the most important factor at stake.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Multiculturalism wars

A matter of respect - Opinion -

An opinion piece in the Age today (above) rushes to the defence of mulitculturalism. The argument seems to boil down to blaming Australia for not "sharing power" enough with its new migrants. The implication in the last paragraph is that we don't give the young men enough job opportunities:

"Perhaps when Terry Lane and Pamela Bone and Andrew Bolt and the others take on Muslim young people as work-experience trainees, and are prepared to admit ignorance and seek to listen and learn, the young people might be more willing to sit on the heads of the thugs who threaten them just as much as they threaten the rest of us."

And earlier in the article:

"Immigrants often see the self-serving nature of social practices of the "host" society far more clearly than members of that society's own chattering classes and politicians. Their children, imbued with the lessons of democracy and fairness in the new world, shed their parents' acquiescence to the contradictions and demand that its claims to justice and equality be realised."

Apart from the fun of seeing Terry Lane being criticised for what would normally be called a right wing opinion, this article seems very dubious. How about some empirical evidence to support the idea that Australia (or Britain for that matter) is somehow discriminating against the children of Muslim immigrants.

At least in Australia, just when did the increase in Muslim immigration kick in? (My guess would be from maybe the mid 1980's or even a bit later. Bit hard to say for me, never having lived in Sydney. Brisbane only started having an obvious presence of Muslims since, I reckon, about 5 to 10 years ago.) Surely it takes a bit of time for the children of a new migrant group to start to get higher positions in the jobs market. And look how successful European, Chinese, Vietnamese and other immigrant children are in our society now.

He would have to do a much better job of justifying this argument before I would give it any credence at all.

Give me space

Sitting ducks - Tips - Travel -

I missed this article from earlier this week about the erosion of airline seat space, especially in economy. It is ridiculous what the airlines expect us to put up with, especially on anything over a couple of hours.

Although I don't support spurious litigation, I am a bit surprised that the litigation brought by deep vein thrombosis sufferers against some of the airlines has not (to my knowledge) met with any success yet. I mean, the airlines must have had some concern about potential liability over this, because of the sudden torrent of in-flight guidance on how to avoid it (starting maybe 3 or 4 years ago?) It is one area where I think the success of such litigation would serve a useful social purpose. Otherwise, it is really just not possible to see a way that the public is ever going to get the airlines to come up with a more acceptable standard for seat space.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Take sugar tablets instead?

Efficacy of antidepressants in adults -- Moncrieff and Kirsch 331 (7509): 155 -- BMJ

Wow, this story in the British Medical Journal will cause a lot of controversy, I expect. Bottom line: it's not so clear that antidepressants are better than placebo. The article summary is:

"The NICE review data suggest that selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors do not have a clinically meaningful advantage over placebo, which is consistent with other recent meta-analyses. In addition, methodological artefacts may account for the small effect seen. Evidence that antidepressants are more effective in more severe conditions is not strong, and data on long term outcome of depression and suicide do not provide convincing evidence of benefit. In children, the balance of benefits to risks is now recognised as unfavourable. We suggest this may also be the case for adults, given the continuing uncertainty about the possible risk of increased suicidality as well as other known adverse effects. This conclusion implies the need for a thorough re-evaluation of current approaches to depression and further development of alternatives to drug treatment. Since antidepressants have become society's main response to distress, expectations raised by decades of their use will also need to be addressed."

I should point out that placebo tablets will only work if you don't know they are placebo (so I am not seriously suggesting swapping your tablets for sugar ones!) However, as I have mentioned in an earlier post, cognitive therapy has got years of good results behind it now. Try it, depressed Lefties!

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

More on Iraq / al Qaeda

The DIA and CIA Go MIA

This story is about the issue I raised previously, namely the disconcerting way the main stream media is, by and large, completely unconcerned about looking into the question of Iraq and al Qaeda. A good read.

A Jakarta Post opinion piece on London bombing

The Jakarta Post - After the bombs, London searching for the root cause of terrorism

Contrary to the headline, the above article contains nothing about the "search for the root cause of terrorism", but takes the opportunity to try to paint a moral equivalence between the conduct of the US and al-Qaeda. To quote:

"The aims of both al-Qaeda and some of these Western governments are somehow similar: Both "sides" believe in bombing and wars, both "sides" try to create the impressions that the other is evil and deserves to be destroyed in the name of (ironically) humanity, and both sides are spreading hatred and terror.

Both have used and sacrificed ordinary working class people, to achieve their ambitions, whatever these ambitions are. As Noam Chomsky has stated, George Bush used fear as a tool for his re-election, and had to manufacture another threat to American security to win his Presidency."


Christopher Hitchens on Rove

Rove Rage - The poverty of our current scandal. By Christopher Hitchens

The link is to the ever readable Hitchens on the Rove/Wilson stuff. Excellent! (Although Professor Bunyip did a good job on this too.)

Avoiding the issue

From the same website that I linked to in my last post, which from a quick look seems generally to be a relatively moderate Islamic site, note this question and answer:

"If it is proved that a Muslim carried out the London bombings and I know something about him. Shall I call the non-Muslim police to arrest him? Or hand him to a Muslim schoalr or imam who can talk to him and convince him no to do that henious act again? Does this case have an origin in Fiqh literature?

Answer In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful. All praise and thanks are due to Allah, and peace and blessings be upon His Messenger. According the Qur'an: (Whoever saves a human life, it is as if he has saved the entire humanity.) (Al-Ma`idah 5: 32) Therefore, if you found someone that is planning to attack civilians and innocent people, then you have to stop him by all legitimate means, including giving advice, preventing him from carrying out the crime, or even calling the police if he refuses to listen to you. There is no difference between Muslims and non-Muslims as for being perpetrators or victims, because every human life counts in Islam. The Qur'an, talking about the prohibition to kill people, used the word "nafs" which means "soul" without making a distinction between Muslims and non-Muslims. "

See how the question says the person was already involved, but doesn't concentrate on whether to report him for that, but just on what to do to stop him doing it again. And the answer doesn't address the need to arrest him because he has already done the crime.

Is it too much for an Islamic leader to just say "yes, call the police if you believe he was involved"? And I am sure the UK police have Islamic liaison officers, as if that should matter anyway.

Everything you may never have wanted to know about this...

I am not really mocking Islam by linking to this detailed explanation of Islamic views on toilet paper. I was just genuinely curious about how detailed they get in their teachings on this.

However, you can't but help find the reference to using rocks or pebbles a bit funny, can you? Pity the poor desert dwellers, I suppose.

I am also curious about how many Muslims really follow the shaving pubic hair bit. I mean, it's not like your fellow Mosque attendees are ever likely to see, are they?

Facing facts When Denial Can Kill -- Jul. 25, 2005

The link is to a good essay from this week's Time magazine, about how Islamic leaders should face up to the fact that the Koran can be used to "justify" terrorism, and start their counter-arguments from that point (rather than from a blanket assertion that Islam is all about peace.) Well worth a read.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Arab conspiracies

U.S. forces behind deadly children bomb: Iraqi experts -

See the above link for stupid propaganda that Arab media is still prepared to promote. It's a worry.

By the way, although I initially thought this website was connected to Aljazeera TV, it seems not to be.

Anyway, this Aljazeera website even has a special area for conspiracy theories, where it would seem every possible rumour gets a run, without any serious commentary at all.

Are Arabs especially pre-disposed to believing rumour and conspiracy? Of course the West has its fair share of conspiracy nutters too; but it is distressing to see the websites like this (which, from its commercial advertising, looks at at least a little main-streamish) playing such a role in promoting damaging and ridiculous rumours.

Camel robot jockeys

The Australian: Robot jockeys saddle up [July 19, 2005]

Why haven't I seen this on TV yet? Robot sports, that's what the world is waiting for...

Monday, July 18, 2005

Mad Katter on IR reform

Damn. On ABC Radio News this afternoon, I heard a snippet from mad Bob Katter about why he will oppose the Howard government's IR reforms. Unfortunately, I can't see it quoted anywhere on the net yet, so you will have to do with my paraphrase.

Bob said he will oppose it because even though he was involved in Joh Bjelke Peterson's fights with union, he does not want to see us go back to not just the 1960's, but the 1860's, when mining companies owned the children who wore numbers around their neck as they were sent down into the mines. (I am not making this up.)

Gee, I wonder why the union's ad campaigns don't mention that? I can see the ad now. Mum gets phone call threatening the sack if she can't change her shift. "But there must be some way I can keep my job?" she asks. Cut to the kids in sackcloth in the mine elevator.

Update: OK the actual quote now:

"They say I want to go back to the 1960s, the McEwen era, the old Country Party era, well that's absolutely true," he said.

"But it's a hell of a lot better to go back to 1960 than where they want to go, which is 1860, where little children went down mines with steel collars with numbers and were actually owned by the mine owners."

Space shuttle coming near you (well, me)

According to this bit of fun news over the weekend, (RAAF Base) Amberley - about 40 km west of Brisbane - is on the list of potential emergency landing sites for the space shuttle.

Is the runway there long enough? Well, it seems the Florida runway is 15,000 ft, with an extra 2,000 ft of paved overruns and Amberley is close enough to 10,000. So I guess it would do in a pinch. However, if I lived at Leichhardt (Ipswich suburb more or less right on the edge of the base) and I heard the shuttle was on its way in, I would be outta there pretty damn quick.

Webdiary's unsurprising slant on London

As Tim Blair noted (somewhere, I've lost it now), Webdiary was mysteriously silent for a long time on the London bombings. Possibly the technical problems afftecting the site recently?

In any event, this article (subtitled "commentary by Margo Kingston", but containing simply her very brief introduction to an article by John Richardson) is an entirely predictable rant that blames all of Islamic terrorism on, you guessed it, the West. America in particular. London only gets brief mention, but the blame the victim message is clear.

One "new" thing I noted in it was this:

"Then this week, the much quieter voice of an Iraqi humanitarian organization reported that 128,000 Iraqis have been killed since the US invasion began in March 2003 (Civilian Casualties In Iraq)."

The link is to a website here, the "World Peace Herald", which apparently is owned by the Moonies and seems to run a suspiciously sympathetic line on Islamofacsism (see story here, headed " 'To stop terrorism, accept pious Muslims on equal terms' ".)

Anyway, there is next to no detail on the Iraqi source of this new casualty figure, and a quick Google search adds nothing. No one should take it seriously without some proper detail. But that's no problem for Richardson (or Margo, if its "her" commentary piece).

Admittedly, Webdiary follows with a piece by Darlene Taylor which briefly attacks this sort of crap, but is mostly devoted to a review of David Williamson's latest play.

I knew Webdairy would eventually come to the party.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Iraqi doctor and other troubles

Doctors in Iraq

The link above is about the trouble doctors in Iraq face regarding their personal security.

I could be wrong, but I would have thought that most of the kidnapping for money was being done by criminal gangs, rather than insurgents wanting to topple the government. But if that is correct, just how many criminals are there in that country? Perhaps 300 doctors have been kidnapped since Saddam fell? That's a hell of a lot of criminals to be in on this money raising scheme.

I find it really hard to fathom the depravity of some of the actions against Iraqis recently. Today's suicide bombing in Baghdad, in which a suicide bomber is prepared to take out about 24 kids for the sake a killing one or two US soldiers, is especially appalling.

How can they possibly think that actions like these will ultimately help their cause? I mean, even if the USA just up and left tomorrow , the behaviour of the terrorists has surely already completely alienated them from the great majority of the Iraqis who have had their first taste of democracy and freedom. Are they not smart enough to know they have lost already? Is no one getting on Iraqi television and telling them this each night?

Monday, July 11, 2005

Iraq/al Qaeda

For anyone who missed it, via Powerline I found this useful summary regarding al Qaeda and Iraq. I am waiting for it to appear in The Age. Any decade now, it might.

What I find most disturbing is the wilful blindness of the MSM to this side of the story.
And those on the Left who refuse to budge in their original belief that there is was connection. It seems very similar to the "fake turkey" meme so riduculed over at Tim Blair. Some ideas just get stuck in the MS media's little mind, then in some of the MSM's consumer's mind. Reading a wide range of blogs is the cure, but some refuse to take it.

Journalism is only the very roughest first draft of history, but how many people appreciate that?

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Terror Blogging

Domestic duties will likely make my blogging rate slow down quite a a bit this week.

As to London, it seems that there is little left to blog about given the great flood of blog entries on the story. If another Sep 11 scale attack happened, would all the blog servers cope, I wonder. I am not implying any criticism of blogging on this; in fact it is amazing how much interesting and high quality commentary there is from pure "amateurs" in the blogosphere.

I like what Christopher Hitchens has said on this, both on Slate and on ABC Radio National on Friday morning. (I figure there is no need to link, as I presume most people of conservative leaning follow him pretty closely since his dramatic break from the "let's blame the victim" Left after 9-11.)

Paul Sheehan in the Sydney Morning Herald today is good too. I find he can be rather hit or miss in his commentary, but this seems a pretty solid "hit".

Of course, the SMH can't let his views uncontradicted, so they also feature Tariq Ali in the same edition blaming the West for its "state terror" against such nice people such as Saddam and the Taliban. Interestingly, Tariq uses the phrase "Islamo-anarchists" for the terrorists, as opposed to "Islamo fascists" as per Hitchens. But surely "anarchy" is exactly the opposite of what Islamic fundamentalists want in a government of their creation. "Fascism" as defined on, is exactly the right word.

While I was at, I just had to double check the correct meaning of "fatuous" to make sure if it was the word for Ali's column. (" Vacuously, smugly, and unconsciously foolish.") Yep, that's it!

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Webdiary: technical problem fixed; mental problems continue

Over at Webdiary, the entry on the government's intended IR reforms has this (unremarkable) comment from one Jay White:

"I have noticed a constant theme from Howard haters since the last election. That is that somehow the Government lied about adverse interest rate rises under a Latham Government.

This is another myth and blatant mistruth. The Government never claimed that Latham's policies would cause interest rate rises. What they did claim was that interest rates have always on average been lower under a Coalition Government measured post world war II against a Labor one. Truth, do the math if you do not believe me." etc

The response from another Webdiary reader, Peter Woodforde:

"Achtung, achtung! Deeply disturbing, typically nasty and sarcastic post.

Jay White: (muttering about J Winston Howard’s quite dishonest election campaign interest rates smoke and mirrors fandango) “do the math if you do not believe me” Indeed.

Yeah, and we Australians are always talkiin’ about “the math” Young Republican Roto-rooter Jay.

You wanna come here, then learn the bloody lingo sport. All the other refugees do, or at least have a go.

If it’s good enough for people running from Saddam, Tienanmen or the Taliban, then it’s also good enough for the Boys from Brazil or Kalifornia uber Alles.

And kindly leave your flaming “math” behind you. It’s not just a cultural-linguistic glitch, Jay-low. It’s boots-and-bloody-all, hated tele-imperialism.

What might add up in Wall Street, the Ozarks and Hollywood don’t work here, mate. Despite all appearances, we have a crack at being civilised on our day. Have a crack yourself.

And hand in your guns, White Supremacy and market liberalisation to the bloke at the door, who will lodge them in his furnace for safekeeping."

And remember, this is a moderated commentary site. Take your medication and lie down for a while Peter.

Problems in Uganda

I don't want to decry efforts to help Africa, but when you read articles like this one (concerning one particular problem in Uganda) it just boggles the mind as to how that continent's ongoing governance problems can ever really be addressed by the West. Well, short of colonial rule again.

I hope the article is accurate, as I notice that the same magazine (the Tablet) also has an article from Madeleine Bunting, who I criticised about 4 posts ago.

Feeeed me - Baby girl weighs in at nearly 14 pounds - Jun 29, 2005

No comment necessary. (But the parents do look normal- check the second picture in the box.)

Gone North by Northwest

Telegraph | News | Ernest Lehman

A little sad to see the passing of one of the best screenwriters of last century. For me, he is most noteworthy for the extremely witty and entertaining original script for "North by Northwest", for which (as I recall, and as the above article indicates) he spent a lot of time personally researching the trip Roger O Thornhill (Gary Grant) was to make in the film. I think I have a book on the shelf that contains an extended interview with him. Must look it up.

10,000 Pharaohs?

From this story (Rampage before dawn ignites protest chaos) in The Scotsman on the rabble riots in Edinburgh, can someone explain this:

"In the Springkerse area of Stirling, protesters pulled the protective iron grill from the windows of a Burger King restaurant and smashed its windows. The wall was dubbed in graffiti: "10,000 Pharaohs Six Billion Slaves.""

Where does the magic figure of 10,000 come from?

Maybe it's the deodorant

This article Ovulating women favour dominant men's smell - Sniff test suggests when, and with whom, women are most likely to cheat suggestst that women can be just as shallow as men.

But really, if it is all based on how attractive women find the smell of armpit sweat, I hope the study took adequate account of the possible lingering effect of different deodorants. Maybe more "dominant" men buy stronger lasting deodorants, even if they were told not to use it for a few days before the trial?

I also question what use this sort of research really is. It has a certain level of interest, but basically we all know some men get more than other men, don't we? Do we have to do studies to really work out precisely what it is that gives some men the edge?

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Unhelpful commentary on Africa

Still bearing the white man's burden - Opinion -

This column, by a Guardian writer, is of interest for a couple of reasons. She complains that the Live 8 and G8 events don't help Africans much to the extent that they re-inforce a perceived status of Africans as passive victims. On a certain level, I can more or less agree.

But then, being a Guardian columnist, she can't help herself and has to come back to arguing that they really are, after all, victims (of capitalism):

"The West, in its rapacious and impatient greed, destroys with contempt or indifference all that it can't appropriate for its own aggrandisement. Africa exposes - like no other continent - the hubristic arrogance of the Western industrialised countries that dominate the globe and are forcing an entire species into one model of human development - a model with catastrophic shortcomings."

What does she think the West can learn from Africa?:

"Now is precisely the point at which we need to learn about the genius of Africa's own history of development, which, Lonsdale suggests, lies in the extraordinary resilience and self-sufficiency to survive and adapt in habitats not always conducive to human life. The resilience is derived in part from an investment in relationships (rather than things); partly it lies in the qualities of self-disciplined willpower that sustain individuals against all the odds. These are skills we've forgotten or may never have had, but the coming centuries suggest we'll need to learn them from Africans."

Wow, she can tell us what we need to learn from Africa not just now, but for centuries to come. I guess she is talking about global warming, and perhaps suggesting that when the heat goes up we will be best served by going back into little clan based villages re-learning how to scratch around the deserts to find a bit of sustenance?

But seriously, this is useless commentary at its best. At heart, it is a whinge about history and another attempt to ascribe a degree of moral superiority to indigenous populations. (Africans are so much more into relationships than, say, Italian families, or Asian countries. That was sarcasm by the way.)

Most importantly, it suggests nothing practical about how anyone really can help poor dying Africans in their current plight. Just having the West stand around and agree that the African continent is not completely a bunch of passive losers won't much help those who need food, modern drugs, clean water and less bullet holes in the head today.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Optimism in science and life

All regular readers (all 3 of you?) know that I like popular science magazines. I see a new Aussie one has started, called Cosmos. Unfortunately, the website is nothing but an index to their first edition, and the "news" section is just all of the company's press releases about the magazine.

I have not (yet) bought the first edition, but from my quick browse of it in the newsagent, its style reminds me very much of the dear departed Omni magazine. For the first few years, I really liked Omni. (I think I still have a cardboard carton's worth, waiting for the day I need to find some old half remembered article.) I enjoyed its short fiction, its speculative science, and (most importantly) its optimism.

An optimistic view of the potential for science and technology to solve many of the problems of the world is now sadly lacking. Know-nothing (or know-very-little) teachers from the 1970's onwards have trained young students to be pessimistic, aided and abetted by an environmental movement with a romantic and completely incorrect belief that, left alone, the world would never change and be perfect. Indeed, there is little optimism for the potential of human kind to even be around for any cosmologically significant time.

Anyway, no magazine keeps the same quality forever, and Omni gradually became worse and finally died.

I wish Cosmos some luck if it is going to go with an optimistic world view. But I guess one thing I am pessimistic about is the limited potential readership for a glossy science magazine in Australia.

Incidentally, while I have not really thought this out very extensively, I am of the view that the modern conservative is well and truly the optimist compared to those on the left of politics. Optimistic that people can treat each other well without the need for over-regulation by government or thought police. More optimistic on technology and science too. Certainly, it is less beholden to the environment movement, for which the only approved technology seems to be noisy ugly wind mills.

The little black dog

The little black dog that colours your life grey - Opinion -

The link is to Greg Barnes' article in The Age today going on about his apparent perpetual dark mood.

While he gives anti-depressants a mention (they don't solve his problem), he says nothing about cognitive therapy, which for some years now has been seen as a real success story for treating depression.

I am no expert, but sounds to me like cognitive therapy is exactly the sort of thing he should be trying.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Criticism of Critics - War of the Worlds

I saw War of the Worlds yesterday. I don't have the time or inclination to do full movie reviews here, but as I enjoy reading movie criticism even if I don't see the movie, I like to point out good and bad criticism I have found.

Reaction to this movie seems to be pretty divided between those who found it extremely tense and scary, and those who claim to have felt nothing. Science fiction is a bit problematic for some people who can just never imagine themselves in an alternative situation other than the present or historic world. Never understood that myself, but I can't be too harsh, because I happen to belong to a relatively small sub set of people who like science fiction but are left cold by most fantasy (including, dare I admit it, Tolkien in both book and cinema versions.)

Anyway, count me in the group who found the movie emotionally gruelling and a wonder to behold. But, I found it so tense and affecting that I find it a little hard to strongly recommend to a non science fiction fan as an enjoyable night out.

Now to stupid criticisms of it. Roger Ebert's just about takes the cake. I have rarely seen a stupider review, especially from someone who is well read, knows the source material, and is capable of liking science ficition. He attacks the lack of apparent (or explained) logic of the aliens. (Seems bleeding obvious to me that it is a terraforming project going on. But this is simply not the type of movie that needs an explanation spelt out too bluntly. Its angle - to show an other-worldly attack simply from the point of view of an ordinary man trying to escape it - has rightly been much praised for being more realistic than something like the woeful "Independence Day".) He likes nothing about the tripods. To quote:

"All of this is just a way of leading up to the gut reaction I had all through the film: I do not like the tripods. I do not like the way they look, the way they are employed, the way they attack, the way they are vulnerable or the reasons they are here. A planet that harbors intelligent and subtle ideas for science fiction movies is invaded in this film by an ungainly Erector set. "

This is not serious movie criticism, in my books. And basically, it is attacking a movie for being too faithful to the fundamentals of the original book.

I have just gone and checked what Ebert thought of Independence Day. He gave it 1/2 a star more, although also questions the logic of much of the film! Really, for me this has blown all of his credibility when it comes to science fiction reviews.

Now my other point is that I have read 2 Australia reviewers (will link later) who have mentioned a "logic" flaw that is given an explanation in the film.
(Slight spoiler warning for what follows)

This is to do with the fact that the car the Tom Cruise character gets in to drive away from the mayhem works, when all other cars are disabled due to electro magnetic pulse.

Do these critics pay no attention at all? The explanation (that the car had just been repaired, a fact Tom knew because he had earlier had a conversation with the mechanic) could only have been clearer if the script writer had come into the cinema, stopped the movie and gave them a personal recitation of the (already perfectly audible) lines again. (Now I admit, the nature of the repair explained in the film may not be perfect - it referred to a new solenoid being put it, whereas the other cars stopped on the road presumably had more wrong with their electronics than that -but at least it is a semi-plausible explanation towards having this car work when others had stopped.)

These critics seem to suggest there is simply no explanation given in the film. I just cannot believe they missed it.

Update: I have been trying to think of a good analogy to Ebert's dislike of the tripods. Maybe it's like complaining that the film of "The Old Man and the Sea" spends too much time in a boat.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Doctors and abortion in Australia

eMJA: Abortion: time to clarify Australia's confusing laws

The link is to a Medical Journal of Australia article from last year talking about the muddled legal position in Australia for abortion. (The article calls for a debate, and arose from the same abortion for dwarfism case that is in the news at the moment.)

Disturbingly, the report says:

"A survey of Australian clinical geneticists and obstetricians specialising in ultrasound showed that about 75% believed that termination for fetal dwarfism should be available as a clinical option at 24 weeks."

This is a sign if ever there was one that you don't leave medical ethics up to the doctors alone to decide.

Meanwhile in England, the doctors are talking about the general issue of late term abortions. It would seem that the UK legislation does actually do the tough job of setting time limits, although it is still possible "in extreme circumstances" to get an abortion after the first 24 weeks. It is not clear from the MJA article, but I presume that it should be at least harder for a woman there to abort for dwarfism after 24 weeks.

One of the most irksome things about this issue in Australia is the resistance to even discussion of time limits that comes from some of the pro choice lobby. I may add to this later.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Bosler Alert !

Margo Kingston's Webdiary -

The link above is to another very deep and meaningful - yet typically obscure - entry by Margo's artist in residence Robert Bosler.

This entry is reflecting on Latham's legacy, told from the poetic view point of a very confused person coming home:

"You are a spouse. It’s been a long day, they all are, even the days off feel long now.

Your own spouse will be home soon."

As opposed to someone else's spouse?

Then on to Mark Latham:

"He was never to be Prime Minister, we know that now. Yet he was about creating a new Prime Ministership, and this he may well yet achieve."

He's already "achieved" leaving us with a PM who isn't mad, which is something to his credit. And as to meta meaning of Latham:

"The Latham message is still working through."

Yes, like a dose of salts, as they used to say.

" It is not so much a message we can receive of words, nor of actions. It’s one of inner belief."

The message is that you must be - read that again - you must be - who you are. Yours is not to go through the motions of life, nor to have life happen to you. Yours is to live it."

Preferably in a calmer way than Mark, though.

Robert's picture of our life in the burbs then gets decidedly schizophrenic:

"John Howard is on the news. You don't support Howard, and your feelings are sure of that. You do support John Howard, and, equally, you feel sure of that. You are sure, too, that it’s now well into the national time of ne'er the two shall meet. In these things, you feel secure, and having long ago arrived at your conclusions, you can now relax."

And to summarise:

"Before Latham, something within us slowly died. John Howard appealed to that part of us. He does it still. He appeals to the deadedness within us.

Mark Latham burst onto the scene and appealed to the life within us. We raged at him. We saw hope in him. One way or another, we were motivated once again by real life in politics, and we responded."

Yes indeed, by voting against an immature, unstable, bitter and twisted character and setting back his party's hope of return to government even further.