Friday, September 30, 2005

Springtime photo

It's well and truly spring in Brisbane, with temperatures of around 30 degrees due over the weekend. This sunflower was grown in our backyard.

Now for something different

I have been to Tokyo, but missed these establishments while I wandered the back alleys of Akihabara looking at gadgets and cameras. To quote from the Japan Times article:

"A 21-year-old student, Hiroshi was enlisted by Dacapo to report on a visit to "LaLa," a newly opened shop in Tokyo's Akihabara district that rents private rooms furnished with a bath, toilet and, one other item . . . life-size female "mannequins."

Businesses renting sex dolls have been springing up rapidly over the past two years, and may currently number over 100 in the Tokyo area alone. Most specialize in home delivery, but LaLa's stable of 17 latex ladies do their entertaining on the premises."


Double Jeopardy and Queensland

Queensland continues to be run by lawyers who seemingly refuse to accept that the legal system should have an interest in truth, not just procedure. The State Attorney General Mrs Lavarch (wife of former Keating government attorney general Michael Lavarch) has decided that Queensland will not reform double jeopardy laws, even though New South Wales and perhaps 2 other Labor led States are likely to do so.

This is all well covered in last week's Law Report on ABC Radio National (see transcript here.) It all arises from the Carroll case, where a twice convicted man still walks free (and according to the mother of the murdered baby, he would come into the shop where she worked and expect her to serve him at the check out. See the transcript of the Australian Story episode in which this part of the story was told.)

I still don't feel that I know enough about the Carroll case to comment fully about it. The part that I need to know more about is how badly they got the dental evidence at the first trial wrong (it appears that the match was "upside down", which sounds like some basic incompetence on the part of the expert witnesses. However, the dental evidence was re-visited in the second trial.)

I do not for the life of me understand why (on the appeal from the first trial) the court of appeal said that the trial judge should not have allowed in evidence from Carroll's first wife that it appeared to her that he used to bite his daughter in the same manner as appeared on the murdered baby (see Australian Story transcript.)

Anyway, even without understanding the whole Carroll case fully, the fact that Queensland's AG can't accept even a cautious reform of this ancient law is what drives me crazy.

And rushing in to support her is the current President of the Queensland Law Society (Rob Davis), who argues in precisely the manner which causes reasonable people to lose confidence in the legal system. The proposed reform as explained in the Law Report is this:

"The New South Wales model puts forward a very feasible solution... because it provides that the police on finding new evidence by way of DNA, for argument’s sake, that they would make application to the Director of Prosecutions if the Director of Prosecutions felt that there was fresh and compelling evidence they could make application to the Court of Criminal Appeal, so there are those two safeguards in place. The Court of Criminal Appeal could order one extra re-trial and the matter could then proceed, or they could dismiss it."

It would also only apply to "serious crime".

How does Rob Davis approach this? By huffing and puffing as follows:

"Rob Davis: Double jeopardy’s one of those things which sets us aside from totalitarian societies where governments can and do use the power of the legal system to oppress individuals.

Annie Warburton: But we’re just talking about proposals to allow the state just one more go at an accused person, in the case of serious crime where compelling, fresh new evidence has arisen. Surely that’s not oppressive?

Rob Davis: Yes, it is, because even one prosecution of an individual can absolutely destroy that individual in terms of their finances. The state has power to enlist the assistance of the best legal talent in bringing prosecutions; individuals have to rely on their own financial resources. Legal Aid is not always available, and when a person is prosecuted and the state fails, that individual doesn’t get compensated for all the time and effort and money that they’ve had to spend in defending their claim."

Well look Rob, if it's the financial burden on the innocent that you are worried about, that could be easily dealt with by the government providing for a guarantee of legal aid to all persons who face a second trial. For God's sake, the suggested reform is likely to result in a second trial once in a blue moon.

"Annie Warburton: The mother of murdered baby Deidre Kennedy, and the federal politician Peter Dutton, who’s been supporting her campaign all these years, maintain very forcefully that the majority of people want at least that small step towards reform to allow one more prosecution in serious cases where there’s compelling new evidence. Do you agree that that’s what most people want?

Rob Davis: No I don’t. Look, it’s a very tragic case and this is not a comment in relation to the horrendous situation that they found themselves in, but this is not one of those areas where you can just put one side to the public and say what does the public want, you also have to put to the public what’s the importance to them of being able to live their life in a free and open society. Do we want a society which is more oppressive, more totalitarian, where the individual can become inconvenient to the state and suffer repeated prosecutions. Or are we prepared to accept that to have a free and open society there are some costs. And one of the costs is that sometimes there may be guilty people who go free. But surely that’s far more preferable than a society in which many innocent people are either crushed by the power of the state, or can go to jail for crimes that they didn’t commit."

What a crock. Doesn't he trust the courts in the supervisory role they would have in even allowing a second trial to take place?

He is just displaying legal conservatism at its worst. It is the type of argument that is exploited by criminal lawyers in particular, because they know that certain redundant laws of evidence or criminal procedure can be used to their advantage.

This was dealt with well by Richard Ackland in his column in the Sydney Morning Herald this week. He is often very "precious" and I frequently do not agree with him, but this time I do. His column was about the attacks that a couple of prominant Sydney criminal lawyers made against Crown Prosecutor Margaret Cunneen after she gave a talk at a law school earlier this year. To quote from the column:

"Among the most salient of Cunneen's points is that technology has made the gathering of evidence in criminal cases more extensive, and indeed more reliable, than at any previous time. But that has led to more complex trials, because the challenge by defendants to the admissibility of strong, probative material, such as DNA evidence, takes on a greater importance.

Further, she thought that it might be time to consider whether the pendulum has swung too far in favour of protection of the rights of the accused. "What must not be lost in the rhetoric of the criminal law and our zeal to afford every possible protection to accused persons is the fact that every time a guilty person is acquitted, the law, in a sense, has failed the community it exists to serve."

She knew it was heresy to say such a thing because it confronts some of the law's basic articles of faith, not to mention leaps of faith. Cunneen added, "There seems to be a fashion, among some in the criminal justice system, for a kind of misplaced altruism, that it is somehow a noble thing to assist a criminal to evade conviction."

And her final flourish: "Justice isn't achieved by ambush, trickery, dragging proceedings out in a war of attrition with witnesses. It's achieved by honesty, balance and proportion." '

The final point made by Ackland sums it up well:

"The Crown prosecutor's belief that the emphasis on process in criminal cases comes at the expense of discovering the truth, is something that should be said loudly and often. It appears that confidence in the administration of justice depends on keeping these issues quarantined from illumination.

That her speech was used to have her removed from prosecuting various retrials of earlier Sydney rape cases is illustrative of the very point her Sir Ninian Stephen Lecture made."

If you live in Queensland, or indeed any other State which similarly refuses to take the double jeopardy reform movement seriously, I suggest you write to your local member, and also to the opposition party to see what their policy is. I certainly intend to.

Cats and Madness (and the risks of rare steak)

I've mentioned before the possible mind altering effect of toxoplasma, the bug that is carried by cats. (The suggestion being that, just as infected rats have been shown to have a much reduced fear of cats, people with the bug in their brains might also take more risks in life.)

While wandering around the Web this week, I was very surprised to find that there have also been studies to see if there is a link with full blown schziophrenia. See this CDC study here. It's a bit of a worry. The summary:

"Since 1953, a total of 19 studies of T. gondii antibodies in persons with schizophrenia and other severe psychiatric disorders and in controls have been reported; 18 reported a higher percentage of antibodies in the affected persons; in 11 studies the difference was statistically significant. Two other studies found that exposure to cats in childhood was a risk factor for the development of schizophrenia."

I have read before that the rate of toxoplasma infection (as shown by blood studies) varies from country to country a great. France has a very high rate (around 80% !!,) believed to be from a fondness for eating rare meat. So, one would presume if there was any connection between toxoplasma and schziophrenia, it should up in that country's rates of madness. Seems like it does (although the study is very cautious about this):

"Whether any geographic association exists between the prevalence of toxoplasmosis and the prevalence of schizophrenia is unknown. France, which has a high prevalence of Toxoplasma-infected persons, was reported to have first-admission rates for schizophrenia approximately 50% higher than those in England (41). Ireland also has a high rate of Toxoplasma-infected persons in rural areas (42), confirmed by the high rate of infection in hospital personnel in our own study. "

Is there clear evidence that toxoplasma infection can cause schziophrenia like symptoms. Yep:

"Some cases of acute toxoplasmosis in adults are associated with psychiatric symptoms such as delusions and hallucinations. A review of 114 cases of acquired toxoplasmosis noted that “psychiatric disturbances were very frequent” in 24 of the case-patients (10). Case reports describe a 22-year-old woman who exhibited paranoid and bizarre delusions (“she said she had no veins in her arms and legs”), disorganized speech, and flattened affect; a 32-year-old woman who had auditory and visual hallucinations; and a 34-year-old woman who experienced auditory hallucinations and a thought disorder (11). Schizophrenia was first diagnosed in all three patients, but later neurologic symptoms developed, which led to the correct diagnosis of Toxoplasma encephalitis. Psychiatric manifestations of T. gondii are also prominent in immunocompromised persons with AIDS in whom latent infections have become reactivated."

So should cats be seen as a risk factor for schziophrenia? Seems a pretty good case exists

"Epidemiologically, two studies have reported that adults who have schizophrenia or bipolar disorder had a greater exposure to cats in childhood. In one study, 84 (51%) of the 165 affected versus 65 (38%) of the 165 matched controls had owned a house cat in childhood (p = 0.02) (39). In the other study, 136 (52%) of the 262 affected versus 219 (42%) of the 522 matched controls owned a cat between birth and age 13 (odds ratio 1.53; p <>

Fascinating, hey? And I am very surprised that I had never heard of this before. (The CDC paper is nearly 2 years old now.) Maybe a world wide conspiracy of cat owners is suppressing this news from the MSM.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Read the fine print

In all of the news reports about Israel continuing operations in Gaza at the moment, few bother to give this bit of detail about the background to the current escalation (this is from the BBC):

"Meanwhile, shrapnel found in the bodies of people killed in last week's blast in northern Gaza came from Hamas' homemade rockets, the Palestinian Authority has said.

Its forensic report said the shrapnel resembled that used by the Palestinian militant group in its Qassam rockets.

Findings discredit Hamas' claim that Israel caused the Jabaliya blast

Hamas blamed Israel for the Jabaliya blast that killed at least 15 people, a charge Israel denies. The incident has led to a dramatic upsurge in violence.

The forensic report was published by the interior ministry's explosive unit.

The Palestinian Authority said Hamas militants mishandled the home-made weapons during a big rally in the Jabaliya refugee camp on Friday.

Hamas had earlier said Israeli planes had fired missiles into the crowd.

Following the blast, the group fired dozens of rockets into southern Israel, injuring several people.

Israel retaliated by firing missiles at a number of targets in Gaza during air raids and also by launching a massive series of arrests."

I did hear this mentioned on ABC radio this morning, but it is given little prominence in the web reporting at the moment.

Watch out if you are in Royal Brisbane hospital

Another discouraging story of a foreign trained doctor (a surgeon) in Queensland being "out of his depth" was reported today in the Courier Mail.

This came out of the ongoing health inquiry.

Dr Lakshman Jayasekera told inquiry commissioner Geoff Davies, QC, he was called in by a nurse to provide urgent help for the patient.

He said he was not working when "I received a telephone call from a theatre nurse, whose name I recall only as Gail, (who) called me and asked me to come in, using the words 'Lucky, can you come in as we have a patient who is going to die on the table'.

"I immediately went to the hospital and I found a patient that was in the process of being operated on by the Russian doctor and he had conducted an operation on this patient not knowing what to do."

Dr Jayasekera, an Australian-qualified surgeon and fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons, said he completed the operation successfully and complained to a superior who asked him to supervise Dr Kotlovsky in future."

But the Russian doctor complains:

'Dr Kotlovsky described the allegations as "absolutely incredible".

"I would like to know what they are talking about," he said. "It is completely incorrect. I remember all my patients at Bundaberg Base Hospital."

In evidence at the inquiry last month, Dr Kees Nydam, a member of Bundaberg hospital's management team, described the case of Dr Kotlovsky as "a bit of a disaster".

Dr Nydam said he questioned if Dr Kotlovsky ever had the pediatric surgery qualifications he claimed to have achieved in Moscow.

"Nursing staff, junior medical staff said 'this guy is a bit funny, we don't know exactly what'," Dr Nydam told former inquiry commissioner Tony Morris, QC.'

But is the doctor still working in Queensland hospitals? Yes indeed - now at Royal Brisbane hospital.

What's going on here? I trust that one result of this whole inquiry process will be some sort of urgent revision of how professional standards of surgeons are to be properly monitored and maintained.

Also, you can hardly criticise any patients in the Queensland public health system for questioning the capabilities of a foreign trained doctor who is treating them.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Sitcoms in History

With the recent deaths of Bob Denver and now Don Adams, I would be a little worried if I were the next aging 60's sitcom star with a head cold at the moment.

I was thinking about sitcoms generally, and my personal favourites over the years. If I had any substantial readership, I suppose I could try starting one of those blog meme things, but who could I "tag"...

Anyway, for what it is worth, here's how I would vote in some sitcom categories:

Current favourite sitcom: "Malcolm in the Middle," although I missed some of last season and it seems to have been off the air here for a while. Genuinely very funny, with clever writing. Not afraid to be silly, but the characters still maintain a certain reality. A close second may be "Scrubs", as I have been watching the first season repeated on the Comedy Channel in the last few weeks. Unfortunately, I think I have only seen one episode of the second series, as it was moved to some ridiculous time slot, and maybe the quality hasn't held.

[Australian TV executives sometimes have a bizarre way of hiding top notch sitcoms in obscure time slots for literally years, then finding that when they run them at prime time they are hits after all ("Frasier" is the prime example.)]

But generally, I have to say that sitcoms have not faired well in the last decade. I seem to remember many watchable sitcoms from the 1980's, but into the 90's the situation got much worse. "Friends" was good for the first season, and got sillier and sillier after that, tied with a somewhat irritating liberal take on everything. (It's credibility never recovered from having a duck living in the apartment.)

Favourite 60's sitcom: Get Smart, hands down. Addams Family, when viewed today, is still pretty good. Both have a certain ageless quality.

Favourite 80's sitcom: Maybe a tie between "Roseanne" (but only for the first 2 seasons) and "Cheers", which was consistently enjoyable, but the characters never felt 100% "real". How could any of them spend so much time in the pub? By the way, should the "Wonder Years" be called a sitcom? If it counts, the first 2 seasons were perhaps my favouite. (Again, it fell apart by the last season.)

Favourite 90's sitcom: Close tie between "Frasier" and "Seinfeld". These were both high quality, funny shows, but apart from them, the 1990's looked pretty bad.

Most overrated current sitcom: "Arrested Development", now being run on Comedy Channel. It's not awful by any means, and some good laughs to be had, but doesn't deserve all those Emmys.

Most unwatchable sitcom in the history of television: "Married with Children." Awful on every conceiveable level - and it ran for so long. I think I would prefer to watch some jive-talking black 70's sitcoms.

Most underappreciated sitcom of last decade: Bob Newhart's last sitcom - 1997's "George & Leo" ran on cable here on Saturday mornings not so long ago, and delighted me. I found it significantly funnier than his last version of the "Bob Newhart show" - the one in the inn in Vermont.

Best sitcom of all time: "Mary Tyler Moore." Very funny, but with sympathetic and realistic characters. The best sustained quality over many years for any sitcom. Still funny in repeats today, and observing 70's style is now part of the fun.

You may have noticed that no British sitcom makes the list. Well, they certainly are in a dire state now, and have been for years. I even remain ambivalent about "Fawlty Towers", it being a little too cruel and black for my taste, but I have seen every episode and admire its plotting and some of its humour. The problem with most British sitcoms is that they seem to have usually been done by only one or two writers, and it hard for them to maintain quality. American ones invariably have a raft of writers, and that must help.

I don't think "Blackadder" really counts as a sitcom. But it is probably the funniest British thing on TV over the last 22 years. (It started in 1983!!)

World Bank looks at inequality

BBC NEWS | Business | World Bank rediscovers inequality

This story (linked above) is interesting and important, but (as far as I can see from Google news search,) it hasn't appeared in the Australian media yet. (It gets a story in the Jakarta Post today too.)

Meanwhile at The Age, today they run what looks like an opinion piece that they have been holding for a slow news day. It is an attempted rebuttal by the writer of Aussie movie "Three Dollars" against conservative writers' criticism of the movie:

'The burden of their criticism seems to be that the socio-economic conditions in present Australia portrayed, with parabolic licence, in the film and in the novel by the same name, are "utterly unreal"'

"Parabolic licence" means what exactly. Wildly exaggerated?

The writer then goes on to explain how bad things really are in Australia, all due to free trade, of course:

"It is an article of faith for proponents of free trade that the industries that have or that are disappearing will be replaced by much higher-tech industries.

We'll make the clever stuff, they'd have us believe. We'll switch over by the hundreds of thousands, nay the millions, into molecular biological innovation, into the genetic manipulation of new vaccines, into making better MRI machines. Let the hapless Chinese make all the stuff we used to make, we're told. We'll make the stuff they're not clever enough to make. And as for the millions of us not clever enough either, we'll get - you'd better believe it - high status, high salaried permanent full-time jobs making sandwiches and serving coffee in the cafes and bistros being opened up by the recently-out-of-work with large enough termination payments. We'll work in hotels and tourism tending the flood of tourists attracted by the low cost of holidaying in a geographically interesting country rapidly descending into a banana monarchy."

Just what we need in Australian script writers - a rabid anti globalisation protester who, despite all evidence to the contrary, thinks he is in a country that is in economic crisis. (Not to mention one who would apparently ignore the benefits of globalisation for poverty reduction in places like China. This unrecognized immorality of the anti globalisation crowd is what really irritates me.)

Poverty in South America

A good news story from the Economist about targetting government spending to help the very poor is here.

Of particular note is the "carrot and stick" approach, where extra benefits are paid only if the kids attend school, get immunized, etc. There seems to be something of this approach being taken by the Federal government here now with aboriginal communities, although I am not sure if the conditions imposed are anywhere near as extensive as those indicated in this story.

Also, as noted in the story, the problem for some communities in South America is uneven income due to the seasonality of farm work. I'm not sure that there is of a season for anything in many remote aboriginal communities here.

I also note that last week, the Australian ran a couple of opinion pieces about the need to integrate aboriginal communities into the economy. (I will come back and link later when I have time.) It seems there is a bit of "push" going on to have a major re-think of aboriginal policy on the part of the federal government.

A good review of a Neil Armstrong biography

The New Yorker: The Critics: Books

Every week I am enjoying the book reviews in the New Yorker. Here's another good one - this time about a biography of Armstrong, that contains some stuff I had never heard before. Actually, the reviewer doesn't like the book much, but as usual with New Yorker reviews, the amount of info in the review is very interesting in itself. Here's a little bit:

"The two astronauts managed to “pat each other on the shoulder” when the L.M. touched down, but once they were outside Aldrin didn’t take any real pictures of the mission’s leader. The only decent still photograph of Armstrong on the moon was taken by Armstrong himself: he appears as a reflection in Aldrin’s visor. Aldrin now apologizes for his neglect, but blames the distraction of a surprise phone call from Richard Nixon to the lunar surface. Asked to consider the matter, Collins says it “never entered my mind that there was some nefarious plot on Buzz’s part to exclude Neil from the photo-documentation of the first lunar landing. It just never occurred to me. Maybe it should have.”"

I saw Collins lurking in the National Air and Space Museum book shop (in Washington) when he worked there in the 1980's. (I think he realised that someone had recognized him, and made a quick exit.) Makes me sound very old..

A little bit more on Latham

Magic fell from his fingertips, but my old boss is now sick [September 26, 2005]

In the interview above, Julia said "To have taken Labor from that position to the position of early 2004 where, we'd have to concede, magic just fell from his fingertips . . . "

Oh yeah?

The Australia also reported (but only in its gossip column) that Latham was pressing his publisher to arrange a National Press Club lunch deal for him. Please, please let them agree. It would one unmitigated spray at his audience from beginning to end, with journalists attacking back when they can get a word in. Trouble is, he would likely just avoid clear answers to serious questions (like Galloway.) Still, could be entertaining, in a slightly sick way, at least.

Terror in Iraq

The Australian: Masked gunmen murder teachers [September 26, 2005]

See link to another appalling incident of internal terrorism in Iraq.

I am curious to see if the trial of Saddam has any effect on this. Maybe not, but still I would like to see it get finally going as soon as humanly possible.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Inventive new use of the word "initiative"

Tel Aviv ignores Hamas' initiative to cease attacks on Israeli targets

From a pro-Palestinian news site, the above link starts like this:

"Gaza - The Israeli occupation authorities totally ignored Hamas' initiative to cease its commando raids on the Israeli territories from Gaza, which the Islamic Movement, said it was taken to foil Likud party leaders' plans to exploit the Palestinian blood in achieving political gains."

I suppose they had to attack first so that they could take "the initiative" of stopping, then to complain about the Israeli's not believing them.

My all time favourite line about the Palestinians is how "they never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity." I would have to go looking to see who is first credited with saying that...

Update: apparently that quote is attributed to Abba Eban in 1978, and he was referring to Yassar Arafat.

Under the sea

First Undersea Restaurant

See the above link for a short story and a nice pic of an undersea restaurant in the Maldives (just opened in April, but I haven't seen in on any TV travel show - yet). Looks very cool.

Friday, September 23, 2005


My dog. Not the best pic, what with the shadow and all. But she seems to be smiling...

Some Latham stuff

As you might expect, Clarke & Dawe's take on Latham is an instant classic. See it here if you missed it last night. (I heard it replayed twice on ABC local radio today.)

The simplest, but most accurate, cartoon about the diaries is probably this one here.

On a more serious note, you would have to wonder about how dire his mental state would be if his wife ever leaves him, given how much he goes on about the joy of being with his kids. As I mentioned in an earlier post, it seems hard to believe that the contents of the diaries could do anything other than harm his wife's opinion of him. (To be fair, I have not read it, because I don't want to financially reward him.) But even if everything else in the book is not so bad, Andrew Bolt's list of the worst bits is bad enough. It would seem from some of the extracts that he is, in many respects, incredibly shallow. This extract quoted in Bolt's column floored me:

"Anderson found his own (Christian) faith as a young man when he accidentally killed his sister with a misdirected cricket shot to the head.

"Poor old Ando, he should have just played a straight bat and ignored all this pagan idolatry, masquerading as religion, all those kiddie-fiddlers masquerading as priests."

But of course, before the election, he was having to pretend to be not hostile to religion.
Look at this Compass interview from last year. Some extracts:

"Mark Latham:
No I don’t find it in religion myself. It’s more just in the interaction between people, the desire to be a social animal, a social person, a social being. And you’re really wanting to live your life with positive messages from other people. You couldn’t live your life in isolation. Our whole existence I think comes from the gratification of helping others and then having that assistance reciprocated. And it’s that two-way flow of helping people that – a caring for people, loving for people, that I think gives us the greatest joy in life. "

Geraldine Doogue:
So it’s a sort of humanism?

Mark Latham:
Yeah, I’m a humanist, yeah that’s a good description of my philosophy. It’s the human desire to want to be part of society. What does that mean? It means a society where we build self-esteem by helping others and then having that assistance reciprocated. "

I may be wrong, but it seemed to me he only just realised he was a humanist when Geraldine suggested it....

And he certainly knows how to spread the love around at the moment.

"Geraldine Doogue:
You were also in the past, I’ll quote you: “I’m a hater”. This was 2002. “Part of the tribalness of politics is to really dislike the other side with intensity”.

Mark Latham:
Yeah, that was an interview with Maxine McKew where we were talking about public housing cuts and the abolition of the better cities program in my electorate. And I started talking about how I hated what the government had done in policy terms to disadvantage my own constituency. So I suppose it flowed into a more personal description that I wouldn’t repeat now and probably wrong to express it that way at the time. I think you can have strong emotions in politics but it’s best to stick them, keep them to outcomes that matter for other people rather than the things about yourself. Probably hating others is a very corrosive thing in public life and a sign they might have got the better of you."

Irony of the highest order...

"Geraldine Doogue:
Do you see yourself as a Christian?

Mark Latham:
No, I’m agnostic. I think there’s a force, a spiritual world beyond the material. But I’m not in a position to define it, let alone put it into a certain form of religious practice.

Geraldine Doogue:
Are you curious about it?

Mark Latham:
Yeah I am, I am. I’m curious about it and at different times in my life I feel like I’ve had maybe an inkling of a connection to it...."

I saw this on TV, and thought at the time that he looked extremely unconvincing as he said it. I had more than an inkling of an attempt to suck up to the Compass audience.

What a pathetic character to have come within a few percentage points of being our PM.

I am hoping some blogger will extract further appalling bits from the book, so I don't have to buy it.

Helios Airways crash Technology | Ask the pilot

Speaking of "Ask the Pilot", as I did in the last post, I have now seen his article (link above) about the likely cause of the Helios crash. Seems a case of pilots not recognizing the pressurization alarm for what it was. As he explains, it is still hard to believe the pilots could not work this out. (Also, as I mentioned in an earlier post, even if the pilots passed out, couldn't a flight attendant have had a chance at reviving them? I suppose it depends on how long it took an attendant to go into the cockpit. And for that matter, I suppose they lock the cockpit now.) All very interesting...

Dumping it

How Do You Dump Fuel From a Plane? - Just turn on your fuel dumping system.

An aviation term that I didn't fully understand is dealt with at the above Slate link.

The Salon "Ask the Pilot" column is a pretty good source of aviation info for the general reader too. Only trouble is, you have to be seen walking through a Bush Derangement Zone to get to it.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Ye Olde Pregnancy Test

BBC NEWS | Science/Nature | Pregnancy test link to frog fall

The link above contains this bit of medical history, about which I have never heard before:

"In the 1930s and 40s, live female Xenopus frogs were used widely in Europe, Australasia and north America in pregnancy testing.

A sample of the woman's urine was injected under the frog's skin; if the woman was pregnant, a hormone in her urine caused the frog to ovulate.

Alternative tests involved male frogs and toads, which produced sperm in response to the human hormone gonadotrophin.

Thousands of Xenopus were exported from Africa each year, potentially carrying Batrachochytrium with them, and - perhaps through occasional escapes - delivering it to the habitats of other continents, where it could inflict major damage on amphibian species that were more vulnerable. "

(Luckily, home testing kits today do not involve any combination of frog and pee at all!)

And the relevance of this: it may have the source of the fungus that is now widely believed to be decimating frog populations in many parts of the world. (The idea that frog researchers have also inadvertently been spreading it while on field trips has also been suggested.)

All you ever wanted to know about sex - weevil sex

Male weevils give females the gift of youth� Insects slow down their consorts' biological clocks.

You can't help but like a science article which contains a subheading "magic ejaculate", can you?

Or this line: "insect ejaculates are a soup of proteins and peptides that are immensely complex."

How do they even collect weevil ejaculate for study? Tiny little condoms?

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Drinking with baby on board

Key Neural System At Risk From Fetal Alcohol Exposure

The study linked to above indicates that even quite low level drinking during pregnancy looks to be dangerous for the baby's brain, at least in monkeys.

I suspect that Australian doctors, who are currently far from consistent on this point, will probably have to swing around eventually to strongly recommending no alcohol at all during pregnancy.

Bad Existentialists

I don't care much for French philosophers of the modern variety, and I have never read Sartre or De Beauvoir, but I knew a little of their "open" relationship and the suspicion that, despite all the philosophical window dressing, De Beauvoir was a smart woman who didn't recognize she was still a victim of sexist adventurism on Sartre's part.

This week, a book review in the New Yorker has a good long discussion about their relationship. (New Yorker book reviews, I am finding, can be very good reading.)

The article reminded me of Paul Johnson's "Intellectuals", a very readable and amusing biographical examination of the contrast between the public pronouncements of various "intellectuals" and their private lives. I can't find my copy right now, but I don't think Sartre got a chapter. I remember Marx did, and it was very enlightening.

Anyway, the book review points out that Sartre was not exactly the best physical specimen:

".. she fell in love with Sartre, once she got over the physical impression he made. Sartre was about five feet tall, and he had lost almost all the sight in his right eye when he was three; he dressed in oversized clothes, with no sense of fashion; his skin and teeth suggested an indifference to hygiene. He had the kind of aggressive male ugliness that can be charismatic, and he wisely refrained from disguising it. He simply ignored his body."

I wonder how often he bathed..

De Beauvoir explained their pact to each have affairs, but always tell the other about it, as follows:

"One single aim fired us, the urge to embrace all experience, and to bear witness concerning it. At times this meant that we had to follow diverse paths—though without concealing even the least of our discoveries from one another. When we were together we bent our wills so firmly to the requirements of this common task that even at the moment of parting we still thought as one. That which bound us freed us; and in this freedom we found ourselves bound as closely as possible. "

Yadda yadda.

So off they went, having an extraordinary number of affairs, it seems, and even though she denied it to interviewers while alive, it turns out from her posthumously published letters that De Beauvoir jumped into bed with many women too. It also turns out, by the sounds of it, that they were both unpleasant people:

"The most appalling discovery, for many readers, was what '“telling each other everything'” really meant. The correspondence was filled with catty and disparaging remarks about the people Beauvoir and Sartre were either sleeping with or trying to sleep with, even though, when they were with those people, they radiated interest and affection. Sartre, in particular, was always speaking to women of his love and devotion, his inability to live without them—every banality of popular romance. Words constituted his principal means of seduction: his physical approaches were on the order of groping in restaurants and grabbing kisses in taxis. With the publication of '“Letters to Sartre,'” it was clear that, privately, he and Beauvoir held most of the people in their lives in varying degrees of contempt. They enjoyed, especially, recounting to each other the lies they were telling."

Reminds me of a certain ex politician of current note, too.

People become (quite rightly) upset when clergy or other prominent Christians are revealed to be hypocritical in their personal lives, especially in the field of sexual activity. Books like "Intellectuals", and this story of a couple of pop philosophers of the 20th century, serve to remind us that purely secular figures, many of whom claim to be modern rebels against the strictures of religious conservatism, also often turn out to be extremely hypocritical in private, and to deserve no great respect.

There's lots more in the review, go read it quickly while it is still up on the site.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Cat from hell sent to heaven

In Slate, the story of cat so bad it had to be put down. Maybe its brain controlling tricks just weren't working....

North Korea blinks?


So, it appears to be a satisfactory outcome for all concerned in that North Korea will (apparently) come back on board the nuclear non-proliferation train.

I am waiting to see how this is sold on the DPRK news site, linked to above. As of the time of writing this, the news service did not indicate much chance of success. Part of it read (sorry, no permanent link available):

"Laporte, commander of the U.S. forces in south Korea, when interviewed by American media recently, disclosed that the United States is "modifying its military strategy in the direction of depending on ultra-modern weapons to cope with the possible outbreak of military conflict with north Korea." Rodong Sinmun Friday says this in a signed commentary.
It goes on:
Multi-faceted dialogues and cooperation are now brisk between the north and the south of Korea and the six-way talks are under way to settle the nuclear issue and put an end to the military confrontation for the purpose of building confidence. The reckless remarks made by him against this backdrop, hinting at setting out a new military strategy, cannot be construed otherwise than a revelation of the U.S. design to chill the atmosphere of inter-Korean reconciliation and cooperation and provoke a war of aggression on the Korean Peninsula at any cost."

Kim Jong's spin doctors will be working hard tonight.

I am also wondering what the American Left's take will be. Somehow it will be twisted into anti-Bush.

More on Latham

Latham had a real spray on Radio National this morning, clearly exasperating Fran Kelly as most of his responses did not address the questions she asked anyway.

I am a little worried that my initial reaction to the Enough Rope interview posted below indicates too much sympathy for him. I didn't mean to suggest that it was solely a late realisation of the value of his family life that made him leave politics; it would seem it was just as much a realisation that he was never going to get his way with a large proportion of his fellow party members who he held in contempt for various reasons.

The fact that he is so sensitive to rumours of sexual misdeeds (and goes on and on about unpleasant it was having to deny them to his wife) suggests that he does in fact have some such stuff in his past that he is guilty about.

I wonder what his wife thinks about the diaries. The extracts over the weekend suggests such a nasty, unpleasant streak that I would have thought he should worry that, even if he has been completely faithful to her, she may have a sudden insight into his character that may shake the marriage anyway.

More to come from the full publication today.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

It's Spring and the microbes are singing....

On the Radio National Religion Report last week, a story about the new "season" for the Uniting Church, called "A Season of Creation". Over the next few weeks, there will be Forrest Sunday, River Sunday, and (in other years, apparently,) Storm Sunday.

Lets look at some of the suggested liturgies for this.

"Minister: Christ, we come into your presence today to worship in this sanctuary called Earth.

Congregation: A planet filled with your presence, quivering in the forests, vibrating in the land, pulsating in the wilderness, shimmering in the rivers.

Minister: God, reveal yourself to us in this place, and show us your face in all creation.

Congregation: Holy, holy, holy, Earth is filled with GodÂ’s presence."

Hmmm. Reflecting on God's majesty via the majesty of nature is no issue. But the form of expression here is pretty cringeworthy, isn't it? What with all the "vibration" words. And asking God "to show his face in all creation" is a bit of a risk, as some of his creation may well illustrate the issue of "natural evil", which is a not insignificant one for many people, causing some to lose their faith entirely.

Worse to come:

"Rev. Rowena Harris: We invite the farmlands to sing with us.

Congregation: Wheatfields, orchards and vineyards, red gums, gardens and wetlands.

Minister: We celebrate the song of the soil.

Congregation: Sing soil, sing.

Rowena Harris: We invite the ground to stir deep below.

Congregation: Lifegiving microbes restoring the soil, beetles and worms preparing our food.

Minister: We celebrate the song of the soil.

Congregation: Sing, soil, sing."

It's one thing to sing with St Francis of Assisi "all creatures of our God and King, lift up your voice and with us sing..." when it stirs imagery of anthropomorphic creatures praising God (think "The Lion King"). But this liturgy seems to invite microbes to join in. Just the good ones, or is smallpox invited too?

Now a bit of group apology:

A small piece of rosemary, eucalyptus leaves or some other fragrant symbol of remembrance may be given to the people as a reminder of our past connection with creation.

As we rub this fragrant symbol in our hands we remember the countryside
where we have worked and played.

"O God, we thank you for the beauty of creation and the gift of

We remember and confess how we have poisoned and polluted the soils in our
garden planet.

Christ, once buried in Earth, hear our cry.

We regret that we have forgotten Earth and treated this garden planet as a
beast to be tamed and a place to be ruled.

Christ, the hope of all creation, we lament our failings."

A Confession. A symbol of how we have poisoned the soils of our land may be
raised in the sanctuary. This symbol may be bleached animal bones or some
other symbol meaningful to the local community. This symbol may be
deposited on the red soil of the Earth bowl in the sanctuary.

"We have killed living soils with excessive chemicals, turned fertile fields into
lifeless salt plains and cleared rich lands of wildlife.

Christ, the source of all life, we are sorry. We are sorry."

Sounds like it might build up to include some nudity and ritual sex under the full moon. But no, despite a careful look through the Season of Creation web site, I can't find any.

The John Howard point about apologies is pertinent here: there isn't a hell of a lot of point in apologising for a "wrong" you haven't done yourself. The most that a city reared person can apologize for is eating fruit from a farmer who may have, or may not have, failed to followed good farm management advice or laws.

These are just a few extracts from some of the liturgies, but with every one I read I have issues.

Clearly, there is have no problem with Christians liking trees and (some) animals. Everyone does. While most of "evolutionary psychology" is a crock, it's probably a fair call to say that a certain fondness for nature is in built into our genes.

Catholics have St Francis of Assisi, and even had a decent go (via Teilhard de Chardin) at trying to absorb evolution into its theology. For the protestants, the Bible has sufficient comments about nature to enable arguments that humans were both given nature to "rule" over (presumably to eat and use it) and to protect it. But the details of any theology of ecology are rather like a Rorschach Test, telling us more about the people doing the theology than the nature of God.

The biggest problem I have with putting Nature on a pedestal, from either a Christian or secular environmentalist perspective, is that it contains a specious assumption that there was a "perfect" nature to start with. But such an idea is really only consistent with Creationism and a belief in a pre-Fall paradise on earth, which are hardly likely to be matters of belief which the great majority of Uniting Church people (and no secular environmentalist) would accept.

If you don't believe in creationism, you presumably accept the scientific history of the Earth which shows, at best, an extreme callousness on the part of the Almighty towards the preservation of species. The earth and its inhabitants has been hit by "natural" environmental disasters so many times, how can you argue that the particular state that humans have found it in for the last 50,000 years or so is the "ideal" state that has to be preserved? Indeed, the environment has even changed a lot (without human intervention) over that period that humans have been around to know it.

A corollary to this assumption is that, if only we would leave it alone, all of nature would be fine. At its most extreme, some environmentalists love trees and animals so much they would prefer to see humankind fizzle out so that Mother Nature could do its own thing, as it would until the next asteroid hits the planet and kills hundreds or thousands of its species in one foul swoop.

(I should mention that the only other way of seeing God's hand in the past destruction is to think that it was done to allow humans to evolve. Guess I have to grant that it is possible, but only in the same way I have to grant that full blown creationism, including the making of those decoy fossils in the earth to allow the devil to tempt us into believing evolution, is also possible. In other words, it's possible, but exceedingly unlikely, that God would push asteroids into the earth as a way of preparing it for humans. Even if he did, he clearly hasn't bothered to prevent other natural disasters from killing humans since we arrived on the scene, which seems a bit mean.)

In short, I believe that the only really credible way of viewing nature for the modern person is (if Christian) to assume that God does not interfere, or if he does, it has become all but impossible to discern when or how. (An exception for the resurrection has to be allowed.) For the modern atheist, the logical view is the environment is ever changing and "nature" can't be trusted to ensure our well being.

So how can anyone come up with a convincing practical theology of environmentalism? God must want us to eat some living things, and Jesus seemed pretty keen on sheep and feasts too. So, his rule can't be all "hands off".

Where are the limits of interference in God's book? I don't believe there are any.

As I said before, not everything idea life has to be based on your religion, and it is perfectly acceptable to argue certain environmental matters on aesthetics alone. There are also pragmatic reasons for preserving species (the widest of which is probably not to destroy any species because you can never quite tell in what way it may become useful in future.) But working out what God today ordains you can eat or not eat, let die out or preserve is impossible. Does God want us to preserve all deadly viruses and parasites?

So let's leave it as a secular issue. And be skeptical of environmentalism in its semi-religious aspects, because at its core, it has an idealizedd view of nature that does not bear scrutiny. It appeals because the aesthetics of nature make everyone feel that more of "untouched" nature would have to be good, but plays scant regard to the practicalities of humans needing shelter, food and "things". It is also easy to love a tree; they rarely hurt you, and when they do it is really your fault for standing too close anyway.

For a Christian church to want to identify itself with such a movement is therefore missing the main point of Christianity, which is all about the eternal salvation of humans and relationships between humans. Encouraging church goers to become highly involved in environmentalism would be making the same mistake as encouraging them to spend all their time on social justice issues: it makes membership of the church more dispensable because secular humanists can be just as devoted (often more devoted) to such causes as church goers. It would, despite the belief that it makes the church more "relevant" to modern people, have precisely the opposite effect.

So give up on this stuff, Uniting Church. It will only hasten your demise.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Telegraph | News | Robert Wise

Telegraph | News | Robert Wise

Film director Robert Wise, most notable for the Day the Earth Stood Still, and the Sound of Music, died this week. Some stuff I didn't know about him is at the Telegraph story above.

I still haven't seen all of the first Star Trek movie, because it was a bit tedious after all, but I will always remember Pauline Kael's wry comment about how odd it is that it ends "not with a bang, but with a bang". (I think I am remembering that correctly!)

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Latham warning!!!!

If you are reading this right now (10.35 pm 15 Sept), the ABC seems to now be running the Latham Enough Rope interview. Quick, run to the TV.

Update: I generally share Currency Lad's take on the interview. Despite his childish and churlish nature, I felt a little sorry for him, and some degree of respect for his getting out of a game that he finally realized (only took 25 years or so!) was not for him.

Half pushed into the leadership before he was ready, and then with a sudden illness that surely made him think about how much life he may have left to enjoy with his children (especially given his own father's early demise,) he had strong personal reasons to regret his ascent - as he did, almost immediately.

I sympathized with his comment about how most political relationships are shallow, as (I expect) would many people who have ever had even the slightest involvement with any political party.

To be a successful party politician, an interest in policy formulation and good government unfortunately has to be tied to an acceptance of the frequent pettiness and personality basis of internal party politics. The ALP federally is the current "star" victim of this, but the Liberal Party (especially in my part of the world) also has such longstanding and complex personality-based internal wars that it makes active involvement by someone not interested in such histories and clashes extremely unappealing.

What I am saying is that I understand Latham's cynicism of party politics. Unfortunately, though, people being people, democracies are always going to be like this to one degree or another, and it does seem strange for Latham to take so long to have "had a gutful" as he might say.

That said, he obviously has such a spectacular blind spot for self criticism, and was in other ways so clearly temperamentally unfit for the PM job, he wasn't a bullet dodged by the Australian public; he was more like a nuclear meltdown narrowly averted.

Just another day in Gaza

World News Article |

The above story (about the collapse into semi riot of Palestinan "celebrations" over Israel leaving Gaza) would be funny if it weren't so worrying.

What a mess the Palestinian Authority is in. From the article:

"A speech by an Abbas aide calling for an end to armed chaos was marred by Fatah gunmen parading across the stage and firing assault rifles in the air. This prompted Hamas activists to walk out from what had been billed as a show of Palestinian unity.

The rally ended in disorder when devoutly Muslim refugees dominating the crowd of several thousand stoned the stage in protest at a rap music band's failure to stick to nationalist songs. The performers fled, gunmen firing over their heads."

And more:

"Abbas's biggest challenge in Gaza will be subduing militant factions and motley armed gangs, many of them affiliated with his fractured Fatah movement. They refuse to disarm, but Abbas hopes to co-opt them with security and public service jobs."

They'll probably end up as public servants with guns. That ought to keep the queues at the unemployment office in line.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Old age in Japan

Here's trivia for you: how many centenarians do you think there would be in Japan?

Answer: 25,606. In Australia there seem to be about 3,000 (which is more than I would have expected here too). But Japan has about 6 times Australia's population, so at our rate they would only have 18,000. Obviously they are outdoing us in this area. Personally, I blame John Howard.

Lucky Queen Elizabeth is not their monarch. That would mean signing 70 cards each and every day of the year.

Sad but good news story from Jakarta

From the Jakarta Post, a sad but good story about the aftermath of the Australian Embassy bombing. I will copy it in full because I think the links to JP change very quickly. Sorry about length, but it is a nice story in several ways.

Embassy bombing hero gets promotion

Abdul Khalik, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Although his voice was barely audible, let alone understood, Brig. Asep Wahyudi, 21, one of the victims of the Australian Embassy bombing delighted both reporters and colleagues with his high spirits and persistence to remain in the police force.

"I want to remain a police officer. I don't want anymore bomb attacks to occur in Indonesia, and I hope that we police can capture both Azahari and Nurdin Moh Top as soon as possible," he said referring to the two Malaysian fugitives who are accused of masterminding the Sept. 9, 2004 bombing in Kuningan, South Jakarta.

Trembling and shaking, Asep was trying to stand on his feet to receive handshakes from his colleagues, who congratulated him for his promotion from second brigadier to brigadier, a two-rank leap.

Chief of Security for Vital Objects at the Jakarta Police, Sr. Comr. J.R. Hutajulu, said that the police awarded Asep with an extraordinary rank promotion as he had shown loyalty and courage on duty.

"He didn't run away from his duty of guarding a vital object such as an embassy in spite of the bomb explosion. He will stay with us as a police officer," Hutajulu said.

The suicide bombing outside the Australian Embassy killed 10 people and injured hundreds of others.

Asep had served as a police officer for less than a year when he and several other policemen were severely injured in the bombing. He had such a serious head wound that people could see the hole in his head.

With financial help from the Australian Embassy and Aisyah Foundation, Asep was treated for eight months in Singapore. He returned to Indonesia on May 27.

However, he has not fully recovered as he can't stand or walk without assistance.

"With help from the Australian Embassy and Aisyah Foundation, we will send him again for more therapy. We hope he can return to work after the therapy," Hutajulu said.

He said that both Asep's mother and father would accompany Asep to Singapore for his treatment.

Asep's mother Epong Karmina, 55, said that Asep, the fourth of five children, had always wanted to be a police officer.

"We are very proud of him. He has been very brave since childhood. The only thing he wanted was to become a police officer. Now, after the incident, his spirit has grown even stronger," she said.

She said that she, her husband Enang Soma, 60, and Asep's elder sister came all the way from their hometown in Sumedang, West Java, to attend the ceremony.

Asep said that he was not afraid of guarding an embassy or any other place.

"I don't feel the pain anymore. I am ready to be put on duty whenever my superior commands me. I think I can fulfill my duty as usual," said Asep, who celebrated his 21st birthday on Sept. 8.

Janet A strikes again

The Australian: Left unread on the shelf [September 14, 2005]

Hmm, Janet A and Anne C and swimming pool of jelly...

Oh sorry, was I typing then?

Janet's column today (above link) expands upon the general gist of my post here.

Back to reverie...

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Hitchens takes on Galloway

George Galloway Is Gruesome, Not Gorgeous - Now, watch me debate him. By Christopher Hitchens

See link above for Hitchen's no holds barred Slate column on Galloway (and Jane Fonda). Better still - Hitchens and he are having a live debate in New York on 14 September! I wouldn't sit too close to the ring, as I expect blood may be spilt. Go Hitchens!

Monday, September 12, 2005

Should I trust my foreign trained hospital doctor?

More bad news from the revived health inquiry in Brisbane:

"PATIENTS at Hervey Bay Hospital were in "very unsafe hands" because of three overseas-trained orthopaedic surgeons, Queensland's medical malpractice inquiry has been told....

Dr North said in a submission that conditions at the hospital orthopaedic unit were third world.

Dr North said there were shortcomings in the trio's clinical assessment, basic communications with staff and patients and surgical skills.

"A summary of the cases noted confirm the investigators knew that the people of the Fraser Coast are in very unsafe hands from the point of view of doctors Naidoo, Sharma and Krishna," Dr North said in his report.

"It appears that there is a third world culture with respect to patient care at Hervey Bay Hospital simply as a consequence of the training of those employed there.

"Under the circumstances prevailing at this hospital patient's safety is at severe risk."

I am pretty sure it was Currency Lad in a comment on on his site (although I cannot find it now) who had a bit of a go at Queensland public hospital patients for being apparently racist by continually asking for second opinions when they have foreign looking hospital doctors. But, in light of evidence like this, can you really blame them?

Oh, how helpful...

Hamas does not want to come to the party :

"HAMAS'S military wing vowed the Islamic group would keep battling Israel after its withdrawal from Gaza and fight any attempt by the Palestinian Authority to take away its guns."

And more helpful comment from the Greek church:

"THE September 11 attacks by al-Qaeda on the United States were a lesson from God to the "powerful of the Earth", the head of the Greek Orthodox Church said in a sermon released by his press office today."

A brain the size of a planet...

So it appears that the human brain is likely to keep evolving. Nice to know. Soon we will all look like this:Then this:

Both pics from "This Island Earth" (don't tell the copyright police).

Fun technology site

I stumbled across this site (Technovelgy) for the first time today. It's a bit like the "What's New" section of Popular Science, except it also relates the inventions to similar ideas from science fiction. It's a good fun browse.

While there, check out the highly over-engineered door from Japan that opens just enough to let you through. Still looks pretty cool, though....

Speaking of hi-tech, I didn't know that Honda was planning a fuel cell motorcycle (although whether it will definitely get out of prototype stage seems unclear. If it runs on hydrogen alone, there's a problem in itself.) The story also notes a 50cc hybrid petrol/electric sccoter, which presumably is closer to reality. (It is said to have 1.6 times the fuel economy of Honda's Dio Z4 petrol scooter. As the current Honda Dio 50cc model apparently has fuel economy of about 65km/l, (although at 30kph on the flat), that could mean the hybrid could get over 100km/l. Even at 30kph, that is pretty extraordinary.

The interesting problem with bikes or scooters running on electricity will be how quiet they may be. Look out pedestrians.

No wet hair in my court, please

Further to my criticism of the Beattie government re-appointing Di Fingleton as a magistrate, she is reported today at having a swipe at the government at a really sensible time - her re-appointment to the bench.

' During the swearing in ceremony Ms Fingleton criticised the process which led to her jailing.

"Over the last few years I have experienced total alienation from the legal system in Queensland following what has now been held to have been an unnecessary, self-righteous, wrong-headed and unjust process which saw me stripped of my career, my status and my reputation," she said.'

Oh great. Won't that give prosecutors appearing before her the confidence that she will be objective and fair in any all of the more contentious cases they might bring before her.

To be fair (although that's little fun,) this could be an example of bad reporting, in that she may have given some sort of qualification or re-assurance after this that she could still be completely unbiased to both sides in criminal matters. Who knows. I still think she is demonstrating exactly why I argued she should not be re-appointed.

And finally: are magistrates really worth $200,000 a year? Gees, although you have to put up with being posted to the back of Woop Woop for a few years the first time around, its not that hard to put up with anywhere for a relatively short time out of your career, especially when you have a nice safe job til you want to retire. (I also wonder how many weeks leave they get.)

Update: Yes, there was a fuller report in the Courier Mail this morning, in which Di Fingleton's words of re-assurance are reported.

" Even as she wiped away tears during her swearing-in as magistrate at the new Caloundra Courthouse on the Sunshine Coast, Ms Fingleton still managed a swipe at the legal system which she believed let her down.

"I had always hoped I would make a mark on the law," she said.

"I was not to know it would be so famously, as the recipient of one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in the history of the Queensland and Australian legal system."

I still can't get over the irony that the Chief Magistrate didn't find her own defence. (At least one ex judge was reported as thinking the High Court just got it wrong anyway.)

' Ms Fingleton also seized the moment to publicly refute allegations that she was a bully.

"It is important that those parties who will come before me in court and the staff at this courthouse know this . . . anyone coming into my court, or my chambers, will be treated with dignity and courtesy – no moods, no inefficiency, no baggage," she said.

"I will be on time and dry-haired. I will also be, as I have always believed myself to be, competent and fair."'

What's the dry hair bit all about? She made some comment on Enough Rope about her believing other magistrates were not pulling their weight. Was one of them famous for arriving to work with wet hair?

And there will be "no inefficiency" in her court? Sounds like another go at other magistrates.

I am very curious to hear how her court room behaviour develops over the next 6 months.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Lucky Snakes

The above list of good and bad snake omens comes from the Malaysia Star, in its article about the King Cobra that slithered into a temple for a few days and was taken to be a very good sign.
To my western mind, the list of when a snake sighting is good as opposed to bad has its amusements. But first the temple story:

"According to vasthu sastra (the Indian form of feng shui) expert Master Yuvaraj Sowma from Chennai, India, sighting a king cobra is considered a good omen and that explains the throng of visitors to the temple.

He said the appearance of the snake signified that the 123-year-old temple has “matured and is now blessed with enhanced divine powers.”

“It is incorrect to perceive the snake as a sign of luck,” he added

He said, however, that those who prayed and made offerings of milk and eggs before the snake would find obstacles and challenges in life easier to overcome.

One would receive optimum blessings if the king cobra was sighted with its head raised and hood open and if there was direct eye contact, he said.

He believed that the arrival of the snake at the temple was not by chance and should be interpreted as the divine having come “alive” in the form of a snake."


Anyway, the omens which make least sense to me are these:

"If a snake crosses over an individuals leg it means the person will have longevity"

Well, for many Aussies, that would only apply if your heart doesn't give out from the shock.

Snakes in a poor house is good, but in a wealthy person's house, it means losing money. I wonder what a snake in Margo Kingston's house would currently mean, then. (Sorry, joke mainly for Australian readers!)

Sighting snakes having sex is good (other than in a perverted sort of way, I think that means), as is seeing one when building a house. Does a snake brought to the building site deliberately for sighting count?

Ah, making fun of other cultures omens is a half-guilty pleasure.

Daily Kos readers' media control techniques

Am I the only person to not read Daily Kos much because I just don't understand it? I mean, understand its politics, but its site design is just confusing isn't it?

Anyway, the political techniques of Daily Kos readers are far from subtle, as this post's suggestion shows:

'DKos logs almost a million hits a day now. We're the largest blog on planet earth. Over the past few months you may have noticed that stories which appear here and elsewhere first, show up on the cable networks shortly thereafter. No doubt, the media is paying attention to US and the reality based community in general. We are the growth, and thus we are the market share of desire to court. WE DO NOT HAVE TO TAKE THIS SHIT ANY LONGER.

I just sent this e-mail to Hardball because I was disgusted when Chris Matthew's allowed Bernard Kerik to lie on his program without presenting a rebuttal or the simple facts on record:

This is offered as a fair heads up so that you can correct yourselves. Most of the DKos readers like Hardball, we're a huge component of your viewership. But if you keep having liars like Kerik or anyone else on trying to shift the blame for Homeland Security to the goddamn local mayor, without rebuttal or the actual facts available and promptly presented, I and several others will feature your top sponsors by name and e-mail addresses on the biggest blog on earth and recommend to my fellow million plus readers and members that they boycott your program and sponsors for one week, and send your sponsors personal e-mails explaining why they're doing it.

This isn't politic guys, this is fucking survival. We can't afford to let these clowns off the hook to screw up again. Am I getting through?"

So, if a current affairs problem has an interview which doesn't go according to DKos' liking, they can expect their advertisers to hear the wrath of DKos? Why don't they just go the whole hog and demand editorial control, or a DKos censor sitting in the control room ready to pull the plug when it starts going the "wrong" direction?

I guess so many Kos readers and contributions are paranoid and (at least) half deranged that they don't recognize their own totalitarian leanings. One can only hope they gradually grow out of it, because maturity and any sense of generosity of spirit, or self criticism, are usually the last things evident on the site.

No wonder parasites have a bad name

Found via Slate, this story in the New York Times about a parasite that eats out grasshoppers, then for a finale injects a mind contolling protein into their little brain that gives them the urge to jump into water and drown, just so the worm can escape into the habitat it needs at that time to reproduce. Pictures of the worm are included.

I certainly hope that evolution is not working towards making smarter parasites. It's enough that maybe that cat borne one might be making humans less risk adverse, without worrying about ones in future that might give people the urge to try to swim to New Zealand or some such.

Is there any parasite that humans can find likeable?

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Gravity sucks

An interesting theory here to help explain dark matter and its strange nature. (Short version: there are an extra 3 dimensions to the universe, of significantly larger size than the multi dimensions that string theory normally suggests, and the way they work alters the effect of gravity over short distances.)

Sounds like a neat solution, but the article doesn't mention how you can test it.

Straight to DVD?

The incoming new head of Disney is quoted as suggesting that it may be better for studios to shorten the window between cinema release and DVD release, and that it is not "out of the question that a DVD can be released, in effect, in the same window as a theatrical release.".

Seems very hard to believe that this can in any way offset the drop off in cinema attendance. All it means, I guess, is that the studios get their DVD money faster. But if cinema attendance still drops, it can't be good for the industry overall, can it?

By the way, I feel a bit shallow posting on this topic while still in the shadow of New Orleans.

Saturday Night Live - recommended sketch

SNL Transcripts: Kate Winslet: 10/30/04: NBC Special Report

Saturday Night Live runs in Australia about 6 - 9 months late on the Comedy Channel, and while its quality is highly variable, the sketch that played recently and linked to above (transcript only) was very funny and surprisingly liberal.

It won't read as good as it played on TV, but it's still good.

Update: I suppose I should give readers an idea of what it is about. It's a pretend bin Laden tape in which he talks about the choices in last year's Presidential elections. Michael Moore gets a mention too!

Lesbian Wars

From the SMH today, a story about the interesting legal problems when lesbian "parents" break up. (We are talking donor semen for the necessary biological trick here.)

I am curious to see future long term research on how successful such relationships are. I suspect, but could be proven wrong, that relationship break-up will run at a higher rate than for hetero couples, even though that is appalling enough in its own right.

Can't gay couples at least have the good grace to leave nature alone when it comes to the question of whether it is possible for them to have a child? (Hey I did warn you at the top it is a conservative blog...)

Friday, September 02, 2005

New Orleans, anti-Bush etc

Time to post on the appalling tragedy in New Orleans.

What seems surprising is how slowly the details of the destruction have come in, especially considering it's the First World. Images and detail of the asian tsunami destruction seemed to arrive more quickly. But perhaps it is just that the flood in New Orleans is so long lasting (and started in the midst of wild weather), that there were few people willing or able to record it and get the image to a news service. The impression now is of an immense area devastated, but each night the details just get worse and worse.

As to the "politics" of the event, I knew for sure that one of the centres for Bush blaming for this would be It's wildly one sided (and rampantly anti-Bush), and frankly its rants have long ago become tiresome to read. Having said that, it sometimes has stuff of interest in some quirky columns. (I am surprised too that it seems to attract little attention in the world of right wing blogging.)

As predicted Salon carries several New Orleans articles with anti-Bush headings, even if within the body of one article (with a link from the main page headed "War effort diverted funding") there actually is some balance:

"It is too early to tell, however, whether the additional funding would have prevented the levee breaches and overruns that have flooded New Orleans. Scientists, journalists and public officials have been warning for decades that New Orleans could not withstand a Category 4 or 5 hurricane. Even SELA, which was started in the mid-1990s after flooding caused billions in damage, was designed to protect against smaller storms, though planners said it would reduce damages of "larger events."....

According to Michael Zumstein, a Corps official working to drain New Orleans, both of the major levee breaches in New Orleans were caused by more water than the Corps' current plans, even if funded, could handle. "It's just the law of physics, that's all," he said, noting that the system was designed to withhold a slow-moving Category 2 or a fast-moving Category 3 hurricane. Katrina was a Category 4 storm when it hit land Monday morning. He said an unexpected break at the 17th Street Canal occurred 700 feet south of a bridge where the Corps recently completed a troubled construction project.

Flooding also occurred on the east side of New Orleans, in the St. Bernard Parish, an area that environmentalists have long warned would be susceptible to flooding because of a poorly designed canal built in the 1960s that joins the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico. Since 1998, local politicians have been demanding that the so-called Mississippi River Gulf Outlet be closed, in part because it was allowing saltwater to destroy marshland, increasing the danger of a storm surge. Both the Clinton and the Bush administrations have been slow to respond to those demands, and earlier this week, the storm surge topped levees, flooding the parish, said Zumstein." (Emphasis mine)

Believe me, if something in Salon is even vaguely suggesting that maybe Bush isn't entirely to blame, you have to believe it.

The other point of interest goes to the question - why did the city seem to be so unprepared for emergency evacuation in the event of a levee break? Another article in Salon looks at this briefly too, but doesn't really answer it. (Briefly, a plan did exist, but just seemed to be hopelessly inadequate.)

Meanwhile, it's good to see Tim Blair countering the "it's all global warming's fault" line so quickly.

UPDATE: more reasons given for not blaming Bush and the Feds (well, not entirely anyway) from an unexpected source - the New York Times! One of the crucial points is this:

"While some in New Orleans fault FEMA - Terry Ebbert, homeland security director for New Orleans, called it a "hamstrung" bureaucracy - others say any blame should be more widely spread. Local, state and federal officials, for example, have cooperated on disaster planning. In 2000, they studied the impact of a fictional "Hurricane Zebra"; last year they drilled with "Hurricane Pam."

Neither exercise expected the levees to fail. In an interview Thursday on "Good Morning America," President Bush said, "I don't think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees." He added, "Now we're having to deal with it, and will."


"Army Corps personnel, in charge of maintaining the levees in New Orleans, started to secure the locks, floodgates and other equipment, said Greg Breerwood, deputy district engineer for project management at the Army Corps of Engineers. "We knew if it was going to be a Category 5, some levees and some flood walls would be overtopped," he said. "We never did think they would actually be breached." The uncertainty of the storm's course affected Pentagon planning."


An extremely detailed post on this is at Michelle Malkin (which I found via Powerline). It is a must read.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Queensland, nice place to live, but...

Time for more teeth grinding over the woeful things that happen in the Queensland legal system.

The Dr Patel inquiry is all up in the air because a couple of the bureaucrats didn't like being questioned in a slightly sarcastic and rude sounding fashion. Poor boys.

As the News Ltd story says: "Justice Moynihan stressed in his written judgment that it was not important whether Mr Morris was biased, only whether a "fair minded" observer would perceive him to be so."

And strangely, Premier Pete says he won't appeal. (Given the number of times controversial decisions in Queensland courts are overturned on appeal, I would have thought it might be worth a shot!)

I can appreciate that the law has to be based on appearances here, since you can hardly just go and ask the commissioner himself whether he is "really" biased. However, it seems unsurprising that a commissioner in an enquiry like this, where he has statements of most (or all?) witnesses before they go in the box, and has a truth seeking mission that is completely different from what court trials are about, can give an appearance of bias if he questions a witness aggressively.

As it happens, I think Tony Morris was putting on too much "showmanship", and a part of me is a little happy to see him rebuked. However, overall his behaviour did have a positive effect on the victims who finally felt that they were receiving a very public, and very sympathetic, hearing. I also expect that the two bureaucrats who didn't like his style will ultimately gain nothing from this result. I cannot see that the facts against them can be read by anyone in a substantially different fashion.

So, despite misgivings about the Morris style, the judge hasn't done anyone any favours in this whole exercise. There was certainly room to make the decision the other way, and that's what he should've done.

And then there is the Di Fingleton case. She gets substantial compensation and a magistrate's job back. In any earlier post, I argued that having someone on the bench who has been in jail is not a good idea. Lots of room for perceived bias there (probably against sending convicted persons into jail. Or maybe she will be too keen to send some in, just to show she is not biased.) Not to mention that she will presumably be having magistrates conferences where the other magistrates, who were glad to see the back of her, will also be in attendance. A few post-conference drinks, and we could have something that will make the Brogden affair look trivial!

This is a bad mistake. Surely they could have come up with some other job for her. But then again, she admits to being combative and aggressive in style, and maybe now that her former champion Matt Foley is out of the government, no one else in the government was willing to put their hand up to take her.

The Beattie government is on a downwards spiral here. It's just a pity it is so far from an election.