Wednesday, November 30, 2005
Futurepundit (link above) has a not bad post on the meaning of the recent report about older ice core studies showing that there definitely is a significant amount of additional CO2 in the atmosphere now compared to any time in the last 650,000 years.
The article notes that there have been several ice ages over this time, and the interglacial periods have ranged from between 10,000 and about 20,000 years. As the current warm spell has lasted 10,000, let's all hope there is another few thousand years left in the current balmy conditions.
It also points out that the cycle of ice ages is believed to be caused by changes in the earth's orbit. How well is this really established, I wonder? How well do they understand the current status of earth's orbit? I need to do more reading on that.
Another useful lesson that the article notes about climate is this:
".....if you have had fairly stable climate for a few centuries then best you start expecting a big shift. The climate is just not stable for many centuries running."
Just to put the (terribly sad) Nguyen case into perspective from the Singaporean point of view, the link above is to a recent 7.30 Report story on a Singaporean man hanged for being caught with a kilogram of cannabis on him at the Malaysian border.
Is it any wonder that the Singaporean government has a lot of face to lose if it does deals on Nguyen, caught with a substantial amount of a potentially much deadlier drug?
By way of comparison, in Queensland, it appears that possession of up to 500g can be dealt with in the Magistrates Court, with an absolute maximum of 2 years jail (although presumably that would never be imposed for a first offence.)
I haven't been able to quickly find the maximum penalty for possession of a kilo in Queensland...
The Economist is vaguely optimisitic that the whole of the Arab world is getting sick of violence in the name of resistance. Well worth reading. A key paragraph:
"Arab governments used to treat local terrorism as something that dented their prestige and should be covered up. Now they eagerly exploit the images of suffering to justify their policies. The way such events are reported in the press no longer hints at a reflexive blaming of external forces. The Arab commentariat, much of which had promoted sympathy with the Iraqi insurgency, and focused on perceived western hostility to Islam as the cause of global jihadism, has grown vocal in condemning violence. Jihad al-Khazen, the editor of al-Hayat, a highbrow Saudi daily, is a frequent and mordant critic of western policy. Yet his response to the Amman tragedy was an unequivocal call for global co-operation to combat what he blasted as the enemies of life, of joy, and of the light of day."
See the link above to a sensible opinion piece in Newsweek (obviously not from an overly Bush friendly editor) on the ridiculous rush by some Democrats towards isolationism. It's a good read.
Monday, November 28, 2005
"Taking your ball and going home is a seductive argument in a paradoxical superpower whose inclinations on the Right have a strong isolationist streak and on the Left a strong transnational streak, which is isolationism with a sappy face and biennial black-tie banquets in European Union capitals. Transnationalism means poseur solutions, the Kyotification of foreign policy."
* Is string theory all that it's cracked up to be? A Slate review of a new book by Lawrence Krauss notes that the author, a real live physicist himself, criticises all of the hope vested in string theory because no one has yet come up with any way to test it. It's a pretty good point, really. As the reviewer notes:
'When I asked physicists like Nobel Prize-winner Frank Wilczek and string theory superstar Edward Witten for ideas about how to prove string theory, they typically began with scenarios like, "Let's say we had a particle accelerator the size of the Milky Way …" '
* So you thought a new Blu Ray DVD burner would be pretty cool. Well, just around the corner may be the faster and bigger holographic disc burner. New Scientist says it can hold up to 300
GB, and burn faster too.
I am really beginning to wonder, just how much storage on a single disk does the world really need?
* But then if you want to get into the mind boggling prospect of quantum computing, (which I only barely understand), New Scientist reports (in an article that needs to be paid for on its website, but available for free via this page in Eureka News) on a new idea for how to build a super quantum computer before they have even worked out how to build a "normal" one. The summary:
"As futuristic as quantum computers seem, what with all those qubits and entangled atoms, here is an idea that promises to make atom-based quantum computers look passé even before anyone has built a full-sized version.
It seems that bubbles of electrons lined up in ultracold liquid helium could be used to build a quantum computer capable of carrying out a staggering 1030 simultaneous calculations."
Actually, as the article ends with this:
Because each qubit carries two values, a quantum computer with two qubits could carry out four parallel calculations, one with three qubits eight calculations, and so on. "I see no major technical obstacles to the system I envisage working with 100 qubits," says Yao. "That means it could do 1000 billion billion billion operations all at once."
the reference to "1030" presumably is meant to be "10 to the power of 30" (10 followed by 30 zeros).
Has anyone worked out how you would use that computing power in practice?
The other shorter dream I remember was one no doubt influenced by seeing a War of the Worlds DVD on sale. I was somewhere in public (like a bus or train station) and on a TV screen a newsreader was saying that there were reports of a UFO attacking the White House with lightning bolts. The scary part of the dream was the silence in the public space while people were listening. It was a very realistic "I can't believe this could be really happening like in science fiction movies" feeling. Creepy. Then I woke up.
Back at work today and catching up with the blogosphere today/tomorrow.
Tim Blair's still wandering the highways of the USA I see. He seems to keep it a secret how long he will be away.
Currency Lad has returned and seems to be posting at a rapid rate. Hope it's permanent.
There are some things I want to post about, but they will probably have to wait until this evening.
Friday, November 18, 2005
It's been a few weeks since I have recommended a New Yorker book review, but the link above is to a good one on CS Lewis. As usual, the "review" is really just an essay on the subject of a recent book, but it is interesting and detailed.
CS Lewis is already getting lot of renewed attention due to the forthcoming release of "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" in the cinema, and from what I can gather there is a generally good "vibe" about it. I just don't get Tolkien at all, but am quite fond of some of the Narnia books.
I think I have read every major book by Lewis, except for his couple of purely academic ones. When I occasionally dip into his work again, I am usually pleasantly surprised by his clear and engaging prose, and how some of the points he made on the state of Christian faith are still very relevant today despite it being 60 years since his earliest books.
I don't agree with every point made in the review, but it is a good read anyway.
I made a comment in an earlier recent post how common sense sometimes points towards the truth faster than science does.
Many years ago, a friend used to ridicule me for insisting on my belief that there was a likely relationship between marijuana use and schizophrenia, because all of the studies at that time (as mentioned on that highly authoritative source Radio Station JJJ) insisted there wasn't. My hunch was based on family experience, the reported experience of other families, and a skepticism towards the "self medication" explanation that was sometimes invoked to explain higher rates of schizophrenia amongst marijuana users.
Of course, medical opinion did swing around eventually to support my hunch, and a causative relationship seems now well established. (Maybe mainly with those who were susceptible to develop mental illness anyway, but if you would not have developed it without the use of marijuana, that is sufficient causation for most legal and common sense purposes.)
The other topic of argument with my friend was a connection between getting "chilled" and developing a cold. Based on a couple of camping experiences, where I had cold feet all night quickly followed by a heavy cold within the next 30 hours or so, I was always inclined to believe there was a connection, despite some studies which indicated otherwise.
Anyway, once again there is finally a study (see link at the top) that seems to vindicate my common sense assessment. In fact, the mechanism suggested in this article was exactly what I suggested years ago (namely, a chill could sufficiently weaken resistence to a virus already lurking on you.)
More people should just listen to me and learn that I am usually right. (Just kidding folks!)
Thursday, November 17, 2005
As I have never noticed Tony calling for an armed or violent resistence against this government, despite his frequent claim that John Howard has just about created a fascist state, I fail to see how it is possible that he could be at risk of a sedition charge. I don't think he has read the legislation, but that seems pretty common in the anti sedition laws media commentary lately. He likes to get carried away, though:
"For fascism is almost with us now. The experience of 20th century fascism in Europe reminds us of the apparent normality of life, for most people most of the time, under the fascist regimes before they went to war. Outside the minority communities being scapegoated, life under the German and Italian fascists was pretty much like life under John Howard here now."
It's like walking down a street minding your own business and having a stranger come up to you saying over and over "I have my rights, don't hit me!" Although you may never have had any such intention of doing so at first, you really do want to hit him after a while 'cos he is so annoying.
(There is a similar bit in Monty Python somewhere, I am sure, but it won't come clearly to mind.)
See the link for an interesting interview with someone with direct experience in Iraq on the the WMD issue both before and after the war.
Wednesday, November 16, 2005
See link above for a long article that definitely deserves a fisking - but no time for me to do it now.
Her basic idea: the media here thinks the Australian economy and assimilation of migrants would be something of a lesson for France. But not so - things are pretty appalling for everyone here too. Just that we don't know it.
But her ending is a bit of a worry - and a good way to lose any possible sympathy:
"Perhaps the editors of the Sydney Morning Herald and The Australian would do well to consider what a fragile glass house Australia has become. And right now, there are plenty of us clutching sharp stones in our hands. "
The author is "Dr Bronywn Winter is a senior lecturer at the University of Sydney, School of Languages and Cultures, Deptartment of French Studies." Perhaps her boss deserves a letter.
However, he still defends the government on the issue of WMD and the danger of Saddam Hussein, and indeed the character of George W Bush:
"With hindsight, of course, there were no weapons of mass destruction, one of the prime justifications for the war, at least in Britain. "This is one of history's loose ends, which may yet be tied," he suggests defensively. But he denies that the government suspected all along that Saddam was less of a threat than was being claimed in public. "I do not know anyone of any stature in 2002 who was going around saying they don't have this stuff."
The US Iraq survey team, sent in after the war, failed to find any WMD after one of the most intensive hunts in history. Sir Christopher suggests they could have been "spirited out of the country into Syria or maybe even Iran. That is a possibility". To the Americans, though, Sir Christopher says, the war was always about regime change, not WMD. "One of the things that came to me when writing was how political the war was. This wasn't just a war, it was a political war." The US, he says, wanted to "replace a bad government with a good government". It was, he says, the "neo-con vision".
US officials who planned the war, such as deputy defence secretary Paul Wolfowitz, "thought it was possible to bring not perfect democracy but start with a fairly rough and ready version that would be the basis from which you could move on to higher things".
"Put it like that and it doesn't sound so loony," he says.
And despite the current situation in Iraq, Sir Christopher remains an admirer of Mr Bush. "I have got to declare an interest: I like George W Bush. In public, on the whole, he doesn't do himself justice, at least for a European audience. In private, from the very first time I met him, I found him articulate and interesting. He did do detail. You can argue, millions will, that what he did with those details and the policies he created out of them are not to our liking. But the portrait of an ideological, religious simpleton is wildly off-beam."
You can now visit their site to search the complete record of proceedings there from 1674 to 1834!
This is of particular interest to Australians, since many of the original Aussies ended up here via that court.
For example, if you look at the link to "On this day in 1786" for today, and then click on the "see original" link at the side, you will see that the fate of one Christopher Hornsby, charged with stealing a silk hankerchief, was transportation for 7 years!
I must search my family name and see what pops up. Fascinating.
Tuesday, November 15, 2005
"France practises integration with respect to its ethnic minorities, from North Africa and Arab nations, in the sense that the French do not formally recognise their existence....
Anyone who has residence in France is expected to act like the French. There is no public recognition that immigrants to France - or their children or grandchildren - might like to preserve part of their ethnic culture or native language or that this might benefit France. There is no French equivalent of SBS and there are few government sponsored organisations for inter-ethnic dialogue. It's a case of when in France do as the French do."
Australia, on the other hand, is successfully multicultural, because it acknowledges that migrants might want to preserve part of their heritage:
"The fact is that multiculturalism has worked well in Australia and has contributed to an accepting society. The tests? Well, inter-marriage rates between ethnic groups are relatively high. And the level of ethnic motivated crime is relatively low. France's contemporary social problems have nothing to do with multiculturalism but, rather, much to do with its absence."
Mark Steyn's latest on Europe advances a not too dissimilar line, in that he points out that most European countries are bi-cultural (with one culture being Muslim.) Using the situation in Fiji as an example, he points out that this is inherently more unstable (at least when the minority starts to become the not so minority due to population growth) than multicultural countries, like the US and Australia. As he wittily puts it:
"One way to avoid it would be to go genuinely multicultural, to broaden the Continent's sources of immigration beyond the Muslim world. But a talented ambitious Chinese or Indian or Chilean has zero reason to emigrate to France, unless he is consumed by a perverse fantasy of living in a segregated society that artificially constrains his economic opportunities yet imposes confiscatory taxation on him in order to support an ancien regime of indolent geriatrics."
God, he can write!
See the link for a Tony Parkinson story on how Whitlam sought substantial money from Saddam Hussein to support the Labor Party election campaign in 1975. I don't recall this story at all, but it's a great one.
It gave much insight into how Islamist suicide bombers started in Iran in the Iran/Iraq war. Most worrying was how it showed that such martyrdom is still admired today, even by those parents whose 13 or 15 yr old sons strapped explosives to themselves 20 years ago.
It really makes you wonder how such a mindset can be changed. Depressing, in a way.
Monday, November 14, 2005
"Connoisseurs of Australian wine may have to learn to love a less tasty drop as climate change takes its toll on grape growing regions, a greenhouse conference will hear.
Leanne Webb, a PhD student with CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research says based on her modelling Australia's wine growing regions will become warmer and in almost all cases drier.
The bad news is that the flavour and aroma of grapes may suffer, resulting in poorer quality, less complex wines."
'"In most regions bud burst will be earlier ... and harvest day in all cases will be earlier," she says.
For example, in South Australia's Riverland, Australia's warmest and largest wine producing region, bud burst will occur four days earlier and harvesting will take place eleven days earlier by 2030.'
Panic! Maybe this will convince Howard to ratify Kyoto. He likes wine doesn't he? But wait a minute, there is something good to come from it:
"According to her model, by 2030 Riverina grape growers in New South Wales will need an extra 1500 to 8500 megalitres of water a year to irrigate their crops.
But what growers lose through irrigation they may gain in increased yield, she says.
"When it's warmer you tend to be able to produce more grapes per hectare," she says.'
So it's more wine but of less quality. Since most of the bottles I currently drink are under $10, I can live with this.
On Friday I heard The World Today on Radio National, in which there was a good stoush between the always cool, rational (and conservative) Gerard Henderson and Robert Toner (a New South Wales barrister on the side of the over-cautious civil libertarians) on the Federal government's anti terror legislation.
Things did get a bit heated as these extracts show:
"GERARD HENDERSON: Yeah, but the error you're making is, and many barristers make, you don't have to take…
ROBERT TONER: We're the ones that deal with it day in, day out.
GERARD HENDERSON: Yeah, but just a minute… is that you're talking about criminality, and I think… can I just finish? I think you underplay the significance of the threat. Let's just talk about Britain.
ROBERT TONER: What, of mass murder? Why should we?
GERARD HENDERSON: Could I just finish? If we just talk about Britain, not talk about Australia. What we're dealing here with is not criminals, so much as revolutionaries. Revolutionaries who come up with ideological doctrines deserve to be taken seriously.
If someone says to me they want to destroy our society, I have the good sense to take them seriously until proven otherwise. This is a revolutionary force at a new time of war. We are not dealing with normal acts of criminality for which barristers have dealt for many years."
"GERARD HENDERSON: All I'm saying is that if every State Premier, if every Territory leader, if the Prime Minister and the Opposition leader, the Federal Police, and all the State Police say something needs to be done, I don't think it's… I mean, it's very easy for someone for the Bar to say they're all wrong.
ROBERT TONER: Because they're spooked by the polls, they're spooked by the editorial writers of the Daily Telegraph.
GERARD HENDERSON: Oh are they? So they don't believe what they're doing? They're just spooked by people, they're just scared. I mean…
ROBERT TONER: Well, hang on a minute, this is out of balance.
GERARD HENDERSON: That is a ridiculous proposition. As a barrister you should be able to do better than that.
ELEANOR HALL: Now, I just need to intervene here."
Of course, I rate Henderson as the winner.
There has been some renewed criticism lately of the media's alleged downplaying of the controversial Lancet study that put the number of war dead at a likely 100,000.
George Monbiot had an article in The Guardian about it last week. It drew a letter in response linked to at the top of this post from one Gil Elliot.
Strangely enough, the book which he wrote ("The 20th Century Book of the Dead") is one which I bought out of vague curiosity in a second hand shop in (I think) the early 1980's. It explains the numbers of deaths caused by humans (through war, deliberately induced famine, etc) throughout the 20th century, and it cautiously details the uncertainties and methods by which the numbers had been calculated. It certainly alerted me while relatively young to the fact that Stalin killed many, many more millions of his own subjects than Hitler ever did. (Being a point still not a matter of common knowledge in the West, in my opinion.)
Anyway, I have not followed the argument about the Lancet study as closely as I could. My reaction still remains the same: while the survey method might well work in some societies, I doubt that it would work so well in the, umm, highly excitable society that seems to be in place in Iraq. In other words, if ever there were a place where I would have cause to doubt the accuracy of answers to a survey on how many deaths you knew of, it would be Iraq. And bearing in mind that their study gave a possible (though very unlikely) minimum of 8,000 deaths, I would think that it is entirely justifiable to take a figure well within the lower range of possibilities in the study as being more accurate than the 100,000 "most likely" figure, given other information out of the country.
The authors of the study and their defenders complain that the Western leaders didn't question their methodology when used in other conflicts. Well, maybe they should have, but in any case when they rush their study into print in a highly politicised way, they should expect some pretty careful scrutiny and skepticism. The fact that they are professionals at this work doesn't cut much ice with me. Sometimes common sense points you in the right direction faster than science does.
"For one thing, contrary to accepted wisdom, he's allowed backbenchers a greater policy role than probably any other Liberal leader. Howard, remember, saw first-hand the difficulty that Malcolm Fraser had in managing a large party room of ambitious MPs, and he's adopted a strategy the opposite of his predecessor's. Instead of attempting to restrict party dissent, Howard has tolerated it, and sometimes even encouraged it. No fewer than three policy journals are now published by Liberal MPs -- covering everything from vouchers for education to uranium mining. On the new anti-terror laws, Howard has genuinely listened to backbenchers such as Petro Georgiou and Malcolm Turnbull and taken their views into account -- even if he disagrees with them."
This made me think, the Labor Party can similarly be said to be a "broad church", but it causes it more grief than benefit. The reason, I suppose, would have to be the rigidity of the faction system, which presumably makes inter-faction compromises on policy much harder to achieve.
But I think another part of the article is also worth noting:
"There is really no common denominator among terrorists. They can be rich or poor, highly religious or not religious at all. The only common factor among many seems to be a crisis of identity that then runs into an identity entrepreneur, in the shape of a charismatic religious teacher or cell leader.
The identity entrepreneur solves the identity crisis for the young men. He instructs them on their identity. They are warriors in jihad, avenging the countless crimes of the infidel against Islam.
This is the sense in which the riots in France can have a connection with terrorism. It is not that the rioters have adopted terrorist ideology. But their nihilistic rage bespeaks a crisis of identity that is bound to find some of them falling into the hands of the identity entrepreneurs of radical jihad. "
Sounds very plausible to me.
I have posted before about how much of the commentary on the sedition laws appears to have been based on an major misunderstanding in relation to the definition of "seditious intention"
Phillip Ruddock in the Sydney Morning Herald today (link above) confirms I was right. See this:
"One source of misunderstanding is that people have taken the term "seditious intention" to be an offence.
Seditious intention, for the purpose of this bill, is a definition - not an offence. Although it contains reference to things such as disaffection against the government, you cannot be charged with "seditious intention". The section of the act that mentions seditious intention is part of a wider provision setting out the requirements for declaring an association "unlawful",and in that context, it does not apply to individuals."
However, possibly this bit of the article is a little misleading:
"The existing and proposed laws allow for free speech by making sure people can call upon a good faith defence."
This is true for individuals, but I think that even the final bill does not make allowances for associations to make comment "in good faith". If so this is probably a legitimate ground for complaint against the provisions. The risk of leaving the legislation as it is more theoretical than practical, though, when one considers that the AG would have to convince a Federal Court judge to declare an association as unlawful.
Anyway, it is good to see the government finally speaking against the mistaken impression given in the media about what the sedition laws were covering.
Sunday, November 13, 2005
Terry's Age article this week (link above) is a real dog's breakfast. Long suffering from Howard Derangement Syndrome, he of course cannot let go of the idea that the police raids this week were probably just part of some diversionary tactic directed by the PM:
"Let's be generous here. Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that the happy coincidence of the Man of Steel's need for a bogeyman and the arrest of 17 "terrorists" has genuinely foiled a bomb plot. And let's assume too that the police who have benefited from extra money and power are not cynically rewarding their political master.
....Just suppose that for once we are not being deceived by self-serving opportunists; what should we make of events?"
However, he then swings over (via a fairly gratuitous swipe at ASIO's history) to making a point I can probably agree with. Namely, despite the government having an interest in repeatedly saying that the new anti terror legislation is not aimed at Muslims, in the present situation of course it is Muslims who will be being watched most closely. To quote:
"If the secret police are any good at their jobs they will target Muslim organisations. If there is any threat at all, we know that is where it comes from. In which case, let's stop beating about the bush and get it out in the open. The issue is not resolved when some Muslim puts his hand on his heart and tells us that "Islam means peace". We know that it doesn't. Right now we are not frightened of Baptists or Presbyterians."
And then his final paragraph is interesting, although completely devoid of practical suggestion as to how it is to be achieved:
"Putting a few ratbags behind bars will not solve the problem of an unsettling alien presence in the nation. The most urgent requirement is the assimilation of Muslims and the secularisation of Islam. The Man of Steel should tell us what he has in mind along those lines. We need an Ataturk."
[For any international readers, "Man of Steel" is his sarcastic nick for PM John Howard.]
Terry is famously athiestic, and it is his strong anti-religion views that have swung him away from the more "traditional" left wing view of multiculuralism, where it is deemed impolite to actually say that another culture's religious beliefs should be reformed or abandoned (while having no compunction about rubbishing your own country's Christian inheritance.)
So Terry has actually got himself into a position on Islam which is probably shared by many on the right side of politics, even the far right.
What do I think? Well, I am still reading bits and pieces about Islam and don't feel I have a solid basis for a detailed opinion yet. I don't know enough about the different branches of Islam and its history to have any good idea as to how it could be reformed. But of course, I have no issue with the question of assimilation. Clearly, other migrant groups have taken to assimilation in this country quite well, and I think one of the major ways of achieving this is through the younger generation's inter-marriage with Australian citizens. It is not clear to me how much the younger generation of Muslim immigrants to Australia are intermarrying. The publicity surrounding the gang rapes in Sydney suggest that there is not a hell of a lot of respect for Western women amongst some Muslim groups, which would also presumably mean little intermarriage.
I would not have thought that Australia has any substantial barriers to Muslims economically integrating here (in the same way apparently France has,) but then again I don't know (for example) how many work places make a prayer room available for Muslim staff either. (I am sounding very small "l" liberal when I say that, but I was chatting to a Malaysian guy and he explained how all office workplaces there have a prayer room for the Muslim men. I asked if it was a cause of resentment that they went and had a few 20 minute prayer breaks every day, but the chinese seem to live with it. I am not sure if a Muslim man here has ever had an issue with his non- Muslim boss over the need for prayer breaks.)
So, assimilation is a good idea, but I would like Terry to give us his personal (and practical) ideas about how to achieve that, rather than just making implied criticism of Howard for not addressing it.
See the link above for a short article on the idea being promoted by Erik Gartzke that capitalism is more important than democracy in ensuring world peace. Maybe this has been noted elsewhere on the Net, but if so I have missed it. The heart of the article is this:
"...Gartzke argues that "the 'democratic peace' is a mirage created by the overlap between economic and political freedom." That is, democracies typically have freer economies than do authoritarian states.
Thus, while "democracy is desirable for many reasons," he notes in a chapter in the latest volume of Economic Freedom in the World, created by the Fraser Institute, "representative governments are unlikely to contribute directly to international peace." Capitalism is by far the more important factor.
The shift from statist mercantilism to high-tech capitalism has transformed the economics behind war. Markets generate economic opportunities that make war less desirable. Territorial aggrandizement no longer provides the best path to riches.
Free flowing capital markets and other aspects of globalization simultaneously draw nations together and raise the economic price of military conflict. "
Sounds at least half plausible.
Friday, November 11, 2005
If you are a blogger who likes this site, don't just visit via book marks or someone's else's link. Please consider adding me to your blog roll.
"Imagine two servings of ice cream, one featuring a five-ounce cup overfilled with seven ounces, the other a ten-ounce cup filled with only eight ounces. Objectively the under-filled serving is better, because it contains more. But a study conducted by Christopher Hsee found that unless these two servings are presented side by side, the seven-ounce serving is actually considered more valuable. Apparently, people do not base their judgment on the amount of ice cream available, which is difficult to evaluate in isolation. Instead, they rely on an easy-to-evaluate cue: whether the serving is overfilled or under-filled. Overfilling evokes positive feelings while under-filling evokes negative feelings, and these feelings dictate people's evaluations."
Emphasis is mine. Isn't that the reason for the result, and does it tells us anything valuable?
"France's tirades have helped negotiators wake up to the fact that the 2003 reform was largely a shell game, shifting only a portion of European farm subsidies from the WTO's prohibited list of trade-distorting payments to its "acceptable" subsidy list. This was achieved primarily by "decoupling" subsidies from production, with the idea that this would discourage the overproduction of goods that has wreaked havoc on agricultural markets. At the end of the day, however, there was no change in support prices and subsidy levels, and hence no change in the overall level of European protection. As shown by an OECD study, this was a liberalization in name only, reducing the overall level of support by a meager two percentage points, from 57% to 55% -- nothing much to celebrate for Europe's WTO partners.
..... This means foreign access to European markets remains difficult, if not impossible -- even for producers from Europe's former colonies in the African, Caribbean and Pacific regions and other least developed countries that face no tariffs. .... These countries are shocked by the incredible cynicism of a position that preaches development, but practices market closure when it comes to developing countries' farm exports....
The French position is even less understandable when it is recalled that, on the whole, French agriculture is amongst the most efficient in Europe. French farmers seem not to realize that they will be the main beneficiaries of even the limited farm liberalization that the Doha round appears capable of delivering. Take domestic subsidies, for example. European subsidies spent in the most inefficient member states keep their farmers in operation, and thereby restrict the sales of more efficient farmers, be they from the rest of the world or from the rest of Europe. The CAP is the most implacable foe of the European single market in farm products, and it is particularly harmful for the most efficient European -- often French -- farmers.
If reason were to prevail, French farmers would be among those pushing for deeper reductions in European subsidies than those tabled by the Commission. They would clearly win from such an approach."
Thursday, November 10, 2005
"Armed Elements Captured
(Al-Mada) Border guards arrested seven armed Syrians in the Sinjar area of Nineveh province, a source at the interior ministry said. He said security forces raided a house in the al-Qadisiya area where they arrested the seven men who shot at a police patrol there. The source said security forces also raided terrorists' dens in the al-Nahrawan area of Baghdad, where they arrested 13 armed men. In addition, 10 Iranians were arrested at Sirwan checkpoint.
(Al-Mada is issued daily by Al-Mada institution for Media, Culture and Arts.)"
'"A chemical compound in wine reduces levels of a harmful molecule linked to Alzheimer's disease. In a recent study, resveratrol--one of several antioxidants found in wine--helped human cells break down the molecule, which contributes to the lesions found in the brains of Alzheimer's patients....
The pinot noir grape apparently boasts the most dietary resveratrol, but that may not be enough to fend off Alzheimer's. "It is difficult to know whether the anti-amyloidogenic effect of resveratrol observed in cell culture systems can support the beneficial effect of specific diets," Marambaud explains. "Resveratrol in grapes may never reach the concentrations required to obtain the effect observed in our studies."'
Still, that would be one medical research project that would be worth signing up for.
Well, it's pretty obvious some types of call do. But I have wondered recently, with the arrival of spring and its massive increase in bird noice around our house, what exactly is the point of the huge din that lorikeets and similar parrot-ish birds make of an evening as they fly into the trees?
I mean, you can sort of guess that morning calls may have something to do with, well, waking up and checking who's around you. But the evening racket they make? I mean, they don't talk about what they did today, do they? They're smart enough to know where their nest is without having to hear where the crowd is, aren't they?
'For a 200-metre-wide asteroid, the spacecraft would need to weigh about 20 tonnes and lurk 50 metres from its target for about a year to change its velocity enough to knock it off course.
"This is hands down the best idea I have seen," says Erik Asphaug, a planetary scientist at the University of California at Santa Cruz. "This will work, but you need to put a large enough spacecraft out there at the right time."
"In the past few weeks ..... a fairly bold American proposal for reducing its farm protection has been greeted by a much weaker response from the European Union and none at all from Japan. And ministers from Bastiat's own country, France, have vied with one another to denounce all talk of further reform to the EU's common agricultural policy. Europe must, they say, remain an “agricultural power” even at the expense of the taxpayer and the poor, and, according to President Jacques Chirac, must fight back “liberalism”. Whatever happened to Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité?....
The likeliest outcome both from the Hong Kong meeting and the eventual Doha agreement is a compromise—as always. The European position is feeble but not risible, for it has offered an overall average cut in its farm tariffs of 39%, up from 25% only a month ago, though with rather a lot of loopholes that could severely limit the benefits. France, and other European farm protectionists, may prove more flexible than they currently imply: this is hardly the first time they have promised to man the barricades shortly before striking a deal. ....
Although the case for reducing poverty by sending more aid to the poorest countries has some merit, the experience of China, South Korea, Chile and India shows that the much better and more powerful way to deal with poverty is to use the solution that worked in the past in America, western Europe and Japan: open, trading economies, exploiting the full infrastructure of capitalism (including financial services—see our survey on microfinance) amid a rule of law provided by government. In other words, globalisation."
Wednesday, November 09, 2005
One thing about his main point (that the West needs to win a media war to win the war on terror) bothers me, though. I have often been amazed at how (gosh, how to put this nicely - here goes -) especially gullible about rumour the Arab world seems to be. There are many, many examples, but the one that sticks in my mind as emblematic was watching hundreds of men shooting and hunting around a Baghdad river on live TV during the Iraq war because there was a rumour that an American pilot had parachuted there from a downed plane. No parachute to be seen, but boats racing up and down, men going into the reeds to find him, hundreds of men pointing excitedly at the river every time they saw a bubble. After a scary 30 minutes (or so I recall it) of wondering if we were about to see an American shot on the spot, turned out there was no one there.
Then, how often do we hear, after some home made bomb goes off in Gaza or Iraq, someone saying it was an American or Israeli plane or missile that came out of the sky, and it seems to be immediately believed by the mob?
I suspect there must be something very cultural about this. I know that all cultures can be prone to believing rumour in the right circumstances, but as I say, I just haven't noticed it to such an extreme extent in other parts of the world.
If I am right about this (and of course this is an extremely subjective judgement for which I have no great body of objective evidence to back up,) it makes the media war for their minds a particular challenge.
Found via Japundit (see link at the side) is a site (link above) showing a range of very cute Japanese designs for USB drives. An example is above.
This made me wonder if anyone had ever made USB earrings. Yes, they have. (The comments about them are pretty funny too.)
I really love USB drives, and wish they could be just built into my body, for convenience sake.
See link for a very conservative sounding article in Der Spieleg on the problems in France and Europe generally with Muslim migrants. It runs quite close to the Mark Steyn line.
Tuesday, November 08, 2005
* it's rare to see any politician's decision vindicated so quickly. The fact that Howard gains political points out of this is driving Margo Kingston and her readers crazy. She writes in respect of today's press conference:
"His political timing again strangely perfectly tuned to his police arm's actions, Howard smiled throughout, including when he asserted, in the face of mountains of evidence during his reign, that
Could have fooled me that the standard semi-grimace that Howard used through the press conference was his smile. I thought he was pretty restrained, and in light of the cynicism expressed of his timing last week, who can be begrudge him this chance to say "I told you I wasn't making it up."
* I also heard on the radio today someone, (I think it might have been the NSW police commissioner, but I am not sure), saying that the 1800 terrorism hotline had proved to be a very successful source of information. Seems all the skepticism about the fridge magnets might have been a misplaced too.
* Generally, I don't mind Kerry O'Brien. But sometimes, he can't help his face showing his gloom at things going unexpectedly well for John Howard. On tonight's 7.30 Report, his expression at the intro reminded me of that he had when it started becoming clear on election night that Howard would be returned with a good majority.
As for his interview with Kelty, I thought it was pretty pathetic to spend so much time on trying to find out when the government was told of the need for the amendment which was rushed through last week. The only reason I can see for sticking to this line of questioning was because it was the last hope of finding a way to criticise the government. (Well, apart from the question of leaks to the media.) Seems Kerry can't accept that the amendment proposal may have been made months ago, without at that time a particular sense of urgency; a decision was made to bundle it with the big Bill; then intelligence made the security services ask for it to be done urgently. Why does that seem so hard to believe?
* Margo Kingston also has a go at the government showing no inclination to investigate leaks to the media (see same link above). She cannot believe Ruddock's claim on Lateline tonight that he is not so sure that there were leaks.
It seems to me that for those leaks attributed to "senior security services", there were so many police involved you may as well not even start to look.
For those attributed to "government sources", I suspect that the risk of perhaps jeopardising the raids, which the leaker would presumably know were coming soon, as against the alleged political benefit of making the leaks, would make it less likely that it would come from anywhere high in the government.
Margo also takes umbridge at Ruddock's suggestion that some journalists were probably only claiming they had received leaks when they had not. Come on Margo, surely that has happened before.
* If anyone wishes to read my lengthy post over at Road to Surfdom today, here it is. (Posted by "Steve".) You might also note that, even tonight, some are still questioning whether the rushed amendment was necessary, despite 3 police commissioner and Bracks saying it was. Talk about taking a horse to water....
Monday, November 07, 2005
The main problem is with the definition of "sedititious intention" (see page 113 of the .pdf version here.) This is the very broad definition which has been getting a fair amount of media attention, as it refers to urging disaffection against (amongst other things) the Government. What's more, there is no defence of acting in good faith, which I thought was probably a drafting error in the first draft of the Bill. (It seems that the old Crimes Act did have this available.) However, it is still not available as a defence in the final Bill. There is also no reference to incitement to violence in this section.
It is, however, very important to note that this definition is only relevant to the "unlawful associations" part of the Crimes Act. For an individual to commit sedition, there is a completely separate section, which does (for the most part) incorporate encouragement to violence as being part of the offence.
This distinction seems to be lost on a bunch of comics who are putting on a concert next weekend to protest the laws.
The Sydney Morning Herald article says this:
"Under the proposed sedition clause, a person can be sentenced to seven years in jail for carrying out, advocating or encouraging seditious intention.That might include "urging" others to feel disaffection with the Government, the constitution or parliament ..."
Well, if I have read the Bill correctly, and I am pretty sure I have, that paragraph muddles up a couple of sections quite badly. The "urging" and "seditious intention" bits are only relevant to this issue of what is an unlawful association. Therefore, the only risk for comedians by "urging" others to have disaffection towards the Government would be if they have formed an association for this purpose and the Attorney General has convinced a Federal Court judge that it should be declared an unlawful association. Yeah, seems a real risk to me.
Individual comedians making jokes or comments "urging disaffection" are therefore not at risk, even theoretically, in my view. If they urge people to take up arms and attack Parliament, well that is a different thing (under the sedition offence section itself.) The "good faith" defence still applies to an individual accused of sedition, as it has been for decades, and as I said in previous post, the new re-write of the "good faith" defence looks like an improvement to me (in favour of the accused, I mean.)
Having said that, I now do agree that the unlawful associations section should be amended. It is too broad, and although I do not think that there is much risk of a Federal Court judge ever agreeing to rule that (say) a trade union that urges disaffection should be an "unlawful association", I can understand why people do not want that theoretical risk. It needs at least the re-instatement of a type of "good faith" defence as applies to the other parts of the sedition laws, as well as being connected to incitement to violence in some way.
I still suspect that the way this has ended up in the Bill may not have been fully intentional.
"And these days we see the other side of the coin: the Right in full and untrammelled flight, the Right relieved of the need to play Mr Nice Guy to minorities in the Senate.
Now the ugly side of capitalism can be reintroduced, the states overridden, the public service - and even the armed forces and the intelligence services - politicised, ministerial standards trashed, account-ability abandoned, civil liberties ground underfoot, the public good sacrificed to private profit, dissent ridiculed and even criminalised.
Now we will see the triumph of fear and greed over rational idealism, and the utter ruthlessness that lurks behind the avuncular hypocrisy of the professed conservatives. This is the real lesson of the Dismissal, and it is still valid after 30 years."
On the other hand, we might also see a continuing growing economy, a further fall in unemployment, wage growth, continuing great relationship with our near neighbours, some terrorist plans thwarted, no refugees drowning on the high seas, some new ideas in aboriginal matters, and those with Howard Derangement Syndrome still seeing it all as the end of the world. Oh sorry, the last point is a given.
Saturday, November 05, 2005
On Friday, they criticised Howard for leaving himself open to the charge that he made the announcement for his own political benefit. But how much consideration has been given to alternative ways Howard could have dealt with it?
My point is this: if Howard had not made the announcement and tried to sneak the amendment through quietly, who could possibly think that Bob Brown and the Greens would not have demanded loudly an explanation as to why one little bit of the Anti Terror Bill had to be rushed through now? Peter Hartcher in the SMH suggested that "the amendment could have been dealt with unobtrusively in the usual course of business" but I find this impossible to believe. The government is copping enough flack as it is over its procedures in speeding through the lengthy Bill. If it suddenly introduced this one amendment unexpectedly ahead of the rest, surely it would have been accused of doing amendments "by stealth," or some such, and the media would have only been too happy to speculate at length as to why Howard was adopting such an unusual tactic. I would bet money that such speculation would involve the words "heightened terrorist threat". The astute terrorist would surely have noticed that something was up.
Howard did say that he was damned if he did and damned if he didn't announce the new terrorist warning. But I took the "damned if he didn't" part to refer to being damed if there was a terror incident in the near future and the warning Howard received had not been made public. But as I say, he would also be damned politically if he did the amendment with no explanation, and in my opinion in the process the terrorist planners would have noticed something going on anyway.
The Australian today gives more background as to why the amendment was made urgently, and notes that there was considerable debate between ASIO and the AFP over whether Howard should explain why it was needed. Ruddock says that the agencies (presumably ASIO and the AFP) also approved the form of words used in the announcement. It was therefore certainly not a "one man show" when it came to this decision, but I think early critics of the move gave the impression it was likely a spontaneous, cynical and careless act by Howard.
Update: John Howard had his own "column" in the Herald Sun today and ran pretty closely with the same argument I described above in his defence. Great minds think alike (haha).
The late John Mack, who gets a mention in the review, came to Brisbane sometime in the mid 1990's and I saw him giving a talk at the University of Qld. He seemed pretty reasonable, and indicated that he had some documentary in the making with very interesting interviews with "abductees", but I don't know if he ever finished it or had a distributor. He was definitely of the Jacques Vallee school of Ufology (believing that it was all more of a paranormal thing that a matter of nuts and bolts spaceships.)
One of the (very few) disappointments I have with the internet is how difficult it is to find "credible" sites about UFOs. Of course, there are a zillion sites that really, really believe in them. But sites which are neither overly skeptical nor overly credulous have been very hard for me to locate. I would welcome suggestions from my vast international readership!
Thursday, November 03, 2005
* Surprisingly few letters to the Sydney Morning Herald expressing skepticism about the timing of the terror threat announcement by John Howard. One letter doesn't understand which legislation is being rushed through "overnight" either. Should letters editors permit clear mistakes of fact go through? (I don't like the new website layout much either. Requires too much additional clicking.)
* There is also an opinion piece in the SMH by a publisher (Nick Parsons) complaining that the new anti terror laws attack free speech as it may make his company an "unlawful association" because it publishes books which are arguably seditious. Funny thing is that, as far as I can see, the new legislation (I am looking at the Stanhope published version) does not create the unlawful associations provisions at all - they have been in place for some years. The article implies that these provisions are completely new. Go have a look at the Crimes Act s.30A and see for yourself.
The writer talks of the "good faith" provisions not applying to the "unlawful associations" part of the Act as a result of the new Bill. He might be right, although it is not clear to me wether this was deliberate or an accident of drafting. (The new Bill amends several bits of legislationa and mistakes can happen.)
I think he is clearly wrong when he says: "Unfortunately, the bill makes no special allowance for criticism, political or otherwise. What it says is that sedition is an offence, regardless of how it is committed, or by whom."
But he then points out that there is a "good faith" provision which his company, as an association, may not have the benefit of.
If you read the good faith section of the Bill, it seems plain that legitimate criticism is what it would protect.
This opinion piece is in my view seriously misleading. SMH luvvies will be lapping it all up, though.
Update: I found this submission by a Sydney academic lawyer about the sedition laws. In one section he complains that the "good faith" defence is too narrow and technical, and "might", for example, mean that teaching a class about opposing views to those of the government could not use the defence.
My problem with this is that the "new" good faith defence - see s.80.3 in the Stanhope bill linked above - is extremely similar to the "old" good faith defence in s.24F of the Crimes Act, which the notes indicate was inserted in 1960! If anything, the new definition is better, in that it is clear in the second part that the government wants the court (when deciding whether "good faith" applies or not) to look at the question of how the comments make relate to the incitement of violence.
Why wasn't the old section dealing with "good faith" the subject to criticism by these lawyers for the past 45 years? Just how many teachers have been charged with sedition under the present laws? Why give the impression to people that it is something new?
I stand by my comments above that it is clear that the good faith provisions will protect the "usual" criticism of the government, particularly when there is no question of it being a case of urging violence. To argue otherwise is silly, and misleading, scaremongering by lawyers and lefties.
Wednesday, November 02, 2005
" AUSTRALIA has a new measure of sound public policy. Called the Fairfax Index, it works like this. The more hysterical the hyperbole on a particular topic on the Fairfax opinion pages and the greater the number of progressive pen pals spilling their outrage on the Fairfax letters pages, the more likely it is that the target of their anguish is good public policy. Using the Fairfax Index, the latest anti-terrorism laws must represent very sound public policy indeed."
I was somewhat chuffed to find my blog made Margo Kingston's page yesterday, presumably because of my "clever" heading on a previous post. Funny thing is, it seems to have done almost nothing to my hit rate, which may say something about the number of Margo's readership at the moment.
But the main point of today's post is just to make clear what some others have already pointed out, but no letter writers to Fairfax seem to acknowledge. Namely, the offence of sedition, in terms very similar to that in the anti terrorist legislation, has been around since 1914. The easiest way to check this out is to use the very handy Austlii site, which has links to all Commonwealth and State legislation.
Here is section 24 A of the Crimes Act 1914:
"Definition of seditious intention
- An intention to effect any of the following purposes, that is to say:
(a) to bring the Sovereign into hatred or contempt;
(d) to excite disaffection against the Government or Constitution of the Commonwealth or against either House of the Parliament of the Commonwealth;
(f) to excite Her Majesty's subjects to attempt to procure the alteration, otherwise than by lawful means, of any matter in the Commonwealth established by law of the Commonwealth; or
(g) to promote feelings of ill-will and hostility between different classes of Her Majesty's subjects so as to endanger the peace, order or good government of the Commonwealth;
is a seditious intention."
Here is section 24D:
- Any person who, with the intention of causing violence or creating public disorder or a public disturbance, writes, prints, utters or publishes any seditious words shall be guilty of an indictable offence.
Penalty: Imprisonment for 3 years."
Now certain acts done in good faith are not sedition by virtue of s.24F, but it is too long to post here.
The new anti terrorist bill in fact amends the Commonwealth Criminal Code. But the basic terms of "seditious intention" are very close to those listed above. The offence itself is worded differently, but there is still a section providing for criticism done in good faith not being sedition.
It seems to me that the Premiers know that the changes here are not dramatic, because I have noticed little (or none?) of their criticism as being about this part of the Bill. It is pretty funny how the Sydney Morning Herald readers have lived under legislation of very similar effect all of their lives, but only now (that it is a Howard government) has it become the greatest threat to democracy, freedom of speech, etc, ever seen.
Update: OK, I have found a lengthy Margo Kingston post which does set out (via a legal opinion Peter Garrett obtained) the differences between the new law and the old. So Margo's readers were at least aware of the old law. (Not that it seems to have made any difference.)
As I have said before, lawyers were designed to disagree. It should come as no shock that some can be found (including QC's or SC's) who will criticise this bill. I think this particular opinion in Margo's piece is very contentious. No time to set out why now, but if you read it, I think you will see what I mean.
Tuesday, November 01, 2005
The story above suggests that hospital doctors may be better off dipping their hands in yoghurt after washing them with plain soap, rather than using antiseptic soap or lotions. Hopefully, it would be a case of good bateria crowding out the bad. (I had read before that one of the problems with frequent handwashing by doctors is that they can get drier, cracked skin which allows more places for bacteria to hide. But I think that was one reason - in addition to their being easier to use- that several hospitals overseas use mositurising alcohol wipes instead of soap or lotions with water.)
I am sure there is a joke to be made out of the idea of your surgeon dipping his hand in yoghurt, but can't think of it yet.
See link above for story about the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine getting big money fromm the Gates Foundation to work on anti malaria measures.
Isn't it a little odd that they do this work in England? Do mosquitoes exist there at all even in summer? Can't some tropical (or semi tropical) country do this work and not have to import the mosquitoes?
Anyway, good on you Gates.