Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Some Christmas Thoughts

1. God it's hot. (I was reminded that Christmas day 2004 in Brisbane was not all that hot. Unfortunately, this has been wiped from my mind in view of the other 9 stinking hot and humid Christmas Days in the last decade.)

2. I will not have a mid life crisis that involves become a caterer. Estimating the amount of food to be consumed by 15 adults and 4 children proved to be impossible.

4. This years game of "how long can we keep eating that ham" is currently on.

5. Giving ham skin to a dog might make it vomit.

6. I just remembered now - I forgot to put out the party poppers. (That's about number 20 on a list of things we forget to serve or do on Christmas day.)

7. I now have to join the rest of the world and read "The Da Vinci Code".

8. One of the local TV stations was so desperate for something to show on the Christmas Day evening news that they went to the international terminal at the airport and filmed people arriving and being hugged by their relatives.

9. Spa pools spend most of their time broken.

10. If they moved Christmas Day to 18 December, maybe most small businesses could close for 2 weeks instead of only one. Would suit me.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

More worrying news about Iran

Waiting for the rapture in Iran - Yahoo! News

Iran's president is a real worry. (See the Christian Science Monitor story above.)

Why oil rich countries can stay poor

The curse of oil | The paradox of plenty | Economist.com

An interesting article in the Economist (link above) on the "curse of oil". This kind of backgrounder is what this magazine does best.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

And you thought Qantas in flight service was bad...

In the Sydney Morning Herald:

"An off-duty pilot was sentenced to 14 years in jail today for killing Indonesia's top human rights activist in a crime judges said was politically motivated.

Judge Cicit Sutiarso did not say whether the court believed that Pollycarpus Budihari Priyanto was acting on someone else's orders when he placed a lethal dose of arsenic in food served to Munir Thalib on a Garuda airlines flight to Amsterdam on September 7, 2004."

What I want for Christmas

These are all from The Red Ferret Journal :

To quote: "Ladies, spoil the man in your life this year with the LBC (Laid Back Computing) 2000 computer rig. Your cuddly couch potato will thank you with tears in his eyes as he unpacks his slob prop and accessories, just watch his cute little love handles jiggle with joy. $1600.00 says ‘I adore you’ better than any cardiac arrest machine ever will."


A 3 foot flying model rocket with a little digital video camera in its nose. Every geek needs one.

And finally:

The sound proof microphone, perfect for karaoke practice!

Your very own Bio Dome Habitat for Christmas

SmithsonianStore.com - Bio Dome Habitat

Looks sort of cool, but a little too small. An evil boy could have fun putting one sort of animal in one part, and its food in another.

Scary thoughts before Christmas

The Officers' Club: The Top 20 Nuclear Close-Calls

From the interesting Officers' Club blog, the article linked above about the top 20 times the Earth nearly went "kaboom" makes for interesting, although not exactly Christmas-y, reading.

While talking death and destruction, I am still reading more about the possible dangers of the new CERN particle accelerator, and maybe can post about it soon. (It still doesn't look good to me.)

Some bits I like on the Sydney problem

The Australian: James Morrow: Self-loathing is the newest hate crime [December 19, 2005]

James Morrow's piece in yesterday's Australia on the Left's response to the Cronulla "race riots" (linked above) was good. I like the Germaine Greer teenager analogy very much.

Gerard Henderson covered much the same ground in the Sydney Morning Herald today, but with a bit of historical perspective too.

And more on Stephen Crittenden (Radio National) watch: I missed most of it this morning, but I heard the very start of an interview with (I think) a historian who was talking about certain Australian 19th century race riots, with Stephen making the observation that, contrary to what commentators are saying, the race riots in Cronulla are not unusual in a historical context. Yes, it's just as if Australian society is exactly the same as it was in 1860. (Insert teeth grinding noises here.)

Yesterday, Stephen had on someone from St Vincent De Paul Society about their research indicating that costs of living increases hit the poor disproportionately. Funnily enough, I could find no mention of this research on Google News; but I do recall that the Society's researcher on poverty has come up with some pretty contentious reports in the past.

The Society might not be wrong about this - I don't know. But I would like some balance in the reporting, and not just the lefties and anti Howard crowd getting a free and disproportionate run during the Radio National summer. (He did give Howard's friendly critic - and Sex Discrimination Commissioner - Pru Goward a run this morning; I think maybe Stephen was disappointed that she didn't have much of a go at the Federal government ignoring her warnings on most matters this year. )

Thursday, December 15, 2005

String theory query

New Scientist Nobel laureate admits string theory is in trouble - News

This snippet from New Scientist does not increase my confidence in the risk assessments of the new particle accelerator (see my post a few down on the possible risk to the Earth of running the new CERN facility.)

"Nature" says Wikipedia relatively accurate

Internet encyclopaedias go head to head : Nature

I found this story via Boing Boing. In short, in a blind review of articles by Britannica and Wikipedia by some scientist types, the Wiki was only marginally less accurate. Yay.

Sounds like a sorta fun gadget

The Fly Pentop Computer - How an educational toy became a hot holiday gadget. By Paul Boutin

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Deep and meaningful...and funny

A Lazy Layman's Guide to Quantum Physics

Readers may note that the internet is an endless source of distraction for me. If I find current affairs for the day dull, I may end up checking out interpretations of quantum physics, just to see if I have missed something.

Today, I stumbled across the page linked above, which is a succinct and humorous guide to the different interpretations of quantum physics.

(Actually, I think it misses a relatively recent one called the "many minds" interpretation, but I am having trouble making any real sense out of that one at all.)

Let's at least try to pretend, Stephen Crittenden

Each summer, it seems that the ABC's Radio National gives Stephen Crittenden (who normally does the Religion Report) a chance to run the Breakfast show for a few weeks. He always irritates, as he makes no pretence at all to objectivity or to disguise his strong disdain of the Howard government.

Yesterday, it was a reference to Howard's "dog whistle politics" as being at part to blame for the Sydney "race" problems. No using the disingenuous (but at least attempted) disclaimer of "some would allege that.."

This morning, it was a question about David Hicks (repeated both to his Marine lawyer and Hick's father) saying that "wouldn't the release of David now that he will get a British passport just confirm that the only thing keeping him in prison was the Howard government's sheer bloody mindedness?" (This is not a direct quote, but I am confident it is close enough.)

Look, most of his Radio National listeners would take no offence; I am sure it would attract more lefties than right wing inclined. But that's not the point; a national broadcaster has to make some attempt at neutrality. The Breakfast show is not it's host's editorial style show; it never has been. Someone should make an official complaint against Crittenden - unfortunately I do not currently have the time.

Monday, December 12, 2005

A post on not posting

Seasonal duties are making it harder for me to get around to blogging. It's also a little harder to find stories at this time of year worth commenting on. Parliament is finished; the more important commentators head off to their Christmas parties and don't return until January or February; to fill in time, part of the media get into the ungratifying business of talking about whether "Christmas" is under attack. The Brisbane weather has also been hot, humid and stormy, with the added "fun" of extended blackouts.

I can't even find anything useful to add to the Cronulla "race riots" of the weekend. (Except for the observation that NSW Premier Iemma is remarkably uncharismatic in his television appearances. I didn't think Bob Carr was that great a media performer either, but at least you didn't get the impression that he needed prodding to stay awake during interviews.)

I also am still looking at whether tiny black holes that might be created at CERN from 2007 might destroy the Earth. It deserves a longer post than my last one, and Zoe Brain has not entirely convinced me not to worry.

The Iraq elections may enliven me, but at the moment I should concentrate more on getting more work done so there is some money for Christmas.

Friday, December 09, 2005

I should not joke about particle accelerators

The Potential for Danger in Particle Collider Experiments

See the link above, for a fairly recent, and credible sounding, explanation of how the new CERN accelerator may really mean the end of the earth.

Why is this not attracting attention? Has anyone mentioned the Fermi Paradox in relation to this issue too?

UPDATE: interested readers should have a look at my long Jan 06 post on this here.

One of the more interesting news stories on "Narnia"

USATODAY.com - C.S. Lewis' stepson keeps 'Jack's' magic alive

A particle accelerator ate my planet

New Scientist SPACE - Breaking News - Astrophysicists weigh up risks of cosmic wipeout

You know, I am still a little worried about the use of new super big particle accelerators when it seems they don't really know what may turn up. (See the links at the side of the article.)

UPDATE: readers interested should check my much longer post on micro black holes (from January 06) here.

It's not just Tony

The Australian: Renate Klein: Abortion drug not the safest method [December 09, 2005]

Interesting article in the Australian today (see above) from someone who sounds ideologically a million miles from Tony Abbott, yet she sets out her reasons for opposing the early abortion drug RU486. The way she describes it the process of using the drug does sound unpleasant, and she makes a good point that, even if warned of the possible risk of infection, women may have trouble recognising the symptoms.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Aborting little criminals not so likely after all

Economics focus | Oops-onomics | Economist.com

Interesting story in the Economist on how the claimed link between easier abortion in the US and lower crime rates is looking very shaky now.

So you thought greenhouse gases were a worry...

Science & Technology at Scientific American.com: Geologists Link the "Great Dying" to Volcanism

A short article in Scientific American (above) makes it perfectly clear just how unfriendly the earth's environment can be (even before nasty people came on the scene to ruin the Garden of Eden.) To quote:

"Roughly 252 million years ago, life on the earth nearly ceased to exist--as much as 90 percent of marine life and 70 percent of terrestrial life died out. At around the same time, a vast up swelling of magma covered between one million and four million cubic kilometers of what is now Siberia. The eruption continued off and on for about a million years, with basalt lava and poisonous gases seeping up through cracks in Siberia's mantle....

The researchers argue that the deadly gases of the Siberian eruption killed vegetation across the globe, just as much smaller modern eruptions have produced acid rain and other plant-killing phenomena. Without roots to hold the soil in place, rivers and streams washed most of the dead vegetation to the sea where it then blocked the sun's light and sucked up all the oxygen. "What began on land ended in the sea," Visscher says. "It seems there was no place to hide at this time of great dying."

And when could it happen again?- Any time now.

On the demise of Margo

Some random thoughts:

* Where will artist in residence Robert Bosler now find an outlet for his impenetrable prose?

* Those with the biggest attachment to Webdiary only have themselves to blame. They displayed no respect for the conservative voice, and made the site into their own lefty Howard Derangement Syndrome echo chamber. Conservatives mainly visited the site to laugh at it.

* I remain a little puzzled about Margo herself. In her TV appearances (especially on Sky News in the last election run up) she used to present as significantly less mad than she does in her written pieces. I mean, she could smile and laugh a little, something you get no sense of at all when she writes. But since Howard won the last election, she has been so overwrought over the "death of democracy" under Howard (who is so evil he can present a false face of benevolence to the public) for so long it was getting clear that she was living on the edge. And her "community" only encouraged her belief system.

* After going independent, I think I heard her on Radio National's Friday morning forum once , and have been surprised she did not find a regular gig somewhere there. Also, why did she stop appearing on Late Night Live? Was it a full blown falling out with Phillip Adams?

Oh well, I am sure it will do her good to stop thinking about politics.

Some modern Chinese history

FrontPage magazine.com :: Leftwing Monster: Mao Zedong by Steve Mosher

Article above is lengthy (I haven't finished it yet) but it seems an interesting short history of Mao's nasty rule over China. (Seems short on actual figures for people killed during various government initiatives, but I am sure estimates are available elsewhere.)

Can't trust forests to get anything right

Study: Temperate Forests Could Worsen Global Warming

So cutting down temperate forests would reduce global warming?

Secular vs religious government in Iraq

More Iraqis look to vote secular Dec. 15 | csmonitor.com

Link above is to a story in the Christian Science Monitor of interest about the upcoming Iraqi election.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Miscellaneous thoughts

On Australian politics: how much will the Gerard appointment scandal be hurting Peter Costello in 6 month's time? Not a bit. Gerard's gone, and it is one of those issues that intensely interests political journalists, but not the general public, especially at this time of year. (And those who do take an interest also remember the Labor government's appointment of mates to the Reserve Bank).

On movies:

"King Kong": I find it extremely difficult to see why a silly 1930's semi-fantasy should have any resonances with today's adult audience, and this version is also so long as to put it out of reach of a very young audience. I predict only moderate success.

"Narnia": despite my fondness for CS Lewis, I only read these books as an adult, and so do not hold them in the same affection as do many who read them as children. Still, the shorts of the movie look impressive, and early reviews of the movie are positive. I will see this one.

"Brokeback Mountain": it might be a good movie with good performances, but you have to wonder how big the potential audience is for a serious gay cowboy movie.

"Munich": Currency Lad is sweating this one a bit too much, I think. Spielberg is a liberal, of course, but I don't think you can find any evidence of moral relativism in his films. Given his jewish heritage and support by way of things such as the establishment of Shoah Foundation, it seems hard to believe he is going to leave much room for criticism of the Israeli take on the events. My biggest concern is the screen writer is Tony Kushner, the gay writer of "Angels In America", which just tried too hard to be deep and meaningful, in my opinion.

On alcohol: (the only drug endorsed by Opinion Dominion,) more good news, sort of.

All you want to know about the coming Iran problem

Excellent post here (The Officers Club) on what would be involved if Israel tried to take out Iran's nuclear capacity.

All a bit of a worry, to put it mildly.

Scott Ritter plays to small house

Margo Kingston's Webdiary: On democracy and war with Scott Ritter

The link is to a Webdiary post on Scott Ritter's Victoria visit. Seems he may not be attracting much in the way of an audience:

"A small group of us huddled together in the middle of the Basement Lecture Theatre, Sidney Myer Asia Centre, at Melbourne University. I thought our international guest would have been playing to a packed house. To my amazement, hardly anyone turned up. Embarrassed audience members speculated during question time as to the reasons for the poor attendance."

Must have been small if the number is not even mentioned.

Scott claims to have paid a personal price for speaking out:

"During questions Ritter admitted to having paid huge personal costs for his speaking out. Not only himself, but also his family. He worried about his two children.....

Ritter admitted to having passed through a period of terrible depression, but that he had now come out of that and his personal future, his well being and happiness, looked good."

Did anyone ask him whether being caught chatting up underage girls on the internet might have had something to do with his depression? Nice to know he had kids while doing that too.

Koko's special interest

Lawsuit Over Koko the Gorilla's Nipple Fetish Resolved

From the above link:

"Two former caretakers who refused to bare their breasts to a 300-pound (136-kilogram), sign-language-speaking gorilla named Koko have settled a lawsuit against the Gorilla Foundation.

Nancy Alperin and Kendra Keller claimed they were fired after they refused to expose their bosoms to the primate, and after reporting sanitary problems at Koko's home in Woodside, an upscale town south of San Francisco.

The pair claimed they were threatened that if they “did not indulge Koko's nipple fetish, their employment with the Gorilla Foundation would suffer,” the lawsuit alleged.

Alperin and Keller claimed that Francine “Penny” Patterson, the gorilla's longtime caretaker and president of the Gorilla Foundation, pressured them to expose their breasts as a way to bond with the 33-year-old female simian.

“On one such occasion,” the lawsuit said, “Patterson said, 'Koko, you see my nipples all the time. You are probably bored with my nipples. You need to see new nipples.” "

Make up your own comments!

More news on the marxism front

China plans to update Marxism - World - theage.com.au

According to the story above, China plans on just re-defining away any conflict between its marxist theory and the government's actual practice. This will presumably mean that no one will take marxism seriously any more, just as liberalising churches find that their congregations don't bother taking them seriously. (They don't bother attending church.)

Who will take over from Kim Jong il?

End of the line for a North Korean dynasty - Opinion - smh.com.au

Reprinted for the LA Times, the Sydney Morning Herald (link above) runs an interesting piece today on what will happen succession wise when Kim Jong-il kicks the bucket. I like this bit:

"In Seoul, a South Korean national security official likened Kim Jong Il's predicament to that of an emperor in the waning years of a dynasty. "He wants to create a three-generation dynasty, but he knows the people would not like it," said the official. "Besides, he spoiled all of his sons. They like Michael Jordan and computer games. They went to Swiss schools. … They are too Westernised to be dictators."

Let's hope that is true.

Gerard Henderson on "fascism"

The rise of fascism as an easy insult - Opinion - smh.com.au

Gerard Henderson writes well today on the ridiculous misuse of "fascist" as a lefty insult to the Howard government. (Link above.)

Speaking for all his profession...

Law Council of Australia - Media Release - 4/Dec/2005 - Law Council Launches Final Assault on Counter-Terror Laws

I have noticed the current Law Council of Australia President (one John North) hyperventilating a lot on the news lately against the new anti-terror laws. I think it might be where Beazley got the idea to compare us to North Korea and Cuba.

The Law Council's latest release it at the link above. He makes much of the fact that the Council "speaks for the legal profession." Well, only in the sense that those in the legal profession generally belong to State law societies, which are constituent bodies to the Council. While lawyers can vote for their State law society president, they have (as far as I know) no vote for president of the national body. I would guess that the great majority of lawyers take no particular interest in what the Law Council of Australia is doing.

I can assure all readers that neither the Council (nor the State societies) invite voting on, or poll their members about, what their position should be on various political issues. Those lawyers who have a particular act to grind on some area (especially where law reform may remove a field of work, or publicity will help their practice) take an active interest; the rest just get on with work.

So don't think that John North actually knows in any quantitative sense whether the majority of Australian lawyers agree with the Council's position on this. He has made no attempt to establish this, and as opinon polling is indicating wide public support for the laws, it would be surprising if there was not at least a substantial minority of lawyers who were comfortable with the laws.

I don't mind if a "representative" body doesn't bother its members all the time for their opinions; but at the same time they should not speak as if they have detailed knowledge of the extent to which their members agree with a policy position.

Monday, December 05, 2005

The Guardian Vs Aslan

The Guardian seems to be spending a lot of time on attacking the CS Lewis Narnia stories before the movie is even released. Polly Toynbee's article ("Narnia Represents everything that is most hateful about Christianity") is not quite as "anti" as the headline suggests, but it's bad enough.

The last paragraph:

"Children are supposed to fall in love with the hypnotic Aslan, though he is not a character: he is pure, raw, awesome power. He is an emblem for everything an atheist objects to in religion. His divine presence is a way to avoid humans taking responsibility for everything here and now on earth, where no one is watching, no one is guiding, no one is judging and there is no other place yet to come. Without an Aslan, there is no one here but ourselves to suffer for our sins, no one to redeem us but ourselves: we are obliged to settle our own disputes and do what we can. We need no holy guide books, only a very human moral compass. Everyone needs ghosts, spirits, marvels and poetic imaginings, but we can do well without an Aslan."

Funny, but I thought that the basic point of Christianity was that people do have to take responsibility for how they "treat their neighbour" because that is the basis on which you will be judged.

As for the suggestion that the world would be better off working out our earthly problems with no sense of divine guidence, a pretty good argument can be made that it was precisely this attitude that was behind the murderous plague of communisim and facsism that blighted the 20th century.

(OK, maybe the Crusaders and the Inquisition might have killed more if they had modern technology too, but then again modern communications might also have ended these trends faster too. Islamofacsism is a danger, but luckily it would seem the aggressive interpretation of their holy book is a small, though dangerous, minority.)

Of course, having a religious faith is not a guarantee of living a moral life, and the major faiths also have not been an impediment to wars being raged. On the other hand, I think the degree to which atheists have been inclined to blame faith for human suffering has been greatly exaggerated. And this particular line of attack on Christianity (that it removes an idea of personal responsibility) is well off the mark.

Vodkapundit on terror

I've been forgetting to drop in on Vodkapundit lately, but here's a post of his that is well worth a read. (It's about taking the jihadist terror threat seriously, even if Bin Laden never has the same number of devotees that communism had.)

Update: I see that Pajamas Media has referred to this already. Maybe I should add PM to my blogroll, but will it survive?

Now there's an idea..

The ABC reports tonight that Saddam and his lawyers threw another tantrum today:

When the defence threatened to walk out the judge replied that the court would then appoint substitutes.

This brought a moment of high drama with Saddam on his feet shouting: "This is Iraq, we will not accept state officials defending us. They're American stooges."

As the lawyers walked out, Saddam's half-brother Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti - who is also among the accused - shouted: "Why don't you just execute us?"

Please explain..

New Views of the Universe: The Kavli Inaugural Symposium in honor of David Schramm (2005), Preliminary Program

Cosmology interests me, even though it is a difficult field to understand. But then, with an abstract like this for a talk to be given at conference in Chicago later this month, who can blame me?:

"The large number of vacua in the stringy landscape may lead to interesting new cosmology. First, tunneling between from one vacuum to another (e.g. tunneling through a series of minima in a tilted cosine potential) provides a new mechanism for inflation: Chain Inflation. Second, a dynamical solution to the cosmological constant problem may be provided by a field with the same potential but without tunneling. After inflation, the universe reheats, and different regions of the universe fall into different minima of the potential. Domain walls shove aside higher energy vacua in favor of lower energy ones, but it is shown that this process stops before the universe can fall into very negative energy vacua. Gravitation itself provides a cutoff at a minimum vacuum energy, thereby leaving the universe with a small cosmological constant comparable in magnitude to the current vacuum energy."

Hard to find news on child poverty rates

Child poverty rates

The link above is a relatively optimistic story on research into child poverty in the USA. It is relevant to Australia because the Federal government's welfare law reform which will encourage mothers to work.

It's also interesting to note how hard it was to find this story.

I found the article via the EurekaAlert news site, and even its link to the article did not work. Searching Google and Google News did not locate anything. By visiting the Cornell News site and doing a search, it was finally found.

Good news does not travel well.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Could they be modified to take needle-sharp poison tips too?

USB Powered Air Darts - Marks & Spencer

See link above for a very cool Xmas gift, found via Boing Boing (link at side).

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Some thoughts on Asian drug laws

If you want to see the detail of just how tough the Singaporean drugs laws are, have a look at the website for its Central Narcotics Bureau. More than 500g of cannabis - death. Same with more than 15 g of heroin. Talk about tough.

The Nguyen and "Bali Nine" cases have made me think about arriving in Asian airports and seeing the warning posters about the death penalty for drugs. As far as I can recall, these posters are not done with the intention of giving a drug carrier any last minute chance of "declaring" the drugs before they enter the country. (In fact, I am not sure whether they are put up before or after customs.) There is no equivalent of the 'fruit bin', and even if you wanted to thrown out the drugs strapped to your body, removing them discretely may be somewhat of a challenge. There may be a possibility of going to the toilets before going through customs to remove and flush the drugs, but I am not sure that all airports have toilets accessable in that part. Or if they do, perhaps the airport authorities take a special interest in what goes on in there.

My point is, if as a country such as Singapore is going to insist on a death penalty for "trafficking" in drugs, why not give the potential trafficker a last minute opportunity to avoid death by declaring the possession? This would be particularly fair for any drugs smuggler who claims (as have some of the Bali Nine) that they have been forced into it under threat of harm to them or their family.

Such declarations should, as an absolute minimum, guarantee that the person will not be executed, but I would propose that the consequence be a relatively short period of jail - say a month or two- with assistance provided to ensure a safe return to the country of residence. (You would have to have some jail to dissuade people from getting free flights home by carrying drugs into the airport. However, it is much cheaper for the country to pay a $2000 plane ticket than to keep them in jail for any length of time.) Of course, the Australian could then have a life ban on entry into Singapore (I will use these countries as the example.) Perhaps the 'free flight' home could also be conditional on an interview with the Federal Police, and their being satisfied that the person has provided as much information as they can on anyone connected with the deal in Australia.

I presume that there could be no prosecution in Australia for the possession in the foreign country. Perhaps some other administrative punishment could be imposed.

The result would be that the drugs never get through customs to harm Singaporeans; the person gets enough jail so that there is no attraction to "take advantage" of the system; they can never return to Singapore in future; no drugs are returned to Australia; and perhaps some information is obtained to track any drugs bosses in Australia. Sounds like win/win for all concerned to me.

Now, for all I know, maybe the Singaporean courts might be a little softer on those who "declare" drugs at the airport, at least if the quantity is not such that it carries a compulsory death sentence. (I presume that must happen occasionally, although the death penalty posters may make it less likely.) However, if the sign before customs said "declare illegal drugs now and you will not hang in this country" maybe it would happen more often.

It would be an additional argument for Singapore for the "fairness" of the death penalty for those who fail to take advantage of this last minute reprieve. (Although I want to be clear that I do not support the death penalty for drugs, ever.)

Someone in Singapore agrees with this idea (which I had been thinking about before I found their post.)

As for the Nguyen case itself, I still find it terribly sad for all concerned. There has been over-reaction by some on both sides of the debate here, and the executioner himself should be retired immediately as a result of his appallingly insensitive comments to the media.

The concentration should be on getting Singapore and other Asian countries to look seriously at whether the death penalty is working as a deterrent; the inherent injustice of having compulsory death sentences in particular; and why they think that an offence that may involve no harm to any other person should carry such a sentence. (With the small quantities involved for it to be deemed trafficking, it is entirely possible that some people have hung for being caught with their own drug supply.)

Frogmouths, I believe

Picture taken on recent holiday. Actually there were 4 of these frogmouths sitting low in the same tree. A family, I wonder?

Stupid Beazley (sedition again)

Kim Beazley seems to think that making silly statements will endear him to all those comedians, cartoonists and Margo Kingston readers who fret that they will be locked up soon because the government is updating sedition laws that have been around for, oh, nearly a century.

Says Kim:

"I do not know why the government insists that we should lower ourselves to the standard of North Korea, Syria and Cuba."

Kim, there's a reason we don't let comedians and cartoonists run the country, so there's no need to encourage their (in the main) stupidly ill-founded worries. (As Piers Ackerman says today, it appears that most of the cartoony critics have not read the Bill, as they ignore the fact that the offence is being updated to make it clear that it has to involve urging violence, and there is a good faith defence.)

I have posted previously that the new laws are not perfect and probably do need some changes (but that related mainly to the issue of prohibited organisations, for which there is a definition of "seditious intent" that is actually unrelated to the offence of "sedition" itself.) But that said, most of the criticism (see this 7.30 Report story for example,) has been completely misguided.

As Phil Ruddock has made pretty obvious, although he agrees to a review next year, he wants the laws in now to give mad jihadists who want to encourage violence something to think about. Big Kim doesn't care though, he's just trying to score points for ridiculous overstatement, it would seem.

If you are a real glutton for punishment, and already know how long each Robert Bosler post to Margo Kingston's site can be, you can look at his co-authored entry on this. Here's his opening paragraphs:

"There is an extremely powerful but subtle effect hidden in these sedition laws. This subtle effect operates on the same silent convention that has, for instance, abused women returning again and again to the man who does it, or a person returning again and again to self-destructive behaviour. It works because, even whilst a person knows something is bad for them, there is a chimerical comfort, a strange sense of security in the situation.

It works like a private running commentary behind a person's thoughts, urging that person to return to that chimerical comfort, that strange restraining sense of safety, while their front-of-mind thoughts attempt to move out, move forward and to grow."

And on it goes for another gazillon words of deep and meaningful psycho-babble about how the laws will subconcsious bring fear to the heart of the nation (or some such guff.)

Get a grip! Or change hands, one or the other.

Stupid headline

Cannabis could reverse psychosis - National - theage.com.au

Headlines are often misleading, but when it comes to questions of the public understanding of the risks of a drug, you would think they would take more care.

The Age obviously doesn't worry about that. The headline of the article (linked above) - "Cannabis could reverse psychosis" is completely misleading. The article itself points out that cannabis is now widely believed to cause psychosis, but the interesting thing that has been discovered is that it appears that one chemical - when given alone to mice - appears to help "drug induced behavourial disturbances." In other words, while there is one psychosis inducing chemical in cannabis, there also might be once which is an "antipsychotic." The researchers are not saying that the "good" part wins out in this brain tussle when you use cannabis.

But you have to read the article to understand that. Kids who don't read past headlines may well be comforted to continue their habit. (Although my prejudices also make me think not too many pot smoking youths read The Age anyway!)

Reasons to be skeptical of $100 laptops for the poor

Waiting for That $100 Laptop? - Don't hold your breath. By Cyrus Farivar

The Slate article above expresses some common sense about the proposed $100 crank-powered laptop idea for poor countries. Other attempts to introduce cheap computers to the rural poor in developing countries haven't got far:

"In 2001, a group of computer scientists in Bangalore, India, developed the Simputer. It was supposed to be a cheap (around $200), robust computer for India's rural poor. But according to the Associated Press, the brains behind the Simputer have sold only 4,000 of an expected 50,000 units in 2004 and 2005. In addition, only about 10 percent of Simputer buyers live in rural areas. Why? Probably because they have more important things to do than write e-mail.

There's no reason to think that Negroponte's computer will win wider acceptance in the Third World. The fact that each laptop comes with a built-in WiFi card won't be of much use if there isn't a WiFi access point nearby. How many access points do you think there are in rural Egypt?"

More possibly worrying - but who really knows? - news on global warming - or is that cooling?

New Scientist Breaking News - Failing ocean current raises fears of mini ice age

Reported everywhere today is research that the deep Atlantic currents do seem to have changed significantly in the last few decades, with the worry being that it could be the start of dramatically cooler weather for Europe.

But, there is plenty of room for uncertainty, because (as the New Scientist article linked above mentions) average temperatures in Europe have been on the way up, not down.

Give it another 4 years or so before anyone can really tell.

I also get sick of reports of this stuff referring to "The Day After Tomorrow". (Even news@nature does this.) I linked to the New Scientist version of the story because it does not mention it.

A short history of Limbo

Lose limbo, but salvage purgatory - Opinion - smh.com.au

For those with any interest in curious Catholic beliefs, Paul Collins gives a brief history of Limbo in the Sydney Morning Herald today (link above.)

I remember being told about this by Catholic nuns in primary school, but it was never given much emphasis.

Paul ends with a mention of purgatory. I think it can be cut out safely by just revisioning it as being on the outer edges of Hell, which is not (at least until the end of the world) permanently sealed. I think that is how CS Lewis thought of it, and (I stand to be corrected) Dante. Certainly, I have read the entertaining Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle science fiction-y reworking of Dante's Inferno (called "Inferno") from a couple of decades ago.


Here's something a little odd I wonder about. Some time ago I lightheartedly posted a small pic from a science fiction movie and named the image file I uploaded "big head", to reflect the fact that the character has, well, a big head. Since then, my site meter indicates that there are a ridiculous amount of people in the world who search for "big head" on google or other search engines. What's more, sometimes people who come here via that search actually do seem to stay a little while, looking at a few pages.

This is odd. Of course, I could delete that file from the post, but do I want the drop off in my hit rate?