Monday, January 30, 2006

Black holes at the CERN collider - will physicists bring the earth to a premature end?

In December, I did a short post referring readers to this website: I found the site intriguing, as the author did appear to have some knowledge of physics and made arguments which, at least on the face of it, appeared plausible and concerning. It's time I did a full post about this.

Background - how black holes may be coming to your neighbourhood

As James Blodgett (the author of the above site) explains, there is a large particle accelerator being built in Europe by CERN called the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) which is expected to come "on line" in 2007. This is a huge project, which was the subject of a recent BBC background report here.

For a relatively straightforward explanation of how it is that black holes might be created by the LHC, see this article from Analog. My explanation (subject always to correction, as I am no scientist) is this:

Since at least 2001, which was presumably well after the LHC project was planned, physicists have realised that if there are large "extra dimensions" to the universe, the energies that might be required to create a microscopic black hole may be within the reach of the LHC. For papers describing this in full technical detail, try this one by Webber, and Blodgett cites others others in different parts of his website. Physicists are excited by the possibility, as it would really be a very new field of inquiry for particle physics.

The idea of there perhaps being large extra dimensions has become a popular theory relatively recently, but there has been a lot of work about it the last, I think, decade or so. (Also, see this search at the site to see the large amount of attention possible black hole production at the LHC is getting.) From what I understand, the large extra dimensions idea is different from, but not inconsistent with, string theory, which proposes that there are very tiny hidden extra dimensions bound up so tightly that no one has any idea yet how they can be verified experimentally.

Black holes are created by compressing stuff so tightly that its gravity prevents anything escaping, even light. (Although there may be a type of radiation from them anyway, as I will note below.) If other matter is nearby, they can suck it in and grow, as indeed is believed to be happening at many astronomically sized black holes throughout the universe. Sounds dangerous, and physicists have thought about the safety aspects of creating a micro black hole.

Back in 1999 there was a bit of media attention given to the RHIC accelerator in the USA, and whether it would cause the end of the earth, or even the entire universe, through production of a "strangelet" or other ways. A risk assessment paper was done on this, and it also considered whether black holes could be created at that accelerator. That paper is here.

The paper quickly concluded that there was no where near enough energy in that accelerator's collisions to create a black hole. They spent much more time on "strangelets", but concluded that they are a very small risk. The argument that clinches this is that cosmic rays (which are tiny, naturally produced, subatomic particles traveling at enormous speed) have been crashing into the planets and our moon for billions of years at much higher energies than what can be achieved in particle accelerators, and they have not caused the destruction of any solar system body yet. Work at lower energies is therefore also presumed safe.

There is a similar "risk assessment" style paper dated June 2002 on the LHC, which is a substantially more powerful collider.

This paper acknowledges that micro black holes might be created at the LHC, but also assumes that they will not be any danger to the earth because they are expected to evaporate (my term, not there's) almost instantaneously with their creation.

(Famous physicist Stephen Hawking predicted early in his career that black holes will, in effect, evaporate due to quantum effects at their edge. It's called Hawking Radiation, or HR in the rest of this post. The smaller the black hole, the faster the HR process, and the theory goes that a tiny black hole created in the LHC would instantaneously evaporate in a spray of subatomic particles. It would be this process by which the detectors would in fact know that a black hole had [very temporarily] been created. Black holes which absorb surrounding matter at a rate faster than they lose weight through HR will grow in size, but once there is nothing around them to "accrete", they will start losing weight again.)

The 2002 paper does not mention the 'cosmic ray' argument except in the context of strangelets. However, at the CERN website there is a page where this argument is referred to in the context of black holes too. See here, where it is said:

"It should be stated, in conclusion, that these black holes are not dangerous and do not threaten to swallow up our already much-abused planet. The theoretical arguments and the obvious harmlessness of any black holes that, according to these models, would have to be formed from the interaction of cosmic rays with celestial bodies, mean that we can regard them with perfect equanimity."

So - what's the problem?

Well, as Blodgett notes, and a search of the arxiv site confirms, that there are credible physicists who doubt that HR actually exists. Although astronomers believe they have strong evidence of massive black holes in the centre of galaxies, HR is too faint to be observed that way.

So, the fundamental problem comes down to this: the CERN risk assessment paper is based on HR definitely happening. They do not consider in any detail what may happen if a micro black hole does not disappear quickly.

What about the cosmic ray argument?

Blodgett notes that if cosmic rays create black holes, they would nearly always be doing it by a very fast particle (a cosmic ray) smashing into a relatively stationary one (a bit of the moon, say.) The micro black hole created that way should therefore have high velocity. This is quite different from the LHC process, which would create its high energy interactions by head-on collisions of 2 streams of particles traveling at similar speeds in opposite directions.

In the case of the LHC, the momentum of the particles would often cancel each other out resulting in potential particles (such as micro black holes) that are moving below the earth's escape velocity.

This is important, because all micro black holes would be so small that no one expects them to be highly interactive with ordinary matter, and a speeding one might zip through a planet in much the same way a bullet might pass harmlessly through a room full of balloons. Ones created in the LHC, on the other hand, have time to settle into the core of the earth, and lots of time to interact with matter there. It is also possible that the LHC will create hundreds of such black holes during its experiments. (Blodgett has obtained definite confirmation on this point from a physicist wrote a paper and who did correspond with him for a time.)

How fast could a stable micro black hole absorb other particles?

Blodgett readily acknowledges that micro black holes may not be capable of absorbing anything at a rate which represents a real problem anyway. His point is, however, that physicists do not seem to have done detailed work on 'worst possible case' scenarios because they assume that HR means this is just not going to be a problem in the first place.

Blodgett points out that at least one paper suggests that a black hole based on the 'extra dimensions' theory could have a larger radius than a 'normal' black hole in a universe without extra dimensions. He also raises the issue of conditions in the interior of the earth and how that would affect a micro black hole's accretion rate.

He worries, although without providing any real detail on his site, that there are some scenarios in which a dangerous accretion rate (with expotential growth of a micro black hole) is possible. Just how fast this may mean that it could eat the earth is not clear. I take it that Blodgett does not think it likely that the earth would disappear in such a hole in a day or a year. However, even if it may mean that the earth could end up as a tiny black hole within, say, 10,000 or a 100,000 years, wouldn't people be a little concerned about that?

What do I think of all this?

During the weeks since I found Blodgett's site, I have had email correspondence with him about his background and motives. He is not a physicist, but does have some qualifications in statistics and other topics. He certainly seems to have better maths than me.

He appears genuine; and not a "nutter".

What I like about his site is that he is open about being willing to be proved wrong.

He told me that he has tried to obtain some publicity for his site, with very limited success. He has tried contacting quite a few physicists, most of whom have been immediately dismissive.

I has some experience of this myself. I raised his site at a 'group blog' run by a bunch of particle physicists called Cosmic Varience. This particular thread was about what the LHC may or may not find. (Some people fear it won't turn up anything very new at all, at great expense.) My first comment was at comment no. 45. It is well worth reading the comments thread from that point on. Note the initial snide reaction of particle physicist Mark (who is one of the group bloggers).

I emailed James Blodgett and told him about the thread. He made a couple of subsequent posts; I think it is fair to say that Mark did not take well to being questioned by a non physicist. I ended with a polite request for further response to articles I found myself indicating that they is a lot of uncertainly about HR as a process, but did not get an answer.

Blodgett says this is fairly typical of the reaction he has received in contacting other physicists.

I have emailed a couple of other physicists who appear to know a lot about black hole theory about the issues (very briefly), and while I did receive an answer from one, it seemed clear that he had not read Blodgett's site in any detail.

There are threads on other physics forums about the issue, but none that I have read seem to have dealt with Blodgett's arguments in adequate detail.

My conclusions:

1. It is clear that the current published paper by the CERN safety committee is inadequate in that it bases its arguments regarding micro black holes solely on the assumption that HR does exist. For this point alone, I think Blodgett deserves praise.

2. I see no published evidence that particle physicists have taken seriously Blodgett's suggestion that the "cosmic ray" argument is a flawed analogy in the case of micro black holes from the LHC.

3. It is possible that, even without HR, accretion rates for micro black holes within the earth's interior might be so slow that the worst possible case is not worth worrying about. But again, I see no clear evidence that they have done the work of looking at "worst case scenarios".

4. It is possible that some physicists have done some calculations on the scenarios that Blodgett suggests and have formed the opinion that there really is no problem. If so, they are doing a terrible job at explaining to anyone asking the question whether Blodgett's concerns are misplaced. It certainly seems that some particle physicists simply don't like to be questioned about this. The fact that there is a huge investment at stake may help explain some of the animosity, although I am not suggesting that a physicist who realised there was a danger would try to hide it. I do wonder, though, whether it makes them not want to look into it in too much detail.

5. One other point I have not yet mentioned: if micro black holes can be created by cosmic rays and do evaporate via HR, then it should already be happening above our heads in the earth's atmosphere. New Scientist ran a story about that here. There is already work underway to see if the decay of such micro black holes can be detected. If it is, it would be a confirmation of HR really working, and the LHC could go ahead confident in that knowledge. It seems to me that a strong case could presently be made for not starting up the LHC until the search for atmospheric decay of 'cosmic ray' black holes has been given a good chance of success.

Also, a very recent article suggest that there might be another way of testing if "extra dimensions" exist. If they are confirmed, it would presumably suggest that the LHC will definitely create micro black holes, although it may not add much to the issue of whether HR works.

An appeal

This issue has not exactly caused me to lose sleep, but I have spent a fair bit of time reading on the internet about the issues, and thinking about it. It does worry me that a published risk assessment paper from CERN about the possible risk of their destroying the earth does seem to be clearly inadequate in detail when addressing micro black holes. Although I think Blodgett is not as transparent on his web site as he could be, his arguments make some intuitive sense to me.

If they re-wrote it to address the issues Blodgett makes, I would be much happier. But I get the impression that this has not yet happened because:

a. relatively few physicists think there is much risk of HR not existing (even though there seem to be quite a few credible papers on exactly this point)

b. the possibility of micro black holes being created at LHC was only realised a few years ago, and papers are still being produced at a great rate with new ideas about their possible character and fate. (Some papers suggest that a "remnant" will be left from the HR process. I guess that these are not thought to be potentially dangerous either, but the exact nature of such a particle has not been clearly explained in anything I have read);

c. Blodgett's questions are being asked by non physicists.

If any reader of this post has any contacts with physicists who are interested in addressing the issues Blodgett raises, please ask them to have a look at it for us. It's only the issue of the future of the earth at stake.

Update: in the interests of showing independence, I did not provide a copy of this to James Blodgett prior to posting. I have advised him of its existence, and invited him to comment if he thinks I have got any point wrong.

Also: only today I found this old thread on a physics forum site which contains posts by Blodgett and some responses he receives. They are well worth reading, especially the last one by him here.

Blodgett's point about the difficulty of trying to work out possible accretion scenarios when quantum gravity is not understood seems very valid. It is the apparent lack of response to these issues that worries me.

UPDATE SEPT 2008: I see that this post is still getting quite a bit of attention from people Googling for information now that the LHC is nearing operation.

Readers should be aware that I made many subsequent posts relevant to the topic after this one. As I don't tag my posts, the best way to find them is to go to the current page for my blog and use the search blog facility for "black holes".

The short story is that I had been somewhat relieved by the work published mid 2008 by Mangano that gave reasons why micro black holes could not be a danger. Then this month, I found that there was potentially a new reason to worry. The status of the Plaga suggestion of how Hawking Radiation itself might be a danger is unclear to me: Mangano says he makes a fundamental mistake, but I find it hard to follow.

A new book on North Korea

The Japan Times Online

See above for a review of a new book about North Korea from the British diplomat who opened the British embassy there in 2001. Sounds very interesting:

"The "labour camps" and the reports of human-rights violations are described, as is the bizarre and ghoulish way in which the dead Kim Il Sung has been retained as president and is "revered" in ways that make the cults of Stalin and Mao Zedong seem tame."

I would like to know more about that.

In the meantime, North Korea gets a mention in the media recently here (for raising the spectre of nuclear war), and here (in relation to worries that it may well sell plutonium to Iran as a shortcut to Iran making a bomb.) What "interesting" times we live in.

No comment

Guardian Unlimited | The Guardian | Pathetic phalluses

Extracts from the above article (by the maker of a 3 part Channel 4 - where else - documentary on penis size):

" entire scene has grown up around so-called penis dysmorphia, and men are having their penises injected with silicone to gain size. For the men posting pictures of the results on the web, it is impossible for such malformed penises to become erect. But that is not the point, they say: they just want everyone to share in the beauty of their mental illness."

Now for some words of encouragement for your "average" male:

"Men born with abnormally large penises almost invariably find that their first sexual experiences are with men. I met men who said that, once they had reached their 20s, they realised they were straight rather than gay; so they suffered years of sexual confusion and misery.

Invariably, what most men would consider a blessing turned out to be a curse. What I found was that an unusually large penis had, without exception, made a misery of the lives of everyone we interviewed."

Have fun making your own comments...

Update: this seems as appropriate a post as any to also refer to the so-astonishing-it's- weirdly-funny body modification fetish of scrotal inflation. I found this last year, actually via a link from Little Green Footballs (just so you know I don't go deliberately looking for this stuff!) If you haven't seen it before, go to this report on an anarchist bookfair in San Francisco, scroll down to photo no. 6, and read the explanation. There's even a link to order your own "scrotal inflation kit".

I also found (by accident) a mention of its complications in the medical literature here. I like this line from the abstract:

"Patients who are considering scrotal inflation, as it is called in the lay literature, should be warned of the potential complications of this procedure."

Yes, but just how many men considering this procedure would first go to their doctor to ask "hey, I am thinking of inflating my scrotum with saline to the size of a melon. Any problem with doing that?"

How the future should look...

The Venus Project - The Redesign of a culture

If you like watching Thunderbirds because of its 1960's vision of how the future would look, have a look at the site above for nice eye candy of a similar kind.

Seems to be the home page of some self-styled futurist who wants to change the world. The site seems relatively low on detail, but lots and lots of pretty drawings of futuristic cities, building and stuff.

I used to love this sort of thing as a child in the 1960's. I remember one book in particular that had lots of similar drawings in it. It is also why I really liked EPCOT centre in Walt Disney World when I visited there is the late 1980's. (If you have a choice between the original Disneyland and Walt Disney World in Florida, go for Florida every time. It is like 4 different theme parks all run by Disney on a massive area of land. And you can visit NASA about a 100km away too.)

The future should look like the future, I say. But I have my doubts about Melbourne's Federation Square (not that I have seen it in the flesh yet.)

Welcome visitors

A kind reference to this site by Evil Pundit has resulted in my actually having more than a handful of visitors over the weekend. Welcome all. (Makes me wonder what happens if Tim Blair recommends a site!)

One of the fun things about having a site meter with some detail available is spotting where unusual visitors come from. I seem to have a very regular visitor from either Mauritius or South Africa (it shows on the site meter as from Mauritius, but when I search the ISP name it refers to South Africa.) This is assuming that I am not mistaking some automated thing that hits my site frequently for a person.

So Mauritius or South African person, who seems to check my site very frequently, care to make a comment so I know you are a person?

Daniel Pipes has his say on Hamas etc

The Australian: Daniel Pipes: Region not ripe for democracy [January 30, 2006]

A short, interesting item from Daniel Pipes in the Australian today (see above) about the problem with democracy in the Middle East. The key paragraphs:

"In brief, elections are bringing to power the most deadly enemies of the West. What went wrong? Why has a democratic prescription that proved successful in Germany, Japan and other formerly bellicose nations not worked in the Middle East?

It's not Islam or some cultural factor that accounts for this difference; rather, it is the fact that ideological enemies in the Middle East have not yet been defeated. Democratisation took place in Germany, Japan and the Soviet Union after their populations had endured the totalitarian crucible. By 1945 and 1991, they recognised what disasters fascism and communism had brought them, and were primed to try a different path.

That's not the case in the Middle East, where a totalitarian temptation remains powerfully in place."

His suggested approach:

"Western capitals need to show Palestinians that, like Germans electing Adolf Hitler in 1933, they have made a decision gravely unacceptable to civilised opinion. The Hamas-led Palestinian Authority must be isolated and rejected at every turn, thereby encouraging Palestinians to see the error of their ways."

Not sure how that would work out.

One thing I have never understood is what is it that passes for an economy in Gaza. If they have very little economic activity there, it makes it a bit hard to exert pressure that way. It would seem to me that a solution to the arab/Israeli problem should include giving the Palestinians something with which they can base an economy. But I am not sure if that has been factored in with past suggested "solutions" or not.

And one thing about Pipe's piece: a recent post over at Neo-neocon (a very classy blog, by the way) points out that talk of Hitler being democratically elected rather oversimplifies how he came to power.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Maybe more to come on this story?

Iraq's WMD Secreted in Syria, Sada Says - January 26, 2006 - The New York Sun - NY Newspaper

On the Hamas victory in Palestine

Emanuele Ottolenghi on Hamas on National Review Online

The piece above makes some good points. Forcing Hamas into the open, so to speak, may ultimately be a good thing.

SBS News tonight featured a piece on Mariam Farahat, the newly elected Palestinian mother who happily sent 3 sons to their death to achieve the muder of many Israeli civilians. The reporter used the term "sacrificed her sons" more than once, but without any qualification or doubt expressed that this is the appropriate term. Presumably, this is the term Mariam uses herself, but why doesn't the media use the same caution as they have often displayed when talking of the "war on terror", or the "Axis of Evil", where qualifiers such as "so-called" have frequently been used?

Mariam, by the way, has three other sons still alive and is saying she is willing to use them too.

The fact that she is popular because of the way she tearlessly sent them off to die, achieving nothing but (at least in the case of the one son she appeared with on the famous video) the deliberate killing of non-combatants, suggests that there is something seriously wrong with Palestinian Islamic psychology.

Is there no dark matter after all?

New Scientist SPACE - Breaking News - Gravity theory dispenses with dark matter

OK now to cosmology. The story above is interesting in that it is about new work suggesting that its the theory of gravity itself which should be modified to explain the strange rotation of galaxies, rather than proposing that there is a huge amount of "dark matter" in the universe.

I had last year stumbled across another effort to deal with the problem this way (called the MOND theory, which is mentioned in the above story too.) It intuitively sounded to me a useful way to go.

The fact that the Pioneer spacecraft aren't travelling as they should also seems a big reason to question current theories of gravity, and this new theory apparently accounts for that anomoly adequately.

All sounds rather promising to me, and if the Pioneer spacecraft behaviour is a significant contributor to an overhall of the fundamental laws of physics, it will really confirm what space adovcates have argued for years - that part of the reason for doing it is for the unforeseen breakthroughs, as well as the more foreseeable one.

Time to start ordering the Australian hovercar?

Proof that being master of your domain is not as good

New Scientist News - Sex before stressful events keeps you calm

But - it has to be, ahem, PVI (penile-vaginal intercourse). Read the article, it's short.

More babies needed

Guardian Unlimited | Special reports | Germany agonises over 30% childless women

From the above story:

"Germany was plunged into an anguished debate yesterday about how to encourage reluctant couples to breed after new figures showed Germany with the world's highest proportion of childless women.

Thirty per cent of German women have not had children, according to European Union statistics from 2005, with the figure rising among female graduates to 40%. Germany's new family minister, Ursula von der Leyen, said that unless the birth rate picked up the country would have to "turn the light out"."

And this:

"In Europe 2.1 is considered to be the population replacement level. This table shows the mean number of children per woman (2004 figures)

Ireland 1.99
France 1.90
Norway 1.81
Sweden 1.75
UK 1.74
Netherlands 1.73
Germany 1.37
Italy 1.33
Spain 1.32
Greece 1.29"

Australia's rate: about 1.75.

It would be interesting if anyone could come up with convincing cultural explanations for the variations between the European countries. I can see some pointing towards how "macho" a culture is (reflecting on how much a father is prepared to put in to helping raise a child.) But are Greek men close to Spainish men in this regard? And what about Italians and their supposed fondness for their families? Why is their rate significantly below that of, say, France, which to my mind has much less of a traditional reputation for big happy families? And how about Ireland. Did they hold onto Catholic attitudes to family planning much longer than the Italians themselves did?

Of course, it may just be that looking for such over-arching cultural explanations is a mistake. But it is a fun game.

In any event, Mark Steyn's frequently raised concerns about much of western European committing demographic suicide seems very well placed.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

More on abortion

Three Decades After Roe, a War We Can All Support - New York Times

By a further co-incidence to my recently posting about abortion, William Saletan (who writes for Slate and has written a book on the abortion issue in America) has written a piece in the New York Times (linked above) with which I can pretty much agree.

An extract:

"The problem is abortion - the word that's missing from all the checks you've written to Planned Parenthood, Naral Pro-Choice America, the Center for Reproductive Rights and the National Organization for Women. Fetal pictures propelled the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act and the Unborn Victims of Violence Act through Congress. And most Americans supported both bills, because they agree with your opponents about the simplest thing: It's bad to kill a fetus.

They're right. It is bad. I know many women who decided, in the face of unintended pregnancy, that abortion was less bad than the alternatives. But I've never met a woman who wouldn't rather have avoided the pregnancy in the first place.

This is why the issue hasn't gone away. Abortion, like race-conscious hiring, generates moral friction. Most people will tolerate it as a lesser evil or a temporary measure, but they'll never fully accept it. They want a world in which it's less necessary. If you grow complacent or try to institutionalize it, they'll run out of patience. That's what happened to affirmative action. And it'll happen to abortion, if you stay hunkered down behind Roe."

This is not a million miles from what I said towards the end of my previous post.

He goes on to say (to the "pro choice" side):

" can't eliminate the moral question by ignoring it. To eliminate it, you have to agree on it: Abortion is bad, and the ideal number of abortions is zero. But by conceding that, you don't end the debate, you narrow it. Once you agree that the goal is fewer abortions, the only thing left to debate is how to get there."

And the idea is as follows:

"The pro-choice path to those results is simple. Help every woman when she doesn't want an abortion: before she's pregnant. That means abstinence for those who can practice it, and contraception for everybody else. Nearly half of the unintended pregnancies in this country result in abortions, and at least half of our unintended pregnancies are attributable to women who didn't use contraception. The pregnancy rate among these women astronomically exceeds the pregnancy rate among women who use contraception. The No. 1 threat to the unborn isn't the unchurched. It's the unprotected."

This makes a lot of sense. It is also why I could not wholeheartedly support the Right to Life movement, if it is still (as it was many years ago at least) dominated by those who take Catholic teaching against all contraception seriously.

I think Saletan is really spot on in showing a way forward here.

Update: I have corrected my initial mis-spelling of Saletan. I often go back and correct typos and my english after my initial post, and hope no one has noticed before I get to do the correction!

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The Left and the religious right

spiked-essays | Essay | The curious rise of anti-religious hysteria

The link is to a decent essay from Spiked on the Left's anti-religious hysteria. (We're talking American Left verses the Christian Right. Islam does not get a mention.)

The essay touches many topics - the somewhat hysterical reaction to "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" from some quarters, the reaction against Intelligent Design, and how some on the the Left advocate the promotion of a Left-ish morality to assure those on the right that the Right does not have an exclusive hold on the field.

That last point is interesting, because the writer notes the apparent cynicisim of such approach.

"At the end of the day, politically motivated calls among liberals and the left for morality are not so far from the way in which Christians 'use' The March of the Penguins or The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. Both are cynical gestures driven by political calculations rather than by a moral inspiration that comes from the soul. What is particularly cynical is that these attempts to construct a 'moral dimension' are always aimed at others: those who apparently need 'simple' answers and 'meaning'. Such a cynical view of the public was clearly spelled out by William Davies of the London-based Institute for Public Policy research. 'The liberal, secular left has somehow to find ways of supplying citizens with emotional and metaphysical comforts even when it does not itself believe in such things', he warned (6)."

This last point (about the secular left not believing in "metaphysical comforts") seems very important to me, and I will add more to this post later.

More confusion over global warming

Baffled Scientists Say Less Sunlight Reaching Earth

Note this from the story:

"Goode's team says there may be a large, unexplained variation in sunlight reaching the Earth that changes over the course of two decades or so, as well as a large effect of clouds re-arranging by altitude.

How do the findings play into arguments about global warming and the apparent contribution by industrial emissions? That's entirely unclear.

"No doubt greenhouse gases are increasing," Goode said in a telephone interview. "No doubt that will cause a warming. The question is, 'Are there other things going on?'"

What is clear is that scientists don't understand clouds very well, as a trio of studies last year also showed.

"Clouds are even more uncertain than we thought," Goode said."

More documentaries you don't want to see

Film Article |

From the Reuter's story above:

"A wave of movies with messages swept through the Sundance Film Festival by its mid-point on Tuesday...

Former vice president Al Gore made the rounds at this top U.S. gathering for independent film, to promote the documentary "An Inconvenient Truth," about his crusade against global warming.

Rosie O'Donnell came to this mountain town east of Salt Lake City with her documentary, "All Aboard! Rosie's Family Cruise," an inside look at the lives of gay families while on vacation."


Too Late

The Blog | RJ Eskow: Heads Up: Bush Is Winning the NSA 'Headline War' | The Huffington Post

I don't often quote something from Huffington Post that I sort of agree with, but here is someone complaining the nation's press are making Bush win "the NSA 'Headline War'":

"If Democrats aren't careful, this will help fortify the GOP's reputation as the "manly, defend-America -at-all-costs party" and the Democrats as the "wring-your-hands-over-the-rights-of-terrorists" party."

It's too late already.

I guess oysters would be out of the question too

Dioxin alarm puts an end to harbour fishing - National -

From the story above, the dioxin levels in the Sydney Harbour fish must be rather high if this is the recommendation:

"Mr Macdonald said the ban did not apply to bait fishing or recreational fishing but he urged anglers to eat no more than 150 grams of fish caught in the harbour a month."

Moreover, the government hasn't bothered testing for quite a while:

"A spokesman for the minister said fish in the harbour had not been tested since 1990 and were tested last year only because work done at Homebush Bay had shown high levels of dioxin on the harbour floor. The bay, which has been closed to fishing since 1989, was found to have poisonous fish after tests in 1996 and 1998."

So, Homebush Bay has been shut for fishing for years, but it never occurred to the government that fish from there might be caught somewhere else in Sydney Harbour? Can this be a stupid as it sounds?

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Exploding heads reduce Democrat vote

President Bush makes a call of support to a pro-Life rally and hundreds of Daily Kos Democrat votes may be lost if they don't get on blood pressure pills fast.

Some of my "best picks" extracts from the Kos comments:

"I say to this dude with a "Stop Abortion" picket sign, "I have the answer to abortion: Shoot your dick. Take that tired piece of meat down to the ASPCA and let them put it to sleep."--Whoopi Goldberg"

So, an unintended pregnancy is always only the man's fault?

"PRO-LIFE only applies to those who can't live independently. Life is competitive. If you can breath for yourself, you're an enemy preventing republicans from getting rich and happy, which is why you deserve to die. It's an entire party of "christians" who don't believe in the gospels."


"Had it! I told my husband we should seriously consider leaving before they close the borders. We should at least get passports while we still can."

Well, with Canada just gone conservative, I guess they will be looking further afield.

"if anyone ever says I can't abort my extra-chromosome kid I'm gonna kick them in the face. Sorry folks, I don't want to spend my time raisin' that kid.

I, you--NO ONE--has to "accept" whatever plops out. Having a kid, in the grand scheme of things is 1) not that special, and 2) not that hard to do."

Low points on the "warm and fuzzy" scale for that mother to be.

Now perhaps my favourite, written without (I think) a sense of irony:

"Good - all of you progressives come move to the blue states and we will leave all the dumbfuckistans in the red states to learn about intelligent design in school, reproduce like rabbits without birth control or abortion, pray that God will bring their jobs back from India, and spy on each other and turn each other in.

We, in the blue states, will work on creating sound environmental policies, alternative energies, excellent education for all, universal health care, excellent universities, burgeoning local economies, and civil rights for ALL Americans.

And then we will get our governors and senators to keep our tax dollars in our own states, as opposed to now, where they go to support those so-called "real American republicans" in the red states.


A scheme guaranteed to ensure that demographics will keep the White House in Republican hands for ever and a day.

Come on guys (and gals) - let's face it, as noted in this Time column, improved medical technology since Roe v Wade has given a new and different perspective on pregnancy, making it clearer than it ever was that some degree of restriction on abortion is apropriate, as unfettered access to abortion at any stage of a pregnancy would be offensive to most people.

As this detailed Time article also notes, the clear attitude of a large majority of Americans is that they are satisfied that abortion should be available in some circumstances, but they also feel it should not be easy. The actions of the various States in seeking restrictions and limitations are therefore entirely reflecting public opinion and represent democracy in action. Even if Roe v Wade were overruled, the polls mentioned in Time suggest that a State that tried to impose some sort of total ban may well suffer electorally.

What's the big deal then? The name of the game is already compromise and a State by State debate over the appropriate limits and restrictions on abortion. Overturning Roe would allow more restrictions to be legislated for early pregnancy, but it seems from the polls mentioned in Time that this would may not offend most people. It does not really make political sense (whatever you think of the morality) for either side to carry on as if abortion is a "winner takes all" issue. One would think that pro choicers could see this more clearly than pro-lifers, but those Kos contributions make you wonder.

UPDATE: by co-incidence, after writing this post, I saw one half of an PBS television documentary tonight ("The Last Abortion Clinic," shown on SBS in Australia) on the current "abortion war" in the USA. (The doco's website provides a fair bit of additional info on abortion in America too.) It did not really change anything in what I wrote. In fact, one person on the pro life side specifically confirmed that she felt no State electorate would accept a total ban on abortion. So instead, it was more a matter of finding what restrictions are acceptable enough to the public and the politicians.

No doubt some of the pro life tactics are tricky, and the pro choice lobby feels it is on the losing side at the moment. Well, maybe they just have to learn to live with democracy and public opinion. It seems to me that if pro choice supporters overreact against the idea of compromise, they just are painting themselves into more of a losing position.

Have a bucket ready for when you see the pic

lgf: Galloway Jumps the Shark

At last, the Big Brother concept contributes something useful to society by stripping an appalling politician of any remaining thread of credibility he may have been holding onto. (See link above.)

This also makes me think: which Australian politician would you like to see go the same way by appearing in Big Brother 06?

As I have a bare handful of regular readers, I will have to answer my own question.

Bob Brown might do it if it would raise money for whales or some such, but that voice and that earnestness - ratings would plummet.

I have it - Julia Gillard. I don't really wish her such misfortune, but there are reasons why she is a plausible candidate. She's single and so could flirt with the males in the house with impunity. Maybe put an 18 year old male virgin in there in the hope of setting up some sort of Mrs Robinson vibe. But the voice...maybe she can learn deaf signing instead and only use a combination of that and mime to make all of her points during the in depth discussions they have on masturbation, drinking, who they have slept with, drinking, funny places they have urinated in public, etc.

Sounds like something from "Futurama"

Take the Money and Die - Leaving your estate to your reanimated corpse. By William Saletan

From the Slate link above:

"Rich people are freezing their bodies and leaving their money to themselves. According to the Wall Street Journal, 142 people have had their heads or bodies frozen, roughly 1,000 have made similar arrangements, and at least a dozen (the rest are keeping mum, according to participants) have set up "revival trusts." The idea is to accrue wealth and shield it from taxes so you can collect it if scientists figure out how to revive you and keep you alive. More than 20 states permit "dynasty trusts" that can last centuries; lawyers are amending these to let the deceased collect if he returns. Questions: 1) Can your clone collect the money, or do doctors have to bring you back with your memories? 2) Do you have to return your life insurance payout? 3) If they figure out how to revive and cure you, isn't that good fortune enough?"

Monday, January 23, 2006

Slate explains the popularity of blindness amongst Islamic clerics

What's With All the Blind Clerics? - Vision and the Muslim world. By Daniel Engber


What is it with former diplomats?

Tim Blair does a good job on former Aussie diplomat Richard Woolcott's piece in The Age last week, where he runs the usual line moaning about what he claims to be a poor "international standing" of this government. I think what he means is that the type of people he likes around to chat to around the world share his policitical tastes and assessments. That's all.

But what is it with former diplomats that they love to air their quasi policitical views and opinions? I am deeply sceptical that former diplomats should be given any special credence for their judgements on how Australia is perceived overseas. Especially if they were appointed to a plum post by what is now the Opposition, one can naturely assume a certain sympathy to the Labor view of the world. One can also assume that they keep in contact, once out of the department, with people of similar views. If you never got on with old Bloggs because you never saw eye to eye on his views on country X, you are hardly likely to keep up tea and bikkies with him for the next 20 years, are you?

I would also think that any former diplomats, even those with a conservative inclination, are not to be entirely trusted as having any superior knowledge of such things as "international standing". I mean, how exactly do you judge that concept anyway? Public opinion polls, which can swing wildly depending on news events from day to day? What "think tank" groups say? What other ex-diplomats write? What you former buddy from the States 30 years ago told you over lunch in Washington recently? It seems to me that "international standing" is such a nebulous thing that your average voter who reads widely probably has just as good a chance of guessing what it is as does your average former diplomat. In fact, never having been involved in controversial government policy before (as Mr Woolcott was) may make your "average punter" more objective.

It may just be "relevance deprivation syndrome" that causes them to publicise their views, but for the most part, their views are given far more publicity than they deserve.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Sea level rises revisited

news @�-Sea-level rise is quickening pace - Data crunch confirms model predictions of flooding coastlines.

In the interests of fairness to the "Tuvalu is sinking" crowd, readers are referred to the above article which indicates that maybe sea level rises are faster than I claimed in my previous post. However, I still don't see reason to panic.

As I noted before, Labor and the Greens are claiming that South Pacific islands are at risk of needing to evacuated due to sea level rises in the next decade. I noted that evidence from 2000 suggested a total rise in the next decade of maybe 8 mm. Even allowing for faster rises, I suggested allowing 12 mm as a rough "generous" estimate. (I am embarrassed to note that I called that "half a centimeter", rather than half an inch. I have revised the post now!)

Anyway, the News@nature story above points out that new estimates, using satellite data together with tide gauges, indicate that the current rate is maybe 3 mm per year. However, they also point out that the rate has gone up and down over the last century, and there would seem to be no clear understanding why it varies so much.

So, if we allow 3mm per year as the current rate, that would mean 30mm in a decade. Let's try to get it right this time - that would be 3 cm, or a bit over an inch.

(But also remember from my last post that the sea level sometimes actually drops dramatically around some islands too.)

I still therefore suspect that no one can realistically say that an increase in sea level in the order of 1 inch is going to mean Tuvalu needs to be evacuated.

Laughs about Iran

Telegraph | Opinion | Let's give Iran some of its own medicine

Mark Steyn's comments about what to do about Iran include this:

" Jack Straw has been at pains to emphasise that no military action against Iran is being contemplated by him or anybody else, but in a sign that he's losing patience with the mullahs Mr Straw's officials have indicated that they're prepared to consider the possibility of possibly considering the preparation of a possible motion on sanctions for the UN Security Council to consider the possibility of considering.

But don't worry, we're not escalating this thing any more than necessary. Initially, the FCO is considering "narrowly targeted sanctions such as a travel ban on Iranian leaders"....

Needless to say, the German deputy foreign minister, Gernot Erler, has already cautioned that this may be going too far, and that sanctions could well hurt us more than it hurts the Iranians. Perhaps this is what passes is for a good cop/bad cop routine, with Herr Erler affably suggesting to the punks that they might want to cooperate or he'll have to send his pal Jack in to tear up their tickets for the Michael Moore première at the Cannes Film Festival."

But really, even Steyn seems uncertain what can be done. Time for some creative thinking, world.

And finally, a (fairly rare) amusing but interesting bit from The Economist:

"IRAN'S president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, says Israel is an alien implantation whose people should return to Europe or perhaps settle in Alaska. So it is an irony that Israel's president, Moshe Katzav, is in fact a Farsi-speaker born in Iran. Ditto Israel's defence minister, Shaul Mofaz, who is doubtless preoccupied nowadays with how to destroy Iran's nuclear programme. He is advised by Dan Halutz, Israel's former air-force commander and now chief of staff. Lieut-General Halutz was born in Israel, both his parents in Iran. They seem to have taught him a sense of humour. Asked how far Israel would go to stop Iran's nuclear programme, he replied: “two thousand kilometres”.

More on the tricky Iranian problem

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Ahmadinejad? - Reader, do you have a solution to the Iranian nukes dilemma? By Fred Kaplan

Just read the article; it's good.

Talk about echo chambers

Kos (of Daily Kos) has written an about-to-be-published book with another lefty blogger, and quotes a very approving review from, guess who?:

"Two of the hottest Democratic bloggers, Markos and Jerome, prove with this book that they are also two of the sharpest and most insightful voices in the progressive movement. Crashing the Gate is an urgent and powerfully-written look both at what ails our democracy and what can heal it. Ultimately, they show that the fuel to reform our politics will not come from Party insiders but from "the netroots, grassroots, and the rise of people powered politics." -- Arianna Huffington, Editor, The Huffington Post"

Yeah OK, right wing authors don't exactly go looking for enemies to do endorsements either.

Thematically, the book sounds much the same as the "Patron Power" idea as endorsed on Margot Kingston's old website. (Although that would have to be one of the worst quasi-political names ever devised.) It is interesting how in both countries there is a perpetual whinge from those on the dissatisfied Left who are unhappy that they can't get their own national mainstream Left-ish party to get further Left. (I am sure there must be a better way of expressing that - but I am in a hurry!) It also continues even when there is a Labor or Democrat government actually in power. Politics in the West is largely Centrist now, but hey it beats killing or impoverishing millions with fascism, communism or economic stagnation, doesn't it?

Hollywood v The Red States

I thought Mark Steyn would have something witty to say in a review of "Brokeback Mountain", and he does:

"They don’t really talk much for the rest of the movie. But one chilly night, alone up on Brokeback Mountain, in the early hours in a pokey tent, something clicks. I’m no expert in gay seduction but I found this scene oddly unpersuasive: they go from opposite ends of the tent to penetrative anal sex in about six seconds....

And from that point on the film settles down into not so much a “gay western” but a gay version of Same Time Next Year:.."

I think more than one reviewer has called it a "chick flick" despite the gay protagonists. Which immediately made me think: if girlfriends and wives normally have a bit of trouble getting their male partners to go see a hetero chick flick, what chance do they have with a gay themed one?

The most remarkable thing about this year's Hollywood awards season is how much it looks like Hollywood has conspired to annoy the "Red States" in America. Brokeback, Syriana (CIA stuffs up the world), Transamerica (about a transexual), Munich (too sympathetic to Palestinians.) All we need is another Michael Moore documentary to make it a perfect liberal field.

To me, the current period in Hollywood seems a lot like the early to mid seventies, where (as I recall) there was not a lot of fun, happy or (for want of a better term) life affirming movies around. (Jaws and Star Wars changed that for about a decade.) Yet, critics praise that darker period as being very good creatively. Critics like the dark side more than the light, and so do Oscar voters, as the difficulty of a comedy actor winning one shows.

So let's hope Iraq improves soon, and the middle east does not blow up, so we can get back to more enjoyable movie fodder.

Further note: a post at Ed Driscoll made the same point about this year's films (as did many other places, I am sure), but Driscoll also points out that the very liberal Robert Altman is to get an award at this years Oscars. Hard to believe he won't be political in his acceptance.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

How to deal with Iran?

The Australian: Leanne Piggott: The sensible option on Iran [January 19, 2006]

The article above seems to have a controversial take on how to deal with the Iranian problem. In short, Ms Piggott (whose general political views I am not familiar with) thinks the West should support an Iranian opposition movement which most Western governments still list as a terrorist organisation. She thinks that they should not be counted as such, because they have only killed government officials, and have renounced violence since 2001. Then we just have to wait for the government to be overthrown internally.

Problem is, if the government is as bad as she notes it has been in the past (with 120,000 people executed since 1980!), will an internal uprising ever happen? Just how many years can the rest of the world afford to wait?

Unlimited Wealth Just Around the Corner ...LOL

Astute readers may notice tiny Google Ads appearing here now. I'm not even sure how they work yet, these little bar headings at the top, except I am a little annoyed that the first name I see up there today is Noam Chomsky! (But clicking on it seems to lead no where at the moment.) Oh well, I think they said it can take a couple of days for the system to start working properly.

I note that there seems to be a significant chunk of the internet about how to make money from a blog, but most of it seems to be of the circular kind that involves showing other people how to make money from their blog. Maybe my best chance is to add a Paypal button and hope a mad millionaire who is particularly impressed with a post about cats being the cause of schizophrenia will reward me for saving the world.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Tip toe-ing around Iran

Europe softens line on Iran to woo swing votes - World - Times Online

From the article:

"British, French and German diplomats had begun drafting the referral resolution before the IAEA. Diplomats said that it called on Iran to “extend full and prompt co-operation to the agency” and called for “additional transparency measures”. But it made no reference to the threat of sanctions.

The softening of the European position seemed to be aimed at wooing Moscow and Beijing, which have strong commercial links with Iran and are deeply opposed to any measures that might harm them.

“The question of sanctions against Iran puts the cart before the horse,” said Sergei Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister, whose country has a $1 billion (£566 million) contract to build Iran’s nuclear reactor. “Sanctions are in no way the best, or the only, way to solve the problem.”

His view was echoed by a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman who favoured “patience” and the resumption of talks between Iran and the three leading European Union nations."

Global freezing

They're trying to break into jail as city heads for -40C - World - Times Online

(Article is about cold weather in Moscow, and Russia and Europe generally.)

Stupidest "conspiracy" ever?

Al Jazeera

See the link above for a bizarre "co-incidence or conspiracy" story from those loonies at al

What "conspiracy" do they think this might prove? That the designer of the new US notes used to work for Mad magazine?

Creative research

The Scientist : Lancet study faked

Another medical research fraud is reported above, although the topic (effect of non-steroidal anti-infammatories on oral cancer) is unlikely to draw much public attention.

The type of fraud here is interesting, though. Namely - complete fiction:

" Last week, the hospital began investigating rumors that Sudbo had invented more than 900 individuals who served as the basis for a Lancet paper published on October 15, 2005....

"What I've been told is that he sat in front of his computer and made the whole dataset up and convinced his co-authors it was genuine," Horton said. "It's completely inexplicable." "

Sort of funny, really.

Someone please write to The Japan Times

The Japan Times Online

I generally like the Japan Times, but they have a regular contributor Roger Pulvers, an author and artistic gadabout who seems to live mainly in Japan now but still claims a deep understanding of the Australian social psyche.

His column about the Cronulla "race riots"(linked above) is appalling:

"In fact, the blame for Australia's worst race riots since the country abandoned its heinous White Australia policy more than 30 years ago can be laid squarely at the feet of Mr. Howard. Over his past nine years in office, Howard and his coterie of yes-ministers have effectively re-embraced an image of Australia as an Anglo-Celtic outpost in faraway Asia. While the United States and the United Kingdom have continued to integrate non-Anglo-Celtic minorities into their societies, Australia's enthusiasm for multiculturalism has been largely a colorful lifestyle veneer pasted over a structure of ingrained provincialism.

Thanks to Howard and his cohorts in power, however, even that veneer is being stripped away and the true color of the Australian ethos is resurfacing.

With its inhumane detention of refugees and asylum seekers, among them many children, its gung-ho participation in the American and British incursion into Iraq, its lack of a Bill of Rights guaranteeing freedom of expression, and its newly reinforced sedition laws, Australia is now arguably the Western world's least democratic democracy."

Oh please.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Kos: "but they started it!"

Kos of Daily Kos fame does not like the suggestion that maybe he and his ilk are inadvertently helping Bush.

Amusingly, he says:

"We are a reaction to the politics of personal destruction pioneered by the right's Clinton-hating brigades, the vile and corrosive rhetoric of Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, and company, and the politics of demonization which the Right practices against blacks, immigrants, and gays."

So, he and his followers decide to fight that by going into what would have to be the most extreme, vitriolic and fact-resistant sloganeering and abuse against a US administration I would say the world has ever seen, even at a time the country has faced an attack on a scale it hasn't seen since WW2?

Surely the height of personal attack against Clinton was the rumours of his involvement in a murder. But who ever took that seriously? On the other hand, Kos has helped convince a large part of the world that Bush is a murderer of tens of thousands, and a complete idiot to boot.

Kos comes across as is an immature prat who might come to realise it one day; hence his sensitivity to the idea that he may be helping the Republicans. If you want to read a journalist profile of him, which comes out as far from flattering, see here.

A sample:

"The conventional wisdom is that a Democratic Party in which Moulitsas calls the shots would cater to every whim of its liberal base. But though he can match Michael Moore for shrillness, the most salient thing about Moulitsas's politics is not where he falls on the left-right spectrum (he's actually not very far left). It's his relentless competitiveness, founded not on any particular set of political principles, but on an obsession with tactics —and in particular, with the tactics of a besieged minority, struggling for survival: stand up for your principles, stay united, and never back down from a fight. '“They want to make me into the latest Jesse Jackson, but I'm not ideological at all,'” Moulitsas told me, '“I'm just all about winning.'” "


Where is Kim Jong Il?

Guardian Unlimited | Special reports | Kim-spotters hunt elusive leader

He's gone walkabout in China, apparently. Good article about it in The Guardian link above.

Mark Steyn again

Ham-handed Dems didn't lay a glove on Alito

Thank God we don't have a similar process for the appointment of High Court judges that the US has for its Supreme Court. It seems a huge waste of time.

Mark's column on the Alito hearings is his usual fun read, but I wanted to point out his end paragraph:

"Michael Barone made a characteristically sharp analysis the other day about the political impact of the Internet: "The left blogosphere has moved the Democrats off to the left, and the right blogosphere has undermined the credibility of the Republicans' adversaries in Old Media. Both changes help Bush and the Republicans." That's very well put. On the left, new media have only yoked the Dems ever more tightly to old weaknesses -- not least on national security and foreign policy. This November will be another bust."

Sounds a plausible analysis.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Attention men

Curry And Cauliflower Could Halt Prostate Cancer

Interesting story about promising research on natural products being good against prostate cancer.

Personally, I think cauliflower is one of the blandest vegetables, but I quite like it curried as a side dish with an Indian meal. (I like plain broccoli though, and get plenty of that too.) So I trust I am doing my prostate good. (That's an odd sentence for a blog.)

The blandest vegetable of all time, though, has to be the choko. If you have never heard of it, don't bother looking it up. Green watery mush.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Theo Dalrymple on murder, and some other thoughts

Dalrymple is always an interesting read, and he has been diagnosing the deterioration in British society from his psycho/social point of view for some time. In the Australian today, he talks of the "sameness" of your common domestic murderer, for whom he has written quite a few reports for court purposes. His overall impression:

"I am overwhelmed by a sense of the unfitness for life of all the participants in these sordid dramas: their main problem was that they had not the faintest idea how to live and yet - this is the hallmark of modernity - they were plentifully supplied with ego.

They had received no guidance from religion, naturally enough, since God is dead for them, and never has been very much alive. As for social convention, it has not so much been destroyed as turned inside out. The poor who once prided themselves on such things as respectability, cleanliness, honesty, orderliness and thrift, often in the most difficult circumstances, now pride themselves on their bohemianism. Disorder and chaos are a metonym for freedom and authenticity. But they are bohemians without being artistic, and the result is a squalor scarcely credible in times of supposed prosperity."

My only problem with his writing is that, while he may be good at the diagnosis, I don't recall him suggesting solutions.

Tony Blair, being of the Left (well, for certain purposes anyway) does believe in the "nanny State" solution, but it's hard to imagine this working. Mind you, I am not sure what the solution is myself, except that it seems that those on the Left inadvertently aggravate the problem by their emphasis on government being the solution to every social problem, rather than individual accepting more personal responsibility.

By the way, this leads me to get off my chest something that has bugged me for years. I want to defend Margaret Thatcher's famous line "there is no society, only individuals". I took it to mean that to always talk about things being good for society overall is typically an idealist's line, which can (at least in extreme socialism) result in toleration of all sorts of evil against individuals provided it has a good intention of being for the benefit of society overall. I think Thatcher's comment was directed towards emphasising the need to look at the effect of policy not on the overall benefit of the group, which can often be difficult to clearly ascertain anyway, but on individuals, on the assumption that you have happy individuals, you will have a happy society.

Of course, the Left took it to mean that she was emphasising individual greed over a 'common good', and her wording probably nnecessarily left that attack open. But I think she was just emphasising individual happiness, which is quite a different thing. She also presumably did not share the assumption of some on the Left that an individual succeeding always means there is someone else who is a loser.

On the whole issue of the problem of idealism and socialism, some recent posts over at Catallaxy by Andrew Norton have been very good on this, and my comments on Thatcher were brought to mind by his post here. I liked the comment by Rob on 10 January, and hope he doesn't mind my extracting it as a whole:

"The natural place for an idealist is on the left: if you believe the world is wicked, unjust and unfair, and is there for the making better of it, where else - with the decline of conventional Christian beliefs in the social and personal efficacy of of good works - would you go? The task of governments, in the eyes of the left, is to right social wrongs, and make the world a better place. A subtle, unacknowledged sub-text is that it makes the world a better place of the believers - often the urban, affluent middle class, especially that part supported by public moneys (although they usually nod in the direction of the workers).

That’s why, as some have pointed out above in the thread, they tended to think in terms of intentions, not outcomes. If socialist governments meant well, were idealistic - or gave the world a reasonable excuse for believing them to be so - the downstream results could be (largely) forgiven, or written off as unfortunate. This is also what sits behind the exculpatory view that socialism was a good idea but one that was imperfectly executed. All intelligently articulated ideas look good on paper. It’s what happens when they are put into practice that counts.

The reality is that you can’t make society fair, equitable or just by executive fiat. You have to wait for deeper processes thtn those amenable to government coercion to do the job. Amazingly (and quite against idealist expectations), it’s worked pretty well in the capitalist west - though one cannot discount the role of the left in civilising what would otherwise have been probably a much more savage process. You can’t make people better than they want to be, but, fortunately, most people seem to have a predeliction for decency, honesty and fairness - possibly because, as some of the theorists for capitalism argue, it is actually in their own interests to be so.

Socialism ‘in theory’ was an ideal. No wonder it attracted idealists. There is no better Australian example than Manning Clark. No fool, and not unaware of what the Soviets had done in recent decades, he still managed to hoodwink himself (in ‘Meeting Soviet Man’) into believing that a totalitarian police state offered more hope for a better world, and a better ‘man’, than the liberal democracy that generously fed and watered him."

Friday, January 13, 2006

Can Anne Summers use the internet?

In the Sydney Morning Herald today, left luvvie Anne Summers writes that the New York liberal left is getting tired of Hillary Clinton because she is cuddling up too much to some on the Right to try to improve her overall popularity.

Anne includes this curious sentence:

"Clinton is also criticised for her seeming shift to the centre on abortion rights, for her loony belief that video games such as Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas have secret sex scenes embedded in them, and for her recent co-sponsoring of a new flag protection act that, said Andersen, will make flag burning and inciting riots "even more illegal than they already are".

Hmm, I thought it was well established that Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas did have a sex game in it (until it became well known anyway.)

Sure enough, but a few seconds on Google leads to this article on Wikipedia, which appears to confirm that it was indeed included as a "secret" part of the game, at least in the sense that the scene was on the game, even if a mod was needed to access it. (A wikinews story even has a link to video that shows the scene, although it seems from the previous link that the nudity may have been added by someone else.)

There seem to be thousands of links from Google confirming this story.

Last week it was Anthony Albanese, this week Anne Summers. Those on the Left seem to have particularly poor "googling" skills at the moment.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Those tough europeans

OpinionJournal - Featured Article

From the WSJ link above, about the EU's weak response to Iran refusing to play ball with its nuclear facilities:

"...even as Iran announced plans to break the IAEA seals on the centrifuges of its Natanz uranium enrichment facility, Austrian Chancellor (and temporary president of the European Union) Wolfgang Schüssel warned that it would be premature to discuss sanctions. Javier Solana, the EU foreign policy chief, added that "every effort must be made to convince the Iranians to return to the previous situation, to negotiations." Mr. Solana's idea of getting tough with the Iranians is apparently to beg them to show up for lunch."

Mouthing off in Europe over a Coke and Mac

Gar�on! Un Coca-Cola, S'il Vous Pla�t - Europeans hate America these days. So, why are they still buying our stuff? By Daniel Gross

Above is an amusing article from Slate about how it would appear that Europeans, despite being very anti America at the moment, are not exactly punishing American brands. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Doctor Dog

New Scientist Breaking News - Dogs as good as screening for cancer detection

Dogs are very, very useful.

At last, the electronic book comes of age?

Sony Reader Electronic Paper Book: Science Fiction in the News

"Electronic paper" seems to have been coming for years and years. Finally, a product is released using it (see link above).

It looks very cool to me. I was going to say "why doesn't it play MP3s too", but then on the Sony page itself (which is linked from the article above) it confirms that it does. I presume they could issue e books with "mood music" to listen to while you read too. Or background sound effects, if an entire page is set in a storm, for example. (Just a thought...)

Now cost: a device that can carry 80 books around (or more with added memory, it seems) is pretty damn convenient, especially for school or uni students. (Also pretty disastrous to leave on the bus seat by accident!) But how much would people pay for one? My guess: anything much above $450 to $500 (Australian $) might be pushing it.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Some more on climate change ...

Researchers Confirm Role Of Massive Flood In Climate Change

The link above talks about how it is believed that a massive flood of fresh water from North America into the Atlantic about 8,200 years ago did affect the ocean currents and reduce temperature suddenly in the northern hemisphere.

Interestingly, though, the study also says this:

"...the team's results showed that the flood had much milder effects around the globe than many people fear--including the dramatic shifts in climate depicted in the 2004 movie 'The Day After Tomorrow'.

According to the model, temperatures in the North Atlantic and Greenland showed the largest decrease, with slightly less cooling over parts of North America and Europe. The rest of the northern hemisphere, however, showed very little effect, and temperatures in the southern hemisphere remained largely unchanged. Moreover, ocean circulation, which initially dropped by half after simulated flood, appeared to rebound within 50 to 150 years.

"This was probably the closest thing to a 'Day After Tomorrow' scenario that we could model," said LeGrande. "The flood we looked at was even larger than anything that could happen today.""

Seems to be a good idea to live in the Southern Hemisphere.

Mark Steyn on Climate Change

Sorry, but I am short staffed at work at the moment, so blogging rate has suffered. (Actually, I have been involved in another forum in a semi-argument with a physicist over particle accelerators, micro black holes and the fate of the earth, which I will have to discuss in detail here one day soon.)

Anyway, in today's Australian, Mark Steyn gives some good reasons to be sceptical of the environmentalists on climate change, and makes mention of sea change rises that generally confirm my comments of a few posts back. (Incidentally, even if I do say so myself, I think I did a reasonable job of quickly debunking Labor's environment minisiter's policy launch last week, but no one in the right wing world of blogs that I visit seems to have noticed.)

On climate change generally I am more inclined to be a fence sitter; on the other hand, I can see no real sense in clinging to Kyoto, as it is indeed the politics of empty gesture at its worst.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Briefly on Narnia

I noted recently how the movie version of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy seemed to me to get nearly everything wrong.

Happily, the first "Narnia" movie seems to get everything one would expect from the story close enough to 100% right.

I don't intend writing a review as such. There have been sufficient good ones in the media already, and I would mention David Edelstein's review in Slate as being pretty spot on. Strangely, I seemed to notice more hostile reviews in the British media than the American. See this one in The Times. But then, the Guardian review (as opposed to the Polly Toynbee commentary I posted on previously) gives it a "perfect" score. Strange, hey.

As the "positive" reviewers note, the movie differs from Tolkien in that it has a human intimacy (contributed no doubt by the fact that it has recognizeable humans in it!) Regular readers may recall I have no time for Tolkien at all. I guess that part of his appeal is due to the fascination that readers can develop with any really unique and detailed "universe" that writers of very lengthy fantasy (or science fiction) novels have to engage in.

However, with his review of Return of the King, Roger Ebert summarised well my whole objection to the LOTR (even though he still gave the movie 3.5 stars):

"There is little enough psychological depth anywhere in the films, actually, and they exist mostly as surface, gesture, archetype and spectacle. They do that magnificently well, but one feels at the end that nothing actual and human has been at stake; cartoon characters in a fantasy world have been brought along about as far as it is possible for them to come, and while we applaud the achievement, the trilogy is more a work for adolescents (of all ages) than for those hungering for truthful emotion thoughtfully paid for."

The funny thing is, even though the book and the movie are directed to a younger audience than Tolkien's, "Narnia" does have that emotional connection. For me, anyway.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Pacific Islands and Global Warming: does Albanese know how to use the internet?

Labor's Shadow Environment Minister Anthony Albanese, obviously looking for opportunities to get his face on the media during a quiet patch, made some surprising claims yesterday:

""It's quite clear whole countries could literally disappear under rising sea levels in the next decade; it's the pointy end of climate change, and it's happening in our region," Mr Albanese said."

Let's see, how many seconds does it take to google "sea level rises Pacific", and to reveal some interesting facts:

In 2000, the BBC reported:

"Ahead of this week's global warming conference in The Hague, Pacific nations were told about the results of a scientific reassessment of historical tide-gauge data in their region.

The study found that Pacific-wide sea levels had risen at an average rate of about 0.8 millimeters per year. The trend was measured using only those recording stations with hourly data stretching back more than 25 years.

Dr Wolfgang Scherer, director of the National Tidal Facility (NTF) of Flinders University, South Australia, which undertook the review, told BBC News Online that the much larger increases in global sea level predicted by some climate models were not apparent in their regional data.

"There is no acceleration in sea level rise - none that we can discern, at all," he said."

This would suggest that within a decade, the sea level might rise by 8 mm. Ok, let's be generous, and allow 12 mm, or half an inch. (Or let's go the whole hog and allow for nearly an inch.) If that's enough to sink an island, I would think that they must already use boats instead of cars most days of the year.

So where does the hysteria about Tuvalu sinking some from? Try this article (which also shows that for some recent years, the sea level around the island nation actually dropped!):

"Tuvalu'’s 10,500 people live on nine tiny atolls. They are densely packed; 403 people per square kilometer; Australia has 2.4, New Zealand just under one. Kiribati has 111 people per square kilometer....

Scherer says data from Funafuti shows no evidence of sea level rise. '“As at June 2001, based on the short-term sea level rise analyses ... for the eight years of data return show a rate of 0.0 mm per year, i.e. no change in average sea level over the period of record.'”

They found a major anomaly in 1998, an El Nino year, when sea levels actually fell by 35 centimeters (14 inches). The monitoring project will next year install satellite monitoring equipment that will determine whether the atolls themselves, as distinct from the sea, rise and fall....

The historical record, both recent and pre-historic, shows storm surges, which bring the sea across the land, destroying gardens, have long been a fact of life. In places like Kiribati and Majuro, for example, the highest point above sea level is on bridges 11 feet and 20 feet high, respectively; virtually everyone lives about five feet above sea level.

'“That is the over-riding psychology behind it,'” Scherer says, adding that population pressures are aiding the political drive to move people to Australia and New Zealand. '“Sea levels have been rising since the last ice age.'”"

Of course, to the Green movement, any problem with low lying islands is (at least implicitly) the fault of the industrialised West. See this from the Green Left Weekly of barely a month ago:

"On November 24, plans were put in place to evacuate the 980 people living on the six Carteret atolls, after they battled for decades with the effects of climate change. The Papua New Guinean government will move 10 families at a time to Bougainville, 100 kilometres away. Within two years the Carterets will be uninhabitable, and they are likely to be completely submerged by 2015. "

Clearly, it is utter rubbish to suggest that islands currently facing problems with the sea level are in trouble because of rises that have occurred in recent years. Indeed, Anthony Albanese's claim that countries could disappear within the next decade is also bilge, but he obviously doesn't bother checking things himself.

So even if you fear that the Liberal government's Ian Campbell has become too much of a captive of the global warming crowd, at least he is still ahead in the common sense game:

"Responding to Labor's calls for the Government to accept environmental refugees from the Pacific whose countries were flooded as a result of climate change, the Minister for the Environment, Ian Campbell, branded the suggestion absurd."

Of course, the fact that a significant percentage of the population probably does believe that islands are already in trouble from global warming is also caused by the media being happy to uncritically report such press releases (and only follow with a denial from the other side the next day, after some mud has no doubt already stuck in impressionable minds.) The media's performance in this area is pathetic.

UPDATE: It gets worse. Albanese slags off at the government's response as follows:

" 'Climate change is real and it's hurting our Pacific neighbours now," Mr Albanese said.

"PNG citizens on the Carteret Islands have become the world's first climate change refugees.

"Tuvalu is expected to be uninhabitable because of rising seas levels over the coming decade."

He said Tuvalu had twice called for help from the federal government and been twice rejected....

Greens leader Bob Brown said Senator Campbell was ignoring the evidence about rising sea levels as a result of human induced global warming.

"The minister's claim that there is no evidence to suggest that Pacific island populations are in any imminent danger of being displaced by rising sea levels is absurd," he said.

"The threat is real and imminent.""

Bob, Anthony: you seem to picking one area of the global warming debate where the current effect (namely, next to nil) is actually clear and entirely measureable. Where is the evidence for the disaster for Tuvalu within a decade??

UPDATE 2: From Wikipedia:

"To date, sea level changes have not been implicated in any substantial environmental, humanitarian, or economic losses. Previous claims have been made that parts of the island nations of Tuvalu was "sinking" as a result of sea level rise. However, subsequent reviews have suggested that the loss of land area was the result of erosion during and following the actions of 1997 cyclones Gavin, Hina, and Keli. [23] [24] The islands in questions were not populated. Reuters has reported other Pacific islands are facing a severe risk including Tegua island in Vanuatu, data shows no net sea level rise. According to Patrick J. Michaels, "In fact, areas to the west such as [the island of] Tuvalu show substantial declines in sea level over that period."[25]"

This year's "death by mochi" toll

Mochi mortem

See the above link for the ever interesting Japundit's story on how many people died this year in their attempt to enjoy traditional New Year mochi (cooked rice pounded until it is a soft, sticky, stringy mess) in Japan.

In my experience, which is not vast, eating fresh mochi as a sweet (with red beans in the centre, say) is not a problem. But eating very soft mochi in soup has sometimes made me gag, because unless you are careful to swallow it all in one lump, it can string out with part of it heading south while still attached to part at the back of your throat. Get the idea?

Anyway, every year several people in Japan choke to death, usually the elderly, while eating it on New Years Day. If 4 died in Tokyo, I would guess that maybe 20 or more died across the nation.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

A long post on some movies

* Regular readers might remember my skepticism about "King Kong" being a runaway success at the box office, despite early positive reviews. (Who needs a 3 hour version of a B grade story, no matter how good it looks.) Looks like I was right. ("Narnia" is now at $225 million in the States; "Kong" is $175 million.)

I haven't seen Narnia yet.

* Did see "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" on cable the other night. Although I was tired, and that can certainly dull one's enjoyment of a film, it still seemed to me that it got everything nearly perfectly wrong. All of the characters seemed underplayed, as if a flat delivery would somehow work better than the panic-y, eccentric and much more charming performances given in the TV series. Actually, I read somewhere in the reviews of the movie that Douglas Adams did not like the TV series, and I am curious to know why.

The movie also had far too little of Marvin the robot (for me the funniest character in the book) and far too few extracts from the Guide itself.

The changes in plot were more or less acceptable, and Trillian herself was quite charming, but this movie was for me a very big disappointment overall. It got 60% approval on Rottentomatoes too. How?

* Spielberg's Munich has attracted a lot of controversy in the States. I predict that David Stratton and Margaret Pomeranz (from the ABC's "At the Movies") will give it high marks, as it apparently can be read as a pretty much "liberal" take on the Middle East conflict, and any movie with a "liberal" sensibility gets an automatic extra star from those two reviewers.

I still have high hopes that I will like the film, but then I happen to think that Spielberg could direct the 'phone book and make it compelling. Even a flawed Spielberg film can be interesting for the ways in which it is flawed. (There is perhaps one exception: "Always", which was both a box office and critical failure in the 1980's. For me, it is the only truely forgettable film he has ever made.) Anyway, Roger Ebert has 2 interviews with Spielberg defending "Munich" from some of the "political" criticisms of it.

* Speaking of Ebert, who writes reasonable reviews, but also has a very liberal outlook and somewhat erratic tastes; he absolutley loathed the recent Australian horror flick "Wolf Creek", giving it zero stars.

David Stratton, meanwhile, shared most of Eberts' reservations, saying this in his review:

" But I do think the film is incredibly sadistic. I think it's foul in some ways in terms of violence. I think it really is thoroughly nasty."

Yet he still gave it 4 stars, though saying he was very "conflicted" about it.

The star rating can be accounted for by his habit of giving any Australian film an automatic 1 to 1.5 star increase simply because it is Australian, and that he probably knows lead actor John Jarrett very well. One suspects that if this had come out of America, local sensitivities would not have overwhelmed his obvious repugnance to the strong violent sadism (most notably directed against the female characters too) of which he and Ebert both complain.

I have never understood the appeal of "horror". Suspense and frights can be satisfying without being gruesome, and I don't understand how writers or directors can take satisfaction from being involved in creating that genre.