Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Will the salad bar return?

So, two Sizzler restaurants in Brisbane have had rat poison found in the salad bar food. This may be an evil plan to rid the city of uni students and pensioners. The story raises some questions:

* from the article in yesterday's Courier Mail:

Police would like help from the woman who alerted CBD staff to the presence of green pellets in the soup about 5pm on Saturday.

She left before police arrived and staff did not have her name. She is not a suspect.

There's even a photo of her on the website. While it is all very well to say she is not a suspect, isn't use of the phrase "police are looking for a man/woman who may be able to help with their enquires" always the coded way of saying the person is indeed a suspect? Like saying "there were no suspicious circumstances" about a death of a youngish person found alone usually means "suicide". What's the betting that she really is the suspect?

* From the article in the Courier Mail today:

SIZZLER claims it took 37 days to become aware that the green pellets found in a tub of pasta sauce at its Toowong store were rat poison.

The company's chief, Bo Ryan, who has been at the helm for 17 years, said he did not know of the poisoning finding until yesterday – a day after two of his staff fell ill after tasting contaminated soup at the smorgasbord chain's CBD restaurant.

"Obviously there are some lessons learnt in terms of the evaluation of the product from Toowong," he said.

Mr Ryan said it was normal protocol to send foreign objects found in food to a New Zealand laboratory for testing. But he admitted the company, which has been operating in Australia for 20 years, had no contingency plan in place to deal with food poisoning.

Five weeks to find out what that strange thing in the food is? That sure indicates Sizzlers puts high priority on checking the quality of its food, doesn't it?. If only terrorists had known this. They could have poisoned thousands this way and still had time to take a Gold Coast holiday before leaving the country.

I wonder if there may be some class action law firm advertising for anyone wanting to bring a action over this?

UPDATE: a 57 year old woman has been arrested over this. I don't know if it is supposed to be the same woman in the photos published yesterday, but it seems a fair bet. From the article in the Courier Mail:

[Queensland Health Minister] Mr Robertson said Sizzler's handling of the situation had not been ideal....

Understatement of the year, considering this:

One of the affected consumers, Sarah Kenny, knew something wasn't right when she tasted the "foul" spaghetti bolognaise at Sizzler in January.

But it was not until she heard news reports yesterday that she discovered she and her friends may have eaten rat poison.

I wonder what shares in the company are worth today...

Hard to believe..

BBC NEWS | Science/Nature | Europe's chill linked to disease

The above story is about how it has been suggested that the Little Ice Age of a few hundred years ago may have been caused by too many new trees springing up on unused farms after a third of Europe died of bubonic plague. Those trees cause more trouble than they are worth.

Anyway, the theory sounds too much of a stretch.

But I would say that a climate model that cannot account for the Little Ice Age does not inspire confidence about its predictions for the future.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Easy on the eyes for news junkies

No, I am not referring to any particularly good looking newsreader. (But while I am on that topic, I have always been especially fond of the current Brisbane ABC TV weekend newsreader, but I can never remember her name, and I can't find her on the ABC website.)

Anyway, what I am talking about is this quite cool looking site. I am not sure how often the news stories are updated, but it at least brings to attention some stories from obscure parts of the world.

I found it via Red Ferrett Journal, which has the wittiest comments on new gadgets.

UPDATE: OK, my apologies. As the author of the application explains here, this is not yet a real time news feed page. He hopes to make it so, and to soon make it available for people to use the script with (I think) their news feed of choice. Lovely design work, all the same.

Who blew up the mosque?

See a good post on the competing theories about who blew up the Golden Mosque at Mudville Gazette

(Found via Pajamas Media, which has become pretty damn good. Did TB bail too early?)

On the other problems of Palestine

What aid cutoff to Hamas would mean | csmonitor.com

The above article summaries neatly the economic problems of Palestine/Gaza. These parts are of particular interest:

Unemployment is at 23 percent.

Another issue is that the Palestinian population grows more than 3 percent a year. Each Palestinian woman in Gaza has close to six children on average; in the West Bank, 4.4 children is the average.

Some Israelis see this as a demographic threat. Abunimah holds that large families arise from the parents' need to ensure help in their old age in a society without Social Security or a system of government medical care.

For economists, rapid population growth makes a rise in economic prosperity difficult, especially in an area with limited land and resources. What's needed, the World Bank report suggests, is peace, the lifting of restrictions on Palestinian travel and commerce, Palestinian governance reform, and more foreign aid.

That's some birth rate for an area that is not exactly just emerging into the modern world.

While I understand that in old style agricultural communities, there is an incentive for the parents to have children to maintain their farm as a source of food and income, I find it more puzzling that modern Gaza families, when they have no economy to speak of in the first place, think that having extra children is going to help that problem.

Are there other reasons for the high birth rate? Why do Muslims in most places have a higher birth rate? I am not aware of what the Islamic teachings in regard to birth control are, but I must go looking...

Hamas - its terms for a truce

Incoming Hamas Chief Wants Political Truce - Yahoo! News

From the article above (emphasis mine):

Ismail Haniyeh — the incoming Palestinian prime minister — on Sunday denied saying Hamas would consider peace with Israel under certain conditions.

Haniyeh was quoted by The Washington Post in its Sunday edition as saying Hamas would establish "peace in stages" if Israel would withdraw to its 1967 boundaries — before it captured the
West Bank,
Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem.

But Haniyeh told reporters that his comments had been misunderstood. He said he was not referring to a peace agreement, only a "political truce." Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri told The Associated Press that Haniyeh's comments must have been mistranslated.

Haniyeh has demanded that Israel make a full withdrawal from lands captured in the 1967 Mideast war, release Palestinian prisoners and the return of several million Palestinian refugees and their descendants to Israel.

"Then Hamas can grant a long-term truce," Haniyeh said.

Those are his terms just for a truce??

What the hell, why stop there? How about a million US dollars for each returning refugee to compensate for hurt feelings?

And: just how many people can you fit within tiny Israel before running out of water, anyway? There's about 6.5 million there already.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

How not to improve Australian films

Where are our brave filmmakers? - Opinion - theage.com.au

Tracee Hutchison, writing in The Age above, likes the current crop of "liberal" cinema from the USA, and suggests that maybe Australian cinema needs to follow this lead.

Idiotically, she says:

...this is precisely the time we need our filmmakers to be telling rigorous and fearless stories about the Australian condition. It can't all be the fault of the newly enshrined sedition laws that we're not seeing them.

Um, yes Tracey, that is correct, but not in the way you are thinking. It is because if you actually read the legislation yourself instead of relying on the legislative ignorance of a bunch of comedians, it is inconcieveable that the revised sedition laws could be used this way. (Well, assuming the movie does not have the lead character suddenly addressing the audience directly and telling them it is their duty to take up arms and engage in violent attack on the evil Federal government.)

What's more, Tracey, it is not as if the subtext of most Australian films of the last decade could be construed as having pro-conservative values. It is precisely the dour political underpinning of most Aussie movies lately that prevents them reaching a decent sized audience.

Maybe he can make a movie about it

Director sentenced over drag arrest - World - theage.com.au

So, Kiwi director Lee Tamahori pleads guilty, in effect admitting to having perhaps the most unusual sexual interests (at least for a well known Hollywood figure) ever.

I bet the Bond producers are glad they did not give him the job of directing the current 007 film.


Does complaining about lack of attention help ensure I don't get it?

This week, I thought I made a few decent posts. Just scroll down the page to find them; they are all still here. The one about last weekend's Sydney Morning Herald I thought important in particular. (I even shot off an email to Media Watch about it, and Tim Blair. So far, not an answer from either.) David Williamson's rejoinder to all the rubbishing he got over his "ship Australia" article was noted here, and (to my great surprise) no one else I regularly read has even mentioned his article. Do I have any decent judgment about what other people are interested in?

No one who visits here has commented on anything for quite a while. A brief surge of visitors from Evil Pundit's recent kind reference has dwindled away. Maybe I get 20 hits from visitors on a good day, but many of those are clearly "accidents". I have some regular visitors, but I think maybe barely a half dozen link here. I am only a couple of months off a year of pretty regular posting.

It is much harder to get well established in the blogosphere than I thought.

Now, back to normal programming.

UPDATE: Well, a couple of days after this post, and a first mention ever of this blog at Tim Blair's. (Yay!) Maybe I should stop bitching now.

On Iraq

The Australian: Mike Steketee: Richer, harsher decade [February 25, 2006]

From the above article, a reference to Iraq (as usual, bold is my emphasis):

The war has spawned more terrorism, including an increased risk to Australia. It has produced a fundamentalist Islamic government in Iraq and helped ensure another one in Iran. And full-scale civil war in Iraq seems likely, according to a report by the independent International Crisis Group.

Getting a bit ahead of ourselves, Mike.

Of course, things are not looking great in Iraq, but then again one thing I have not noticed addressed is the simple question of whether there are enough arms available on the Sunni side for them to form an army as such. If they don't have them now, how are they going to get them? Are there enough Sunni's in the re-established Iraqi security forces to split off and take weaponry with them? Isn't the presence of the US and other forces going to help prevent that?

In all the talk (especially on the Left) of how bad it is that Iraq may now face a civil war, didn't the anti-war crowd think that the West should just allow Saddam's regime to collapse one way or another, quite possibly with what would amount to an all out civil war at that time? In that scenario, it would have been the case that the Sunnis would have been fully armed; Shites may needed to be supplied from outside.

Is there no one out there saying that, even if it is now a sort of civil war, the US presence may work to moderate its development? Isn't a slow burning type of conflict easier to put out than a full blown one?

I don't necessarily agree with Vodkapundit's take on a possible civil war, but it is interesting. (In short, an all out war may have its benefits in the long run anyway.)

Also from vodkapundits site, he has some photos from a pro-Danish protest in America. This one is particularly good:

Update: It would appear from this Slate summary that the New Republic argues along the lines I suggested (that US forces are now likely to moderate any civil war, and need to stay.)

Friday, February 24, 2006

Huffington Post jumps the shark too

While always over the top in its derision of anything Republican, it seems that the bloggers at Huffington Post have gone completely off the planet recently.

Witness this post by Huffington herself. She had appeared on Fox News with Ann Coulter and did not appreciate the way she was treated. (You can link throught to video of the appearance at Arianna's post.) In response, she does a very mature post comparing Ann Coulter to crack addiction for the likes of (conservative journalist) Hannity, including a stupid photoshopped image of what he would look like as a crack addict after a few years. Well, that makes me appreciate your arguments much more, Arianna.

(Incidentally, while she seems to have some notoriety in America, I did not know of her until she started her blog. I also did not know until now that she sounds vaguely like Zsa Zsa Gabor, which means nothing but just made it a little harder for me to take her seriously.)

As for Ann Coulter, (who has recently been disowned by more right-ish bloggers for her referring to Arabs as "ragheads,") she is obviously a deliberate provocateur, and as such she shouldn't be taken too seriously. I tend to find her use of humour pretty sharp, and not unlike PJ O'Rourke in his earlier days. There is a sense of playfulness behind this type of goading of Liberals. Left wing commentators and humourists, on the other hand, seem rooted in sour over- earnestness, and a fundamental assumption of the absolute worst motives behind everything the Republicans do.

However, I have not actually read much of Ann Coulter, and it is quite possible that I would not like her if I did.

Back to Huffington Post. Last week, Peter Daou ran the startling line that in fact the media was running a right leaning bias in its reporting of the Cheney hunting accident. He listed so-called examples and challenged right wing bloggers to counter this with their own examples to show that it was left leaning bias. Apparently the initial response was slow (Daily Kos somewhere noted this too and seemed to take it as a sign of right wing defeat on the issue.)

Of course, the truth was that any even slightly middle-of-the-road person could see that it was a such a ridiculous proposition (and Daou's own examples were so tenuous) that to bother answering it would be like arguing with the insane. Is he unaware of sites like Newsbusters (and many others) which daily list the examples he is seeking?

If you have lots of time to waste..

Boing Boing: Lovingly scanned and OCR'd copy of The Scientific American Boy

The above link is about a 1907 boys' own adventure type book available from Project Gutenburg (it would seem said project may be running out of more useful things to do!) I like this comment by Boing Boing:

It's also the good fortune of the gang that one of the boys nearly drowns in a swimming accident, because it gives their chaperone, the kindly "Uncle Ed" ("one of those rare men who take a great interest in boys and their affairs") a chance to demonstrate the art of artificial respiration on the unconscious boy.

South Park jumps the shark?

SBS drops South Park episode on the Pope - TV & Radio - Entertainment

I happen to have seen the controversial bits of the South Park episode discussed above (featuring a statue of the Virgin Mary bleeding what is apparently meant to be menstrual blood) on the internet. (I forget where; I am sure it is not hard to find.)

The fundamental problem with it is that it is just not funny or clever. It is something you would expect if a 14 year old boy was in charge of the show. (From what I recall, some teenage boys find jokes about menstruation screamingly funny. Don't ask me why.) There is obviously a "that is so bad we can't put it in - aw let's do it and see the reaction" reasoning behind this part of the episode.

There are many categories of apparent humour on South Park. Stupid-funny, gross out humour, satire of what kids find funny (such as the kid's shows featuring never ending fart jokes,) satire of adult behaviour towards kids, etc etc.

While I have never been a big a fan of the show, it is sometimes clever, and even a semi-serious intent can be seen beneath it sometimes. (In fact, you can say that about part of the story in the Virgin Mary episode.) But adding the sequence with the statue and the Pope was purely gratuitous and made no sense as satire at all. I fail to see how any adult, of religious persuasion or not, could think it was amusing.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

On divorce in Japan

BBC NEWS | Asia-Pacific | Japan retired divorce rate soars

The article above notes the increasing rate of divorce in Japan amongst those married for 20 years or more. The reason is "retired husband syndrome":

Marriage guidance counsellors are warning newly retired couples not to spend extended amounts of time together - recommending day trips over cruises.

The author of self-help book "Why Are Retired Husbands Such a Nuisance?" said it is dangerous for a couple to go on overseas trips after the husband retires....

The BBC's Jonathan Head in Tokyo says many wives increasingly resent how little their husbands contribute to home life and are seeking divorce when, after retirement, the men show no sign of changing their habits....

Japanese people also tend to live longer, so when a man retires at 65 the wife may be thinking "I still have 20 or 30 more years with this person", our correspondent says.

I am sure that this is not unheard of in Western countries too. Has it been the subject of detailed treatment in a good movie in the last 20 years?

More off topic: While you are at the BBC website, have a look at this photo series about some homeless folk in Osaka. Seems the homeless in Japan are much more into self help than the homeless here.

This just made me think. Many of the homeless you see in Australia would appear to be that way due to drug or alcohol addiction and/or mental illness. In Tokyo, there are now a few homeless to be seen, mainly (in my limited experience) in train stations. (They make shelters to sleep in from cardboard boxes, but often are still "polite" enough to remove the shoes and leave them at the entrance to their cubby holes.) However, the homeless you see look more like economic refugees, as they do in that BBC report. Given that Japan does not exactly have a reputation for sympathy to mental illness, and given the huge population of Tokyo, where do those who are homeless due to mental illness end up? They don't seem to be on the street, and nor do chronic alcoholics (at least not in the daytime!)


lgf: Hamas to Israel: We'll Nuke You

If you missed this from a couple of days ago, follow through the LGF link above to see a Hamas website (cached version) showing how sensitive and tactful that organisation can be to the religious symbols of other faiths. (A graphic showing a Star of David consumed in mushroom cloud.)

I notice that the English version of the website seems to have a lot less on it than the arabic version (especially in terms of video available.) Must look into what's on the Arabic video some day.

David Williamson rejoins the culture wars

The Australian: David Williamson: Culture, yes, but please, not in their backyards [February 23, 2006]

I guess this will be blogged about in many places, but let this be an early entry on the piece.

I love it when the Left complain about the "shrillness" of conservative commentators. It's an excuse for not engaging in the actual detailed criticisms of their writing, I think. Furthermore, Williamson says some of the commentary against his controversial Bulletin piece reflected a "fascist attitude." (Well, he calls that "perhaps an overstatement", while immediately saying that ridding themselves of artists is exactly what fascists usually do.) Oh, that's not shrill at all, I suppose David?

He claims that his Bulletin piece was "mildly satiric". It doesn't read that way to me, at least if you expect satire to have an element of humour to it. While he is entitled to use a cheap fun cruise in the South Pacific as a metaphor for Australia generally not caring enough about its sustainability in the future, the main part of the article that most people found offensive (and rather bizarre) was his sneering at the passengers for not being there for cultural enlightenment. (Unlike those on a British cruise he had been on from Hong Kong to Vietnam, which sounded for all the world like a specialised educational cruise.)

David, you're a dill if you don't recognise why that comparison was stupid and offensive.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Fight cancer - drink up your Pepsi Max (or Diet Coke if you must)

TCS Daily - Those Dirty Rats

A fascinating article above about a fairly recent study on aspartame safety, which apparently got a mention in the New York Times earlier this month.

I take it that the NYT indicated that the study meant there was still some lingering doubt about aspartame and cancer. But the article above points out the defects of the study, and concludes on this surprising note:

Here's what's even stranger: the rats with the highest survival rates at 104 and 120 weeks, at 55% and about 29% respectively, were the rats that ate the most aspartame – the equivalent of 1,750 cans of diet soda a day. And the longest living rat of all consumed the equivalent of 175 cans a day. In short, the control rats died first; the heavy aspartame consumers lived longest.

Looks like if you want to increase your odds of living a long life, be prepared to burp.

Update: this post at Captain's Quarters gives more background on what the Times article claimed.

Life for women in Saudi Arabia

Guardian Unlimited | Special reports | Veil power

The above link is to a very interesting article in The Guardian about the glacial pace of change for women in Saudi Arabia. Everything in it is interesting. Some highlights:

More than half the kingdom's university graduates are female and yet women account for only about 5% of the workforce.

The social complexities of women working and doing business arise from one basic idea: that men are uncontrollably attracted to women and that women are natural temptresses, even if they try not to be. The Saudi solution, therefore, is to keep them apart as much as possible unless they are related by blood or marriage. Whatever the official line, though, a younger generation are increasingly finding ways around this...

Somehow, our conversation turns to the subject of parties. "Saudis love to celebrate," Mrs B says. "We party big-time."

Men and women, of course, do their partying separately. Men's parties tend to be dull affairs. In Riyadh, male partygoers just sit around, Mr A says. In Jeddah they play cards. In Ha'il (in the north), they may do a bit of sword-dancing. Then they go home, usually by midnight. "The point is that you should always be sad," Mr A grumbles.

Women's parties are a different matter, and often carry on until 4am with dancing, female DJs and sometimes all-woman bands.

Well, no wonder only 5% of the women work; they must all be sleeping in after their late night all girl dancing parties.

And the actual changes that have been made recently:

Although women still cannot vote or drive, the last few years have brought important changes, even if they stop well short of equality. Women can now officially exist in their own right with their own identity cards, rather than being included on the card of their husband or father. Travel restrictions have been eased, allowing them to get blanket permission from a male relative for travel abroad, rather than needing separate permission for each trip. They can also own businesses instead of having to register them in the name of a wakil, an authorised male representative or proxy.

Their very own identity cards! Only needing permission one time from a male relative to travel abroad! (I wonder if said male relative can revoke it.) Woo hoo.

Some vaguely optimistic news from Gaza

The Australian: Most Hamas voters don't want to destroy Israel [February 22, 2006]

In view of the overwhelming Hamas victory, the response to a question about the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was surprisingly moderate. Only 10 per cent said they wanted to see a Palestinian state including the West Bank, Gaza and Israel, which is Hamas's long-term aim. Twenty-two per cent supported a bi-national Jewish-Arab state on this territory, but 58 per cent opted for the two-state solution.

How odd..

The Australian: Memories of Soviet queues feed Russia's salt panic [February 22, 2006]

This is an odd story about how important salt is to Russians. Is there a new export market there for us?

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

The Jewish Blood libel today

The Officers' Club: Hamas' Blood Feast

See the link above for a short Officers' Club post about the Jewish blood libel (the belief that Jews kill kids and teenagers for the use of their blood in rituals.)

As the post notes, it would seem that the belief is still current in the Middle East, which is indeed a worry.

For more detail on the history (and current belief in) the idea, see the Wikipedia entry here. See the section on the modern Arab references to it in particular. I wonder if any polling has been done in Middle Eastern countries to see how widely the population believes it.

Monday, February 20, 2006

For Muslim suicide terrorists - a major disappointment may be in store

Right Reason: The Prophet (PBUH) and Violence

The link above has lots of interesting reading about Mohammed and violence.

But, in comments someone also quotes from a 2002 article in the New York Times (which is extracted at some length.) This is the good bit:

Scholars like Mr. Luxenberg and Gerd-R. Puin, who teaches at Saarland University in Germany, have returned to the earliest known copies of the Koran in order to grasp what it says about the document's origins and composition. Mr. Luxenberg explains these copies are written without vowels and diacritical dots that modern Arabic uses to make it clear what letter is intended. In the eighth and ninth centuries, more than a century after the death of Muhammad, Islamic commentators added diacritical marks to clear up the ambiguities of the text, giving precise meanings to passages based on what they considered to be their proper context. Mr. Luxenberg's radical theory is that many of the text's difficulties can be clarified when it is seen as closely related to Aramaic, the language group of most Middle Eastern Jews and Christians at the time.

For example, the famous passage about the virgins is based on the word hur, which is an adjective in the feminine plural meaning simply "white." Islamic tradition insists the term hur stands for "houri," which means virgin, but Mr. Luxenberg insists that this is a forced misreading of the text. In both ancient Aramaic and in at least one respected dictionary of early Arabic, hur means "white raisin." Mr. Luxenberg has traced the passages dealing with paradise to a Christian text called Hymns of Paradise by a fourth-century author. Mr. Luxenberg said the word paradise was derived from the Aramaic word for garden and all the descriptions of paradise described it as a garden of flowing waters, abundant fruits and white raisins, a prized delicacy in the ancient Near East. In this context, white raisins, mentioned often as hur, Mr. Luxenberg said, makes more sense than a reward of sexual favors.

Talk about major disappointment in the afterlife....

Update: sorry, in the first version of this post I referred to the NYT article as being "recent". It would appear it is from 2002. Also, the story reminded a little of "The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross" by biblical scholar John Allegro, who claimed in his 1970 book of that name that Jesus was a complete fabrication dreamt up by some fertility cult types who were really into tripping out on magic mushrooms. Much of his argument was based on philology too (meaning some New Testament words have a hidden derivation from other words - about mushrooms mainly.) This theory was, to put it mildly, not widely accepted, and appears to have been a 1970's flash in the pan which I assume most readers have never heard of. I like this comment about the theory found here:

"Mr. Allegro's reputation as a man of judgment and learning, already widely questioned, is likely to be shattered by this curious publication. His new book reads like a Semitic philologist's erotic nightmare after consuming a highly indigestible meal of hallucinogenic fungi." Dr. Chadwick referred to Mr. Allegro's "bizarre hypothesis", to "rich indulgence in the wildest flights of uncontrolled fantasy", to "uncanny decipherment" and to a "luxuriant farrago of nonsense"

Anyway, the theory outlined in the New York Times article above does not appear to be anywhere near as dubious as Allegro's. I am just mentioning the latter to be fair.

One other point: Christianity has been under this sort of attack for a long time indeed. The New York Times article points out that Mr Luxenburg is a pseudonym, and he had a lot of trouble finding a publisher. One wonders how he would go with finding a publisher today.

Backdate: OK, seeing the article was from 2002, this was hardly breaking news, and I see that Tim Blair, amongst others, mentioned it back then. Sorry if you've heard this one before, but it had escaped my attention (either that or I had simply forgotten it.)

But, while Googling the topic, I found this article from The Guardian in 2002 that addresses the Islamic idea of paradise, including the "white raisin" possible misinterpretation, in great detail. I think I may have read it before, but before I blogged. It is worth repeated not just because it is salaciously funny, but because on some TV show recently I did hear a Muslim man or woman saying that the suicide bombers know that that marriage and life in Paradise are so much better than that on earth, of course they don't mind suicide. (In other words, this is a serious motivation for young men):

Modern apologists of Islam try to downplay the evident materialism and sexual implications of such descriptions, but, as the Encyclopaedia of Islam says, even orthodox Muslim theologians such as al Ghazali (died 1111 CE) and Al-Ash'ari (died 935 CE) have "admitted sensual pleasures into paradise". The sensual pleasures are graphically elaborated by Al-Suyuti (died 1505 ), Koranic commentator and polymath. He wrote: "Each time we sleep with a houri we find her virgin. Besides, the penis of the Elected never softens. The erection is eternal; the sensation that you feel each time you make love is utterly delicious and out of this world and were you to experience it in this world you would faint. Each chosen one [ie Muslim] will marry seventy [sic] houris, besides the women he married on earth, and all will have appetising vaginas."


Andrew Bolt on "greenhouse mafia"

Herald Sun: Sneaky green mafia [17feb06]

I did not see all of last week's Four Corners program, but enough to make me a bit suspicious.

Andrew Bolt notes in the article above that the main informant on one aspect of this has questionable objectivity on the issue. Go read his article if you have not already.

One of the matters mentioned in the report that raised my suspicion was about sea level rises and "environmental refugees". See this part of the transcript:

DR BARRIE PITTOCK, CLIMATE CHANGE EXPERT: I was asked to talk about the science of climate change, the impacts and the possible adaptations. But I was expressly told not to talk about mitigation, not to talk about how you might reduce greenhouse gases.

JANINE COHEN: One of the subjects was the impact of rising sea levels. Dr Pittock says he wanted to write about how this could lead to the displacement of millions of people in the Pacific Islands and parts of Asia who might be forced to seek refuge in Australia.

DR BARRIE PITTOCK, CLIMATE CHANGE EXPERT: They don't want that highlighted because it brings in another contentious issue into what is already a contentious issue. But it is an issue. It's one of the possible consequences of global warming. And I think it should be part of the background to deciding what to do about it.

And further into the show:

KEVIN HENNESSY, CSIRO IMPACT GROUP: Certainly, environmental refugees does impact on government policy. The sort of thing that I could say as a scientist, is that with sea level rise there may be people inundated in places like Tuvalu in the Pacific. And that would be an issue that needs to be considered by government policy. But I certainly can't go beyond that as a scientist.

As I noted in a previous post here in January, the latest research indicates a rise of perhaps 30 mm in a decade, but even then the rate of sea level rise has gone up and down over the last century. Indeed, actual measurements in Tuvalu reported in 2000 (see my other post on this topic) indicated a much smaller rate over the previous 25 years of less than a mm per year, no acceleration of the rate, and that levels can also drop dramatically if there is an El Nino weather pattern.

To me, it sounds as if CSIRO scientists may have taken quite a sensationalist approach to this issue if they are talking about millions being displaced, or even Tuvalu having to be evacuated, at least over the next few decades. There should be lots of caveats added to any discussion of sea level rises and global warming.

Cute robot doing minor task

Honda Worldwide | New ASIMO Video

See the link of a flash video of Honda's robot doing a vital robot task - moving coffee 5 m down a corridor.

(Actually, I'm only pretending to be cynical. It really is impressive.)

There's another video of it running, which is perhaps even more "human" looking.

Conflicts on global warming again?

LiveScience.com - Greenland Dumps Ice into Sea at Faster Pace

So the above article notes that the Greenland glaciers are falling into the sea at a much faster rate. But it ends with this observation:

The only way to stem the loss of ice would be for Greenland to receive increased amounts of snowfall, according to Julian Dowdeswell of the University of Cambridge, who wrote an accompanying article.

It doesn't mention what the other article said.

But over at Tech Central Station, they have a story that points out this:

Another paper on this subject was published by Science just last year. Ola Johannessen did not consider direct ice lost by glaciers into the ocean but instead only focused on elevations changes. Johannssen showed that increasing snowfall in Greenland was leading to greater ice accumulations than had previously been measured and this was acting to slow Greenland's contribution to sea level rise. It was conspicuously ignored in this new report...

Why would Science publish this paper with no reference to Johannessen's earlier paper showing that Greenland is accumulating ice at a rate of about 5.4±0.2cm/year? Johannessen even used data from some of the same satellites. What's more, Johannessen used real data and Hanna et al., cited by Rignot, used a model of surface melt.

Consider what would have happened had the latest study included the ice and snow gains observed by Johannessen (and ignored the losses modeled by Hanna et. al.). Johannnessen's increase of 5.4cm/year averaged over Greenland converts to about 75km3/year. Rignot and Kanagaratnam could have subtracted Johannessen's gains. If they had done so, the total volume of ice loss from Greenland would only have become positive during the last 5 years, totaling 17km3 in 2000 and 92km3 in 2005. This translates to a sea level rise contribution of 0.04mm in 2000 and 0.23mm in 2005 -- values much less dramatic than those they published.

All very interesting. Don't expect most of the media to go into such subtleties though.

Birthday time in North Korea

Japundit - We'’re going to a party party!

As with everything about Kim Jong Il, above is a funny/scary story on his birthday last week.

Cartoon riots of a different kind..

Economist.com - Cities Guide

From the above article:

In January the park switched to a system in which entry tickets are valid for six months, as opposed to a specific date. But this move meant that on several occasions during the national holiday many people with valid tickets were left standing at the gates, when the park reached its 30,000-person capacity. Tourists who were turned away then tried to storm the park.

Not exactly on topic, but I also wonder, what are fun or theme parks in the Middle East like? Do any exist at all? Are there Muslim cartoon characters on TV in, say, Iran or Saudi Arabia? Comedic ones I mean, not serious ones encouraging matyrdom or some such.

Some googling about this could be fun, but needs to wait for another time.

Some interesting observations on Arab culture

FrontPage magazine.com :: Brought Up To Hate by Nonie Darwish

I don't get around to checking Frontpage all that often, but the above article is interesting, if adding nothing particularly new.

Have a look at the article writer's website Arabs for Israel too. I suspect that it would not get much of its traffic from Iran or Saudi Arabia. Still, nice to know that such sites exist.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

The Sydney Morning Herald revives the Koran in the toilet?

The Saturday Sydney Morning Herald print edition ran an article on Guantanamo Bay attributed to Con Coughlin from the Telegraph in London.

This line from the Sydney Morning Herald (sorry, no link seems available) caught my attention:

It is during incidents such as this that the guards have responded in controversial ways, such as the infamous incident of a Koran being flushed down a prison lavatory. But the guards are under instructions not to retaliate.

Strange, I thought, wasn't it well established that this was, at most, an allegation that the Pentagon strongly denied? Indeed, I was correct. In fact, when I searched the Telegraph to find the original article, I first found this one from last year, which notes that :

Southern Command said the inquiry had found five cases of "mishandling" of a Koran by US personnel, but no evidence it had ever been flushed down a toilet....

In the statement, Brig Gen Jay Hood, commander of the Guantanamo prison, said the inquiry found "no credible evidence" that a member of the military joint task force at Guantanamo ever flushed a Koran down a toilet. "The matter is considered closed," he stated.

Well, that Con Coughlin guy must be very slack, I thought, forgetting that his own paper reported how this was only ever an allegation hotly denied by the Pentagon. Furthermore, in this current climate of, shall we say, high excitability by Muslims, this is one allegation you don't lightly revive. (The Telegraph article I just quoted also noted that "at least 16" people had died in Afghanistan during rioting related to this story.)

But then I found the original Con Coughlin article which the SMH reprinted. Here is what the Telegraph web version actually says:

It is during incidents such as this that the guards have responded in controversial ways, such as abusing the Koran (the famous incident of a Koran being flushed down a prison lavatory is alleged to occurred during one such confrontation.) But fearful of a repetition of the prisoner abuse that occurred at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad, the guards are under instructions not to retaliate.

"We have investigated 15 allegations of abuse against the camp guards," said a Guantanamo official. "Only five of them have been upheld, and the appropriate action has been taken against the guards."

For your convenience, the parts in bold are those left out by the SMH. What a difference an editor can make, deleting all reference to the words "alleged" and "investigation".

Of course, it is possible that the SMH lifted an earlier version of the article which appears now on the Telegraph website. I am not aware of any quick and easy way of checking.

But if that is not the explanation, this would be a pretty appalling example of editing designed to re-establish a hotly disputed and inflammatory allegation into fact.

UPDATE: In last night's version of this, the quote from the print version of the SMH was given as referring to "the famous incident"; but on re-reading the post this morning, I am pretty sure (without having the print paper with me at the moment) that it was actually "infamous incident". I have therefore amended the post, but will double check later today. Doesn't make any real difference to the issue.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Some housekeeping

I have fixed up some bad links I added recently over at the side.

Careful readers may note the addition of a very subtle "donate" button at bottom of the side bar. My fantasy as to how I become rich from this is that a millionaire who loves cats and has a schizophrenic son will read here about a possible treatment based on treating him for toxoplasma infection. The son is accepted for research project, and cured, and grateful millionaire gives blog writer a great deal of money in thanks for bringing this obscure bit of news to his attention.

Hey, we all have our fantasies...

Of course, even non millionaires are invited to compensate me for not doing my work bills while I blog during the day.

I also want to point out that a post which I consider important, the lengthy one about scientists possibly causing the earth's disappearance through the creation of thousands of mini black holes at the CERN particle accelerator, has now slipped off this front page. If you have not done so before, please read it, especially if you know any physicist type who is prepared to look into the arguments and not instantly dismiss them.

I really enjoy blogging, and because of this it has become very distracting at work. I must reduce the time I spend at work looking for stuff that I think is worth adding here. In particular, I do need to do some serious catching up on sending out bills.

I therefore intend no posts to here, if I can avoid it, for the rest of this week. I hope the world does nothing too interesting in that time.

Would a simple "yes" or "no" be too much to ask for?


I found the above site via Philosophy Now, the only philosophy magazine I see at any newsagent.

The idea is that you can submit any question and one or more of a team of philosophers may try to answer it.

Of course, being male, one of the first sections I went to was on sex. The first question was about sex with animals. Guess what - the philosophical jury is still out on that one. Typical.

Update on Cats and Schizophrenia

Imperial College London - Scientists find stronger evidence for link between cat faeces and schizophrenia

I missed this update last month on the research that is indicating that at least some cases of schizophrenia are caused by cats. (Or at least toxoplasma gondii, which cats carry.) I have posted previously on this - my lengthiest post is here.

Dr Joanne Webster added: "By showing that drugs used to treat schizophrenia affect the parasite T. gondii, this does provide further evidence for its role in the development of some cases schizophrenia. It may be that anti-psychotic drugs work partly by parasite inhibition, and this could lead to new medicine and treatment combinations."

The researchers have already begun human clinical trials using anti-T. gondii treatments as adjunct therapies for schizophrenia with researchers at Johns Hopkins University.

A new (and previously unexpected) type of therapy that even helps a relatively small percent of sufferers would be a big advance.

Yay for Firefox

Security Fixes Come Faster With Mozilla

I must get around to putting one of their buttons on here one day.

Incidentally, I have put a link on this site to Sourceforge, which is a great site to go looking for open source software in all sorts of categories. While I guess no "hard core" gamer would likely bother with open source copies, I don't fall into that category, and free stuff for kids doesn't have to be perfect.

For myself, I have have found some open source astronomy and space simulation programs very good indeed.

Ritalin dangers

Guardian Unlimited | The Guardian | Ritalin heart attacks warning urged after 51 deaths in US

From the above story:

Ritalin, extensively prescribed to calm hyperactive children in the UK, should carry the highest-level warning that it may increase the risk of death from heart attacks, US experts recommended yesterday.

There have been 51 deaths among children and adults taking drugs for ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) in the US since 1999. Yesterday the UK licensing authority, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), said nine children had died in this country among a smaller population on medication. They declined to reveal the children's ages because of the possibility of identification.

This will soon be a big story in the Australian media too, given our fondness for the drug.

A post to Huffington Post I can agree with

The Blog | Gabriel Rotello: Huntington: 1 - Reformers: 0 | The Huffington Post

It's on the Cartoon Wars, and I don't think I disagree with anything it says. Maybe the first time ever that has happened.

Unhappy Lefty Enclaves

Welcome to the angst-ridden inner west - National - smh.com.au

The above article from the Sydney Morning Herald looks at why inner West Sydney, which is a very safe Labor area, comes up as the unhappiest place in Australia.

Anthony Albanese thinks it is because they all care too much:

The MP, Anthony Albanese, said the malaise of his constituents could be explained partly by their sense of compassion: "Most of them don't know anyone who voted for John Howard - or so they think - and they're frustrated," he said. "They can't believe there are people in Australia who don't support asylum seekers. Combine that with high mortgages, two working parents, a lack of child care, stress and lack of time, and it affects the quality of their life. "There's also a lot of inequality, with many indigenous, overseas-born and poorer people at the Marrickville end of the electorate - though often they can be the happiest."

That bit about the insularity of young Left leaning voters rings very true. As is the bit about their inability to believe anyone could disagree with them. This is all a part of many on the Left's rather "precious" belief that their version of morality in action is the only rational one.

Just in time for Valentines Day

The Australian: Marriage rollercoaster mostly downhill [February 13, 2006]

I am not sure how seriously to take this study, but I am pretty sure there have been similar ones with slightly different results.

(I thought I had read that some scientists believe that the timing of marriage breakups is related to the average time it takes children to become somewhat independent of parents - around 5 to 7 years. I could be wrong, though.)

A Mark Steyn moment

Toon-deaf Europe is taking the wrong stand

Tim Blair has already extracted a bit from the above Mark Steyn column, but the concluding paragraphs are more important:

"The issue is not "freedom of speech" or "the responsibilities of the press" or "sensitivity to certain cultures." The issue, as it has been in all these loony tune controversies going back to the Salman Rushdie fatwa, is the point at which a free society musters the will to stand up to thugs. British Muslims march through the streets waving placards reading "BEHEAD THE ENEMIES OF ISLAM." If they mean that, bring it on. As my columnar confrere John O'Sullivan argued, we might as well fight in the first ditch as the last.

But then it's patiently explained to us for the umpteenth time that they're not representative, that there are many many "moderate Muslims.''

I believe that. I've met plenty of "moderate Muslims" in Jordan and Iraq and the Gulf states. But, as a reader wrote to me a year or two back, in Europe and North America they aren't so much "moderate Muslims" as quiescent Muslims. The few who do speak out wind up living in hiding or under 24-hour armed guard, like Dutch MP Ayaab Hirsi Ali.

So when the EU and the BBC and the New York Times say that we too need to be more "sensitive" to those fellows with "Behead the enemies of Islam" banners, they should look in the mirror: They're turning into "moderate Muslims," and likely to wind up as cowed and silenced and invisible."

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Just for a bit of colour

I saw someone demonstrating Corel Painter last week, and decided to play around with some much simpler software that came with a tablet I brought to play with last year. (Graphics tablets, even a little cheap one like mine, are a lot of fun.) The above picture is meant to be an "oil painting", but on here it sort of just looks like a grainy photo. (It should look a little better in a larger version if you click on it.) Corel Painter, though, really does a good job of letting you make an oil painting from a photo. (You have to do the paint strokes yourself, not just a "one click" choice.)
Update: I originally had different version of the picture here, but I have improved it and replaced with the one above.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

More on the Cartoon Wars

It really is impossible to not comment on this matter, especially as I saw further demonstrations on SBS news tonight (which apparently took place after Friday prayers around the globe.)

Especially if you have never seen the Arab world's history of appalling cartoons of Jews and Israel, I suggest you have a look at an excellent post at The Thin Man Returns. It deals with the issue purely pictorially, and they have done an excellent job.

Of course, Tim Blair has been keeping track of the commentary from the press, and I have not felt a need to repeat what he and others have covered. However, I don't think he has linked to Matt Price's piece in the Australian today, which was quite personal and therefore more interesting than some of the punditry.

Last Wednesday, Philip Adams on Radio National interviewed Robert Fisk about the issue. Unfortunately, there are no transcripts of that show available; you have to listen to a recording of it on the Web. In the following recollection of the show, I may not be perfectly precise with the words, but I am confident it is generally accurate.

As shown in some appearances last year on ABC's Lateline, Fisk has become terribly rambling in the way he answers interviewers questions. He was at his worst with Adams.

Adams read out to Fisk an email that he (Adams) had received from a listener which made the point that it appeared that Europeans should be concerned that Muslims want to undermine the separation of Church and State which Europeans had to fight hard to achieve, and only achieved relatively recently in historical terms.

Fisk's response was a long ramble about how in Lebanon (he lives in Beirut) he is able to get on quite well with all the Muslims he has to interact with (including his maid, who was cooking his pizza lunch) and people he works with and knows on the street. He really went on and on about this, as if politeness demonstrated to a white male in Lebanon really answered the issue.

Then, towards the end of the ramble, Fisk stated that Muslims and Christians in Lebanon cannot marry. They have to go to Cyprus to do that. And he mentioned that the Lebanon Christian minority (although at 30-something percent, a pretty big minority) are badly discriminated against. (I presume he meant in other ways, but he gave no detail).

I immediately thought - "doesn't this support the letter writer's point?". But of course, Adams is notoriously sympathetic to Fisk's view of the world, and made no challenge at all. In fact he ended with a comment along the lines "so it is not an appropriate time to be bringing up Huntington's garbage about clash of civilisations." To which Fisk replied "exactly Uncle Phil [he definitely used the term "Uncle Phil"]..and I am glad you said 'garbage'".

(For the US take on religious based discrimination in Lebanon, see this link. They obviously don't view it as all that dire [perhaps especially for a Middle East country], but it is clear that the political and judicial system, with its ties to religion, is still a million miles for the separation of church and State that was the point of the email read to Fisk.)

To be fair, I would not have called myself a fully paid up subscriber to the "clash of civilisations" idea either; but what is so fascinating about the cartoon controversy is that what should be such a trivial matter is pushing me (and I suspect most of the Western populace) towards that school of thought much more than, say, a moderate sized terrorist attack like that on the London Underground. The latter is easily put down to a handful of madmen, but the cartoon issue causes one to despair at how thousands or millions of Muslims appear so capable of manipulation by their religious and political leaders.

(Of course, Muslims are not uniquely capable of manipulation - the German populace paid the price for its decade of madness in the 1930's. But with Islam, it seems to have been stuck in a medieval mind frame for some long, there is no obvious way that a liberal enlightenment is going to take hold within a similar time frame that the mad German quasi-religious nationalism was dealt with.)

UPDATE: I have now found a Robert Fisk opinion piece in which he makes all the same points he made in the interview above (but without the ramble about how is treated politely in Lebanon.)

The similarity he draws to the controversy 20 or so years ago over "The Last Temptation of Christ" (or for that matter, "The Life of Brian") is vastly exaggerated. Those movies attracted media discussion, some angry letters to the editor, and (apparently) one death when one person (not a mob) set fire to a cinema. But thousands on the streets torching US or British embassies? Demands that the movie makers be killed? I didn't notice much of that myself.

(Incidentally, I thought "Life of Brian" was likely to have a worse effect on belief than "Last Temptation", but that is a discussion for another time.)

Both the reaction to, and the nature of, the insult perceived by the faithful was vastly different. I think most Westerners seeing the cartoon of Mohammed with a bomb in the turban would realise it just as likely can be taken as a dig against the militant side of Islam alone, rather than at Mohammed himself. Or indeed it may reflect a Western perception of Islam overall that moderate Muslims could have chosen to try to refute, instead of allowing their radical parts help confirm it by violent reaction, and entering into the freedom of speech argument in a way which indicated that they do have a problem with separation of Church and State.

I suppose the meaning or intent of the cartoon is ambiguous, but it is hardly as if the Muslim leaders who chose to use it to inflame anti western sentiment were going to go on a TV talk show with the cartoonists to discuss it.

Anyway, the other point is that Fisk really seems to be trying to have it both ways in his article. He denies that the cartoons have anything to do with a "clash of civilisations," while also pointing out that radical Islam (which he seems to agree is dangerous) is making inroads in government in the Middle East as a result of Western approved democracy. He indicates that many Muslims want more moderation in their religion (let's hope that is true), but does not the political ascendancy of the radical elements helps support the notion of a forthcoming "clash of civilisations"?

Update 2: Readers of Tim Blair would already have been directed to a very critical review of Fisk's recent book on the Middle East. I am somewhat surprised to find that the Saturday Sydney Morning Herald (in "Spectrum") has printed a shorter, but almost equally savage, review of the book (although this is actually a re-print from the Daily Telegraph). At the moment I can't find a link to it. But I have found one to the New Youk Times review. It is more sympathetic, but still finds many faults with Fisk's approach:

"Journalists are not automatons but sentient men and women, and the "extinction of self" that supposedly scientific German historians once preached is an illusion. And yet Fisk's brand of reporting-with-attitude has obvious dangers. His ungovernable anger may do his heart credit, but it does not make for satisfactory history. His book contains very many gruesome accounts of murder and mutilation, and page after page describing torture in almost salacious detail. This has an unintended effect. A reader who knew nothing about the subject - the proverbial man from Mars - might easily conclude from "The Great War for Civilisation" that the whole region is mad, bad and dangerous to know, which is presumably not what Fisk wants us to think. Nor does he much abet the argument by George W. Bush and Tony Blair that Islam is essentially a peaceful and gentle religion. Most of the Muslims met here seem cruel and crazy, exemplifying Shelley's line about "bloody faith, the foulest birth of time." "

Friday, February 10, 2006

Why stop at 100?

Aljazeera.Net - Leaders call for calm in cartoon row

From the above report:

"As Muslim protests over the cartoons subsided on Thursday, a Taliban commander in Afghanistan warned that 100 fighters had enlisted as suicide bombers and Denmark said it feared for the safety of its troops in Iraq."

These guys seriously need to get a life. So to speak.

The kindest cut?

news @ nature.com-Cutting the risk of HIV-Male circumcision protects both women and men from infection.

The above story suggests that, especially in Africa, routine circumcision could make a big effect on the HIV rates.

This will send the anti-circumcision crowd into a frenzy of denial. The absolute fanaticism with which circumcision is criticised by some groups is really amazing. There is even a lot of stuff (about 138,000 Google hits) on the web about foreskin restoration (a lot of stretching involved.)

All seems to me to be ridiculously out of proportion, especially as there would seem to be kinder ways of performing a circumcision now than the old ways. But medicine is the subject of fads and disagreements just as much as other fields of human endeavour, and in Australia I believe it is quite difficult to find a doctor who will do one now unless it is clearly medically needed.

Sounds like a trap for young players

Guardian Unlimited | World dispatch | Bhanged to rights

While stupid Australian youngsters can hardly fail to know that possessing drugs in Singapore or Indonesia is a quick ticket to jail or worse, it would seem that there may soon be plenty of room for confusion by those on the Contiki tour of Europe as they swing from Amsterdam to Italy.

A new anti drug zeal has gripped the Italian government, it seems:

"A vote in the Italian parliament yesterday means that a new, zero-tolerance policy on drugs is almost certain to become law within the next couple of months. With the aroma of defiantly smoked cannabis floating in the air outside, lawmakers approved a measure that abolishes the distinction between hard and soft drugs and makes possession, as well as dealing, a criminal offence...

Yesterday's bill re-establishes the concept, abolished in 1993, of a normal daily supply as a way of distinguishing between drug-users and drug-traffickers. The task of fixing precise quantities for each drug will be delegated to the health ministry.

Anyone caught with more than the permitted amount will be liable to between six and 20 years in jail. Those found with less also risk trial and conviction, but the penalties will be a lot less severe....

How the proposed new law will affect foreigners is still unclear, but the original draft proposals included a provision according to which tourists found with even a single ecstasy pill would have their passports impounded."

At least the food in Italian jails might be better than here.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Around the blogs

* Andrew Norton over at Catallaxy does a sterling job looking at the David Throsby booklet "Does Australia Need a Cultural Policy?" launched last night by Cate Blanchett. Of course, if Cate was involved, you could always guess that the document was going to be an anti Howard diatribe. It is, and a boringly predictable one at that.

I really think that the public mood for substantial government funding of cultural matters has swung more or less permanently against it.

* Mark Bahnisch helps disprove his own argument that lefty's do a have a sense of humour - honest- by agreeing with wacky humourist Mark Latham's complaint that the ABC was not taking the last election seriously enough. (I am paraphrasing here: that complaint was directed againt Micheal Brissendon having too much fun in his commentary pieces).

* Tim Dunlop has a calmer moment reflecting that issues that involve a "conflict of goods" can make it particularly difficult for consensus views to be reached in liberal democracies. He even mentions that this is why the wiretapping issue in America is not biting politically as much as some think it should. Makes sense. But he has written a string of posts (go find them yourself, it's late) in which he has carried on as if the wiretapping issue is obviously a horrible travesty, legal opinion on this is all going one way, and has a go at a commenter by saying : "But I certainly accept your implicit point that you have nothing useful to contribute except bluster, lies and partisanship."

Where did the nice Tim Dunlop go?

A story on Islam in Indonesia

The Jakarta Post - Padang mayor defends sharia as good for development

From the above story, (which is well worth reading in whole):

"Padang Mayor Fauzi Bahar dismisses concerns about his mayoralty's gradual enactment of sharia, arguing that Islamic law is beneficial to development because it makes people more devout....

"Does religion hinder the government's effort?...It even helps it, right? So if I do something related to religion...so people are more devout...it will surely help improve morality, thereby boosting regional development as security will be assured, adolescent delinquency can be curbed and crimes reduced." "

But what exactly does this region require?:

" The mayoralty issued a bylaw in 2003 obliging junior high school students to be proficient in reciting the Koran, and since then has given an instruction on female students and civil servants to wear the headscarf in public, recommended crash courses in Islamic teachings during the Ramadhan fasting month as well as study sessions every Sunday morning for students.

Last month, it asked all mayoralty employees to pay alms from their monthly salary. "

So, it helps development by making its local government employees poorer?

And education wise:

" Like Padang, most cities and regencies have bylaws requiring the wearing of the headscarf by students and civil servants, as well as the ability to recite the Koran, beginning when they are young. Elementary school students who cannot read the Koran cannot move on to junior high, and people must be able to recite Koranic verses to marry."

Oh yes, this sounds just so helpful to economic development.

But note that there are objections to these developments:

" Academics and politicians have expressed alarm at the central government's inaction amid a flood of religion-based regional regulations with, they say, the potential to upset relations between religious groups, especially in encroaching on freedoms of minorities...

For Sudarto, director of Pusaka, a non-governmental organization promoting pluralism, the wave of regulations shows religion being manipulated by those in power"

This is all a worry.

The Economist on Hamas in Palestine

Palestine | To whom will Hamas listen? | Economist.com

A good article about the Hamas election win in the Economist.

From the article:

"Its campaign focused on domestic problems: corruption, lawlessness, unemployment. Its leaders talked mainly in slogans. The questions everyone is now asking are ones they simply did not expect to face. How will you form a government with no experience? Will you recognise Israel? Will your militias be absorbed into the Palestinian Authority (PA) security forces? Will you implement sharia law? What concessions will you make to continue getting foreign aid?

They also highlight Hamas's internal differences. It decides things by consensus, and keeps its true leaders' identities secret, for fear that Israel will target them."

Reminds me of the Labor Party and unions here. Boom boom.

The King funeral

FrontPage magazine.com :: Cheapening Coretta Scott King's Legacy by Ben Johnson

I missed any TV news coverage of what happened at the memorial service of Coretta Scott King recently, but I noted that it had attracted a lot of comment from the Right over its "politicisation" by many of the speakers.

The above article gives a summary (from the Right's point of view) and it does indeed sound that it was taken as an opporunity to shaft Bush (who was in the audience) over every conceiveable current issue.

I like this bit of irony in particular:

"After the good reverend finished equating U.S. troops with terrorists – a section that drew a two-minute-long standing ovation at a funeral – Jimmy Carter tried his hand at it. Crying crocodile tears, Carter said everyday life became “difficult for them then personally with the civil liberties of both husband and wife violated as they became the target of secret government wiretaps.” That, too, drew applause. (Later, the same crowd heartily cheered Ted Kennedy, whose brother, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, approved the secret government wiretapping that made the Kings’ lives so “difficult.”)"


Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Crustaceans to the rescue

ScienceDaily: Antarctic Krill Provide Carbon Sink In Southern Ocean

Today's second interesting story from Science Daily (above) is about how krill help reduce CO2 levels:

"Lead Author Dr Geraint Tarling from BAS says, "We've known for a long time that krill are the main food source for whales, penguins and seals, but we had no idea that their tactics to avoid being eaten could have such added benefits to the environment. By parachuting down they transport carbon which sinks ultimately to the ocean floor -- an amount equivalent to the annual emissions of 35 million cars -- and this makes these tiny animals much more important than we thought....

Krill live in the open ocean, mainly in large swarms and reach particularly high numbers in Antarctica. The migrations that they perform (called Diel Vertical Migrations, DVM) are a way of transporting carbon to the ocean's interior because they eat phytoplankton at the surface and excrete their waste at depth. Antarctic krill can grow up to a length of 6cm and can live for 5-6 years. They are one of the largest protein resources on Earth and can be fished easily with large nets for human consumption.

There is enough Antarctic krill to fill the total volume of the new Wembley stadium 1500 times. Spread out on the floor, they would cover the entire area of Scotland. The total weight of Antarctic krill is calculated between 50-150 million tonnes. "

I hate to be the person to point this out, but I presume that if we had less whales eating the krill, it would help reduce global warming.

Don't tell the Japanese whaling commission about this!

Mega engineering to keep climate warmer (you read that right)

ScienceDaily: Thousands Of Barges Could Save Europe From Deep Freeze

An interesting story above about how Europe could try to keep the Atlantic currents going which keep Europe warmer that it would otherwise be. (These are under threat from melting Greenland ice.)

8,000 barges pumping water at a cost of $50,000,000. Couldn't they just air condition the contintent for that price?

More on the cartoon affair

Guardian Unlimited | World dispatch | Drawn conclusions

The above commentary piece in the Guardian is pretty good.

Janet Albrechtsen on the same issue in the Australian today is strangely silent on the American response to the issue. She criticises European and Australian papers for not publishing the cartoons in a show of support for free speech, but I believe that the US media (except for the internet) has not gone out of it ways to publish them either.

(But then again, the US having a muted response is understandable in light of how publicity would likely lead to an increased risk to American defence force personnel already having a hard enough time in Iraq and Afghanistan. I would say that this is clearly behind the government's very conciliatory statement that sounded too soft.)

Anyway, I guess there is not much more to be said on this issue, and I will try not to post about it for some time.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Malaysia Star commentary on the cartoons affair

Press freedom mustnÂ’t be abused

From the article above:

" The action of the European newspapers has further worsened the perceived dichotomy between the West and Islam. They have not helped press freedom but have abused it. They are no different from some political newspapers, whether in Asia or West Asia, with their continuous anti-Semitic stance, negative remarks against Christianity or equating anything Jewish with Zionism."

This is completely overlooking the value of highlighting hypocrisy. And the cartoons are no where near as vicious and nasty as the anti-Semitic ones everyone has seen for years.

Why Israel attacking Iranian uranium facilities is a long shot

The Officers' Club: Meanwhile Back in Iran

See the above post for some speculation as to how Israel might possibly stage an attack on Iran. Seems kind of improbable to me.

Badly drawn cartoon as promised

Hey, it only took 10 minutes or so.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Some Muslims get it

IslamOnline - Views Section

In the interests of fairness, it should be noted that many Islamic commentators understand the harm that the violent demonstrations about cartoons are causing the reputation of their religion. See the link above for one.

Now that my previous post established that more cartoons might encourage democracy in the Arab world, I should point people towards the following "style guide" to drawing Mohammed:

"The hairstyle of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) is mentioned in a number of ahaadeeth, such as the following:

1 – His hair was neither curly nor straight....

It was narrated that Anas ibn Maalik said, describing the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him), he was of average height, neither very tall nor very short. He had a ruddy complexion, neither very white nor very dark, and his hair was neither curly nor straight. The revelation came to him when he was forty years old.

2 – His hair came down to his earlobes...

3 – His hair sometimes came down to his shoulders ...

4 – The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) used to dye his hair sometimes...

5 – He used to part his hair....

6 – The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) did his Farewell Pilgrimage when his hair was stuck together.

(This means) making some parts of the hair stick to others using gum or something similar, so that the hair is held together and avoids getting dirty and does not need to be washed....

7 – The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) sometimes used to braid his hair, especially when travelling, to keep it from getting dusty. "

Actually, the web site I got that from is full of interesting facts about the Messenger (as he is called). For example, if you ever wondered what the name of his camel was, well, that's a bit controversial:

"Of camels he had al-Qaswaa’, and it was said that she was the camel on which he made his Hijrah; and al-‘Adbaa’ and al-Jad’aa’. Were al-‘Adbaa’ and al-Jad’aa’ one and the same, or two different camels? There is some difference of opinion concerning this."

And I am sure you are wondering, how did he ride his camel:

"The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) rode horses, camels, mules and donkeys. He rode horses both saddled and bareback, and he used to make them gallop them on occasion. He used to ride alone, which was most of the time, but sometimes he would put someone behind him on the camel, or he would put one person behind him and one in front, so there would be three men on one camel. So he would sometimes let some men ride on his camel with him, and on some occasions he let his wives ride with him."

Surely you have to laugh at such a ridiculously detailed answer to a question that seems incredibly irrelevant to anything to do with religion.

Maybe someone is thinking I shouldn't poke fun at Islam this way; after all Christian monks used to argue about how many angels could dance on the head of a pin. But the point is that Christians don't worry about that any more, and we can recognise that medieval Christianity had many obsessions we now consider quite bizarre and therefore wryly amusing (the trade in relics, for example.) Anyway, I would hope that some Muslims agree that this sort of interest in the tiniest detail of their Prophet's life is sort of funny, and rather beside the main point of their religion.

Cartoon comments from Arab News

There Are 101 Ways to Skin a Cat

The link above suggests ways in which offended Muslim nations should retaliate against Europe:

"I recommend that we utilize a gradual and escalating approach to boycotting Western goods and services. Starting with luxury items and easily replaceable products as a first step that can be quickly and, relatively painlessly implemented.

We may then move on to more complicated items that require finding alternative sources and working with them to produce goods that match our specifications.

Finally we move on to products that we will need to build our own factories to produce.

This serves several purposes: One, it allows our businessmen to find alternatives to Western products in an organized way. Remember, it is not an easy task to rearrange trading patterns that have been in place for decades, if not centuries.

Second, it allows our economies to realign and adjust to the changed trading environment with a minimum of difficulty.

Third, it allows our non-Western trading partners to adjust their production to fulfill our needs."

Hmm. Sounds like the writer is encouraging the Arab countries to learn how to make stuff themselves instead of just buying it with oil money. Presumably, this will lead to a bigger middle class, which most people think is a preliminary step to having more liberal and democratic countries.

If that is the result - the West should publish more cartoons as soon as possible...

Tim Blair stands up

Tim Blair

It took a little time, but Tim has now posted the cartoons in question. Yay.

I am now waiting for some right wing death bloggers to come up with some more. (I wonder if Blogger is entirely happy with that prospect.) I don't want to see anything out and out nasty (not like you see in Arab papers against the Jews.) But it is kind of funny to think you could presumably draw a stick man, title it "Prophet Mohammed" and still be in trouble.

Update: Zoe Brain fires a broadside that is well worth looking at too.

Update 2: just to be clear about what I meant above: I think it would be interesting to have bloggers have a go at drawing original cartoons that depict Mohammed in a humourous context, but within the bounds of reasonable taste that those in the West or Far East would expect if the figure was, say, Jesus Christ, Bhudda or a Hindu god. I may have a go later tonight myself.

I don't think people should go out of their way to be offensive, but as several people have noted, the Danish cartoons were really very mild, even if the meaning of one or two was somewhat obscure. The one which seems to have caused most offence (the bomb in the turban) is correctly seen as an indictment of where certain strains of Islam are taking us; not an insult to Mohammed himself.

Incidentally, why didn't the makers of "South Park" get targetted when their "Super Best Friends" episode went to air in 2001? (I am not a fan of that show, but I did quite like that episode.) I believe that is Mohammed 3rd from the left in the screen shot here.

Comedians are dumb

Practising the dangerous art of sedition - Opinion - theage.com.au

I note that a bunch of comics who either can't or don't bother reading had another go at complaining about the revised sedition laws.

The article about this in the Age (linked above) is again clearly misleading:

"This afternoon a group of artists will descend on the Arts Centre, in St Kilda Road, and try their hardest to get arrested. Comic Rod Quantock will collect money for an unnamed terrorist organisation, cabaret artist Eddie Perfect will sing his ditty John Howard's Bitches and satirist Max Gillies will assume a stiff marionette smirk and do his utmost to make Prime Minister John Howard look like a twat.

If this isn't urging disaffection with the Government, what is? Such antics are hardly intended to arouse warm, fuzzy feelings for our elected leaders. Under new sedition laws, seditious intent is defined as urging disaffection against the Constitution, the Government of the Commonwealth, or either house of Parliament. Yet, chances are, when Sedition!, the concert, is performed at the Arts Centre this afternoon, nothing will happen."

As I have pointed out several times before, this idea that a person doing something with "seditious intent" (as defined above) is an offence under the legislation is simply wrong.

But can comics read for themselves? Can journalists from The Age? Seems not.

No apologies required

Drawn into a religious conflict - Los Angeles Times

The article above in the LA Times is quite a good one on the cartoons and Islam story.

After some historical background (which I presume is more or less accurate, but I am just taking it on trust), the writer (Tim Rutten) has this to say:

"The West's current struggle with a murderous global Sunni Muslim insurgency and the threat of a nuclear-armed theocracy in Iran makes it clear that it's no longer possible to overlook the culture of intolerance, hatred and xenophobia that permeates the Islamic world. The hard work of rooting those things out will have to be done by honest Muslim leaders and intellectuals willing to retrace their tradition's steps and do the intellectual heavy lifting that participation in the modern world requires. They won't be helped, however, if Western governments continue to pander to Islamic sensitivity while looking away from violent Islamic intolerance. They won't be helped by European diplomats and officials who continue to ignore the officially sanctioned hate regularly directed at Jews by the Mideast's government-controlled media, while commiserating with Muslims offended by a few cartoons in the West's free news media.

The decent respect for the opinions of others that life in modern, pluralistic societies requires is not a form of relativism. It will not do, as Isaiah Berlin once put it, to say, "I believe in kindness and you believe in concentration camps" and let's leave it at that."

The only problem I see is: just how much time does the West have to wait for Islam to be revised by its "honest Muslim leaders and intellectuals?" Not a lot, it would seem.

As you may expect, Christopher Hitchens also thinks the US is sounding too sympathetic to Islam. See his article in Slate here.

In the Wall Street Journal there is also criticism of the West (by and large) caving in too easily on this issue:

"The issue, though, is much larger than the question of how to balance press freedom with religious sensibilities; it goes to the heart of the conflict with radical Islam. The Islamists demand no less than absolute supremacy for their religion--and not only in the Muslim world but wherever Muslims may happen to reside. That's why they see no hypocrisy in their demand for "respect" for Islam while the simple display of a cross or a Star of David in Saudi Arabia is illegal. Infidels simply don't have the same rights."

I am waiting to see what Australian commentators have to say about this. I expect something wishy washy from Fairfax press, and presumably something more in line with the above pieces in News Limited.

Friday, February 03, 2006

On Alan Turing

The New Yorker: The Critics: Books

If, like me, you a bit about Alan Turing's work but not much about his personal life, the book review above is very interesting. Eccentric genius would seem an appropriate description. (Also gay, which seems not all that common amongst science types.)

The author of the review, Jim Holt, is (I presume) the same Jim Holt who wrote some excellent science stories in Slate magazine. For example, check his exploration of How Will the Universe End. He's a great popular science writer.

The Economist backgrounds the varieties of Islam

Political Islam | Forty shades of green | Economist.com

A lengthy article that is useful in understanding mad Islamists. Give them Madagascar, I say.

Now, the civility wars

The Australian: Peter Saunders: Don't blame Howard for decline of civility [February 03, 2006]

Much common sense is spoken by Peter Saunders in the above article.

I am well and truly sick of the spurious argument that "economic rationalism" means increased incivility. Apart from Left leaning commentators, does the average person in the street really believe this theory? Maybe some with liberal tendencies would say they do, but probably simply because it has been repeated so often they might assume its truth. I would like to know who first came up with the idea; certainly it has been done to death over the years by those such as Hugh Mackay and Eva Cox. But really, it is the triumph of sloganeering over common sense.

Anyone over 40 knows that there has been a gradual erosion in certain matters of civility since the 1960's that is impossible to plausibly tie to "economic rationalism". For example, the careless use of language regardless of the possible offence caused to the public (I am thinking of those who wear outright crude T Shirts while walking down a shopping mall, or teenagers who swear loudly while waiting for the bus, regardless of the little old ladies sitting next to them.)
"Road rage" is also a completely novel phenomena that I think rarely has anything to do with the quality of the car that annoys the offender.

On the other hand, certain types of incivility have diminished since the 1960's. I suspect that there are not a hell of a lot of catholic kids getting beaten up by State school kids these days.

But overall, yes I agree that incivility has been on the rise, but the reasons set out by Saunders in his article are correct. His ending is particularly telling:

"In the past, when the norms governing public behaviour were clearer than they are today, public figures such as teachers and police officers felt confident about expressing and enforcing them. They knew the rest of the community (including those higher up) would back them up. Today, this confidence is ebbing away. Last October, Sydney magistrate Pat O'Shane dismissed a case brought against a youth who had drunkenly sworn obscenities at police in a public street, and she ordered the police to pay the offender's costs of $2600. She told her court: "I'm not sure there is such a thing as community standards any more."

Statements like this from people in authority can cause huge damage. There are still community standards, but they take a hammering when prominent people such as magistrates refuse to acknowledge them.

If we want to safeguard civility, our teachers, politicians, broadcasters, magistrates and judges must understand how important it is for them not only to recognise that community standards of behaviour still exist, but also to defend them wholeheartedly and tenaciously. If we cannot rely on this, then we are indeed in trouble."

Yes indeed, a lot of the problem is the underlying relativism of much of the Left's moral reasoning, which erodes certainty as to the limits of acceptable behaviour. Yet they have the hide to try to deflect blame onto the bogeyman of economic rationalism.