Wednesday, May 31, 2006

On the Reign of Terror

The New Yorker: The Critics: A Critic At Large

This is a really good book review/essay, of the kind the New Yorker can do so well, on the French Reign of Terror. To give you a taste (talking of Robespierre):

There is a case to be made that the real singularity of the Terror was the first appearance on the stage of history of this particular psychological type: not the tight-lipped inquisitor, alight with religious rage, but the small, fastidious intellectual, the man with an idea, the prototype of Lenin listening to his Beethoven as the Cheka begins its purges. In normal times, such men become college professors, or book reviewers or bloggers. It takes special historical circumstances for them to become killers: the removal of a ruling class without its replacement by a credible new one. In the confusion, their ethereal certainties look like the only solid thing to build on.

Fun and Games in India

Do you have a sex problem?- The Times of India

I don't know what gave me the urge to look up the news in India right now, but I am glad I did. From the above article:

MUMBAI: On Sunday, Delhi's Javed Ali, suffering from a sexual disorder, finally discovered his manhood. He opened fire on his sexologist Rajesh Abbot. After four rounds, when the pistol jammed, he pulled out another one.

Of the 13 shots fired, seven hit Abbot, who died on the spot. Ali was upset that despite Abbot's promises, his performance in the bedroom had remained unchanged.

This extreme episode serves as a cold reminder to those in the difficult business of curing male problems.

I wonder if it is hard to get life insurance there if your profession is "quack sexologist." The article goes on to detail the typical quackery in this field:

The quack's ingenuity starts with what seems to be highly impressive diagnostic equipment. A patient is made to lie down and a red light is shone on his body from a hidden source.

Except that when it comes to the patient's private parts, the light is switched off with a remote control trick and the doctor gasps with practised shock.

The patient is then told that since the light did not work in that zone, he suffers from a grave disorder and that he needs a special course of treatment.

The patient is also asked baffling questions like, "Did you use a lot of hand as a child?" Since in 19 out of 20 cases the answer in yes, the patient instantly bonds with the quack and reposes his faith in the diagnosis.

Delhi resident Pradeep once entered a professed sexologist's clinic in Daryaganj. The 'doctor' sat behind a neat desk in a one-room clinic and on hearing about the problem, immediately ordered Pradeep to stop masturbating.

"You're wasting a nectar from heaven," he said.

One year blogiversary me

Happy blogiversary

Happy blogiversary Mr...OD


(I paid $1.26 million for that dress, so it's got to get some use sometime.)

[Silly fantasy post- well, not fantasy exactly, I wish I did own a $1,260,000 dress, but purely for investment purposes of course (does something crassly masculine to emphasise the point) - ends here.]

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Some scepticism on wind power

BBC NEWS | Business | Germany's wind farms challenged

OK, I'll admit something here. I really dislike windpower as a concept. I have never been near a giant wind farm, but from all photos of them, I think they are an aesthetic blot on the landscape. They are pretty noisy in a strong wind too, I believe. They must kill some birds, from time to time. What's worse, they spread their offensive features over large areas, not like a single power station that can be hidden behind a hill yet service an enormous area.

Apart from aesthetics, I think what annoys me is the idea of giving up so much control as to how much electricity is in the grid to mother nature. I don't trust her. Give me a power source that puts me in complete control instead. Put nature in its place, which is to serve us higher creatures at the pointy end of creation/evolution. (I could go on in that patriarchal, judaeo-christian vein, but it would only be worthwhile if I knew I did have readers that it would annoy.)

I guess the same could be said for the unreliability of solar power too. However, at least it has the good grace to not clutter up the landscape.

Anyway, any articles that criticise windpower will always be welcome here.

A prescription to do nothing

Vile acts cut across colour and class | Phillip Adams | The Australian

I knew Phillip Adams could not help but weigh in on the aboriginal abuse debate going on at the moment.

His column above is a typical example of an extremely common approach used by the Left. It's the old "mote and the beam" argument taken to a deadening extreme. Don't go criticising aboriginal abuse, says Phillip, as our own westernised suburbs are full of abuse against women too.

This is a formula for ignoring realities on the ground, and for doing nothing, or at least nothing effective. It is why the Left often fails on the issue of moral leadership. It lets itself become paralysed by a debilitating philosophy that is essentially relativist in its outlook, and expands a fear of hypocrisy away from the personal (which is the extent to which the Christian teaching is unexceptional and worthy) to the corporate. By this technique, no one is entitled to criticise other cultures too much (because their own is never perfect,) the United States in particular, but the West generally, is to be extremely circumspect in its dealings with all other nations (because the West is not perfect either,) and isolationism is the de facto "correct" response. [Unless of course a collectivist approach can be achieved, which it rarely can when the "collective" has to include those persons or nations deserving criticism in its decision making forums.]

Yet the same approach gives full permission to the Left to concentrate on the perceived inequities in their own societies or governments, regardless of how relatively minor such social issues may now be compared to those in the rest of the world.

It's a galling approach, as it means the Left usually claims to be the side taking the high moral ground, while simultaneously not realising that it is also the side more prepared to ignore or downplay clear instances of moral depravity deserving and requiring action. (They don't even like mere criticism of groups very much, if the group can argue it is acting on Left-ish collectivist "good intentions", such as ATSIC, or some of the communist regimes.)

There is more I can write, but it will have to wait.

The cat amongst the pigeons

Let's talk about nuclear power and other energy sources - Opinion

So Tim Flannery is very clearly in favour of having the nuclear debate, and does not want to dismiss it out of hand. I can hear him being quoted in Parliament by the government already.

As I said before, stubborn resistance to nuclear is not going to be the clear winner that much of Federal Labor thinks.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Baby must be perfect

Babies with club feet aborted - Sunday Times - Times Online

From the above article:

MORE than 20 babies have been aborted in advanced pregnancy because scans showed that they had club feet, a deformity readily corrected by surgery or physiotherapy.

According to figures from the Office for National Statistics covering the years from 1996 to 2004, a further four babies were aborted because they had webbed fingers or extra digits, which are also corrected by simple surgery. All the terminations took place late in pregnancy, after 20 weeks. ...

Some parents, doctors and charities are increasingly worried by what they see as a tendency to widen the definition of “serious handicap”. The handicap provision, which does not exist in most other countries, permits abortions to be carried out until birth. It was intended to save women from the trauma of giving birth to babies likely to die in infancy...

One doctor in the north of England who did not want to be named, said a recent case in his hospital had involved the discovery of a hand missing from a foetus scanned at 20 weeks. “The father did not want the pregnancy to proceed because of his perception that the child would not be able to do all the usual things like sport,” said the doctor.

Of course, the followers of Peter Singer should have no problem with this. But for people of common sense, it's a pretty appalling state of affairs.

How did I miss this?

TIMEasia Magazine: Best of Asia - Meguro Parasitological Museum, Tokyo, Japan

Always good to know there is still something to see in place you've been to before!:

Though it occupies only two floors of a small office building, the museum boasts that it displays more specimens of roundworms, hookworms, flukes, nematodes and leeches than any other place on earth—not to mention gruesomely graphic images and descriptions of the havoc they can wreak on humans and other hosts.

Distracting drivers in Japan

Back to Japan for a minute. One thing about that country that I find surprising is the very common use of quite large in-dash LCD screens for GPS navigation, but also watching TV or DVDs.

You would think that this would be dangerous and distracting for the driver, but I have been in so many different cars in which the TV or a DVD has been on, I presume there is no Japanese traffic law against it.

It seems that it is blamed for some accidents, and that is hardly surprising. In New South Wales, the situation is like this:

..driving with a TV/VDU (visual display unit) visible to the driver carries the same penalty as mobile use: $225 and three demerit points. Factory-installed DVD players/TV screens in cars that are dash-mounted typically switch off when the vehicle is in motion.

If drivers in Australia were allowed to watch TV, I wonder which shows would cause the most accidents.

Disaster compassion fatigue

BBC NEWS | Asia-Pacific | Rain compounds Java quake misery

Don't you get the feeling that the media (and world) reaction to this latest Indonesian disaster indicates a significant degree of compassion fatigue? (Australian attention is also heavily distracted by having to send people in to try to deal with the East Timor troubles too.)

If the Java volcano goes sky high and kills another few thousand, at least dramatic pictures of an eruption gets attention, I suppose.

Leaving the dying for dead on Mt Everest

Missing from the record books: the unsung feats of everyday life - Opinion

Richard Glover's Saturday column about this incident was amusing, but only because the poor guy left for dead is in fact alive. Richard had spoken to Sir Edmund Hillary about it on his radio show:

He [Hillary] is particularly uneasy about the attitude of "get to the top at any cost" - itself a reflection of the big fees being paid to guides. Inglis's achievement - reaching the top with his artificial legs - may be remarkable, but it's been soured by his admission that he walked past a dying mountaineer on his way up.

For Hillary, that shows a value system that's all wrong: people "just want to get to the top [and] don't give a damn for anybody else in distress".

Inglis has defended his own actions - pointing out that his party at least paused to help the dying man. About 40 other mountaineers simply walked past.

Forty! Suddenly Everest seems like the Pitt Street of the Himalayas. Forget climbing it; I want the Starbucks concession. Indeed, Hillary told me there are often 60 people at the summit. You'd be more secluded in the Cross City Tunnel.

Hope he (the near dead guy) gets a good media deal to tell his story.

UPDATE: here's another odd thing that may, or may not, have happened on Mt Everest recently. (Why a sherpa would get naked there is not explained at all.)

UPDATE 2: OK, maybe I don't always pay close attention. When I first posted, I did not realise that two climbers had been left for dead in the last week, but the first (British one) actually did die.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Death for shorts?

Update 10: Iraqi Athletes Killed for Wearing Shorts -

If this report is true, Muslim extremists are even more screwed up than I thought:

Last week, gunmen in Baghdad stopped a car carrying a Sunni Arab tennis coach and two of his Shiite players, asked them to step out and then shot them.

Extremists have been distributing leaflets warning people in the mostly Sunni neighborhoods of Saidiyah and Ghazaliyah not to wear shorts, police said.

I assume this is talking about males not wearing shorts. How exactly is wearing shorts an activity deserving death? I thought from previous posts I made about Saudi Arabia that the thing with women having to be covered from head to toe was based on the idea that men just couldn't control themselves if all those seductresses showed so much as square centimeter of flesh. But why are men's legs a moral danger?

Friday, May 26, 2006

X men over-analysed?

X-Men: The Last Stand reviewed. By Michael Agger

I made it clear some posts back that I don't care much for movies based on Marvel of other comic heros. For me, it's a phenomena that should have been put down, oh, 20 years or so ago.

Therefore, I haven't seen the X men movies (other than snippets in the background while I while was doing something else.) So this opening section of the Slate review of the new X Men three surprised me, but it sounds sort of plausible:

Mirror, mirror on the wall, what's the most gay-friendly blockbuster series of them all? No, not Batman. And not The Lord of the Rings (which is more pre-sexual than anything else). Consider another series, one in which teenagers discover that they are "mutants" and long to run away from home and be with others like them. At a finishing school in the countryside, they learn to wear tight leather suits and follow Hugh Jackman. Plus, if you touch the hottest girl at the school (Anna Paquin), you die. Consider also that the director of X-Men, Bryan Singer, stages scenes in which the word mutant is an obvious stand-in for homosexual—most famously, in X2, when a mother asks her son: "Have you ever tried … not being a mutant?"

Nuclear debate is here

N-power 'viable, economical' | Science & nature | The Australian

The report above indicates that the question of nuclear power's economic viability in Australia is perhaps not the problem that many in the government think it is.

Labor's (with its foreshadowed scaremongering about where a nuclear plant might go) thinks it is on a winner already. I doubt it. It seems entirely possible to me that as global warming fears go up over next year or two, nuclear will start to smell better and better to a small but growing contingent of greenie types. With some environmentalists on side, the government's willingness to consider it will look good.

Are we a in a braneworld?

ScienceDaily: Scientists Predict How To Detect A Fourth Dimension Of Space

An interesting article that shows that there are tests that can soon be done to see if the universe we live in is a braneworld.

I wonder if braneworld ideas will ever lead to suggestions of a physical location for heaven on another brane. (Just as the ideas of a 4th dimension lead to some supernatural style speculation in the 19th century.) Of course, if you follow Tipler's Omega Point ideas, you don't need a physical location as such, since it is all in a cyberspace which gets to subjectively last forever at the end of the universe. Cyber heaven also lets it be anything God wants it to be, whereas a physical type of one has still got pesky physical laws to deal with.

Braneworld ideas are presumably not consistant with Omega Point theories.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Shuttle launch

Over at Bad Astronomy is a nice time exposure pic of a an old shuttle launch. What interested me, never having seen a rocket launch, was how curved the trajectory is. I guess it's not just up, up and out of sight like (I think) most people would have expected.

Japanese pizza post

A funnier than average post from Japundit.

Hurry up, I said...

BBC NEWS | World | Middle East | Aziz testifies for Saddam defence

From the above report of renewed games at Saddam's trial:

The latter accused the judge of "insulting a woman" by throwing out defence lawyer Bushra al-Khalil in the previous session.

"Sit down. If you continue with this I'll throw you out," the judge told Barzan al-Tikriti.

Saddam Hussein added: "Do you want to shut people's mouths this way?"

"Quiet. You are a defendant," the judge shouted.

"I am Saddam Hussein, your president, and you did elect me," the former leader shouted back.

Result: encouragement to armed Saddam loyalists to go shoot up a few more people.

Drinking with baby ..again

Further evidence suggesting that no level of alcohol is "safe" for a fetus:

Drinking under half an alcoholic beverage each day while pregnant can reduce the IQ of offspring by up to 7 points.

Consuming alcohol -- even small amounts -- especially during the second trimester of pregnancy produced pronounced IQ deficits among 10-year-olds surveyed for a study released Wednesday in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

(An earlier post about another study to the same effect is here.)

Some more on aboriginal housing

Blacks lose out as cash diverted: report - National -

Well, thank goodness the "report" mentioned above is an internal Labor memo. Gives it much greater credibility.

NT Leader Clare Martin's petulant reaction to the aboriginal abuse issue is doing her far more harm than good. It's interesting that she choses to try to divert argument into inadequate housing when, as I indicated in an earlier post, there are cultural and other issues relevant to why aboriginal housing seems to always be in crisis.

For example: how much of an issue is the abadonment of houses for a substantial period after a death? Has anyone ever come up with an answer to that if it does cause serious temporary shortages? I think I have heard it suggested that sometimes the number of people in a house is by choice or preference rather than need (eg, a desire to keep the whole extended family together.) If this is correct, have government or aboriginal funding bodies ever properly dealt with this in design of housing?

It has been an old theme that housing provided has to be extremely robust because of the rough treatment that alcohol or drug addled people can give it, and also because of the lack of maintenance skills usually found on reserves. How well has this issue been addressed? Is inappropriate construction style still taking place? (I would have guessed that a simple concrete block construction with whitewashed walls would have a lot going for it. Steel sinks and toilets probably the go too. Maybe new houses are built like this - I just don't know.)

How long will demountables that the Commonwealth is offering the NT (leftover from Woomera) last anyway? (I suspect, a very short time indeed.)

I am sure that all these issues have been discussed and considered by different bodies from time to time over the years. It's just that I think the general public should also be aware of all of these cultural issues so they can properly understand the problem and why better progress has not been made.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Gore bore?

news @ Al Gore: Eco matinee idol�-An Inconvenient Truth showcases science of climate change.

From the above review about Al Gore's global warming doco:

If you find Gore to be a refreshingly un-phoney politician with more brains than most whole administrations, you will love this film. If you find Gore boring, annoying or prone to strange shifts in tone, you may well tire of shots of him gazing into the middle distance and ruminating, in voice-over, about the tragedies he's known and how each eventually taught him something about global warming.

Sounds a good bet that I would fall into the second category.

In the film, Gore gives his presentation in front of an audience from which sympathetic murmurs can be occasionally heard. One audience member wears a T-shirt that reads 'Sweet Jesus, I hate Bill O'Reilly', referring to Fox News' famously conservative talking-head. If these people are going to be the only ones buying tickets, Gore will be preaching to the choir.

As to the science in it, the review defers to the Real Climate review, which gave most of the science a tick.

They also note that:

Much of the footage in Inconvenient Truth is of Al Gore giving a slideshow on the science of global warming. Sound boring? Well, yes, a little.

I don't think I will be rushing to check it out.

UPDATE: This Slate article on the problems with the movie is well worth reading.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

On the Code

Amongst the many articles about the historical "claims" in the Da Vinci Code, the one in Slate recently seemed to me to be one of the better summaries.

(I started the book, but the writing style has put me off coming back to it. I think it is worse than Michael Crichton on a bad day, and that's saying something.)

UPDATE: For the most savage, and very funny, review of the movie read Anthony Lane's in The New Yorker. There are so many lines I would like to quote, I just don't know which one to pick. Just go read it.

Our anti war protesters just aren't in the same league

You may have heard about how Japan and Korea are having a confrontation of sorts over some disputed islands. There have been some weird anti-Japanese protests by Koreans as a result, but perhaps covering yourself with (so he says) 187,000 bees and jumping on a Japanese flag takes some beating. (Watch the video at the link.)

If only Cindy Sheehan were so creative.

3 interesting science stories

All from today's Science Daily:

1. Bad news: a study suggesting that the high end of climate change predictions are more likely. Time to start work on big space umbrellas as a possible solution.

2. Cats are evil in so many ways: Children who are exposed to cats soon after birth may have an increased risk of developing eczema. But exposure to dogs? Being exposed to two or more dogs at home suggested a slightly protective, but not significant, effect on children's risk of developing eczema.

3. Plug in hybrid cars certainly seem a good idea. Plug them into the wall overnight while you are home, and the heaps of people who travel no more than 40 km per day might never use petrol. (In fact, the model described here can run on ethanol solely. No oil at all. Take that, Saudi Arabia.)

Matt Price line for the day...

Happy Chappy enjoys seat of power | Matt Price | The Australian

Labor, we were told by Julia Gillard before the resumption of parliament, would be giving the Treasurer a comprehensive working over.

"It's Peter Costello's first day in the big chair," she said, referring to Happy Chappy's stint as Acting Prime Minister. "Labor will be taking Peter Costello outside his very narrow comfort zone."

And it's true. By the end of question time, Costello's comfort zone had been upgraded from unsealed bush track to four-lane bitumen freeway.

Why is this singer successful?

Madonna's new move: crucifixion - Music - Entertainment -

No need for emetics when instead you could just read the above description of Madonna's new stage show.

I have never, ever, understood her appeal. Must be that people just like quasi-political, nutty-mystical, pretend-slutty singing acts in a way I can't figure.

And will she be even-handed in her silly use of religious icongraphy? How about a flash of a depiction of Mohammed during the show?

Monday, May 22, 2006

Bad news from Syria

Guardian Unlimited | World dispatch | Arrested development

From the article:

Syria is in the throes of one of its biggest crackdowns on dissidents in many years. As many as 12 reformers and writers have been arrested this month in a new show of strength by the regime.

Something odd about Iraq

ABC News: Baghdad's Lionel Richie Obsession

And it's not because of pregnancy...

Menstruation Is Fast Becoming Optional - Yahoo! News

From the above (quite lengthy) story:

Still, surveys also show most women consider monthly periods normal. Small wonder: Girls learn early on that menstruation is a sign of fertility and femininity, making its onset an eagerly awaited rite of passage.

The period is "way over-romanticized," says Linda Gordon, a New York University professor specializing in women's history and the history of sexuality.

Not by men, that's for sure.

Housing issues

Homes 'unfit for animals' | News | The Australian

It seems to rarely be mentioned in media reports about housing quality issues in aboriginal communities, but isn't one of the problems here (at least in some areas of Australia) the complicating cultural issue that a house in which a person has died will be abandoned for some time (months I think) before any person will re-occupy it? I actually forget who was telling me about this - I remember discussing it with a brother, but maybe I have read about it somewhere else.

I don't know how big a problem this really is, but with death rates in some communities being what they are, it certainly would mean you would have to have a hell of a lot of "spare" housing to deal with this issue.

I know I have heard from time to time of projects to create really rugged remote aboriginal housing that needs virtually no maintenance, as the care and maintenance of the housing is a very big issue. However, this does nothing to address the issue of abandonment. I remember suggesting to my (lefty) brother that maybe the solution would be a very sophisticated style of tent (with a portable solid floor?) that could be moved off the spot where someone had died. That I would suggest that they live in something less than solid house dismayed him. But honestly, some really creative solutions to the housing issue are needed, aren't they?

(Of course, how to stop tents catching alight if a fire is lit inside is another issue. But I think there must be a model of temporary housing from some indiginous community somewhere in the world that could be adapted.)

A standard response

The familiar echo of Aboriginal condemnation - Opinion -

The article above takes the "standard" old style aboriginal interest group response to the aboriginal abuse issues raised last week.

Rather than acknowledge the longstanding structural disadvantage experienced by remote Aboriginal communities, the complicity of the Australian Government in their creation and neglect, and a national responsibility to make real changes, Brough's immediate response to Rogers' revelations was to announce the existence of a pedophile ring of senior Aboriginal men. No evidence has been produced, and it seems clear that none exists.

Where did Brough's allegation come from? Such a "ring" would, of course, give the minister a convenient solution to his need to be seen to be doing something: an evil group of Aboriginal men, a target small enough to rapidly identify and punish, would serve as a scapegoat and provide a quick fix for his problem. But if we look further back into the long history of Aboriginal-white relations, it becomes clear that such claims have often helped governments to justify interventionist indigenous policies.

Is the writer suggesting that "non interventionist" policies have never been tried, even under the long reign of Labor and ATSIC? Does she really want the solution to this to be left up to the same bunch of aboriginal leaders and academics who have been around for the last 30 years worrying more about land rights, and whether Aboriginal cultures 200 years ago were abusive to women or not, than what's going on now?

About Marsden

Case for the damnation of Marsden - Opinion -

Paul Sheehan did not like John Marsden.

What Sheehan's brings up was already on the public record. I don't recall the part about witness intimidation though.

If what Sheehan says is a correct version of what the trial judge at the defamation action found [that Marsden had on the balance of probabilities - which is the standard of proof in a civil case - asked a prisoner to get a witness to change his position,] why was Marsden allowed to still practice as a solicitor at all?

I still predict some new, damaging, information about Marsden will come out soon.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Scruton on Mills

OpinionJournal - Featured Article

If you missed it, Roger Scruton has an essay above on John Stuart Mill. Scruton is always worth reading (especially if you a conservative!)

Mountain coming through - Land Speed Record: Mountain Moves 62 Miles in 30 Minutes

A mountain near the Montana-Wyoming border once moved 62 miles in a half-hour in a catastrophic scenario that could be repeated elsewhere, scientists say...

"We think the slide motion was catastrophic," Aharonov told LiveScience. "According to our calculation, the motion took less than 30 minutes."

I guess being overtaken on a freeway by a mountain would be catastrophic.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

At last - Mission:Impossible 3

I finally got to see MI3 tonight. My comments:

Good points: script is quite good really. The acting is more even than in previous M:I movies, and in fact I would say Cruise and Phillip S Hoffman actually do very good acting, within the limits of this kind of material. Exotic locations are used (although shown very briefly - see my comments below,) and there is very seamless and unintrusive use of computer effects. (You know that certain things can't be being done "for real", but it is almost impossible to tell where the artifice begins. For example, one very cleverly done scene almost makes you believe those super realistic rubber masks could really work. There is also a jumping off a building sequence which - at least initially, before the editing starts cutting it up too much - looks as real as it possibly could.) The movie has some (limited) humour, and some scenes of human warmth, and in that sense is more "realistic" than M:I1. However, its tone is darker, with a genuinely sadistic villain, and as such ends up being not as much fun.

But, there is a lot to like.

Bad or distracting points: the direction. For the last few years, I have seen very few one hour shows on TV. I am therefore unfamiliar with the popular work of JJ Abrams. However, direction of M:I3 is claustrophobic, for want of a better term. It seems he is inordinately fond of close to medium length shots, where it looks like the camera is no more than a few meters from the actors.

This is fine for some sequences, where it can help rack up the tension, especially in the opening scene. But after 30 minutes or so, I really found myself wondering why this movie was shot so tight for so long. Especially during the action sequences, I longed for wider shots to make better sense of what was going on around Cruise.

There is also a quasi-handheld sort of style for all of the action sequences. It's not exactly jittery, but I did start longing for smoother camera movement in many sequences, and less choppy editing.

I hate overly fast editing. It is, to my mind, the major problem with younger action movie directors since the 1990's, and is the special "trademark" of directors who have come from an advertising or music video background. (I especially despise it in dance and musical numbers, where it takes away all sense of the quality of the dancing itself.) M:I3's action sequences are nearly all edited too quickly (especially parts of the Shanghai sequences,) but (fortunately) not so quickly as to ruin the movie.

I mentioned in an earlier post how well I thought Brian De Palma directed the first M:I movie, and it was this more "traditional" style of direction and editing that I missed.

I don't think I have (yet) read any reviewer who has mentioned the "tightness" of so many of the shots, which I find surprising. (To me, it seemed such an obvious and distracting feature of Abram's style.) Slate's review did say: "The action scenes are thrilling in the modern, quick-cut, disorienting way." I can agree with that.

Overall: I have lingered on the downside for too long. Many people don't notice this sort of thing anyway. And overall, I was happy to have seen it and would happily see another M:I installment. Still, M:I 1 stands clearly ahead as my favourite. The less said about M:I 2 the better, although it does help M:I 3 look very good by comparison.

UPDATE: It's not just me. Here's one reviewer (who really didn't like the movie at all):

It's filmed almost entirely in close-ups and medium shots, in extremely shallow focus with no depth of field. (It's something of a sick joke that Abrams elected to use the extra-wide CinemaScope aspect ratio, as he tends to obscure or blur out anything that isn't smack dab in the center of the frame.) There's no oomph to the images, and the monotonous, confusingly edited action scenes just lie there, dead.

I don't agree that the action sequences "lie dead"; I just thought they could have been better with a different director. But certainly, he seems to have almost no interest in the composition of shots.

In the Sydney Morning Herald today

A few items of note in the paper today:

Richard Glover, the lefty but sometimes amusing columnist/broadcaster (I quite like his writings about his family), has a very worthwhile column in which he points out that the media (and politicians) love to let accidents become the story. For example, in relation to the Private Kovco lost CD incident:

The lost CD is not a story about corruption. Or laziness. Or self-interest. Or malevolence. It is the story of an accident. That simple.

By leaving a CD in a computer drive, did the officer indicate disrespect for Private Kovco, or a lack of attention to her work? If anything, the opposite. She grabbed a few minutes before a flight to go over her report...

In ethical terms, who has behaved badly here? The defence officer who fell foul of an accident or the two people who made conscious decisions to make sure that accident had maximum impact?

And in relation to the the aboriginal stories of this week:

On Tuesday night, Mal Brough, the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, said he believed that pedophile rings were operating in some Aboriginal communities.

Everyone agrees there are pedophiles in these communities, and that they turn a blind eye to each other's crimes. Yet some believed Brough had used the wrong word in describing this as a "ring". And so we spent the rest of the week on the topic of whether Brough had accidentally used the wrong word.

Here's what was notable: officials in the Northern Territory seemed more passionate and angry about Brough's verbal accident - variously described as "ignorant", "offensive" and "a disgrace" - than they were about the hideous crimes themselves.

And so we prefer trivia to substance; an accident to a complex debate. Heads must roll. Brough must apologise.

I agree with Richard, but I can't see that he would display the same generosity of spirit towards any errors in intelligence leading to the Iraq War.

Mike Carleton for once says something that is worthwhile, and which seems not to have been said elsewhere (although I haven't paid very close attention to the story). This is about the claims of LTCDR Robyn Fahy that the Navy has treated her very badly (and had a Navy reserve doctor find her mentally ill, when others could not):

But Fahy also claimed she had been beaten up "on a daily basis" while a student at the defence force academy. "I can't remember a day where I wasn't punched, or hit, or slapped, or spat upon," she said.

To my mind and experience, this doesn't ring true. Bashed every day for three years? It stretches credibility, suggesting there are two sides to this story. Which I understand is indeed the case.

But here the Defence Force is in a bind. While Fahy is able to go public - and fair enough - the navy is gagged by the privacy laws, which prevent any detailed response to her.

From what I saw of it, the 7.30 Report story on her expressed no scepticism of this. I also heard Fahy's father, after Labor had called for a full judicial inquiry, say that the family did not want this, they just wanted the Navy to admit a mistake had been made and apologise. This suggested to me that the father thought her daughter's obsession with vindication had become unhealthy. What Carlton says is exactly right; the defence force is in a bind in PR terms in these type of cases, and media attention does nothing to really help the "victim".

Finally, Alan Ramsey continues to earn a pay cheque by writing an opinion piece comprised of enormous slabs of other people's words, and some really clever name calling of politicians (John Howards gets called "toad" today, in what is such a ridiculous introduction I can't be bothered re-printing it.)

Of more interest to me is Ramsey's take on the aboriginal issues. His political analysis is highly nuanced:

The multiplicity of official reports in the last 15 to 20 years dealing specifically or in part with the sexual abuse of Aboriginal children would make you weep. They are there, in government files and on the public record, by the number. What have the politicians done about them? Not a bloody thing, really.

This is "talkback radio" analysis. The point is not that nothing has been attempted in this area at all, just that what has been done has not been working, or (for any programs that have worked, such as the improvements in communities that have gone "dry") they have not been applied widely enough across all States and territories.

No, it's always much more gratifying for Alan to call a politician a name:

And all the ignorant chest-beating that went on this week from John Howard's young Brisbane cabinet minister, Malcolm Brough - who is known behind his back as "Mal-Bro", after the macho cigarette commercial of 25 years ago - disregards the mass of evidence available to government that institutionalised neglect is destroying Aboriginal families and reducing its people to exploited drunks, layabouts and sexual predators. It's not a failure of "law and order", always the easy fallback of lazy politicians with not a clue what else to do.

He's right to the extent that the problems are complex; but he's wrong to pander to lefty activists by suggesting it is all government's fault because not enough is spent on aborigines generally.

And despite this childish swipe a Brough, Ramsey goes on to quote (with approval) an old report that does claim there are pedophile rings in parts of aboriginal Australia:

"The existence of pedophile rings operating in a number of country areas of NSW is a major concern. (One Aboriginal-family-violence worker interviewed, stated she knew of children who had 'disappeared' with men who had driven into towns and taken them away with them.) This problem of predatory behaviour is not just confined to rural NSW, but has been identified as being prevalent nationwide."

Does Ramsay give Brough any credit for bravely saying something that the (Labor) Northern Territory government denies vehemently? Not at all.

Why is he still employed? He has been Australia's most embarrassing "serious" political commentator for so long.


Canadian culture in heavyweight division | Matt Price | The Australian

Matt Price makes me laugh. From this morning's column:

Absurd talk about Bill Shorten being parachuted in to replace Kim Beazley. Why can't people believe the union leader's earnest denials as revealed in interviews with channels Seven, Nine, Ten, SBS, the ABC, community television, Southern Cross radio, Hello, GQ, Better Homes and Gardens, Vanity Fair, Tattoo Monthly, the Beaconsfield Bugle, CNN and anybody else who bothers to ask.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Reading the noosphere

RedOrbit - Science - Can This Black Box See Into the Future?

The Global Consciousness Project does not seem to have attracted much publicity. However, it is the sort of highly speculative science project that appeals to me.

Above is a very non-critical article about it, which quotes quite a few scientist sounding types who are (apparently) believers.

I would not take the article on face value at all, but have a look at the site for the project itself, which is more cautious in its claims.

(The term "noosphere" is explained here.)

A strange one

Turkey is as good a place as any to die: solicitor's journey ends abroad

Controversial gay and drug taking Sydney lawyer John Marsden has died.

I have only ever seen media stories about him, which included some interviews. To me, his character seemed grating in the extreme, yet he had a significant circle of supporters in high places.

I see that High Court judge Michael Kirby will speak at his funeral. Of course, the matter of their sexuality will feature highly.

Now that he is gone, I half expect that with a personal life as hedonistic as Marsden's, there will be some further revelations about his personal affairs.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Get on with it!

Iraq: Dijail Attacks Linked to Saddam Trial

It would appear from the above article that the residents of Dijail are now being terrorised by Saddam loyalists because they are potential witnesses against him:

Dozens of residents of Dijail, about 65 kilometres north of Baghdad in the Salaheddin province, have been abducted or killed in the last two months while travelling along the road to the capital.

The attacks are widely believed to be connected to the case against Saddam and seven of his associates, who are charged with killing 148 people in the town in 1982 following a failed assassination attempt against the former dictator.

The kidnappings and murders began in late March at makeshift roadblocks set up by insurgents near al-Mishahida, a village about 45 kilometres away which is a known centre of the Sunni Arab insurgency....

Some in the town are now regretting their insistence that Saddam stand trial for the 1982 killings.

"If we would have known that this would have happened to us, we would never filed a complaint against Saddam and his deputies," said one man, Ali Essa.

"We've paid the price twice - first in the Eighties and again today."

Read the article for more detail.

This is terrible. I have said before that the longer his trial and execution take (is there anyone who thinks the trial process won't end in that?) the more mayhem there will be from mad loyalists who think there is some hope while ever their leader is alive.

It never seems to be suggested that there is anyone else to fill the vacuum that Saddam's death will create for his followers, so hopefully their motivation for taking revenge attacks will fade quickly.

So - they just have to get with the trial with greater haste than that displayed so far.

Surprising fertility finding

ScienceDaily: Unexpected Results Of Biopsies Performed On Women With Fertility Problems May Hold Hope For Those Trying To Conceive

A very odd unintended result from a medical study:

The team took biopsies at several stages in the menstrual cycles of 12 women with long histories of fertility problems and unsuccessful IVF treatments to see if levels of this protein changed over the course of the cycle.

Indeed, the team's research went according to plan and they found evidence pointing to the protein's role. The surprise came soon after: Of the 12 women participating in the study, 11 became pregnant during the next round of IVF. The idea of biopsy incisions, basically small wounds, leading to such a positive outcome was counterintuitive, and Dekel realized something interesting was happening. She and her team repeated the biopsies, this time on a group of 45 volunteers, and compared the results to a control group of 89 women who did not undergo biopsy. The results were clear: The procedure doubled a woman's chances of becoming pregnant.

Headscarf causes death - Judge shot dead in Turkish court - May 17, 2006

A gunman has killed a prominent judge and wounded four others in Turkey's highest administrative court in an attack he said was in retaliation for a recent ruling against a teacher who wore an Islamic-style headscarf, officials said.
According to witnesses, the lawyer shouted, "Allahu Akbar (God is the greatest). His anger will be upon you!"

Tansel Colasan, deputy head of the administrative court, the Council of State, was quoted by The Associated Press as saying the attacker shouted, "I am the soldier of God," and said he was carrying out the attack to protest the court decision on headscarves.

Another lecture coming

Guardian Unlimited | Special reports | Iran mocks EU nuclear offer

From the above report:

The Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has rejected European plans to build his country a nuclear reactor in return for it giving up its uranium enrichment programme.

In a hardline speech in the city of Arak, where Iran's only existing nuclear reactor is being constructed, he mocked the plans being developed by the UK, France and Germany...

"Do you think you are dealing with a four-year-old child to whom you can give some walnuts and chocolates and get gold from him?"

And this:

Iranian media reported yesterday that Mr Ahmadinejad was drafting a second letter to Mr Bush.

He seems to have a lot of spare time on his hands for letter writing.

Update: Slate's article about the sort of deals that are apparently being rejected before they are even made is very good.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Gone to the great tea party in the sky

BBC NEWS | Asia-Pacific | Pressure on multi-faith Malaysia

The article above is about concerns of non-Muslims in Malaysia that they are "feeling increasingly beleaguered". It's an interesting read on a serious topic.

However, there is an odd bit of information in the article:

Last year the compound of a cult known as the Sky Kingdom was levelled by the authorities, weeks after an attack by a Muslim mob. Many of the cultists are now on trial.

A photo caption refers to this as "the teapot cult". Which, of course, cries out for further investigation.

As usual, Wikipedia covers it. From its article:

Sky Kingdom attracted worldwide mass media attention in mid 2005, over concerns about efforts by the Malaysian government to suppress its followers as apostates from Islam. The controversy brought to light the issue of whether sharia superseded the right to religious freedom under the Malaysian constitution. This attention was coupled with considerable bemusement over followers’ central objects of veneration, which include a large cream-coloured teapot. The teapot is said to symbolise the purity of water and "love pouring from heaven." It is the earthly model of a celestial prototype.

From a different site, here's a photo of the (now demolished) holy teapot:

If this can make it as an object of veneration, why can't the Big Pineapple at Nambour?

Maybe the destruction of the teapot commune got some coverage here at the time it happened, but if so I missed it.

Some ideas on how to deal with Iran

OpinionJournal - From

The above article has some ideas, but they sound far from being assured of success.

Hitchen's most recent article on Iran (and that letter) is well worth reading too.

UPDATE: another very good article on the problem is at Tech Central Station. (No real solution offered, but it points out how, if Bin Laden is anything to go by, Iran will be emboldened and become more of a trouble maker if the US eventually gives up on this issue.)

Something on Huffington worth reading

The Blog | Eugene Volokh: Ward Churchill | The Huffington Post

Not often that I suggest that readers look at Huffington for purposes other than ridicule, but this post on an investigation into nutty professor Ward Churchill is worth reading. (Turns out he took sock puppetry to new heights.)

What does the public think

USA Today Poll Omits Major Point: NSA Didn’t Listen to Calls |

An interesting post (and comments) at Newsbusters on how the NSA getting its hand on phone records is going over with the American public.

Can't wait...

Robbie Williams' alien cult plans - Showbiz News - Life Style Extra

Robbie Williams wants to start his own mystical religion... dedicated to extra-terrestrials.
"I'm not going to start it right now because I'm too busy. But I want to do it. I think the cult will have to wait until next year. But it will be free and universal."

The religion would reportedly be aimed at people who share Robbie's long-running fixation with aliens.

Last year the singer claimed the world would soon be invaded by little green men.

He said: "I've been dreaming every night about UFO's. I can't wait to go to sleep at night because those dreams have been so brilliant.

"I think they are definitely on their way, seriously. Mark my words. From now until 2012 - watch out kids."

Aboriginal problems

Dirty big secret | Features | The Australian

Of course the newly publicised stories of sexual abuse in aboriginal communities are appalling.

The article above has lots of complaining that this has been known for a long time, but not much is done. Or if something is done, it is not done well enough. Noel Pearson, for example, says:

...physical or sexual abuse of children is "totally reprehensible and not acceptable in any community". Parents who neglect their children and allow them to become targets of sexual predators are also culpable.

"We proposed this to government and got no response," Pearson says. "It transpired that police stop investigations into abuse when they talk to the families and are told they do not know anything about the incident. They are not persisted with. The police basically stop the investigation. Anybody who possesses information of an assault on a child should have to give that information."

Pearson says the Queensland Government had not assisted by appointing community justice groups comprising local elders but giving them no support. "We asked for laws to be changed so that members of the justice groups could not be abused or sworn at, but that never happened. Why should an old woman be sworn at when she is walking down the street, just because she is trying to do something for her community by being on the justice group? We sought to have them protected, but that just never happened."

But Noel, how do the police force a family to co-operate in interviews over how their kiddie got an STD? And how do you protect a local elder in such small communities from verbal abuse? A continous police escort?

I feel so sorry for the police who have to deal with these communities.

It certainly does seem that there is a reluctance to remove children from aboriginal parents in situations where there would be no hesitation at all if it was a white family.

The whole basic problem comes down to communities rendered dysfunctional by a combination of having no participation in an economy, rampant drug abuse, and unresolved cutural issues that are not helped by trying to keep one foot in the past and one in the present.

While there are no easy answers, surely it would help if there was renewed effort to make more communities alcohol free, free from petrol sniffing (with that petrol you can't sniff), no hesitation to removing children who are obviously being sexually abused (eg those who have an STD) into care (even if they have to be sent a great distance away,) and large incentive for all children to be educated away from these communities. The benefit of educating them away from home is that it might encourage the communities that can't be so easily just "shut down" might fade away gradually due to the kids realising there is a better world out there.

Even though I have no knowledge of aboriginal communities other than through the media, surely these ideas are just common sense?

Friends in low places

Red all over: Bono makes poverty his story for a day - World -

So, Bono gets to play news editor for a day. This part of the story is interesting:

Among the paper's other big-name interviews of the day was Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez who told the Independent that the Zimbabwean leader, Robert Mugabe, "is my friend. He has been demonised too much".

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Mark Steyn on NSA and phone records

To connect the dots, you have to see the dots

From Steyn's article (which, as one would expect, questions the fuss over this) :

Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) feels differently. "Look at this headline," huffed the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee. "The secret collection of phone call records of tens of millions of Americans. Now, are you telling me that tens of millions of Americans are involved with al-Qaida?"

No. But next time he's flying from D.C. to Burlington, Vt., on a Friday afternoon he might look at the security line: Tens of millions of Americans are having to take their coats and shoes off! Are you telling me that tens of millions of ordinary shoe-wearing Americans are involved with al-Qaida?

Steyn must have been first choice to have on your high school debating team.

Meanwhile out in the universe...

New Scientist SPACE - Breaking News - Biggest map of universe reveals colossal structures

From the story above:

Both studies confirm that the galaxy distribution and structures of the universe match best the models in which normal matter makes up only a few percent of the universe, with about one-quarter taken up by dark matter and the rest dark energy.

"With new measurements, our emerging picture of a universe dominated by dark matter and dark energy had a chance to fall on its face," says Uros Seljak, another Princeton. "Instead, it passed a new test with flying colours."

HIV in Japan

The Japan Times Online

The editorial from the Japan Times above contains a few surprises:

Last year the total number of those infected with HIV in Japan hit a record 6,560 (of which 4,673 were Japanese nationals), following an unprecedented 1,165 (of which 698 were Japanese) new infections reported in 2004, the most recent data available.

Notice how seemingly important it is for this article to distinguish between foreigners and Japanese with HIV? Japanese suspicions of foreigners being more disease ridden than "pure" Japanese is confirmed again.

Anyway, the rate of new infections in Japan in 2004 is not too bad for its population. Australia had 818 new HIV diagnoses and 239 AIDS diagnoses in the same year, but with about one sixth of the population. The total Australian HIV cases seems to be about 20,000.

By the way, from that Australian link, notice how the HIV diagnoses rate has jumped around for the last 10 years? Quite a big leap from 2000 to 2001 (I wonder what the reason for that blip could be), but basically there is quite an intractable rate of a minimum of around 650 each and every year. Far too many still for what is an entirely preventable disease, hey.

Anyway, back to Japan:

The term "sexual intercourse" has reportedly been banned in classrooms through repeated directives issued by the education ministry. And yet, educational authorities appear blinded to the fact that, in today's Japan, children grow up in an environment awash with distorted images of sex in manga, in magazines, on the Internet and on television, all of which make some young people overly interested in sex.

The first sentence is a little surprising. The second is somewhat true, although I would not say that on television there seems to have much emphasis on sex.

Then the editorial has this:

On a positive note, professor Montagnier maintains that a strong immunity resulting from a healthy lifestyle minimizes the HIV infection risk as the virus is not highly contagious, unlike other sexually transmitted diseases. This is why the poor -- who often have low immunity resulting from under-nourishment -- are the most vulnerable. The unhealthy eating habits of today's youths could also put them at a greater risk."

Maybe eating McDonalds leaves you more open to catching HIV?

Sounds like a highly questionable thing to be saying in an article criticising HIV education.

Watch out Mickey!

Guardian Unlimited | Special reports | Shadow over sunshine state as three women killed in a week

Imagine the publicity there would be here if there were 3 separate crocodile attacks around, say, Cairns, in a week.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Back to black hole evaporation

0604196.pdf (application/pdf Object)

I do a quick search of the Arxiv site every month or so to see what is new on black holes. The very recent paper above concludes with this:

The primordial black holes in the early universe might have longer lifetime than the lifetime predicted by Hawking (2) because they were submerged in dense soup of matter. Those surviving primordial black holes may be part of the dark matter in our universe. Equations (4) and (6) also suggest that one may be able to exchange information with an observer inside the black hole (15) [if she or he is alive.] in principle by modulating HBC.

This seems potentially relevant to my earlier posts about proper risk assessment not (apparently) being done with respect to micro black holes at CERN. (As you may recall, the "risk assessment" paper that was done seemed to rely solely on such black holes evaporating via Hawking radiation before they could concieveably cause any trouble.)

Of course, I don't understand the paper in any detail at all. Perhaps if I understood it properly, the delay in evaporation the author talks about might not apply to micro black holes. Furthermore, I have no way of knowing whether the paper is fundamentally credible or not. (As I understand it, the people who run Arxiv do not have a perfect system to stop quasi-scientific nutter's papers from appearing there. As a rule of thumb, I trust papers with several authors more readily than those by single authors.)

Anyway, it still seems to support my basic concern about whether all possiblities have properly been looked into about the fate of micro black holes that might be created at CERN.

Where will Santa live?

Guardian Unlimited | Science | Meltdown fear as Arctic ice cover falls to record winter low

From the article:

The summer and winter ice levels are the lowest since satellite monitoring began in 1979, and almost certainly the lowest since local people began keeping records around 1900. The pace of decline since 2003, if continued, would see the Arctic totally ice-free in summer within 30 years - though few scientists would stake their reputations on a long-term trend drawn from only three years.

Oddly, I can't find other versions of this story on the internet yet. I guess they are coming.

Edging closer to Tom (a sort of movie review)

I still didn't get to see Mission Impossible III this weekend just gone. But there was a Tom Cruise connection: I saw "The Interpreter" (with Nicole Kidman) on cable.

I knew that it had received reasonable but not ecstatic reviews, and I must say that I quite enjoyed it, even with the presence of Sean Penn and a script that was, shall we say, trying a little too hard to be earnest in places. But it did have the pleasures of a big Hollywood movie: a big scale (lots of filming inside the UN itself,) some sequences of genuine tension, and Nicole Kidman looking just gorgeous.

It does give the impression of the UN (particularly the General Assembly) being a useful forum, and in that sense it was well and truly dated even before the script was written. (Presumably they had to make the UN look good to get permission to film there.) Also, the interior of the UN looked very fresh and sparkly. I visited there as a tourist in about 1980, and it looked generally run down and in bad need of new carpet and fresh coats of paint. Have they actually spent money on refurbishing it in the the last 25 years? Or is it just good lighting in the movie?

I had also forgotten that, according to Mark Steyn, the script had initially had Islamists as the villains. This was changed to be more of a Rwandan type African crisis at the heart of the politics of the story.

Oh well, it still seemed to serve the plot well enough.

Not a perfect film, but enjoyable enough.

Sheehan on Shorten

Dollar signs turn survivors into heroes - Paul Sheehan - Opinion -

Paul Sheehan takes a very cynical look at the whole mines affair (he even seems to think it is rather distasteful of the rescued to be taking about money.)

What interests me, though, is Sheehan's take on the media savvy (and potential future Labor Party leader) Bill Shorten:

Shorten is entitled to take whatever the media will give him. He did his job well and may be a good bloke, but it needs to be pointed out that he harvested a massive amount of credulous treacle from the media and the normally feral letter-writers simply for spinning a public relations job on behalf of a union which is part of a larger power structure, the militant, trench-warfare Victorian union culture that Shorten has shown no signs of wanting to reform.

For this is the same Bill Shorten who comes out of the Victorian Labor Right faction led by Australia's political Frankenstein, Senator Stephen Conroy. The same Bill Shorten who recently engineered a safe, red-ribbon seat in Federal Parliament by the usual route of branch-stacking, factional deals and backstabbing, tipping out Bob Sercombe, the soon to be ex federal member for Maribyrnong. The same Bill Shorten backed by Victorian state MP, George Seitz, described in The Age on Saturday as "perhaps Victoria's worst, certainly its most crafty and long-lived, practitioner [of branch-stacking]". The same Bill Shorten supported by Sang Nguyen, long-time mobiliser of Vietnamese votes for Senator Conroy's factional wars.

I don't think Sheehan feels all that kindly towards him.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

How not to write an Australian film script

Quest to write the Great Australian Script - Film - Entertainment -

This article in the SMH today has lots of people offering lots of reasons as to why Australian films often seem to have bad scripts. All of these sound plausible to me, as there happens to be an enormous black spot in my cinematic tastes, called "Australian film."

I can't say that I have ever seen an Australian film that I would say has risen above mediocre. Of course, having established this taste by the time I was about 20, I haven't spent a lot of time seeking out Australian films. (But I am always interested in reviews of films whether I intend to see them or not, so I at least know a little bit about most films released.)

It is entirely possible that they have been ones made in the last 20 years that I might like, but then again that would cause a crisis in cinematic belief system. Anyway, it can be more fun to be cranky and unreasonable.

One thing about Australia films not really mentioned in the SMH article, and which bothers me, is their frequently claustrophobic physical scale. Even a "routine" relatively low budget American film will often have busy city street scenes, scenes at train stations, banks or somewhere with lots of actual people in the background. Which is what real life is actually like, for most of us.

It seems to me to be extremely common place that nearly all Australian movies (not counting American movies being made here), even if outdoors, will still not show busy outdoor scenes.

Of course, this is all part of the cost of making a film, and even the cheapest American product is much more expensive than your average Aussie one. So to the extent that it is hard to raise money for Aussie films, it can't be helped. (I wonder if it is hard to get unpaid extras for an Australian film?) It is still a reason why, more often than not, watching an Australian film puts me in mind of watching a play rather than watching cinema.

Finally, in the interests of balance, I have said before that Hollywood is going through a particularly barren number of years at the moment too. Still, I would have to say that mediocre Hollywood is more engaging than mediocre Australian.

Friday, May 12, 2006

On the NSA listening in..

Much outrage in the US about the NSA potentially working out who rings who. I am sure someone else has probably said it already, but anyway:

Since Eschelon became known, (since about 1988, according to an article here,) it's been a fair assumption that just about anyone's call anywhere in the world could potentially be being listened to.

Why did Presidents Reagan, Bush and Clinton not wear any wave of criticism for this?

The fact that such intelligence stuff goes on doesn't matter much if it it is not being abused, although admittedly it will always have the potential for abuse.

Frankly, at least while ever the world retains the capacity to bomb itself back to the stone age, having really, really good intelligence seems a very good idea, and worth the risk of abuse.

And one good thing about democracies: there are lots of opportunity for actual abuse to be disclosed. No? Well at the moment, what we are seeing is plenty of leaking about the mere potential for abuse.

Expensive, but handy

Skype offers interpreting service In 150 languages - Telco/ISP -

Skype has teamed up with two firms to provide an interpreters service in more than 150 languages for callers using the VoIP service...

The service is touted as being available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, at a cost of US$2.99 a minute.

How is it relevant?

California okays lessons on gays in textbooks�|�

The above story (short version: California's state Senate passed a bill on Thursday that would require textbooks in public schools to instruct students on contributions by gays and lesbians in the state's development) sounds too bizarre to be true.

How on earth is a person's sexual orientation relevant to what they have contributed to a state's development? But perhaps the bigger objection is to the compulsion to include it. Talk about going out of your way to upset your conservative constituents.

Own your own spaceship

Private spaceflight | Rocket renaissance |

Interesting article on various plans for privately run sub-orbital spaceships. I wish it had more pictures, though.

Still under investigation

Health experts say cause for concern over "abortion pill"�|�

As a post here noted before, (I am going by memory here because the newspaper article link is no longer working) the problem is that the abortion pill's normal effects can mask what is actually an infection.

Black holes and extra dimensions

New Scientist SPACE - Breaking News - When is a black hole like a dripping faucet?

Perhaps this is relevant to my previous posts about the uncertainties involved in creating micro black holes in particle accelerators.

What worries me is that so much about how they would behave seems unknown or unclear, and that this seems likely to still be the case when they might start to pop into existence at CERN in a year or so.

An economics question

Michael Costello: Taking us down with them | News | The Australian

In the article above, Laborite Michael Costello criticises the budget because:

First and foremost, there is no strategy to rein in the current account deficit, which is running regularly at more than 6 per cent of gross domestic product and which has led to a national debt of about $500billion, still rocketing upwards. That's $23,000 for every man, woman and child in Australia.

He then quickly moves on to talk about skills shortage and training not being addressed.

Hang on, back to the current account deficit. This is all to do with private sector debt and import/export imblances, isn't it? Everyone acknowledges that there is no government debt now. Quite the opposite.

My question is: what are the possible government strategies to deal with large private sector debt, and our fondness for overseas goods?

It seems to me that this is an issue much raised on the Labor side, but (as in Costello's column) with virtually nothing said about how the government could tackle it.

OK, I know that Ken Davidson in The Age had a whole column about this, in which he wrote:

Given the unprecedented size of the foreign debt, a prudent government would measure every proposed expenditure and revenue initiative in the budget against its impact on net exports (exports less imports) in order to minimise the size of the current account deficit, which has to be financed by foreign borrowings.

But no, the Government is sticking with its discredited "twin deficits" thesis, to the effect that eventually budget surpluses, which add to national savings, will be reflected in current account surpluses.

It seems to me that this is not really an answer at all. There is no detail as to what expenditure and revenue measures could be taken to improve the current account deficit. I am guessing that this means that there is no magic cure; it would likely be a very tough nut for any governing party to crack.

Am I wrong?

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Wasting technology

Why the World Doesn't Need Hi-Def DVD's - New York Times

This story (about the upcoming hi-def DVD wars) is a good read. Beta and VHS all over again....

A funny comment from The Age

Turning up the cringe factor - TV & Radio - Entertainment -

From the above review of the Logies (most of which I missed):

CSI's George Eads and Chris Non (sorry, Noth) were excruciating but not nearly as freaky as Bec and Lleyton's Epponnee Rae moment with baby Mia. She was kitted out in a miniature version of Bec's frock and sporting one of those baby headbands that look like they're covering up a manufacturing seam. Half Australia swooned, the other half threw up, though it did lead Rove McManus and Peter Helliar into one of the best lines of the night from Crown: "Sorry, we left our baby in the car."

My only comment about the show is that Bert Newton had a joke (and not just a passing one, he dwelt on it) about how everyone on Nine's Today show laughs too much. The audience laughed a lot at this.

I don't watch Today, but my mother and one TV reviewer I read have said the same thing. Now it seems that the entire TV industry agrees. Isn't that a bit embarrassing for the people on Today?

Checking out Japundit

Today's line up of articles on Japundit features 3 that you should see (permalinks here, with my own titles):

Proof that they are taking low child rate seriously

Shinto festival with a very big guest (probably workplace safe, it's cultural after all)

It doesn't take good looks to be an advertising star in Japan

Angry Liberal guy

Boing Boing: Angry liberal guy rant

See this (sort of) funny post at Boing Boing (which has interesting stuff despite its politics).

Also at Boing Boing, a pic of a very cool design for a rotating kitchen.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

In case you wondering what the letter said

Dr. Sanity

See the link above to Dr Sanity's take on the long, long lecture/letter the Iranian President wrote to George Bush. (You can get to the translation of the letter from there too.) Also, have a look at the way AP reported this, via LGF. Really appalling.

Sex on the brain

New Scientist Breaking News - Clue to sexual attraction found in lesbian brain

The study reported above strikes me as rather useless. The fact the lesbians brains seem to respond differently from those of straight women to a male armpit chemical doesn't tell us a hell of a lot, does it? As the report says:

"But our study can't answer questions of cause and effect," cautions lead researcher Ivanka Savic at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden. "We can't say whether the differences are because of pre-existing differences in their brains, or if past sexual experiences have conditioned their brains to respond differently."

I would have been surprised if their brains did respond the same way.

The article says:

Despite these issues, the scientists agree that mapping these differences in brain activity between heterosexual and homosexual women is an important step towards understanding how sexual orientation manifests in the brain.

Given this chicken and egg problem about sexual differences in brains, and that the cost of such studies can't be so cheap, haven't we got many better things for which to be scanning brains?

Take a Bex, Elizabeth

A tragic tale of a nation that drowned in greed and neglect - Opinion

Good Lord, Elizabeth Farrelly, the SMH's architecture and planning writer, gets very overwrought in her article in today's paper. It takes 3/4 of the article to get to the reason she's writing it: her objection to the New South Wales State government reviewing the Building Sustainability Index. (Which apparently requires energy and water efficiencies in new houses.)

She may be right; doing away with the index may well be short sighted. But to go on with a rant for the first page like this (talking from the point of view of explaining to our grandchildren what happened):

Instead, we chose to get richer, fatter and smugger. We had resources to burn and, my, we burnt them. What a fire it was. We let our fauna drift into extinction and our indigenes into indigence. Instead of harvesting wind, wave, hot-rock or sun energy, which we had in sparkling abundance, we sold our forests for toilet tissue, our rivers for cotton-farming, our space for radioactive waste, our military for oil. While old Europe poured her energies into sustaining big, dense populations on the few renewables she could muster, we, stuck in neutral, let the mining lobby draft our energy policy and the developers draft our urban plans. So, while the old world leapt forward we new worlders went on filling our air with fossil fuels and covering our remaining farmlands with fat, eaveless houses.

And yet, as the icecaps started to melt and the earth to drown, we sank ever deeper into denial.

And so on.

Doesn't she realise that such hyperbole doesn't serve her cause well? Don't ruin a decent argument by claiming the end of the world if you lose the debate.

The budget response

A quick survey of the left leaning blogosphere this morning shows very, very little response to last night's budget. Seems they are sitting around scratching their heads about how to best attack it. When Labor immediately supports a lot of it, that makes the job pretty hard.

Really, this would have to be the best received budget I can ever remember.

But one thing I would suggest to the government for next year's pre-election sweetener. Go for a re-instatement of a reasonably funded dental health scheme for the pensioners. It is obvious that all of the States are just never going to fund this properly themselves (even though it is logically their responsibility.) It looks like a couple of hundred million dollars a year would replace the old scheme, which seems peanuts when the surplus is maybe $10 to $12 billion.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Panic over corporations power

Tearing up the constitution - Opinion -

Greg Craven, a professor of constitutional law (and the executive director of the John Curtin Institute) gets over-excited by the implications of a Commonwealth success on the current IR High Court case. He argues that, as most things are done by corporations, if the Commonwealth succeeds in controlling industrial relations this way, they will be able to control... everything.

There may be some point to some of his examples, although I am far from completely convinced about any of them. What I think is his most ridiculous example is this:

The school sector faces the same prospect. Numerous private schools are organised as corporations, and have nowhere to hide, yet even state schools should be feeling the cold breath of the Brindabellas on their necks. After all, what proportion of their students ultimately will work for corporations? Under an ascendant corporations power, a law regulating state school curriculums in the interests of their ultimate corporate employers is a tritely logical step.

So a power to govern corporations could be used to dictate to State governments the curriculum of non-corporate State schools? By no stretch of the imagination can I see that as plausible. (I guess that by signing up to some weird UN treaty it could happen under the external affairs power, but that is a different argument entirely. It is also an avenue more widely used on "progressive" issues than conservative one.)

Constitutional law professor or not, you need to a grip, Craven.

And as for Labor generally on this issue, the phrase "hoist on your own petard" seems most appropriate.

From an MI3 review

in the New Yorker (Anthony Lane):

Returning from there, they don’t even make it to the office, having the misfortune, while crossing the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, to run into a barrage of air-to-ground missiles fired by a pilotless drone. I hate it when that happens.

And from The Sunday Times review:

..Yes, there’s one reference to America blowing things up in the Middle East and cleaning up financially, but it’s so silly, not even Noam Chomsky could take it seriously.

I wouldn't bet on that!

I haven't seen it yet. Maybe this weekend.

Real tough guys

The only original thing I can think to say about the release of the Tasmania miners is that they make David Blaine look like a goose.

Monday, May 08, 2006

On socialism

TCS Daily - Why Isn't Socialism Dead?

The article above on socialism, and its relationship to myth in particular, is interesting. I'm not sure if its explanation of Marx's views on revolution is entirely accurate, but certainly the idea that socialism serves the equivalent function of religion for many people does ring true.

Don't hold back, Theodore

Theodore Dalrymple: From stiff upper lip to clenched jaws | Opinion | The Australian

Theodore Dalrymple really lets fly in this Spectator article, which seems to have appeared in The Australian on Saturday:

The doctrine of rights has borne putrid fruit. In the ward recently was a young woman of the now very extensive slut-babymother class, whose jaw was clenched in a habitual expression of world-destroying hatred. Her glittering saurian eyes swivelled mistrustingly, on the qui vive for infringements of her rights. She exuded grievance as a skunk exudes its odour.

I think Theo has retired recently (was this his last piece for The Spectator?) A pity in a way, but probably good for his blood pressure.

Noel Pearson talks sense

Visions of brighter future can liberate camp dwellers - Opinion -

The article above is short, but again shows Noel Pearson's common sense on aboriginal issues. This part in particular rings true:

Welfare reform is only a part of the picture. True reconciliation would also mean that Aboriginal Australians could walk in two worlds; that they could seek work and education in places far away without losing the link to their homelands.

We must change the current system, because it does not provide incentives for young people and their parents to think about the future. There is no substitute for geographic mobility, education and work experience; without them, Aboriginal culture will collapse.

As I am sure I have said here before, the idea of all remote communities being able to be integrated into the national economy always seemed to be pie in the sky. (Sure, some might make it on art works or tourist ventures; but even those with mining employment available nearby have not always succeeded.) Lack of integration into the economy means poverty, hopelessness, and the vices that go along with those.

At least to the extent that it may have encouraged residents in remote and non-economically viable areas to stay there, the emphasis on land rights (with its talk of the spiritual need for "connection with the land") has actually worked against the interests of keeping a viable aboriginal culture alive.

Pearson seems to think that the land connection is still important to keep, and that is fair enough, as long as it does not encourage the kids actually stay there.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Aspartame cleared - again

BBC NEWS | Science/Nature | Sweetener 'not linked to cancer'

The Europeans have decided that an earlier study that raised a question about the safety of aspartame (as found in diet drinks) was flawed. (I had posted about the previous study before.)

So how much Diet Coke (or Pepsi Max) can you drink and be OK?:

"On the basis of the evidence," said Dr Pratt, "there is no reason to revise the previously established Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) or to undertake any further revisions of the safety of aspartame."

The ADI is the level of additive considered to be safe if consumed every day over a lifetime without risk to health.

For aspartame, the ADI is set by the European Commission's Scientific Committee on Food (SCF) at 40 milligrams per kilogram of body weight.

An adult would have to drink about 14 cans a day of diet soft drink, or consume about 80 sachets of sweetener to reach this amount.

Drink up.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Nasty Surfdom

It's been noted by Currency Lad and his readers recently that Road to Surfdom has become a nasty place of late. Have a look at this post and in particular the comment from Aussie Bob, which argues that as Australia is a "religious monarchy" it's not a real democracy anyway, and who are we to question the legitimacy of the Iranian "democracy", which is a little different in style, but (just like ours) allows for religious figures to intervene in government. (I don't think that is an unfair summary of his argument.)

There are some arguments not even worth wasting your breath with, and I made a post to that effect. (Yes, I am the Steve. I did not put my url on the post, as there seems to be little here that its readers would agree with.) The post was meant to be slightly tongue in cheek, and of course I could expect some response to the effect of challenging me to argue against AB instead.

AB does do that, but in a style I find snide and overly personal, as indeed are comments below that. They then got onto the Cole response to the Hitchens article, the links to which are well worth reading. The Surfdom readers - well, the couple who referred to it - think Cole got the better of the argument. This I similarly find hard to believe, when Cole comes across to me as barely keeping it together.

No one has yet taken up my proposal that some one on the left should state the bleeding obvious responses to Aussie Bob.

Anyway, you can see why I consider Surfdom has become a very unpleasant place to post, or even visit much for that matter. It's rather reminiscent of posting at Webdiary in its heyday.

Update: Dunlop's pun obviously stuck in my brain. I originally referred to "Serfdom" in this post. Sorry.