Thursday, June 29, 2006

Don't bet on Hillary Clinton

Marty Kaplan: Hillary's Daou Jones - Yahoo! News

The story above notes that Hillary has engaged Peter Daou to help her campaign.

This is a bad sign for Hillary. As I noted earlier this year, Daou has no grip on reality when it comes to assessing what the "media bias" is. Maybe he makes the common mistake of calling it a "right wing bias" when all he really means is "to the right of me".

If Hillary hopes to regain Lefty "street cred" by hiring someone well to the Left of her, I can't see it working. The Daily Kos crowd are just not that open to rational argument anyway.


Here are some quotes from Daou's Huffington Post gig (click the asterisk for the link):

* We hear a lot about "angry" bloggers, but very little about the disturbingly lobotomized demeanor of certain administration officials (and ex-officials) -- Cheney, Powell, Gonzales, and Rice come to mind. There's something exceedingly peculiar about their ultracalm delivery and Mona Lisa-like permasmirk, especially when discussing issues like the Iraq war, a bloodbath they helped instigate...

* Bush's clownish banter with reporters - which is on constant display during press conferences - stands in such stark contrast to his administration's destructive policies and to the gravity of the bloodbath in Iraq that it is deeply unsettling to watch. This may be impolitic, but wouldn't refraining from frat-style horseplay be appropriate for this man? Or at the least, can't reporters suppress their raucous laughter every time he blurts out another jibe... the way they did when Colbert put them in their place?

* Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and their ilk have made an industry out of liberal-bashing. Coulter fits in perfectly with those hate-traffickers. And contrary to the false Michael Moore comparisons made by Leno and others, there is no progressive counterpart to these people on the national stage.

See what I mean? That last line floors me. No grip on reality at all, I say, and a pretty clear deep and personal loathing of Bush and all of his administration. Regardless of how well "connected" he is in blogging, having a guy with such a lack of personal judgement on your team is not a good idea.

Matt Price on the union rallies

Talkback callers blitz the Bomber | Matt Price | The Australian

I liked this line:

More than 80,000 people turned out in Melbourne, which is mightily impressive until you remember it's Melbourne, where 80,000 would turn out to see Jana Pittman recite blank verse.

My personal assessment: the numbers were not enough for Labor to consider it a resounding success. It is also likely that repeating such rallies would backfire. The Newspoll CE Sol Lebovic on Radio National yesterday put it all in perspective. Unfortunately, no transcript is up, but you can hear it here. Essentially, the story was that yes, voters are rating IR as a bigger issue than they did before, but it is still far from the top of the list of their concerns.

Optimism on the energy front?

Larry Kudlow on Oil Prices and the Free Market on NRO Financial

Scorpionman danger

ScienceDaily: Radioactive Scorpion Venom For Fighting Cancer

Obviously prepared to ignore the scientific dangers of radioactive insect venom (well known to all readers/viewers of Spiderman), these researchers actually may be onto something good.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

No responsibility taken

I just watched ABC's Lateline, with a pathetic interview performance by a member of the Palestinian government (sorry, transcript is not yet available for me to check the name) about the current Gaza crisis.

The transcript should be up at this site tomorrow. He would not call for the release of the hostage soldier, and made out as if the Israelis just sit there taking pot shots at anyone and everyone in Gaza for no reason at all. He mentioned "restraint" on the Palestinian side several times.

Interviewer Tony Jones did not really do much to challenge the deceptive claims, and in particular did not mention the continual rain of missiles from Gaza into Sderot, including some since they took young CPL Shalit. Jones did try to get him to be clear as to what the Palistinian government's position was, and did succeed to some extent in cutting short the rambling.

Frankly, with government members taking such a weak position, the Palestinians cannot expect to receive more than lukewarm support even from their usual sympathisers in the West.

UPDATE: Yes, the transcript is up at the ABC Lateline link above. Some extracts:

....the Israeli Minister was saying that the Israelis have shown lots of restraint in the past few days. I'm not sure that's correct because the Palestinians are the ones who have been showing the most, the utmost restraint in the past one-and-a-half years. The Palestinians have committed themselves to a calming and they have strictly abided by their position and during this one-and-a-half years there was no military action from the Palestinian side. Basically, the military action was all the time before the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and after it. The military action was always directed to Palestinian civilians, all the time killing children, women, elders, all the time only from the Palestinian side....

This soldier, first he's a military man. He's a soldier. He's sitting in his tank on the border of the Gaza Strip. He's shelling the children of the Gaza Strip every day, all the time for a one-and-a-half years or more and now when one group, one small group of the Palestinians, have tried to do something to avoid this continuous shelling and continuous massacre in the Gaza Strip, now the whole world is very touchy about a thing like that....

TONY JONES: I'm sorry. You now have the Israeli Army camped outside the city of Rafah. They've invaded Gaza and they want this man back. They clearly are not going to leave until they get him back. Do you believe without conditions the kidnappers should give him back?

DR ABDUL RAHMAN ZAIDAN: I'm not going to interfere in this. I've not interfered as a Government.

Building lifeboats

TCS Daily - The Ultimate Lifeboat

James Pinkerton does a good job in explaining why space colonization is a good and important goal, as a lifeboat for humanity.

Funny how this idea seemingly got lost from any mainstream airing for something like three decades!

Of course, science fiction readers (at least those who liked it before the genre went mostly interior and pessimistic with cyberpunk, the rise of fantasy, and the dubious quality of neverending reincarnations of Star Trek and Star Wars) always understood that this was the point of having an active space program, but they just weren't able to say it out loud without fear of ridicule.

The ridicule is indeed still there, and, as Zoe Brain noted, a surprisingly large amount of it can now come from young scientist types. Shame on them.

Anyway, good to have it out in the open again, and NASA actually going back to a place where there might be somewhere you can live without having to take even your own water. (The Moon.)


Saddam death would worsen Iraq violence: lawyer|

The lawyer in question is, however, nutty Ramsey Clarke. Just as a reminder, remember this, and Hitchen's article about him here. The best part of Hitchen's column is this:

He [Clarke] has now twice said in public that, given the war with the Shiite republic of Iran, Saddam was entitled to take stern measures. “He had this huge war going on, and you have to act firmly when you have an assassination attempt,” he told the BBC.

To this he calmly added that he himself had more than once been shoved aside by Secret Service agents eager to defend the president of the United States (and of course one remembers the mass arrests, beatings and executions that followed the assassination attempts on presidents Ford and Reagan).

The worst thing from the Reuters story is this:

On Tuesday a prosecutor said a separate trial is to begin in August in which Saddam would face genocide charges in the killings of tens of thousands of Iraqs' Kurds in 1988 in a military operation to force them from their villages.

Let's just hope that they don't want to spend years delaying punishment just to secure more and more death penalty sentences.

Calls for an engineering solution

How to Cool a Planet (Maybe) - New York Times

How timely. A short but interesting article on the "big" engineering ideas to counter global warming.

Hmm. No one mentions my idea of trying to create a volcanic eruption with H bombs on some island no one wants. (The best feature of my plan is that I can't think of a more perfect idea to upset Greenies.)

Bye bye tropical glaciers

ScienceDaily: First Compilation Of Tropical Ice Cores Shows Abrupt Global Climate Shifts

A not very encouraging study about what core drilling in tropical glaciers tells us about climate change.

Further reason for Kyoto scepticism

BBC NEWS | Science/Nature | Germany to spark 'climate crisis'

From the above report:

The German government is about to trigger a new crisis in Europe's flagship climate policy, the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS).

BBC News understands the German cabinet is likely to agree a deal that will reduce carbon emissions from industry by only 0.6% between 2004 and 2012.

The decision is likely to influence other EU countries, including the UK, which still have to set their own caps.

Environmental groups describe the target as "pathetic and shameful"....

Climate analysts now fear a meltdown of EU climate leadership.

"I have been a big supporter of the EU ETS, but hearing the German news I feel more depressed than I ever have done about our ability to tackle climate change," said Professor Michael Grubb of the UK Carbon Trust, set up by the British government to help create a low-carbon economy.

"I really believed that Europe would lead the way through the EU ETS but now I wonder whether this will ever happen."

The news will offer comfort to US climate sceptics who predicted that Europe would talk big on climate change but fail to impose large carbon cuts on its own industries.

UPDATE: this post scored a link from Pajamas Media, but it said that my post "commented on" this report. In fact, this was one of my lazy posts, and the whole of it was just extracts from parts of the BBC report. (I didn't make it perfectly clear to newcomers that that was what I had done, but regular readers should know that I always highlight quotes in blue.) After I saw the PM link, I made it clearer at the top of the post that it was only an extract.

Sorry for any confusion. Just want to make sure people understood the words were not my own.

Anyway, newcomers should also note my other recent (lazy) post about reasons to be sceptical about Kyoto.

Howard, Asia and books

Rowan Callick: A respected statesman in Asia | Opinion | The Australian

Today's piece in The Australian notes that Howard has established a strong relationship with China, and the dire predictions about how the opposite would happen:

Whole books were commissioned by excitable publishers on the theme - now too odd even to fill remainder trays - that we, Lee Kuan Yew's "poor white trash of Asia", were about to fall further into disrepute and doom on account of our leader's lack of empathy with Asians. His true sin, of course, was that he was not really "one of us", the cognoscenti.

Former diplomat Tony Kevin wrote in The Howard Years (2004): "It's a fact that Australia has lost most of its former sensitivity in its dealings with diplomatic associations of countries of the Asia-Pacific region." Another former diplomat, Alison Broinowski, wrote in Howard's War (2003): "We are now less in tune with our nearest neighbours than we have been since the 1970s."

Former prime minister Paul Keating said in 2000: "Australia's relevance to Asia, and our position and influence in Asia, has diminished enormously in John Howard's time."

Predictably, the criticism has been turned on its head, and Howard is being lambasted from the universities and elsewhere as an appeaser of Asian tyrants in Indonesia and China. He should be acting, they say, in a more Australian way and opposing the traducers of human rights in Papua and Tibet.

How true.

Just generally on the book trade, I am often surprised that publishers do commission books on political topics where the validity of the views expressed will soon be established within a short time of publication. Why do publishers take such gambles? For example, the flurry of books about Latham. The one by Micheal Duffy about Latham and Abbott was sort of a double whammy of dubious relevance, as Abbott's increasingly noticed religious views surely mean he looks less and less likely as a possible leader of the Liberals.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Not very likely

Saddam clings to hope US will enlist his aid: lawyer - Yahoo! News

Saddam Hussein is certain his trial for crimes against humanity will result in the death penalty, but clings to the hope that Washington will use the sentence as leverage to enlist his aid to tamp down the insurgency in Iraq, the New York Times reported on Sunday.

If Saddam believes this, surely some of the insurgents believe it too.

Not smart

Four wounded as Kassam hits Sderot | Jerusalem Post

From the story above:

Even as IDF forces were massing in large numbers on Gaza's border for a possible ground incursion to rescue kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit, three Kassam rockets were fired from Gaza into Israel Monday evening...

The rocket fire comes as Islamic Jihad claimed to have developed a new longer-range rocket to be used against Israeli targets, Channel 1 reported. The groups said the new "Quds 4" projectile has a range of 20 kilometers, three times longer then the crude Kassam rockets.

On Sunday, Fatah announced that they had biological and chemical weapons capabilities. They said that they would not hesitate to use unconventional warheads on missiles.

That Israel keeps getting taunted by a random rain of missiles, with promises of more to come, causes some readers of the Jerusalem Post to react rather strongly:

Israel showed goodwill and restraint while Kassams were falling on Sderot and soldiers paid the ultimate sacrifice. It is enough! Cut off all gas, electricity, water and other services to Gaza and seal them off from the civilised world hermetically. Let them suffer and suffer until they learn the lesson that terror brings suffering. The fait of Israel is more relevant than the biased world opinion.

And this:

I ask my fellow Jews when are you going to wake up. The only compassionate thing to do is to give the terrorists 24 hours to return the soldier unharmed, if they don't blow up every single person living in Gaza. Unfortunatley, this is the only language that these terrorists understand. If you do not kill them and their children, they and their children will kill you. When are the smartest-stupidest people on earth going to wake up to the facts.?

It does indeed seem that some major confrontational crisis over Gaza is on its way.

I was the Walrus | alaska : Walruses lured to their deaths

This story reminds me of Douglas Adams' falling whale. Turns out some walruses in Alaska have a similar experience:

Federal wildlife biologists have erected a 250-foot-long fence to stop walruses from accidentally plummeting off cliffs to their death on a Bristol Bay beach....

No one is sure why the Cape Peirce walruses fall.

Abraham said the shellfish-loving animals have a strong sense of smell that may lead them over the seaside cliff. They don't see well, which may not help, he added.

"(They) follow their nose -- that's my theory," he said.

It's not suicide, said MacDonald, who's watched videotapes of the falling walruses recorded during the 1990s.

Once the first go over, others follow, many dropping headfirst in a free fall to the ground, he said.

"They land on the rocks below, crush their skull, and end of story," he said.

But others do a 180 while sliding off the top, desperately try to stop as if they've made a mistake. It doesn't work, he said.

Bill Gates helps prostitutes

Bill Gates Gives Smart Cards to 500 Hookers - Gizmodo

This story might attract more attention soon.

Nice of him, I guess.

God talk

Beware the folly of clever men in power - Comment - Times Online

The Times column above talks of the problem of having intellectuals in charge of important organisations. It cites Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, as an example:

The first [trait] is an inability to communicate in a fashion that others find comprehensible.

This, for example, is Dr Williams discussing God in a recent address. “We need, not human words that will decisively capture what the Word of God has done and is doing, but words that will show us how much time we have to take in fathoming this reality, helping us turn and move and see, from what may be infinitesimally different perspectives, the patterns of light and shadow in a world where the Word’s light has been made manifest.” Er, yes, I suppose.

Give me CS Lewis any day.

But Catholics are in danger in getting in on the issue of confusing language too:

Australian bishops have voted in principle to accept a new translation of the Mass into English that the Vatican favours as being more faithful to the original Latin text.

Where the priest says, "The Lord be with you," and parishioners answer, "And also with you", Catholics will soon reply, "And also with your spirit."

But more complex phrases might still be vetoed by Australian bishops when they meet in November to consider any local modifications.

Changes to the phrase "one in being with the Father" in the Nicene Creed to "consubstantial with the Father", may not survive for long.

I am guessing that some common sense from the Bishops may prevail. Changing the language to make even clearer a theological issue that was settled 1,700 years ago, and which affects no one on a day to day basis, seems unnecessary (to put it very mildly).

On Tokyo's busiest train line

The Japan Times Online - Tokyo's ring of steel

This is an interesting article about the Tokyo loop train line, the Yamanote Line. If ever you spend a day in Tokyo, there is every chance you will use this line. Some extracts that catch the eye:

With an estimated daily ridership of between 3 million and 5 million passengers, the Yamanote Line is easily on a par with New York City's entire subway system, which daily shuttles around 4.8 million passengers through no fewer than 468 stations.

[And just to clarify here: the Yamanote Line is but one of several different train lines that service Tokyo. This must mean that the total passenger number for Tokyo must way outstrip New York.]

None is more unwelcome than the chaos that ensues when someone ends it all by jumping in front of an oncoming train. Last year there were 18 so-called jinshin jiko (human accidents), JR East spokesman Koichi Ueno said in an assertion which may surprise many regular users, for whom announcements of jinshin jiko delays seem far more frequent. According to officials, most jinshin jiko are suicides...

Suicide delays generally last about 30 minutes, but can go much longer. JR East bills families of suicide jumpers for damages, with the requested amount commensurate with how many train lines are affected and for how long, said Shunichi Sekiguchi, another spokesman. Officials adamantly refused to discuss exact figures or the company's rationale for the policy.

Can you just imagine the reaction in the West to such a policy?

Train stations in big Japanese cities are just amazing places to be. The main Tokyo station is a particularly daunting complex, but deeply impressive in its complexity, huge flow of humanity, and convenience. (It has good shops, good food, lots of coin lockers, and (in one area in particular) really nice toilets. (Sorry, I have mentioned the toilet bit in a previous post.)

I also usually find myself wondering just how disastrous an earthquake would be in this station. (Short answer: extremely.)

Monday, June 26, 2006

Anthony Lane on Superman, etc

The New Yorker: The Critics: The Current Cinema

Regular readers will note that I have been enjoying Anthony Lane reviews a lot lately. This latest one about the new Superman Returns shows that, just like me, he is generally underwhelmed by "superhero" movies:

Bryan Singer, who last worked with Spacey on “The Usual Suspects,” has since moved on, if not up, to two helpings of “X-Men,” and now “Superman Returns.” It is clearly the fate of a smart young director—Hollywood would call it a reward—to be garlanded with the opportunity to stop making films about human beings and start attending to the preternatural. Every time another Marvel or DC product is dusted off, lavished with computer programs, and pumped up into a motion-picture event, we hear the same inflated claims: this superhero is different; we will uncover this man’s art and that man’s scope; we will show you what makes them tick, or levitate, or spin. Even Ang Lee fell prey, rummaging around for the soul of the Incredible Hulk, until it became clear that the poor old minty monster didn’t have one.... I have listened to Batman moan about how he will never fit in, and to countless mutants voice the same complaint, and, frankly, I don’t give a damn. The ethical duties of Superman leave me cold; I just want to watch him catch a falling car.

About a priest

TCS Daily - The Creation Myth

You don't often find articles about significant scientist priests. This article is about one of them, about whom I had not heard before.

A job in Iraq far from finished

ABC News: Al-Qaida-Linked Group Claims 4 Killings

More beheadings on video from Iraq. Apparently, this is about Chechnya, not Iraq itself. Ah yes, I can just see such tactics winning over the hearts and minds of Russians everywhere.

What complete idiots these "Al-Qaida" related murdering butchers are.

As to the general mayhem in Iraq, continuing unabated since Zarqawi's death, I still expect that the execution of Saddam will be an important practical step to discourage his loyalists, who (I am guessing) still harbour a hope that he may be liberated and somehow his regime quickly re-imposed. That this would be impossible in practice without a huge civil war probably doesn't cause any doubt in their minds. Mad Arabs don't often seem to be playing with the full pack.

Until then, seems nothing much will change. It does seem that ideas for promoting unity are finally being devised by the Iraqi government itself, with general approval. But they really have to act quickly.

(I note that Iraq the Model is very sceptical of the wisdom of the unity plan, and his reasons sound good. Sigh.)

A slow day at the Guardian

The Observer | World | Smelly yet highly sociable mini-robot proves fatally attractive to cockroaches

The Guardian website has a story about robot cockroaches, but no photo.

The first story appears to have run on the Discovery channel, a few weeks ago, and it does feature a picture. The robot looks a little like a tiny car to me. Maybe cockroaches are just all rev-heads who like checking out new cars in the neighbourhood.

That cockroaches have favourite hiding places, presumably marked by a smell, seemed clear to me some years ago when I lived in a townhouse. There was a particular place in the courtyard (a crack under a high beam on the wall), where I could always be assured that a squirt of flyspray would flush out one or two big roaches. Night after night, they just never got sick of going there, even though it was not an obvious source of food.

To have a robot to use to flush them out sounds sort of fun. Better than watching most TV these days anyway.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

More research needed

ScienceDaily: Global Atmospheric Carbon Level May Depend Primarily On Southernmost Ocean

The article above is about the importance of the cold southern oceans around Antarctica in taking up CO2.

It also mentions an idea for increasing carbon sequestration that has been around for a long time, but doesn't seem to get raised much lately:

"In the Antarctic, the circulation pattern moves the surface water carrying carbon dioxide deep into the ocean's depths, where the sequestered carbon could potentially be trapped for a long time," Marinov said. "According to the models we used, the deep Antarctic is the critical region where we need to concentrate our research."...

"An interesting idea of recent years is that we can sequester a lot of carbon if we dump iron into the ocean to encourage the growth of certain microorganisms, which incorporate carbon as they grow," Marinov said. "These organisms would then fall to the ocean floor after they die, taking the carbon with them. The overall effect would be to lower concentration of carbon in the surface waters, allowing more atmospheric carbon dioxide to dissolve into the sea. Our research has implications for future iron fertilization experiments, the focus of which we conclude should shift to the Antarctic."

I seem to recall that they have done small scale trials of this to check the effectiveness. Ah yes, I am correct. (The linked site seems entirely devoted to promoting the idea, which is somewhat controversial. Seems worth looking into further, though.)

Bad news for English beef eaters

Human mad cow infection could hide for 50 years - World -

What bad news for anyone who spent time in England in the 1980's. (Not good for former cannibals in New Guinea either.)

You have been warned

Storm warning for mobiles - Technology -

Hadn't thought of this as a source of increased risk before.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Charles Krauthammer loves us

RealClearPolitics - Articles - Why I Love Australia

Well, at least he does under a Liberal government. The article above is full of praise for Australia. (He misses the first part of the "snivelling grub" story, though.)

One thing I didn't know about him:

Of course I'm prejudiced, having married an Australian

His recent column about the Palestinians chosing victimhood was one of the most forthright things written about the Middle East for some time. As it was widely quoted elsewhere, I didn't post about it here, but it is well worthwhile if you missed it.

Reasons to be sceptical about Kyoto protocol

New Scientist News - Kyoto promises are nothing but hot air

From the start of the article:

Under Kyoto, each government calculates how much carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide its country emits by adding together estimated emissions from individual sources. These so-called "bottom-up" estimates have long been accepted by atmospheric scientists, even though they have never been independently audited.

Now two teams that have monitored concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere say they have convincing evidence that the figures reported by many countries are wrong, especially for methane. Among the worst offenders are the UK, which may be emitting 92 per cent more methane than it declares under the Kyoto protocol, and France, which may be emitting 47 per cent more.

From further down:

In the past, he says, estimates of greenhouse gas emissions were inaccurate simply because of the difficulty of measuring them, but that may have changed. "Now that money enters the picture, with the Kyoto protocol rules and carbon trading, so also can fraud. There will be an incentive to under-report emissions."...

The European Union recently shut down its pioneering programme of measuring atmospheric methane across the continent. "Ironically, the best monitoring is done by the US and Australia, which are both in denial over Kyoto," Nisbet says.

Well, "in denial" but with good reason, Mr Nisbet?

Nasty stuff

ScienceDaily: Urine Collected And Purified Separately

Urine in sewerage is much worse stuff than I would have expected:

Urine accounts for less than 1% of our waste water, but it contains 50-80% of the nutrients in the waste water...

He concluded that if 50% of the urine is separately purified, it would save 25% of the energy needed for the entire purification system. Moreover, the stench of the sewer will be lessened, environmental pressure on the surface water will be reduced, and sewer pipes will be better protected against rot.

The method of keeping it seperate:

A requirement for separating urine is an appropriate toilet (on which men also sit to urinate) or a dry urinal, both of which are commercially available. The urine is collected in tanks on a per building or neighbourhood basis and must then be - preferably as undiluted as possible - periodically transported to a special purification installation. It is also possible to process the urine in a decentralized manner - concepts for this were developed in the research.

So, having the can collected from the backyard (which in many Brisbane suburbs, only stopped in the 1960's) may be on its way back.

UPDATE: Of course, not everyone agrees that urine is nasty. From the (somewhat too open minded "Berkeley Medical Journal") is this enthusiatic rant:

To some people, flushing urine down the toilet is a complete waste of what could be a refreshing breakfast - one’s own fountain of youth, an elixir of health and beauty....

Urine may provide energy, maintain youth, and make skin and hair beautiful. With such wondrous properties, it is amazing that science developed new medicines when a key to good health was already in the bottle, so to speak. Everyone is a walking pharmacopoeia.

The first world conference on auto-urine therapy was held in February of 1996 in Panjim, India. It drew about 600 delegates from nations around the world. The numerous applications of urine were discussed, including use in nose-, ear-, and eye-drops, as well as ingestion and external massage application.

Now there's a conference best missed.

What should Israel do?

Guardian Unlimited | The Guardian | Israeli PM apologises for air strike deaths

Further to my previous post about this :

Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister, said today that he was "very, very sorry" about the death of 14 Palestinian civilians killed this week in Israeli air strikes in Gaza.

Mr Olmert expressed his regret when meeting Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, in Jordan. "It is against our policy and I am very, very sorry," the Associated Press quoted him as saying.

Yesterday two Palestinians - a pregnant woman and her brother - were killed when an Israeli missile hit their home in Khan Yunis in the Gaza Strip. On Monday evening, three children were killed by an Israeli missile aimed at a car carrying militants.

Obviously, there should be concern about how many civilians are killed by Israeli attacks. But, I wonder if anyone has any other ideas about what Israel could do with respect to defence against the continual flow of home made rockets into its territory.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Danger watch

San Andreas fault 'set for huge quake' | | The Australian

"The observed strain rates confirm that the southern section of the San Andreas fault may be approaching the end of the interseismic phase of the earthquake cycle," he wrote in Nature.

A sudden lateral movement of seven to 10 metres would be among the largest ever recorded.

According to the US Geological Survey (USGS), the earthquake that destroyed San Francisco in 1906 was produced by a sudden movement of the northern end of the fault of up to 6.4 metres.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Only happy victims of the Holocaust, please

Islam Channel hosts London anti-Zionist debate | Jerusalem Post

From the story above about an anti-Zionist discussion in London, which included some Jewish anti-Zionists:

Karmi, a research fellow at the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies at Exeter University and a former consultant to the Palestinian Authority, said the mistreatment of the Jews was a European affair that had nothing to do with Palestinians. "Why were we dumped with this problem?" she asked.

She offered her own interpretation of Zionism. "The Europeans did it to atone for their sins and guilt but the Jews who arrived in Palestine were not the Jews we knew, they were complicated and miserable and the problem is that they're still there."

Creative Arab history

What Jewish ties to Jerusalem? | Jerusalem Post

Daniel Pipe's article on Palestinian historical revisionism (with regards to denying a Jewish connection with Jerusalem - yes hard to believe isn't it?) is very interesting stuff I hadn't heard of before.

There's a sentence you don't hear often

Discovery Channel :: News - Animals :: Whales Slap Flatulent Prey

From the above story:

Norwegian killer whales slap their tails underwater to disorient and kill herring, which sometimes defend themselves from the assault by disappearing under the cover of their own bubbly flatulence, according to a new study....

While whales often are successful, some herring escape. The study's authors perhaps say it best: “Farting may save their lives.”...

Further down, how can you not chuckle at this comment:

As for the herring flatulence, Diachok agreed the fish may do this to facilitate escape, but he said it also might just be inadvertent.

Maybe it blows itself up very quickly

The LHC Dashboard | Cosmic Variance

See the link above to a post about the dangers involved if the LHC malfunctions. (Dangers to the equipment itself, which is very expensive.)

I am tempted to post a comment there about micro black holes, but it is not exactly on topic.

Youth unemployed

TCS Daily - The Kids Are Not Alright

Interesting article above on youth unemployment in Europe. An extract:

In the EU-15, the countries with the highest levels -- above 20 percent 00 are Greece, Italy, Sweden, France, Belgium and Finland. Indeed, it is generally acknowledged that France and Italy have serious economic problems. But Sweden and Finland might surprise some. (A new study by McKinsey shows that the real unemployment rate in Sweden is 15 percent -- three times what the government claims.)

Obviously, there is no "Nordic Model" when it comes to youth unemployment. In Denmark and Norway, the rate is 8-10 percent, whereas in Sweden and Finland it is 20-23 percent - the same level as in beleaguered France.

The numbers reflect real policy differences. In Denmark, there is the so-called flexicurity model, where the flexibility part is important when it comes to cutting youth unemployment. But in Sweden, the labor market is very regulated, unionized and collectivized, leading to high youth unemployment.

It all comes down to a divide between reforming and non-reforming countries, the latter clinging to a so-called European Social Model. That combination of a big state with high taxes on work, public monopolies and a regulated labor market simply prevents young people from working. And what kind of a social model is that?

More work for psychologists

BBC NEWS | Health | Counselling 'restores fertility'

The study reported above seems small scale, but with surprisingly good results:

Their preliminary study focused on 16 young women who had not had a period for six months, even though some already had children.

They had all been diagnosed with a condition called functional hypothalamic amennhorea (FHA), caused by a prolonged reduction in levels of a hormone which signals the release into the bloodstream of hormones that simulate ovulation.

The women had been shown to have increased levels of cortisol, a hormone linked to stress.

Half were given cognitive behavioural therapy, tailored to their own situations for 20 weeks.

Over the course of the study, six of the eight women given CBT regained full fertility, with one showing some signs of restored ovarian function.

Two later became pregnant within two months.

In the eight women who received no treatment, one recovered her fertility while another showed signs of ovarian function.

I have mentioned cognitive behaviour therapy before. It seems to have much going for it.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Womb for improvement (boom boom)

Church mulls 'phrasing' change for Holy Trinity

If this is reported correctly, the silliness of some of it is both amusing and annoying at the same time:

Delegates to the national assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) voted yesterday to "receive" a policy paper on sex-inclusive language for the Trinity, a step short of approving it. Church officials are enabled to propose "experimental liturgies" with "alternative phrasings" for the Trinity, but congregations won't be required to use them.
Besides "Mother, Child and Womb" and "Rock, Redeemer, Friend," options include:

"Lover, Beloved, Love"
"Creator, Savior, Sanctifier"
"King of Glory, Prince of Peace, Spirit of Love"

When most Christians think of the Holy Spirit, it is surely with the Gospel images of a suddenly appearing dove, tongues of fire, or the mysterious breath of God. All of the images are dynamic, empowering, and not of the flesh; exactly in the way "womb" is not. Any internal organ is surely a ridiculous metaphoric image for a Holy Spirit that can appear in various forms. May as well go for the pancreas, it's vaguely got something to do with energy at least.

God the Father does not come out of it too well with being re-imaged as "Rock". While I share with liberals a certain disdain for the idea some Fundamentalists have that God is whispering specific directions into their ear, imagining God as an inert lump is taking a remedial image way too far in the other direction.

As for the Spirit as "Friend", well, how wimpy can you get. More an image of having a cup of tea and a chat to make you feel better, rather than someone giving you courage and power.

UPDATE: I have decided that I was a little unfair to fundamentalists. Many liberals these days (on issues like gay relationships or women's ordination) also take the view that God is informing them directly about the "right" attitude to these matters.

Another sad case

Dad faces manslaughter charge | The Courier-Mail

A trial in a very tragic case is underway in Queensland:

RYAN Brooks, 18, arrived home after a late night out with his mates and asked his mother Cheryl to get him up early for work, and then disappeared into his bedroom.

Later, he went to the fridge to get a drink of cold water and took a mouthful of clear, odourless fluid from an unmarked glass spirit bottle.

Within moments he was screaming for his mother and writhing. The liquid he had swallowed was industrial-strength cleaner used to rinse beer-lines at the hotel where his father, Ian Francis Brooks, worked as a janitor.

Ryan died 2½ weeks later, during emergency surgery at the Ipswich Hospital from massive internal bleeding. Four years on, his father is being held criminally responsible and yesterday pleaded not guilty in the Brisbane Supreme Court to the manslaughter of the youngest of his two sons on February 24, 2002.

Criminal offences which are based on negligent or reckless behaviour with unintended effects have always made me feel somewhat uncomfortable. Some cases clearly call for criminal charges (eg, a driver who loses control while hurtling down a street and hits a pedestrian.) But when the victim is a loved member of the accused's own family, it raises the question of the value of prosecuting the accused if he has already gone through anguish over what happened. The defence will surely be playing on this, and I suspect that the jury will find it a difficult call. After all, I can see the counterargument that it would not be appropriate to abandon all cases where an accused shows sufficient grief.

Of course, if he is convicted, his personal anguish (assuming he has some) will no doubt be heavily relied upon in a plea in mitigation before punishment is decided.

Calling all benevolent time travellers

I've been posting quite a lot recently, rather to the detriment of my normal work.

The pace may need to slow a little in the lead up to the end of the financial year, unless my new scheme for how to make money from this blog succeeds.

All I need is someone from the future with access to next week's Australian lotto numbers, and a method of emailing information back in time, to provide the winning numbers for next weekend's Gold Lotto. Powerball, or any other mid-week Lotto numbers are also acceptable; I am not fussy.

If you are reading this in the future and are wondering "why should I benefit this particular jerk out of all others," well, there is no especially compelling reason, other than I have a family to support, no family riches coming my way, and have provided you with a way to test your machine. Maybe you could just email anyone, but how many people would take this seriously unless they had invited it? (Well, maybe I would try it once, but I am gullible.)

Of course, if you find out not only the winning numbers, but also who won (if it is not me) then I don't know that this scheme will work. I don't want to create any unnecessary splitting of universes. Also, don't go trying to email yourself in the past: if that worked, everyone would try it and (after a week or two of thousands of people sharing top prize) the whole lotto idea would be shelved permanently.

No, this is something you have to do benevolently to a single recipient.

So, go to it. Please send all winning (Australian) Lotto numbers to this temporary email:

Readers will be advised if and when I appear to have proved information can flow backwards as well as forwards.

For readers interested in time travel generally, this 1991 article by Hans Moravec is pretty good.

Also, people who have access to future information via methods such as spirit communication, ganzfeld experiments, etc, are welcome to submit numbers.

Funny -

Glenn Reynolds explains in an amusing fashion why he is not a moderate:

My ideal world, in which, as I've said before, happily married gay couples have closets full of assault weapons, isn't exactly "moderate."

Monday, June 19, 2006

Curiouser and curiouser

Diary of Kovco's death dream - National -

The circumstances of his death certainly sound much stranger than expected.

More on pre-war Iraq and terrorists

A Shattering of Memes

On blogging in Saudi Arabia

Saudi women unveil opinions online |

As you might expect, the internet (and blogging) are tightly controlled in Saudi Arabia:

Deeply conservative, Saudi Arabia is among the most restrictive countries in regard to Internet access in the world, with most traffic going through a central hub at KACST in Riyadh. The biggest number of sites blocked are pornographic sites, followed by sites that discuss drugs, religion, and terrorism...

One female blogger ( said that she was stopped from using the Internet at home for several months after her conservative brothers grew suspicious about why she was spending so much time online.

"I've been blogging since April 2005. It's a way to vent out my frustrations and to write," said Jo, who asked only that her first name be used. "My family knows that I have a site, but they don't have a concept of what blogging is."

Saudi families care so much about the welfare of their daughters, it's touching. (Sarcastic tone required for that sentence.)

Sunday, June 18, 2006

A lukewarm Pixar

The New Yorker: The Critics: The Current Cinema

I saw Cars today, with kids in tow. (Does that count as a pun?)

Like all Pixar films, it's pretty to look at, although The Incredibles was much better and exciting visually in my opinion.

Overall, it is just a so-so movie. The script is not as funny as most Pixar outings; the characterisation is weaker than it should be; it is a clever concept, but not delivered with much charm.

I agree with most points made by Anthony Lane in his review above. For those interested, I would rank Pixar films roughly as follows:

Excellent: Toy Story, Monsters Inc, The Incredibles, A Bug's Life

Overrated, but not at the bottom of the heap: Finding Nemo

Not very good: Toy Story 2, Cars.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

An appalling murder

Sister stabbed to death for loving the wrong man - Britain - Times Online

You have to read this to believe it:

A BUSINESSMAN is facing a life sentence for stabbing his sister to death in front of his two young daughters in a so-called honour killing.

Azhar Nazir, 30, and his cousin, 17, used four knives to cut Samaira Nazir’s throat and repeatedly stab her after she fell in love with an asylum-seeker from what they saw as an unsuitable caste.

Miss Nazir, 25, had rejected suitors lined up to meet her in Pakistan and had been summoned to the family home in Southall, Middlesex.

The father, also called Azhar, Nazir and the youth launched the attack and at one point dragged her by her hair back into the property....

Miss Nazir, a businesswoman described as “strong-willed”, was heard to shout at her mother, Irshad Begum: “You are not my mother any more.” She was then held down as a scarf was tied around her neck and her throat was cut in three places. Nazir’s daughters, aged 2 and 4, were screaming and were splattered with blood. Police fear that they were ordered to watch as a warning to them...

The amount of blood on the children suggested that they were only feet from the attack. A neighbour spotted Miss Nazir’s bloodstained arm emerge momentarily from the front door before she was dragged back inside and the door slammed shut.

Squealing lefty piggies

Half apologies for the heading, but as my readership drops off over the weekend, I may as well ratchet up the rhetoric.

Anyway, in case you haven't noticed, Robert Manne and Mike Carlton both take great umbrage at Keith Windschuttle being appointed to the ABC Board.

Carlton says this:

The naming of the loopy polemicist Keith Windschuttle to the board of the ABC is the most hilarious appointment to public office since the mad Emperor Caligula threatened to make his horse a consul of Rome.

More a case of the Left simply smarting from quite a lot of success Windschuttle has had in his critical review of their academic work. (Windshuttle's work may also not be perfect, but the characterisation of him as "loopy" just doesn't gel with his writings and the media interviews I have seen.)

Laughably, Manne writes this:

Will Windschuttle at least tolerate the expression of views contrary to his own? To judge by his recent writing, he will not. In a recent lecture in New Zealand, Windschuttle launched a standard
neo- conservative attack on the "adversary culture" of the left intelligentsia. In this lecture radical Muslims were characterised as "barbarians outside the walls who want to destroy us", whose sinister work was aided by left-wing intellectuals, representative of "the decadent culture within".

So how would you characterise "radical Muslims", Robert? As fellows who would just like to invite us in for a nice cup of tea and a chat about our differences. And is there any doubt that if a strong "conservative" morality did dominate the West that the radical Islamists would not be quite so perturbed about the "decadent West"?

Oh poor delicate Friends of the ABC; to have one more person on the board who doesn't agree with the Lefty slant of the ABC will just be the biggest crisis.

As I have said before: it is not the job of the government funded national broadcaster to be primarily Left leaning in order to "even up" the right wing leanings of any commercial radio, TV or print network. A government funded national broadcaster should attempt an even handed approach that does indeed give ample opportunity to the Right to present its views without derision.

In fact, over the last couple of years, I have been pleased that in TV political commentary, The Insiders makes a good attempt to even up the left leaning commentary. On Radio National, Michael Duffy's "Counterpoint" is also an admirable attempt to bring a modicum of balance. But these shows are but one hour a week each, when (for examples):

* Phillip Adams gets 4 hours of radio a week (and, I believe, a sizeable production team) to push his agenda every week.

* The other day I heard Bush Telegraph, a Radio National show that is presumably designed to cover issues relevant to rural Australia. Guess what they were covering: gay marriage. They made it "rural" by interviewing a lesbian mother in Atherton in Queensland. The host made it perfectly clear that he agreed with gay marriage as a concept.

* Stephen Crittendon got another run as morning host on Radio National last week. He is completely incapable of hiding his left sympathies, and I always have to grit my teeth when his completely biased questions are asked.

Having said this, I agree with Gerard Henderson in his (5 minute!) segment on Radio National on Friday. Namely, the board won't actually change anything anyway, as it cannot directly affect the management of the ABC. So there is not point in complaining about the politicisation of the Board in any event.

The new lunar lander

Son of Apollo

You might have noticed the Air & Space Smithsonian magazine currently in newstands in Australia has a cover story on the new lunar lander being developed. (I always like the covers, but don't buy the magazine often.) The story is on line (link above.)

Friday, June 16, 2006

Cat out of the bag

Iran would 'use nuclear defense' if threatened | Jerusalem Post

From the story above:

Iran's defense minister on Thursday vowed that his country would "use nuclear defense as a potential" if "threatened by any power."

Speaking following a meeting with his Syrian counterpart Hassan Ali Turkmani in Teheran on Thursday, Iranian Defense Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar emphasized that Iran "should be ready for confronting all kinds of threats."

Teheran has denied accusations by the US and its allies that Iran was seeking uranium enrichment technologies in order to develop nuclear weapons, saying its program was only meant to generate electricity.

This is Modern Art

Let us pray at the Church of the Missing Head - Comment - Times Online

A funny/serious criticism of what passes for Art in Britain now:

There is no reason why anyone even vaguely familiar with the risible modus operandi of the contemporary art world should be surprised at what happened to David Hensel’s sculpture of a laughing head entitled One Day Closer to Paradise. He submitted it to the academy but, in the course of transit, it got mistakenly separated from its plinth. The empty plinth was judged on its own merit to be worthy of exhibition, while the sculpture itself was rejected.

Sounds hard to believe, but it seems to be serious.

As the article then explains:

When, in 1917, Marcel Duchamp handed down his great commandment that, henceforth, anything can be art, he unwittingly kicked off a new religion. He supplied generations of talentless students (and professors) with a charlatan’s charter. The brainless fanatics of this simple creed are now teaching in every art school in the country. Indeed, we’ve been suffering this intolerant and prescriptive orthodoxy for decades because, under the auspices of the new faith’s high priests at the Tate and the Arts Council, this religion, state-funded needless to say, runs all aspects of contemporary art on our behalf. ....

For those of us who are completely baffled by the decisions of the State Art religion, the Arts Council has recently supplied a handbook called Culture Matters. In its pages we are informed that, to qualify for Arts Council support, art must be “challenging”, because the Arts Council only believes in something called “Challenging Contemporary Art”. It sees its job not as promoting excellence across the whole range of contemporary styles but only in that corner that it deems “challenging”.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

More on Islam and violence

Islam: A religion of peace?

Found via Little Green Footballs is the article above from a Canadian paper that seems to take a pretty objective look at the question of just how much justification you can find in the Koran (and other Islamic material) for modern day Islamic violence.

It's a good read.

The sort of cases family court lawyers have to put up with

My Way News - Mom, Dad in Court Over Son's Circumcision

CHICAGO (AP) - Groups opposed to circumcision are watching the case of an 8-year-old suburban Chicago boy whose divorced parents are fighting in court over whether he should have the procedure.

The child's mother wants him circumcised to prevent recurring, painful inflammation she says he's experienced during the past year. But the father says the boy is healthy and circumcision, which removes the foreskin of the penis, is an unnecessary medical procedure that could cause him long-term physical and psychological harm.

"The child is absolutely healthy," the father said during a break in a court hearing on the matter Wednesday. "I do not want any doctor to butcher my son."

The father has help from a lawyer who is: Atlanta attorney who specializes in circumcision cases.

I wonder if he advertises that in the Yellow Pages.

He [the lawyer] called the surgery "a bizarre American custom."

It is also one which could end recurring bouts of inflammation!

Good grief, if the mother can show the kid was taken to a doctor 5 time over the last year with this problem, what type of idiot father would fight this. (Seemingly, one who is under the sway of the bizarre anti circumcision groups that I have mentioned before in this blog.)

On having children

Why childless people hate me. By Emily Yoffe

This is a good, personal article about what happens when advice columnist Yoffe dares to suggest to a woman that she might want to re-think a decision to be childless.

Did they blow themselves up?

Shrapnel from beach blast not ours: Israel | The World | The Australian

This is a fascinating turn of events. One would hope that shrapnel evidence, examined by more international experts, would answer this definitively one way or the other.

On the whole issue of what goes on in Gaza, I must say that I find the Palestinian attitude non-sensical. The militants who spend all their time building and firing home made rockets into Israel don't seem to kill anyone very often. (That's not to suggest that the Israelis should ignore it. I can't imagine what it is like to live with the threat of a random missile coming through your roof at any time.)

But given that the Palestinians are so clearly outgunned by the Israeli response, which is targeted but inevitably kills civilian bystanders from time to time, why do they insist on continuing with the homemade missile campaign?

What is the Palestinian public opinion on this? Do they demand their authority take police action to stop the missile campaign that invokes the much more damaging response?

Do they all think that random acts of violence against Israel are worth it no matter what the consequences?

UPDATE: Possible progress in stopping the rockets reported today in the Jerusalem Post. What did it take? Just a threat of retaliation against the Hamas leadership directly.

UPDATE 2: just found this article in the CSM about the number of rockets that have been lobbed into Israel:

Less than a mile from Gaza, Sderot residents can easily make out the bucolic fields and houses of Beit Hanoun, the Palestinian village used by rocket launchers as cover. Sderot Mayor Eli Moyal told reporters that since April 2001, some 3,000 rockets have been fired from Gaza into southern Israel, most of them at Sderot, killing five residents. The attacks have ravaged the Sderot's economy - and even started a small exodus. More would leave if they could afford it.

In recent months, the town has been averaging 80 rockets a month, an uptick from before the disengagement.

Why Japan wants whales

Masako Fukui: Pro-whalers' stand hard to swallow | Opinion | The Australian

The above article appears to answer the puzzling question about why the Japanese government insists on having commercial whaling when all the evidence suggests that the Japanese public just doesn't care:

The problem is that although whales are mammals, Japan defines whaling as a fisheries issue. The kanji character for whale is a combination of two parts, the first being the sign for fish. Nearly all kanji characters for fish names, from snapper to kingfish, are of the same two-part design. So it's no surprise that Japan's diplomatic charge at the IWC is led by the Fisheries Agency, a rather stuffy and conservative government department compared with the more elitist and outward-looking Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Fisheries Agency officials fear that if Japan backs down on whaling, it will also have to back down on other fisheries issues, such as tuna and salmon. That may sound like rampant paranoia, but history tells another story.

In 1982, when the IWC voted for the moratorium on commercial whaling, the US pressured Japan not to lodge a formal objection to the ban. Under article 5 (3) of the convention, any member state can opt out of binding resolutions simply by lodging a formal objection within 90 days. In return for compliance, the US granted Japan continued access to fish in US waters. But that was later revoked, mainly as a result of domestic pressures within the US, teaching the boys at the Fisheries Agency a valuable lesson: compromising is a bad idea.

Sounds a plausibe explanation to me.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Let's invade Turkey

Turkey's anti-American pop culture. By Richard Morgan

Well, seems they are expecting it anyway. From the above
Slate article:

All last year Turkish bookstores were hard-pressed to keep the best-selling novel Metal Storm on shelves. The novel, written like one of Tom Clancy's international potboilers, depicts a U.S. invasion of Turkey in March 2007. Condoleezza Rice and Donald Rumsfeld are characters, although the U.S. president is a nameless, nap-loving warmonger who defers most of his decision-making to fellow members of Skull and Bones. In the book, whose title is America's name for its invasion, the U.S. military swiftly bombs then overtakes Ankara and Istanbul (the U.S. president, who is also deeply evangelical, aims to restore Istanbul to its Christian Byzantine glory). ...

The Americans' motive is Uncle Sam's lust for the country's rich borax supply (Turkey is home to 60 percent of the world's borax, a mineral used in weapons, radiation shields, and space technology). In the second phase of its invasion, Operation Sèvres (named after the World War I treaty in which the West gutted the Ottoman Empire), the United States creates a Kurdish state and lets longtime Turkish enemies Greece and Armenia ravage what's left of the country. A lone Turkish secret agent counters by stealing a nuclear weapon and vaporizing Washington.

And this is popular in a friendly, more or less Westernised, Islamic country. I wonder what the plots are in the best selling novels in Iran or Saudi Arabia.

(By the way, I didn't know that bit about Turkey and borax.)

Useless research update

Press Release - 13 June 2006 University of Bath

“Understanding how children perceive celebrities like David Beckham and the other brands they encounter will help us to formulate better policies on responsible marketing to children,” said Dr Agnes Nairn from the University of Bath’s School of Management.

“We asked the children to tell us about the things they were most into, and were surprised to find that even amongst 7-11 year olds the most intense discussions were about celebrities.

“This says a lot about our celebrity-obsessed society and supports the idea that celebrities like Beckham have become branded commodities that are available for consumption.

“More importantly, though, is the role that Beckham plays as a complex cultural figure used by children to discuss moral values and understand ‘good’ and ‘bad’.

“This realisation could help teachers create engaging materials for PHSE classes. For example, ‘Let’s discuss right and wrong today’ may not be very appealing to children but, ‘What do you think about Beckham being sent off?’ would not only be guaranteed to get their attention, but would also stimulate important debates.”

Fake houses

Boing Boing: Electrical substations disguised as houses

This is a peculiar item on Boing Boing, about Canadian public utilities building fake house exteriors in the 50's and 60's to hide electrical substations.

Neat idea.

I often wonder why, at least in Brisbane, Telestra exchanges are often built like brick fortresses with hardly any windows. Wouldn't a little more natural light cut down the electrical costs a bit, as well making the building look better from the outside? Or is there some specific reason you don't want windows in a telephone exchange?

What can I say?

All AH, k? | Big Brother | Breaking News 24/7 - news (14-06-2006)

From the above:

BIG Brother contestants Jaime and Katie appeared to engage in oral sex during Monday night's Adults Only show - not that anyone was offended by that.
A Channel 10 spokeswoman yesterday said the network did not receive a single complaint, despite web forums reporting the show was "soft porn" showing "hardcore" rewards room scenes.

Why doesn't this show, and what it tells us about the media and its viewers, bother more people in the way that it bothers me?

It's not just that it is used as sexual titillation; it's the whole concept of the show being a competition with one winner, a bunch of exhibitionists as the contestants, and that there is an audience willing to watch them. And a media that gives it free publicity all the time.

There is more honour, in my mind, in paid porno stars making videos (at least if it involves safe sex) than there is in this show. At least then everyone knows what they are getting paid, what the risks are, and that stupid competitiveness or analysis of their "personality" is not part of the voyeuristic motives of the viewers.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Gore needs you

Gore to train 1,000 to spread word about climate -

Why not give out copies of the DVD for free? Why does it need the magic of a trained disciple to present the slide show?

All sounds just a touch messianic, doesn't it?

Challenging job

Aljazeera.Net - Palestinian tourism minister quits

They have a position of tourism minister? Talk about a tough challenge coming up with tourism campaign for Gaza.

(OK, I know there is the West Bank too.)

Hopeful approach to preventing/treating Alzheimer's

New Scientist Breaking News - Alzheimer's vaccine shows success in mice

If it works, maybe just give it to everyone at age 70, unless you starts to show signs of problems earlier.

Update note

If you saw my long-ish post yesterday on Iraq, make sure you read the update. (I worry that these get overlooked.)

Monday, June 12, 2006

Wrong whatever you do

Boing Boing: Bush could have gotten Zarqawi long ago

OK, this may not be new for some readers, but it is something I had either overlooked or have forgotten.

Boing Boing, which is good on pop culture but always liberal in any political post, notes the brief Salon article that points out that in 2002, before the Iraq invasion, Bush had a chance to take out an Al-Zarqawi camp in Northern Iraq, but chose not to.

The reasons given depend on the source. MSNBC said in 2004 it was because Bush did not want to take out a justification for invading Iraq. The ABC had a Four Corners relevant to this that I obviously missed. It reported a CIA agent as saying that the reason was that Bush did not want to appear to be a "gunslinger" while he was trying to build up French support for an invasion. Of course, most Salon and Boing Boing readers will take the first explanation over the second any day, even though if he had attacked the camp, it is pretty clear he would have been criticised.

Meanwhile, the Weekly Standard article referred to a couple of post ago has details from Colin Powell's speech (not contradicted according to Hayes) in which it was pointed out that although the camp itself was in a part of Iraq not fully controlled by Saddam, Zarqawi and associates were in the Sunni triangle in the lead up to the invasion. As Hitchens and others have pointed out, Iraq was not then the sort of place in which figures with a terrorist profile could get around without the State knowing.

What have we learned in the last 12 months? That Saddam liked to pretend even to his generals that he had WMD up his sleeve. That al Qaeda people, including Zarqawi, were not only in Northern Iraq setting up terrorist camps, but were also in the Sunni triangle.

Even in the (unlikely) event that Saddam had no knowledge or interest in al Qaeda in Iraq whatsoever, why is anyone surprised that the USA legitimately thought that if he had WMD (as he pretended to) he would be prepared to pass them onto al Qaeda?

UPDATE: I wrote the above before reading Hitchen's latest piece in Slate. (It's not the one that was reprinted in the Australian.) It is excellent stuff. An extract:

It is from this source [Jordan]that we know that Zarqawi was in Baghdad at least as early as June 2002, almost a year before the invasion. Indeed, as the Senate intelligence committee report has confirmed, it was in that month that the G.I.D. contacted the Saddam Hussein regime to "inform" the Iraqis that this very dangerous fellow was on their territory. Given the absolute police-state condition of Iraq at that time, it is in any case impossible to believe that such a person was in town, so to speak, incognito. And remember that in 2002, even states like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan were at least ostensibly expelling known al-Qaida members from their turf or else arresting them. Only Saddam's Iraq (—which did not reply to the Jordanian messages) —was tolerating and encouraging the presence of men who were on the run from Afghanistan.

It is customary to dismiss evidence of this kind with a brisk and pseudo-knowing sneer about the "secular" nature of Saddam's regime and thus its presumed incompatibility with theocratic fanatics. Quite how this CIA-sponsored "analysis" has survived this long is beyond me. At least from the time of its conclusion of hostilities with Iran, Baghdad became a center of jihadist propaganda and sponsorship. Saddam himself started to be painted and photographed wearing the robes of an imam. He began a gigantic mosque-building program. He financed the suicide-murderers who worked against the more secular PLO. He sent money to the Muslim separatists in the Philippines. His closest regional ally was the theocracy in Sudan, which had been the host of Osama Bin Laden.

As opposed to this, we have Phillip Adams in his column today saying this:

Zarqawi's death will not reduce terrorism in Iraq. It will, however, briefly endorse one of Bush's dubious justifications of his war - that alleged link between 9/11, Saddam and bin Laden. Al-Qa'ida arrived in Iraq after the fall of Saddam. The coalition gave them a red carpet. But despite disenchantment with Bush and his war, most US voters still believe their President's bizarre allegations that 9/11 was a double-act involving Saddam and bin Laden. And here's a trophy head to prove it.

This is rich. The Left is simply unable to point to any statement by Bush or his cohorts that that they believed Saddam was behind 7-11. Yet they still blame Bush for (apparently) a significant percentage of Americans believing a connection existed. (By the way, I would like to know the way that polling was done in some detail before getting too uptight about how smart the US public is.)

I have seen nothing at all in the Bush administration's reaction to last week's events to show they tried to use it to bolster an argument (a Saddam/9-11 connection) that they never made anyway. For Adams to claim that showing him dead "was a trophy head to prove it" is just ludicrous.

On the other hand, Adams and his cohorts continue repeating their memes ad naseum, encouraging the blind allegiance to allegations that are becoming increasingly discredited or (such as in the case of the suggestion that Bush misled the public on Saddam and 9-11,) outright lies.

The history of all this in 30 years time is not to going to read the way Adams expects.

UPDATE 2: Here's what the New Yorker says about it:

According to Iraq’s former interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, who claims that he discovered the information in the archives of the Iraqi secret service, Zarqawi travelled to Iraq in 1999, around the same time as Zawahiri. Saddam Hussein was courting Al Qaeda at the time. Inspired, perhaps, by Iran’s relationship with Hezbollah, he may have believed that he could use terrorists to conduct his foreign policy without undermining his rule. Contrary to Secretary of State Colin Powell’s assertion before the U.N. Security Council, in February, 2003, that Zarqawi provided the link to Al Qaeda in Iraq, bin Laden and Zawahiri spurned Saddam’s overtures.

Sources for that last bit of information would be...? I should go double check the Congressional inquiry again, I suppose.

About the future Palestine

TCS Daily - Creating Palestine

The article above takes a tough line on what is necessary to create what could be called a "viable" Palestinian State. (Very little, argue the authors. They point out that there are many tiny countries with less than ideal geography.)

But their earlier article that they link to, about the neverending call by Arabs for Israel to comply with UN Resolution 242 (ie, going back to the pre-1967 Six Day War borders) is even more interesting. The gist of it is that they argue (fairly convincingly, it seems to me) that the resolution as finally passed was specifically meant to leave the precise final boundaries open. In other words, not to require that all occupied land be returned.)

Can't say I have heard this argument before, but then I am no expert on Middle East history. (Like many people, the post 9/11 world has made me take much more of an interest in it.)

Inconstant constants

ScienceDaily: Variable Physical Laws

This seems very important, although what exactly it means for cosmology is not at all clear:

On April 21 this year new findings were published in Physical Review Letters implying that a dimensionless constant – the ratio between the electron mass and the proton mass – has changed with time.

And shortly measurements will be presented in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society showing that another dimensionless constant, called the fine structure constant, is also varying with time.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Now if only I spoke Japanese

Love and marriage in Japan | White weddings |

An amusing article about "fake" Western weddings at one particular fake church in Japan:

Weddings are what it does, at ¥5m ($46,000) a time for 100 guests, five times a day.

The couples who come have already married before at a city registrar. Their wedding at St Grace Cathedral and similar places offers only the outward trappings of a Christian wedding. Most establishments get couples and their guests through the service in 40 minutes; one cut-rate place does it in 20. Catering is where the money is made, while most other wedding services—flowers, choir, even harpist—are subcontracted.

The most sought-after is the Western “priest”. These are supplied by an ecclesiastical talent agency complete with fake ordination papers, should anyone bother to ask. For impoverished actors, models and English-language teachers, the work is manna: the pay is ¥10,000-15,000 a service, and you can do eight a day. One young Westerner, who earns ¥10m a year for a three-day week, says the work is not easy: unlike acting, where at least you get a break, you have to be a priest all day, and speak flawless Japanese to boot.

Zarqawi in pre-war Iraq

Their Man in Baghdad

Stephen Hayes article above, about Zarqawi's presence in Iraq before the war is important.

The Atlantic agrees that he was there, but caims that Zarqawi was not really connected with al-Qaeda at all during that time. However, it seems that the article does not really explain what he was doing in the Sunni triangle prior to the war.

All very interesting.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Anti terrorism story missed

Captain's Quarters

I missed this from earlier in the week:

A terrorist cell plotted to shoot down an Israeli airliner over Switzerland but was foiled by intelligence services, Swiss prosecutors said yesterday.

Seven people of north African origin are under arrest in connection with the alleged plot, said a statement from the federal prosecutor's office.

I guess it must be all those Swiss soldiers in Iraq that provoked this terrorist plan that (no doubt) would have endangered Swiss lives.

Death on the beach

Artillery fire kills 12, wounds dozens on Gaza beach | Jerusalem Post

Bad time for such an incident to happen. That it was an accident would seem to be strongly supported by this (from the report in the The Jerusalem Post):

According to Galant, the IDF is currently investigating two possible options: misfiring of an artillery round or a dud that exploded on the Gaza beach.

"Even when a tragic and unfortunate incident takes place, it does not mean that we are not committed to defending the citizens of southern Israel who face continuous barrages of Kassam rockets," he said.

The IDF confirmed the Gaza coast deaths, saying that it regretted the harm done to innocent civilians and offering the Palestinians any assistance needed, including evacuation to Israeli hospitals.

Neither The Age , the ABC nor The Australian's reports mention this offer of help in Israeli hospitals. (In fact, The Australian's story is one of the least balanced and inflammatory versions I have read.) The Guardian, to its credit, does mention the offer of assistance. Funny what gets left out of reporting on the Middle East.

John Marsden again

The reputation rapists at large - Opinion -

Mike Carlton comes to John Marden's defence in the Sydney Morning Herald today. He says (of the successful criminal injuries compensation case):

[Judge]Taylor did not find that Marsden had abused anybody, let alone the eight-year-old boy. He came to no such conclusion.

This was a civil case - not a criminal trial with rules of evidence, cross-examination and a jury - in which a man, referred to as "F", had sought money from the Victims Compensation Tribunal for sexual abuse he claimed to have suffered as a child in the '60s.

The tribunal had turned him down. In 2001, F appealed before Taylor in the District Court. There was general medical and specialist psychiatric evidence to support his case. The judge accepted that evidence, found that F had been sexually assaulted, and awarded compensation of $40,000.

But at no stage during the hearing, nor in Taylor's written judgement of July 6, 2001, was any offender or alleged offender named. The word "Marsden" never appeared. Despite the emphatic assertions of Hicks and Fife-Yeomans, it did not happen. Not verbally. Not in print - I have read the judgement. There was no laying of guilt.

For some extracts from the initial report, see my previous post here.

There's something fishy about this, I think. While Carlton is presumably correct about what the judgement says, he seems to be suggesting that in the whole process of making this claim Marsden's name was not brought up. But that surely can't be correct, can it? When a victim makes a claim for compensation in New South Wales, he or she does not have to name the alleged offender? For that matter, if they fail, why is the name not mentioned in the appeal?

Also, I am pretty sure that the original report about this (the link is now dead) said that the successful victim claims he was warned off proceeding with a criminal case by Marsden. (Behaviour which would not be inconsistent with what happened in the defamation action. But then again it might be a recent invention based on the reporting of the defamation case.)

I would love to see a more detailed explanation of what happened in this victim's case. Will the ABC, which pursues other controversial legal cases, take this on in a documentary? (I think it deserves more than a 30 minute Australian Story, though.)

I am also surprised that journalist David Marr has not taken this on. He must have known Marsden, surely, and be "outraged" (I can hear his plummy voice saying it already) by slurs against a fellow gay lawyer. Or does Marr know something about Marsden he would prefer not to say? (Just a guess...)

Sea level again

Christopher Pearson: Rising tide of bad science | Opinion | The Australian

From what I can recall of past columns, Pearson's scepticism of global warming may be too extreme, but his column today on sea level rise is pretty good. (Basic message: it's defintely not the case that any islands are currently suffering from global warming induced sea level rises, and indeed any serious effect is quite a way off yet.)

He is right to criticise Labor on this. As I noted in a past post, Albanese is well and truly a gullible dill who does not appear capable of independent fact checking. As Pearson says:

Our island neighbours may well have claims on our foreign aid, but as a matter of charity rather than any sort of entitlement. In the absence of compelling evidence, and in defiance of Darwin's model, Labor shouldn't be encouraging them to believe that they are the victims of profligate coal, gas and oil-fired economies. Nor should it be creating unrealistic expectations that, as the largest regional consumer of fossil fuels, Australia has endless obligations to a new class of mendicants from Kiribati, Tuvalu, the Carteret or the Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia.

My other posts on sea level rises are here, here here and here.

Friday, June 09, 2006

An unusual death

The Japan Times Online - Brake, software probed in Tokyo elevator death

What surprises me, in a way, is that elevator deaths seem so uncommon. I mean, I just would have thought they would malfunction with dangerous consequences much more often.

Polar bears' problem

The Japan Times Online - '98 Arctic thaw laid to warm ocean, not hot air

Not sure whether this is really relevant to global warming arguments or not, but still it's interesting.

An Austin Powers moment

The reporting of the death of Al Zarqawi contains an item about the reaction of his family. It seems that even though they had to distance themselves from him after the (very unpopular) hotel bombings in Amman, they are now happy to talk of him being a martyr.

There is also mention of how a nephew feels "so sad" about it. When reading this, I had a sudden reminder of the funny/clever part of the first Austin Powers movie, where the death of one of the evil henchmen is followed by scenes of how his very "all american" family are upset by the news.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Euthanasia and consequences

Guardian Unlimited | Special reports | Call for no-consent euthanasia

The key part of this argument is all to do with moral philosophy:

Prof Doyal says withdrawing life-saving treatment from severely incompetent patients - which may involve turning off a ventilator, ending antibiotics or withdrawing a feeding tube - is "believed to be morally appropriate because it constitutes doing nothing. It is disease that does the dirty work, not the clinician. Yet this argument cannot wash away the foreseeable suffering of severely incompetent patients sometimes forced to die avoidably slow and distressing deaths."

He draws a parallel with a father who sees his baby drowning in the bath and fails to do anything to save it. The father foresaw the certainty of the death and did nothing and would therefore be morally considered to have killed the child.

"Clinicians who starve severely incompetent patients to death are not deemed by law to have killed them actively, even if they begin the process by the removal of feeding tubes. The legal fiction that such starvation is not active killing is no more than clumsy judicial camouflage of the euthanasia that is actually occurring."

First of all, I thought that there was quite a lot of confidence that most cases of withdrawal of treatment did not cause unnecessary suffering. (Or at least, if suffering was detected, there is no issue with administering pain relief, even if an unintended consequence is shortening life.) So I am not sure that unnecessary suffering is really the issue.

But this Professor's arguments are all based on an acceptance that consequentialism is the right way to make ethical decisions. Peter Singer is also a "consequentialist", which should send up warnings.

Rather than have me bang on about why it consquentialism is a problem, have a look at the good Wikipedia article about its critics. (All hail Wikipedia.)