Saturday, April 29, 2006

Toilets in Japan

It's not clear whether anyone is appreciating the posts I am making about my recent trip to Japan, as comments have been non-existent. Oh well, only a couple of posts to go before I have had enough too.

I thought I would mention the Japanese "washlet" toilet, as they are extremely popular there, and a little intimidating to the western visitor. There is actually an extremely detailed entry on Japanese toilets on Wikipedia, which is genuinely interesting and informative, and gives much more information than I can. Nevertheless, I will give my briefer guide here.

I took a photo of the "control panel " on a typical household "washlet" toilet:



The diagrams are relatively self explanatory; even if the symbol for "butt" is a little amusing. Pressing the second or third button from the left would start a whirring sound as a little arm under the seat protrudes and water starts to squirt out, aimed with surprising accuracy to the area in question. Of course, while you are sitting there, until the water starts, you have to take it on trust that the thing is operating correctly. Standing up and checking is, presumably, a good way to get wet. (Actually, the Wikipedia entry says a pressure switch on modern ones stops the spray if you are not sitting on it. Gosh, they think of everything! However, this is not something I would want to test.)

The important thing to know is that the square "stop" button on the left ends the wash. (I am not sure if there is a time limit on the length of the spray if you don't press the stop button; I have personally never let it go on that long.) The water is warmed in the machine, and the spray pressure is adjustable, from "gentle" to "close to enema". Take my advice and pick a middle setting. (On some models it is a round dial that adjusts this, I think on this model it is the bar on the bottom left. Japanese readers feel free to correct me.) Some models have air blowing dryers in them too, but air being blown around a pre-flushed toilet tends to be smelly. I would not take that option if I were buying one.

These type of toilets are not only extremely common in homes, but also department store and restaurant restrooms. Automatic water taps and soap dispensers are also quite common in more recent public toilets.

While older public toilets in parks and subways can be pretty basic (and without a western toilet at all,) newer ones are very nice and high tech indeed. The best one I recall from this trip was upstairs in Tokyo (Train) Station in the restaurant alley area. The whole layout was nice, and with a new model of air hand dryer that actually did work. No chance to take a photo there, though...

One thing a Westerner notices about mens toilets in Japan is how there is very little care taken about whether the urinals can be seen from outside. In fact, on the bullet train, there is a urinal which has a door and a long window on it so that you just look in to see some guy's back if it is being used. I guess this is not unusual for the Europeans, with their old less than full height street pissoirs, but it strikes an Australian as odd.

I now use washlet toilets without fear, and trust that with the advantage of the ever-educational Dominion, you can too...

Friday, April 28, 2006

Pointless message

Guardian Unlimited Books | News | How judge's secret Da Vinci code was cracked

Turns out the judge's encoded message was hardly worth de-coding. I was hoping it would be more pointed, like "the Plaintiff's claim is BS".

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Himeji Castle

Second on the list of "must see" buildings in Japan, as recommended to us by our Osaka friends, was Himeji Castle. Himeji is only 30 minutes away on the train, and its castle is indeed spectacular and extremely photogenic:


The view from the top of the tower:


The thing on the edge of the roof is a fish, added as a good luck charm against fire. Unfortunately, the guide said, it tended to attract lightning, so now there are lightning rods attached to them.

Even though much of the inside has been rebuilt, it is by Japanese standards (where fire, earthquake and war has made really old buildings rather uncommon) very authentic. We were lucky and had a free english speaking guide for 2 hours.

Once again, Wikepedia has a good entry about this. (Gosh: it says that it featured as the headquarters for the Japanese secret police in "You Only Live Twice", the first James Bond I ever saw.)

Calm down everyone

The oil industry | Steady as she goes | Economist.com

The above article is a detailed and relatively optimistic look at the "peak oil" issue from the Economist.

The only problem I see is that optimism probably helps delay research and development of oil replacements for transport, etc, which for many reasons would be better coming sooner rather than later.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Some ideas on paternity fraud

Mendacious mums can't be let off lightly | Janet Albrechtsen | The Australian

I can't fault Janet's article today on the issue of paternity fraud.

Someone has suggested to her that maybe all births should be the subject of DNA testing. Wouldn't shares in the DNA test companies soar if ever that were seriously proposed!

Maybe some sort of compromise position is desirable: in the event of permanent separation with a view to divorce, then paternity testing is compulsory. The advantage of this is that the test is only done if the issue of child support is raised by the fact of separation. Currently, the Family Court is reluctant to order the mother and child to undergo testing unless the purported father has good reason to believe he is not the true father. Just having a feeling that the child might the result of (say) a suspected affair is definitely not enough.

This leaves many fathers forever suspicious of their ex-partners fidelity, and that does not help resolve issues such as property settlements which can sometimes drag on for years. Of course, some fathers may have completely ill founded suspicions, and the mother should achieve some vindication by having it proved that he is the father.

The more I think about it the better the idea sounds. Maybe some further refinements could be made: the father in any event is not allowed to recover the monies paid prior to separation towards raising the child. (If he has suspicions of infidelity during the marriage, he could ask the mother to undergo testing. If she refuses, he could always force the issue by leaving her and then the legislative requirement kicks in anyway.)

The idea might also encourage fidelity on both sides of the marriage. Husbands who have affairs with other men's wive's might be more cautious about it if it is certain that their paternity will be proved if their lover ever separates from their partner.

I don't know what the error rate of such tests is, but there should be provision to allow a party to require a repeat test by another lab if the first comes in as a big surprise.

If you think this is a good idea, write to your member of parliament, and also buys shares in a test company.

Albanese on Nuclear

Twenty years on: lest we forget the lessons from Chernobyl - Opinion

It would seem that Labor's environment spokesman feels that no changes to Labor's blanket anti-nuclear policies are in the wind. His article above says that the Chernobyl disaster:

"...showed the world that nuclear power was not safe..."

And I suppose that the tens of thousands killed in the process of coal mining shows that it is safer? Comparing known decrepit Russian reactors with state of the art (or newer designs) is a bit of a stretch.

I have no fixed opinion on nuclear power, in that I am skeptical of the extremes on either side of the argument about its use. However, there is work being done on reactor designs which are inherently safer (see articles about pebble bed reactors and using thorium here and here) and these should be investigated by governments as a matter of priority.

Seems that wouldn't happen under Labor though, because nuclear is evil.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Geography and global climate

BBC NEWS | Science/Nature | Fossil gives clue to big chill

The above article points out that the disconnection of South America from Antartica some 41 million years ago is believed to have played (and still play) a very large part in the global climate:

The world was a very different place then. Levels of carbon dioxide were three to four times today's levels and it was so warm that alligators sunned themselves in the high Arctic.

But some 30 million years ago, there was a dramatic shift in climate from "greenhouse" to "icehouse".

The rapid cooling swept over the Antarctic and, over the course of several million years, its pine trees were replaced by glaciers.

Interesting. Global warming is obviously good for alligators and pine trees. Pity polar bears and penguins are so cute.

Paging Dr Skippy

In further medical news, the SMH also reports this weekend that a new promising antibiotic compound has been found in - of all places - wallaby milk.

"What's that Skip? You want this man in septic shock to put his head in your pouch? Are you sure?"

Aquarium blues

Cats are given a hard time in this blog; now it's the goldfish's turn.

The SMH reports that a drug resistant strain of salmonella has been proved (by Australian research no less) to live in fish tanks:

Australian researchers proved the link between gastroenteritis and fish tanks by showing that the strains of salmonella in patients and in their home aquariums were genetically identical.

Diane Lightfoot, a salmonella specialist at the University of Melbourne..said the study highlighted the need for care when cleaning tanks.

Fish were good pets, she said, "and fish tanks aren't to be feared. But commonsense hygiene is needed." This included washing hands after touching the water or gravel and making sure the water did not splash onto surfaces where it could contaminate food, she said.

To be fair to goldfish, the article does only refer to "tropical" fish, so maybe an unheated tank of the kind most goldfish have to put up with is not such a risk.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Little publicity expected

ScienceDaily: Ancient And Modern Evidence Suggests Limits To Future Global Warming

The above story is 2 pronged. The study indicates that global warming due to greenhouse gases is definitely real, but the models also indicated that the "worst case" temperature rises are less likely than previously estimated.

As it contains this semi-optimistic estimate on the temperature rises, will it attract any media attention?

Here's another article that contains some moderately good news on 2 aspects of the global warming issue. As Real Climate has not attacked it yet, I am guessing that it is not controversial.

On liberal churches

The New Yorker: Online Only: Content

Strange that the New Yorker contains a fairly conservative assessment of what is going on in the Episcopal Church, and Anglicanism more generally. This part rings particularly true:

The liberal, mainline churches are losing parishioners across the board. The conservative churches are not only growing but growing by leaps and bounds. To me, the reason seems obvious: if you’re shopping for faith, faith is the thing you want, not a watered-down version of a civics lesson. That’s not to say that the evangelical or more orthodox view is just a marketing tool, but people who get up on Sunday morning and say “I think I’ll go to church today” tend to want the genuine article, rather than a speculative “maybe it’s true, maybe it’s not true, we’re all on this journey together” exploration. Because it’s a lot easier, frankly, to stay in bed and get up in time for the first football game.

I believe that the most liberal and outright politically active Catholic church in Brisbane (St Mary's at South Brisbane) has a large number turn up for Sunday masses. But I think this is because it attracts disenchanted left-y Catholics from all over the city.

That parish has hosted a (secular) gay choir, been rapped over the knuckles for changes to the baptism rite, and featured street facing anti-John Howard signs erected on church grounds. Irritates me no end...

Friday, April 21, 2006

Science gives a tick to globalisation?

Does Globalization Help or Hurt the World's Poor?

This is really interesting. Scientific American (above) has a free article available on the effect of globalisation on the poor.

The article criticises both free trade and anti-globalisation activists for claiming too much for their own side of the argument. However, it seems to me to contain much more comment and information that is "pro" globalisation rather than "anti".

The point about antiglobalisation is also that it is not just a school within a group of economists who hold this debate; it is a "popular" movement as well which brings a heap of (often) nihilistic, irrational and "let's bite the hand that feeds me" attitude that is very hard to stomach. Globalisation can have bad effects, is not the sole reason for some countries' improvement, and local governments have their role to play in regulating it too. But to deem it as fundamentally evil, as anti globalisation protesters are inclined to do, is just silly. It seems well established that if the protesters completely got their way, they would hurt the people they claim to be wanting to protect.

Anyone, it would seem that such protests have reached their zenith and may dwindle further. Good.

Enough of my mini-rant. Read the article.

Dershowitz on Moussaoui

The abuse excuse. By Alan M. Dershowitz

See above for an interesting Slate article on the use and misuse of "diminished moral culpability" arguments in the American criminal system. Alan Dershowitz can write unusually clearly and succinctly for a lawyer.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

One less thing to worry about

ScienceDaily: Deadly Astronomical Event Not Likely To Happen In Our Galaxy, Study Finds

Seems death of most life on earth by an unexpected gamma ray burst (GRB) from a nearby star is rather unlikely;

The astronomers determined that the odds of a GRB occurring in a galaxy like that one to be approximately 0.15 percent. And the Milky Way's metal content is twice as high as that galaxy, so our odds of ever having a GRB would be even lower than 0.15 percent.

"We didn't bother to compute the odds for our galaxy, because 0.15 percent seemed low enough," Stanek said.

He figures that most people weren't losing sleep over the possibility of an Earth-annihilating GRB. "I wouldn't expect the stock market to go up as a result of this news, either," he said. "But there are a lot of people who have wondered whether GRBs could be blamed for mass extinctions early in Earth's history, and our work suggests that this is not the case."

How palestinians encourage peace in their time

This is a terrible story:

As far as the Abu al-Hawa family is concerned, the sale of two floors of their home on Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives was perfectly legitimate.

Mohamed Abu al-Hawa sold the real estate to a Palestinian businessman nearly a year ago, his brother Mahmoud says, earning $650,000. The money was used to buy another home on the Mount of Olives, a cherished spot overlooking Jerusalem’s Old City.

But last week Mohamed’s bullet-riddled body was found lying next to his burnt-out car on a road near Jericho. Branded a traitor for selling his property to Jews, he had been shot seven times, including once in the temple, Mahmoud said.

A detailed commentary piece on this is in the Jerusalem Post, and is well worth reading in full for its eye-opening account of this practice:

Muhammad Abu al-Hawa was buried in a makeshift cemetery on the road between Jerusalem where he lived, and Jericho where he was murdered. His body was buried there because the Palestinian Authority's mufti in Jerusalem, Ikremah Sabri, has barred all Muslims accused of selling land to Jews from being buried in a Muslim cemetery....

SINCE 1994, dozens of Arab Israelis and PA residents have been murdered on suspicion of selling land to Jews...

According to Palestinians and to Jews involved in purchasing lands from Palestinians, in the majority of cases, the Arabs murdered for the "crime" of selling land to Jews never sold land to Jews. At most they were "guilty" of having ties of friendship or commerce with Israelis. The fact that merely having relations with Jews can expose an Arab to allegations of collaboration is enough to convince most Palestinians that they shouldn't have anything to do with Israel or Israelis. So by murdering people like Abu al-Hawa, the Palestinian leadership ensures that Palestinians will be too afraid of being killed to risk peaceful coexistence with Israel.

So, not only is random terrorism against civilian Jews the only problem, they are prepared to kill their own to help delay forever any hope of peaceful co-existence.

Put this low on your tourist sites list for Japan

The Japan Times Online

From the above story:

Part of a jumbo jet's broken tail fin, crushed seats and a flight data recorder that detailed how JAL Flight 123 crashed into a mountain on Aug. 12, 1985, are among the items on display at the Safety Promotion Center of Japan Airlines Corp., which opened Wednesday for a media preview.

Located in Ota Ward, Tokyo, near Haneda airport, the center exhibits components from the crippled Boeing 747 that crashed into Mount Osutaka in Gunma Prefecture, leaving 520 passengers and crew members dead in the worst single-plane accident in history.

The facility will open to the public next Monday with the aim of promoting aviation safety awareness among the public. It will also be used for employee education and training at a time when JAL has been hit by a spate of safety problems.

Would seeing this really convince the public that JAL is taking safety seriously now?

I am?

The rise of the blogger - theage.com.au

Bloggers and internet pundits are exerting a "disproportionately large influence" on society, a report by technology researchers says.

Back on dreaming..

A few posts back I explained my recurring "proof of flying" dream. One thing I forgot to mention in the post is that often in this dream, the reason I think people won't believe that I can fly is because they will think it is just my dream. I am therefore dreaming about how to disprove that I am currently in a dream. I think in some versions, it is simply that I want to prove it to myself.

I think this raises the "oddness"factor of the dream quite a bit, and I should have mentioned it before.

Also, how's this for a slightly odd co-incidence (although hardly one of high Jungian significance.) While on the aircraft flying into Brisbane on Monday morning, after a night of virtually no sleep, for no obvious reason the chorus of "My old man's a dustman" came to mind. That's odd, I thought, why would looking out on Moreton Bay bring that far from frequently heard chorus to mind.

On the taxi ride from the airport, the driver had some obscure radio show on that opened with the "Run rabbit" song (used for years now in that slightly creepy Victorian tourist ad) and I thought "wouldn't it be odd if 'My old man...' comes on during this show." It didn't.

Then last night, while watching "Dusty", the doco series on the ABC about staging the musical in Melbourne, they showed a scene from the show that I think was meant to be Dusty Springfield's parents (the scene may have been cut from the final version) and it ended with the chorus of "My old man's a dustman." Just for a very short time before they cut to something else.

This Dusty TV show has been on for some weeks, and I had seen a very small amount of the first couple of episodes before I went on holidays. I suppose that if it had earlier featured a snippet of that song, that may well explain it. But as I think this is a far from crucial bit of music in the stage show, that explanation seems unlikely.

However, if a sleep deprived brain can tune into an uncommon song from 36 hours in the future, why can't it tune into next weeks lotto numbers instead?

The other explanation is that I am having a very silly dream cycle. If so, I hope it will become more significant soon.

By the way, my old man was not a dustman.

Global warming causes great falling chunks of ice?

Falling ice perplexes scientists / Theories abound after 2 chunks land in state in a week

Here's an interesting story from California about two recent unexplained ice falls there.

People who read Fortean stuff know that this phenomena has been around for a long time. Even so, someone in the article still manages to speculate that global warming has something to do with it.

Apparently, some climatologists have coined a good name for these:

Lead author Jesus Martinez-Frias of the Planetary Geology Laboratory in Madrid and his colleagues have collected reports of 40 cases around the world since 1999 of puzzling falling ice, or "megacryometeors," as they call the strange objects.

Try slipping that casually into a conversation today.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

In Kyoto

Time for some photos from Kyoto from about 8 days ago.

These are all around the very beautiful Kiyomizu temple. Our friend who now lives in Osaka places this temple amongst his "top 3" things to see in Japan. Good call I think.

It was a rainy day, so there is no happy blue sky in these photos. There were still lots of cherry blossoms out, though, and they look good in any light.

First pic is at the entrance:



Next is looking at the balcony of the main temple building. It costs a few dollars to get in, but it is the most spectacular location (that's Kyoto in the background):



The outlook from that balcony (looking to the left in the above picture) is like this:


A pathway winds through those trees, but given the weather (and the company of several small children) we did not walk it.

Here's another building in the temple complex:



Wikipedia has a short but interesting little entry about this temple, for those who would like more information.

We only had one day in Kyoto, which was a pity, but it is always good to know which places you would like to re-visit and see properly.

[For some mildly geeky stuff now: all the photos are from a fairly basic 4 megapixel Sony Cybershot camera, which seems to perform quite well, even though I have never finished reading the manual and mainly leave it in "auto" mode. This trip, however, being in cold weather, did result in a high turnover in alkaline batteries - and this is in a camera that is promoted as having long battery life. Living in Brisbane, I had never realised how much the cold weather affects them.

While it seemed to me this trip that the price difference between Australia and Japan for computer stuff was somewhat less than in past visits, one thing that still seems very substantially cheaper there is camera flash memory. A 1GB Memory Stick Pro could be had for about $105, which seems awfully cheap.]

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Some detail on Francis Fukuyama's position on Iraq

Why shouldn't I change my mind? - Los Angeles Times

See the above article where Fukuyama responds to some of the criticism of him for having allegedly jumped ship on Iraq. But as Philip Adams now cites Fukuyama with approval (see today's over-the-top column in the Australian), it is well worth reading Fukuyama's recent article to see that his position is not as anti-Bush as Adams might like to portray:

In my view, no one should be required to apologize for having supported intervention in Iraq before the war. There were important competing moral goods on both sides of the argument, something that many on the left still refuse to recognize. The U.N. in 1999 declared that all nations have a positive "duty to protect, promote and implement" human rights, arguing in effect that the world's powerful countries are complicit in human rights abuses if they don't use their power to correct injustices. The debate over the war shouldn't have been whether it was morally right to topple Hussein (which it clearly was), but whether it was prudent to do so given the possible costs and potential consequences of intervention and whether it was legitimate for the U.S. to invade in the unilateral way that it did.

It was perfectly honorable to agonize over the wisdom of the war, and in many ways admirable that people on the left, such as Christopher Hitchens, George Packer, Michael Ignatieff and Jacob Weisberg, supported intervention. That position was much easier to defend in early 2003, however, before we found absolutely no stocks of chemical or biological weapons and no evidence of an ongoing nuclear weapons program. (I know that many on the left believe that the prewar estimates about Hussein's weapons of mass destruction were all a deliberate fraud by the Bush administration, but if so, it was one in which the U.N. weapons inspectors and French intelligence were also complicit.) It was also easier to support the war before we knew the full dimensions of the vicious insurgency that would emerge and the ease with which the insurgents could disrupt the building of a democratic state.

Overall, the article is not badly argued.

I agree strongly that it was always clear that the decision to invade was a difficult one that had to be made by balancing quite a few pros and cons. (Of course, many of the possible "cons" cited by the antiwar movement, such as fierce resistance by the Iraqi army, never materialised.) Given the nature of the decision, one had to respect those who felt that, on balance, it was better not to invade.

However, the anti-war movement does not give the same respect to those on the other side, and by and large still refuses to grant that there was any legitimate moral or practical motive for the decision. (This despite increasing documentary and other evidence that Saddam was co-operative with Islamic terrorism, the sanctions regime was not working except for his benefit, and of course the many, many citizens killed by Saddam's regime.) This is where those like Hitchens loses patience with the anti-war movement, and deservedly so.

If the invasion has taken longer than expected to result in anything like good government, this should not be grounds for gloating by the Left. That the problems of how democracy can be made to work is attracting new attention is understandable, but it was never going to be easy. Criticism of how the post invasion was handled is legitimate, but some caution needs to be exercised even there least it it fuels the very problems the critics raise.

I remain, like Tim Blair (see his Continuing Crisis column from a couple of weeks ago) a cautious optimist on the long term outcome in Iraq. But there is no doubt that the current stalemate there tests that optimism much more than I would like.

Monday, April 17, 2006

An example for Kim Beazley to follow?

Reuters Business Channel | Reuters.com

The above story was reported in Japan while I was there, and is rather odd:

A French lawmaker, rushed to hospital on Friday the 39th day of a hunger strike, gave up his protest after a Japanese firm abandoned plans to close a factory in his area following a deal with the government.

Centrist deputy Jean Lassalle lost more than 20 kilograms in his battle to save 147 jobs in a factory owned by Japan's Toyal Aluminium in Accous, a town in his constituency in southwestern France.

"I feel at peace now ... For a long time now I haven't felt like I've done anything as useful," an exhausted Lassalle said during a rambling news conference at a hospital outside Paris. ...

Another triumph for French rationality!

Maybe this was the way they could have prevented the Iraq war. Chirac and all other politicians could have starved their way into convincing Bush.

Anyway, Beazley won't be endorsing this as a political method - [you can see it coming, but what the hey] - he'd have to starve at least twice as long to get results.

On cherry blossoms - and other things - in Japan

A couple of weekends ago, cherry blossoms were in peak bloom in Tokyo's Ueno Park, which is pretty much sakura central for Tokyo residents. Just a few locals joined my family and me for a stroll:





The cherry blossom viewing for many people involves claiming a patch of ground with the ubiquitous blue tarp and having food, :



and a drink, or ten:



(I am not sure if he is in his underwear or his speedos. In any event, I reckon it was about 10 to 12 degrees at the time of the photo.)

Cherry blossoms are very pretty, and the weather forecast on TV each night shows where the cherry blossom "front" is over the whole country. (Naturally, the trees in the more northern and colder parts of Japan start flowering later than those to the warmer south.) More information on sakura trees is, as usual, at Wikipedia. (One thing they don't mention is that a spring time treat is a mochi rice sweet that comes wrapped in a sort of pickled sakura tree leaf. I can only imagine that someone centuries ago must have been really hungry to think about how to make these tree leaves edible.)

Ueno Park also has a smallish zoo, but the throng of people there on this visit made it impossible to get good photos. People are herded particularly quickly past the panda bear enclosure, and I had but a glimpse of a reclining black and white body.

By the way, as global warming would have it, Japan's winter this year was (I am told) particularly cold and snowy. Unexpectedly, I ran into snow into the northern part of Honshu only about 10 days ago. This was the scene outside the onsen hotel after a night of gentle snow:



Damn pretty, hey. (This is a good time to note that my problem with Melbourne winters is not that the minimum temperature is so low - the suburbs in Brisbane often have lower overnight temperatures - it's just that Melbourne suffers from a seemingly interminable number of grey, wet, cool to cold days without ever having the off-setting prettiness of snow.)

Onsen are the Japanese hot spring baths, and most are attached to hotels or inns (ryokan) with Japanese style rooms. Wikipedia has a good summary about them here.

Maybe most people have seen these over the years on the travel shows, but I am in a sharing mood:



This is the washing area next to the bath itself. You sit on the stools and use the shower or basin to wash yourself before getting in the bath, which in my case looked like this:



This is actually the outside bath, as you can see from the snow in the background. The temperature of the water is usually so high that sitting in it with your head and shoulders in the snowy air is pleasant. (Well, if you splash a bit of water on your shoulders every minute or so.)

There was no one around when I took these photos. They are nearly all gender segregated anyway, although that may not stop a cleaning woman being around if you are having a morning bath!

I can tell you that an absolutely essential part of all Japanese TV shows about travel within the country is the scene in which the host is sitting in the local onsen bath, quickly followed by a discussion of the local area's specialty food. (With host tasting it and saying in an exaggerated way "oishi" or "umai", meaning "delicious".)

The Japanese style room will look something like this (insert your own close relative, you can't have mine):



No beds, just futons laid out on the tatami floor in the evening for sleep. Most onsen hotels will include a very nice dinner served in the room with lots of little dishes. This one we stayed at was a "public" onsen, which is cheaper and did not have this option. However, the food served in the dining room smorgasbord style (Japanese call it "viking style", which I find kinda funny) was still very good.

Oh well, I need to catch up on some sleep. More travelogues to come.

(And, just in case you don't realise it yet, clicking on the photos above bring up enlarged versions.)

Back!

The Dominion has returned. Some posts about Japan are in order, over the next few days.

Friday, April 07, 2006

I wonder what the false positive rate is..

This sounds sort of hard to believe, but we are talking Malaysia:

Malaysia will soon begin using eye-scan machines in schools to detect drug usage among teenage pupils after reports that a large number of adult drug users begin their addictions while in school, media reports said yesterday.
Deputy Education Minister Noh Omar said the 200,000-ringgit ($53,333) machines should be able to detect signs of drug use within 24 hours by using light displays to measure eye movement.
A preliminary test of the eye scans is to be conducted next month at a school in
Kuala Lumpur, he said.

Moreover, things have already been just a tad regimented for Malaysian students:

Previously, the government had been conducting random urine tests on teenage students in schools.

Why hasn't at least a private school in Australia tried flying that one?

They also apparently start young in that country:

The government revealed Thursday that a total of 17.7 per cent of drug addicts polled in Kuala Lumpur had started their addictions before the age of 13 with morphine and heroine topping the list of favoured substances.
Authorities said Malaysia has more than 500,000 addicts, but health workers fear the numbers could be much higher.
Despite Malaysia’s tough drug laws, which prescribe a mandatory death sentence by hanging for drug trafficking, drug addiction continues to be on the rise.

I wonder how reliable these figures are. They have a strong smell of 'moral panic' abut them.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

On re-thinking Iraq

The departing editor of The Economist (he's been there 13 years) gets to talk about how the world has changed in the period. On the magazine's decision to support the invasion of Iraq, he writes this:

All of which is the background to the most controversial decision of this editorship: the decision to support the American-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003. Our reasoning began with the fact that the status quo was terrible: doing nothing, whether about Iraq or about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, was itself a deadly decision. It went on to the risk that Saddam still had a stock of weapons of mass destruction that if left in power he might wish to use or to sell. In the light of September 11th and the dismal results from 13 years of sanctions, we argued that wishful thinking about Saddam would be reckless. The West should invade, remove him from power, and throw its considerable resources behind the rebuilding of a free Iraq.

The ensuing three years, I hardly need to say, have seen a debacle. His WMDs turned out to be a bluff, fooling even his own generals. Elections have been held, a constitution has been written, but no government is in place. Institutions remain in tatters. Whether or not a civil war is under way is largely a semantic issue. Dozens of Iraqis are dying every day, killed by other Iraqis. So does this prove our decision wrong, just as the good outcome in ex-Yugoslavia put our “stumbling” warning in the shade?

This will outrage some readers, but I still think the decision was correct—based on the situation at that time, which is all it could have been based on. The risk of leaving Saddam in power was too high. Outside intervention in other countries' affairs is difficult, practically, legally and morally. It should be done only in exceptional circumstances, and backed by exceptional efforts. Iraq qualified on the former. George Bush let us—and America—down on the latter. So, however, did other rich countries: whatever they thought of the invasion, they had a powerful interest in sorting out the aftermath. Most shirked it.

Sounds reasonable to me.

When prayer seems to fail

Slate writer William Saletan has often been mentioned on this blog, and his latest article on the recent study about prayer and its effect on post surgery recovery is another good, half amusing, half serious, read.

Continuing an anti cat crusade...

If the birds don't give you the flu, maybe your cat will:

It is vital to restrict the spread of bird flu in cats in order to protect human health, scientists warn.

Writing in Nature, scientists from Erasmus Medical Centre, Rotterdam, say the risk is being overlooked.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Must cancel my Mars ticket

This does not sound good:

Former NASA Payload Specialist James Pawelczyk told an Experimental Biology 2006 meeting Tuesday in San Francisco every cell in one's body could experience a high energy event with heavy metal ions during the 13- to 30-month Mars round trip.

Must try harder than this

See this story for a really pathetic attempt to increase fathers role in child rearing in Japan. :

Under the revisions -- the latest policy measure aimed at dealing with the anemic birthrate -- expecting fathers, as well as mothers, will receive a notebook to keep records on the health of mother and child from pregnancy through early childhood, LDP members said.

The name of the notebook will be changed from the "maternal and child health handbook" to the "parent and child health handbook."

I have a dream...

A couple of nights ago, I had another one of my `proof of flying` dreams. While many people may have dreams in which they can fly, I am not sure how common my (recurring) variation would be.

In the dream I have the ability to fly. Just need to get myself in the right frame of mind, and I can levitate off the ground and swan around in the air. I never fly too high, just a few metres.

During the dream, I am flying alone and unobserved, and am very aware that people will not believe that I am able to do this. I try to think of ways that I can prove it, and this usually involves a video camera taping myself in action, so to speak.

The details of the most recent dream are already sketchy, but I think I got a good tape of myself flying inside a big building, and was very happy and vindicated that people could now see clearly that I can do this. It was a very good feeling. Then I woke up and felt rather disappointed.

I have been having this dream for some years now. I have always had flying dreams and they have always been nice. However, Ⅰfind this variation sort of funny/strange, hence this post. Nevertheless, I promise not to make dream reports a regular feature here.   

Monday, April 03, 2006

Tracee gets black

The Age's most easily ridiculed writer would currently have to be Tracee Hutchison. Her article about visiting some blackfellas who set up in Melbourne for the Commonwealth games is a good example:

Have you got any blackfella in you? The man asking the question is in the process of smoking me. It seems a strange question to ask a fair-skinned, pale-eyed, blonde woman. I don't think so.

Just sounds like sale assistant talk to me. Never hurts to butter up the customer.

And for some reason, the Fire Man thinks I've got some kind of blackfella spirit inside me. I feel humbled that this healing man might think so.

Not sure why this should be humbling. Is it because there is something nicer about having that touch of primative purity in your blood?

Part of me wishes there were more whitefellas here feeling what I am feeling and the other part is savouring what I know is an extraordinary moment. It is a moment about trust. A moment that says we mean no harm to each other. A moment that tells me about our black history in the most profound way. And it is so understated it is almost overwhelming.

Yes, I always like it when something becomes so understated it circles back on itself and becomes overwhelming.

I find an older man at the sit-down fire and he wants to know my business. I tell him I've come to sit down. We talk for a while and it emerges that I do a radio show and a bit of writing. I thought so, he says. How can we get our message across?

How did he know she was a broadcaster? More of that ancient aboriginal mystical foreknowledge, or does he just own a radio? (OK, she may not have meant that to sound mystical, but she leaves that interpretation open.)

The smell of gum leaves is still in my clothes as I leave 3CR and I'm wondering if that black spirit the Fire Man talked of is something we all might have more of if we took a little time to sit down for a while.

How very, very twee, Tracee.

The Dominion on Holiday

Warning was intended to be given last week, but time was short.

Opinion Dominion is currently coming to you  via Japan. How often posts will appear is not clear.  There is the added complication of using a Japan Windows computer.  It keeps trying to change things into Japanese,and doing funny things to fonts etc.  So if the formatting is wonky, I apologise in advance.

One thing I am using that seems to work well is Portable Firefox, a version which fits on the smallest USB key and runs from that device (rather than doing the rather impolite act of downloading Firefox on someone else’s hard drive.)  I really hate having to use IE after Firefox, and I also get to run Firefox in english,which always helps the language challenged like me.

I see that Tim Blair has also had a low Internet presence for the last few days.  I am sure there must be a conspiracy theory in there somewhere.