Monday, April 30, 2007

Japan, Sex and History

Japan's love affairs with sex | The Japan Times Online

This essay is not particularly well written, but contains enough semi-sordid educational material that it is worth reading.

For example, the founding myth of Japan has the first two deities as a husband and wife:

A charming account of their courtship follows, in which the god and goddess shyly discover each other's sexual parts and Izanagi declares:

"I wish to unite this source-place of my body to the source-place of thy body.''

Their first offspring were islands; then came a profusion of gods and goddesses, one of whom was Amaterasu, the sun goddess.

I wonder if that "source-place of my body" line works in bars in Japan today.

Hitchens' religion series

For those who haven't already noticed, Slate is running excerpts from Christopher Hitchen's new anti-religion book.

Of course, I don't agree with his thesis, but he at least promises to be a wittier and less irritating writer on the topic than the likes of Dawkins. (His preconceptions clearly influence even his literary judgement though; in the first extract he dismisses CS Lewis as a "dreary" apologist! Lewis may have flaws in some of his arguments, but a "dreary" writer he surely isn't.)

A couple of the extracts are already interesting: those summarising the foundation of Islam and Mormonism (and looking at the similarities between the two.)

Given our proximity in time to the founding of Mormonism, it is remarkable how that church is successful in light of the (relative) ease of investigation into the circumstances of its creation. (Of course, the Church of Scientology is an even more puzzling success.)

On the move in and out of Iraq

Comment is free: Iraq's refugee crisis

That there has been very large population displacement within and out of Iraq is clear. With such large population shifts, it's a wonder that there is not more regional multinational interest in helping end the turmoil. However, as the article notes:

Two million Iraqi refugees are scattered around the region, the great majority of them in Jordan and Syria, with smaller numbers in Turkey, Lebanon, and Egypt. Because they are urban refugees - not housed in tents, but rather blending in with the local population in the host countries - they are easily ignored.

I guess that the countries who are most interested in the internal situation in Iraq (I presume, Iran and Saudi Arabia) don't have many refugees and see it as not their problem.

The Tablet reports that things are not going well for the remaining Christians in Iraq either:

Archbishop Louis Sako of Kirkuk warned that attacks on Christians by radical Islamic groups, previously localised in sectors of cities such as Baghdad and Mosul, had now spread across the country, even into areas previously considered a safe haven for Christians.

"In Iraq Christians are dying, the Church is disappearing under continued persecution, threats and violence carried out by extremists who are leaving us no choice: conversion or exile," said the Chaldean archbishop.

Radical Sunni groups in areas of Baghdad were threatening local Christians with violence unless they paid a jizya, or "donation", towards the insurgency, immediately converted to Islam, or handed over their homes and fled the country, Archbishop Sako said...

Ten of Baghdad's 80 Christian churches have closed since 2003. Fifty thousand Iraqis are fleeing the country each month, according to the UN. While they make up 5 per cent of the population, Christians constitute 40 per cent of those fleeing.

Radical Sunnis are such a likeable bunch.

Update: Tigerhawk has a long and interesting post about a talk given by Lawrence Wright, who seems to know what he is talking about when it comes to al Qaeda. Good reading.

Just strange

BBC NEWS | Europe | Dutchman's Noah's ark opens doors:

A half-sized replica of the biblical Noah's Ark has been built by a Dutch man, complete with model animals.

Dutch creationist Johan Huibers built the ark as testament to his literal belief in the Bible.

The ark, in the town of Schagen, is 150 cubits long - half the length of Noah's - and three storeys high. A cubit was about 45cm (18in) long.

The ark opened its doors on Saturday, after almost two years' construction, most of it by Mr Huiber himself.

Al Gore should have been invited to the opening too.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Cranking up the insincerity

Rudd silent on economy, says PM. 27/04/2007. ABC News Online

Kevin Rudd has to resort to the patently silly forms of attack on conservative politics and the PM for the sound bites on TV tonight:

He says a Labor government would set a new standard.

"We stand for community, we stand for country, we stand for the planet," he said.

"By contrast, the conservatives stand for the three great ennobling values: me, myself and I."

Oh, bring me a bucket.

And as for Howard:

"Mr Howard doesn't really believe in a single idea which didn't appear on black and white television."

This is good in its own way. Resort to such platitudes, which we all know Rudd doesn't genuinely believe (he has the personal friendship with Joe Hockey to illustrate that,) means that he is should start to be seen as cranking up the insincerity for marketing purposes. He is thus shown to be just another politician, which may be the start of of a drop in his puzzling popularity.

Speaking of insincerity, Tony Jones on Lateline last night, interviewing a Kevin Rudd who seemed to me to be unusually giggly, missed a golden opportunity in this section:

KEVIN RUDD: ...... Mr Howard's not interested. We could reduce greenhouse gas emissions, I'm advised, by up to 30 per cent by affecting, by implementing, such an effective demand-side management approach. And lastly, what do we do about clean coal and what do we do about hybrid cars and those sorts of things? We've got clear cut policies on the table for the future. What do we get from Mr Howard? Resounding silence, because he's rooted in the past.

What you do, Kevin, if you really believe in them, is drive one yourself. (Not that Tony Jones made that rejoinder).

More Ehrenreich scepticism Living - Books - Party, party, party

This is a good sceptical review of Barbara Ehrenreich's book "Dancing in the Streets" that I mentioned a few posts ago.

Strange goings on in Italy

After a flurry of cases in the 1980's, things have been pretty quiet in Britain and the USA recently with regards to claims of satanic child abuse. However, it has made an appearance again in Italy:

Three women teachers were among six people arrested yesterday accused of sedating and sexually abusing children as young as 3 at a school near Rome.

The teachers — two of whom are grandmothers who had taught at the school and at Sunday school for decades — are said to have part in the repeated abuse of 15 children aged 3 and 5 for a year, filming them in sexual acts with satanic overtones at the teachers’ homes and in a wood.

Even the parish priest defends the accused:

Ottavio Coletta, the Mayor of Rignano Flaminio, said that the town of 8,000 people was enveloped in “a poisonous climate of hatred and vendetta”, and Father Erri Rocchi, the parish priest, said he still believed the teachers were the victims of “malicious tongues”. He said that the women were church-goers and taught at Sunday school.

Unless there is actual video evidence, the odds of eventual acquittal for the accused would have to be extremely high.

Attention space cadets

NASA's Mission to the Moon: How We'll Go Back — and Stay This Time - Popular Mechanics

The current issue of Popular Mechanics at the newsagents in Australia has a cover story about the planning at NASA for the return to the Moon. Happily, it is already on line.

Good reading!

Criminal law reform

To serve justice, you have to get past all the babble - Opinion -

Richard Ackland returns to the issue of reform of the criminal justice system in his column today. Worth reading, even though I suspect that 90% of lawyers in Australia are very resistant to any serious change in this area. (I am just pulling figures out the air, but I would like to see some proper research on this.)

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Problem not solved

BBC NEWS | Middle East | Despair stalks Baghdad as plan falters

Just so I can't be accused of ignoring bad news from Iraq, this assessment of the grim picture in Baghdad still, I reckon, supports my view that the "get out now" crowd are the ones who would hurt Iraqis more if they got their way.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The ridiculously complicated games of Iraq

Despite his rhetoric, Sadr needs U.S. - for now - International Herald Tribune

This article explains the complications caused in Iraq by Moktada al-Sadr's ever changing (and often contradictory) actions in Iraq.

It seems extremely unfortunate that such a character has a stage on which to strut.

Meanwhile, it is disturbing to see what passes for sensible commentary on the increasingly deranged Road to Surfdom. Ken really feels for the citizens of Iraq (no issue there), but lets this wave of emotion lead him to say the following:
Yet millions of Australians and tens of millions of Americans, people of ordinary intelligence and goodwill, accept all this being done in their name with the complacent justification that the Iraqis are better off than they were under Saddam, or that the known tragedies associated with the occupation pale into insignificance compared to the tragedies that are predicted to accompany any withdrawal – even though the consequences of withdrawal are unknowable and the gates of hell forecasts are made by people who have a blatant vested interest in the occupation continuing.
So, what is more immoral? Leaving now, even against the wishes of a rabid anti-American like al-Sadr (see article above)? Or trying to assist in the prevention of the sectarian violence between civilians, which is clearly what most of the death is now about?

It is possible that an immediate withdrawal might mean that the country settles down in a shorter period, but in all likelihood only at the cost of a dramatic rise in death, displacement and mayhem first. (Who wouldn't expect a serious partition attempt if the US left right now, and who expects that it could be done without large loss of life?) It is quite ridiculous to suggest this view is only promoted by those with "vested interests" in America staying there.

What it comes down to is this: Ken prefers the idea of gambling with the lives of civilians, rather than see something in place that is specifically designed to help protect them. I don't see how you can seriously argue that staying there for now is not the moral thing to do.

UPDATE: a column in The Guardian also takes up the point of the complicated and often duplicitous actions of all the major Middle Eastern players in Iraq. It is well worth reading, but the general point is that many parties who claim to want the US out of there are just posturing. They actually want America to stay, at least for the time being.

Not everything said in this analysis might be accurate, but overall it sounds fairly plausible. It certainly indicates why, contrary to the normal expectation of Western democracy, the opinion of the people in Iraq on this is not something is deserving of enforcement at the moment.

UPDATE 2: Diogenes Lamp posts about a funny/serious letter to The Age about the silliness of comparing Iraq to the V-Tech killings.

War bride stories for ANZAC Day

The 7.30 Report - ABC

This year, the fate of Australian war brides has been getting a lot of attention. Last night's story on 7.30 Report (link above) was a pretty charming interview with a couple of WWII war brides from Australia who ended up in America. (The sprightly 90 year old was nicer than the other one, but she did remind me somehow of Barry Humphries in drag.) Go have a look at the video.

There's also a recent book out (Swing By Sailor) about 669 war brides who went to England in 1946 on a semi-converted British aircraft carrier. This Bulletin article summarises the story:

If any of the brides was apprehensive about what lay ahead, she tried not to show it when the ship left on July 3, 1946. It had cost £16,000 to convert the aircraft-carrier to house 700 women, crew and demobbed sailors, a total of 1854 on board. Berths and bathrooms replaced aircraft hangars; a soda fountain, cinema and even a hairdressing salon were installed. But, writes Dyson, Captain John Annesley "had no idea how unruly a warship of brides could be".

"One of the captain's first talks was about sex not rearing its ugly head on his ship," recalls Monk. Even before the ship had left the Heads, however, there was "carrying on", she says, hooting with laughter. "It was like a smorgasbord to some of the girls - so many lusty young men available."

Hey - I thought it was about going to be with your new spouses! Just goes to show that images of a prime and proper pre-1960's world of sexual behaviour are far from accurate. Also, it sounds like Sydney may have had somewhat of a gay reputation even then:
Edna Wroe met her husband Eddie Monk in front of a jukebox at Playland arcade on Pitt Street. He was blond, blue-eyed and in a tight-fitting sailor's uniform, she says, and "if I wasn't fending the girls off, it was the guys trying to pick him up".
But back to this sex voyage:
As the ship entered warmer climes and the women sunbathed on deck, forbidden liaisons multiplied so quickly that "chastity rounds" were instituted. Monk was one of a dozen women whose husbands were travelling with them. Finding a "nookie hole" proved difficult, she says, because everywhere "was already occupied. Our secret spot was in one of the gun turrets. Being a gunner, Eddie knew".
All this fun can its consequences, though:
Word got back to some of the waiting husbands of affairs between their wives-to-be and crew. Telegrams would arrive saying, "Don't come. You're not wanted". Those who received no letters from their husbands began to wonder if anyone would be there to meet them. Indeed, some Aussie war brides were left stranded; others slipped away with their newfound British sailor boyfriends.
I also heard on Radio National recently a repeat of a documentary about Japanese war brides in Australia. It was very good, but there appears to be no audio or transcript available. The culture shock of moving from Japan to, say, Canberra at that time (as I seem to recall one of them did) must have been enormous.

These are not stories of great hardship, compared to what goes on during war itself, but as social history related to war, it's all very interesting in its own right.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Back to the drawing board

Hamas Says Truce With Israel Is Over - New York Times

Never forgets

Tim Blair has a mind like a steel trap, doesn't he? It often surprises me how he remembers examples of hypocrisy from years ago.

About happiness

It’s sad but Dionysian orgies ain’ t what they used to be--David Aaronovitch-TimesOnline

This is a pretty interesting article on the (apparent) state of unhappiness in Britain now. It also casts a sceptical eye over the recent book by Barbara Ehrenreich which proposes as follows:
It is Ehrenreich’s contention that one significant factor in modern depression has been the suppression, over time, of communal rituals and festivals. And, in particular, the suppression of those events in which human beings collectively gave themselves over to ecstasy.
While initially sounding plausible, there are reasons to be sceptical of this theory. For example, Aaronovitch writes:
If it were possible to apply Ehrenreich’s analysis to the here and now, we should expect to find that those countries most influenced by Calvinism would be the most depressed and unhappy. And what we find is the exact opposite.
One of the comments at the end of the article also notes:
Isn't happinness something that arises within the human heart which subsequently organises parties? The argument of the article is that you organise events in order to generate happinness. Have a party, get slightly hammered, and then you'll get more of a feel-good glow. Well, we've had more and more of that in our city centres over the last ten years and the result, apparently, is less joy.
Oddly, despite pointing out reasons to be sceptical, Aaronovitch still seems to end up thinking that more communal partying is part of the answer:
We need more revelries. We need less anti-fun Nimbyism and more bonfire nights, street parties, open-air samba classes, Olympic Gameses, London Marathons, local carnivals, park concerts, Demis Roussos and raves.
Raves! Surely 10 hours of "doof doof" music at deafening volume is only made enjoyable by the attendees being under the influence of powerful illicit chemicals. (Alcohol alone being inadequate to the task.) Then those who get through the night on ecstasy are likely to have a downer when they come off the drug. No, amateur fiddling with brain chemicals is not a likely path to increased communal happiness.

But before I leave Aaronovitch , I do like this reminder of the extremes of some past communal celebrations:
Today the casualty of a rave might come to in a lockup minus his dignity and his watch. When the Anatolian cult of Cybele came to Rome in the 2nd century BC, its wild celebrations were marked — at their height — by members of the priesthood cutting off their own testicles. You can imagine waking up in the morning, asking yourself whether last night’s revels had really happened, and then looking down.
They don't make clergy like they used to.

People like Andrew Norton know a lot more about happiness research than I do, and it is a mildly interesting topic. But it should never be taken very seriously. I suspect it's like quantum physics; the attempt at observing probably changes what you are looking at anyway.

Great moments in prison administration

BBC NEWS | Americas | False fax allows US prison escape

A prisoner in the US state of Kentucky was mistakenly freed after a phoney fax ordering his release was sent from a nearby grocery store.

Ridicule invited

Sheryl Crow's view on toilet paper: one sheet a visit | News | Guardian Unlimited Music

The most surprising paragraph from this article is at the end:

Crow's environmental opinions are not limited to toilet paper. She also believes paper napkins "represent the height of wastefulness", while she has designed a clothing line which features a detachable "dining sleeve" that wearers can use to wipe their mouth while eating.

She is truly God's gift to comedy writers.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Bad news for Pete

PM gains, but Rudd leads - National -

The Age reports:

People were asked to imagine Peter Costello was PM and then quizzed a second time on how they would vote. Labor's two-party lead rose to 61 to 39 per cent. Asked whether they would prefer Mr Rudd or Mr Costello as PM, an overwhelming 60 per cent preferred Mr Rudd, to 32 per cent for Mr Costello.

I have never really understood Costello's unpopularlity. He doesn't seem to me any more insincere than your average politician, and the media who spend time around him seem to think well enough of him. It's hard to criticise his job as treasurer. He's nowhere near as demeaning to others in his parliamentary performance as Keating was; in any event, Keating showed that nasty headkicking can have an appreciative audience.

So why is he still unpopular?

Sunday, April 22, 2007

The household gas chamber

Lucy Siegle: How can I evict house mice? | Magazine | The Observer

From this story one can learn the PETA recommended way to kill a mouse in the house:
...Peta (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) recommends a mousetrap that actually kills the animal, and gave the Radar (Rodent Activated Detection and Riddance device) an award last year. This is allegedly the world's smartest mouse trap: when a mouse trips it, the doors close and a tiny canister releases carbon dioxide. In 10 seconds the mouse is out cold, in 60 it's dead. The device then sends an email to a pest controller - all 'without any toxins going into the environment', boasts Rentokil.
I am sorely tempted to wonder out loud if they are manufactured in Germany, but that would be cruel.

(And anyway, they appear to have been developed in England. Damn!)

UPDATE: It also occurs to me that having such a device in your house must provide one of the most peculiar pretences you could ever use to get out of a date or meeting you were not enjoying: (After checking at your e-mail on your mobile device): "oh, sorry, must rush home, the mousetrap has just emailed me that it has caught something."

Some China reading

A few weeks ago, I noted that there seemed to be some pretty compelling reasons to be pessimistic about China's economy. If there was something fundamentally flawed in what Friedman says, I would like to hear the explanation.

On the issue of potential political instability, there have been a few articles around this week of interest. First, this one (reprinted from the WSJ by the looks) paints a glum picture of the potential for reform:

Many in the West think that Chinese growth has created an independent middle class that will push for greater political freedom. But what exists in China, Mr. Mao argues, is not a traditional middle class but a class of parvenus, newcomers who work in the military, public administration, state enterprises or for firms ostensibly private but in fact Party-owned.

The Party picks up most of the tab for their mobile phones, restaurant bills, "study" trips abroad, imported luxury cars and lavish spending at Las Vegas casinos. And it can withdraw these advantages at any time. In March, China announced that it would introduce individual property rights for the parvenus (though not for the peasants). They will now be able to pass on to their children what they have acquired—another reason that they aren't likely to push for the democratization of the regime that secures their status.
Earlier in the article, it notes that the size of the middle class as follows:
...200 million of China's subjects, fortunate to work for an expanding global market, are increasingly enjoying a middle-class standard of living. The remaining one billion, however, are among the poorest and most exploited people in the world, lacking even minimal rights and public services.
The New Yorker, meanwhile, runs a lengthy article on a political prisoner. It's a pretty interesting read that covers a lot of Chinese modern history.

Finally, China continues in the tradition of nations founded as worker's paradises which have appalling workers' safety standards. Today's news is of a particularly gruesome accident:

At least 32 workers were killed and two injured today when they were buried in white-hot molten steel at a metal factory in North East China, officials said.

The mishap was triggered when a 30-tonne-capacity steel ladle sheared off from the blast furnace, spilling liquid metal onto the factory floor three metres below.

The molten steel engulfed an adjacent room where workers had gathered for a routine shift change, the State Work Safety Administration said.

An exam to remember

Indian teachers 'purify' students with cow urine - World -


The Times of India reported yesterday that upper-caste headteacher Sharad Kaithade ordered the ritual after taking over from a lower-caste predecessor at a school in a remote village in the western state of Maharashtra earlier this month.

He told an upper-caste colleague to spray cow urine in a cleansing ceremony as the students were taking an examination, wetting their faces and their answer sheets, the newspaper said.

"She said you'll study well after getting purified," student Rajat Washnik was quoted as saying by the CNN-IBN news channel. Students said they felt humiliated.

Wittier readers than me can supply their own wisecracks.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Evil under discussion

Thought Experiments : The Blog: Evil

Go to the link for a thoughtful blog discussion underway about the concept of evil. (It's in Bryan Appleyard's pleasantly eclectic blog, which is worth checking daily.)

Friday, April 20, 2007

Accidental deaths of WWII

The friendly fires of hell | Jerusalem Post

This article tells the tragic story of 7,000 odd concentration camp inmates accidentally killed in the very last days of World War II.

(As the article notes, it may have been the intention of the Nazis that they all drown anyway, but it is still somewhat embarrassing that it was the British attack that did the job.)

You can learn something new every day.

I don't understand ...

Janet Elder - On Polling - Campaign 2008 - New York Times

This article points out that President Bush has significantly higher support in polls amongst the under 30's than he does with those over 60.

They also support the Iraq war more strongly, and the same age group did the same even during much of the Vietnam war, apparently.

Very odd, is all I can say.

Some Virginia Tech commentary

For some well worth reading blog commentary on the Virginia Tech killings, there are a couple of good posts by Former Spook. As you might expect, Neo-Neocon writes well about it too.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

The uncertainties of psychiatry

NEJM -- Treatment of Bipolar Depression

This editorial from the New England Journal of Medicine talks about recent studies on the use of antidepressants for bipolar disorder (the manic/depressive illness). This is of some interest to me because I have recently been reading at work psychiatric reports on someone who was initially diagnosed with this.

It would appear that American psychiatrists don't like to give anti-depressants for it because they believe it increases the risk of manic episodes. Apparently, European psychs don't worry about this much, and a recent study seemingly backing them up. However, the editorial questions whether this is a valid conclusion from the study.

This strikes me as odd: that there are different schools of thought depending on which continent your psychiatrist works.

Given that bipolar and anti-depressants have both been around for a long time, I would have thought that such an issue would have been sorted out long ago.

Instead, you get the feeling that, to a large extent, psychiatric patients are treated by trial and error, with individual biases not necessarily supported by studies playing a significant role.

Everyone should keep their fingers crossed for their continuing mental health.

Hey you!

This has been one of those weeks when I think my posts are particularly entertaining or interesting. As usual, this means no one makes a comment, at all.

At other times, I make a quick post that I don't think particularly well done, and someone at the top of the blogging chain links to it and I get hundreds of "drop-ins" for a couple of days before going back to a normal 30 - 40 hits a day. (OK, that has only happened a few times.)

Blogging is a weird game. Good thing I amuse myself, I guess.

Out there

news @ - Physicists bid farewell to reality? -Quantum mechanics just got even stranger.

This is not that easy to follow - understanding quantum non-locality never was. I can't even summarise it well, and news@nature stories aren't available for long. Just go and read it if it is your thing.

I wonder whether non-realistic understandings of the quantum world lend credence to the idea that the universe is a simulation running on someone else's (God's?) uber-computer? It only needs to "render" something when someone is looking at it.

Don't leave home without it

'Deflector' shields could protect future astronauts - space - 18 April 2007 - New Scientist Space

More on research into using plasma shields to protect astronauts from radiation. Good to see.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

While we are talking about English history..

The past was a stinker | Review | Guardian Unlimited Books

This book review of "Hubbub - Filth, Noise & Stench in England" was re-printed in the Sydney Morning Herald a couple of weeks ago. It sounds like an amusingly appalling read. An extract:

Cockayne has dug deep into the archives and come up with a hundred little snatches of story that show ordinary people bustling about their business and taking care not to step in something nasty. Mostly they don't succeed. The walls of domestic dwellings in the 17th century were routinely bulked out by shit shipped from "the necessary house" and quite likely to dissolve into a nasty goo when the rains came down. One authority noted that few homes outlasted the ground lease of 50 years or so, while one German visitor wondered out loud whether he should venture into the street during a violent storm in 1775 "lest the house should fall in, which is no rare occurrence in London". "Kennels", or drainage ditches, were mostly bunged up with everything from brassica stalks to dead babies, and it was a good idea to carry a stick in case there were any rampaging pigs about (market days got them especially jumpy).

Inside was not much better. In 1756 Harrop's Manchester Mercury advertised a book that claimed to get rid of all household vermin, including "adders, badgers, birds, catterpillers [sic], earwigs, fish, flies, foxes, frogs, gnats, Mice, otters, Pismires [ants], Pole-cats, Rabbits, Rats, Snakes, Scorpions, snails, spiders, Toads, Wasps, Weasels, ... Moles, Worms ... Buggs [sic], Lice, & Fleas &c".

Fish were "household vermin"? Maybe it means silverfish.

Eat like an Edwardian

Appetite for excess-TimesOnline

This is a quite amusing article about the excesses of the Edwardian rich man's diet.

If you liked "The Edwardian Country House", which is perhaps the only "reality TV" I have ever taken to, then you will enjoy this article.

Stoner provides a health message

The Sydney Morning Herald Blogs: All Men Are Liars

Sam de Brito, whose blog at Fairfax I don't particularly care for, has at least done a service by warning youngsters off marijuana, at least if it is of the hydroponic kind.

I don't have time to go looking for evidence of this today, but is the explanation he gives (that hydroponic stuff is dangerous because it is usually covered in pesticides and fungicides) actually been tested? I have heard it before, and it seems to be widely believed in the smoking community. But has it been tested?

More explanation on why the media does not love K Rudd

Cut & paste: Heavy the media and risk a broken glass jaw, Mr Rudd | Opinion | The Australian

After Kevin Rudd's clumsy attempt at heavy-ing the media was revealed by Alan Ramsey a couple of weeks ago, it's remarkable that Rudd appears to have attempted it again. Laurie Oaks brought this to light in a question at Rudd's Press Club appearance yesterday. Funny how this was not mentioned in the highlights I saw on the evening news (and even The 7.30 Report) last night. Here's Oaks' question:

LAURIE Oakes: This morning the editor of the Sydney Sunday Telegraph, Neil Breen, appeared on radio in Melbourne to talk about what's become known as the false dawn affair, or sun-lies.

He said after the story appeared in his paper, "Mr Rudd just went bananas about it, he just went crazy ... The phone calls started from then and they went to the highest powers of News Limited. I ended up speaking with him at length on Tuesday and he was just indignant that we were totally wrong, this story was baseless, when we in fact knew it was right. And then as ... he demanded what sort of remedy he wanted from us (for) publishing this story, (it was clear) he was involved in this fake Anzac service."

He also says, "It was the heaviest situation I've been in, in my journalistic career."

That's why I ask you, is that true? Also, as we know, it's not the first time this sort of thing has happened, as Kerry-Anne Walsh here from The Sun-Herald can attest.

How do you explain or excuse this sort of thing? Do you really think you can heavy the media? And what are you going to do about the glass jaw?

Rudd does not exactly deny it in his wishy washy response.

Maybe too much information in this post...

Looks easy enough... but not for everyone - In Depth -

This article is all about pauresis, the inability to readily urinate in close proximity to others. Mostly suffered by men because of the open design of most public urinals.

I think most men would guess, from the number of guys who head to the stalls in a public toilet, that it is not an uncommon problem. Indeed, it's not that unusual to see men who leave the stall door while standing to pee. They just need that additional bit of privacy. The Age article notes that "...a 1975 study by two psychologists at the University of Idaho that found a quarter of the male college students they questioned reported difficulty "getting started" when using public urinals." At another point it says:

People acknowledging occasional problems with hesitancy include Oprah Winfrey, Andrew Denton and US shock jock Howard Stern. In fact, recent studies show that about 7per cent of the public may suffer from this social anxiety disorder to some extent.

As an intermittent mild sufferer of this myself (and yes, just as the article suggests, it was started by some taunting by some nasty older kid behind me in primary school,) I have never understood why the designers of public toilets in Australia (or most of the world) do not seem to pay any attention to this as an issue. For example, going back to my trips to Disneyland in the 1980's, I noticed how the toilets there had the individual urinal that is now common here, but with simple privacy screens attached to the wall between them. These just extended about 40 cm or so between each urinal, mid body, and meant that you just had that additional bit of privacy. It worked for me. I remember thinking at the time that it was nice to see that Disney understood the problem, as I think before that trip I had already read something about paruresis, and the screens seemed to be addressing that issue. (Now that I think about it, maybe it also had something to do with not wanting pedophiles to be able to "check out" boys, but I am not about to write to Disney to ask about their primary motive for this design!)

Ever since then, I have tended to notice whether public toilets have copied this, and I think I can say without fear of contradiction that it is extremely rare to find in Australia, even in toilets in new buildings.

This is an extremely simple and inexpensive feature to put in a new toilet being built, so why hasn't it caught on? If it would make up to , say, 20% of men feel more comfortable, isn't it worth it?

I note that the Age article features the story of a guy with paruresis so severe he can't even go in an aircraft toilet easily. Now that is severe, and I can't imagine why he didn't seek help about this before he was in his fifties.

On the Virginia Tech killings

Cho Seung-Hui's Plays - News Bloggers

Assuming they are genuine, it is pretty weird reading two short plays by a mass murderer that indicate he did indeed have serious mental issues of some description or other.

I am not sure how I feel about the rapid publishing of this material. It's ghoulishly interesting, but seems too soon after the event.

In cases like this, I can't help thinking about the killer's family and the burden of guilt or shame they presumably must feel. (This is assuming they are relatively normal family and have not mistreated the killer as a child in any dire fashion.) I don't mean to diminish the pain of victims' families, but at least the death of an innocent victim does not carry the same psychological burden of self assessment as that of being the "normal" parent of a mass murderer.

On the topic of gun control philosophy generally that this raises, there's a good discussion in progress at Catallaxy.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Every time I think I need a break from blogging, along comes a story like this...

Toto to fix buttocks-scorching bidets | The Japan Times Online

Tipler on life in the universe

My favourite cosmologist Frank Tipler has a recent paper up on arxiv about intelligent life in the universe, and summarising the development of his end of universe theories first explained in length in The Physics of Immortality.

This one is under the arxiv section "popular physics" and is easier reading than some of his stuff. I guess I still have to work out what unitarity is, though, as it is rather crucial to his argument.

For the diminishing number of readers who have made it this far into this post: one of the things which gives me reservations about Tipler is his whole hearted endorsement of "many worlds" interpretation of quantum physics. Over at Quantum Quandaries there is a recent post arguing philosophically about "many worlds", and any post that deals with Kant and quantum physics is well worth reading, isn't it?

More on abortion in England

A crisis brought on by our selfish desires-Comment-Columnists-Libby Purves-TimesOnline

Libby Purves notes that in England they are having trouble finding enough young doctors willing to take on abortion training.

Her explanation of the law in England makes it sounds rather similar to ours, with its implementation effectively meaning abortion on demand.

I don't know why issues with abortion seem to be more actively discussed in that country than here.

The shorter Rudd

Just a quick comment: it seems that Kevin Rudd is in the odd position (at least for a Labor politician) of appearing to be much more unpopular with journalists than he is with the public.

How long can that go on?

Monday, April 16, 2007

How to end the drought

Despite meteorologists earlier this year giving us optimistic news about the end of the El Nino, Brisbane is extremely dry. Water supply dams are at about 20% capacity at the start of our dry winter season. We are meant to be in autumn, but this weekend, I saw that this week may have two days of 31 degrees. The hardware shop that I went to yesterday had sold out of greywater extension hoses, which everyone is buying to get washing machine water outside for the dying plants in their yards. One of my neighbours has lost several large palm trees, and I notice several others around the neighbourhood that are on their way out.

A lot of Australia is suffering, although it does seem that Brisbane has been in a particularly dry band this last year. Far North Queensland is fine; Sydney seems to have had many more days of rain than Brisbane.

Many people over the centuries have believed that drought is sent as a punishment from God. I don't think this is a very likely explanation, but then again there is the eerie co-incidence that Brisbane water supply has been on a downward trend ever since: THEY STARTED MAKING AUSTRALIAN BIG BROTHER HERE.

Have a look at the chart:

(There is a possible flaw in my theory in that it turns out, to my surprise, that BB has been going on since 2001. Maybe the first few seasons weren't as sleazy as those since 2004, when our combined dam levels just started sliding down the slope continuously.)

I find Big Brother the most teeth grindingly awful thing ever shown on television in my lifetime. If I were God, I would want to punish any city hosting it.

Yes, I say that to end the drought, thousands of people should go to Dreamworld and burn down the Big Brother house (just before the new series starts) on the basis that:

a. it would please God (or gods of any description), or
b. even if you don't believe such action will end the drought, it would be a service to humanity anyway, as well as making me very happy.

Get your torches ready, there is no downside to the plan as far as I can see.

(Note: apologies to Danny Katz for my borrowing his trademark use of capitalization for humorous effect. Although, in fact, this post was not meant to be entirely humourous.)

Nick Cohen on eco death threats

Guardian Unlimited | Comment is free | Beware the noxious fumes of eco-extremism

Nick is no skeptic of global warming, but still points out how nasty extremism does not help the environmentalists' cause. This point that he makes at the end is quite important:

The absence of visible improvements sets climate-change legislation apart from every other anti-pollution measure. The Clean Air Act of the Fifties ended London's smogs. If Londoners complained about not being able to burn coal in the new smokeless zones, their councillors could point to the incontrovertible fact that deadly peasoupers had gone...

The prohibitions tackling climate change will stand in stark contrast. They will hurt, but they won't produce observable results.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Really stretching the argument

Abortion: why it’s the ultimate motherly act-Comment-Columnists-Caitlin Moran-TimesOnline

This column from last week in The Times really stretches one part of the pro-choice argument 'til it's micron thin:

....what I do believe to be sacred — and, indeed, more useful to the earth as a whole — is trying to ensure that there are as few unbalanced, destructive people as possible. By whatever rationale you use, ending a pregnancy 12 weeks into gestation is incalculably more moral than bringing an unwanted child into this world. Or a child that, through no fault of its own, would be the destructor of a marriage, a family, a parent. It’s fairly inarguable to say that unhappy children, who then grew into very angry adults, have caused the great majority of mankind’s miseries. If psychoanalysis has, somewhat brutally, laid the responsibility for mental disorders at parents’ doors, the least we can do is to tip our hats to women aware enough not to create those troubled people in the first place.

This paragraph leaves open so many obvious lines of attack, I can't even be bothered starting.

The author is (somewhat like Aussie blogger Audrey ) also taking the line that women should admit that having an abortion is often an easy decision. Moran writes:

Last year I had an abortion, and I can honestly say it was one of the least difficult decisions of my life. I’m not being flippant when I say it took me longer to decide what work-tops to have in the kitchen than whether I was prepared to spend the rest of my life being responsible for a further human being. I knew I would see my existing two daughters less, my husband less, my career would be hamstrung and, most importantly of all, I was just too tired to do it all again.

I don't mind this admission, because I think most pro-life-ish people like me have always guessed or known from experience that it was true for a significant number of women. The "women never take the decision lightly" line is, I think, deployed as a tactic designed to stop detailed debate, particularly if it is a man with whom the argument is being conducted.

[Of course, the pro-life movement also uses the "women always suffer" line to its own ends, by (I think) inflating the problem of depression or other medical conditions following abortion.]

The point is that the mere question of how difficult a moral decision was (or wasn't) for some people is never really the answer to the question of whether it was the right decision.

American toilet humour

A couple of comments about this ad. First, wouldn't it be better to have the guy single and desperate, rather than having his (presumed) girlfriend or wife turn up at the end? (If it was in an apartment building, wouldn't it have been funnier to have the plumber herself seeing him doing this?)

Secondly, is there some issue about Americans needing stronger flushing power than the rest of the world? It just seems a bit of an odd feature to be promoting in a toilet.

The "incivility" problem

Guardian Unlimited | Comment is free | You're rude, crude and in my face - and I've had enough

This is a pretty good essay on the problem of "incivility" in society in Britain, with obvious relevance to Australia and other Western nations too. (Indeed, I have read articles from Japan in which the the impoliteness of youngsters in public is discussed.)

This always seems to be one of those problems that everyone can identify, but no one really comes with convincing ways to address.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Send in the battle dolphins - Navy Shows Off Its Terror-Fighting Dolphins

This US Navy work with dolphins doesn't get much publicity, but is going to be around for a few years yet, it seems. From the article:

...the Navy announced plans to send up to 30 dolphins and sea lions to patrol the waters of Washington state's Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor, which is home to nuclear submarines, ships and laboratories.

Both species can find mines and spot swimmers in murky waters. Working in unison, the dolphins can drop a flashing light near a mine or a swimmer. The sea lions carry in their mouths a cable and a handcuff-like device that clamps onto a terrorist's leg. Sailors can then use the cable to reel in the terrorist.

Friday, April 13, 2007

So that's what a croc eating an arm looks like

A vet’s helping hand is saved by surgeons-News-World-Asia-TimesOnline

I'm sure I won't be the only person linking to this story, but it is an arresting photo.

Out of depth

catallaxy - Those were the days - when Robert Manne had views on economics

This post over at Catallaxy is well worth reading. It's handy to be reminded of who used to say what about economics in the 1980's, and how wrong they turned out to be.

Another entry into the TV wars...

Sony aims to take lead in organic flat-screen TVs:
"We are going to mass produce and start selling eleven-inch organic electroluminescence (television) models by the end of the year, which will be a world first," said Sony spokesman Chisato Kitsukawa.
That's not a big screen, but this type of display is apparently bright and great to look at. They also use less power than an LCD screen, and are very thin. Look at these prototype ones:

Very cool, hey? (OK, just send me the cheque now, Sony.)

Thursday, April 12, 2007

One for Tim Blair

Total destruction of forests predicted to cool Earth - Modelling study no excuse for deforestation, researchers warn.

I think I have read something like this before, but news@nature is running this story:
Large-scale deforestation — long fingered as a contributing factor in climate change — could cool Earth, say the researchers behind one of the first attempts to model the phenomenon at a global scale.

Logging is often attacked because living trees help to mop up carbon dioxide, thereby buffering rises in greenhouse gases. But deforestation has different effects in different parts of the world.

In high latitudes, for example, removing the forests could help to cool these regions. This is because the trees, which absorb sunlight, would be replaced by snow-covered fields in winter that reflect the light. But in tropical regions, cutting back on forests would mean that less water is transferred from soils into the atmosphere, meaning fewer clouds and a warmer planet.

Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution of Washington in Stanford, California, and his colleagues have now compared these two effects and declared that the effect of boreal deforestation dominates. Removing all the forests would put a slight brake on global warming, they predict — enough to leave the world 0.3 °C cooler in 2100, they report..
Woodchipping for global warming - that should be Labor's new forestry policy.

Black hole science - interpretation needed

Regular readers know that I scan papers appearing on arxiv about black holes. They are often not easy to understand, to say the least. In fact, I half suspect that even other scientists outside of very narrow fields may find it an effort to follow most papers too. Here's a couple of recent examples:

The existence of closed timelike curves (CTCs) presents a clear violation of causality. In some cases these CTCs can be disregarded because to have them one ought to have an external force acting along the whole CTC, process that will consume a great amount of energy. The energy needed to travel a CTC in Godel universe is computed in [1]. For geodesics this is not the case since the external force is null, therefore the considerations of energy does not apply in this case and we have a bigger problem of breakdown of causality.

Following so far? Well, no, nor am I, but it sort of sounds significant, doesn't it? This was just the introduction to the paper, which actually found this:

In the present work we study the existence and stability under linear perturbation of CTCs in the spacetime associated to slowly rotating black hole (BH) pierced by a spinning string. We find that presence of the black hole makes possible to transform the CTCs present in the spinning string metric alone that are stable into CTGs. We also find sufficient conditions to have stable CTGs. This conditions are not very restrictive and can be easily fulfilled.

So, I gather that they think they have found a way that something which violates causality can be made around a black hole. If you are looking for some actual interpretation of what this means in real life, in language anyone can understand, it ain't in the paper.

Here's another obscure paper that may, or may not, be significant.

A new theorem for black holes is established. The mass of a black hole depends on where the observer is. The horizon mass theorem states that for all black holes: neutral, charged or rotating, the horizon mass is always twice the irreducible mass observed at infinity. The
horizon mass theorem is crucial for understanding the occurrence of Hawking radiation. Without black hole radiation, the Second Law of Thermodynamics is lost.

I have no idea what they are talking about, but in the paper, the authors use an exclamation mark, which means it must be significant (I think):

In each case, we found that the horizon mass is always twice the irreducible mass observed at infinity. The conclusion is surprising. The electrostatic energy and the rotational energy of a general black hole are all external quantities. They are absent inside the black hole!

This is also said to be relevant to Hawking Radiation, a matter of continuing interest due to the heavy reliance on it by the CERN people in figuring out what micro black holes will do.

By the way, the engineers and scientists at CERN made a mistake that recently caused a bit of a bang:

A £2 billion project to answer some of the biggest mysteries of the universe has been delayed by months after scientists building it made basic errors in their mathematical calculations.

The mistakes led to an explosion deep in the tunnel at the Cern particle accelerator complex near Geneva in Switzerland. It lifted a 20-ton magnet off its mountings, filling a tunnel with helium gas and forcing an evacuation.

Let's hope they do their work on what happens to micro black holes a bit more carefully.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

More on Japan's odd creation myths

New look for Japan's oldest book | The Japan Times Online

A couple of weeks ago, I was surprised to read that old Japanese Shinto myths had a god molded from feces. Well, Shinto creation myths didn't end there. From the article above:

"The birth of Japan. The gods give us a story of love and violence." Thus is introduced this Japanese-language manga-illustrated edition of the "Kojiki" (Record of Ancient Matters) dating from 712 and Japan's oldest book. The publication is intended for primary-school children...

For some foreign readers, perhaps unable to read Japanese, the major interest will lie in observing the considerable violence with which the conventions of eighth-century Japanese narrative collide with those of our 21st century.

The text has been edited by a Yokohama National University professor and made more suitable than it actually is. The original has the very first woman, Izanami, burning her genitals when she gives birth to the fire god. Later, various gods are born from her vomit, feces and urine. Her own child, Susano'o, defecates in the sacred hall of his sister Amaterasu and then strews the feces about.

None of this is illustratable, even by the standards of modern manga, and so the celebrated result of such misbehavior -- the retreat of Amaterasu into her cave -- remains largely unmotivated.

And you thought Eve being made from Adam's rib was odd.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Libby takes on the bishops

Religion: it makes bishops go bonkers-Libby Purves-TimesOnline

I don't read much by Libby Purveson, so I can't recall where her politics generally lie. However this article, criticising the couple of English bishops who thought it was nice of Pres Ahmadinejad to mention religion when he released his captives, seems pretty accurate:

The cynicism of the Iranian leader’s lip-service to Easter and forgiveness should not need underlining. When Bishop Burns says they “put their faith into action to resolve the situation”, he ignores the fact that Iran caused the damn situation.

Cyclists limp home (yuk yuk yuk)

The cyclist's tight spot - Los Angeles Times

For all you ever wanted to know about cycling and sexual problems, read this article.

Actually, it indicates that it doesn't exactly affect a huge number of cyclists, but at perhaps 5%, it does seem a bit of a risk.

Here's some odd extracts from the story:

Because road cyclists lean forward on their bikes for better aerodynamic efficiency, Minkow later added a cutout in the nose of the saddle to relieve pressure on the perineum in this position. He is currently working on a design to help male triathletes, who pedal in an extreme forward aerodynamic lean. In that position, "you're riding on your penis," Minkow says...

In a study of 17 riders published in 2005 in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, researchers at the Boston University School of Medicine found that straddling a bike seat with a nose significantly reduced blood velocity in the arteries to the penis by more than 95%, but that sitting on a "two cheek" noseless saddle had virtually no adverse effect....

To this day, Goldstein says bicycles should come with a warning label, similar to those on cigarette packs, that cycling may cause impotence.

Well, just as long as they don't start adding photos to the warning like they do for cigarettes.

Money for time travelling

Physicist needs $20,000 for time-travel experiment

As far as I can tell, the explanation in the article of the science behind this proposed experiment is sound enough, but I am surprised that it hasn't been done before.

And what did you learn in school today, dear?

BBC NEWS Madrassa parents voice concerns

A photo from the story above:

The story itself:

Parents of some of the girls studying at a controversial religious school in Pakistan's capital, Islamabad, have voiced concern for their safety.

Their fears rose after an ultimatum from madrassa leaders that Sharia law be enforced in the country. The school and adjoining mosque are accused of promoting intolerance and taking the law into their own hands.

On Sunday, the chief cleric issued a fatwa against a female minister who had been pictured hugging a man..... In February, armed students prevented the authorities from demolishing an illegally constructed mosque, and occupied a nearby children's library.

Last month they abducted a woman they accused of running a brothel, holding her captive for two days.

I wonder what their examinations and assignments are like: "For tomorrow's class presentation: explain which of your neighbours deserve a beating and organise the lynching. Must be back at classroom in time for prayers."

Monday, April 09, 2007

Cue that music from 2001 A Space Odyssey - New Hard Drives Hold a Terabyte of Data

From the article:

Yes, you can now get a terabyte hard drive on a desktop PC. Breaking the ice with a Hitachi drive was Dell, with “Area 51” game-oriented machines from its Alienware subsidiary. The 1T option initially costs $500.

In case you’re wondering, as printed text a terabyte would occupy 100 million reams of paper, consuming some 50,000 trees. It is enough to hold 16 days (not hours) of DVD-quality video, or a million pictures, or almost two years worth of continuous music.

Unless you are going to pack it with video, it's hard to imagine ever needing anything bigger than this.

Only for those with an interest in New Testament stuff

What He said - TLS Highlights - Times Online

This is a pretty interesting and sympathetic review of a new book suggesting that the most popular scholarly theories of the last century about how the synoptic gospels came to be written may be wrong. I won't bother quoting the review here, as few readers may be interested, but the basic argument is that it may, after all, be correct to "assume a faithful and unbroken link between the original witnesses of Jesus' life and death and the record of these things in the Gospels."

I think it is fair to say that, broadly speaking, the Catholic Church has always maintained that position. It's been the Protestant scholars who assumed less authenticity in the Gospels due to a convoluted process by which they were imagined to have been created.

At the risk of losing audience further, this all reminds me of a CS Lewis essay in which he pointed out that literary critics very often made incorrect assumptions about the origins or motives behind a present day work of fiction, such as Lord of the Rings for example. (Lewis knew intimately the process of the creation of that work, and how some of the guesses of the critics about what parts of it meant were clearly wrong.)

Lewis' point was to encourage scepticism of similar scholarly work on the Gospels, and I have always felt that the point was a good one.

A liberal fantasy reconstruction can be so extreme as to truly become self delusional. I would put Barbara Thiering in that category. (It didn't stop her getting lots of coverage on the ABC at the time, even though I reckon anyone with common sense could see that her claim that her method was "testable" was ridiculous.)

But even the more "conservative" scholars seem to me to often to have an unwarranted over-confidence about their conclusions.

The CS Lewis essay is "Fern seed and elephants", and I see it is available in full here.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

When physicists try to be funny

0703783v1.pdf (application/pdf Object)

The short paper above is dated 1 April, and is a little amusing.

Easter comments

Every Christian religious season now seems a reason for the media to run articles of revisionism or criticism of traditional beliefs, coupled with editorials trying to find some universal message in the season that you don't have to be religious to accept. It gets a bit tiring after a decade or so.

This year, the idea of penal substitution has come in for more than its fair share of negative attention. Two clerics (one was nearly a bishop) from the Anglicans criticised what sounded to me like a very unsophisticated version of it. Giles Fraser then gets to write another Guardian comment piece which goes on about how the central message of Easter should be to "embrace freedom". The exact meaning of this is stated in a somewhat confusing way:

For freedom is the lost virtue of the Christian church. Sure, it's easy for Christians to join in the celebrations of Wilberforce and the abolition of the slave trade. It's easy enough to be a radical 200 years after the event. But on many of the issues of the day, the church stands against human freedom. For evangelicals particularly, freedom means licence. From the freedom of the market to the freedom of gay people to marry and adopt children: for too many Christians, freedom is sin. That's why the church has always been obsessed with control.

Is he saying Evangelicals criticise the "freedom of the market"? I thought they were usually accused of being too pro-capitalism. I assume he is sympathetic to gay marriage, though; an idea that has, contrary to penal substitution, about 20 years of tradition behind it.

The irritating thing about these attacks on penal substitution is that they seem rather uncharitable in the sense there is a clear biblical basis for at least something resembling the idea. The Wikipedia entry on it is pretty good, lining up the proponents and critics.

But in the end, the attitude of CS Lewis is, I think, probably right. He wrote in Mere Christianity:

We are told that Christ was killed for us, that His death has washed out our sins, and that by dying He disabled death itself. That is the formula. That is Christianity. That is what has to be believed. Any theories we build up as to how Christ's death did all this are, in my view, quite secondary: mere plans or diagrams to be left alone if they do not help us, and, even if they do help us, not to be confused with the thing itself. All the same, some of these theories are worth looking at.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

About Disney

A long way from reality in Orlando-Life & Style-Travel-Destinations-USA-TimesOnline

The writer above shares my upbeat view of Disney World, which I visited in the 1980's. I now have children that are approaching ideal ages for a visit, but I can't imagine when I am going to be able to afford to get there again. (Tokyo Disneyland is more likely a proposition, but as the article says, Disney World is like an entire city. People who haven't been there just don't have any idea of the scale of the place.)

Of course, if I do go again, it is possible that I may well unintentionally stumble upon a gay wedding or commitment ceremony in progress.

I have never quite understood why Disney has been at the forefront of the culture wars, on the side of all things gay, for many years now. Is it some sort of payback for Elton John re-invigorating their animation division?

In my 1980's visit to Disney World, I remember some short feature in one of the Epcot pavillions that had a boy character getting cartoonishly excited about a girl. The details are vague in my memory, but I remember thinking at the time that boys under 10 or so are probably going to think this is ridiculous, and anyway, is Disney World really the place where the topic of sexual attraction should make an appearance at all?

It's not that Disney has been just been non-discrimatory: with its "Gay Days" it goes out of its way to encourage as many gays to pack in the place as possible. I hadn't realised how big this had become. It would seem the associated entertainment (I guess not all put on by Disney itself) is not exactly in the Disney innocence theme. Have a look at this website and its galleries for details.

Even if you don't share a christian/conservative objection to the whole idea, it seems there are even some gay men who now object to it. Have a read of this:

I’ve watched over the years as Gay Days has grown in scope and size. What once was a small group of well meaning gay men and lesbians has grown – and in my opinion, deformed – into what is now nothing more than a vile spectacle of self indulgence and indecency...

I can’t help but think of, and feel sorry for – the unsuspecting family who saved for years for a once in a lifetime trip – only to arrive and find that Disney had in fact, been invaded by he-women and shaved down muscle boys. By itself that would not be a problem, but the sheer number of people who seem to go out of their way to rub their sexuality in everyones face during this ‘event’ is nothing short of disgraceful. Is the Magic Kingdom REALLY the place for a 5 year old to ask his father why those two men are kissing? Is it really up to any person to decide for that parent when, or if, they will have that conversation with their child? I’ve always believed the best way we, as gay men and lesbians, could further our cause was to simply live our lives openly, and with dignity. Not hide in shame, and not force our beliefs or lifestyle down anyone elses throat. I don’t like it when I hear pompous windbags telling me I’m going to burn in hell for being gay, and I’m sure most of the free world would appreciate a visit to Disney World that did not include the vision of grown men in go-go shorts, and ads for lubricant prominently displayed throughout the host hotel. Oh, and while we’re on the subject of ‘image’ at the host hotel (the Sheraton World on International Drive)– the line of beer trucks outside the resort was a nice touch, and the liquor kiosks and condom ads every 5 feet will certainly not further the image of us as a bunch of drunken sex fiends.

Good points.

Friday, April 06, 2007

HTML help

When recently adding Snap preview to my blogroll (you can always turn it off if you don't like it), I seem to have accidentally added an unwanted line to the end of all my posts. The result is the post details at the bottom are too close to the top of the previous post.

I know next to nothing about HTML editing, so if anyone can give me a pointer as to where in my template the offending additional line has likely been added, I would appreciate it.

(Actually, I want to move the "posted by.." line up, but also add an additional line between it and the next post.)

UPDATE: worked it out for myself, eventually. HTML is not exactly intuitive, is it?

Sounds like a Hillary Swank movie coming up

Boyfriend of girl, 14, revealed as woman, 30 - Unusual Tales - Specials

On Pelosi's trip

Captain's Quarters

Demonstrating to President Assad that the America government is bitterly divided and fractious seems an obviously bad idea. But surely that was always going to be the effect of the Nancy Pelosi trip to Syria. From what I have seen of her on television, Mrs Pelosi does not impress me in the slightest.

The Captain's commentary linked above is spot on. He points out that even the Washington Post is critical of her trip. As he says:

The Democrats, led by Pelosi, have tried to undermine Bush for years. Now that they have the majority in Congress, they can give full vent to their schemes. The efforts of the past couple of months show that the Democrats want to turn the Constitution upside down, strip the executive branch of its power, and make Congress the supreme power in the American system.

Well, sorry, but that's the British system. Perhaps Pelosi would be more comfortable there or in Canada, but here in the US, the elected President has all of the Constitutional authority to conduct foreign policy and command the military.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Holiday in Iran cut short

Telegraph Blogs: Toby Harnden: April 2007: Humiliation for the Navy and Marines

Expect more commentary along the lines of that above. Those British sailors and marines showed a distinct lack of dignity and good judgment in the way they interacted with the Iranians; especially the one who thanked Ahmadinejad for his "forgiveness".

Bugs to keep you happy

Bacteria and depression | Bad is good |

Bacteria might play a role in depression? I hadn't heard that one before. Here's the story:

Dr O'Brien was trying out an experimental treatment for lung cancer that involved inoculating patients with Mycobacterium vaccae. This is a harmless relative of the bugs that cause tuberculosis and leprosy that had, in this case, been rendered even more harmless by killing it. When Dr O'Brien gave the inoculation, she observed not only fewer symptoms of the cancer, but also an improvement in her patients' emotional health, vitality and general cognitive function...

The theory is that it causes serotonin to be produced i the brain. Studies with mice seemed to support it.

As an added bonus, the article tells me something I didn't know about mice:

The consequence of that release is stress-free mice. Dr Lowry was able to measure their stress by dropping them into a tiny swimming pool. Previous research has shown that unstressed mice enjoy swimming, while stressed ones do not. His mice swam around enthusiastically.

For the Easter weekend

VATICAN - The Board Game

From the website:

VATICAN, historically accurate, is more compelling than the depictions of the Catholic Church in popular culture. Reality and truth are always more interesting than fiction.

VATICAN is a fascinating way for all to understand a central point of Catholic identity, and will appeal to a wide variety of audiences, whatever their religious preferences.

VATICAN is sophisticated, filled with nuance that makes replays as enjoyable as the first time you play it.

Kids love board games "filled with nuance."

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Hicks sticks around

There's no pleasing some people. David Hicks gets back to Australia soon, effectively serving what I have heard even right wing commentators say may be a fair enough time for what he did, but the cries of "farce", or worse, continue.

Robert Richter's column in The Age said:

The charade that took place at Guantanamo Bay would have done Stalin's show trials proud.

Comments like that make me yearn to have a TV reality show where lawyers or commentators who make odious comparisons of Bush to Hitler and Stalin actually have to live for 6 months in a re-created old Gulag or concentration camp.

As for Australia's possible role in seeking the sentence deal Hicks got, all I can say is that last night's interview on the 7.30 Report with Major Mori, and then Phillip Ruddock's interview on Lateline, both indicated that direct political involvement was not very plausible at all, despite the good timing for the government. Major Mori was most interesting, in that he was promoting the gag order as a benefit to Hicks himself, so that he wouldn't be harassed by the media. This seemed his genuine, and somewhat surprising, take on the matter. He also seemed enormously happy with the result, as if to indicate he couldn't care less if it was a political deal anyway.

Mori also denied ever having used the word "torture" in describing Hick's treatment. He also saw no issue with how the deal was negotiated. Kerry O'Brien's problem seemed to be a complete lack of familiarity with American military tribunal procedures, so that what surprised him seemed to be of no great significance to Mori.

Ruddock expressed the view that the gag part could not be enforced by the Australian government, and that there was no prospect of extradition back to the USA for breaching it either. That would seem to mean that only if Hicks voluntarily re-entered that country that he would be at risk (if he contravenes the order.) Somehow, I don't see Hicks wanting to visit Disneyland in the future anyway.

I think The Age must be really upset about the finalisation of the matter, as it means they will have to start finding about a 2 pages a day to fill with other stories for a change.

Rosie cops a blast

The 'queen of nice' goes nuts - Los Angeles Times

It seems Rosie O'Donnell is indicating that she is a 9/11 conspiracy believer. Jonah Goldberg gives her a gigantic blast in this column, which you really should read.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

The bureaucracy at the end of the world

Comment is free: The history at the end of history

Francis Fukuyama spends a lot of time lately defending himself from the neo-con label, and this article is along those lines. It is interesting, though, what he says about democracy.

Towards the end, Fukuyama makes this discouraging claim:

I believe that the European Union more accurately reflects what the world will look like at the end of history than the contemporary United States. The EU's attempt to transcend sovereignty and traditional power politics by establishing a transnational rule of law is much more in line with a "post-historical" world than the Americans' continuing belief in God, national sovereignty, and their military.

The world would die under that paperwork, though.

Thus typed ZarAthustra

The Typing Life: Books: The New Yorker

A curious snippet from the above article:

Nietzsche used a typewriter. This is hard to imagine, but in the effort to stem his migraines and his incipient blindness—symptoms, some scholars say, of an advanced case of syphilis—he bought one of the new contraptions.

It is hard to imagine.

Miracle stories

Did late pope cure nun's Parkinson's? -

The Washington Post's version of the claimed miracle indicates that, at the very least, it's an interesting story.

As far as I know, I am in good health and don't need a miracle cure. However, I am prepared to declare that if $300,000 appears in large notes in an unmarked box in a secret location I have now emailed to myself, I will contact the Vatican and urge them to take it as the second miracle. John Paul II, this is your chance!

What a surprise

Redfern speech still resonates - National -

Phillip Adams asks Radio National listeners to nominate their most "unforgettable speech", and Paul Keating's Redfern Park black armband oration is up near the top.

Monday, April 02, 2007

A long post on gay children of the modern world

Accepting Gay Identity, and Gaining Strength - New York Times

Talking about sexual self identity is a tricky business. Everyone brings their own life experience to it, and it can seem churlish to question the way others claim to have experienced it. There also seem to be some cases where children do genuinely seem to be far outside of the "usual" gender range of behaviour from a very young age, and no one is surprised when they do turn out to have same sex attraction as adults.

But, having said all that, I still think there is a strong case to be made that the current Western popular conception and understanding of all things gay comprises large elements of what is really just intellectual fashion.

Believe it or not (since he is far from a conservative favourite), I reckon the otherwise fairly loopy Foucault might have been onto something when he dealt with the evolution of the idea of sexuality. Have a look at this article purporting to summarise some of Foucault's ideas. An extract:

Historically, there have been two ways of viewing sexuality, according to Foucault. In China, Japan, India and the Roman Empire have seen it as an "Ars erotica", "erotic art", where sex is seen as an art and a special experience and not something dirty and shameful. It is something to be kept secret, but only because of the view that it would lose its power and its pleasure if spoken about.

In Western society, on the other hand, something completely different has been created, what Foucault calls "scientia sexualis", the science of sexuality. It is originally (17th century) based on a phenomenon diametrically opposed to Ars erotica: the confession. It is not just a question of the Christian confession, but more generally the urge to talk about it. A fixation with finding out the "truth" about sexuality arises, a truth that is to be confessed. It is as if sexuality did not exist unless it is confessed. Foucault writes:

"We have since become an extraordinarily confessing society. Confession has spread its effects far and wide: in the judicial system, in medicine, in pedagogy, in familial relations, in amorous relationships, in everyday life and in the most solemn rituals; crimes are confessed, sins are confessed, thoughts and desires are confessed, one's past and one's dreams are confessed, one's childhood is confessed; one's diseases and problems are confessed;..."

This forms a strong criticism of psychoanalysis, representing the modern, scientific form of confession. Foucault sees psychoanalysis as a legitimization of sexual confession. In it, everything is explained in terms of repressed sexuality and the psychologist becomes the sole interpreter of it. Sexuality is no longer just something people hide, but it is also hidden from themselves, which gives the theological, minute confession a new life.

This post was prompted by the New York Times article at the top, about how one nice liberal family encouraged their gay teen son to be out and proud. The boy's psycho-sexual history is given as this:

From the time Zach was little, they knew he was not a run-of-the-mill boy. His friends were girls or timid boys.

“Zach had no interest in throwing a football,” Mr. O’Connor says. But their real worry was his anger, his unhappiness, his low self-esteem. “He’d say: ‘I’m not smart. I’m not like other kids,’ ” says Ms. O’Connor. The middle-school psychologist started seeing him daily.

The misery Zach caused was minor compared with the misery he felt. He says he knew he was different by kindergarten, but he had no name for it, so he would stay to himself. He tried sports, but, he says, “It didn’t work out well.” He couldn’t remember the rules. In fifth grade, when boys at recess were talking about girls they had crushes on, Zach did not have someone to name.

By sixth grade, he knew what “gay” meant, but didn’t associate it with himself. That year, he says: “I had a crush on one particular eighth-grade boy, a very straight jock. I knew whatever I was feeling I shouldn’t talk about it.” He considered himself a broken version of a human being. “I did think about suicide,” he says.

His coming out to himself and his family (I think the article indicates at the age of 13) is what "cured" him of his depression: the midst of math class, he told a female friend. By day’s end it was all over school. The psychologist called him in. “I burst into tears,” he recalls. “I said, ‘Yes, it’s true.’ Every piece of depression came pouring out. It was such a mess.”

That night, when his mother got home from work, she stuck her head in his room to say hi. “I said, ‘Ma, I need to talk to you about something, I’m gay.’ She said, ‘O.K., anything else?’ ‘No, but I just told you I’m gay.’ ‘O.K., that’s fine, we still love you.’ I said, ‘That’s it?’ I was preparing for this really dramatic moment.”

Doesn't this perfectly illustrate Foucault's idea that the West is obsessed with a need for a confession of sexuality?

I indicated earlier in the post that I don't deny that there may well be some boys who are virtually biologically determined to only ever have any sexual attraction to men.

But that NYT article is written in such a way that it sends subtle encouragement to boys (not just the ones who may end up gay, but the majority "straight" ones too) that stupid things like not being good at sports and not getting being accepted by the "jocks" in school is a sign of sexual destiny. The article notes that after his coming out:

He still wasn’t athletic, but to the family’s surprise, coming out let out a beautiful voice. He won the middle school’s top vocal award.

Let's keep the gay stereotypes coming, shall we.

If I haven't convinced you yet that this liberal family was trying just too hard to make their son feel comfortable, try this:

His father took him to a gay-lesbian conference at Central Connecticut State in New Britain, and Zach was thrilled to see so many gay people in one place. His therapist took him to a Gay Bingo Night at St. Paul’s Church on the Green in Norwalk that raises money for AIDS care. Zach became a regular and within a few months was named Miss Congeniality.

“They crowned me with a tiara and sash, and I walked around the room waving,” he recalls. “I was still this shy 14-year-old in braces. I hadn’t reached my socialness yet, and everyone was cheering.

Bloody hell!

It seems to me that the liberal (or simply modern Western?) attitude to sexual identity as being the vital core of one's being is actually the thing that is likely to be causing many children unnecessary uncertainty and worry about who they are.

I reckon it is the hidden assumptions behind modern Western thinking about this sort of stuff that needs airing, and a historical view is helpful in this regard, whether or not Foucault got it right.