Sunday, August 26, 2007


It's not just this blog that is distracting me from work lately, it's all the links from my blog to the other sites of the wonderful WWW that I love to visit. (Many of them daily or more frequently, particularly if I comment on some other blog and then want to follow the responses.)

Really, I love the internet. This blog continues its useful function for me as a record of the things I find interesting, but as for its other purpose of having my take on the world noticed, well that seems to have found its natural, very low, level. A good day here is about 50 hits, but perhaps half a dozen (or more) of those will be me using the links as my bookmarks.

Anyhow, this is all preamble to saying I need a week's break to concentrate on work, and this I mean it! I actually want to give up looking at the internet completely for a week, but I don't know if I can avoid visiting the news sites. Especially if that long wished for video of Kevin R and Julia G turns up.

You watch, something spectacular that I long to comment on will probably happen this week. But I want someone to promise to come and break my typing fingers if I breach this self imposed absence.

Remember to come back. Fifty visits a day is pretty pathetic, but coming back and finding its now stuck on a twenty or so for the week after I start posting; that's just depressing.

And could someone apart from Caz, TimT and Geoff add a comment that might give me general encouragement? I seem to have some regular visitors who never say "boo", and it would just be nice to know who at least one or two of them are.

Pilger's latest

A gentle kick in the fundamentals - Times Online

Here's an extract from the above amusing review of John Pilger's latest effort at documentary:
Pilger’s journalistic compass is set by the position of America: wherever that is, he swings the other way. So, based on the sound principle of my enemy’s enemy is my friend, he set about an obscenely embarrassing tongue-bath of Hugo Chavez, the megalomaniac president of Venezuela.

Pilger’s interview technique is not to have any technique visible. He listens to himself asking questions that include answers, then to little else. He picks through the wreckage of people’s misfortune, gleaning shards of proof to complement his mosaic ideology, while dismissing and discarding anything that could be a contradiction. This relentless film looked like Brezhnev-era Soviet propaganda.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

All about Chavez

Reason Magazine - The Caudillo in His Labyrinth

This week's happy alcohol news

Alcohol may lower risk of kidney cancer | Health | Reuters
Drinking more than two glasses of red wine per week was associated with a 40-percent reduction in kidney cell cancer risk compared with drinking no red wine, the investigators observed, and there were similar trends for more than two glasses per week of white wine or strong beer.

Could be an interesting movie...

Ahead of 'September Dawn,' Mormon Church revisits dark period |

Friday, August 24, 2007

The root of all evil

Comment is free: Springtime in the desert

Dana Moss has an interesting post talking about the very, very limited progression towards women's rights in Saudi Arabia. Bear in mind that they currently cannot vote, drive, own real estate, or show their face in public.

One thing that is planned to "help" women is this: all-female industrial zone employing roughly 10,000 women in more than 80 factories.
So, the right to be a factory worker is recognized. I wonder how they will get there?

Anyway, these two paragraphs show that there is just a tiny bit of conservatism to be overcome yet:

Characteristic of such hostility from the religious elite is the reaction of the Grand Mufti, Sheikh Abdulaziz bin Abdullah al-Sheikh, to the mixing of men and women - conventional practice in international business terms. In 2004, after witnessing mingling during the Jeddah Economic Forum, he issued a furious reprimand: "I am pained by such shameful behaviour ... allowing women to mix with men is the root of every evil and catastrophe."

Nor is resistance to women's economic empowerment limited to the clergy. Hardline factions within the royal family, such as the mercurial Prince Nayef, currently interior minister, remain powerful. When faced with demands to allow women to drive, he proclaimed: "I am astonished as to why this issue is being discussed."
Good luck reformers. See you at the ground-breaking inaugural Young Men and Women's Chaperoned Tea Party and Evening Dance to be held in the year 2250.

Guns and teens

The short, happy life of Rhys Jones - Times Online

I haven't been reading much til now about the shooting death (by teenagers, apparently) of an 11 year old boy in Liverpool. The story above, and this report here, give some background, and ends on this surprising note:
Last year, 48 under-18s were arrested for gun crime in Merseyside.

Confusing the brain for science

Scientists induce out-of-body experiences in the laboratory. Slate Magazine

This is an interesting article on recent research on inducing something a little (though not that much) like an out of body experience.

It makes mention of an illusion I hadn't heard of before:
The "rubber hand illusion," for example, can trick you into losing track of a single body part. Someone strokes a rubber hand in front of you while at the same time stroking your real hand out of view. After a while, you start to think the rubber hand is your own.
How odd. Pity I don't have any rubber hands around the house with which to try.

Of course, Kevin Rudd has probably already doing it with a John Howard rubber head. Boom boom.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

What doesn't it cover?

Breathe Islam :: Protect your child :: June :: 2007

From this post:
The Prophet said, “If anyone of you, when having sexual intercourse with his wife, says: Bismillah, Allahumma jannibna-Sh-Shaitan wa jannib-ish-Shaitan ma razaqtana,
and if it is destined that they should have a child, then Satan will never be able to harm him.”
The meaning of this prayer is given in the following post:
‘With the name of Allah! O Allah! Save us from the evil of Shaytan and save whatever children You bestow us.’
A religion whose founder recommends praying during sex is a religion too far.

On Shelley

Avenging Angel: Books: The New Yorker

I love reading about radicals who think they know what's best for the world, reject religion and all traditional morality, and yet never recognize their own nastiness. Shelley is a very good example of this, and this review of a new book about him has plenty of examples of his unpleasantness.

I suppose his first wife (aged 16) didn't fully appreciate his attitude to marriage:
When Harriet Westbrook, in rebellion against her father and her school, begged Shelley to rescue her, it was the kind of cause that he found hard to resist. He agreed to elope with a girl he had never considered more than a friend. “If I know anything about love, I am not in love,” he had written just weeks before the marriage. He loved the idea of getting married even less: “A kind of ineffable, sickening disgust seizes my mind when I think of this most despotic, most unrequired fetter.” But he recognized that living together out of wedlock would hurt Harriet’s reputation much more than his own, and he agreed to go through with the ceremony.
A child or two later he subsequently fell in love with another 16 year old: the summer of 1814, Shelley fell in love with Mary Godwin. Mary was then sixteen, the same age that Harriet had been when Shelley married her, and she had intellectual gifts that Harriet could never match. Just as important was her intellectual pedigree: she was the daughter of William Godwin, a radical thinker whom Shelley worshipped, and Mary Wollstonecraft, the crusader for women’s rights. Add the fact that Mary was instantly smitten with Shelley—it seems that they had sex for the first time by her mother’s grave, to mark their spiritual union—and Harriet never really had a chance.
There is a lot more detail in the review.

I had read about his life somewhere before, but it's good to be reminded about this sort of stuff.

Just nuts

Home is where the booze is - Times Online

The trend for some parents to let their teenage kids know that they can have alcohol at a party, rather than just let it be brought in secretly, seems to be taken to an insane extreme by some in England. Have a read of this account of a party for a group of 14 year olds:
The invitation read: “Let my mum know if you can drink and if so bring some.”...
On the way to the party, I asked my son if he wanted to take a bottle of wine. He declined then retracted, saying he supposed he would if others were drinking. Reluctantly, I bought a bottle of white wine. I did not want him to be embarrassed and besides, I was looking forward to a drink at the party myself....
By 10.30pm the consequences of my friend’s drinks policy were all too obvious. Everywhere I looked there was someone vomiting. I wondered what their parents would be thinking if they knew their children were quite so drunk. They had, after all, supplied the booze.
I don't think this comment which follows the article is meant to be funny, but it made me laugh:
A whole bottle of wine for one 14 year old's personal use? What lunacy! When I was 14, my parents would not let me take more than four bottles of lager to a party. I'd inevitably scrounge another couple, but that was outside their control. My parents have continued to place (low) limits on what I can take to parties - but these days I am more often in pubs and clubs.

For Space Cadets

This month's Air & Space Magazine has a couple of interesting articles. One is about the ongoing work on hypersonic flight, which mentions the leading role played by research being done at the University of Queensland.

The other is about the design work for the new Orion capsule, that is expected to become the workhorse for getting around in space for quite a long time. Unfortunately, it still sounds awfully claustrophobic for the average punter.

What is wrong with Hedley Thomas?

Interview discredits claim by Andrews | The Australian

I am sorely tempted to say he's just an idiot, given the opening paragraphs in this morning's report about the Dr Haneef record of interview:

CLAIMS by Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews that his decision to cancel Mohamed Haneef's visa was based on much more than a mobile phone SIM card given to a second-cousin have been undermined by the release of the second police record of interview.

Police officer Adam Simms, who questioned Dr Haneef during the second interview last month, told him: "Tell me exactly. Now let's not forget, Mohamed, the reason you are sitting here and the reason you've been in police custody is because of this issue with the SIM card -- now it's causing you a lot of grief. We need to be clear as to what is happening with this SIM card. OK?"

How the hell does the fact that the police said that in the record of interview discredit Andrew's claim that there is significant other evidence that informed his decision?

Thomas is now just making no sense at all in his determination to criticise Andrews.

I downloaded the record of interview last night and had a quick read. (At 380 odd pages, with many of them on procedural matters, you really have to head to near the end to get to the interesting stuff.)

While Dr Haneef does answer all questions, I honestly don't think that anyone with an open mind who reads it will come away thinking that it represents some form of complete exoneration of him.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Tit for tat

No it's not another Kevin Rudd post, this time it's about China giving the US a bit of stick over the quality of its soybeans:

China's quality watchdog warns on U.S. soybeans

What's the bet that there is a political motive to this. You reject our lead toys, then don't expect us to like your soybeans.

A curious miracle

A night journey through Jerusalem -Times Online

This article explains the origin of the Muslim's need to pray 5 times a day:

Since the Koran does not provide specific detail of the Night Journey, historians have to draw on accounts by Islamic scholars versed in the Hadith, or prophetic traditions, for the specific details of what Armstong describes as “the most important mystical experience of Muhammad’s life”.

Alighting on the Temple Mount, he was greeted by Abraham, Moses, Jesus and other prophets, whom he led in prayer. Then Muhammad and Gabriel ascended the seven heavens to the Throne of God, who instructed Muhammad on the five daily prayers. According to tradition, God initially said Muslims should pray 50 times a day. But on his way down Muhammad met Moses, who told him to go back and get the number reduced. Moses kept sending Muhammad back to plead with God until the number of prescribed prayers was reduced to five.

As Armstrong points out: “This tradition shows that religion was not meant to be a crushing burden, but a moderate discipline which everybody could manage.”

Abu Sway agrees: “The amount decided on shows that God is merciful, and the intercession by Moses shows that there should be moderation in matters of faith.”

This idea of being caught as negotiator between Moses and God is a curious one.

As a story, it's close to the Genesis one about Abraham bargaining with God over the fate of Sodom, but at least there was something significant at stake there. Arguing the toss with God over the degree of inconvenience of your religion seems a little trite in comparison.

Clever trojan

BBC NEWS | Technology | Trojan holds PC files for ransom

So, this trojan (which downloads itself via IE - ha! - from certain websites) encrypts some files and then tells you to pay up to get them unencrypted.

But how would you pay? I mean, who would be mad enough to send a credit card or account number to the crooks anyway?

You lose anyway

Minister opts for easy path | The Australian

Setting a new definition for "pyrrhic victory" seems to be the main outcome from the Federal Court's decision in the Haneef case yesterday. Peter Faris' fierce criticism of the logic of the case seems very valid.

Both Peter Russo and Hedley Thomas (whose juvenile journalistic contempt for Minister Andrews is just ridiculously overblown) acknowledge that the Minister is probably capable of simply making a valid fresh decision that still removes the visa.

Andrews is appealing the court decision, and why wouldn't he? The government wants "association" to have as broad as possible interpretation, and another Federal Court judge had basically agreed with them. Judge Spender says he just thinks the other judge got it wrong, it can't mean that, otherwise the Minister would be capable of making all kinds of "unfair" decisions.

Why wouldn't the government want this issue settled by the courts once and for all? I strongly suspect the appeal will succeed, even at the Federal Court level.

Yet Hedley Thomas still finds a way of twisting this against Andrews (in the link above). He claims that the Minister is "talking tough but his actions point to a significant backdown".

Huh? I don't see why the Minister is not capable of reviewing the visa decision again even if he loses the eventual appeal.

Hedley Thomas is just one of those commentators to whom the Minister must be criticised, no matter what he does.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Mainly about social workers

Hi, I’m your biological son . . . - Times Online

This article, originally from the NYT, tells the story of a sperm donor's awkward first meeting with his adult biological son.

The story is of interest, and from my conservative view point, shows the uncomfortable weirdness of sperm donation generally, but especially for men who, like this guy, donated "30 or 40 times".

But the main reason I am posting about it is because of this incidental point. The writer is a family therapist, but describes his life as follows:
At 50, I have never married, never raised any children. And about a month before the call, I had reached a point where I was feeling anxious and socially disconnected, no longer relaxed with my friends and sensing there had to be something more meaningful in my life.
This is entirely consistent with my long standing suspicion that the majority of therapists and social workers do not come to the job with much resembling a normal, stable, happy domestic life. Social workers in particular seem drawn to the job because of an injustice they have suffered in their own life, whether it physical or emotional in nature, and this career is their way of helping others who may be also be suffering.

But this seems to me to be a good reason to exclude such a person from a career in which objectivity can be crucially important, especially when they are making decisions about children and their relationship with parents.

My knowledge of this is purely anecdotal, but I have had friends agree with me that all the social workers they knew were themselves a bit of a worry, to put it mildly. And it is certainly not unusual to read things from time to time, such as this story, which support my suspicions.

I wonder if anyone has ever done any research on this, and whether readers have also met social workers with "baggage".

Rudd, strippers, the media (continued)

Next Australian head of state found in topless bar with the New York Post's editor. - By Jack Shafer - Slate Magazine

Mostly, this concentrates on the mysterious absence of any report about it in the New York Post.

By the way, who couldn't draw some enjoyment from watching Rudd's squirming performance on 7.30 Report last night? The fact that he can dissemble with the best of them can't exactly help the image he would like to portray of someone who is not "tricky" like John Howard.

Matt Price in The Australian has a funny line or two about it all this morning, such as these:
The Australian’s blogging system broke down yesterday under the volume of people from around the world who’ve tried to contact us to tell us nobody is interested in whether or not the alternative PM visited a strip joint four years ago.

Blanket coverage on television confirmed The Sketch’s inkling that this was a non-story, not least because most talkback callers on radio thought so too.

True, newspapers across four continents carried the non-story and every website in the land has a chat-room discussion or a poll on whether this sort of behaviour is acceptable for somebody who wants to run the country.
Kevin's reaction, and his ill-advised decision to just keep talking about it yesterday, is the true story now.

Mining disaster goes largely unnoticed

Chinese kin lash out as trapped miners' hopes dim | International | Reuters

I hadn't even heard of this massive coal mining disaster in China until I looked at Reuters this morning:
Anguished relatives of Chinese coal miners trapped in flooded shafts clashed with managers on Monday to demand information, but hopes for the 181 men faded after another day of efforts to pump the mines dry.

The disaster in the eastern coastal province of Shandong is the latest to strike China's coal mines, which -- with over 2,000 people killed in the first seven months of this year along -- are the world's deadliest.

The miners have been trapped since Friday when a burst river dyke sent water rushing into two shafts. Rescuers hold out little hope of survival for many, if not all, of the men who could not outpace the torrent -- 172 in a main shaft and nine in one nearby.

It is pretty amazing how a mining disaster on this scale can attract such little notice in the West, compared to the relatively minor scale of death (9) in the Utah incident.

Monday, August 20, 2007


Technology Review: Blogs: TR Editors' blog: A New Use for Your Leftover Embryos

Surely it's not exclusively pro-lifers who find this an objectionable idea:
Couples who have had children via in vitro fertilization are often left with extra embryos--and the rather difficult decision of what to do with them. Embryos can be donated to research or to other couples, destroyed, or left languishing in frozen storage. But now a California-based biotech startup is offering a new option: to use these embryos to create personalized stem-cell lines for couples or their families.

About Shakespeare

I see that Bill Bryson has a new book out about Shakespeare. There's a fairly lengthy extract here from The Times.

Bryson makes this point about Will's personal attitudes:

Even the most careful biographers sometimes take a supposition – that Shakespeare was Catholic or happily married or fond of the countryside or kindly disposed towards animals – and convert it within a page or two to something like a certainty.

In fact it cannot be emphasised too strenuously that there is nothing – not a scrap, not a mote – that gives any certain insight into Shakespeare’s feelings or beliefs as a private person. We can know only what came out of his work, never what went into it.

A recent Doctor Who episode (taking its cue from "Shakespeare in Love", no doubt) again portrayed Shakespeare as a rakish charmer, but it is entirely possible that he was the complete opposite. He may be the beneficiary of the most generously imagined personality ever. Just for a change, I would like some popular fictional work to portray him as intensely dislikeable.

Bryson does make it clear that knowing little of the playwrights of the day is just par for the course. The figures in this extract surprised me:
It cannot be overemphasised how fortunate we are to have so many of Shakespeare’s works, for the usual condition of 16th and early 17th century plays is to be lost. Few manuscripts from any playwright survive, and even printed plays are far more often missing than not. Of the approximately 3,000 plays thought to have been staged in London from about the time of Shakespeare’s birth to the closure of the theatres by the Puritans in a coup of joylessness in 1642, 80% are known only by title. Only 230 or so play texts still exist from Shakespeare’s time, including the 38 by Shakespeare himself – about 15% of the total, a gloriously staggering proportion.
There are bigger gaps in the records of history than I imagined.

UPDATE: I see that Germaine Greer has a Shakespeare book coming out too, and this extract indicates she is good at turning speculation into certainty, as Bryson complains.

The Rudd and the stripper post I had to have

It originally seemed that there was not much to add to the commentary swirling around this, but on second thoughts here's my take on it:

1. Doesn't it irritate anyone else that news websites (and, presumably, the papers) have today got photos of Rudd and his wife standing together with the "wife stands by Rudd" angle? He can't always help what photos newspapers choose to run, but still it seems to me Rudd milks this marriage for political advantage in a more directly cynical fashion than most politicians. It's also kind of pathetic that he should be talking of his wife's forgiveness for something that, on his version, he has little to apologise for.

2. Rudd again uses his "I expect to take a belting in the polls" as his magic formula for ensuring that he doesn't. He's either naive or cynical in the way he uses this mantra in circumstances where most people's immediate reaction is that it won't hurt much, if at all.

3. The fact that he rang his wife about it the next day seems to suggest that he thought she may find out pretty quickly. But how exactly does he think she would have found out at all if it were not for his call? Did he think Col Allen (who, seemingly, was the one who suggested the venue) was taking him there as a "set up" so that he could publish the story in the paper the next day?

OK, maybe it was not the main reason for the phone call at all, but the way Rudd seems to be running the story, that's the impression we are left with. I think most men in Rudd's situation would tell their wife as a precaution if they ended up, more or less by accident, in a strip club, and left as quickly as they politely could; most women in a secure marriage would laugh it off. But I don't think there would be any urgency to tell their wife, and I don't know that saying they had been "a goose" for going there is the terminology that many would use for what he alleges happened.

It seems to me that this part of Rudd's response actually should increase suspicion that something a bit untoward (by which I mean, a bit more than merely looking) happened at the club.

4. How did Downer or Foreign Affairs find out about this? Again, with just the three of them there for a quick drink and then departure, it seems a little peculiar that the story got out at all.

5. Snowden and Rudd both seem to be hedging their bets about recollection by talking about the amount of drinks. (Even this morning, I think Snowden on Radio National used the phrase "as far as I can recall" at least once, while still insisting that it is all a beat up and they left because feeling "uncomfortable".)

6. Col Allen's claim that Rudd "acted like a perfect gentleman" seems capable of having a double meaning when the venue is a club at which "gentlemen" may (I am guessing here) be expected to slip money into the g-string of the performer. Maybe the more bucks you pay, the more gentlemanly you can be deemed! Anyway, if News Ltd is hedging its bets over who is the next PM, Allen would say this, wouldn't he?

7. What's the bet that there are half a dozen Australian journalists doing their best to find someone who worked at the strip joint at the time who can remember if there was a red-cheeked round faced man with an unfashionable haircut asked to leave two years ago. It's very unlikely that further information will be forthcoming.

Although Caroline Overington says the original rumour that has been around for months included nothing about Rudd's behaviour while there, the points noted above all seem to me to suggest that there probably is something more to this story. Whether we will ever find out though seems unlikely.

But still, if this is the only damaging rumour around that journalists have about Rudd's character, I'm very disappointed. He should work on the assumption that he could be even more "humanised" by doing something obviously bad. I am arranging for a carton of K-Y to be delivered to his office, and updating his profile at, as I write. It's all for his electoral good, you know.

UPDATE: Here's the link to Rudd's interview on AM this morning where they attempted to probe the issue of whether he could actually recall what he did while at the club:

GILLIAN BRADFORD: You're now saying there you had a bit to drink, but yesterday you were saying you were too drunk to remember. That's quite a big difference.

KEVIN RUDD: Well, I've said repeatedly that I'd had too much to drink and I fully accept that and I was asked yesterday whether this had occurred at any stage before. I said, "Well, yeah, actually." 35… When I turned 35 I remember having a family birthday party at home and I'd had too much to drink. I certainly recall that. And on this occasion I had too much to drink as well. But I am not by habit or by reputation or by instinct, you know, a heavy drinker. People who know me around Parliament House would affirm that.

GILLIAN BRADFORD: So just clarifying that, are you relying on Col Allan and Warren Snowdon to tell you you didn't do anything inappropriate, or do you remember yourself that you didn't do anything inappropriate?

KEVIN RUDD: Well, a combination of the above. As I said, I have absolutely no recollection of that, and nor does Warren Snowdon.

GILLIAN BRADFORD: But were you too drunk to remember?

KEVIN RUDD: When you have had a few drinks obviously your complete recollection of events is not going to be perfect. I accept that, I think that just passes the commonsense test. But when I checked with Warren, that was certainly our recollection, and both our recollection is that we were out of there before much time had elapsed.

Ah well, at least reading such discomfit has given me some fun out of all this.

I think what he is trying to avoid saying is something like this: I had such a skinful that, even if I did misbehave in the club, I may not remember it. That's why I immediately rang Teresa the next day to apologise, just in case. But if my mates now say I didn't do anything wrong, well I guess I mustn't have, hey?

UPDATE 2: It's just occurred to me, after reading the AM interview, that now that Kevin claims at least a partial recall of the visit, why hasn't anyone asked him the detail of what he did there? Simply watch with some discomfit (who cares?); be on the receiving end of a lap dance (danger danger Will Robinson;) or shoving a $50 in a g-string (Kevin actually pays for the exploitation of women).

Of course, even if he did do the latter of those things (which are not "inappropriate" for customers to do, but still cast a very different light on the visit,) I suppose no one would expect an honest answer anyway.

But what fun it would be to ask.

UPDATE 3: I just realised that Laurie Oakes did ask Rudd yesterday "were there semi naked ladies there and what were they doing?" To which Kevin07 replies: "....we can't actually recall anything that you wouldn't see at most pubs across Australia..."

Not exactly full of detail. I want to see him squirm more, with direct questions on his activities there, whether they be "appropriate" or "inappropriate."

I am still betting that such details would influence the public perception of his character. I am not saying it would be necessarily fatal to his campaign, but my impression is that everyone is currently painting it as "he came, he saw, he left quickly". I still think the phone call to the wife and "explaining" to her what happened (in the interview he doesn't use the word "confess", even though other media does) is suspicious.

UPDATE 4: Over at Rudd's MySpace page, there are lots of comments of the "good on you mate" variety. Glad to see Kevin has gained the yobbo, stripjoints-are-all-a-bit-of-good-fun vote. (And hey, lefty bloggers, we are talking of a 46 year old bloke dropping in on the joint, not a silly single man in his 20's.)

UPDATE 5: Given that the media knew of this story years and years ago, why is every lefty so certain that it's timing is Liberal party smear campaign?

Even Kevin is not adamant that this is the case. From his AM interview today:
"I've seen reports in the paper today about interjections in Parliament by Mr Downer some months ago, but I make no particular allegations against him," he said.
UPDATE 6: With all the outrage about this at LP, there are few comments with which I can agree, but this one comes close (except for the part about "normally sensible") :
(Sigh) I wish the normally sensible commenters on here were not in such a rush to reassure everybody that of course strip clubs are just a normal part of blokedom, of course the women are all doing this stuff because they really prefer it and of course the pornulation of everything and the insistence of providing naked female flesh everywhere for male enjoyment is just fine and dandy.
UPDATE 7: (Gosh, I just can't stop): Crikey has some interesting background on how this became a story, and it doesn't jibe well with the Libs being behind it. I like this part about Col Allen (whose denial that Rudd did anything improper is being treated as gospel by all Kevvie defenders):

And, for goodness sake, Col Allen, who is variously described in today’s papers as “knockabout”, “larrikin”, “famously brash” and “pugnacious”. They are all euphemisms. There is a nice profile here in which Allen is described as a bully by Stuart Littlemore, and Allen himself admits to occasionally pissing in his office sink during news conferences.

One wonders by what standard Allen judged Rudd’s behaviour in order to pronounce it gentlemanly.

Friday, August 17, 2007


Biofuels switch a mistake, say researchers | Environment | The Guardian

From the report:
Increasing production of biofuels to combat climate change will release between two and nine times more carbon gases over the next 30 years than fossil fuels, according to the first comprehensive analysis of emissions from biofuels...

Biofuels look good in climate change terms from a Western perspective, said Dr Spracklen, but globally they actually lead to higher carbon emissions. "Brazil, Paraguay, Indonesia among others have huge deforestation programmes to supply the world biofuel market", he said.

The researchers say the emphasis should be placed on increasing the efficiency of fossil fuel use and moving to carbon-free alternatives such as renewable energy.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Black hole questions continue

The speculations as to the fate of black holes continue over at Why should you care? Because it's possible that the LHC at CERN will start creating very tiny ones within a year or so, and they may have such low velocity that they end up hanging around (or in) the Earth. Would be nice if scientists had a real handle on how they were going to behave, don't you think?

The latest paper to be seen about this is here. The title: "Moduli Vacuum Bubbles Produced by Evaporating Black Holes". The main idea: black holes may have "vacuum bubbles" around them which will make their appearance somewhat different from what Hawking radiation would indicate. The article notes that:
Smaller mass black holes that have already evaporated away could have left vacuum bubbles behind that contribute to the dark matter.
To be fair, the article only talks about larger black holes, and "primordial" ones in particular, but I am curious to know if this is relevant to the evaporation of micro black holes of the type that may be created at CERN.

Another recent paper, which is again hard for the lay person to follow, suggests that maybe the LHC won't produce black holes whether or not large extra dimensions exist. This is due to the effect of what the article calls RG (renormalisation group.) The conclusions:
We have applied the RG to the black hole production scenario in the context of large extra dimensions. This has two surprising effects:
• First, the area of the black hole (which is of the same order as the production cross-section) does not only inherit the UV safety as it was observed for standard
scattering cross-section, but it even gets damped so strongly that it goes to zero.
• Second, the truncation parameter t, which does not play an important role in the
qualitative standard scattering cross-section picture, gets central importance for
the BH threshold. Even more, BH production could be completely forbidden3 for values of t ≤ 1, which according to [6] are perfectly possible.

In the light of such dramatic consequences of the application of RG to the simplest
picture of BH production, we conclude that more detailed studies have to be made
on both sides of the problem. It would be of great interest to see whether the straight forward statements, which were made here, would survive an improved formulation of the BH production threshold, of the RG solutions, and of the determination of the truncation parameter t. If the results persist and t can be determined to be ≤ 1, no black holes will be produced at the LHC whether large extra dimensions exist or not.
The paper notes that this RG stuff had previously been used to predict that the final outcome of black hole evaporation is a remnant which is a "mini black hole of Planckian size". The article which discusses this notes that:
It would be interesting to investigate the possible astrophysical implications of a population of stable Planck size mini-black holes produced in the Early Universe or by the interaction of cosmic rays with the interstellar medium
The suggestion being, I assume, that some of the dark matter in the universe may be very tiny black holes swarming around the place.

As far as black hole remnants are concerned, I noted in a post last year that an arxiv paper suggested they could be a useful source of energy:
If BHRs (Stable Remnants) are made available by the LHC or the
NLC and can be used to convert mass in energy, then the total 2050 yearly world energy consumption of roughly 1021 Joule can be covered by just ∼ 10 tons of arbitrary material, converted to radiation by the Hawking process via m = E/c2 = 1021J/(3·108m/s)2 = 10 4kg.
But how do you actually make it into an energy generator? Shot particles at it in an accelerator? Would it be easy to hit? And more importantly, what does it mean if you drop one, or thousands, into the centre of the earth? Here's some speculation: are some planet interiors already partially heated by captured black hole remnants? Would adding thousands of human made ones be a bad idea?

All questions I am waiting to see answers to.

A very nasty virus

HIV's punch brings on dementia | The Australian

It is a commonly held belief that rates of HIV infection are increasing in some communities because anti-viral therapy has made it seem that it is not a complete disaster to catch the disease, thereby inadvertently encouraging some risk taking behaviour.

I have suggested before that education about the disease ought to address this issue: show a few HIV positive people who are alive, but far from well, despite being on the best therapy available. (Who knows, maybe this line is already being followed in some advertising campaigns directed at the gay community?)

Anyway, this story today serves as a reminder of the seriousness of the infection:
THE reason many people with HIV-AIDS develop dementia has long baffled researchers, but scientists finally believe they have the answer - the virus hits the brain with a one-two punch.

First, a protein on the surface of the virus directly kills brain cells, or neurons. Then the same protein disrupts the formation of new neurons from adult stem cells.

In people, the dementia triggered by the virus, HIV-associated dementia (HAD), slows thinking, memory and even movement.

Perversely, although highly active anti-retroviral therapy (HAART) helps HIV-infected people live longer and with less severe dementia, the prevalence of HAD has not declined.

Statistics from the National Centre in HIV Epidemiology and Clinical Research (NCHECR) at the University of NSW in Sydney reveal that almost 9800 Australians have HIV-AIDS.

According to Bruce Brew -- head of neurology at St Vincent's Hospital in Sydney -- roughly 20 per cent of people with AIDS will develop HAD. Surprisingly, many will remain otherwise quite well.

In the BCC report on the same research, it is noted:

Keith Alcorn, senior editor of the HIV information service NAM, said: "The discovery that HIV affects stem cell proliferation in the brain is bound to add to concerns that people with HIV doing well on antiretroviral therapy may nevertheless face a higher risk of dementia in years to come.

"Antiretroviral drugs have lowered viral load so that HIV will not kill cells directly, but we don't know the consequences for brain functioning of a long-term low level of infection.

"It may be that low level infection is enough to interfere with the regeneration pathways in the way shown in this experiment."

Neat heading

Revenge of the bloodthirsty lesbians - Times Online

Ian Rankin has been criticised for this statement:
The acclaimed writer of the Inspector Rebus novels said in an interview last year: “The people writing the most graphic novels today are women. They are mostly lesbians as well, which I find interesting.”
Further in the report, it states this:
McDermid is one of several prominent lesbian thriller writers, including Patricia Cornwell, Louise Welsh and Manda Scott.
I have never gotten into crime fiction, and didn't know Patricia Cornwell was lesbian. I agree with Rankin that this is a curious thing.

Answer: Yes

Is Second Life just hype? from Guardian Unlimited

Utter hypocrisy

It's no wonder that Labor didn't get very far with spending all of Parliament's question time yesterday trying to embarrass Peter Costello over his 2005 dinner comments.

Surely the public has learnt that, when it comes to talk of leadership and intended challenges, no politician from any party can be expected to be completely honest. It happens with every leadership challenge: denial, denial, denial, challenge.

Kevin Rudd's was no different. Everyone knows politicians lie when it comes to leadership issues.

Julia Gillard on Radio National this morning then tried to pretend it was the government that was swept up in worrying about leadership, when it was Labor that spent all of Question Time on it yesterday. I will get her exact words up later today when I can get them. It was a ridiculous response.

UPDATE: this is my transcript of the audio of the last question Fran Kelly asked Julia Gillard this morning:
Fran Kelly: Just it time to stop worrying about who Peter Costello had dinner with two years ago and start focusing on policy issues that voters really care about?

Julia Gillard: I think that’s a question you should really be asking the government. It’s a stale and self obsessed government that is looking at all of these questions. It’s a stale and self obsessed set of ministers who are more worried about who is sitting in what chair more than anything else, they are certainly more worried about that than they are about the future of Australians working families, and it’s a self obsessed back bench that has lost touch with the needs of their constituents and is now much more enthralled by the internal dynamics of the Liberal Party and Mr Howard versus Mr Costello.
How rich is that, given their performance yesterday?

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Doomsday machines

Dr Strangelove and the real Doomsday machine - Times Online

Here's an interesting review of a book about nuclear doomsday machines. One was imagined and not built (it's a little hard to see the political/military tactical value of ending all life on earth,) but the other was built in Russia and is, presumably, still in action. This later one is an automated "return fire" computer, and does indeed sound a bit of a worry.

Freakonomics at the NYT

Freakonomics - Opinion - New York Times Blog

For those who haven't noticed, the Freakonomics guys are now blogging at the NYT, and the range of topics covered is pretty impressive.

Go have a browse.

Clubbing and grumpiness

Guardian Unlimited | Comment is free | Charlie Brooker: Nightclubs are hell

Charlie Brooker really, really dislikes clubbing, and I am pretty much in complete sympathy with his amusingly expressed views.

As an aside though: what is it currently about England and these "grumpy or men/women" TV shows from the last couple of years. Even though I might agree with at least half of the views expressed, it just seems a real waste of TV to sit around watching to see if the grumpiness actually comes across as funny.

Islamism rallies

BBC NEWS | Asia-Pacific | Stadium crowd pushes for Islamist dream

See the link above for an interesting report on a recent Islamist rally in Indonesia.

I like this part at the end:
"The method used in Hizb ut-Tahrir is a change in thought patterns. We call it 'thought revolution'. When someone is given Islamic teaching - given the brilliant thinking of Islam - then they'll naturally undergo a thought revolution, and will see what is good and what is bad."

Java jive

Girl overdoses on espresso coffee

The BBC reports:

Jasmine Willis, 17, developed a fever and began hyperventilating after drinking seven double espressos while working at her family's sandwich shop.

The student, of Stanley, County Durham, was taken to the University Hospital of North Durham, where doctors confirmed she had overdosed on caffeine.

She has since made a full recovery and is now warning others about the dangers of excessive coffee drinking.

Ms Willis, who had thought the coffees were single measures, said the effects were so severe that she began laughing and crying for no reason while serving customers at the shop.

She developed a fever and began struggling to breathe after being sent home by her father.

"My nerves were all over the place.

"I was drenched. I was burning up and hyperventilating.

"I was having palpitations, my heart was beating so fast and I thought I was going into shock.

That's a type of overdose you don't hear about every day.

Sending food to China

Games for anything except this Chinese takeaway | The Australian

Interesting article about increasing exports of Australian food to China, mainly (it seems) for the middle class who worry about the safety scares with Chinese foodstuffs.

I knew we export a lot of wine around the world, but not this much:
Last financial year Australian wine exports topped $3 billion for the first time, pushed up by demand in China, which bought $51 million worth.

Monday, August 13, 2007


On Sunday I went with the family to Brisbane's Royal Queensland Show, or Exhibition, but otherwise known as the Ekka.

While similar shows are held in all Australian capital cities, Brisbane people like to think that they have a special relationship with, and fondness for, their version. I think this is true, and may have something to do with the fact that when I was a child it coincided with a two week August school holiday, which helped ensure huge attendance numbers in proportion to the population of the city then.

The Brisbane showgrounds are also in the inner city, as Sydney's used to be. Despite being eyed off by the Council for many, many years for urban re-development, as far as I know the grounds are still being zealously guarded by the grandly named Royal National Agricultural and Industrial Association of Queensland. (I seem to recall that most or all of it is owned as freehold, hence the difficulty of the government ever forcing it to be sold off and turned into townhouses.)

I would be curious to know if any of my vast interstate readership (basically, Tim and Caz) have any comments about this. Do they have a strong sentimental attachment to their agricultural show, or know of others who do?

Last year I couldn't attend because of one or both of the kids being sick. The year before, I think it was, we went but I started to feel sick while I was there and we came home relatively early. This year, I was determined to go on the first weekend if all of the family was well, and to stay until the fireworks end it at 8 pm. My wife, not being from these parts, does not quite understand the sentimental attachment I have with the place, and so takes some convincing that spending all day there is a good idea. Yet when we get there she is happy to buy huge grocery "sample bags" containing everything from pasta sauce to baby octopus in oil, and makes me lug them around the grounds for the rest of the day.

Some idiosyncratic highlights of this year's visit:

* my family got to taste test Singaporean water recycled from sewerage. (Brisbane will do be doing this via their taps next year if summer rains fail again.)

* I spotted Senator Andrew Bartlett looking his usual glum self while eating something from the International Food section. (He is probably the least "country" senator I can think of.)

* Local gourmet food and wine has taken over an entire building now, and really, a couple of adults could happily spend 3 or 4 hours just there if you want to taste the many Queensland wines, cheeses, olives, and even chocolate available. (Yes, I discovered that someone is growing cocoa beans in North Queensland.) As I had children to entertain, and they don't like Verdelho yet, we had to move through faster than that.

* The fireworks are still deeply impressive, mainly because you can sit very close to the action. (We also sat downwind of them and had to avoid the occasional still glowing ember as they drifted down. As no clothes caught fire, and only a bit of ash got in our eyes, it was deemed a great display by the kids - and even the wife.)

I would post photos, except that my kids are in all of them. Sorry.

UPDATE: Andrew Bartlett has his report on his day out here. As I kind of expected, he is not exactly a True Believer in the institution, revealing that he had not been there for 20 years. Way to impress the large rural population of Queensland that you also represent, Senator! He seems only to be attending again now because of his child.

I, by contrast, have been happy to attend at every stage of life.

(Idea for another bad Australian sitcom: ultra urban politician loses seat and is forced by family circumstances into a rural community. His first steps in town include setting up an outreach program for disaffected gay and transsexual youth, ensuring that the local shops will sell goth colours in their cosmetics range, and freeing the gay ram who was being sent to the slaughterhouse.)

He also takes time to get a bit grumpy about how many of the farm animal displays gloss over modern animal husbandry. (Battery cage hens in particular.) But here, I have to say that I have some sympathy to his views. It's not a topic I dwell on much, but I tend to agree that the way hens, pigs and some other animals are raised now just seems inherently cruel, and doesn't allow them the limited natural pleasures that would at least compensate for being turned into our food. I am tempted sometimes to get a couple of chooks for backyard eggs, but the dog may not take too kindly to them.

At the end of the day, however, the Senator talks about the sentimental aspects of the Show in much the same way I did, so he's not all bad.


Brad Pitt tames Angelina Jolie's lesbian libido | The Courier-Mail

Must News Ltd treat crappy magazine gossip as it is news??

And while I am at it (I have been meaning to ask this for months): why does anyone know who Lindsay Lohan is, anyway? Until she started drink driving and being found with cocaine, etc, I knew of her only because of reports that her bust had to be digitally reduced in in the kid's movie Herbie: Fully Loaded. (OK, so she's been in a couple of more notable films, apparently, but nothing that has set the world on fire.)

I can (kind of) understand prurient interest in the downfall of major movie stars or the otherwise talented and famous. What I don't get is the interest in the downfall of relatively minor celebrities.

All talk

Revealed: cover-up plan on energy target | Environment | The Guardian

Presumably, Labor supporters here would think Labour in England was a good example to follow in terms of greenhouse action. But:

Government officials have secretly briefed ministers that Britain has no hope of getting remotely near the new European Union renewable energy target that Tony Blair signed up to in the spring - and have suggested that they find ways of wriggling out of it.

In contrast to the government's claims to be leading the world on climate change, officials within the former Department of Trade and Industry have admitted that under current policies Britain would miss the EU's 2020 target of 20% energy from renewables by a long way. And their suggestion that "statistical interpretations of the target" be used rather than new ways to reach it has infuriated environmentalists.

An internal briefing paper for ministers, a copy of which has been obtained by the Guardian, reveals that officials at the department, now the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, think the best the UK could hope for is 9% of energy from renewable sources such as wind, solar or hydro by 2020.

It says the UK "has achieved little so far on renewables" and that getting to 9%, from the current level of about 2%, would be "challenging". The paper was produced in the early summer, around the time the government published its energy white paper.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Run away!

Let's talk about sleepovers - National -

This is a long, mildly interesting, article about Australian teenagers and sex today. It notes that:
Three-quarters of teens in year 10 remain virgins, says a national survey of secondary students in 2002, and the adolescents themselves tend to think this is a good thing.
But barely a few sentences later:

The average age for first intercourse among men 40 years ago was 18, and for women, 19. It has dropped to 16 for both sexes.

By year 10, most kids are deep kissing and genital touching. Roughly a third experience oral sex, with the practice widely seen as a safer alternative to intercourse. This development is new. Before the porno flick Deep Throat popularised fellatio in the 1970s, it tended to be the preserve of married couples.

Hmm. That's what we have to thank porn for; increasing this activity amongst 15 year olds?

Anyway, here is the section that is the reason for my title for this post:
Kids already know about bestiality, anal sex and the turkey slap, but they could use a word or two on how real intimacy might feel. Professor Susan Sawyer, a leading pediatrician who directs the Centre for Adolescent Health at Melbourne's Royal Children's Hospital, thinks parents ought to start the conversation with their kids by giving condoms and the morning-after pill on their 15th birthday. Not as a green light, but as a reality check and an opening to confide. "By the time they're 16, kids ought to have opened up a condom, blown it up and played with it."
What an understatement opens the next sentence:
This won't be everyone's style...
Given the frequent perversity with which teenagers don't exactly follow their parents' world views, I can imagine that the (surely rare!) sort of parent that wants to play condom balloons with their son or daughter on their 15th birthday will sometimes find said child recoiling with horror at the affront to their desire to remain a virgin until married.

This has also just reminded me of the Malcolm in the Middle episode where Malcolm's mother horrifies and sickens him by holding him hostage in the car while he gets an extremely detailed talk on sex and relationships.

Oh - which reminds me of one of the funniest scenes in that show, at least in the later series, and it's on YouTube!

Here's the background: the evil girl in this episode has set up both Malcolm and his brother Rhys by lying to both of them that their brother has confided to her that he is gay. The brothers are both shocked, but nice enough to try to be "supportive" of their brother's apparent secret, leading to some very odd behaviour in front of the rest of the family. This scene is after the family has come back from seeing "Mama Mia" (again, I think it was the girl's suggestion):

It cracks me up.

Hitchens reviews Potter

Christopher Hitchens: To Harry Potter, what would Orwell say?

He's about the last person I would have expected to be called upon to review the last Harry Potter book.

Giving terrorists ideas

Last December, I noted how the use of polonium in the Litvinenko murder in London had raised concerns about how this very dangerous substance could be used to create a really devastating dirty bomb.

Security experts are still worrying about this:

The authors call such methods I3, for inhalation, ingestion and immersion. One of the writers, Peter Zimmerman, a nuclear physicist, said yesterday that a well-planned radiological attack "would be capable of killing several hundred, maybe upwards of a thousand, and paralysing a city without any question at all."

The article does not provide details of the most devastating method of attack the authors have conceived, for security reasons, but Professor Zimmerman described one scenario using a water-soluble radioactive isotope widely used in hospitals and industry: "I can then tap into the anti-fire spray in a theatre, and if I can trigger the spray, I can soak everyone in the room."

Polonium-210, which was used in Mr Litvinenko's murder, is even more deadly because it emits alpha radiation, which is not picked up by radiation sensors.

It's a worry.

You can lead a horse to water....

75% of the people who download Firefox don't become active users | Technology | Guardian Unlimited

That figure is pretty surprising. I just can't imagine why anyone doesn't use the incredibly customisable Firefox as their preferred browser. (I particularly like adding specialised search engines to it.)

Friday, August 10, 2007

Moon architecture

What will future lunar bases look like? - New Scientist Space

It takes me back to my childhood, reading about actual plans being made for lunar shelters and permanent bases. In the 1960's, there seemed no reason at all to imagine that the manned space program would come to a screaming halt for 50 years, at least as far as the moon is concerned. Books I read then were full of designs and ideas for all types of rockets, spacesuits, emergency re-entry gear, and so on. It seems to me now that a lot of ideas are being re-invented, or perhaps it is just that they are only now moving from concept to actual material prototypes.

Anyhow, this New Scientist article talks of some ideas at the moment, and re-publishes a photo of a little mock up of an inflatable shelter design that I have seen somewhere before. As the article says:
The team is now weighing several options: an inflatable home that could be packed for launch and then inflated on the Moon's surface using oxygen transported in tanks, a rigid structure, or a combination of both. ...

All that’s needed to shield astronauts from deadly onslaughts of high-energy protons spewed from the Sun during solar flares, Thomas says, is a 5-centimetre layer of water. This could be integrated into an inflatable structure using a bladder-like layer filled with water, sandwiched into a rigid structure, or simply stacked on top of the habitat in tanks.

Used packing materials and other waste could be piled against the structure to provide even more protection. Meteorites larger than dust-sized grains could be deflected by aluminium or Kevlar shields like those used on the International Space Station.

I don't know. One of the prime things I would be looking at would be long lines of sight inside, rather than moving from one time cramped bubble of a spaceship into another tiny cramped bubble of a shelter for a couple of weeks.

I would have thought that an easy to erect, low slung geodesic dome framework supporting an inflatable shell would have a lot going for it. Being able to bury it with a foot or two of lunar dirt would be a good idea, and again (I imagine) a geodesic frame would be good at distributing the weight evenly all around the perimeter. As to how to get the dirt over it: some sort of mechanical aid would be needed, and one thing I don't know is how easy it may be to dig up the first inches of the lunar surface. (Given the footprints left around the Apollo landers, it isn't rock solid, but how compacted after 10 cm?)

This probably would count as my ideal fantasy job if I had my life to live over: actually being paid to come up with concepts for lunar shelters, knowing that they will be built and used.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Nice to be noticed

Back to whales.

Following my recent post on the New Yorker review/essay about Leviathan: The History of Whaling in America, I was pleased today to receive a short e-mail from the author, Eric Jay Dolin, which I re-print here:
Thanks for mentioning my book..... Although I enjoyed the New Yorker Review, reading it barely scratches the surface of what my book contains. I hope you have a chance to delve a little deeper into the history of American whaling. LEVIATHAN will be coming out in Australia soon. If you have any suggestions for getting the word out about it in your part of the world, please let me know.
I had cheekily suggested that reading the New Yorker review made it unnecessary to actually read the book. Of course, I don't want to cause authors of interesting books to lose money, so I think we should all trust Eric's promise that there is much to be gained by reading the book, and go and buy it when it appears here.

As for publicity, I suggested that there would probably be a few ABC Radio National shows that would like to interview him, and they tend to have a very "bookish" audience too. Anyone with a better suggestion can add it below.

I see from Mr Dolin's website that the book has received quite a few favourable reviews. He also has a list of links that lead to a heap of free on line information about the history of whaling. You can read an 1839 magazine article telling the story of Mocha Dick, the real life inspiration for Moby Dick.

All fascinating.

How not to improve your public image

Priest charged over nude school jog - World -

Just what the archdiocese needed.

Fish Vs Malaria

Edible African fish could help beat malaria, study says | Science | Reuters

From the report:

Researchers have long known that the Nile tilapia feeds on mosquito larvae but the study was the first to test its potential to fight the disease in the field, said Francois Omlin, a researcher at the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology in Nairobi.

"A fish in the field may act differently than a fish in an aquarium and it was important to test how effective it could be," Omlin, who led the study, said in a telephone interview. "The tilapia species was never tested in the field for its ability to eat mosquito larvae."....

In the study, the team cleared three ponds of fish and vegetation in the highlands of Western Kenya and measured the mosquito population before introducing young tilapia.

Ten days later, no malaria mosquito larvae were recorded compared with a similar pond with no tilapia, and 41 weeks after the fish were introduced the number of mosquitoes fell by more than 94 percent, Omlin said.

Seems to have taken an unusually long time for someone to get around to testing their effectiveness.

Paris goes cycling

Parisians show their va va voom as city rolls out 'freedom' bike scheme - Times Online

I didn't realise Paris was trying a new "self service" bicycle scheme. It's a pretty interesting concept:

Subscribers must pay €29 (£20) a year, give their credit card details and leave a €150 credit card deposit to join the Vélib scheme. This buys half an hour’s pedalling a day and a card to lock and unlock bicycles from automated stations spaced every 300 metres in the city’s centre.

A simple swipe releases the bike and secures it at the other end, where a computer charges users on a sliding scale for any time over the first 30 minutes. This ensures that Vélib bikes are used for short journeys. Bikes are redistributed daily by electric trailers to avoid stations becoming empty or full.

I find it difficult to imagine the scheme working in Brisbane, or Sydney for that matter, simply because of the narrowness of many inner city streets.

Cycling is more popular in urban Japan than in many Western countries, and as with the Parisian bikes, everyone uses the "women's" style for commuting purposes. They are also more relaxed about riding on the footpath when necessary.

In Australia, Melbourne and Adelaide are more likely prospects for the Parisian style scheme, I expect. They are both pretty flat, and less humid in summer.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Dr Skippy

Scientist to treat lung cancer with bacteria from roos ABC Queensland

From the report:

A Queensland scientist has won a $750,000 fellowship to develop a lung cancer treatment from a bacterium found in eastern grey kangaroos...

Dr Wei says his research involves spores of bacteria that target cancer cells.

"By injecting the spores into the blood, the spores can get into the centre of the tumour and that would work as a live active and tumour seeking agent that destroys tumours from the inside," he said.

Let's hope the side effects don't include sleeping most of the day and then a strong urge to jump in front of cars in the evening.

Janet and Michael

Jihadists owe Kirby a thank you | The Australian

Janet Albrechtsen swings out a Justice Michael Kirby in a very satisfying way in her column today.

Kirby seems to have become the new Lionel Murphy, in that he seems continually to be in the minority in High Court, at least in cases that attract a high profile. The difference is that (from memory) Murphy's judgements used to be pretty short and along the lines of "This is unjust and its about time the Court recognised the injustice in these cases, and so I find for the [insert appropriate party]."

Kirby spends a lot of time on how he explains his decisions, but they still seem to come down to exercises in justifying a gut reaction.

(Of course, some people would argue that is how all judges really work, but I am not so sure.)

His need to see everything through the prism of a gay perspective is getting very tiring with Kirby, though. His comments in court about HIV killing more people than terrorism were justly criticised by Gerard Henderson in the articles I posted about yesterday. (Oh, and I know it's not a "gay disease" for most of the world.)

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Back to whales

A few posts back I referred readers to a very interesting New Yorker article about the history of American whaling.

Reading about sperm whales made me realise I had a knowledge gap: why are they called that? The New Yorker review also mentioned spermaceti as being a whaling product, and I didn't know what that was. (Ambergris I knew about: it was featured in an Uncle Scrooge comic I read as a child.)

So Wikipedia to the rescue. Spermaceti is:
... a wax present in the head cavities of the Sperm Whale (Physeter macrocephalus) and in the blubber of all whales. Spermaceti is extracted from whale oil by crystallisation at 6 °C, when treated by pressure and a chemical solution of caustic alkali. Spermaceti forms brilliant white crystals that are hard but oily to the touch, and are devoid of taste or smell, making it very useful as an ingredient in cosmetics, leatherworking and lubricants.
As for why sperm whales have it in their head, this is rather interesting:
One function of the spermaceti organs is a buoyancy or diving organ. Before diving, cold water is brought through the organ and the wax is solidified . The increase in specific density generates a down force (approx 40 kg equiv) and allows the whale effortless sinking. During the chase in deep levels (max 3km!) the stored oxygen is consumed and excess heat melts the spermaceti. Now only hydrodynamic forces (by swimming) keep the whale down before effortlessly surfacing.
Knowledge gap filled.

Henderson on lawyers and terrorism laws

Attack on freedom overstated - Opinion -

Worth reading. His earlier article on this topic was good too.

A good idea

Remedy for mistrust | The Australian

This article makes a case for having a national system of assessment for foreign doctors. Sounds sensible, doesn't it?

My polling commentary

Newspoll shows the coalition still stuck in the polls, but at least I take some consolation from the fact that a significant majority agree with the Haneef visa revocation, despite all the heat generated by left-y bloggers and the odd editorial campaign of The Australian against Andrews personally. Howard still leads in the "who would handle security better" question too.

As for the 10 point TPP lead to Labor at this stage: well it will just make the ultimate Coalition election victory all that more lauded!

Some reasons why I am not giving up on the Coalition yet:

* You would need to see polling on a State by State basis to see how many seats are in danger. Western Australian is still mentioned as not good for Labor, and there is fierce opposition to Beattie's out-of-the-blue council amalgamation plan in Queensland. It seems that the actual amalgamation process will be still underway during the Federal election, and it is bound to cause some vote changing in some rural seats at least. Maybe not much, but some. Meanwhile, the hospital decision in Tasmania might have worked for Howard in that one seat. (It's going to take a lot to win the election one seat at a time, though!)

* Is it possible for Rudd to be a smaller target than he has been in the last few weeks? If people like him for being "Howard lite," is there a chance they will actually switch allegiance back to Howard when it comes to a crunch? And I don't expect that people currently siding with Rudd in polls are thinking of Labor as a team at the moment. Wayne Swan does not seem to me to be performing well in interviews this year; I reckon there is danger that Peter Garrett is going to self-implode due to some guilt over having to sell his idealism to be part of the party; and I still think that Julia Gillard is not entirely loveable despite the various make overs and appearances on women's magazines indicate.

* There was some mention somewhere in the last couple of weeks that Tony Abbot's comment that the "darker aspects" of Rudd's political career may come to light was a reference to some journalistic digging that he knows about. It would have to be very dirty indeed, though, not to backfire. Still, if Rudd displays a glass jaw again, it may have an effect.

* John Howard seems certainly to have been right in his prediction earlier this year that he did not expect the polling to change significantly until the election is called. Still, that's little comfort to his supporters when even the betting is starting to go strongly against you.

Monday, August 06, 2007

The body electric

ScienceDaily: Electric Fields Have Potential As A Cancer Treatment

An interesting report on hopeful indications of low level electric fields to the head helping treat some forms of brain cancer.

The idea that electric fields could be helpful therapy has been around a long time (ever since electricity was understood, I guess.) It also gets a mention in science fiction every now and then, if I recall correctly. So its good to see there may be something in it after all.

Improbable research

Speaking out | eG weekly |

From the article:
In the 1990s, daring researchers finally tackled a question that was discussed everywhere except in formal academic settings. When someone's speech "sounds gay", what makes it sound that way?
Not exactly crucial to the advancement of the human condition, but it's good to see that I am not the only person to have wondered why (some) gay men sound so gay.

Sex and children

I’m single, I’m sexy, and I’m only 13 - Times Online

This article from The Times is a week old, but worth reading.

It's all about the ridiculously early sexualisation of young girls, especially young teenage girls.

It does cite some odd research, though, such as this:
The APA report also featured a 1998 study, in which the same researchers asked college-aged girls to try on either a swimsuit or a sweater, assess their appearance, then perform mathematical tests. The girls asked to wear swimsuits performed significantly worse.

“This is how sexualisation fragments consciousness,” says Dr Lamb. “These girls were so hung up on their appearance they literally didn’t have room in their heads to do maths. They learn that preoccupation from the women they look up to in the media.”

One psychologist explains the problem this way:
Though Dr Wilson believes flirtation and exhibitionism are natural for young girls, he says that clear lines must be drawn. “Children want to be looked at, but wearing items like thongs and revealing clothes sends the message that they are sexually available. It also implies knowledge of sexuality that just isn’t there,” he says.
As to the group think of girls, it also points out this:
But while criticism of the media is the answer Dr Lamb hopes for, it is girls criticising each other that is beginning to change attitudes among some groups. “There is a backlash beginning,” she says. “Girls quickly go from being popular to being derided for their slutty behaviour. It’s sad because they do all these things to fit in, but go too far and they are soon turned against.”
I wonder if anyone has looked at the comparative "early sexualisation" behaviour of girls from mixed gender schools and girls only ones.

Drive more and save the planet

Walking to the shops ‘damages planet more than going by car’ - Times Online

This is possibly the funniest thing Tim Blair would ever have read about greenhouse gases (with considerable justification , I might add), and he's missing out on blogging about it 'cos he's off on holiday somewhere.

Short version: raising cows makes so many greenhouse gases, you are better off driving the car to the supermarket than walking and having to replace those calories with extra intake of beef or milk.

But there's more:

Mr Goodall, Green Party parliamentary candidate for Oxford West & Abingdon, is the latest serious thinker to turn popular myths about the environment on their head.

Catching a diesel train is now twice as polluting as travelling by car for an average family, the Rail Safety and Standards Board admitted recently. Paper bags are worse for the environment than plastic because of the extra energy needed to manufacture and transport them, the Government says.

Makes me feel so much better.

As for flying, there seems to have been a bit of a backlash against the "the world must fly less" views of George Monbiot and others, and a good article in The Observer a couple of weeks ago talked about the difficulties of comparisons between different modes of transport.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

And now for something completely different

Found by accident, here's some very innovative looking stage magic with (what looks like) laser light.

Very, very cool!

Friday, August 03, 2007

Things you never knew about whaling

This is one of those New Yorker book reviews of very pleasing length, where you end up up feeling that you have learnt a lot of things you didn't know before, with the added benefit that it seems hardly necessary to buy the book now.

The book in question "Leviathan", is a history of American whaling.

One thing it has taught me is that there was a fair bit left out of the movie version of Moby Dick:
Nor is there anything like skinning the whale’s penis, “longer than a Kentuckian is tall,” and wearing it as a tunic while you slice up the fat harvested from the rest of its body. Melville’s narrator, Ishmael, claims that the mincer of blubber usually wore such a tunic, in a clerical cut that made him look like “a candidate for an archbishoprick.” For “Moby-Dick,” Melville drew on scientific, historical, and journalistic accounts of whales, but he had a reputation for blurring the line between fact and fiction, and scholars have noted that for this chapter “none of Melville’s fish documents was particularly helpful.” In other words, he may have made the tunic up, for the sake of the archiepiscopal pun and perhaps, too, as a symbol.
It's a really interesting read. Go to it.

Revenge of the dolphins

Taiji officials: Dolphin meat 'toxic waste' | The Japan Times Online

Letting nothing get between them and a school of fish, the Japanese residents of Taiji kill hundreds of dolphins each year in a particularly gruesome fashion. Foreign Correspondent had a story about it in 2005. It was noted there that some of the dolphin meat is eaten locally.

The Japan Times story at the top says that this is a bad idea, because testing indicates it contains a very high level of mercury. All very unfortunate for the local school kids too, who have had dolphin meat put in the school supplied lunches.

The Japanese Fisheries bureaucracy remains hard to convince. God forbid that anything, even human health, should stop them killing and munching on whatever sea creature they like:

Tetsuya Endo, a professor and researcher at Hokkaido Health Science University's faculty of pharmaceutical sciences, affirmed the other doctors' condemnation of small-cetacean food products.

In a terse e-mail sent to this correspondent, Endo said, in reference to dolphin meat, "It's not food!"

In 2005, Endo published the results of a three-year study on random samples of cetacean food products sold throughout Japan, and concluded all of it was unhealthy because of high levels of mercury and methylmercury.

However, Hideki Moronuki, deputy director of the government's Far Seas Fisheries Division of the Resources Management Department, in an interview with The Japan Times, maligned Endo's study, calling it "misleading information." When pressed, though, he failed to substantiate his accusation.

The Japanese obsession with fish is a problem. As another Foreign Correspondent report (this one on massive Japanese overfishing of tuna off Australia and elsewhere) noted:
Japan has only two per cent of the world’s population yet Japanese eat a chunky ten per cent of the global fish catch. The national appetite seems almost insatiable.

Looking at Iran

Is Iran paranoid or does it really have something to hide? | Guardian Unlimited

This is a fascinating report on a recent attempt at PR by the Iranians for its nuclear industry.

It really sounds like a crazy government:
Petrol costs about 10p a litre, so Tehran is usually one continuous traffic jam. On Friday there is gridlock at midnight. And electricity is 70% subsidised. Seen from the air at nights, the capital burns as bright as any American metropolis. Because petrol is sold so cheaply, it makes no economic sense to build refineries in Iran, but because of the absence of refineries there is actually a petrol shortage. Rather than raise prices, the government has introduced rationing, handing out smart cards that limit most users to 100 litres a month. There was an initial wave of protests a month ago when the scheme was first introduced but those have since faded. The lull may be an illusion though. Many people have burned through much of the four-month ration on their initial smart card in just over 30 days. When the cards run out and people can no longer get to work, there is likely to be another bout of anger and frustration.

Geo engineering risks

'Sunshade' for global warming could cause drought

Read the linked story for some scepticism of one of the more plausible geo-engineering ideas against global warming (using sulphur particles high in the atmosphere).

Necks and blood pressure

How a pain in the neck could be bad for your blood pressure

This is an interesting little story about the possible connections (at least for some people) between the neck and high blood pressure.

I recall reading years ago in a Discover magazine (perhaps as far back as the 1980's) about some cases where experimental surgery on (I think) a nerve on the neck seemed to cure some cases of high blood pressure. I thought it interesting at the time, because of a relative of mine who has had high blood pressure from a relatively young age, yet has always led a healthy, active life style.

After that, I don't recall seeing anything about necks and blood pressure anywhere. Of course, it is not something I go out of my way to look for.

Homer's brain on display


Very amusing to see that Homer Simpson's brain somehow made it onto a serious Chinese media report.

No one believes the Courier Mail?

Haneef caught in Groundhog Day, says lawyer | The Courier-Mail

Yesterday, the Courier Mail reported on what may have been in the undisclosed evidence that Minister Andrews has referred to in his Dr Haneef visa revocation decision.

It's pretty major stuff: that Haneef had come to the attention of MI5 because he was in contact with radicals they were monitoring. The Courier Mail repeats it briefly today (see link above).

I heard this mentioned on Radio National Breakfast yesterday, not in the "news" but in the "what's in the papers today" section.

Yet, that is absolutely the only reference to the story I have heard anywhere else. Instead, the dodgy , just created Indian "dossier" got all the attention, and even Keelty seems to dismiss that as not very important.

Why would this story be being ignored? Does no other journalist in Australia trust the Courier Mail? Why has no one mentioned it to Keelty?

I find this very puzzling....

UPDATE: a Google news search confirms that this story is getting virtually zero attention. It seems to me that there has to be a reason for this.

Annabel's fun

Tortuous treats of old Silver Tongue - Opinion -

Since returning to Australia, journalist Annabel Crabb's brief appears to be to write as Fairfax's version of Matt Price. (Always humorous, but still insightful, political commentary.) She's doing a pretty good job too.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

More questionable than I expected

Angry Toxicologist : Fluoride - it's not just for teeth anymore!

The anti-fluoridation crowd usually sound a little too much like cranks to me to pay them too much attention. Surely I can trust all those dentists who want the water fluoridated, can't I?

Brisbane's water supply is still not fluoridated, (I think), and the post above at a Seed science blog makes me think those against it may have more going for them than I expected.

A viral mystery

Effect Measure

See the link for an interesting article about how little is actually known about the details of flu virus transmission.

Interesting way to kill time?

Digital archive casts new light on Apollo-era moon pictures

There's a project underway to get extremely high quality scans of the Apollo era film photographs of the Moon on line. From the article:
....the grain of the original film is visible when scans are fully enlarged. The most detailed images from lunar orbit show rocks and other surface features about 40 inches (1 meter) wide.
I wonder just how carefully these photos have been looked at already (there's 36,000, after all.) What's the bet that some people might will be spending hours looking at them for an alien artefact that been missed so far.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007


The Cornish giant | Food and drink | Life and Health

I have always liked Rick Stein's TV shows, and in particular, loved his last series set about a canal trip through France. He has always struck me as the most likeable of the British TV cooks, even though his recipes still often seem to follow an English tradition of involving either significant amounts of fats and oils, or types of fish you don't get here.

(His recipes are, however, nothing to compare with the amazingly dangerous food of the Two Fat Ladies. I wouldn't mind betting that a large part of their audience were people who watched simply in order to be amusingly appalled at how much lard, butter, duck fat, cream, etc they could cram into every single dish. Certainly, that was the main fun I got out of watching it.)

Anyhow, the link above is to an article in The Guardian about him, and it informs us that another TV series is on the way. Great.