Friday, November 30, 2007

Worth a look

ABC TV: Captain Cook

I kept forgetting it was on, but from what I did see, the 4 part documentary about Cook which recently ran on ABC was very good.

I did see most of the last episode, about his ill-fated final voyage. I didn't realise how strangely Cook behaved on that trip, or how the reason for this is still only a matter of speculation.

I recommend watching it if it is repeated soon.

Class Act

Lateline - ABC

Peter Costello gave a fine performance on Lateline tonight. The transcript is not up yet, but you can watch the video already.

He does not give any impression of a man who will be caught up in extended bitterness over what could have been. Disappointed, sure, but not full of bile and bitterness.

The difference between how John Howard and Peter Costello have handled the election defeat, compared to Keating and Latham, is remarkable. (It's true that on the Labor side, Kim Beazley was a good loser, but he seemed a bit too comfortable in that role for the good of the Party!)

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Self explanatory

Oh.. my... God

Before I get to the main point, while I type this I can see Shirley Bassey on TV performing at the 2005 Royal Variety concert from England.

What gives with Ms Bassey? How old is she? It feels like she should be about 80, yet she has looked exactly the same for the last 40 years. I can only assume that she is either:

a. some triumph of plastic surgery (but doesn't have the very obvious over-worked looks of many American stars),
b. a singing robot, or
c. she has sold her soul to the Devil.

She is the best preserved ancient singer in the world; she makes Cliff Richard look like a geriatric prune.

OK, I can't avoid the main point now.

What the hell are the parliamentary Liberals thinking?? Did Peter Costello vote for Brendan Nelson as leader just in case he (Peter) has a change of heart and wants to take a stab at leadership in 18 months time?

Does anyone in Australia, anyone at all, think that Nelson will be a better leader than Turnbull. No? I didn't think so....

I can't stand Nelson. Everyone I have heard on the media or in real life talking about Liberal leadership since the election has said they like Turnbull.

The theory that the party really just wants Nelson to hold the seat and take all the punishment of the first couple of years of opposition before they get serious and appoint Turnbull has some merit.

But we have to really go through the embarrassment of having the 3rd or 4th rate contender as leader first?

Willing to take bets on this

The party's over and Liberals will soon be history - Opinion -

Steve Biddulph is a psychologist best known for his books on raising children (boys in particular). Makes him sound as if he might be a bit on the conservative side? Ha! His Wikipedia entry shows he lives in Tasmania and helps fund the SievX National Memorial Project. Not conservative markers, to say the least.

In any event, his analysis of the election result (linked above) makes for an erratic read.

First, he claims that the Liberals will die because all Western governments have become "centrist." (Well, both parties moving to centrist positions is true, although I still can't see why you can't have 2 centrist parties with sufficient differentiation to make a contest.)

Second, the environment is the future's big issue. (Possibly true.)

Thirdly, the Western economy may be about to undergo a major collapse, and this was possibly a "good" election to lose. (Possibly true, although his claim that "We are a civilisation in collapse" is a warning sign that his analysis is about to go off the rails.)

Fourthly: in the face of imminent civilisation collapse:
Labor is the right party to manage this.
What? What does he base that on?:
Despite the widespread belief after years of cynical politics that politicians are all the same, Rudd and Gillard are not in power for power's sake. I am willing to stake my 30 years as a psychologist on this, but I think many observers have also come to this conclusion.
LOL! (Especially for Kevin.) But Steve finds them to be altruists pure of heart:
Kevin and Julia, as Australia already calls them, want to make this country a better place for the people in it. In the coming times of deprivation, they have the value systems that will be needed to care for the sudden rise in poverty, stress, and need. They also have the unity.
As opposed to Liberals who, I suppose, want to crush the coming mass of starving enviro-peasants under their heels and send them back to the workhouses again.

No, Steve Biddulph wants us to be more like a fairy tale Europe:
The big lie of Liberal supremacy was economic management. In fact, they knew how to generate income, but not how to spend it. We could have been building what Europe built in this past decade - superb hospitals, bullet trains, schools and training centres, low cost public transport of luxurious quality, magnificent public housing. We pissed it all away on tax giveaways and consumer goods.
Oh come on. I suppose Paris is caught in strikes and riots because everyone decided that perfection could be just a little more perfect?

I don't have time to do the Googling to show the aspects of Europe today that do not compare favourably to Australia under Howard. But you know they are out there.

No Steve is just a Greenie dill after all.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

A brief history of hand washing

Our Enemy Hands - New York Times

Sex tourism with a twist

Older white women join Kenya's sex tourists | U.S. | Reuters

Clearly, it's a day for distasteful sex stories:
The white beaches of the Indian Ocean coast stretched before the friends as they both walked arm-in-arm with young African men, Allie resting her white haired-head on the shoulder of her companion, a six-foot-four 23-year-old from the Maasai tribe.

He wore new sunglasses he said were a gift from her.

"We both get something we want -- where's the negative?" Allie asked in a bar later, nursing a strong, golden cocktail.

She was still wearing her bikini top, having just pulled on a pair of jeans and a necklace of traditional African beads.

Bethan sipped the same local drink: a powerful mix of honey, fresh limes and vodka known locally as "Dawa," or "medicine."

She kept one eye on her date -- a 20-year-old playing pool, a red bandana tying back dreadlocks and new-looking sports shoes on his feet.

He looked up and came to join her at the table, kissing her, then collecting more coins for the pool game.

The women in this story are 64 and 56.

Bosses: if you like to live dangerously...

...then bring out this game at the office Christmas party for the boys and girls in Administration to play:

Keep your pants on

It's from Japan, and it's so politically incorrect it's very funny.

If it was to be used at a public service party, there would be enquiries, sackings, appeals and possibly a royal commission.

Yuck factor

Catherine Deveny connects election wins, Kevin Rudd and sex in a way that is just creepy, even if she is trying to be funny.

And was Kevin trying to tell the nation last night that he was a virgin on his wedding night? (Twice he made the quip that "We were in unchartered territory the day before we got married.") Too much information, as they say.

With Lefties feeling relaxed enough to have sex again after 11 years, I am expecting Canberra to turn into something like the court of Charles II. (Except that I assume King Kevin himself will abstain.)

UPDATE: Andrew Bolt's comment on the Kevin Rudd 7.30 Report interview is pretty accurate. Kevin sending his MP's out to do "homework" is just silly, and will not provide the accurate information that a few 'phone calls in each State would probably provide anyway. (What happens if a homeless shelter is not in an Opposition MP's electorate?) It seems almost perversely designed to irritate his own MPs.

Memory block

This is bothering me.

I know that I was somewhere in the last 5 years or so where I found on a shelf an old book which was a memoir written by Winston Churchill's doctor. I spent a bit of time reading interesting sections. I remember that he thought that Winston had a mild heart attack during the War. I remember his talking about attending the leader's conference at at Malta near the end of the war. It was pretty interesting.

But - for the life of me I can't remember where it was that I found the book and had time to read bits of it. I remember being surprised that the book was there at all. It seems in memory that it was accommodation somewhere; but the type of place where there was a bookshelf where past visitors could leave books.

It's just that I don't recall staying in any place like that for years. I don't recall staying anywhere without children interrupting reading for years; but I don't recall the kids being with me. I have been waiting for the memory of where I was to come back, but it is refusing to.

This is not a very interesting post.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Hitchens on Mitt & Mormonism

Mitt Romney needs to answer questions about his Mormon faith. - By Christopher Hitchens - Slate Magazine

Of course, don't expect Hitchens to take kindly to the Mormons; but really, it is a religion that deserves a lot of stick. I like this line in the article:
The Book of Mormon, when it is not "chloroform in print" as Mark Twain unkindly phrased it, is full of vicious ingenuity.
Reading the Koran has much the same effect on me. As I have noted before, these "one author" books just don't believe in good narrative. (OK, I know the Koran has a rather complicated history.)

The God wars

I meant to link to a New York Times article earlier this month which discussed the question of whether famous (and aging) atheist philosophy Antony Flew had really become a theist or not. (The general tone of the article was leaning towards the view that Flew had been manipulated by pro-religionists.)

Here's the article. I recommend reading it first before reading the further useful commentary by one of the people involved over at The Tablet this week. (Linking to The Tablet is often problematic. If you have trouble with that link, try the link in the blogroll at the side.)

Monday, November 26, 2007

A nice day for a walk

Earth keeps Moonwalkers from harm - space - 25 November 2007 - New Scientist Space

Oh good. The Heinlein-ian idea of boy scouts going hiking on the surface of the Moon may be able to happen yet:
Every month brings about seven straight days of relative safety from the flux of energetic charged particles from the sun, as the moon dips through the Earth's magnetic field.

Umm, you can stop getting your face on TV for a little while now, Kevin

My first priority: Rudd - National -

Kevin Rudd turned up at a school again today, to say nothing special except that he really wanted schools to get new computers in a hurry. (Strange how he was shown standing in a room full of computers when he said this.)

What was it that Mark Latham said about Kevin?

UPDATE: I complained during the campaign that Rudd seemed to be making quite a fetish out of computers. (Fetish in the anthropological sense: the Chambers definition is "in primitive societies: an object worshipped for its perceived magical powers.")

Then, in the link above that mentions Mark Latham's assessment of Kevin, it notes that one of Latham's criticisms is that he (Kevin) "never writes anything".

Is it possible that Kevin thinks computers will be the saviour of education because he doesn't use them much himself? Surely he realises how ubiquitous they are in households and schools already. (Admittedly, school equipment is often old, but then again in primary schools they are teaching pretty basic stuff.)

Also: here's a post with the detailed extract of Latham's account of the episode of Rudd crying about his mother's death. In the ABC interview (my previous link), Rudd flatly denies that he cried at all, or made the threats Latham claims. (According to Latham, Rudd was "in a very fragile condition," and is simultaneously crying but still pleading to be made shadow Treasurer!)

If Latham's account is true, it hardly gives me a lot of confidence that we have a new Prime Minister who is ready to take on a lot of pressure.

Someone is not telling the truth, and I would love to know who.

Strange science time...

Have you all missed my posts on strange/weird science? (Presses ear against monitor but hears nothing.) Thought so!

Anyhow, Mild Colonial Boy brought to my attention The Telegraph's version of last week's story that maybe astronomers have caused the early destruction of the universe by looking at it.

It's a curious idea which I don't understand at all. It's only appeal is that it has a certain urban myth, cautionary horror tale character about it. ("And as they led the girl away, they warned her, 'Don't look back. Don't look back..' But she didn't heed the warning...etc".)

The second science story from last week which made no sense at all was this one from Nature, which revisits Schrodinger's cat:
Johannes Kofler and Časlav Brukner ... say that the emergence of the 'classical' laws of physics, deduced by the likes of Galileo and Newton, from quantum rules happens not as objects get bigger, but because of the ways we measure these objects. If we could make every measurement with as much precision as we liked, there would be no classical world at all, they say.
It's not "decoherence" that solves the problem, they say, but simply the fact that measurements are imprecise on the macro scale:
The researchers show that it depends on the precision of measurement. If the measurements are a bit fuzzy, so that we can’t distinguish one quantum state from several other, similar ones, this smoothes out the quantum oddities into a classical picture. Kofler and Brukner show that, once a degree of fuzziness is introduced into measured values, the quantum equations describing an object’s behaviour turn into classical ones.
.....watching ...quantum jumps between life and death for Schrödinger’s cat would require that we be able to measure precisely an impractically large number of quantum states. For a 'cat' containing 1020 quantum particles, say, we would need to be able to tell the difference between 1010 states – too many to be feasible.
If correct, it is difficult to see what this would mean. Is it fair to say that, if we had the eyes of God, we would all look like fuzzy wavefunction balls, with no clear edge to our bodies at all? (I am sure that all anti-religion scientists would hate that as an image, as it sounds like it is offering a possible explanation for the reality of Reiki healing, or other New Age-y ideas.)

Alternatively, does it mean that any living thing, if its life is dependent on a quantum outcome, is in reality in a type of simultaneous dead and alive state? In the article, they say:
"We prefer to say that they are neither dead nor alive," say Kofler and Brukner, “but in a new state that has no counterpart in classical physics.”
Well, that's as clear as mud then!

My Coalition leadership wish

I have already made the point over at Caz's blog, but I reckon the best Coalition leadership team would be Turnbull and Julie Bishop. (Pity that the Nationals would have to give up their deputy position for that, but geez they are getting increasingly irrelevant, aren't they?)

The earlobes, the earlobes!

Gillard main.jpg (JPEG Image, 300x383 pixels)

Ever since making an off the cuff comment on Saturday night that Julia Gillard seems to have very large earlobes, my site meter has indicated that there have been half a dozen hits here (at least) resulting from Google searches of "Julia Gillard earlobes".

Doesn't that seem odd?

Anyway, proof that I am right can be found in the picture linked above. It seems to show she has 2 piercings in her left lobe at least. I think she could fit a few more in, easily!

UPDATE: Julia is our new PM, and this has caused a sudden upsurge in the number of hits to this blog by people who specifically Google "Julia Gillard earlobes". I can't decide if I should be honoured or disturbed. Anyway, to keep all such visitors happy, I have found the most explicit ear lobe photo of Julia ever. Knock yourselves out:

UPDATE 2: Maybe it was the lighting. Maybe she's been wearing some particularly pendulous earrings lately. But for whatever reason, Julia's earlobes struck me as particularly big on the "Great Debate" tonight. And more and people seem to be noticing, given the hundreds and hundreds who have arrived here via Google searches. Here's a screenshot from tonight:

Flanagan on Howard

Guardian Unlimited | Comment is free | A decade of John Howard has left a country of timidity, fear and shame

Richard Flanagan puts his typical over-the-top slant on the downfall of John Howard:
Howard had promised that Australia would be relaxed and comfortable under his rule, yet this year Australians had become more fearful and suspicious of each other than ever, a state of affairs that Howard's government seemed happy to exploit.
Er, well with all the water gardening murders going on, it's no wonder:
Every mainland capital city now has a water supply crisis so severe that people have been murdered by neighbours for watering gardens.
I think the number of people is precisely "one", isn't it?

Actually, as far as Flanaghan columns go, this one is surprising for actually giving credit that some things he approves of happened under Howard. (Increased immigration, closer ties to Asia, gun laws, the Timor intervention.) Of course, Richard seems to think these happened despite of Howard, not because of him.

Then its back to the bad:
For a decade Howard's power had resided in his ability to speak directly and powerfully to the great negativity at the core of the Australian soul - its timidity, its conformity, its fear of other people and new ideas, its colonial desire to ape rather than lead, its shame that sometimes seems close to a terror of the uniqueness of its land and people.
Yeah, that fits in real well with the list of things you just approved of, doesn't it, you dill.

As you would expect, the big worry for Richard is that Rudd is Howard lite:
Was this Howard's greatest victory: the creation of a Labor party in his own image?
He might be onto something there.

Of course, you can rely on Guardian readers to join in soon with their own horror stories of the True Character of Australia. There aren't many comments yet, but I like this one:
People evaporated off the street.

That must account for the slightly greasy smudges left all across Australian city footpaths. It's all that remains of the evaporated.

In other news...

The New York Times has run a couple of articles indicating that some countries well advanced in the development of wind power are starting to get leery of it:

In the United States, one of the areas most suited for wind turbines is the central part of the country, stretching from Texas through the northern Great Plains — far from the coastal population centers that need the most electricity.

In Denmark, which pioneered wind energy in Europe, construction of wind farms has stagnated in recent years. The Danes export much of their wind-generated electricity to Norway and Sweden because it comes in unpredictable surges that often outstrip demand.

In 2003, Ireland put a moratorium on connecting wind farms to its electricity grid because of the strains that power surges were putting on the network; it has since begun connecting them again.

And in Germany, they are starting to run out of places to put them:

In Germany, where 20,000 wind turbines generate 5 percent of the electricity, advocates say wind will be critical to meeting the government’s goal of generating at least 20 percent of all power from renewable methods by 2020. But the industry’s growth is slowing for a variety of reasons.

Germany is running out of places to put the turbines because of restrictions on the location and height of the devices. And rising raw material prices are making wind farms more expensive to build.

“Under the current circumstances, Germany’s climate protection targets are not achievable,” said Hermann Albers, the president of the German Wind Energy Association.

Remember: Kevin Rudd has promised us the same renewable energy target. Germany has much smaller area over which to send the energy they chose to generate with wind or other renewables, and has been hard at developing it for years. (They also claim they can do it without new nuclear plants.)

I can't see there is a hope in hell that Labor's target is achievable in Australia.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The bad news keeps coming...

Matt Price has died, aged 46. Very, very sad news.

UPDATE: more detail and recollections of friends and colleagues this morning. I noted this too:
It was a measure of the respect that Matt was held in that John Howard took time out during a frantic election campaign last week to visit him at his Mount Hawthorn home.
What a nice gesture. Not reported previously (not that it should have been either,) but still indicates the fundamental decency of the ex PM.

No one saw that coming, did they?

Peter Costello wants the quiet life. So does Downer on Insiders this morning.

Abbott had a bit of a shocker of a campaign. Turnbull is really the only one left.

Sort of appropriate I suppose: relative amateurs for both PM and Opposition. Leader.

One good thing about Kevin Rudd

You only have to draw a round face, cheeks and that chin, and you get something vaguely resembling him. It would have to be the easiest face ever in the history of cartooning.

OK, trust me, I have done better ones than that, but you get the idea.

Speaking of chins, every election night, after staring at Kerry O'Brien's face for 5 hours, I starting wondering about his crater-like chin dimple. It's so round and deep, it looks like it has been surgically enhanced with a donut shaped implant. How on earth does he shave in there?

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Election night observations

1. Julia Gillard has been surprisingly non-irritating and pretty gracious on her ABC gig. She seems to have really big ear lobes though.

2. It's a loss, but in terms of seats to gain for Coalition re-election, it's not going to be as big as it was for Rudd.

3. A lot of seats will be very marginal again, it seems.

4. Most undeserving (and puzzling) loss of the night: Mal Brough.

5. Worst possible outcome (no one knows if it is a possibility yet): Greens get balance of power in Senate.

6. Bob Brown is already thinking he can swing his weight around. I can't stand the man, and I think most journalists and mainstream politicians don't hold him and his tactics in high regard either.

7. Prediction: Peter Costello as Opposition Leader will still often trounce Rudd in Parliament. (Rudd is simply not a good parliamentary performer, and this will be exacerbated when he is PM.)

8. Great concession speech by Howard. What's not to like about him as a person? Appears devoid of bitterness, even when defeated by opportunist media tart (s). The contrast with Keating and Latham's post loss behaviour could not be more stark. Didn't dissolve into public self-pitying blubbering like Fraser either.

9. Of course I would say this, but: I expect community disappointment with Rudd within about 18 months. I expect Labor disappointment to start even earlier.

10. I wonder how Rudd's speech will go. Full of blather I expect.

UPDATE: Rudd seems to have decided his winner's speech is a chance to repeat all of his campaign mantras. Yes, indeed, it's lots of blather, and there seems to be a lot of "I, I, I" in it. Robot Rudd seems to fully appreciate that it will be his government.

We got him out of asking himself questions; now will he please stop saying "and you know something?"

Some of the content seems to not be all that enthusiastically greeted by the audience. Maybe some of them will wake up in the morning and say "Oh my God, I just elected a wannabe John Howard."

Ah well, life goes on.

UPDATE 2: was Rudd still working for Premier Goss when he unexpectedly lost? People need to remember that the voters of Queensland are, shall we say, different. Look at how long Bjelke Petersen hung around, and Goss and Peter Beattie's respective electoral loss and win which neither of them deserved.

There is no doubt that Rudd being a Queenslander accounts for a few percentiles of his swing in this State. But history shows Queensland voters are very fickle, and those that voted for him this time cannot be trusted to be "rusted on" even for the next election.

Ever get the feeling she doesn't like Rudd?

Take me to your leader - Ruddbot wired for power - Opinion -

Annabel Crabbe starts her column like this:
Today, Australia may well elect its first android prime minister. Ruddbot has marched through this campaign like the Terminator, incorporating Coalition policies that suit him and remorselessly amputating Labor sentiments that do not. This is the happy prerogative of the machine.

Finally, the campaign gets interesting

Dispute boils over in Wentworth -
Award winning journalist Caroline Overington hurled abuse at Labor candidate for Wentworth George Newhouse before slapping him across the face at a polling station in Sydney's east, witnesses say.

Donations for art lessons always welcome...

Friday, November 23, 2007

Cancel the anti-depressants?

Newspoll predicts a cliffhanger | The Courier-Mail

One reason to be against a massive win for Labor is purely for entertainment value.

Especially with daylight saving, it can be very annoying to have the beer, a bowl of popcorn and remote control at the ready to channel surf the election coverage, only to find out it has been virtually decided by 7pm Brisbane time.

No, I don't like anyone calling it until 10.30 at the earliest.

We need a law to maximise the entertainment value of election nights: elections should only be held outside of daylight savings periods.

Under darkening skies

Business confidence plunges on election uncertainty - ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

Like the dramatic post title? Expect more from here over the weekend. I expect to be unhappy.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Annabel's fun column

Such a cute little piglet but then things get curly - Opinion -

Annabel Crabbe does a fine, funny column again today.

And at last, rather than Kevin Rudd's "ping" ad annoying me, I see Fairfax websites today are being blitzed by Liberal ads which are so bluntly negative they make me smile.

Jackie's fine legacy

There must be a case to be made that Jackie Kelly was the luckiest Howard government politician ever. The surprise delivery of an "aspirational" seat to the PM, surviving the challenge and second poll, being made sports Minister for the Olympics as a reward: just the ridiculous luck of running for the right seat at the right time.

But her success made me very cynical about what it takes to be a successful politician in our democracy.

You see, how do I put this politely: based on some past experience with her, I always took the view that she was the ultimate example of the triumph of style over substance.

For all I know, she was a good local member. I don't think it takes much to do that if you have good staff, go to lots of local meetings and actually help some constituents with personal problems. All politicians work hard in terms of the time they have to put in. But a Minister? Bah.

Anyway, I find it funny (in a schadenfreude sort of way) that this current Muslim leaflet debacle has involvement from her own home (her husband). If Howard loses, what a weird set of bookends to his government Jackie will have made.

I should have emailed Howard with a warning when she won her seat. (Although I am not even sure I had an email account way back then!)

UPDATE: a perhaps even more damaging claim from the past by a Liberal about Jackie Kelly.
And she is being completely ridiculed by every commentator in the land for her performance on the media this morning. Schadenfreude overload!

Having said that: of course this doesn't make me change my vote. I wish the examples of famous Labor dirty tricks at the electorate level would come to mind, but I am sure they are there. I thought the Libs were looking at losing Lindsay anyway.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Good point

Rudd reckons it would have been easy being Howard

A pithy and accurate post by Andrew Bolt, even though I still blame him for much of the Coalition's problems in this election.

Red Kerry

I say there is no way anyone can credibly deny that Kerry O'Brien's approach to interviewing Rudd tonight was (yet again) less aggressive, softer and more forgiving of avoidance than his approach with Howard the night before. (Even though I thought Kerry's thanks to Howard at the end did show a degree of respect.)

For whatever reason, there has been little criticism of ABC bias in this campaign, but it's been there. The only thing I take comfort in is that even an ABC journalist like Barry Cassidy can find Rudd's tactics annoying.

Keeping Deveny happy

Australians have a chance to prove they're not all that bad - Opinion

Catherine Deveny has a column condemning one half of Australia for daring to have voted Coalition in the last few elections. It's truly eye-rolling stuff.

It's so easy to ridicule, I can't be bothered.

I will just make the point that she typifies what I have said for many years: those who support the Coalition generally think that people intending to vote Labor are simply unwise. A significant chunk of Labor supporters, on the other hand, think that those who vote for the Coalition are insanely stupid and morally depraved.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Life lessons from the Duke

Like the Duke, just get on with it | Libby Purves - Times Online

Libby Purves thinks we can learn something from the attitude of Duke of Edinburgh. (Stop second guessing what could have been, and just get on with life.)

Not a bad attitude.

Tony Abbot made similar sense when he recently made the point that in times of strong employment, unhappy employees are generally better off just getting a new job elsewhere rather than seeking to punish their boss through litigation. (Of course, there are extreme cases where bosses should be pursued, but the great majority of unfair dismissal cases are not like this, I feel sure.)

I have personally seen an unfair dismissal case which followed what I suspect to be the typical pattern for small businesses:

1. young employee claims boss said "X",
2. young employee with parental encouragement and free legal assistance starts action in State Industrial Relations system;
3. at first "mediation" at the tribunal, boss strongly denies she would ever say that to anyone, and it was not the reason for ending employment anyway;
4. being honest, boss admits she did not take notes of the disputed conversation at the time. (She didn't know what was going to be alleged at that time, after all)
5. industrial relation commissioner rolls her eyes at how silly it was for boss to not have written down such details immediately;
6. boss pays employee "go away money".

Expect more of this again if Federal Labor gets in.

Parents who encourage their adult children to take such action have always bothered me. There was a much worse case I also had some involvement with years ago, where the employee performed a patently stupid and dangerous prank which resulted in physical, possibly permanent, injury to another employee. Disciplinary proceedings ensued, employee admitted he was guilty and was duly punished. Afterwards, his parents became involved in a protracted complaint about how his whole career had been mismanaged by the service. I couldn't believe it. He was (as I recall) in his early to mid-twenties, and still he has parents who are fighting his battles for him. (They made it pretty clear that they figured that his dangerous act of stupidity was somehow caused by boredom due to his career mismanagement.)

Parents with such attitudes drive me crazy. Be like the Duke. Take personal responsibility. Move forward. And encourage your children to do the same.

Surge works (cross fingers)

Good news from Iraq. - By Christopher Hitchens - Slate Magazine

Hitchens summarises some of the positive reporting coming out of Iraq at the moment. When both the New York Times and the BBC carry reports like this, you know it's not just wishful right wing thinking.

Of course, a city with 5 dead bodies a day still turning up, and 16 suicide bombings a month, it is not exactly ready to start taking tourists yet. But compared to where it was...

More research definitely needed

Ocean Plankton Reducing Greenhouse Gases By Using More Carbon Dioxide

This story on the possible role of plankton in helping the oceans absorb more CO2 contains this surprising statement:
The world oceans are by far the largest sink of anthropogenic CO2 on our planet. Until now, they have swallowed almost half of the CO2 emitted through the burning of fossil fuels. However, can the oceans continue to alleviate the steady rise in atmospheric CO2 in the future? Current models for the development of the global climate system do not incorporate the reaction of marine organisms nor the processes that they influence.
I would have thought that such models would at least have made some guesstimates about this, but it doesn't sound like it.

The experiment this team showed that plankton did respond strongly to more CO2 dissolved in the ocean:
“We expected the organisms to show distinct reactions to changing CO2 conditions. What really surprised us, however, was the dimension of this effect. Basically, we can now say that the biology in the oceans is significantly affecting the global climate system.”
The downside is that more plankton sinking and decaying into the ocean might cause less oxygen at greater depth.

Still, it is somewhat surprising how preliminary the experimental research on this important area seems to be.


Howard and Costello in TV love fest - Federal Election 2007 News -

Michelle Gratton goes too far in her scathing assessment of Howard's and Costello's joint interview last night, saying they don't even "respect" each other. Despite Costello's frustration at waiting for the top job, I think it's pretty clear that have always managed to work together, and "respect" is surely a part of being able to do that.

I don't see her spending much time on the past relationship of Rudd, Swan and Gillard.

At News Limited, George Megalogenis makes some fair criticism of Rudd's playing to the young audience. George's commentary has always been pretty fair and balanced, I think.

John Laws seems to be sitting solidly on the fence about this election, but given his decreased ratings, I'm not sure that he is seen as all that influential now anyway. What's Alan Jones been rabbiting on about in Sydney, I wonder...

The Age meanwhile, tries to revive the Iraqi wheatboard scandal, with the dishonest headline "Downer "knew" about AWB kickbacks". You've got to read the story to see that this claim is based on a former Austrade director who feels certain (but seemingly without any direct knowledge) that there must have been cables to Downer about a meeting he went to. The current Austrade is quoted as simply denying there were any such cables about that meeting, and, well, that should be the end of that, shouldn't it? Not for the editors of The Age it isn't.

The only thing to look forward to if Rudd wins is that he is clearly not left enough for The Age, and will start coping criticism of that nature soon enough.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Unpleasant lives

Observer review: Bad Faith by Carmen Callil

I'm about a third of the way through this book, which is a very detailed biography of Louis Darquier, an appalling Frenchman who ended up working in the Vichy government as "Commissioner for Jewish Affairs" and was responsible for the deportation of thousands of French Jews to Auschwitz.

There are quite a few things in the book which I did not know about France and Europe between the wars. For example, as a small time wannabe politician and general rabble rouser in Paris in the mid 1930's, Darquier started making anti-Semitic statements, and immediately found himself the beneficiary of Nazi money.

I hadn't realised that the Nazis at that point in time were quite so obsessed with the "Jewish problem" that they were not only setting up for the "solution" in their own country, but were also going out of their way to support anti-Semitism anywhere it popped up in Europe.

Darquier seems to have turned into an anti-Semite in 1935, and it appears to have had the unexpected consequence of ending his financial problems. He and his wife had, for years before that, spent most of their time moving from hotel to hotel to avoid paying their huge bar and food bills, while he tried (unsuccessfully) to become a novelist and journalist. They sponged off his brother for financial support.

Then, put onto the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion" by some French nationalist quasi-intellectuals of his acquaintance, his problems were solved. I do not quite understand why the thorough debunking the Protocols had received in the early 1920's in England just didn't catch on in Germany, or much of Europe.

The odd Australian connection to the story is that Darquier's wife was an Australian woman from Tasmania. She also became a hopeless drunk, a financial leech on her husband's family (even though they couldn't stand her) and a mother who completely abandoned her only daughter to a nanny in England, who often went unpaid for her efforts as well.

Oddly, even though it is very well written (save for one exaggeration I reckon she makes about Tasmania), and seems to have received plenty of favourable reviews in England and America, I found it for sale here in a 'remaindered' book shop for $10. Occasionally (very occasionally) you can come up with high quality reading in such shops.

If you enjoy true life stories of extremely unpleasant people, I can recommend this book.

The eternal entry ticket

Woman seen scattering ashes at Disneyland- Travel -

Odd story from last week I had missed.

Panpsychism discussed

Mind of a Rock - New York Times

A pretty good read from Jim Holt here about panpsychism, which he describes as the following hypothesis:
Perhaps, they say, mind is not limited to the brains of some animals. Perhaps it is ubiquitous, present in every bit of matter, all the way up to galaxies, all the way down to electrons and neutrinos, not excluding medium-size things like a glass of water or a potted plant. Moreover, it did not suddenly arise when some physical particles on a certain planet chanced to come into the right configuration; rather, there has been consciousness in the cosmos from the very beginning of time.
It's a cute idea, but I didn't think it had much current support. Not so, apparently:
The Australian philosopher David Chalmers and the Oxford physicist Roger Penrose have spoken on its behalf. In the recent book “Consciousness and Its Place in Nature,” the British philosopher Galen Strawson defends panpsychism against numerous critics.
I didn't think that Roger Penrose's controversial ideas on mind could quite be described this way.

Here's a review of another book defending it.

I know that Augustine rejected pantheism, but am not entirely sure whether panpsychism has ever really attracted that much attention by famous Christian theologians. (Maybe it has simply been dismissed as too improbable to consider.)

Kind of interesting, anyway.

Why change now?

BBC NEWS | Middle East | Iran eyes nuclear options abroad

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is to discuss with Arab nations a plan to enrich uranium outside the region in a neutral country such as Switzerland.

He made the announcement in an interview for Dow Jones Newswires in Saudi Arabia where he is attending a petroleum exporters' summit.

Gulf Arab states recently proposed setting up a consortium to provide nuclear fuel to Iran and others.

Hadn't Russia offered to do this for Iran ages ago? What is causing Iran to suddenly find it something worth talking about?

Something to make Brisbane proud

Yes, Brisbane can come up with deadly and innovative weapons with the best of them:

Metal Storm reaches Navy test range

I either didn't realise, or had forgotten, that the Metal Storm company, which has been busy developing uber guns, is based in Brisbane. One of their systems is being tested by the US Navy now, as (from memory) one of its proposed uses would be for ships to spray a defensive curtain of metal against incoming missiles.

The Metal Storm website has lots and lots of information, with photos and videos of their systems, and indeed the company appears to be a very significant enterprise. Yet, according to the CEO's latest bulletin, despite all the international interest, they are disappointed in the current share price.

If only I had a stockbroker.

Sunday, November 18, 2007


Daddy dearest: Many men are finding out they are not the father after all

The paternity testing industry is finding itself much more popular:

Almost a quarter of paternity tests conducted by one of Australia's largest DNA laboratory companies show the man submitting a sample is not the father, compared to an estimated one in 10 "exclusions" 10 years ago.

The number of tests taken in Australia has doubled from 3000 in 2003 to more than 6000 last year.

As a result, at least one men's rights groups is suggesting compulsory paternity testing at birth. Just how many surprises this would reveal seems pretty unclear:
Some experts say the proportion of negative paternity tests reflects the fact that the men coming forward already have reasonable doubts, and that of the entire population, only 1 per cent of fathers are not the "real" parent.
The men's rights group are opposed by feminists who see this just as men seeking to punish their unfaithful partners. But the men's rights argument has this very plausible strand:
"People's lives are being ruined by this. It is not just the men, it's the children who grow up thinking one person is their father and then find out it's someone else.

"In the future, more and more health treatments are going to be based on genetic technology, so it is going to be even more important to know who your biological father is.

"Mandatory testing would get rid of all these problems."

Indeed, it seems the modern push to allow for re-union with fathers for those conceived with anonymous donor sperm has often cited the importance of a child being able to know their genetic inheritance.

The other thing to consider is that testing may mean that for every purported father happy with the result, there is likely to be a previously undisclosed father who is unhappy. Feminists can't really argue then that the men as a group are going to the winners of compulsory testing.

Of course, there would be some cases where a father accepts that a baby may not be his and his happy to treat it as his own anyway.

How about a compromise system then: compulsory testing unless both of the parents sign forms confirming they do not want it. By doing so, the father would accept financial responsibility for the child forever, regardless of whether later testing reveals he is not the father. The later testing would be available for the child's benefit in the event of separation.

In fact, in a post last year I had nearly forgotten about, I had suggested compulsory paternity testing at separation of the parents. This has some good arguments going for it too.

But if the priority is going to switch to children having a right to know their true genetic inheritance, then switching the system to one of testing at birth would be more important.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Every UFO should have one

Technology Review: Stopping Cars with Radiation

Anyone familiar with the history of UFO's (or even those who recall a key scene in Close Encounters,) will probably think of the possible flying saucer connection when they first see this story:

Researchers at Eureka Aerospace are turning a fictional concept from the movie 2 Fast 2 Furious into reality: they're creating an electromagnetic system that can quickly bring a vehicle to a stop. The system, which can be attached to an automobile or aircraft carrier, sends out pulses of microwave radiation to disable the microprocessors that control the central engine functions in a car. Such a device could be used by law enforcement to stop fleeing and noncooperative vehicles at security checkpoints, or as perimeter protection for military bases, communication centers, and oil platforms in the open seas.

The system has been tested on a variety of stationary vehicles and could be ready for deployment in automobiles within 18 months...
Unfortunately, though, it is not believed to be the ready explanation for UFO car stalling stories from the 1960's:
The radiated microwave energy will upset or damage the vehicle's electronic systems, particularly the microprocessors that control important engine functions, such as the ignition control, the fuel injector, and the fuel-pump control. However, electronic control modules were not built into most cars until 1972, hence the system will not work on automobiles made before that year.
As this article shows, car interference cases really kicked off in the 1950's, and in fact my strong impression is that such reports have become much less frequent since the late 70's despite Close Encounters' popularity. (Clearly, though, that movie may have been very influential at the subconscious level with respect to the popularity of alien abduction claims in the 1980's.)

The Condon Report notes that lab tests were done in the 60's to see if a strong magnetic field could stall a car, and the results indicated this was not a plausible explanation. However, whether tests were ever done on the effects of strong microwaves on the cars of the day is something I don't know. Maybe everyone is assuming it will only work on microprocessors in modern cars, but are we sure?

It will be the youngster's fault

Rudd's youth appeal trumps PM | The Australian

There's a lot of talk in The Australian this morning about how Kevin Rudd's appeal to the under 35's will be the main source of his likely triumph.

Yes, the demographic that values idealism more than practical results on the ground, and does not (for the most part) yet have children at school, or mortgages, is about to hand government to Kevin Rudd.

Oh well, you have to let youngsters learn by experience, I suppose, even if we know it will all end in tears.

Friday, November 16, 2007

What is going on at McDonald's?

I've noticed something at McDonald's. While I think they used to actually cook frozen hamburger on a grill, now in the cooking area all I can see is a sort of oven-like device full of slide in trays. It seems hamburger patties are being cooked or re-heated in this thing now.

As I suspect it is no more than a "warming" device, does this mean that the hamburger meat is now pre-cooked before it gets to the store?

Just curious. I can't say I have noticed a significant difference in quality of the hamburgers.

I admire the company for its re-branding as a healthier food outlet, as well as the much more attractive and "adult" look of many of their stores.

The new (possible) TOE

McCabism: An exceptionally simple theory of everything

Gordon McCabe clears up the situation with this new (yet to be tested, but possibly promising) theory of everything:
The diagram here represents the 240 roots of the Lie algebra of E8, each of which purportedly define a possible type of elementary particle. Every Lie algebra has a maximal commuting subalgebra, called the Cartan subalgebra. In each representation of a Lie algebra, the simultaneous eigenvectors of the elements from the Cartan subalgebra are called the weight vectors of the representation, and their simultaneous eigenvalues are called the weights of the representation. In the special case of the adjoint representation, (a representation of a Lie algebra upon itself), the weight vectors are called the root vectors, and the weights are called the roots. The roots uniquely determine a Lie algebra.
Err... yes, thanks Gordon for helping make that clear for the rest of us. (Or how about just telling us if it has any surprises regarding possible explanations for dark energy, dark matter, and the fate of the universe.)

UPDATE: if you want to see a physics blog where it is discussed in great detail, try this. Still hard (no, impossible) to fathom, of course.

UPDATE 2: hey, this is more like it. Go here and watch a lovely animation that gives a bit of a clearer overview as to what it is all about. It looks so pretty, I certainly hope it's true.

Three odd stories concerning women

1. Menstrual blood could be rich source of stem cells - New Scientist

Menstrual blood: it's not far behind paedophilia and child murder in the ranks of topics about which it is absolutely impossible to come up with any comment that could plausibly be called "witty". So, moving right along:

2. Apparently, some Australian women breastfeed their kids up to age 7. Very, very few I gather, but some. Mind you, I heard a caller to talkback radio today say that as a student teacher, she had seen women attend school for the purpose of breastfeeding their kid in grade 1! (She also claimed some women protracted breastfeeding as a tactic to help defeat an estranged husband's custody or visitation rights!) Can this be true? She sounded sane, but I have just never heard anything like this.

3. They are working on a new design for a female condom. The first version never caught on. This is how they plan to improve it:
The old design hung passively from the rubber ring, which could shift around and sometimes hurt; the new design has dots of adhesive foam that adhere to the vaginal walls, expanding with them during arousal.
Err, somehow I just can't imagine that the idea of having such a device stuck in place with adhesive foam is ever going to be an easy sell to women. In fact, I reckon the developers may as well just give up now.

More equity coming my way?

Room for prices to rise in Brisbane, Melbourne

The general manager of Australian Property Monitors, Michael McNamara, says median house prices in several property markets have levelled off in the $500,000 to $550,000 band.

A pattern seems to be emerging: when a city's median home price reaches about half-a-million it stays there.

"The cities with a median price up over the $500,000 mark just don't seem to have any more fuel left in the tank; they seem to be stagnating," McNamara says. He thinks that communities in the country's two most expensive property markets, Sydney and Perth, are approaching "peak debt".

The article says that Brisbane and Melbourne haven't reached that median price yet, but doesn't say what the median is for Brisbane.

But this article seems to give the answer:
According to APM’s analysis, Brisbane median house price lifted 2.4 per cent over the September quarter to reach $399,755. That worked out to an extremely solid 16.7 per cent rise for the year.
And further down:

Mr Matusik said the predicted November interest rate could put a serious dampener on housing demand in the River City.

“With an increase in supply and higher interest rates our modelling is that price rises will be slow in Brisbane at somewhere between 6 and 8 per cent growth in the next 12 months,” he said.

“But looking beyond that an acceleration of price growth is likely because of the lack of new stock.”

Hmm. Soon I will be able to borrow for a 42 inch LCD TV in every room. (Plasmas seem to be a bit passe now.)

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Something I bet you didn't know

I spy no temples in Kyoto | The Japan Times Online

This story in the travel section of the Japan Times is pretty fascinating:
Maizuru is more than another beautiful seaside town; it's home to the closest Japanese Navy base to North Korea. There's a slight film-noir feel to this place. Until about seven years ago, the police box in front of Higashi Maizuru Station had a poster up asking people to report sightings of strange men in rubber rafts landing on the beach in the dead of night.... Even today, fisherman occasionally report seeing strange lights along the beaches or boats without lights at night running into the many coves around Maizuru harbor.
That's a part of Japan where they probably really take locking the front door seriously, for fear of ending up in North Korea.

But the main historical thing I didn't realise, and which I bet few Westerners know too, is this:

During World War II, about 570,000 Japanese soldiers were sent to the Soviet Union, of whom about 472,000 ended up in Siberian POW camps by the end of the war. Getting the soldiers back home would prove to be a lengthy undertaking.

The first repatriation ship arrived in Maizuru on Oct. 7, 1945, just two months after Japan's surrender, and the last one docked on Sept. 7, 1958. After 1950, Maizuru become the only port in Japan to receive repatriated soldiers, many of whom were physically and spiritually broken. Between 1945 and 1958, more than 664,000 soldiers who had been stranded in the Soviet Union and China, including most of the POWs in Siberia, arrived home via Maizuru.

It took 13 years for all the POWs to be returned from Siberia! What were Russia and China doing: trying to age all the soldiers out of fighting again? Fascinating.

Anything would be better than these

The last couple of evenings I happened to see A Current Affair on Channel 9. During this last year, I have also seen snippets of Channel 7's competition, Today Tonight.

It is absolutely absurd that the competing 6.30 pm "current affairs" programs have taken to doing many stories devoted to criticising programs on their competing television networks. This week, for 2 nights in a row, A Current Affair devoted lengthy stories to criticism of Channel 7's "National Bingo Night," or whatever it is called. (It's not a "real" game of bingo, which is hardly surprising given that it is pre-recorded months ago.)

Of course, Channel 7 has gone into this too. Instead of taking ABC' s "The Chaser's" (usually spot on) satire in its stride and ignoring it, Today Tonight has run many stories with pretty ludicrously over-the-top criticism of The Chaser, purely as attempted revenge.

And when Today Tonight yesterday got an injunction against The Chaser running a sketch this week, not only did (apparently) Today Tonight itself devote time to the story, but A Current Affair also had a segment about how the other two shows were fighting!

This is unbelievably puerile, bitchy and just really pathetic television.

There is no saving 6.30 pm current affairs. It has been appalling for, I don't know, 20 years or so, yet amazingly it has found a way to reach even lower standards and be even more irrelevant, as well as profoundly demeaning to all who make it.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Politics, politics

Saw some of Kevin Rudd's campaign launch. He seemed badly unprepared for use of the autocue. When used well, you're not constantly aware of its presence. With Kevin, and the strange angles the autocue seemed to be at, it was clear that he was always reading off them. He is probably tonight punishing some media lackey for this fault.

As to content: nothing to get excited about. Seems to making rather a fetish of computers and students, which seems a little odd in a year when laptops have become so cheap you could pick up a decent enough second-hand one for primary kids for less than $300. (A new one for $700, and that should last a good few years.) Just how many families can't afford that?

On advertising: I haven't been seeing a lot of commercial TV recently, but I still have the impression that Labor seems to have a bottomless bucket of money for advertising this campaign. Liberal ads seems few and far between. If business doesn't like the outcome of the election, it only has itself to blame for what appears to be poor support of the Coalition in terms of donations.

UPDATE: Annabel Crabbe has a typically witty and accurate take on the policy launch.

News Limited headlines and coverage today are so upbeat, it seems they have jumped ship to Labor completely. The End of Certainty indeed, Paul Kelly.

If the next Newspoll is as bad as this week's, I don't know that there would be any downside for the Coalition to come out much more aggressively against Rudd personally. It has always seemed that his control freak and "say whatever it takes" nature irritates journalists, yet they are generally party to helping him maintain this. I thought John Laws' little anecdote on Enough Rope about Kevin was typical:

JOHN LAWS: Yes I’ll tell you I noticed it, I noticed it the other day and it, it intrigued me. I was going to do an interview with Kevin Rudd and I was going to pre-record it at half past seven in the morning because he was going to Perth in an aeroplane or something. I said “Is that you Kevin?” He said “Yes, eh John how are you?” And I said “Good, how are you? I bet you’re a bit a tired.” He said “Oh”, he said “tired, you know it’s hard work.” And I said “Well I imagine it is but the end result if you achieve it surely will be worth the effort?” He said “Oh yes,” he said “but sometimes, you know, just so damn hard.” And then he stopped and obviously one of his people said to him “That’s being recorded” and there was a hesitation and he came back to me and said “Are, are you, are you, are we recording?” And I said “Yeah.” He said “But I was just talking to you.” And I said “Well that’s the idea of the interview.”

JOHN LAWS: And he said “Well my people’d rather you didn’t play that.” Now he’d behaved in quite a normal pleasant fashion.


JOHN LAWS: I mean, I know him, I’ve had lunch with him on more than one occasion and I know his wife, had lunch with her, so it’s not as if we’re not good acquaintances. But he was terrified that he should appear to be natural, which really surprised me. I would have thought it would have done him a tremendous amount of good to sound like just a nor-normal every day bloke. And then when I said “Alright, well if you want to do it, we’ll start it again,” he sounded like a totally different man.

Yeah, OK, you can hardly condemn Rudd for wanting to sound upbeat in an interview, and yes of course I know all politicians manipulate image; but if many journalists are leery of the controlling aspects of his character, as I am sure they are, it's fair enough for the public to be as well.

UPDATE 2: it may well be a case of "any port in a storm" when I start quoting Kenneth Davidson with approval, but he makes some decent points against Rudd's computer and broadband fetish this morning:

If Rudd Labor was serious about an education revolution it would be based on the latest survey of internet usage by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, which showed that 76 per cent of households with children under the age of 15 already had access to the internet.

Why subsidise the majority of parents for spending already undertaken without subsidy? If Rudd Labor wanted to extend student access to the internet, and improve overall school retention rates, it would have focused its $2.6 billion on poor primary and secondary schools, poor areas with a low computer-pupil ratio and internet access, and provide the money necessary to provide access supervision outside school hours.

The reason why a targeted approach to funding based on needs wasn't considered is because it wasn't a vote buyer.
As Annabel Crabbe (and I) sad before, the big bonus for Dads across the nation will be that the high speed porn access they already have will be subsidised by Labor.

A silly election post...

It is a truth universally acknowledged that this has been a dull election campaign.

I would like to see more fire and passion on the Coalition side, at least. All this stage management ruins most of the spontaneity, save for the odd yell from a cranky passing shopper.

It makes me nostalgic for the public political rallies of the past. The problem is, the unions are so well organised against Workchoices, they would be bound to be a noisy out-numbering presence at any publicised Coalition rally.

My fantasy suggestion: unannounced city rooftop appearances with loudspeakers by John Howard and some of his ministers, just like The Beatles in "Let it Be". Of course, it has to be a building only a few stories up, and near a public mall or square. There must be suitable venues...

The mind image I have of this amuses me a lot.

Why aren't I in charge of a campaign?

Drugs and insight

And then I became a junkie ...

This is a lengthy extract of a book by an English comedian about his drug addled days. (I assume he is over it all now.)

There's nothing new here, I suppose, except that there is a kind of endless fascination with hearing about how completely and utterly stuffed up most drug addicts have to make their lives before they come to the realisation that they have to change.

Posting hiatus continues...sort of

Gosh, UFO's are in the news, Kevin Rudd has to slap down another high profile candidate, and rich school principals are weighing into politics in a really weird sort of way ("you bastards, what are you doing making it even minimally easier for students to come to our school?")

And I don't have time to do lengthy posts on these topics.

Just quickly: I didn't see election-themed Four Corners on Monday. The fact that Coalition supporter Harry Clarke liked it, and the virtually unhinged mob at Road to Surfdom hated it, would indicate that it may have been worth watching.

Surfdom has dropped off my regular reading list, as it has become the poisonous play pen for Ken L and his friends, but I dip the toe in occasionally. The comments about the Four Corners program are particularly amusing:
I mean dont we all know and have known for a long time that the ignorant masses are just that. Ignorant masses. That is why they have voted for Howard et al for the last 11 years. Just dont discover it now, be forever alert and alarmed.
Always with the generosity of spirit, those on the Left.

As for Nasking, always the most tired and emotional:

i feel exactly the same way Phill…& my health has gone down the gurgler since i started commenting on political blogs in 2004…tho the rot started in 1996 mentally ’cause i knew deep in my heart where Johnny boy & his cronies would take this Country…i watched the election w/ some bigoted Sth. African bast*rd who claims to be part of our extended family…he mocked & laughed his head off when Keating lost…i haven’t spoken to him since.

That night i felt the cold hand of the ‘bad karma’ spectre reach into my chest & clutch my ticker…& the breath of the same evil f*cker w/ the head of a grinning Howard penetrated my brain & called upon the ‘black dogs’ to assault it day & night. I swear i haven’t breathed easy or felt truly happy since.

Now there's a person who needs a break from commenting.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Busy, busy

The bunker building progresses well.

(Actually, work is just really busy, and attempts to contact the CIA are proving less fruitful than expected. No posts until later today/tomorrow.)

Monday, November 12, 2007

Political commentary of the day

Both Paul Sheehan's and Glenn Milne's commentaries today are worth reading.

Meanwhile, Newspoll probably confirms that last week wasn't great for Howard. (My feeling about the concentration on Howard's "sorry is not an apology" is that it a result of the distorting media filter that Milne talks about - in the sense that it was only a very small part of a long media engagement. I guess Latham could claim the same about that handshake, come to think of it.)

It's true that the Coalition has had trouble finding the overarching, pithy, punchy theme for its campaign: "Don't vote for a twerp" mustn't have passed muster at the focus groups. But given where they are in the polls, I'd give it a try if I were campaign manager. Labor has spent 10 years calling John Howard much worse.

I might need to restrict posting to evenings this week, if I can. During the day I will be learning how to use a backhoe to dig the underground bunker in the back yard where the family and I will live for the next three years after election night. Just to be safe, I'll also ready some pits for the spiked mantraps that may be helpful to keep the re-possessing banks and homeless, workless neighbours at bay. (If a vote 55% TPP happens, it'll be two terms of the Rudd at least, unless he's knifed in the back by a member of his own Cabinet. Are the betting agencies taking money on that yet?)

UPDATE: sorry, first version of this referred to Peter Hartcher's column instead of Paul Sheehan's. Been rectified.

The campaign launch: I saw some of it live on TV. Howard gave pretty good delivery, I thought, and his section on Labor's changing opinions was actually pretty sharp and witty.

As for the actual policies: the home ownership savings accounts - will be accused of "me-too-ism", but maybe is the best that could be done in the circumstances. The removal of CGT on homes co-owned by parents and kids struck me as more significant, and well worthwhile.

The other policies: I am waiting to read more detail about them.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Colebatch on interest rates

Will Rudd cut inflation? - Federal Election 2007 News - FederalElection2007

Good to see someone in The Age confirming that Kevin Rudd is really selling a crock when it comes to interest rates. In fact, by Rudd going on about Howard needing to "take responsibility" for higher interest rates, isn't he setting himself up for the same criticism being used against him in 3 years time?

Mark Latham thinks that blaming a "skills crisis" for current interest rates is also "overblown", just as I had suspected. (Although it is a little disturbing to find oneself agreeing with him about anything.)

Don't diss deodorant

Cast Aside Underarm Protection, if You Dare - New York Times

This article argues that deodorants are now overused. Most people, it suggests, probably barely need it at all if they wash once or twice a day.

A lot must depend on the particular bacterial flora that inhabit your body. My father never used deodorant a day in his life, laboured in the summer humidity of Southeast Queensland for a living, and never smelt at all. Sadly, such mysterious immunity from body odour never extended to the rest of the family.

The New York Time article notes that:

Gabrielle Glaser, the author of “The Nose: A Profile of Sex, Beauty, and Survival,” argues that the phenomenon [ a "fear of dampness and smell"] started in the early 1900s when marketers urged immigrants to eliminate their body odor to become more American.

“If you were new to the country, you wanted to do whatever you could to not offend,” said Ms. Glaser, a former contributor to The New York Times. “During the Depression, the marketing encouraged people to think that they could lessen their anxiety about losing their jobs by making sure that they didn’t stink.

He makes it sound like it was a pure cynical marketing ploy, but who could dispute that reeking of BO might have been a disincentive for employing an immigrant?

Then there is the argument that comes close to suggesting deodorant use is the cause of increased divorce:
“There is experimental evidence in humans to suggest that we may have some mating preference for those who have a different immune system then we do,” Dr. Preti said. “The scent caused by underarm bacteria is part of what signals a different immune system.....From a biological standpoint, deodorants are overused because they can make people seem more attractive than their basic biology.”
Well, sounds vaguely plausible, but most people would take the higher risk of a mating mismatch over sitting next to someone who reeks on the bus.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Emotional Lego

Microtrends: Brickfilms - Times Online

These original Lego films are pretty good.


US fears Israeli strike against Iran over latest nuclear claim - Times Online

This seems to be attracting little attention in the Australian media.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Global warming news

Cirrus clouds might not be playing the positive feedback role in global warming that most scientists assumed. (Less of them around may mean a welcome negative feedback.) Possible good news gets the smallest of media attention, though.

Meanwhile, Planktos wants to try more ocean iron fertilization, but are getting threats from environmentalists and criticism from many others.

I don't know, seems to me to be rather hypocritical to be both in a panic about global warming and also oppose full assessment of possible alleviation measures.

Unknown stuff on the way

LHC completes the circle

One day I will get around to tagging all my posts about mini black holes, strangelets, mini time machines and other LHC stuff. In the meantime, feel free to use the blog search feature.

Getting away from it all

Antarctic Team To Install Seismographs, Where 'No Man -- Or Woman -- Has Gone Before'

The team ... will go to remote regions of Antarctica to place seismographs in both east and west Antarctica, to learn about the earth beneath the ice, and glean information about glaciers, mountains and ice streams. The location of their field camp, called AGAP-South, has never been visited by humans before, and the entire region of Antarctica has only been traversed by a Russian team 50 years ago and by a Chinese team last year.
It's good to know there are still places to go where no human footprint has been before. Of course, if I were there I would also be worrying about discovering UFOs under the ice with shape changing aliens on the loose.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Germaine has too much time on her hands

Guardian Unlimited: Arts blog - art: Why has the world gone pink mad?

Things improve, slowly

A life, stolen - Times Online

This is a long story about the harshness of the British mental health system of the 20th century, and how its repercussions are still felt today.

It does often surprise me to think how different and harsh some attitudes were within very recent times.

In fact, I am also surprised at some cultural differences that still exist. In the area of divorce, for example, it seems that the attitude of some Chinese and (perhaps to a lesser degree?) Japanese is that, in the event of remarriage, the father is better off severing all ties with the children of his first marriage, and each party makes their own completely new life. Perhaps re-establishing some contact with the child as an adult is OK, but the father takes no part in their formative years.

I have seen this happen with someone I know well, and although his character is generally likeable, he accepts without question his family's attitude that he should have no contact with his first child. (In fact, he already had nearly no physical contact, but was in regular communication with her. Now even that has stopped, even though he did see her again for the first time in years before he re-married.)

This strikes me, and I would think most other Australians, as terribly, terribly sad for the child. I would hope that it is a cultural attitude that will slowly die out, but it still seems strong at the moment.

Take your own fire extinguisher

In Russian renaissance, safety takes backseat - International Herald Tribune

From the report:
More than 17,000 people died in fires in 2006 in Russia, nearly 13 for every 100,000 people. This is more than 10 times the rates typical of Western Europe and the United States, according to statistics from Russia's government, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States and the Geneva Association, a Swiss organization that analyzes international fire statistics....

The death toll - hovering this year at about 40 people a day - flows from myriad factors. Among them are aging electrical and heating systems in public housing and rural homes, dilapidated firefighting equipment and widespread violations of safety codes.

High rates of alcoholism and smoking are also factors, fire officials say, because intoxicated people are often unable to escape fires, or inadvertently set them.

More trouble coming

China's economy generates billionaires by the dozen - International Herald Tribune

China has a lot of new billionaires, but there is reason to expect they won't stay that way forever:
Analysts are skeptical about the way China's stocks are valued, particularly those with huge amounts of untradable government shares, like PetroChina. But to the buyers in Shanghai, at least, it dethroned Exxon Mobil as the most valuable company in the world. And by the same criteria, they would consider China Mobile the world's most valuable telecommunications company. ICBC, a state-owned bank that was nearly insolvent a decade ago, is worth more than Citigroup to the speculators.....

But many analysts argue that there is nothing underlying the skyrocketing valuations - or, sometimes, that the companies' obscure finances make it impossible to know. And if the Chinese stock market is a bubble, the new billionaires will disappear as quickly as they rose, since much of their wealth was generated by the stock markets, as well as by the Chinese real estate boom and the Chinese economy, the fastest-growing in the world.
And if you thought the US had inequality in income:

As much as the bounty of billionaires is a source of pride, it is also a potential cause for concern in a nominally communist country. Per capita income in China is less than $1,000 a year.

"One issue is social stability," said Emmanuel Saez, a professor of economics at the University of California. "In Latin America you had such a concentration that revolutionaries wanted to redistribute it."

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

For Melbourne Cup Day...

A story about horses you many not have heard before (from the History of Psychiatry):
Anthropophagic horses have been described in classical mythology. From a current perspective, two such instances are worth mentioning and describing: Glaucus of Potniae, King of Efyra, and Diomedes, King of Thrace, who were both devoured by their horses. In both cases, the horses' extreme aggression and their subsequent anthropophagic behaviour were attributed to their madness (hippomania) induced by the custom of feeding them with flesh. The current problem of 'mad cow' disease (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) is apparently related to a similar feed pattern. Aggressive behaviour in horses can be triggered by both biological and psychological factors. In the cases cited here, it is rather unlikely that the former were the cause. On the other hand, the multiple abuses imposed on the horses, coupled with people's fantasies and largely unconscious fears (hippophobia), may possibly explain these mythological descriptions of 'horse-monsters'.
These psychiatrist seem to think it is all mythology, but it seems to me just as likely that when a horse bites, it's actually tasting you...

The narrowing

There's not a lot of excitement in the papers about the latest Newspoll, but it's given me a nice warm feeling for the following reasons: at least the polling is going in the right direction; there are enough people (barely) who could still swing it around to the Coalition; and there must be one or two innovative announcements to come from Howard yet.

Seemingly, the voters won't completely blame the Coalition for another interest rate rise, so maybe that won't be as influential on the polls next week as some think. It remains possible that increasingly dire financial shakes that may come overseas in the next fortnight could work in the Coalition's favour.

Ah yes, time for a port and an imaginary cigar. Except I am work and need to stop posting. Bah.

Cosmology news

Even get the feeling cosmology has many more uncertainties in it than the experts like to admit?

It's possible that the universe is 20% lighter than previously thought because of some rubbery interpretation of certain measurements. (Sounds a lot when its mass and density helps determine whether it will ever turn into a "crunch" in future).

There is also a suggestion being made that dark energy may be an artefact of the local bit of the universe we live in. I am sure most cosmologists would be happy to get rid of dark energy as a concept, but no one is really convinced the problem is gone yet.

Maybe they should just stick with it being turtles all the way down.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Another Pebble Bed reactor advantage

Science Show - Uranium supplies underestimated

The Science Show had an interesting interview on the weekend, in which this (new to me) feature of Pebble Bed nuclear reactors was mentioned:

Martin Sevior: The Chinese are pursuing pebble bed reactors and those are about four times as efficient in the use of uranium as light water reactors.

Robyn Williams: Could you explain how the pebble reactors work?

Martin Sevior: The pebble bed reactors basically have...your uranium is embedded in a carbon matrix which serves as the moderator. In a standard nuclear reactor, light water is the moderator. Water is also a very good absorber of neutrons, so carbon is much more efficient in that way, it doesn't absorb neutrons. So you can actually employ less uranium for the same about of power because instead of your neutrons being lost through absorption in water, they can initiate more reactions.

Now, I would still like to know the answer to a question I asked earlier this year: do they need to use much water in their operation? If not, we can forget about the Labor scare campaign of a string of nuclear power plants along the Australian coast.

Loose lips

Another journo backs Price on Garrett's backflips

Well well. Charles Wooley does indeed support the idea that Peter Garrett has been going around giving winks and nods about Labor electoral promises:
"Peter Garrett agreed, he intimated that 'What we say in Opposition might not be what happens in government.'''
The biggest significance of this may be for Garrett's ministerial ambitions. They have receded faster than Peter's hairline.

Got off lightly, it seems

Goat killer forced to make apology

A 26 year old, pretty normal looking woman (go to the link), got up to something rather abnormal in a Brisbane outer suburb last year:

The court was last month told Arnold had been drinking at a Friday the 13th party at Bellbowrie when she and three others decided to conduct a mock satanic ritual.

Documents tendered to the court last month stated the group drove to a property on Moggill Road, Pinjarra Hills and stole the goat, which was grazing at the front of the property.

They then broke into the church, which was under construction but close to opening, and dragged the animal to a raised platform where they slaughtered it.

So far, so bizarre. But was this a completely abnormal bit of behaviour over which she felt deep shame the next day? Seems unlikely:

The goat's head was later found by police in the freezer of Arnold's home, along with a camera containing photos of members of the group with the head.

A newspaper clipping reporting the incident was also found on top of the fridge.

Of course, solicitors sometimes have to put the best spin they can on acts which are very hard to spin:

Arnold's solicitor John Jacob said his client suffered from an alcohol addiction but psychiatric reports indicated she did not have a "macabre predisposition" to commit violent offences.

"There is nothing in Ms Arnold's personal background or her psychological character that makes her any more likely to be involved in offences of this nature," he told the court.

"(But) when she drinks alcohol she makes poor decisions."

Her punishment: 2 years probation, no conviction recorded. Has to consent to psychiatric treatment (although for what it is not clear.)

Warning: all young men in Brisbane looking for a date. Study the photo at the link. Commit it to memory. Remember just how poor her decision making can be.

This has been a public service announcement of Opinion Dominion.