Thursday, May 31, 2007

Sex lives of the young and religious

Slate has an interesting article on a new book looking in detail on how religious belief affects sexual behaviour in young Americans.

Evangelical teenagers like to talk celibacy, but aren't good at doing it:
Teenagers who identify as "evangelical" or "born again" are highly likely to sound like the girl at the bar; 80 percent think sex should be saved for marriage. But thinking is not the same as doing. Evangelical teens are actually more likely to have lost their virginity than either mainline Protestants or Catholics. They tend to lose their virginity at a slightly younger age—16.3, compared with 16.7 for the other two faiths. And they are much more likely to have had three or more sexual partners by age 17: Regnerus reports that 13.7 percent of evangelicals have, compared with 8.9 percent for mainline Protestants.
One of the reasons that this group has more sex is given as this:
It also includes African-American Protestant teenagers, who are vastly more likely to be sexually active.
In the Economist article I mentioned yesterday, the incredibly high rate of children to black single mothers was discussed in some detail. I meant to mention then that this is something I don't really understand in light of the quasi-religiosity of the black community. (Even the single black mother with several children to different fathers quoted in The Economist mentioned how she hoped God would give her a partner. Maybe he would help more if she didn't sleep with every boyfriend she met.)

I just find the question of how black American culture got to where it is today very puzzling. (Not just on the issue of sex, but the whole hip hop and drug scene, and the attitude the men take towards women generally. I guess the Italian mafia were good at going to Catholic Church too, and that was another example of hypocritical behaviour I have never understood.)

But back to generic teenagers and sex. I don't really see what is wrong with pointing out from a very early age that if you have enough sex, even while trying to use contraception, the chances are that (sooner or later) you will end up with a baby. (Or at least a pregnancy to ruin your day.) If you don't want a baby yet, don't have sex. At least not with another person.

I should have been a sex education nun.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Marriage in America

Marriage in America | The frayed knot | Economist.com

This is a really interesting article about modern American marriage. Here's a key section that surprised me:

There is a widening gulf between how the best- and least-educated Americans approach marriage and child-rearing. Among the elite (excluding film stars), the nuclear family is holding up quite well. Only 4% of the children of mothers with college degrees are born out of wedlock. And the divorce rate among college-educated women has plummeted. Of those who first tied the knot between 1975 and 1979, 29% were divorced within ten years. Among those who first married between 1990 and 1994, only 16.5% were.

At the bottom of the education scale, the picture is reversed. Among high-school dropouts, the divorce rate rose from 38% for those who first married in 1975-79 to 46% for those who first married in 1990-94. Among those with a high school diploma but no college, it rose from 35% to 38%. And these figures are only part of the story. Many mothers avoid divorce by never marrying in the first place. The out-of-wedlock birth rate among women who drop out of high school is 15%. Among African-Americans, it is a staggering 67%.

I for one did not realise that middle class divorce had gone down so much. The article also mentions this:
...those who live together before marriage are more likely to divorce.

Many people will find this surprising. A survey of teenagers by the University of Michigan found that 64% of boys and 57% of girls agreed that “it is usually a good idea for a couple to live together before getting married in order to find out whether they really get along.” Research suggests otherwise. Two-thirds of American children born to co-habiting parents who later marry will see their parents split up by the time they are ten. Those born within wedlock face only half that risk.

I think that the higher divorce rate for couples who live together before marriage is also not well known in Australia. I strongly suspect you would get similar survey results in Australia, with most younger people seeing it as a worthwhile step to see if the couple really is "compatible". Sounds like a plausible theory; it's just that reality goes and does its own thing.

All of the article is well worth reading.

Bye bye Cindy

Sheehan 'resigns' as protest leader

I like this line:
She said the most devastating conclusion she had reached "was that Casey did indeed die for nothing ... killed by his own country which is beholden to and run by a war machine that even controls what we think."
Err, yes, time to retire with tin foil hat firmly in place, Cindy.

She does have her followers though. The SFGate site asked a bunch of people what they thought of Sheehan's leadership. From Oakland, one woman responds:
Sheehan inspired people by speaking straight from the heart. Unfortunately, speaking truth to power didn't work against power gained and maintained through calculated deceit, aided by a spineless press. America's redemption, like 1930-40s Germany, may now require counter-propoganda as adept as the Bushies', or intervention from outside powers.
Wow. There are people so against against wars that they would prefer to, um, see one being fought on their own soil. Just nuts.

I also see that one Michael Ponce of Oakland says this about Cindy:

She brought the issue to our coward president. It's disgusting how the president of this country never met with her, especially when her son died for his war.

I assume he believes the plastic turkey too, as he clearly believes the hype over the reality. From Wikipedia (such a hard source to find):
Sheehan and other military families met with President George W. Bush in June of 2004 at Fort Lewis, near Tacoma, Washington, nearly three months after her son's death. In a June 24, 2004 interview with the Vacaville Reporter published soon after the meeting, she stated, "We haven't been happy with the way the war has been handled. The President has changed his reasons for being over there every time a reason is proven false or an objective reached." She also stated that President Bush was ". . .sincere about wanting freedom for the Iraqis … I know he's sorry and feels some pain for our loss. And I know he's a man of faith."[4]
Yes, Cindy ran a 3 year campaign complaining how unfair it was that she couldn't meet the President....again.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Sounds fun, as long as it doesn't kill you

New Attraction Simulates Shuttle Launch at 17,500 MPH

Rudd's secret put to the test

As I more or less expected, the Mrs Kevin incident appears to have no detrimental effect on Kevin's popularity; quite the opposite it would appear.

One reason for this is, I suspect, that people are thinking that any criticism of Rudd's family is not nice, and they decide to punish the Liberals for it, despite the fact that it is the media coming up with the stories, not the government.

Secondly, surely everyone has noticed that when Rudd says "we'll take a battering in the polls" or "this is embarrassing", it doesn't hurt his polling at all. I think he has recognised and will keep using the magic formula. Maybe it is some sort of Jedi mind trick, or a pact with the devil, and the way for the public to be reassured that it isn't supernatural forces at work is to see it deliberately put to the test.

My challenge to Kevin is therefore to demonstrate that he can be unpopular by doing something really wrong. How about being caught on camera having sex one night with Julia Gillard on the grass under the flagpole on top of Parliament House? If all he does, while brushing grass off his suit, is to look sheepish and say "well I have to acknowledge this is very embarrassing, it will put a strain on my marriage and I expect to take a battering in the polls" and next week there's another 5% increase, then we will know there is something sinister about him.

Update: I wrote this before I read Matt Price in The Australian this morning. He makes a similar point:
At this rate, Rudd could be captured on video wearing leather bondage gear while snorting ice - and the punters would still find some excuse to look kindly on the Labor leader.
I bet in his heart Price wanted to use sex with Gillard as an example, but he has to get on with Rudd and his minders.

Waking up to a surprise

Man catches leopard in his bedroom | Jerusalem Post

A resident of the Ben Gurion Field School in the Negev caught a leopard on Monday morning after he woke up to find it chasing after his pet cat in his bedroom.

The man, Arthur Du Mosch, pounced on the leopard, holding it in a head lock before it was taken away.

Clad only in underwear and a T-shirt, he lunged at the leopard, grabbed it around the neck, then pinned it down for 20 minutes - until park rangers arrived on the scene.

Some points:

1. I didn't know they had leopards in Israel.

2. I didn't know they had people called "Arthur" in Israel.

3. Why would you bother pinning down an errant leopard in your bedroom for 20 minutes?

4. Who rang the park rangers, and didn't that person say to Arthur "Man, what are you doing, put it outside and let it go"? Or was Arthur clever enough to hold a leopard in a headlock and make a phone call at the same time?

Monday, May 28, 2007

Deep

Alex Byrne: Knowing Right and Wrong

Found via Arts & Letters Daily, above is a lengthy but (mostly) comprehensible discussion of meta-ethics. It's quite good, if that's the type of thing that interests you.

While I would like there to be a clearly logical and unassailable way to argue that all humans have an obligation to observe the application of a basic morality to their behaviour, I can't see that there is any way to get there via rationality alone, without the leap of faith into the belief that one's actions in life have consequences after life.

Jolly good news

ScienceDaily: Red Wine Protects The Prostate, Research Suggests

From the article:
Researchers have found that men who drink an average of four to seven glasses of red wine per week are only 52% as likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer as those who do not drink red wine...

...wine drinking was linked to a reduced risk of prostate cancer. And when white wine was compared with red, red had the most benefit. Even low amounts seemed to help, and for every additional glass of red wine per week, the relative risk declined by 6%.
I do drink much more white than red; but a conscious effort will be made this winter to redress that balance. (I think I pretty much hit the age where doctors start to have an unusual degree of interest in the prostate.)

Exit conseqences

Strife Foreseen in Iraq Exit, but Experts Split on Degree - New York Times

The New York Times asks lots of people within and outside of Iraq about how bad they think it would become if the US withdrew quickly. The answer seems to uniformly be: very bad indeed.

The only people who seem to be quoted as doubting this are Democrats.

As to the recent petition by the Parliament to get the US to set a deadline to leave is mentioned as follows:

A bare majority of Iraq’s 275-member Parliament recently signed a petition promoted by Mr. Sadr that called for a timetable for American troops to depart. Even so, the petition said the Americans should not leave until Iraqi security forces were ready to take over the job. “Pulling back to bases maybe makes sense,” said Mansour Abdul Mohsin Abboud, 66, a Shiite tribal sheik who lives in Najaf. “But leaving, withdrawing completely from Iraq, that means erasing Iraq from the map.”

Ken L at Road to Surfdom and his followers should read it: they scoff at any suggestion that you can trust what any journalist or American says about the situation in Iraq if forces withdraw.

Blue tongues

According to The Observer, Tony Blair "swears like the proverbial trooper", which is definitely not the image he has liked to portray to the public.

This made me think of Rudd, about whom there has been mention from time to time of his vigorous language in private.

But the perverse way the electorate is at the moment, he could appear on the 6 o'clock news with a string of expletives about the trouble Therese has caused him, and the public would say he's got the common man's touch after all, let's boost his approval ratings.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

The saintly Rudds of The Age

The Age goes out of its way to put the best possible spin on Mrs Kevin's decision to pre-emptively sell the Australian arm of her business. From yesterday's story:

Taking full responsibility for the embarrassment she said her business interests had caused Mr Rudd, and emphasising that the decision to sell was entirely her own...,

Sure, Therese, sure. (And I can't really blame the reporter for that line, it will be in every report). But surely the journalist has to take full credit for this paragraph:

Admitting to feeling humbled by the dignity her work colleagues had demonstrated in the face of intense political pressure, Ms Rein repeated that she "fully accepted personal responsibility for any errors made by my company in handling the details of the employment arrangements for staff. I have also accepted full responsibility for rectifying any errors".

"Admitting" to feeling humbled? Did a journalist ask the question: "Don't you feel humbled by the dignity of your work colleagues?" Nope, surely this is just bad journalism.

For the touching human side of the decision, try this:

The couple sat together on the flight to Brisbane, their heads touching as they discussed the political dilemma before greeting the waiting media throng.

Then the drama of does she or doesn't she really want to do this:

Asked if her job or her husband came first, Ms Rein replied: "I am prepared to put Kevin first and my country first." However, at that stage she showed signs of wanting to fight to keep the business she started from scratch 18 years ago and built into an international enterprise. "I don't think that I have to make a decision between my husband and my career," she said. "I am immensely proud of what I have been doing for the last 18 years. I have loved doing that and I still love doing that. "But I think the Australian people may be concerned that there might be a conflict of interest. I don't want that to get in the way for them."

But to remove any doubt at all that it was her sole decision after all, the report ends with:

Last night neither Mr Rudd nor the Prime Minister were commenting on Ms Rein's decision.

I've seen ...[readers please insert own humourous analogy here - all I can come up with is nuclear centrifuges] with less spin than this.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

More Humour

The Best Place in the Universe New Mexico, Earth

Have a look at these couple of short tourism ads for New Mexico. Quite amusing.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Humour

Chad Vader: Day Shift Manager

I see these date from 2006, but I seem to have missed the adventures of Darth Vader's loser brother Chad, who works in a supermarket. (I've only watched the first couple of episodes, but they are pretty good.)

Not rushing to comment

I like the way that when something embarrassing for Kevin Rudd comes up, the left leaning blogs certainly take their time to make any comment. Despite it dominating the news and ABC current affairs shows last night, nothing yet on LP, Road to Surfdom, or Blogocracy as at 10 am this morning. "Rapid fire commentary" indeed, Tim Dunlop. (While I am at it, I reckon Blogocracy would benefit from less bloat in each individual post. His non-corporate blog had a bit more life to it than this incarnation, and I still don't see what benefit it is to News Ltd to run it.)

The contrast is with anything of embarrassment to John Howard. That never gets left alone for long. I can see the questions from the blog commentators if the shoe was on the other foot: so it took 6 months for her company to realise the mistake? Shows how careless she is in running her company, and what little disregard it has for the workers...

Also, although the SMH website this morning gave the story a "headline" near the top, you really had to look much harder to spot it on The Age website, down under the "National" section.

As I understand it, Kevin Rudd's wife's fortune has effectively been made (or at least greatly enhanced?) from the Liberal government's change in policy on employment placement services, which was (if I recall correctly) strongly opposed by Labor at the time. The irony of this seems to have attracted remarkably little comment since the Rudd ascendancy.

Unusual brain chemistry

Endogenous cannabinoids linked to fetal brain damage imposed by maternal cannabis use

From the article:
A critical step in brain development is governed by endogenous cannabinoids, ‘the brain’s own marijuana’. ..... these endogenous molecules regulate how certain nerve cells recognize each other and form connections.
But this is not good news for babies with mothers that smoke:
Earlier studies have already found that children of marijuana-smoking mothers more frequently suffer from permanent cognitive deficits, concentration disorders, hyperactivity, and impaired social interactions than non-exposed children of the same age and social background.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

On Palestinian victimhood

neo-neocon The Palestinians: when does a victim stop being a victim?

This is a good read from Neo-neocon. I found it particularly interesting how a journalist from 1961 was already pointing out how Palestinian refugees were being used as a pawn - by other Arabs.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

It's a boy thing, and water for nuclear power

The Guardian reports that the British government is going to "push ahead with proposals to build a new generation of commerically built nuclear power stations". There's an interesting snippet at the end of the story:

When the Guardian last asked voters their opinion on the issue, in late 2005, 45% backed nuclear energy and 48% opposed it. The poll also shows that 62% of men think more nuclear power stations should be built against 27% of women.

That's a big difference. In Australia, the recent Newspoll, which mentioned nuclear power in the context of greenhouse gases, still showed a significant difference between the genders, as does this Morgan poll. Interestingly, both of these polls show that the strongest opposition by far is from women aged 35 to 49. What do these women have against nuclear power? Are they better informed than men, or just more easily scared? Is being a mother something to do with this?

As for nuclear power for Australia, one point I have been meaning to make is that the lack of water for convention coal power stations in South East Queensland is currently a serious issue. In discussions of nuclear power here, there has been frequent mention of a need for access to water, with the main suggestion being that they would need to be beside the sea.

However, it would seem to me that pebble bed reactors, which are occasionally mentioned as a potential new generation design for Australia, are unlikely to be very thristy. They are proposed to use helium turbine systems, not steam. They are also intended to run at high temperatures, which has the benefit of making them good for hydrogen production. (A detailed explanation of pebble bed is given in this paper.) I could be wrong, but this sounds to me like they won't need anywhere near as much water for cooling as steam based turbine systems. Some engineer type reader might care to confirm or correct this for me.

If pebble bed designs are not very thirsty, I would have thought that this feature would make them very attractive to our drought prone land. It would also mean that they can simply be located on current inland power station sites, regardless of current or projected future dam levels. This would surely help defuse the "not in my backyard" scare campaign that Labor has already started.

Saving water Japanese style

Brisbane's water supply dams are now at 18.62% capacity, and it's the start of winter when substantial rains are virtually unheard of until spring. Looking at the graph at that link, it would seem very likely that we will hit 10% before the end of the year. No one knows how the water quality is going to be as it gets lower. Already, if I leave the kid's bath water in the tub overnight (before pouring it down a grey water hose that is hanging out the window to a big tub below, for later bucketing over the garden,) there is a very brown residue left on the bath which never used to be there.

The government is aiming for an average daily consumption of 140 litres per person. My family is close to that, but none the less it does feel as if the city is on the verge of crisis, with many substantial sized garden plants dying all over the place, so one does feel the need to do more. We had a rainwater tank installed in January. It has not had more than about 15 cm of water in the bottom since then.

If the letters to the Courier Mail are anything to go by, many people are starting to take pride in how little water they can get away with using in a day.

Here's my boast. I think that even "low flow" shower heads use up to 9 litres of water a minute. They are urging people to limit showers to 4 minutes, so that's about 36 litres all up. But that doesn't count the litres wasted while waiting for the hot water to reach the shower, and this is an unavoidable problem in winter. I have used a bucket to check this, and it takes about 5-6 litres in my house to get the temperature right.

(You can save the cold water in a bucket for the garden, but frankly, we are finding that the greywater from the Top Loading Washing Machine That Refuses to Die and kid's bath is enough for keeping the garden alive.)

My solution is to adopt Japanese style bathing in the shower recess. This involves a 10 litre round plastic basin, a smaller bowl as a ladle, a plastic stool and a sponge, costing around $12 in total from Big W.

Typical Japanese bathing, either in the house or a public onsen, is done while sitting on a little stool and either using a little hand held shower or ladling water over the body. The bathrooms are designed as areas able to get completely wet, with drains in the floor. There are some good photos of a typical Japanese apartment bathroom here. In Brisbane, I have to do it in the shower recess, but I find I can fit in OK.

The advantages: in my house, for the first 10 litre basin fill, the combination of the first 4 litres of cold water and the next 6 of scalding water works out just right. You can stay clothed while this is done. Ten litres is plenty for the body. I then use another 10 litres for hair and final body rinse, and really I find that plenty. There is no water wastage at all. The only disadvantage: no nice steamy bathroom in which to dry yourself.

Anyway, I know that I am definitely using only 20 litres per day for bathing.

Send me a medal, someone?

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Appreciating Disney

James Lileks' series on his recent family holiday to Disney World (the first part is here) is very enjoyable. His genuine, non-ironic, postive response to the place also feels very close to how I felt during my couple of visits there (without child or partner) in the 1980's. (He is perhaps a little underwhelmed by EPCOT, but he barely touched that park, by the sounds.)

As it happens, my childrens' first experience of Disneyland will likely be in Tokyo. I am not entirely sure how much I will enjoy it, but I have faith!

In other Disney posts, Boing Boing recently linked to an Orlando resident's post about the underground tunnel that encircles Disney World. I knew about its existence, but had not heard about how it works in detail before. Good reading.

Doctor Yes

Top sex change doctor faces damages claim | Special reports | Guardian Unlimited

This is a story of special interest to Zoe Brain, I assume.

The overall story is that:

The General Medical Council (GMC) today declared that the UK's top expert on transsexualism inappropriately rushed patients into sex changing treatments.

Its inquiry into the consultant psychiatrist Dr Russell Reid found that he gave five patients hormones too soon and referred them for genital surgery without an adequate assessment of their health or proof that they were transsexuals.

This particular example of what Dr Reid did is remarkable, to say the least:

Dr Reid was found to have prescribed Patient D male hormones against the advice in a second opinion provided by another psychiatrist. The patient, who wanted to change sex in order to fulfil a delusion that she was turning into Jesus, only avoided surgery to remove both her breasts because she was sectioned and diagnosed with manic depression. She told the inquiry she was never transsexual and claimed she had been misdiagnosed by Dr Reid.

Dr Reid evidently thought the patient was always right, no matter how mad.

Antony goes to Cuba

Comment is free: Getting connected

What's Antony Lowenstein doing visiting and writing about Cuba? And why meet someone there at the Iranian embassy? He is our International Man of Mystery.

Anyway, I suppose it's nice to see him critical of a government other than Israel's.

How soft are our obstetricians?

Sarah Buckley: Mothers not just too posh to push | Opinion | The Australian

The article above disputes the idea that it is women wanting unwarranted caesareans which is pushing up the rates of such deliveries in Australia. Her figures indicate that there are few mothers asking for it without good reason.

However, last week, two obstetricians discussed the issue on Radio National (audio available here), and I was surprised to hear both of them say that there are cases where, despite explaining all of the risks and disadvantages in detail, some patients will still insist on a caesarean birth, and they felt that they had no choice but to provide that service.

This seems very strange to me. Why should any obstetrician comply with a request to provide an unwarranted medical procedure which is known to have worse health outcomes for both the mother (who at least can give her consent) and also the baby (who obviously can't.)

Isn't there some risk that, if the baby suffers a complication typically arising from caesarean birth, the father could sue the doctor on behalf of the baby for providing an unwarranted and more dangerous procedure? I could see this as a scenario especially where the father and mother are estranged either before or after the birth. Or do the doctors also seek the father binding waiver before the procedure?

I know that lots of people have unnecessary cosmetic surgery despite its risks, but as I say, there is only the need to consider one person's interests in those cases.

In the multiverse version of Earth where I am benevolent and wise ruler of Australia, obstetricians are just ordered to refuse the request for unnecessary caesareans, and doctors doing cosmetic surgery are sent to work on remote aboriginal outposts. (Oh, hang on, I have closed most of them too.) The producers of Big Brother were fed to the crocodiles long ago.

Monday, May 21, 2007

New meteor idea

Diamonds tell tale of comet that killed off the cavemen | Science | Guardian Unlimited

This is interesting:
Scientists will outline dramatic evidence this week that suggests a comet exploded over the Earth nearly 13,000 years ago, creating a hail of fireballs that set fire to most of the northern hemisphere.

Primitive Stone Age cultures were destroyed and populations of mammoths and other large land animals, such as the mastodon, were wiped out. The blast also caused a major bout of climatic cooling that lasted 1,000 years and seriously disrupted the development of the early human civilisations that were emerging in Europe and Asia.

'This comet set off a shock wave that changed Earth profoundly,' said Arizona geophysicist Allen West. 'It was about 2km-3km in diameter and broke up just before impact, setting off a series of explosions, each the equivalent of an atomic bomb blast. The result would have been hell on Earth. Most of the northern hemisphere would have been left on fire.'

And politicians can be hard to convince that spending money on spotting dangerous objects in space is worthwhile.

Science and religion at work

Focus | Cosmic Variance

This is a couple of weeks old, but worth reading if you are interested in the culture wars.

China and Catholics

The Tablet

According to the Tablet:

Martin Wu Qinjing, Bishop of Zhouzhi, is being held by police and the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA), according to the Rome-based AsiaNews. His faithful say he is undergoing "endless political sessions" and being pressured to give up his diocese. Two years ago Bishop Wu was consecrated bishop in the official Church but with Vatican approval.

According to the CCPA Bishop Wu's ordination was illegal because it contravened a regulation banning religious bodies from being controlled by "foreign influences". The bishop was taken from his church on 17 March. According to AsiaNews, the CCPA opposes Bishop Wu because it had a more compliant candidate who had done it various economic favours.

Funny how quasi Marxist China fears outside influence in its state approved version of the Catholic Church, when South America used to be hot bed of liberation theology and Marxism. (The lead story from the same edition of the Tablet is about an apparent softening of both sides in the Vatican's stand off with liberation theology in South America.)

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Real cinema verite

Japundit - Camera on Conveyor

Go to the link for an oddly pleasing video taken from the sushi's point of view. It looks like a nice trick that a clever director might use in a movie.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

A tyrant in the making

Fine young criminal | Books | Arts | Telegraph

This review of a new book "Young Stalin" gives a short taste of some key events in Stalin's early life.

It seems to me that the lead up to the Russian revolution was so full of drama and bad characters that it could work as source material for many, many movies. It has the benefit of not being overly familiar to Western audiences, and now that Russia is not communist, just how many people there would still be horrified to see an accurate portrayal of Stalin as a criminal thug?

Oh wait a minute: another review in The Telegraph makes a similar point:
In succeeding years he [Stalin] graduated from extortion to murder and armed robbery, using some 39 aliases, ranging from 'Joe Pox' to 'Oddball Osip', and employing several psychopathic associates, notably the baroquely vicious Simon 'Kamo' Ter-Petrossian.

Sebag Montefiore gives a brilliant account of the great 1907 Tiflis heist, when Stalin's gang held up a convoy delivering roubles: the resulting scenes of mayhem were worthy of the De Niro and Pacino film Heat, although here the bullets and bombs flew amidst armoured wagons and mounted Cossack guards. These robberies were essential to the funding of Lenin's exiled Bolshevik Party.
Over to you, screenwriters.

Market players: get in quick!

A simple algorithm based on fluctuations to play the market

I am not sure how seriously to take the above paper found on arxiv.org. This is its conclusion:
By analogy with the way motor enzymes trap favourable brownian fluctuations, we have built an algorithm which is able to make the best from out of equilibrium price fluctuations and to play the market. Testing its efficiency with genuine historical data, positive cumulative returns have been measured even in presence of a 0:1% transaction cost. Especially stupendous are the results dealing with the application of the algorithm to EMS currencies or with the Cac40 components.
The results of using the algorithm with Cac40:
Fig.(14) displays the stupendous results of the application of the MD3 algorithm to the components of the Cac40 between 2000/01/01 and 2006/05/12 ( 6:5 years). First, the optimal value of m does not depend on the time interval (out of sample). Second this optimal value is found to be close to 25 days, so to say one month since only workdays are taken into account. Finally but not the least, average yearly return up to 60% are obtained!
There is a catch, however:
The money which is captured by our algorithms comes from the irrational behavior of uninformed noisy traders. Therefore we really expect the present algorithms will become unprofitable as soon as our paper will be published, either because irrational traders will be taught a lesson or because the profitability of the algorithms will vanish with the number of users.
The thing is, this paper has only just been published, and maybe there aren't that many people who sit at home on a Saturday night reading arxiv.org papers. If I have alerted any market player to a way to make a killing in a short time, please sent me a cut of your profit!

Friday, May 18, 2007

Conflict on the high seas

It was surprising today to read a New Scientist article that says the Southern Oceans may not be absorbing much CO2 because they have become too windy:
Global warming has caused the Southern Ocean to become windier, churning up the waters so that they are unable to absorb CO2 at the rate we produce it, the researchers say.
This is because only in March did I hear on The Science Show another researcher saying the exact opposite:
Around the poles, and particularly Antarctica, the winds are causing more mixing between water and atmosphere. The Antarctic polar current brings water from 3,000m depth to the surface. This water is low in CO2 and takes up the gas from the atmosphere.
More research needed to get to the bottom of this, evidently.

Come here, geekdom

I have noticed recently that my already low readership is usually even lower on Fridays. I figure it may have something to do with longer lunches and drinks after work. I also noticed that when I mentioned X Files actress Gillian Anderson in a previous post, several hits came here via several guys (well, I assume guys) who evidently search blogs for the very mention of her name.

So, in the interests of increasing a Friday's figures:

There is talk of a second X Files movie. Talk about a case of Rocky-itis. I didn't even like the first movie, although I loved the series for the first few years. I can't remember by which season the rot had set in.

Gillian has her own website/blog type thingee, which she seems to make an entry about once every 6 months.

She does take a good photo, though.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

So crazy it might just work...nah!

Gizmodo UK : Windscraper Buildings Generate Power

From the article (which has a Youtube link too):
Architect, David Fisher, has envisioned a new tower that is one part wind turbine and one part skyscraper. The tower is based around a concrete center core, with each floor spinning like an individual wind turbine. When all of the turbines are harnessed together the tower will not only be able to power itself, but up to ten other similarly sized buildings, too.

Allergy testing

ScienceDaily: Peanut Allergies Overstated, Study Finds

This story reports how some kids, who eat peanuts with no problem, can still show an allergic reaction with a skin test.

I thought I had heard somewhere, years ago, that the skin tests for allergens was always a pretty haphazard exercise, with many false positives. It's not something I know much about, but the results of this particular study do seem pretty surprising.

Pirates, special effects, etc

Last weekend I saw the shorts for the next Pirates of the Caribbean movie, which looks very spectacular indeed.

I liked the first one (although yes, it could have been shorter) but had missed the second.

Last night I watched the second one (Dead Man's Chest) on DVD and plasma. Again, a bit too long, but really hard to dislike. The scripts are quite witty and imaginative, the acting is all pitched at just the right level for this kind of film, and the central character of Jack Sparrow is a great creation. (I would agree, though, that the plots are a bit too complicated for their own good.)

But the thing that keeps impressing most about the films is their absolutely exquisite look. They're expensive movies to make, but all the money is up there on the screen, with ravishing locales and extremely photogenic pirate ships, and some amazing costumes and creatures.

The second instalment is particularly big on the special effects, and while I was watching, it struck me how I have become underwhelmed by computer generated stuff in some movies, but not others. For example, I agreed wholeheartedly with the Village Voice's critic when he called George Lucas' style in the last 3 Star Wars movies "baroque nerdism". I also never feel impressed by any movie where armies of thousands are shown swarming likes ants across a field (think Lord of the Rings, but also "Troy".)

It's actually kind of difficult to explain why some special effects leave me cold, and other's don't. I mean, it's clearly the case that a giant Kraken attacking a pirate ship is not real; yet to me it looked cool and convincing. But a shot were a hundred people are made to look like 10,000, or hundreds of little spaceships are zooming around big ones: well that just looks too easy now.

I think it just has something to do with an effect blending in with an already spectacular background, rather than it being clear that all of the background has been created in a computer. (Maybe that still doesn't explain why I don't like the ant armies of LOTR.) Also, in the shorts for the last Pirate instalment, there are many shots of ships swirling around a giant whirlpool of water which looked cool to me, but it may be that the entire thing is fake; I don't know, and (more importantly) I don't care.

For whatever reason, I get much pleasure from watching the Pirates movies effects, which truly are very seamless and natural looking, and will probably go see "At World's End" at the cinema.

Boys overboard

More on Bastard Boys...

So that explains it. I had briefly noticed the report somewhere yesterday quoting Corrigan saying "John Howard personally signed off" on the Patrick's strategy, and thought "What!!???" I didn't have time to check its authenticity.

Now turns out it was all a big mistake: Combet said it, not Corrigan. Well, that explains why Rudd & Co were not giving media conferences yesterday.

And today, we get a full critique of the show from Chris Corrigan. I think it did seem that Combet was the one who received best treatment in the show, and Chris's criticisms seem pretty fair to me.

Like Corrigan, I disliked the soft-peddling with which the union threats were portrayed. In the second episode (which is the one I saw more of), we saw Mrs Corrigan vomit after taking a phone call at home, then stoically not telling her husband about it. Well, that's nice of her, but why not let the audience in on how bad the threat was to make her puke?

I also wondered about why the heavy connection between unionism and sex. I suppose capitalists are just too busy improving the world to have much time for it.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Lovelock lite

FT.com / Arts & Weekend - Lunch with the FT: James Lovelock

This recent article about a lunch with James Lovelock is a pleasant read; he sounds a jolly fellow despite his predictions of likely global calamity through climate change.

The most interesting section of this article, though, is his take on how it felt to be young during WWII, and the fact that he is pragmatic about procreation:

Part of Lovelock’s optimism springs from having experienced the second world war as a young man. ”Every man and woman in the street knew something nasty was up ahead. But the politicians just had their Munichs. Peace in our time. Many of us were sceptical, we thought something pretty awful was going to happen, but when it did happen, everybody suddenly grew happier, they found that instead of life being somewhat aimless, as it is now, they all had very positive things to do. It was very exciting. If you were young, it didn’t seem all that bad.”

But most people would regard the war as a terrible event. ”Not those who were in it,” he says. ”I think that’s the natural way to look at it from outside, with hindsight.” In Lovelock’s view, climate change ought to be treated as a new war.

Should people carry on having children, if the world that awaits them is so full of horrors? ”Oh, yes. Dash it all, if our ancestors long back faced with similar things hadn’t had children, we wouldn’t be here at all. That’s why I’m not a pessimist.”

He also hates wind power for its aesthetics, and is pro-nuclear. What a sensible man.

Pick someone else for your defence

Legislating against lies is a half-baked idea

I was surprised to see from a Laurie Oakes column that high profile barrister (and continual Howard government critic) Julian Burnside had said something as stupid as this:

Prominent barrister Julian Burnside will have a lot of people cheering his latest idea. "I suggest we introduce a law that makes it an offence for politicians to lie," he told the Future Conference in Melbourne...

As Laurie says:

A major problem with this is defining just what constitutes a lie.

Burnside, for example, says: "The big turnaround on climate change in the past six months is just the best demonstration that they (the government) have been lying up to now."

Patent nonsense. The government's changed attitude may simply demonstrate that politicians are capable of being persuaded to change their minds by logical argument and an accumulation of evidence.

Burnside's slipshod use of the word "lie" is just typical of the Left in the last 10 years, especially when it comes to the question of the justification for the invasion of Iraq.

The rockets keep coming

Hamas threatens to fire more Kassams | Jerusalem Post

18 Israelis are injured (one seriously) as a result of more rockets coming from Gaza onto Sderot. One theory for the attack is revenge for a Palestinian killed near the security fence. Another theory:

Defense officials, however, said the attack was most likely connected to the ongoing internal clashes between Fatah and Hamas inside Gaza that killed at least 15 Palestinians Tuesday.

According to the officials, the Hamas attack was an attempt to draw attention away from their slaying of eight Fatah security officers earlier in the day and was meant to provoke Israel into invading Gaza, a move that would end the internal fighting and unite Fatah and Hamas against their common Israeli enemy.

Sound plausible, and if true would confirm that Palestinians are the neighbours from hell. (So to speak - not speaking literally, you know.)

And I thought real estate agents were bad here

Los Angeles Times: LA Land Blog

It would appear from the above article that real estates agents in the US usually make a 6% commission.

That seems extraordinarily high compared to Queensland - where there is a statutory limit of 5% for the first $18,000, and 2.5% of the balance purchase price. In theory it is supposed to be negotiable, but in reality very few agents will do it for less.

A successful agent in the US must have quite an income. Good agents here don't do so bad.

Intriguing idea

A Two-Time Universe? Physicist Explores How Second Dimension of Time Could Unify Physics Laws

Hey, I don't understand what it really means, but this is the first time I have ever heard that anyone is working on the unification of the laws of physics by proposing an additional (hidden) dimension of time. (Unseen extra dimensions of space are part and parcel of string theory, but it works on one dimension of time.)

I will have to wait for some popular science journal to give a more detailed explanation.

Green mush not so good

Research says boiling broccoli ruins its anti-cancer properties

In this study, the scientist types bought a bunch of vegetables:

...(broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cauliflower and green cabbage) from a local store and transported them to the laboratory within 30 minutes of purchasing. The effect of cooking on the glucosinolate content of vegetables was then studied by investigating the effects of cooking by boiling, steaming, microwave cooking and stir-fry.

Boiling appeared to have a serious impact on the retention of those important glucosinolate within the vegetables. The loss of total glucosinolate content after boiling for 30 minutes was: broccoli 77%, Brussel sprouts 58%, cauliflower 75% and green cabbage 65%.


I think I have spotted a flaw in the research: who boils broccoli for 30 minutes anyway? Only people who don't have teeth to eat their dinner, I suspect.

Anyway, the other methods of cooking investigated resulted in a much more of the anti-cancer compounds being left in. No surprises there.

Good news or not - you decide

Global Warming - North Atlantic Current - Scientists Back Off Theory of a Colder Europe in a Warming World - New York Times

The headline there says it all - but here's more detail from the article:

Mainstream climatologists who have feared that global warming could have the paradoxical effect of cooling northwestern Europe or even plunging it into a small ice age have stopped worrying about that particular disaster, although it retains a vivid hold on the public imagination...

Not only is northern Europe warming, but every major climate model produced by scientists worldwide in recent years has also shown that the warming will almost certainly continue.

“The concern had previously been that we were close to a threshold where the Atlantic circulation system would stop,” said Susan Solomon, a senior scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “We now believe we are much farther from that threshold, thanks to improved modeling and ocean measurements. The Gulf Stream and the North Atlantic Current are more stable than previously thought.”

I sort of liked the irony of global warming causing Europe to turn to ice. But now I will just have to settle for wine production in Scotland and Norway, or some such.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Hitchens profiled

Profiles: He Knew He Was Right: The New Yorker

I don't know if it was available on their website before now, but for whatever reason I had not previously read this very lengthy profile of Christopher Hitchens from the New Yorker last year. It's a fascinating read.

He turned up talking to Phillip Adams on Late Night Live last week, and they appear to still be friends, which surprised me somewhat. Maybe a mutual dislike of the concept of God is enough to paper over the differences.

About Geoengineering

Climate Feedback: Sunshades

Nature has a blog about climate change now; I must add it to my blogroll.

The link above is to an entry about geoengineering, and its politics. It also has a link to a full Nature feature on the topic. I don't know how long that will be available: News@Nature stories disappear really quickly.

Magnetic field leaving?

Space weather | Look down, look up, look out! | Economist.com

It's a little worrying that the earth seems to be on the way to losing its magnetic protection from solar and other radiation for an unknown period of time:

Just when the magnetic field will flip is impossible to predict from what is known at the moment; the best guess is that there are still several centuries to go. Nor is it clear how long its protective shield will be down. (The record in the rocks is little help, since a geological eyeblink represents many human lifetimes.)

As it has happened many times since life evolved, it's not as if it is going to sterilise the planet. But the possible effects of it on human life seem not to be well understood.

Reason to worry

Atomic Agency Concludes Iran Is Stepping Up Nuclear Work - New York Times

From the article:

Inspectors are concerned that Iran has declined to answer a series of questions, posed more than a year ago, about information the agency received from a Pakistani nuclear engineer, Abdul Qadeer Khan. Of particular interest is a document that shows how to design the collision of two nuclear spheres — something suitable only for producing a weapon....

“They are at the stage where they are doing one cascade a week,” said one diplomat familiar with the analysis of Iran’s activities, who declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the information. A “cascade” has 164 centrifuges, and experts say that at this pace, Iran could have 3,000 centrifuges operating by June — enough to make one bomb’s worth of material every year. Tehran may, the diplomat said, be able to build an additional 5,000 centrifuges by the end of the year, for a total of 8,000.

Hairpiece Theatre Company presents...

I didn't see all that much of Bastard Boys. In what I did see, I found myself continually distracted by watching the attempts at re-creating Corrigan, Combet and (most of all) Kelty's hair styles. Maybe this could only have been avoided by something radical, like doing the equivalent of a "modern dress" version of Shakespeare. Yes, a "modern hair" version of the dispute.

In my other commentary (based on seeing only about a third of the show, so that I can annoy people by criticising something I haven't fully seen):

* Michael Duffy's criticism that Corrigan was shown as a loner was pretty correct. There barely seemed to be office staff around him, let alone advisers. Yet I heard the makers say he did co-operate with the writers with a 5 hour interview. He apparently hasn't seen or commented on the final product.

* It seemed, as a drama, too "bitty" and episodic, without a good dramatic structure. It jumped between snippets of court room advocacy, some (fictionalised) personal bits of fluff irrelevant to the story overall, and some parts that didn't really add anything significant. (I had forgotten about Corrigan's brother's involvement, but really, it still didn't feel important to the story overall.)

* Interestingly, Phillip Adams reports that Bill Kelty was not interviewed by the makers and is very upset about the way his role was portrayed. I heard on the radio that Greg Combet, on the other hand, told the makers that it was "just like being there."

* The whole thing suffered from Australian drama's usual small scale: most of the time the waterfront blockade looked like it was manned by about 20 -30 blokes. (I assume it was more like hundreds.) Is there some problem with getting extras to appear for free in this country? Films and TV here so often looks like it needs more busy-ness in the background just to look real.

* I remain very dubious about this whole type of exercise: letting dramatists illustrate recent history. I would much prefer to see a decent, detailed documentary attempted if the protagonists are still around.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Washing the world's buttocks

Toto hoping Americans will warm to bidet-toilet | The Japan Times Online

Toto, the Japanese company that makes its most popular bidet-toilet, plans to expand into the American market. According to the article:
Toto's bidet-toilet first gained public attention with a landmark TV commercial in 1982, which carried a promotion phrase: "Buttocks, too, want to be washed."
Somehow, I think the US advertising agencies are going to have to come up with something better than that.

By co-incidence, I recently noticed an advertisement in a Brisbane newspaper for a Hyundai brand toilet bidet. I have found this Bidet Shop website about them. The copy seems not exactly written by a native English speaker, and one claim in particular is new to me:
With the push of a button the HYUNDAI Bidet toilet seat will gently clean you and depending on which model you require, will perform many other functions, a few being dry and massage, that will leave you thinking "why didn't I have a HYUNDAI Bidet years ago."
What exactly does the Hyundai toilet bidet massage??

The Bidet Shop website also gets, well, more than a little carried away with its "health issues" page. (I don't think I can link directly to that page, you have to use the navigation button on the left of their main page). Believe me, it is well worth visiting, to read stuff like this:
In more than a few ads for bidets, doctors claim the device may even prevent colon cancer, but we have found no study so far that substantiates that. Despite the lack of hard data, it seems reasonable that just the thought of a device that might prevent surgeons from one day removing a substantial portion of your rectum would create a frenzied run on bidets.
It is accompanied by a photo of surgery, presumably of someone having their rectum removed because they failed to buy a toilet bidet.

How could an ad agency improve on that?

Offset scams

Carbon offset cash-in questioned - New Scientist Environment

From the article:

The market in carbon offsets, which allows companies to invest in renewable energy as a way of mitigating their own greenhouse gas emissions - almost doubled in 2006 to $5 billion, the World Bank said on 2 May. According to a recent report in the London-based Financial Times, some of that money is going to oil companies that are simply pumping CO2 into oilfields to extract more oil. They would have done this anyway, so profits from selling the credits go straight into company coffers, with no benefit to new carbon-saving schemes.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

A busy life, and a movie review of sorts

Less frequent posting lately is largely due to very busy work and home life. I am not sure why, but there also just seem to be fewer stories around at the moment which I feel inspired to comment on. I don't think I have had a significant break in blogging since I was on holiday a year ago; maybe that is part of the problem.

Anyway, when I feel like this for a few days, usually it's suddenly followed by a day with a half dozen stories that I want to comment on. Life is like that.

A free ticket that had to be used led me to see Spiderman 3 over the weekend. I am no fan of superhero films generally, but like David Stratton, I think the Spiderman franchise is the best of the genre. Toby Maguire is a large part of this: he does have a degree of charisma which is not evident in most of today's young Hollywood actors. (As I have said before, in the 1980's there seemed to be a pool of reliable, likeable actors who generally chose material that was worth seeing. When that group aged out of their prime by the mid 1990's, the group of younger stars following them just didn't seem to have any similar charm.) Kirsten Dunst does alright in her role too, but I must admit there is something about her face that makes it entirely forgettable for me from movie to movie.

Spiderman 3 is enjoyable. The story bounces around a bit (there is plenty of criticism that it tries to fit in too many characters and plot lines,) but it is never dull, and the way it all comes together by the end was pretty satisfying. It's not afraid to be a little silly, and the theme about not getting consumed by revenge was dealt with in a way which felt more convincing than it did in, say, any Star Wars movie after The Empire Strikes Back. That George Lucas didn't like it is sour grapes. His last three movies show how bad he is at making characters feel real. (He didn't even write or direct the pinnacle of the Star Wars series - Empire Strikes Back.) There is no such problem with the protagonist of the Spiderman series.

The movie is effectively the end of a trilogy, and it is a little hard to see where Spiderman 4 is going to go, especially in terms of the Mary-Jane relationship. I think the next movie is going to have to leave that right out, as to continue dwelling on its difficulties would be mean. I assume that superhero-dom will not allow for married domesticity, even though it could interest me.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Holidays in New Guinea off the agenda

Human sacrifice cult battles with police - Telegraph

From the article:

Commander Augustine Wampe, of Morobe police, said a helicopter carrying a mobile squad of anti-riot officers had been dispatched to the area following reports of murders in which victims were beheaded and their heads impaled on stakes.

Some of the heads were then allegedly paraded around a village. “The reported activities of the people point to cult activity,” Cdr Wampe told The National newspaper.

Watch out

Oral sex can cause throat cancer - 09 May 2007 - New Scientist

From the article:

The new findings should encourage people to consistently use condoms during oral sex as this could protect against HPV, the team says.

That's going to go over well with groups such as American teens, for whom this activity presumably carries the benefit of requiring no contraception. Gay men won't like it either, and I think it is safe to assume that this is one warning that will have little effect on behaviour.

How to annoy Andrew Bolt

News Corp carbon neutral by 2010 | NEWS.com.au Business

Andrew has already noted this.

Scary justice in Japan

Coerced confessions: Justice derailed in Japan - International Herald Tribune

Do try and avoid being a suspect in Japan.

Everything you never wanted in kid's TV

Palestinian TV uses Mickey Mouse to promote resistance | Guardian Unlimited

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Short budget comment

Costello provides vision beyond the pork-barrelling - Editorial - Opinion

If even The Age has an editorial with a heading like that approving of the Budget, it can't be a bad one.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

One for every backyard

Clean Energy / Infinia Corporation

With funding for solar power expected to be increased in tonight's budget, I wonder whether home based solar thermal will ever become much of an option. I quite like the look of the system at the link above, which is still (unfortunately) not yet on the market.

I am a little dubious about solar cells on the roof because of their limited life, and the danger from hail storms. I am guessing that a solar thermal system may be more easily repaired if it suffers storm damage.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Proof of cold fusion?

DailyTech - Navy Heats Up Cold Fusion Hopes

There's no indication that the type of could fusion allegedly shown here will end up being useful, but it would still be good to see an idea that has been so attacked by other scientists proved true.

On other blogs...

1. Probably everyone who reads me also reads Tim Blair. Still, I think that in his most recent post he comes up with up his funniest line for a long time (after quoting from the NYT):
The children are all too familiar with the apocalyptic warnings of climate change. “A lot of people are going to die” from global warming, a 9-year-old girl from Harlem announced at one point. And a 7-year-old boy from Park Slope said with a quiet lisp, “When you use too much electricity, it kills animals.”
Well, it does if you hook up the electrodes right.
2. Andrew Bolt has a good post on the pessimism of science fiction, brought on by recently re-watching Blade Runner. His conclusion:
Yes, it’s only a film, but it also fits a pattern of imagining of our future.

We actually wind up not much different in our wants, and not less vigilant on the whole against threats, than is often feared. We remain in the West extremely inventive, and driven more by the wishes of the public than the demands of the leaders.

That probably explains why artists and “seers” so often get us wrong, and imagine us becoming in time so much gloomier, oppressed, bullied, atrophied and poor than we inevitably and eventually turn out. In reminding us of this, Blade Runner is a comfort.

True. I also have heard Orwell's 1984 being read on Radio National recently, while I have been driving around town. It reminded me how much I disliked that book, both from a stylistic point of view (I think it is plain awful writing,) and for its ridiculous over-reach in the dystopia it paints. By taking aspects of totalitarianism, which were bad enough in their current form when Orwell wrote, and then exaggerating them wildly with an imagined technology which is still off the mark, combined with a way of writing characters which robbed them of any realistic humanity, the effect became that I just could not take it seriously. (Even with a one child policy, did China develop an "Anti-sex League"? )

3. Zoe Brain has brought to my attention the very enjoyable site Paleo-Future, which seems devoted entirely to looking at how the future has been imagined in the past. (I think it has been mentioned at Boing Boing before, but maybe I didn't follow the link.) I love this sort of stuff, growing up as I did in the (generally) optimistic 1960's, and expect to visit there regularly.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

More icky moments in medical history...

Found via Arts & Letters Daily, there's book out called "Impotence - a Cultural History". In the Daily Telegraph review, there's an amusing list of odd impotence cures through history. One that I found odd because it is so specific is this:

...according to Ovid the "right molar of a small crocodile worn as an amulet guarantees erection in men".

Not just any crocodile molar, evidently, but the one on the right. How did the ancients come up with some of this stuff?

The other link from Arts & Letters is to an extract from the book itself, from which one can read a little about early experiments in testicular transplant:

The first experiment in grafting an entire testicle was performed by Dr. G. Frank Lydston on himself, on January 16, 1914. Expressing his disappointment that vulgar prejudices heretofore had prevented the exploitation of the sex glands of the dead, Lydston coolly reported how he transplanted into his own scrotum a suicide victim’s testicle. [p. 186]

L. L. Stanley, resident physician of the California state prison in San Quentin, reported in 1922 that he had first implanted testicles from executed convicts and then moved on to inject into his subjects via a dental syringe solutions of goat, ram, boar, and deer testicles. Altogether he made 1000 injections into 656 men. Stanley had been inspired by work of Serge Voronoff, an eminent Russian-born medical scientist working at the Coll├ęge de France. Voronoff in 1919 scandalized many by transplanting the testes of chimpanzees into men. He asserted that “marked psychical and sexual excitation” typically resulted, followed by a resurgence of memory, energy and “genital functions.” [pp. 186-7]

I am sure I have heard of experiments with ground up animal testes before, but I don't recall reading about whole chimp testes bit.

I guess there was little resembling ethics committees in those days.

A good reason to avoid diabetes...

Turns out that diabetic's foot ulcers, even those with antibiotic resistant staph infections, do well with maggot treatment. There's an unpleasant photo of the maggots in action on someone's foot at the linked article.

Adams confirms his philosopher of choice

Scott Adams has a funny post in which he explains that he has discovered he is a follower of Spinoza. His reaction on reading about him on Wikipedia:

Holy cow! My opinions match Spinoza’s perfectly. It turns out that being ignorant is almost exactly like being a well-read student of philosophy who can quote from the work of the masters. How lucky is that?

The rest of the post is fun too. He's quite a wit, although I have noticed that the topic of bestiality seems to appear with unwelcome frequency on his blog.

A small triumph for a woman in Saudi Arabia

BBC NEWS From Our Own Correspondent | The first woman to swim in Saudi

Interesting.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Womb fights

It's an unusual event for me to be agreeing with Alan Ramsey, but his take on Bill Heffernan's revived comments on Julia Gillard seem about right. (Of course, by the end of his article, Ramsey is off on a bit of Keating admiration, and my disapproval of this sets the world right again.)

Despite Bill's clumsy way of putting it (I suspect that about 75% of the problem was the use of the word "barren,") as an issue I still think it is pretty fascinating to watch the modern feminist reaction to this.

As I noted in an earlier post, Julia Gillard seems to have expressed an attitude of "you can't have it all" as her reason for not having children. Isn't this a pretty dramatic, and quite conservatively aligned, change of attitude from the school of feminism that insists that society needs to be arranged so that women can do family and work at once?

Even though she supports Julia, if I were a female politician with children, I certainly can't see that I would be treating Tracee Hutchison as an ally. Maybe you can read Gillard as simply meaning that no one can easily be a mother and federal politician. (In her quote linked at my previous post, she made the point that male politicians only manage because they leave the mother at home to look after the kids. But even that overlooks the fact that some female politicians do manage by having a stay at home father.) Maybe Julia's comments are limited to her own assessment of her own abilities? (Well, I don't think that is right, but I am just looking at all possible spin you can place on it). But Tracee takes the argument to a whole new level:

Gillard's supposition that she couldn't have done babies and politics simultaneously — and done justice to both — should be given the respectful consideration it deserves...

Do you know the people who'll be thinking most about your comments, Senator Heffernan? Women who don't have children, that's who.

Clearly the senator, and many like him, have never considered that women without children probably spend more time thinking about the consequences of choices and the dynamics of society than people who spend their lives flying around the country on parliamentary salaries or up to their elbows in nappy buckets and vomit.

Conversations about nappy buckets and birth choices do not a society make.

Ask a woman with kids how much she thinks family dominates the structure of her life and she'll tell you it occupies most of her waking hours, even if she's juggling a career around it. She won't have given much thought to it, mind you; it's just how it is and she hasn't got time for musing anyway.

Um, doesn't this seem to be saying that it is obvious that women with children have no time to think deeply about anything, apart from what to cook for dinner tonight? What are those mothers doing as politicians then?

One suspect's that Tracee's reaction may be based on her very personal reaction to how other women, and men, react to her as (I assume?) a childless woman:

...ask a woman without kids how often she feels like an outsider looking in on a world she can't connect with and she will have some real insight into the way society functions. Particularly the way it reflects the status of women...

Sounds to me like she has lost a friend or two after they've gone off and joined the world of motherhood. (I could be wrong, of course, and misreading her completely.)

Tracee also seems to hate the way parties like to support families:

Despite John Howard's and Peter Costello's attempts to distance themselves from their wayward senator's latest spray, they are the culprits of turning the family values mantra into political paydirt and their imminent budget sweeteners to families will reinforce it.

Forget about the clever country we once aspired to be, we've become the conception country.

Somehow, I don't the Labor campaign is going to keep her happy either.

Friday, May 04, 2007

The creepy side of Japan

Photos of preteen girls in thongs now big business | The Japan Times Online

What this article says is quite true - if you go to Akihabara in Tokyo, which most visitors do to look through the vast world of consumer electric goods - there are also stores selling magazines and DVDs which, by the cover, clearly are about underage girls in various states of undress.

That Japan tolerates this seems pretty remarkable. As the article indicates, it's not that it doesn't have child porn laws, it seems just to lack the will to enforce them.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Hitchens on Hitchens (and other stuff)

Go here for a short, half amusing, half serious, interview with Christopher H.

Labor knows how to recruit

Rudd's star recruit is raising eyebrows - Opinion - smh.com.au

A very funny opening to this SMH article:
LEADERSHIP, women and sport aren't often seen together. Sometimes when they are, the different worlds collide spectacularly. Take Nicole Cornes, the very blonde wife of Graham Cornes, a legendary South Australian AFL footballer. She remarked yesterday, after her awkward press conference announcing she would be the Labor candidate for the federal Liberal seat of Boothby had been splashed across the front page, that "first thing in the morning when you wake up, you think, oh God, I should have had my eyebrows waxed".
And if I can be allowed to be exceedingly shallow for a moment, has anyone else thought that Peter Garrett's face recently is looking more gaunt and, well, scarier than ever? Compare this photo with this one. (Actually, I don't know how recent the second one is, but if he doesn't smile, he looks pretty crook.)

A gift for pun writers

TV ban is hard cheese for dairymen-News-Politics-TimesOnline

Apparently, England has banned cheese advertisements from children's TV, because it is deemed to be high in fat and salt. (I thought it was also good for teeth and an important source of calcium, but there you go.)

Naturally, cheese makers are not happy:

A survey published in The Grocer magazine, of 100 senior people in the dairy industry, confirmed that the overwhelming view was that cheese is under siege.

Only 2 per cent believed that the Government was supportive of the cheese industry while 52 per cent said that it was actively “anticheese”.

What foods can they advertise on kid's TV, I wonder. Green salad? As a fan of cheese (in moderation) myself, I hope to see rioting in the streets of London over this, and the downfall of the government.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Issues with reproductive technology

There's an interesting article at Slate about a couple of new books on the problems with assisted reproduction (IVF and other techniques).

The main current problem: the number of embryos which are often implanted has lead to a large rise in the number of multiple births, which tend to be bad for everyone (mothers, children and society.) There are also higher rates in IVF children of other odd medical conditions, and no one yet understands why.

The situation in Australia is summarised in a fairly recent Medical Journal of Australia article. It would seem that maybe only 30% of women here try a single embryo implant, and the rest go for double embryo transfer. This is despite the very significant health risks of having twins.

(The Slate article indicates that in America, some clinics may offer to implant 3 or even 4 embryos, which is pretty crazy really.)

I love technology, but have old fashioned views when it comes to reproduction. I can't quite reconcile how a country like Australia can have both an abortion rate of perhaps 80,000 or so per year, and around 5,000 births through IVF. There are clearly thousands of healthy embryos going to waste, while at the same time a relatively small proportion of women are going through expensive, painful and potentially dangerous treatment to have a child that stands a higher rate of illness than a naturally conceived one.

One final, slightly off the wall, point to make. I hope people have not forgotten about the 2001 study which indicated a very strong positive relationship between third party prayers and the success of IVF.

I had wondered why such a startling result was not the subject of follow up studies. However, it seems that the paper was pursued hard by a group associated with the Skeptical Inquirer, who pointed out the generally fraudulent activities of one of the authors. The skeptics attack is explained here. It is worth noting that it is based on guilt by association, rather than establishing how any fraud may actually have been done. (The skeptic's report seems also wrong where it indicates that the Journal of Reproductive Medicine removed the report from its website. It still seems to be there now, as shown by my link above.)

The skeptics also get a bit silly, I think, when they say that the head doctor of the study:

...was investigated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office for Human Subject Protections, because the researchers never got informed consent from the patients in the trial. Such misconduct is a serious violation of medical ethics and federal rules that were adopted to prevent the kind of atrocities that occurred in Nazi Germany and in the United States during the infamous Tuskeegee Syphilis Study.

Oh come on. What they were studying was something that could only have positive results if successful. Unless skeptics think that there is a risk that God punishes those hopeful women who were being prayed for, this is a pretty trivial issue, isn't it?

I would like to know if anyone else is going to do a similar study, but Googling has not brought up any quick answer to that.

If it was confirmed, it would certainly indicate that, if nothing else, God seems to like babies.

A problem with Starbucks

Bryan Appleyard has an amusing post about irritating people who effectively set up office in Starbucks. (I like the punchline especially.) Can't say that I have ever witnessed this behaviour in Brisbane, but then I don't like Starbucks and rarely visit them.

As far as I can tell, most Australians think Starbucks coffee is not great. I am no great fan of the beverage, but I really like a medium size Very Vanilla Chiller from Gloria Jeans. The GJ franchise just seems a lot more relaxed and less pretentious than Starbucks, too.

Do black holes exist at all?

Could black holes be portals to other universes? - space - 27 April 2007 - New Scientist Space

I missed this last week. Seems that maybe it is hard to tell a black hole from a wormhole.

This is also relevant to the issue of micro black holes. As the article says:

And there might be a way to test the conjecture. Some physicists say that future particle accelerator experiments could produce microscopic black holes (see Atom smasher may give birth to 'Black Saturns').

Such tiny black holes would emit measurable amounts of Hawking radiation, proving that they are black holes rather than wormholes. But if Solodukhin is right, and microscopic wormholes are formed instead, no such radiation would be expected. "In that case, you would actually see if it is a black hole or a wormhole," he says.

An added benefit of wormholes is that they could resolve the so-called black hole information paradox.

Is there any safety significance to a micro wormhole being created at CERN instead of a micro black hole? I suspect not, but it would good to have someone who knows more than a blogger from Brisbane saying it.

Charming

I've complained before about the dire quality of Road to Surfdom since Tim Dunlop handed over the reigns to the likes of Ken L and Aussie Bob.

It's not that it's just anti-Howard; the name calling is offensive. Have a look at the description Aussie Bob gives to ABC newsreader Juanita Phillips in his recent comment here.

Oh yes, the Left is full of respect for women.

Dunlop himself in a post felt free to use c**t for humourous effect, and his commenters were happy to follow suit. JF Beck also had a post on his site recently showing the sophisticated level of debate that Ken L exhibits when challenged. (I might have had something to do with that...)

Anyway, my point is that it's a pathetic site that is only saved from criticism by the Left by being on the Left.

More than you ever needed to know about duck anatomy

In Ducks, War of the Sexes Plays Out in the Evolution of Genitalia - New York Times

Who knew that duck's had such strange genitalia:

Dr. Brennan, a post-doctoral researcher at Yale University and the University of Sheffield, visits the sanctuary every two weeks to measure the phalluses of six species of ducks.

When she first visited in January, the phalluses were the size of rice grains. Now many of them are growing rapidly. The champion phallus from this Meller’s duck is a long, spiraling tentacle. Some ducks grow phalluses as long as their entire body. In the fall, the genitalia will disappear, only to reappear next spring.

Not much chance of a duck hiding his interest during summer.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Mad scientist at work?

One of my ongoing duties to my embarrassingly small readership is to keep an eye on arxiv.org and report on papers that I don't understand but which still seem important, or at least entertaining.

My latest find is a topical one for Australia. The extremely prolific Russian-American scientist Alexander Bolokin has a recent paper with two novel approaches to extracting water from the air in large quantities. The paper itself, in far from perfect English, is here.

The two ideas:

1. A 3 to 5 km high (!) and 200 m wide inflatable tube is erected and supported by wire cables. Moist air is heated at the bottom, rises up through the tube (drawn up by the wind shear at the top of the open tube.) Moisture condenses at high altitude, is collected and on its way back down is used to generate electricity (through a turbine at the base, I think he means.) He also has a wind turbine at the top, although one expects that this may be rather heavy and not be good for the balance of a 3 km high inflatable tube. Solar cells on the outside of the tube get a mention too.

As I will explain below, Bolokin has a real fondness for high inflateable towers as potential tourist attractions, and this tower also has elevators and tourism built into the concept.

How much water does he think this will produce? About 224,000 Kilolitres a day. According to the Courier Mail, the south east region of Queensland was currently still using about 700 megalitres a day. So one tower does not do away with the need for rain entirely, but would make up a very reliable big percentage of daily use.

2. The second idea is to pump moist surface air through a tube beneath the sea to a depth of perhaps 30 m, where (so he says) the water temperature is 5 - 10 degrees. I assume water is then condensed out too, but the details of this method seem poorly explained compared to the big tower. Certainly, though, the engineering involved in getting air down to 30 m below sea level sound a lot less daunting than getting it up a tube 3 km high.

You can't accuse him of not thinking big, at least.

But is he making any sense at all?

One of his other recent ideas is for an inflatable space elevator filled with electron gas. His "electrostatic mast" would simply be built from the ground up, up to 36,000 km high or more. (Actually, he says that current strength materials would allow one to be built up to 500 km high; bigger ones require new material, I think.)

Bolokin notes that a feature of such a tower would be the "entertainment and observation platform", although he does not specify at what dizzying height this could be.

One other idea he mentions:

The airship from the thin film filled by an electron gas has 30% more lift force then conventional dirigible filled by helium. (2) Electron dirigible is significantly cheaper then same helium dirigible because the helium is very expensive gas. (3) One does not have problem with changing the lift force because no problem to add or to delete the electrons.

So, while he appears to have done sane enough work in past, has Bolokin jumped the shark with these ideas? Or is the future really inflatable?

Current movie dross

It's good to see Quentin Tarantino having a certified flop. His main oeuvre of ironic dark splatter fun has never appealed to me, and (dare I say it, because he does have his intelligent defenders) has always seemed to me to be the work of an immature man made primarily for immature men.

There are worse films around, though, and it always surprises me that the surge in misogynistic horror (including Australia's own recent entry - "Wolf Creek") has been attracting an audience, but little in the way of public outcry. The Guardian has a good article about this disturbing trend. You would have thought that even "third wave" feminists might have been more vocal about this, but it seems to attract very little attention, apart from the odd scathing review.

Even without the misogynistic element, I just don't get horror generally. Tension and scares are fine, enjoyable even, but a desire to see the blood and guts and body bits dismembered - what exactly is the appeal? Give me Hitchcock and a knife in the back any day over a realistic depiction of decapitation.