Friday, June 27, 2008

Random notes

* Saw Q&A last night. Tim Blair comes across as more restrained than on his blog. Greg Hunt has a truly ghastly way of smiling, and the hair style doesn't help. He badly needs a face coach, or something. Bill Shorten, on the other hand, really seemed very likeable in the more relaxed setting. I thought in the election campaign that he could be a bit dull and inflexible in one-on-one interviews, but on last night's evidence, you can really see the public warming to him as human personality and a pretty centrist sounding laborite. Much more likeable than robotic Rudd.

* Michelle Grattan has been very, very kind to Rudd in most of her assessments of this new government, so when she says he's not gone so well in the Asian diplomacy stakes, you can believe it.

* Some Labor figures are starting to talk nuclear. I suspect the swing will happen before the next election, and the Liberals will not (if they are sensible) disagree. The only problem then may be Greens in the Senate, if something legislative is needed to establish the industry.

* In the Lefty blogosphere, good to see the insults fly in comments at Club Troppo, especially when one of the targets is my vote for the most irritating blogger who keeps getting noticed: Ken Lovell.

And as many people at noticed, Kim at LP seems to have had a brain meltdown this week too. She is best ignored in 99% of cases, anyway.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Raiders of the Lost haemorrhoids

Well, the opinion sale is going slower than expected, so here's something to keep you entertained.

There's an article in Biblical Archaeology Review that is entitled "Did Captured Ark Afflict Philistines with E.D.?". The "E.D." referred to there is erectile dysfunction.

Unfortunately, the article is behind a paywall, but it would seem that the general gist is that the Bible says the Philistines suffered "tumours" after they took the Ark of the Covenant from the Jews, and some translations have interpreted this to mean haemorrhoids. But apparently this article suggests that the effect on the Philistines might more appropriately be interpreted as erectile dysfunction. God really knows how to punish those manly rampaging Philistines!

Someone comments about the story appear in this forum, and the guy makes the useful suggestion that the general idea of tumors, painful swellings or erectile dysfunction being caught from standing too close to the Ark might mean it was radioactive! This is an oddly appealing theory.

I note, however, that it didn't seem to work on Indiana Jones.

Now, get back to work.

UPDATE: here's a better explanation of the argument in the article:
The short version: 1 Samuel 5-6 recounts how the Philistines captured the Ark of the Covenant from the Israelites in battle. They took it back to Ashdod and put it in front of a statue of Dagon. The next day they found Dagon toppled. They propped it back up, but this kept happening. The hand of the LORD was heavy on the Ashdodites, and he afflicted them with [or in their] ‘opalim.

The meaning of ‘opalim is uncertain. It has traditionally been taken as hemorrhoids. The KJV renders emerods; most modern translations are squeamish about this and euphemize this as tumors or sores. The root ‘ophel is used for the upper city of ancient Jerusalem, and conveys the sense of a hill, a height or a rise, and thus a swelling. It’s kind of hard to imagine what the five golden hemorrhoids would have looked like.

But there is a theory that the ‘opalim were not hemorrhoids, but rather penises. This is driven by archaeological discovery of cultic situlae in the shape of penises, which were actually a common cultic representation in Philistia. (The print version of the article has lots of pictures.) The sense of something that rises would fit.

Someone in the comments following suggests that in fact the affliction might have been priapism!
That would be, I suppose, a particularly ironic curse for God to send upon the Philistines.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Crazy opinion sale on now!

It's End of Financial Year madness here at the Opinion Emporium! All opinions on sale at never to be repeated prices! Send money quickly for an opinion on any topic, and you'll be proud to print out my personalised response 300 times and glue each copy to your lounge room floor for that unique look that your friends are guaranteed to notice.

Need a fresh opinion next year? No problem. New opinions always available, but never at these never-to-be-repeated prices!

Hurry, opinion sale must end 30 June!

Meanwhile, posting will be light here while I deal with the influx of orders. Don't miss out: order your opinion now!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

A Colbert moment

This segment from tonight's Colbert Report seemed particularly funny:

Mini black hole safety report finally here

Backreaction: Black Holes at the LHC - The CERN Safety report

The above post at Backreaction tells us about the CERN safety report which was finally released last Friday.

I haven't had time to read it yet, but apparently, as expected, it uses the example of long lived neutron stars as the major argument as to why micro black holes could not be a danger to the earth.

This may well end up marking the official end of my concerns about this as a issue, but I should read it first. (And one immediate issue I can think of is whether you can really use the cosmological argument as a close enough analogue to the way many black holes could be created in close proximity in a short space of time at the LHC.)

For any of you who think that it has been a waste of time worrying about it in the first place, you should read what actual working physicist Bee says in her comments on the above post:
I think it is good they wrote this report and from a legal point of view I can understand that some people found the issue was not appropriately addressed. CERN should have taken these concerns more seriously earlier then it wouldn't have come so far. In this particular situation I find the argument about the black hole scenario ridiculous, but that's because it's a topic I happen to have worked on and know something about. If I consider experiments in other fields where I couldn't tell exactly what the story is, I certainly would appreciate a similar report. The new CERN report I find extremely clearly written and I hope this will suffice and be the end of this catastrophe scenario.
This is a completely different attitude, and a very welcome one, from that expressed by most physicists when lay people started asking questions. (I'm looking at you, the guys at Cosmic Variance.)

Success for fish lovers everywhere

Barrier Reef 'no-take' zones see leap in fish numbers - New Scientist Environment

The large no fish zones which the Howard government introduced appear to be working, at least for delicious coral trout.

Good to see Howard's environmental policies working. Three cheers for conservative governments! Hip hip..

Toxoplasma research

Indiana U scientists uncover potential key to better drugs to fight toxoplasmosis parasite

I know I am probably the only Australian blogger who obsesses about toxoplasma gondii and its evil cat hosts, but someone has to do it.

Anyway, there is research going on that might lead to a vaccine. Good. The mind bending parasite might be defeated yet.

Monday, June 23, 2008


As you can see, a process of fiddling with my template has begun. I think I can go back to the old one if I want to.

I don't like HTML.


Ferguson 'an effective blowtorch', says Caltex boss

This would have to be one of the most unusually phrased compliments a politician has ever received:

However Caltex chief Des King has defended the Minister, saying Mr Ferguson may have made his case behind closed doors.

"I met with [Mr Ferguson] personally many times, and he can be a very effective blowtorch," he said.

Christian China?

Late Night Live - 19June2008 - John Micklethwait: The Economist and globalisation

While we're gazing into the future, I only caught a bit at the end of the interview that you can hear at the above link.

John Mickethwait said that he had been in China recently, and the home church movement was massive. He expects that by (I think) the middle of this century, China could have the largest number of Christians of any nation.

I think I am recalling the details correctly. Phillip Adams was surprised at this suggestion, as was I.

Dooming men to unhappiness

Indian girl-boy ratios at 'all-time low': British charity

This article talks about the continuing massive disproportion of boys to girls in India. (All due to gender selection in abortions.)

It's hard to imagine that in 20 years time the current crop of boys are going to sanguine about this, when there will clearly be huge numbers of them simply incapable of finding a wife (or even girlfriend.)

Sunday, June 22, 2008

The things you can buy on the internet today...

Ready, steady, grow: athletes turn to Viagra - Times Online

Athletes may be using Viagra as an on field performance enhancing drug:
Experts believe that Viagra, which dilates blood vessels, could help in events requiring explosive power, such as sprinting. Others suggest it could help endurance – not so much marathon sex sessions as marathon running – particularly at high altitude or in polluted conditions, such as those expected at the Beijing Olympics. The drug is believed to aid the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to muscles.
How close in time to the race do they have to take it? And has there yet been a case where a guy who has taken it has had problems with the unintended side effect? It's not actually banned right now, by the way.

The article also notes:
Meanwhile, British officials are taking action to prevent athletes fooling dope testers by using false penises when giving urine samples. The penises, and untainted urine, are widely available on the internet.
Ah, the old false penis full of clean urine in the underpants trick. How to fight this:
Doping control officers have been given strict guidelines that athletes must be observed and their bodies visible from the stomach to the knees when they produce urine specimens.
I assume that paruresis can be a career threatening condition for athletes.

For those curious about the "readily available" fake urine test penis kits, you might be amused by the comments about the new and improved "Whizzinator" here, but the photo of the product makes it NOT SUITABLE FOR WORK. Here's a section:
By implementing a hidden internal check-valve, the act of urination is so realistic that even a direct observer will not be able to detect that it is in-fact simulated. There is no fumbling around with obvious switches or clamps. This eliminates a big problem associated with the original Whizzinator which has an on/off switch that is very audible and very obvious!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Hydrogen car scepticism

Technology Review: Blogs: The Last Car You Would Ever Buy--Literally

Sounds like some pretty good arguments being put in that post about why hydrogen fuelled cars of any variety are not a good idea.

Chick lit from Saudi Arabia

Sex and the Saudi girl - Times Online

Here's an interesting story on a 25 year Saudi author who has written Arabic version of "chick lit". This section is a little surprising:
When her book hits the shelves in Britain this week, western readers will get a peek at what’s going on behind the veils and under the burqas. Disappointingly, the scenes are not too dissimilar to a western hen party: bitching, belly dancing and gossiping about men. The atmosphere seems far from warm and sisterly. Girls obsess about bodies and eye each others’ “front bumpers” and “back bumpers” with envy.

You’d think that one advantage of being forced to cover up in public would be a freedom from a looks-fixated culture. Yet these women want nose jobs, they want liposuction, they want gym-honed booties and are highly competitive with it. In modern Riyadh it seems that hell isn’t other people, hell is other women.

“Women want to look good for themselves, not just for men,” says Alsanea. “All women show off to one another and like wearing designer clothes. I’m not showing a whole new world. In a lot of respects Saudi women are just like everyone else.”

The glowing pony, and other physics news

'Abundant health from radioactive waste' -

Physics World notes a recent paper prompting radiation hormesis (the idea, supported by at least some studies, that exposure to just the right low levels of radiation is actually good for you.)

The paper comes up with some novel suggestions:
In his paper, Luckey goes so far as to suggest that schools be built "in used nuclear power plants", and children be given sculptures that are impregnated with nuclear waste to boost their exposure to radiation (and their health). He does caution, "However, children should not ride [sculptures of] radioactive ponies for more than a few minutes every day".
Yet another reason to go nuclear!

Also on the Physics World blog, they have an update on the suspiciously under-reported recent Japanese demonstration of what might be a form of cold fusion, and an article pointing out that Canada is building another couple of nuclear reactors.

We seem to be slipping well behind the technology stakes when even Canada has more of a nuclear industry than us.

Bad review news

Wow. Mike Myer's new movie, The Love Guru, is getting some really savage reviews. Dana Stevens at Slate has a pretty good opening paragraph:
There are good movies. There are bad movies. There are movies so bad they're good (though, strangely, not the reverse). And once in a while there is a movie so bad that it takes you to a place beyond good and evil and abandons you there, shivering and alone. Watching The Love Guru (Paramount Pictures) is a spiritual experience of a sort, but not the sort that its creator and star, Mike Myers, intended. This tale of a guru who brings joy to all who meet him is the most joy-draining 88 minutes I've ever spent outside a hospital waiting room. In the course of those long minutes, Myers leads you on a journey deep inside himself, to the source from whence his comedy springs—and it's about as much fun as a tour of someone's large intestine.
The Happening has received reviews nearly as bad. How does M Night Shyamalan keep getting funding for his films (and big movie stars to appear in them?)

Both he and Myers show what can happen when creative control is centred for too long in one person.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Conservatives go Prius

Roger L. Simon: I did the Prius thing

Conservative climate change agnostic Roger Simon got himself a Prius recently. When you read the comments, you'll see that the car seems to have quite a following amongst his conservative-ish readers.

I'm a little surprised: more than one says that they have found best fuel efficiency on long highway drives. I thought that was were they were known to be at their worst, but these are actual drivers who have the experience.

I see that the Toyota Australian website claims a Prius gets 4.4L/100km.

Tim Blair recently was talking up the diesel sipping Hyundai he took for a spin, but you would have to take into account that diesel is more expensive here than unleaded. In terms of cost, I suspect the Prius may still come out on top for a similar trip.

Nice one, Phil

Two women found guilty over euthanasia |

So, a couple of women who supplied a fatal dose of Nembutal to a man who had moderate-to-advanced Alzheimer's disease have been found guilty of manslaughter.

(How could it be manslaughter instead of murder, I wonder. The jury found that it was an unintended death?)

Anyhow, the main point of the post is the hysterical and irresponsible comments of Dr Philip Nitschke, who as usual (seems you just can't keep him away from someone who wants to die,) was involved in this:
Dr Nitschke said his organisation, Exit International, would now change the way it advises people with Alzheimer's.

"Any sign of Alzheimer's disease and you're going to lose any option for anyone to help you, and anyone who does dare to help you had better look carefully behind their shoulders because they could be facing a murder charge," he said.

"Many people said this person knew what he was doing. I thought he knew what he was doing. Yet they base it on the medical evidence that he had lost his ability to make a decision, that he had lost his ability to say whether he could die or not.

"We'll be advising people not to (declare they have Alzheimer's).

"Don't go to your doctor. Don't have the tests done. And if you do have the tests done that show that you're starting to lose mental capacity, make sure it is not recorded."
Just how irresponsible can you get? He's a doctor, telling people not to see a doctor if they are worried that they might have early signs of Alzheimer's. No mediation for those who might benefit from it, then. All because they want to reserve their ability to top themselves later with less risk of legal complications.

His enthusiasm for euthansia trumps best medical practice, clearly.

Mile high club

Mile-high tower wars: How tall is too tall? - Features, Art & Architecture - The Independent

An interesting article here about a 1.6 km high skyscraper to be built at Jeddah in Saudi Arabia.

According to the article, it will cost $5 billion. I would have thought it could be more than that.

Such projects raise mixed emotions in me. I like anything high tech, and this building is so far ahead of anything else, it'll be fascinating just to see if they can make it work.

On the other hand, it's hard to believe anyone wants to live that high above the ground, especially in Saudi Arabia, which is not exactly on most people's "must see" list of destinations.
It seems to have "white elephant" written all over it.

A promising Pixar

Introducing WALL-E, a silent movie star - Times Online

Early impressions of the latest Pixar are very positive, according to this article.

Not a bad summer season of films it seems, especially for those who like entertainment you can take the whole family to.

Attack of the cutes

Just so that this blog can't be accused of being too depressing lately, here's an attack of the cutes (and I don't even like cats):

(The second half is funnier than the first half.)

Deep sea CO2

There have been a few articles in The Guardian about sending CO2 to the deep ocean. It has certain advantages over pumping it underground, and the fate of such CO2 is more complicated than I realised:

First, in order to ensure that the injected CO2 has adequate time to mix throughout the deep sea, injection should be at depths greater than 3,500 metres - that is, the depth below which "liquid" CO2 becomes more dense than sea water.

Experiments conducted by Peter Brewer, of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, not only confirm that this is the case but also demonstrate that the CO2 injected rapidly reacts with sea water to form a solid clathrate, which is more dense than both liquid CO2 and sea water. Hence, the injected CO2 would end up on the sea floor as a slush. This would gradually dissolve, releasing the CO2 to the surrounding sea water, where it would react with the dissolved carbonate and borate ions to become chemically bound in the form of bicarbonate ion. As the concentration of carbonate and borate ions is small, the neutralisation would take place gradually as the CO2-rich sea water mixed into the surroundings.

But how much can you fit in the Pacific Ocean?:
Broecker says 480bn tonnes of carbon dioxide could be safely dumped directly into the waters of the deep Pacific, equivalent to the carbon pollution from about 16 years of the world's current fossil fuel use.
Not that much, really. And some say that it would increase the acidity of the deep ocean, which as we all know, may not be a great idea.

Just go back to nuclear sounds a much better option.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

You should read this

Regular readers know that I keep referring to the worrying theory that the great mass extinctions in earth's pre-history are connected with high atmospheric CO2, and its effect on ocean chemistry. The Scientific American article which first brought this to my attention said that the great extinctions seemed to be associated with CO2 levels of just under 1000 ppm. That's a fair way from where we are now, but still within sight of a century or so of current CO2 increases.

However, there's now a paper here, found via the Ocean Acidification blog, which suggests that maybe the "unifying theory" for mass extinctions is a CO2 level that specifically interferes with the operation of a particular enzyme. The biology is a little complicated, but the big concern with this theory is that severe trouble for the ocean environment may actually start at only 560ppm CO2. That could easily be reached by the middle of this century.

It's not too hard to read the full paper (in .pdf format), and it is well worth the effort. The implications for the future are set out towards the end. I'll put it here in full, and break it up a bit to make it easier to read:
Over the next century, if anthropogenic CO2 emissions proceed at the rates predicted by the IPCC scenarios (IPCC, 2001), then the identified pCO2 threshold concentration of 560 ppmv may be exceeded as early as 2050 (Fig. 3). Whilst the direct climatic impacts of this overshoot remain difficult to quantify with certainty, simple extrapolation of the central tenets of the urease hypothesis suggests that there is little doubt regarding the disruption and mass mortality that it will initiate within organisms that are heavily reliant upon the urease enzyme.

Previous mass extinction events appear to have guided the evolutionary process away from urease-dependence in higher vertebrate animals, but the threat remains for the lower invertebrates and plant communities. Importantly, these at-risk ecosystem elements are fundamental to: (i) the productive food chains, (ii) the essential habitat, and (iii) the stable climate cycles, upon which the higher vertebrate animals (including humans) rely for their survival.

Of particular note is the potential for a collapse in ocean productivity to initiate rapid greenhouse warming (Rampino and Caldeira, 2005). In this case, the cessation of marine biological export of 25 organic carbon from the surface would cause an increase in surface-ocean dissolved inorganic carbon, some of which would leak into the atmosphere to increase atmospheric pCO2. Modelling results suggest that a cessation of productivity today would result in a rapid doubling of pCO2 (Rampino and Caldiera, 2005). It is therefore a plausible scenario that a collapse of ocean productivity occurring at 560 ppm could trigger a rapid “post-apocalyptic” rise in pCO2 levels beyond 1000 ppm – leading to rapid global warming of 3–6C.

Recovery of atmospheric pCO2 from such a perturbation would be governed by the time scale of equilibrium of the ocean chemistry 5 with the carbonate system (c 104 years) (Archer et al., 1997). Post-apocalyptic greenhouse spikes of similar duration have been associated with previous mass extinctions (Retallack, 2005), and may be responsible for triggering additional climate change dependent kill responses (Elewa, 2008).

Clearly, the urease hypothesis forewarns of the global imperative that atmospheric pCO2 levels are stabilised well below 560 ppmv. This will require the development of technologies and solutions that are presently unavailable – thus demanding our immediate attention and resources.
Now, this is clearly presented by the author as a hypothesis, and it is called a "discussion paper". The author is a researcher from the Australian Institute of Marine Science in Townsville, but his exact qualifications are not clear. However, it certainly sounds like an idea worthy of some pretty intense investigation.

It is consistent with my position that arguing about whether the earth is currently warming or cooling is irrelevant to the issue of whether keeping CO2 levels down is a good idea.

What's more, the climate change sceptics are still largely silent on the issue of ocean changes as a result of high CO2. (Pointing out that corals have re-established in nuclear test lagoons is hardly relevant.) I don't think they can find any credible scientist who has compelling arguments as to why such concerns are not worthy of being taken seriously. Correct me if I am wrong, Jennifer Marohasy. (I note that she ran with suggestions earlier this year that the cooling temperature would see the alarmists start to run with ocean acidification instead. This is not an answer to the actual concerns, however.)

On the gay front

Widespread reporting today of one study indicating similarities between gay brains and those of the opposite sex. One part that surprised me:
The researchers said that the study cannot say whether the differences in brain shape are inherited or due to to exposure to hormones such as testosterone in the womb and if they are responsible for sexual orientation.

But this is something they plan to look at in a further study of newborn babies to see if it can help predict future sexual orientation.

Would such a study be ethical? Are PET scans completely without risk, and just how important is it for science to pin down when such brain changes (if this study is correct) are formed?

As other people have argued before, it's not even certain that it is helpful for the gay lobby to encourage a belief that it is innate. On the one hand, they can argue against discrimination because it is not something they can choose (a cultural idea that has widespread currency already in the West;) on the other hand, it can still be taken that they are, in a sense, a biological mistake. If it is clear that babies are born that way, would a course of the right hormones be able to "cure" them?

And how would such studies also make sense of the (apparent) widespread bisexuality of Ancient Greece? The question of what exactly was going on in Greece, and a couple of other ancient civilisations, is perhaps a little difficult to be sure of from this point in time; but still, given that their neighbours at the time even thought they were strange indicates that they probably were.

On a related matter, the New York Times last week ran an article on how gay marriage is panning out in Massachusetts. I think it has been found in all places allowing it that there is an initial rush to the registry by couples who have been together for years anyway, followed by rapidly dwindling numbers. In Massachusetts:
Of the more than 10,500 same-sex couples married here since May 17, 2004, 6,121 wed in the first six months. There were 2,060 weddings in 2005; 1,442 in 2006; and 867 in the first eight months of 2007, the most recent data show.
More figures of interest:

The Census Bureau recorded 23,655 same-sex households in Massachusetts in 2006.

Nearly two-thirds of the weddings have been lesbian marriages, including one between two women named Melissa McCarthy. And while nearly half of straight people marrying are under 30, more same-sex married couples of both sexes are older — nearly a third are in their 40s.

So it sounds like about half of gay couples living together there are married now, but with the diminishing numbers who are getting married annually, will that really continue to be the case?

As for the view of the meaning of marriage that some gay males have:

Eric Erbelding and his husband, Michael Peck, both 44, see each other only every other weekend because Mr. Peck works in Pittsburgh. So, Mr. Erbelding said, “Our rule is you can play around because, you know, you have to be practical.”

Mr. Erbelding, a decorative painter in Boston, said: “I think men view sex very differently than women. Men are pigs, they know that each other are pigs, so they can operate accordingly. It doesn’t mean anything.”

Still, Mr. Erbelding said, most married gay couples he knows are “for the most part monogamous, but for maybe a casual three-way.”

Well, I'm glad we overturned millennia of humanity's understanding of marriage so that some gay men who want to continue to openly play the field can still get the financial benefits of having a favourite boyfriend. (Yes, I know, we don't criticise heterosexual marriage as an institution because some - very, very, few I suspect- enter into "open" marriages. But if such attitudes are widespread amongst married gay men, I think it does mean they don't treat marriage seriously, and it weakens the case as to why they should be accommodated.)

It also makes a bit of a joke of the "conservative case" for gay marriage, which I have heard Justice Michael Kirby (amongst others) argue. Let them marry, they say, and it will encourage monogamous relationships and stable families and that is a good thing as far as conservatives are concerned.

Sounds nice in principle, but really, it doesn't realistically take into account nature. As a rule, men (both gay and straight) find sex without commitment easy, and evolutionary biology plausibly explains why. Even with modern young women willing to have purely recreational sex, it still carries more risk of emotional or procreative complications compared to 2 men who meet purely for sex. Making gay marriage available is not somehow going to suddenly make the great majority of them think that they would be better off getting into monogamous relationships any time soon.

Gay women, on the other hand, still seem to have the nesting instinct even when their partner is another woman. Not much of a surprise there. They didn't need any encouragement to "settle down".

But worse than all of this, as far as I am concerned, is the procreative interests of gay couples. That lesbians use artificial insemination to have babies seems to me far more offensive to the conservative viewpoint than the nature of the relationship between the adults. That argument, however, seems to be lost in the West, at least for now.

UPDATE: a reasonably well argued conservative commentary on the topic is at American Spectator.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Something to wonder about

Sewage disaster leaves over 700 gallons of human feces in Kingston woman’s home

I only post about this because of this part of the report:
"This was completely flooded with feces and water and pee, and of course I smelled it. When I came in and I called the city guys and it’s estimated at 786.24 gallons of human feces got backed up into my house," Riley says.
Well, just lucky it wasn't 786.45 gallons. (Why on earth is that figure so precise?)

More religion

Bush 'may convert to Catholicism' - The Independent

Tony Blair and now George W? How interesting.

Meanwhile, Liberal Anglicans are doing their best to stop their church resembling anything even vaguely unified by holding a prominent "marriage" of two gay priests. Despite the priest who led the ceremony denying that it was provocative, it was liturgically as close as a marriage service as possible. According to The Times:
Had it not been two men standing at the altar, any observer would have taken the service for a traditional wedding. The service – at the Church of St Bartholomew the Great in the City of London – began: “Dearly beloved, we are gathered together here in the sight of God . . . to join together these men in a holy covenant of love and fidelity.” After a confession of sin “through our own deliberate fault”, the congregation heard a lesson from 1 Samuel 18, a Bible passage about the love between David and Jonathan.

Dr Lord was asked: “David, wilt thou take this man as thy partner, in the sight of God? Wilt thou love him, comfort him, honour, and keep him in sickness and in health, and, forsaking all others, keep thee only unto him, so long as ye both shall live?’” to which he responded: “I will.”

They also pledged to love each other physically, as in the traditional Anglican marriage service, stating: “With this ring I thee bind, with my body I thee worship, and with all my worldly goods I thee endow.”

Oh no, that's not provocative at all!

What fun the Lambeth conference will be this year. Rowan Williams may as well be looking at how to formally end the worldwide communion right now.

Prince Caspian

For those readers who have been dying to know what I thought of Prince Caspian (cue crickets chirping), here it is.

Reviews for Prince Caspian fall into 3 broad categories:

1. The irreligious who can't stand CS Lewis' use of fantasy as an allegory for Christianity, and therefore cannot bear any of the Narnia films due to their quasi-proselytising nature.

2. The irreligious who feel that Prince Caspian works as adventure and is more enjoyable than The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe because it's allegorical content is considerably diminished compared to the first movie. A lot of Australian reviews I have read fall into this category.

3. Those who who admire CS Lewis and his aims, and are therefore a little disappointed that the movie does seem to soft peddle the serious side.

I'm not entirely sure that I have read any review that clearly falls into category 3, but that was my reaction. I suspect that (apart from the appalling timing of releasing it a week before Indiana Jones in the States) there are probably significant numbers of American Christians who share the view, and this is a partial explanation for why it seems destined to make barely half of what the first movie made. (Still, as far as I can tell, it won't lose money.)

On the positive side: it looks fantastic, and the use of computer effects is kept to a level where it is not making you think "look at those 50,000 combatants who are obviously all CGI". (I'm looking at you, "Lord of the Rings".)

The story also has the benefit of real humans playing real characters (contrast, again, LOTR) and the acting is fine. Also, Andrew Adamson is really a talented director.

On the downside, Aslan comes and dispenses wisdom and assistance only a couple of times. It's been so long since I read the book (if I did at all; I can't even recall clearly which I have read beyond three titles,) that I am not entirely sure if it is the same there. Certainly many reviewers have noted that the book is perhaps the least interesting of the Narnia series.

I certainly don't want to put anyone off seeing it: it is a fine movie; just one that feels a little lacking if, like me, you loved the first one. (By the way, you can always tell a movie has impressed people when a fair few stay in the cinema watching the credits. That did happen at the screening I went to.)

Of course, one of the most disgraceful things is that Sex and the City beat it at the Australia box office on opening weekend. Can't the Pope issue some sort of condemnation of that film? If we lived in Old Testament times, I would expect God to demand the human sacrifice of Sarah Jessica Parker (on an altar erected in front of some fashion house in New York, the contents of which would form the funeral pyre for her body) as a condition of letting the rest of humanity survive. And that would sound perfectly reasonable to me.

Aussie fuel cells

I've mentioned before that in Japan they are using natural gas fuel cells for household electricity.

On Saturday Extra on Radio National this weekend, they were talking about an Austalian company which is developing them too. There is no transcript available, but you can listen to it on streaming audio here. (It starts about half way through that segment.)

The link to the company itself is here. I don't think it is not mentioned on their site, but was in the interview, that it is CSIRO research which the company is trying to commercialise.

We won't be seeing them anytime soon in Australia, however. According to the interview, they are being commercialised for the European, Japanese and North American markets. This is because the cost of electricity here is such that they are not yet cost effective.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Just what the world has been waiting for...

...robots that make smells:
Pomi (Penguin Robot for Multimodal Interaction) can see, hear, touch and emit smells as well as making faces, Friday's Korea Times reported. It was developed by the state-run Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute (ETRI) which plans to put Pomi to commercial use. The institute said Pomi's software, which imitates human expressions of emotion, will be available on the market by the end of next month. The robot can move its lips, eyebrows and even pupils freely to make faces and can emit two kinds of fragrances to match its emotions.
Let's all pray that the Korean's never design a kimchi eating penguin robot that can "emit" smells.

Friday, June 13, 2008

The strength of a weed

Health - Life & Style Home -

The link is to a story about very thorough sounding research in the US which shows that marijuana is indeed much stronger than it used to be in its THC levels:

The latest analysis from the University of Mississippi's Potency Monitoring Project tracked the average amount of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, in samples seized by law enforcement agencies from 1975 through 2007.

It found that the average amount of THC reached 9.6 per cent in 2007, compared with 8.75 per cent the previous year.

The 9.6 per cent level represents more than a doubling of marijuana potency since 1983, when it averaged just under four per cent.

I note that it is talking averages too, so presumably a significant amount in use is above that level.

Last year, The Guardian reported that tests in the UK indicated the average there was 14% (with a small number of samples at 20%).

I'm not sure if similar research is done in Australia. Will have to look around some other time.

Analysing Japan

Pajamas Media : What’s the Matter with Japan?

This commentary on the social problems within Japan (viewed in light of the recent Akihabara killings) is spot on.

A key thing that they have to change is the cultural attitude to mental illness and depression. I may have mentioned before, but an Australian friend who lives in Japan (and until recently worked in an administrative position in an english language school) told me that they always did whatever they could to avoid their foreign teachers being taken by police to a psychiatric hospital, because once in there was no telling when they would ever get out. Involuntary admission to a Japan psych ward is something to really fear, apparently.

Even non-psychiatric medicine can expect patients to be stoic to an extent that we haven't seen in the West for many years. A few years ago I was told by a Japanese specialist who performed stomach endoscopies that they were done without any anaesthesia, and as a result were very unpleasant for the patient. (He said he would take a lot of convincing to ever undergo one himself, as he knew how awful they were. I don't know that your gag reflex ever properly stops while you've got a tube down your throat into your stomach.)

As it happens, I had a stomach endoscopy once in Australia in the early 1990's, and knew nothing about it until I woke up. He could not really explain why Japan did not believe in anaesthesia for this procedure. I am sure that he knew that this was not just a peculiarity of the hospital he worked in.

One thing I did not know is that, according to the article, Japan's relatively generous medical insurance schemes do not cover psychiatric treatment.

Amazing, hey?

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Real life ocean acidification

BBC NEWS | Science/Nature | Natural lab shows sea's acid path

Here's a very interesting recent report on some science being done in ocean areas near Italy that already are more acidic due to volcanic CO2 bubbling through the sea.

As expected, the news does not look good for corals, sea urchins, sea snails, and mussels. (I assume that oysters, although they don't get a mention, would also not fare well .) One thing that does well appear to do well is seagrass. I suppose that might mean that one winner out of ocean acidification might be dugong/manatees. I don't know whether they taste any good, though.

Here's the abstract in Nature, but the article itself is behind a paywall. Grrr.

It's also interesting to note the recent stories about the surprising number of bacteria found to be living in the earth's crust under the oceans. The exact role of these in carbon cycling is unknown, but would seem to be potentially very significant. Kind of hard to study bacteria that live best under great pressure, though.

I assume that bottom living bacteria would be very significant to the feared production of poisonous gas if the ocean becomes warm and acidic enough. All a worry.

UPDATE: I hope the tone of my post didn't sound too dismissive of concerns about this.

The Nature paper attracted attention in The Times and The Telegraph. Here's what one of the scientists said in the latter:

Dr Hall-Spencer said: "What we saw was very dramatic and shocking.

"All the predictions made in lab experiments about acidity causing the disappearance of species is coming true.

"When we looked in the field it was already happening.

I must admit I though a lot of the claims being made about species disappearing amounted to scaremongering but now I have seen it with my own eyes.

"Our field studies provide a window on the future of the oceans in a high CO2 world. We show the dramatic ecological consequences of ocean acidification including the removal of corals, snails and sea urchins and the proliferation of invasive alien algae."

"Our observations verify concerns, based on laboratory experiments and model predictions, that marine food webs will be severely disrupted and major ecological tipping points are likely if human CO2 emissions continue unabated."

Also, I note that, although there was a lengthy Sydney Morning Herald story on ocean acidification on 7 June, it did not mention this paper. In fact, I can't see from Google that it has been reported anywhere in the Australian media. Sort of odd, isn't it, given the implications for the Great Barrier Reef?

Why Israel must survive...

Because it seems to be the only Middle East nation with a sense of humour.

This Time blog link explains all:

Iranian Prez stars in Israeli TV Ad - The Middle East Blog - TIME

But oddly, one of the comments about the post thinks that the fact that Israel TV carries a parody about Ahmadinejad threatening nuclear destruction means that "it shows how the "threat" from Iran has been so indoctrinated into Israeli culture that it is accepted as common and undisputed fact."

I would have thought the opposite is more likely; if the population really fears immediate destruction, they presumably wouldn't find the ad funny. (That's not to say they don't fear a nuclear threat in the future.)

Anyway, as I am sure I have said before, can those who make excuses for Iran having nuclear weapons ever point to any Israeli leader talking about the imminent disappearance of one of their neighbours?

As for the ad itself, here's the Youtube link.

Stand on the scales, please

To Save Fuel, Airlines Find No Speck Too Small -

This article explains what steps the airlines are taking to try and economise on fuel. Some of it I find hard to believe:
Up in the cockpit, Delta is studying whether it is feasible to divide the heavy pilot manuals required on each flight between the captain and first officer, so pilots are not toting duplicate sets of five or six books that each weigh about a pound and a half.
On the other hand if this is true:
“Every 25 pounds we remove, we save $440,000 a year,” Mr. McGraw said...
airlines in countries with significant populations of the obese must be really suffering! Why shouldn't airlines be offering cash back offers for passengers under the national average weight if they are willing to stand on the luggage scales before boarding?

UPDATE: at the risk of referring to the Colbert Report just a little too much, he covered this possibility in last night's show (which I saw after my post):

Also on that episode, he had an interview with a guy who has a book out on the 1950's "comic panic" in America. I had referred to this recently when talking about the Dean Martin/Jerry Lewis movie "Artists and Models". If the topic interests you, the interview is both interesting and funny. (You can find it at Colbert Report website yourself.)

A Wednesday compilation

* The amazing adventures of Kevin Rudd: Last week, Labor figures were saying "no, no, no, the Japanese don't think we have snubbed them." This week, the PM being questioned at length about this in Japan (by Japanese journalists) makes that argument just a little hard to sustain. And is it really a good idea to come across as a smart arse by saying "well, you didn't visit us either."?

Andrew Bolt has covered well the silliness of giving money to Toyota to do what they were going to anyway. I expect the next question time in Parliament will go on about this at length, and rightly so.

* Crab scam: Also in Japan, the fraud is of a fairly esoteric nature. Read about the great Japanese crab scammers here.

* A new way of saying "when Hell freezes over": "when Tim Blair becomes a hypermiler": Wired has an article about "hypermilers" (being people who have become obsessed with driving in such a way as to get maximum fuel economy from their cars.) Some of the methods are just nuts:
Fulton routinely gets 55 mpg from his 1997 Toyota Paseo, a car the EPA rates at 29 mpg. He started hypermiling about 18 months ago when he landed a new job 37 miles from home and got tired of burning so much gas. He mastered "pulse and glide" -- turning off the engine and coasting while driving. "This technique alone dramatically increased my mileage from 38 mpg to 47 mpg on my first tank," he says. "I was blown away."
Well, let's just sit back and wait for the first manslaughter conviction for a hypermiler who couldn't use his power steering to help avoid a deadly collision.

* Indiana Jones and the Green Left Weekly: Just what you were waiting for: a socialist left critique of Indiana Jones! The reviewer complains:
The indigenous people who help Indy in his exploits are sympathetically portrayed, but those who resist are seen as ignorant and superstitious. And some really nasty racism rears its ugly head.

An audience survey of the most popular scenes in Raiders revealed that most people’s favourite scene was when Indy guns down a sword-wielding Egyptian man with a pistol in a crowded square. What if the situation was reversed and a sword-wielding white man was gunned by an Arab? Would it still be the public’s favourite scene? I don’t think so.
That's what I like about the po-faced Left: the way they attempt to crush the simple enjoyment out of life. (It is also analysis like this that made the first Austin Powers movie very funny. You know - the part where suddenly the movie veers into looking at the effect on the bad guys' families after they're killed.)

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Monday compilation

Here are some stories that caught my attention recently:

* How unlucky can you be? To be born albino is pretty unlucky. But to be born albino in certain parts of Africa is taking things to a whole new level. A pretty amazing story in The New York Times explains that albino people s are being killed in sub-Saharan Africa because of magic:
....recently in least 19 albinos, including children, have been killed and mutilated in the past year, victims of what Tanzanian officials say is a growing criminal trade in albino body parts.

Many people in Tanzania — and across Africa, for that matter — believe albinos have magical powers. They stand out, often the lone white face in a black crowd, a result of a genetic condition that impairs normal skin pigmentation and strikes about 1 in 3,000 people here. Tanzanian officials say witch doctors are now marketing albino skin, bones and hair as ingredients in potions that are promised to make people rich....

In early May, Vumilia Makoye, 17, was eating dinner with her family in their hut in western Tanzania when two men showed up with long knives....

When Vumilia’s mother, Jeme, saw the men with knives, she tried to barricade the door of their hut. But the men overpowered her and burst in.“They cut my daughter quickly,” she said, making hacking motions with her hands.

The men sawed off Vumilia’s legs above the knee and ran away with the stumps. Vumilia died.

Darkest Africa indeed.

* God gets challenged again: Theodicy gets another discussion in this book review in the New Yorker. Interesting, even if nothing especially new in it.

* I always wanted to live in a dome: It turns out that Buckminster Fuller, famed for coming up with the geodesic dome (and some much sillier designs for all sorts of stuff) was quite the eccentric. Read all about him in a very entertaining article in the New Yorker. Here are some of my favourite sections:
With no job and a new baby to support, Fuller became depressed. One day, he was walking by Lake Michigan, thinking about, in his words, “Buckminster Fuller—life or death,” when he found himself suspended several feet above the ground, surrounded by sparkling light. Time seemed to stand still, and a voice spoke to him. “You do not have the right to eliminate yourself,” it said. “You do not belong to you. You belong to Universe.”...

Castro-like, Fuller could lecture for ten hours at a stretch. (A friend of mine who took an architecture course from Fuller at Yale recalls that classes lasted from nine o’clock in the morning until five in the evening, and that Fuller talked basically the entire time.) Audiences were enraptured and also, it seems, mystified. “It was great! What did he say?” became the standard joke....

Fuller championed, and for many years adhered to, a dietary regimen that consisted exclusively of prunes, tea, steak, and Jell-O. (!!!!!!)
One idea that he came up with was for the "Dymaxion Bathroom—a single unit that came with a built-in tub, toilet, and sink". In fact, I believe this how bathrooms for apartments for Japan are made. Japanese bathing style requires that the entire small bathroom can get wet, so for apartments they are like sealed plastic units that come prefabricated to incorporate into the building.

Once you read the article, have a look at the slide show taken from an exhibition that inspired the New Yorker article.

* Justifying affairs: Across the Atlantic, and Zoe Williams in The Guardian takes a sarcastic look at a book entitled "When Good People Have Affairs". Her favourite of the 17 motivations listed therein: breaking out into selfhood.

On Colbert Report tonight, there's a slightly amusing interview with an writer who has also written about why people have affairs. I suspect that (towards the end) Colbert's personal conservative-ish views are on display here (which is fine by me, of course):

* Books for husbands to buy their wives: Back to the New York Times, and there's a review of two books by couples who tried to help their marriages by having sex every day. What's not to like about that idea?

How to annoy the neighbours

PM visits Hiroshima memorial - TVNZ Portable -

The Australian media is widely reporting today that our PM Rudd is the "first serving Western leader" to visit Hiroshima.

I had my doubts this was true. In fact it only took a visit to Wikipedia to show it's wrong. New Zealand PM Helen Clark was at the Peace Memorial Museum in 2001, as the link above shows.

I think the mis-reporting may be due to Rudd being the first to visit a certain part of the memorial.

So sorry about that, Helen.

Blogging slowdown

It was a nice, basically lazy, long weekend in Brisbane. The family went to the Lifeline book sale. Doesn't Lifeline do this in any other capital city? It is huge, and I assume that Lifeline makes a lot of money out of it.

The record sales area there is a sight to behold, with lots and lots of vinyl LPs from my younger years to be found. My wife actually got some classical music LPs, which meant I spent some time turning them into CD's for the rest of the weekend. I got to hear most of Aida that way. It's mostly dull, I've decided.

The family also saw Prince Caspian yesterday. I will do a separate post about it sometime soon.

But generally this week, posting will be lighter than normal. I need money, as does the tax office, and as much as I enjoy posting intermittently all day, I really have to stop that habit.

(Of course, my invitation to mad benefactors is still open. I would mention you very favourably!)

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Aboriginal issues revisited

Northern Territory News

Go the link for a disturbing story of apparent cultural norms in remote aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory. Short version: an Aboriginal community officer accepted his 13 year old daughter sleeping with a 20 year old bloke, who has since gone to jail.

The officer (who the newspaper calls a police officer, so I take it that is technically correct) will just face some internal discipline. As for the poor daughter:
The court heard the girl had contracted three sexually transmitted infections and that her baby had died in-utero.
What I also find irritating about the story is this statement by the NT Police deputy commissioner:
"Following the Chief Justice's comments that Aboriginal leaders in communities should demonstrate leadership to prevent the practice of tribal marriages to underage girls, the Northern Territory police are developing an internal information package to assist not only Aboriginal community police officers, but police generally in this regard,'' he said.
As I said back in June last year, what exactly is the insurmountable difficulty that any government has in making sure that aboriginal communities know a few basic laws? As I said then:
....this is an area where I think most people should rightly react along the lines: "forget cultural sensitivities when it comes to knowing what is child (or even adult) sexual abuse. They just need to be told in English (or if they don't understand that, their own language) a few key points: incest is illegal at whatever age; sex between adults and children is illegal. Sex without consent is always illegal too, no matter what age. No one who has an STD should have sex with anyone until it's cured. "

The basic rules just aren't all that complicated, surely.
Meanwhile, I've had some interesting talk with my relatives in Far North Queensland about how things are going in the Aurukun/Weipa area. The tavern at Aurukun now apparently only sells light beer, and this has not gone over well. Grog is smuggled in both overland and via boats. The police search vehicles driving into the township regularly, but grog is dumped in the bush for later retrieval when the residents can see that the polices cars are all back at the station. It is also smuggled in by boats (operated by aborigines, not whites.)

Meanwhile, I am told that Weipa is now not safe to walk around at night. The places that sell alcohol at Weipa cannot refuse to sell to aborigines, and in fact much of the alcohol that ends up in Aurunkun comes from there.

What a nightmare.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Jews out of Egypt

'Egypt is trying to deny our existence' | Jerusalem Post

Interesting story about Jews who were "exiled" out of Egypt since the creation of Israel:

In 1948, around 100,000 Jews lived in Egypt, but by 2007 that number had dropped to between 20 and 100.

Some Jewish groups have sought documents from Egypt relating to the history of the former Jewish residents:

However, Egypt has refused to release the documents to the historical society. Sakkal said this was a consequence of the Egyptians' fear of restitution claims.

The Egyptian government is just a little sensitive about the issue:

On May 10, Egyptian Culture Minister Farouk Hosni said during a parliamentary conference that he "would burn Israeli books myself if found in Egyptian libraries."

On Obama

There's only so much time to waste in a day, and I have resisted talking about the American Presidential race because I just don't really read that much about it. Not at this stage of the game, anyway.

But I have some impressions about Obama that I may as well share now:

1. There's a certain touch of the Kevin Rudd's about him. Lots of talk about symbolism and changing paths, etc; but pretty empty with clear, concrete policy when you come down to it. It's all to be worked out in the future.

2. Am I the only person who thinks that his political success is about 50% attributable to his voice alone?

3. Some things that raise doubts about his general wisdom: that church, and he was/is a smoker. (Yeah, sorry, but a guy with a family in his forties who still smokes is showing reduced common sense. Tough but true!)

4. His wife looks a little mean to me.

5. I worry that he will be another Jimmy Carter: all well intentioned, but weak when it comes to dealing with difficult nations.

6. He is really going to galvanise the pro-lifers in the campaign if this statement from this article from American Spectator is correct:
And he promises, "the first thing I'd do as president is sign the Freedom of Choice Act," which would over-turn hundreds of federal and state laws limiting abortion, including the federal ban on partial-birth abortion and bans on public funding of abortion.
7. Apart from youth, the comparisons with John F Kennedy are somewhat off the mark. At least Kennedy had both distinctive military service and 14 years as a federal politician behind him. (Actually, I didn't realise JFK had been in politics for so long before he became President.) That crack that Hilary Clinton made about her experience versus Obama's "one speech" certainly rings very true.


8. Great gaffe made by Obama about Jerusalem this week. He's really got the trainer wheels on. (How Bush would be slammed by the Democrats if he had said the same thing.)

Every computer should have one

Fake Progress Bar - look busy whenever you want at the press of a button - The Red Ferret Journal

Looks fun

Kung Fu Panda Movie Reviews, Pictures - Rotten Tomatoes

While you are busy ignoring my warnings of ocean-led environmental catastrophe, it looks like you could do worse than take the kids to go see Kung Fu Panda. (Or just take yourself anyway.)

I saw the shorts at Indiana Jones, and thought it looked "nothing special". But the initial reviews from the States (see link above) are generally very positive.

Ocean acidification, continued

Climate change effect on oceans under-estimated: CSIRO - ABC News

From this very short report:

CSIRO marine scientists say the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and scientists worldwide are neglecting the earth's oceans in researching the effects of climate change.

In an article published today in the journal Science, the researchers argue that the effects of climate change on oceans is being underestimated.

Meanwhile, the Hobart Mercury reported recently about a conference there:
CSIRO marine scientist Bronte Tilbrook said what was already known about ocean acidification was troubling.

"Indications are that we will see some fairly significant changes in the ecosystem," Dr Tilbrook said.

"Under the CO2 emissions scenarios -- and it's the high ones we seem to be tracking at present -- in about 2060 we'll cross a chemical threshold in the Southern Ocean where one form of calcium carbonate will become chemically unstable.

"It's very early days to say there will be a decline in (fishery) production or an increase -- some species will do better, we just don't know if they're going to be of much value for the ecosystem."
And earlier in the report:
The gathering of some of the region's leading climate change experts was told oceans would reach a carbon saturation tipping point within 50 years and nobody knew what might happen then.
Now, as the article makes clear, these problems are going to happen regardless of successful cuts in current CO2, because of the time it takes for the ocean to absorb CO2. So, you could argue that there is not much point in worrying now anyway.

But, go back to my original posts about this for my argument as to why we shouldn't let CO2 creep up towards 1000 ppm.

Pay attention, people.

Unkind cuts

Male circumcision is a weapon in the sperm wars - New Scientist

This article speculates on why circumcision (and more drastic forms of cuts around the genital area) developed at all.

While I had heard about subincision before, I didn't know about crushing a testicle:
In some African and Micronesian cultures, young men have one of their testicles crushed.
And you thought public circumcision would be something to fear as a 12 year old!

Anyway, the article argues that this is all to do with reducing the risk of younger men impregnating older men's wives. This is particularly the case in polygamous societies:

The older men have also gone through the ritual, and seen their own reproductive effectiveness reduced. But if a man with, say, four wives wants to ensure that any children his wives produce are his, there is pressure to make sure other men can't successfully impregnate them.

The husband's own reproductive ability is impaired, but continuous and repeated access to his wives makes up for it, while any genital mutilation is a greater handicap to an interloper trying to sneak brief occasional sex with his wives.

Sounds plausible, but caution is always advised in such matters of evolutionary biology.

(Incidentally, in the all the guff that anti-circumcision groups go on with, do they ever take into account a preference that women may have for circumcised men? As this article indicates, I would assume that circumcised young men have more of an issue with premature ejaculation, which women don't exactly welcome.)

Me, me, me

I got it right the first time | The Australian

Well, it's sort of fun to watch the emotionally needy Paul Keating say "it was me, me, me" again. He does go on about "lost years" of Howard government diplomacy, doesn't he? What exactly does he think Australia could be doing differently in China or Indonesia now if his great and glorious leadership had continued?

Anyhow, it's good to see Labor people being skeptical of any burst of symbolism from Rudd.

Speaking of needy personalties, as if you didn't know, we can add Richard Woolcott to the list:
....the Herald learnt that Mr Rudd's special envoy for the project, the former diplomat Richard Woolcott, found out about the proposal only two hours before it was announced on Wednesday night.
Can't he just develop an interest in fishing, or something?


The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian - Film Reviews - Film - Entertainment

So, The Age gives us a review of Prince Caspian which is purely based on Philip Pullman-like ideological hatred of CS Lewis. Have a look at this line:
Sometimes critics are accused of reading sinister messages into works of harmless entertainment but that won't wash in the case of Lewis - a fierce polemicist who used fantasy as a platform to rail against everything he disliked in the modern world, including democracy, lipstick and progressive education.
I wouldn't mind betting that Wilson, the author of that "review", is a youngster atheist who has never read Lewis.

You can safely assume that Wilson is on his own planet here: both Margaret Pomeranz and David Stratton gave it respectful reviews, and they are both liberal lefties who are uneasy about Christian stuff. (Oh, while you are at At the Movies, you should read the conflicting reviews of Sex and the City. It's pretty funny.)

I'll be off to see this weekend. Then I should go wave protest placards in front of Sex and the City.

Tim Train: I expect you to attend this weekend too. And you had better like it!

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Red wine and the fountain of youth

New Hints Seen That Red Wine May Slow Aging -

A chemical in red wine is being tested for its potential to extend life:
He and others have tested resveratrol’s effects in mice, mostly at doses far higher than the minuscule amounts in red wine. One of the more spectacular results was obtained last year by Dr. John Auwerx of the Institute of Genetics and Molecular and Cellular Biology in Illkirch, France. He showed that resveratrol could turn plain vanilla, couch-potato mice into champion athletes, making them run twice as far on a treadmill before collapsing.
Of course, the morning after a bottle of red, I'm not usually feeling like going out for a run. And how much bottle equivalent of this compound were the mice given?:
....the animals were fed such large amounts of resveratrol that to gain equivalent dosages people would have to drink more than 100 bottles of red wine a day.
Marathon runners should still hold back on the red the day before, then...

The chickens call her "Kali"

Notes on the urban chicken movement. - By L.E. Leone - Slate Magazine

Ms Leone has chickens at home, and butchers them herself. Her reaction?:
There's a part of me that likes to kill. When I do what I do with a hatchet and a chicken, I feel like crap, and I feel like God. I feel alive and in love and closer than ever to death. So I guess that is, for me, mixed feelings, yes. And the mix itself is welcome and intensely gratifying. In fact, it's almost too much. Too swirly, too soupy. I can tell you that the part of this swirl which seems "good," as opposed to "evil," has absolutely nothing to do with foiling the chicken industry or saving the environment or taking personal responsibility for my role in the food chain. It has to do with getting a little bit bloody and gross, like the complicated, hungry animal that I am.
I dunno: if I were Mr Leone (if he exists,) I'd be a feeling a little nervous after reading that description.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

More on French annulments

Fake virgin ruling sparks storm in French parliament - ABC News

As I noted a few days ago, the French law regarding annulment of marriage sounds very peculiar to Australian ears. This article gives some examples of what the courts there have found to be "an error about the person or the essential qualities of the person":
....marriages have been annulled for reasons such as impotence, if a partner does not reveal a previous marriage or a child, or if the wife hides the fact that she had been a prostitute.
Very odd. These sort of factors are (apart from impotence) of a moral nature, and as such might be relevant to church law. But in a secular state, why not just let divorce deal with the issue of unhappiness with what might be called "inadequate disclosure" by the spouse, instead of pretending a valid marriage never took place?

My new retirement plan

Despite free land, no cry of northward ho in Japan - International Herald Tribune

Let's all sing now: (to the tune of "North to Alaska"):

"North, to Hokkaido, a-go north, the rush is on

Way up North, (North to Hokkaido)
Way up North, (North to Hokkaido)

Actually, I thought the words to that song were different, but I haven't heard it for decades. (And perhaps some of my younger readers will never have heard it.)

Here's an added bonus: with global warming, the weather will probably be nice on the (currently very snowy) Hokkaido within 30 years.

I'm seeing glasses half full today.

The International Herald Tribunal also ran an article last week suggesting that Japan had pretty reasonable prices for real estate now. I had a quick look around some websites, but it's hard to tell. Certainly, you can't beat the interest rates for mortgages:
Fixed interest rates for terms of more than 10 years can be as low as 2 percent at leading Japanese banks, with average rates standing around 3 percent. At GE Consumer Finance, interest rates vary depending on customers' credit profiles, but the top rate now is 4.6 percent.
Now, if only they will have people to run the country in 40 years time, everything would be fine.

Food needed

Rich nations must drop 'beggar thy neighour policies', says UN chief | Environment |

An interesting report here on the UN food summit:
Trade barriers should be lowered and export bans removed to stop the spread of hunger, the UN said at its summit on the global food crisis today, as its secretary-general Ban Ki-moon declared world food production must rise by 50% by 2030.
The decision that there is a crisis seems to have come on awfully quickly. Still:

Food prices have risen 83% in the last three years, according to the World Bank. It is also estimated that soaring food prices could push as many as 100 million more people into hunger.

The director-general of the UN's Food And Agriculture Organisation, Jacques Diouf, said wealthy nations had spent billions of dollars on farm subsidies and wasteful food consumption.

But of course it can't be a UN conference without some stupidity amongst delegates. The most spectacular example here is, of course, Robert Mugabe:

Speaking this afternoon at the summit, Mugabe defended his policy of seizing land from white farmers by saying he was undoing a legacy left by Zimbabwe's former colonial "masters".

He blamed international sanctions for many of Zimbabwe's problems and said his own policies have been "warmly welcomed" by his people.

"Over the past decade, Zimbabwe has democratised the land ownership patterns in the country, with over 300,000 previously landless families now proud landowners," he said.

Well, proud landowners who don't know how to farm it. Still, having a really, really big backyard for the kids to play in while they lose weight must make them feel good.

But some sense was spoken:

The foreign office minister for Africa, Asia and the UN, Mark Malloch Brown, said Mugabe's attendance was "like inviting Pol Pot to a human rights conference".

He said: "Zimbabwe is one of the few countries whose food crisis is not due to climate change or global prices, but due to the disastrous policies pursued by Mugabe."

Just one idiot speech is never enough for the UN. I didn't realise before, but Ahmadinejad turned up too. Guess whose fault he thinks it is:
...the appearance of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, prompted distraction after the Iranian leader attacked Israel.

"European peoples have been most hurt by the Zionists, and today the economic and political costs of this false regime are on the shoulders of Europe,'' he said.

I suppose the Hidden Imam will work it all out, when he arrives any day now.

UPDATE: here's a couple of articles at Online Opinion talking about the international problem.

The darkness

After Years of Effort, Dark Energy Still Puzzles Scientists -

Here's a pretty good article about the puzzle of dark energy.

Those carbon eating trees

There's been a lot of attention given to Freeman Dyson's article in the New York Review of Books about global warming and its possible solutions.

As a writer, he does have an usually clear and succinct style, which makes the article a pleasure to read.

His discussion about the issue of discounting is a very helpful and useful contribution to debate, I think.

But the second major aspect of the review, in which he expresses confidence that the answer to excessive CO2 will be genetically engineered super trees, hardly seems something that we should make plans around. As some people have said, we're all still waiting for our rocketbelts, household robot servants and a cure for cancer and the common cold. The best predictions of practical applications of new-ish technology can be way off the mark.

Over at Real Climate there is criticism of his views both in regard to discounting and the genetically engineered solution. There are also hundreds of comments following the post arguing in each direction.

It's all interesting reading. Not a mention of ocean acidification though, although presumably Dyson would say that the trees will be the prompt answer to that too.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

More Indian crime files

Wife poisons husband to death-Patna-Cities-The Times of India

More amusing choice of words from the loveable Times of India:

According to reports, wife Shobha Devi allegedly poisoned her husband in their house because he had come to know that something was brewing between her and a village guy, Dinesh Yadav.

I really should get back to work...

but in the meantime, have a look at some photos of some very cool buildings by a Japanese architect:


I am particularly keen on the Aoyama Technical College, which looks from some angles like the top half of a giant robot.

Here are some much clearer photos of it.

Mahmoud's mouth just won't stop

Ahmadinejad: 'Israel soon to disappear.' | Jerusalem Post

You would think that he might tone down the rhetoric just a little, given that he has most of the world worrying about whether he's developing nuclear weapons. But no, Mahmoud keeps up the threatening language.

By the way, last week Phillip Adams interviewed an Iranian journalist who has written a biography of Ahmadinejad. In the introduction, Adams said:

After his suprise election as President of Iran in 2005, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad quickly passed into caricature in the Western media - mocked as a diminutive blacksmith's son with a beaming grin, and demonised as an apocalyptic visionary who denies the Holocaust and seems intent on playing a game of nuclear 'chicken' with the US.

Who is Ahmadinejad really? And how much of a threat does he pose to his country and the rest of the world?

The funny thing is, I think it's fair to say that the journalist did nothing to indicate that he had been "caricatured" at all, and painted a picture of a potentially very dangerous, naive man too certain of his fundamentalist belief that he will hand over to the Hidden Imam.

Adams' cynical introduction, implying the unfairness of Western views of the man, were not vindicated.

Unfortunately, they don't do transcripts of Late Night Live, but if you have time to listen to it, the audio of the interview (at the previous link) is well worth it.

UFOs of the outback

An elderly couple in the Northern Territory say they were buzzed in their car by a "dark silvery" UFO. It's an interesting report, because it is said to have happened at 4pm, which rules out a lot of possible explanations (fireballs, etc) if it had happened at night.

No air force activity up there at the moment? An F111 using terrain following radar would fit the bill.

A good idea

Mile-high urinals | Gulliver |

Possibly, we will see urinals in Airbus planes.

They have them in Shinkansen (the "bullet trains") in Japan, and I would have thought that women would appreciate the cleaner sit down toilets that they would leave.

Toxoplasma spreads out

The world's most successful bug hits dolphins - life - 02 June 2008 - New Scientist

Don't you hate toxoplasma gondii? It's everywhere on land, and now increasing evidence that it is spreading to marine mammals. Given that there is some evidence that infection affects human personality, I hope the dolphins don't start attacking swimmers any time soon.

Not only that, they may accumulate in oysters and mussels!

You mean my fondness for well-done meat, and never having a pet cat, is still not going to protect me ?

I think this calls for drastic measures. Outlawing pet cats may be a start.

Old attempts at culture change

Change drink habits? You're joking | David Aaronovitch - Times Online

Aaronvitch is cynical of government attempts to change the culture of drinking.

To back his case, he points out to some historical attempts to decree fashion:
Consider the announcement in 1574 by Elizabeth I of her Statutes of Apparel, telling free-born Englishpersons what they could not wear. The statutes laid down limitations on the fineries to be donned by subjects, and were - or so Her Majesty claimed - motivated by a concern that now sounds wholly modern. Viz, “the wasting and undoing of a great number of young gentlemen and others seeking by show of apparel to be esteemed as gentlemen, who, allured by the vain show of those things... run into such debts and shifts as they cannot live out of danger of laws without attempting unlawful acts”.

Elizabeth had the advantage that she could imprison anyone so much as questioning these laws, let alone breaking them. But not long afterwards we discover various proto-Mailites suggesting that antisocial dressiness had broken out again. Stephen Gosson lamented that hardly had Good Queen Bess “set downe the limits of apparel to euery degree: and how soone againe hath the pride of our harts over-flowen the chanel?” Huge ruffs bothered Philip Stubbes, who, in his The Anatomie of Abuses considered that: “If Aeolus with his blasts, or Neptune with his stormes chaunce to hit uppon the crafie bark of their brused ruffes, then they goe flip flap in the winde, like rags flying abroad, and lye upon their shoulders like the dishcloute of a slut.”

I don't think I was aware of the Elizabethan fashion laws. Still, if I were benevolent dictator, I would be tempted to have another crack at it.

Credit to the Taser

Vital Signs - After Taser Jolt, a Heartbeat Returns to Regular Rhythm -

This was reported somewhere else last week, I think, but here it is in the New York Times.

Don't tell the Victorian police, though.

Polygamist hair

Judge Orders Sect Children’s Release -

Have a look at the photo in the above article, and see if you don't agree that forcing embarrassing hairstyles on underage children should alone be enough to allow courts to remove children from that compound.

It's very creepy.


Microgeneration could rival nuclear power, report shows | Environment |

I've only been to England for a couple of holidays, I think in an alleged spring and then an autumn, so the idea of solar hot water or photovoltaic panels working well there always makes me snigger a bit. Just how many warm, sunny days are there in that country?

But the renewables consultants always talk it up, and of course it's just my hunch that the figures must be very rubbery.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Sounds about right

Why China doesn't break | Comment is free

There's occasionally a "Comment is Free" piece in The Guardian in which there appears to be nothing to object to.


Boris Johnson blamed for Tube party violence - Times Online

Isn't it extraordinary to think that people were allowed to drink on public transport in London before Boris Johnson? (And that he should then be blamed for stupid yobs who got drunk via Facebook organised Tube drinking parties before the ban came into effect.)

Britain certainly has become a strange place. Sounds like a good dose of conservatism needed, for a decade or so.

That anecdote...

I mentioned a few weeks ago my curiosity as to the details of an unsavoury Bob Ellis anecdote that David Stratton put in his autobiography. Andrew Bolt has revealed it here.

(There is quite a lot of overlap between posts here and at Andrew's lately. I get a small amount of pleasure from seeing when I have posted on a topic a few hours ahead of him, but I guess visitors to both sites might more often assume that I am following his lead. Well, of course sometimes that happens, but I seem to beat him to print on quite a few occasions. Is there any award for that, especially for an amateur blogger? :) )

An update on the LHC, mini black holes and strangelets

There are a few things of note that have happened over the last couple of weeks:

1. Physicist Bee at the Backreaction blog gets a little cranky at having to address the issue, but she sets out in detail in this post why she believes there is no danger at all from mini black holes at the LHC. More importantly, she then respectfully answers those who question or doubt her in the long string of comments that follow. She insists that any arguments against Hawking Radiation existing are not convincing, but she makes many good points. (Including the preliminary one that the extra dimensions that are required to even make mini black hole production at the LHC plausible may not exist.)

Of particular interest in the comments section is the involvement of Walter Wagner, one of the litigants who is trying to stop the start up of the LHC because of perceived dangers.

I have said before that I was not sure what to make of Walter. He has had a varied career, and asking for donations to run a legal case is usually a reason to be concerned about motive. But, his comments in this post impress me. He appears sincere and knowledgeable. It's well worth reading this post and the comments in detail.

2. There's a recent paper on arXiv which does some number crunching on cosmic rays hitting the sun and earth and how they compare to the LHC. Perhaps it's easiest if I just copy the summary here:
The high energy cosmic ray flux impinging on the sun and earth for 4 Gyr is compared to the operation of the CERN Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at design energy and luminosity. It is shown by two different calculations that both the integrated luminosity and the total hadronic interaction rate from the cosmic ray flux of comparable energy are many orders of magnitude larger than that of the LHC operated for 10 years. This study indicates that it is extremely unlikely that pernicious exotic particles, such as mini-black holes, would be produced by the LHC that would destroy the earth.
Sounds good, except that it is still based on the assumption that Hawking Radiation exists, and therefore doesn't take into account the more complicated arguments as to why slow speed mini black holes created at the LHC might be more of a problem than high speed ones.

However, the section on strangelets (which are another potential worry, even though I haven't spent much time discussing them here) sounds more definitive. Taylor calculates that a negatively charged strangelet would be stopped by the sun, hence if they were capable of causing damage there, it would have already happened.

It sounds as if that is a solid argument.

(Indeed, a similar argument, but with neutron stars, may be the convincing argument about mini black holes not being a danger. That's what CERN is already telling people who email them, apparently. )

3. CERN is still promising to release their new safety report, any day now. I haven't spotted it yet.