Friday, October 31, 2008

Pornography, sex (and cows) in Indonesia

It's been months since I've checked the Jakarta Post, which is a pity because I have been missing stories like these.

Australians are rightly concerned about the Labor Party's plans to compulsorily censor the internet at ISP level. (Funny how little time blogs Larvatus Prodeo have spent on the issue. If it had been done under John Howard, the lefty blogosphere and The Age would be brimming every day with column inches about the fascist nature of the government.)

Yet, things could be worse. In Indonesia, what sounds like the world's vaguest anti-pornography legistlation has just been enacted:

Here's the Jakarta Post's list of concerns:

Contentious articles in the porn bill:

1. Article 1: Definition
Pornography is drawings, sketches, illustrations, photographs, texts, voices, sound, moving pictures, animations, cartoons, poetry, conversations, gestures, or other forms of communicative messages through various kinds of media; and/or performances in front of the public, which may incite obscenity, sexual exploitation and/or violate moral ethics in the community.
Feared impact:
The definition is open to all kinds of interpretation, such as how to define gestures that incite obscenity or sexual exploitation, and will be subject to debate.

2. Articles 20-23: Public Participation
The public can play a role in preventing the production, distribution and use of supervising people on the danger of pornography.
Feared impact:
This article could be used by certain groups to take the law into their own hands by attacking people they believe are violating the law.

3. Articles 8, 34, 36: Criminalization of victims
The articles threatens up to 10 years in prison or Rp 5 billion in fines for violators of the law.
Feared impact:
Artists or models in art shows or productions could be punished for their creativity.

Yep, watch your hand gestures next time you are in Jakarta.

In further Indonesian sex news, this time involving cows, who knew that in Bali, if a man is caught having sex with a bovine, religious purification requires that the cow (but not the man) be drowned?

I note that the man in question was aged 70. Maybe he had been watching too much Japanese DVD porn. (See previous post if you don't understand.)

Anyhow, surely everyone should feel sorry for the cow. But I suppose we do have to teach such brazen temptresses a lesson.

Disturbing Japanese story of the year

It was in Time magazine in June, but I missed it then. (Of course, what the nation needs is younger people more involved, and not in a solo way.)

Phillip Adams - professional dill?

Back in March 2006, I noted how one Radio National fixture (Robyn Williams - who has run the Science Show forever) admitted that he had not remembered that when you catch a plane from Australia in summer to go to New York, it might just be cold at the destination. He wore sandals and (I think) shorts on the plane. Just how many people with a university education and a lifetime of thinking about science do that?

(Men who don't wear closed in footwear on long international flights have always annoyed me anyway: feet and sandals can smell, and I don't reckon they could be as inherently safe as proper shoes in an emergency exit situation.)

Well, a lack of common sense seems to be thriving at Radio National, particularly in the overtly political broadcasters.

Phillip Adams on Wednesday night seemed to have a bit of time to kill, and started his show by detailing his misadventures in getting into his Sydney home. You can listen to it here, but I'll summarise from memory:

a. due to some accident, he has been using only one eye this week;
b. he realised a couple of nights ago during his evening radio show that he had locked himself out of his Sydney house;
c. his house is narrow but 4 levels high;
d. he decided to get in by climbing up to the 3rd level balcony with an extension ladder, which he had trouble working out how to use properly;
e. this he did, in the dark and (by the sounds of it) by himself;
f. he got up to the balcony (the door to which he presumably does not lock) and got inside;
g. his monitored alarm system then went off, waking up the neighbours (as his show ends at 11pm, this was presumably around midnight);
h. the alarm company rang and asked for his password. He could not remember it, nor even his own phone number (!)

He did not bring this up, but he is aged 69. He is well know for his Egyptian artefact collection, and made his millions in advertising.

So, the next time you see a one eyed, grey, rich, somewhat overweight 69 year old man teetering three levels up on an extension ladder in Paddington, you might want to call out to him :"Phillip, there is such a thing as a 24 hour locksmith, you know!"

Clean coal skepticism

Time to bury the 'clean coal' myth | Environment |

There's not much detail in the polemic, but I share the skepticism that clean coal has any realistic prospect (at reasonable cost and within an appropriate time frame) of making a difference to greenhouse gas.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Bye bye Doctor

Tennant to quit Doctor Who | Media |

Shrimp don't care for CO2

Long-term effects of predicted future seawater CO2 conditions on the survival and growth of the marine shrimp Palaemon pacificus

Another day, another report of an experiment in which a marine creature is shown to be adversely affected by high levels of CO2 in the atmosphere:
The present results demonstrate for the first time that the predicted future seawater CO2 conditions would potentially reduce shrimp, and possibly other crustacean, populations through negatively affecting mortality, growth, and reproduction. This could threaten entire marine ecosystem through disrupting marine food web.
News will be greeted by the sounds of crickets chirping in the audience.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Half of America will find it funny

'I Would Make A Bad President,' Obama Says In Huge Campaign Blunder

Can't trust Catholics

The end of the Catholic vote - Los Angeles Times

A majority of Catholics are going for Obama, according to this article, despite lots of guidance from US bishops that abortion is a crucial issue this election.

George W could holiday there

On war's outer edge in Kurdish Iraq - International Herald Tribune

Iraqi Kurdistan is trying to attract tourists:
Not without reason do guidebooks charitably call Iraqi Kurdistan the "Switzerland of the Middle East."
Apparently, ads have already been shown on American TV. Visiting there sounds like a very mixed experience:
While Erbil is a far cry from Baghdad, signs of the war are impossible to avoid. Hotels are fenced off by concertina wire, vehicles are inspected by Kalashnikov-toting guards, and checkpoints are abundant. On a lesser note, tourists accustomed to high-end comforts may also find Kurdistan frustrating. Electricity is spotty, few locals speak English and latrines, even in some hotels, consist of a hole in the floor.

But the friendliness, and pro-American sentiment, of many Kurds might make up for the poor infrastructure. Mention in a restaurant that you are from the United States and your meal may be gratis. And it is not uncommon for Kurds to invite Westerners to share home-cooked meals, even in inhospitable places.

UQ research on acidification and reefs

Rising CO2 'will hit reefs harder'

As usual with the issue of ocean acidification, this will probably just get 'spotty' media coverage:
In a large experiment on Heron Island, the team simulated CO2 and temperature conditions predicted for the middle and end of this century, based on current forecasts of the world's likely emission levels and warming by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The results of their analyses of the bleaching, growth and survival of a number of organisms including corals indicates that a number of very important reef builders may be completely lost in near future.

“We found that coralline algae, which glue the reef together and help coral larvae settle successfully, were highly sensitive to increased CO2. These may die on reefs such as those in the southern Great Barrier Reef before year 2050,” says Dr Anthony.

Thanks, Janet

Janet Albrechtsen today supplies some details to confirm that (as I said yesterday) Europe has no reason to feel smug about the current financial crisis.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Mystery man

Confessions from the Obama campaign trail - Los Angeles Times

Interesting "confession" here by a reporter who has been on the campaign trail with Obama, and feels he still doesn't know who he is. His Messianic qualities seem to be somewhat lacking in the back of the campaign plane:
One of the striking ironies is that a man who draws tens of thousands of people to his rallies, whose charisma is likened to that of John F. Kennedy, can be sort of a bore.
The overall image painted is of a man who is overly cautious about controlling his image, and/or just a tad on the emotionally cold side.

PS: I still wonder which personality type it is best to have his or her finger on the nuclear button: someone who has been known to be have strong outbursts of temper, and had more than his fair share of adultery (indicating at least, I suppose, someone well acquainted with emotions, but not necessarily in a good way); or someone who appears to have his emotions tightly bottled up and has spent an inordinate amount of time in calculating his own advancement.

The (no doubt unfair!) images I get is of McCain's aides wrestling him to the ground to stop him giving the "fire all missiles" order, while in an alternative universe Obama intellectualises his way (and convinces his minders) to making a limited nuclear attack in circumstances that will later be regretted.

All silly speculation, I know, but hey it's my blog.

Nuns on the line

Vatican switchboard sees a human touch as the answer

For some reason, the LA Times has a rather charming article on the nuns who answer the phone at the Vatican featured prominently on its website.

Talk about slow to suspect

Teacher Amanda Thompson has lesbian sex with student, court told | The Daily Telegraph

This report of the prosecutor's summary of a teacher/ underage student lesbian affair makes the other adults in the situation sound rather dim:

Mr Fuller [the prosecutor] said Thompson would regularly spend the night at her student's home, where they performed sex acts on each other.

The court heard Thompson was so trusted by the girl's parents that she became "part of the family", attending birthday celebrations, accompanying the family on holidays, and even spending Christmas day at their home.

When the girl's parents discovered the couple in bed, they asked that the bedroom door be left open.

Well, yeah I guess that'll teach to teacher to stay out of their daughter's bed during her regular visits.

As for the teacher's husband:
The court was told Thompson's then-husband became concerned about his wife's relationship with the student when he frequently found them lying in closed rooms or under a blanket upon arriving home from work.
I suppose his wife going over to stay at the girl's house wasn't enough of a sign?

Of course, it may be either the report, or the prosecutor's summary, which makes this case sound stranger than it is. But it does sound very odd.

Oh sure

Nuclear-powered passenger aircraft 'to transport millions' says expert - Times Online

Hey, I like nuclear power as much as the next right wing, technophile blogger, but even I draw the line at nuclear powered aircraft making much sense.

Apparently, the good professor suggests the reactor could be jettisoned and land safely by parachute if the plane is about to crash. One suspects, however, there are still quite a few accidents that happen with insufficient "its time to jettison the reactor" lead time.

More economics

Emerging markets and the financial storm | Into the storm | The Economist

The Economist's summary of a few days back about what's going on and how things are likely to pan out gives some guarded grounds for optimism. But one point that is surprising is this:
Some experts think that China needs growth of 7% a year to contain social unrest.
The magazine thinks China has enough reserves to be able to spend its way to maintaining 8% growth. Just lucky then.

(Of course, what could really throw another level of complexity in the equation would be an Israeli attack on Iran. I think we can safely assume that the economy alone is reason the US would be already telling Israel not to think about it at the moment.)

UPDATE: Paul Krugman remains pessimistic.

No good news today

In hard times, some flirt with survivalism - Economy in Turmoil-

I've just spent a hour trying to find good news to post about today. It's official, there is none.

So, let's dwell on how bad things can get. That's fun, sort of.

Yes, the survivalists (who used to thrive more when nuclear war and/or Russian invasion seemed more on the cards) have a new reason to feel justified:
Seattle survivalist Hagmahani sees such commodity hoarding as just a partial measure for weathering a financial crisis.

On his blog,, he advises people to prepare for a “major paradigm shift” that will, in a decade, leave the U.S. with a Third World economy.

The $700 billion government financial bailout, in his view, only ensures a crisis that cannot be avoided after unbridled lending and spending.

“One of the most frightening possibilities is the banking system freezing up,” he said. “... Our remittance system is almost entirely through the banking system. … Without ATMs, you can’t get groceries, you can’t get paid… Is that a possibility? Yes.”

Another survivalist recommends stuffing your sofa, not with money, but with food:
Wilson, who also has an online radio show called the Armchair Survivalist, said one of his new clients is a New York interior designer who specializes in outfitting cramped Manhattan apartments with hidden food storage units that double as tasteful furnishings.
Maybe I'll just buy a few packets of seeds and finally get around to getting some chooks for the yard.

Stick to playing music

Cityfile: Rock the Vote Rocked by Incompetence
Hope you didn't register to vote using one of the forms provided by Rock the Vote: Every single one of the 173,000 New York State voter applications downloaded from the group's site was printed with the wrong address, which means thousands of newly-registered voters can expect to be turned away at the polls if the mess isn't sorted out before then.
Heh. Obama's vote will be down slightly in New York, then.

New rocket bad news

Is NASA's Ares doomed?

Incidentally, I can't see President Obama being a big supporter of the space program. With a world wide recession as well, it does not look encouraging for a return to the Moon any time soon.

How encouraging

UK finances may be bad but there are many other nations that owe a lot more - Times Online

More pessimism, this time looking at Britain and Europe.

As has been noted elsewhere, it's ironic that so many Europeans should be gloating about what they see as an American problem coming home to roost, when it actually appears that much of Europe is going to come out of this very badly indeed.

As for borrowing to pump prime the economy, the above article notes:
Meanwhile, some economists have expressed deep concern over how even bigger increases in government borrowing will eventually be paid for. At some point in the future hefty tax increases or spending cuts still look inevitable. But when things are this bad, anything is worth a try.

It's a mystery

The Associated Press: World markets slump as Nikkei hits 26-year low

I don't know about my average reader, but one of the most puzzling things I find about economics is understanding how currency markets are supposed to make any sense. For example: why is the Yen surging, and in the process causing the Nikkei to drop:

"Worries about the impact of the surging yen on Japanese export earnings have hit the Nikkei hard," said Julian Jessop, chief international economist at Capital Economics.

"This in turn has led to sharp falls in European markets even when, as on Friday, the U.S. had closed higher the day before," he added.

On the radio, it was said that if you invested in Japan 26 years ago, you would now just be "even". Puts our superannuation losses in perspective, one suspects.

Why is the Australian dollar taking such a battering?

Why are economists held in any esteem whatsoever?

UPDATE: here's some explanation of what's happening via Bloomsberg. It still doesn't make any sense to me. For example:
The Australian dollar plunged to a five-year low against the greenback, as concern over a global recession led investors to buy the U.S. dollar as a safe haven. New Zealand's currency gained.
Why is the US dollar a "safe haven"? And why did that powerhouse New Zealand have its currency go up? All very odd and counter-intuitive, if you ask me.

UPDATE 2: here's a better, more detailed explanation of what's going on with the Yen.

An extreme case of cold feet

Nervous groom held for blaze at wedding hotel | The Japan Times Online

Kawata, 39, was arrested Sunday on suspicion of setting fire Saturday to a hotel in Hokuto, northern Yamanashi Prefecture, where he and his fiancee were supposed to get married later in the day... Kawata allegedly started the fire around 2:20 a.m. after spreading a flammable liquid, possibly kerosene, in a corridor behind the hotel's concert hall, the police said.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Lion will sleep with lamb, etc

The Daily Dish | By Andrew Sullivan (October 26, 2008) - Goodbye To All That

Andrew Sullivan is feeling the love of President Messiah already, it seems:
Sometimes, when the world is changing rapidly, the greater risk is caution. Close-up in this election campaign, Obama is unlikely. From a distance, he is necessary. At a time when America’s estrangement from the world risks tipping into dangerous imbalance, when a country at war with lethal enemies is also increasingly at war with itself, when humankind’s spiritual yearnings veer between an excess of certainty and an inability to believe anything at all, and when sectarian and racial divides seem as intractable as ever, a man who is a bridge between these worlds may be indispensable.
My guess: Obama will be tested by an international crisis designed to take advantage of him, as Biden predicted, within 6 to 12 months. He'll either want to talk-talk, as he has said he will, and fail; or he might surprise us, throw some military might around, and end up doing pretty much what McCain (or Clinton) would have done anyway.

What I don't see happening is the entrenched enemies of the USA and Israel suddenly seeing the mistake of their ways and world peace ensuing.

Nor do I see any particular reason for an outbreak of sweetness and light in the culture wars within the States. Lefties will crow triumphant, as they did in Australia after John Howard's defeat, yet it will be quite on the cards that a new Republican candidate will look like a plausible alternative again by the next election (as appears is happening in Australia).

Just my guesses, anyway.

Back to the Arctic

Reduced ice thickness in Arctic Transpolar Drift favors rapid ice retreat

As noted a few posts back, I don't actually rely on melting Arctic ice as proving AGW. However, those who are pointing out that ice cover is reforming rapidly this year (and thereby suggest that an ice free pole is far away) should take note of the above research. It points out that, at least in one section of the Arctic, regular recent testing indicates that the ice is much thinner than it was in 2001. Their conclusion:
The regime shift to younger and thinner ice could soon result in an ice free North Pole during summer.

Kevin Rudd is on the phone now correcting the record

Spotted this headline in BYM Marine Environment News:
Australia. Prime minister Anne Bligh call for tougher action over Great Barrier Reef

Rosie creeps closer

Toyota, Univ of Tokyo unveil robot that does household chores

Toyota Motor Corp and a research body of the University of Tokyo have jointly developed a prototype for what many busy career people have been dreaming of for a long time: A hardworking robot that handles household chores. In a demonstration for reporters last week, the robot cleaned up rooms, smoothly put away dishes from a dining table and picked up shirts and put them in a washing machine.
God knows what it will cost, though. Have a look at the photo at the link: put a dress on it and it does look a little like Rosie from the Jetsons.

The state of comedy in Great Britain

Russell Brand causes outrage after explicit nuisance calls to Fawlty Towers actor Andrew Sachs - Times Online

Oh yes, the BBC leads the way in showing us classy taste in comedy:

The BBC has come under fire after comedian Russell Brand and TV host Jonathan Ross made a series of obscene phone calls to the Fawlty Towers actor Andrew Sachs.

The controversial presenters, both notorious for their liberal use of profanities on air, left messages on the 78-year-old actor's answerphone in explicit terms claiming Brand had had sex with his granddaughter, Georgina, and went on to joke that the actor may kill himself as a result.

In the pre-recorded segments aired on Brand's BBC Radio 2 show, the host and Ross, who presents a show on the same radio channel, began making calls after Sachs failed to answer his phone for a pre-arranged interview.

They were also pre-recorded segments, which the BBC cleared to be aired.

More making money from dead bodies

Flayed babies' bodies included in new Body World exhibition - Telegraph

Weirdo Gunther von Hagens has a new exhibit of flayed plasticised bodies on exhibition, and he gets a heap of free publicity, but (as far as I can tell) nothing in the way of criticism.

I posted about this a couple of years ago, and still I seem to be the only person around who finds him and his work irredeemably ghoulish, and can't understand why, having done this once, there is still an entertainment market for weirdly posed skinless dead bodies.

van Hagens claims his exhibitions send "a health message". I find the claims of it being educational for the general public in any significant sense hard to believe.

Moon ice?

The Great Beyond: No ice! No worries - we never thought it was there anyway

As this Nature blog comments:

The question about ice on the Moon is a long standing debate. There are two camps in the world of moon science; one claiming that there is ice and the other, yes, you guessed it, saying “oh no there isn’t”.

So this latest paper seems to be a victory for the non-ice camp, according to the coverage the news has received (MSNBC New York Times, Thaindian News) and a slightly more measured story from the Economist.

But hang on a minute, according to Ben Bussey, from Johns Hopkins University, no-one ever expected surface ice on the Moon anyway. “The absence of the presence of ice is not surprising given all previous data predicts that the ice is buried,” he told me. Bussey claims to be in neither of the aforementioned camps, but does say that he’d like to think ice is there. “The data is tantalisingly supportive”. But be clear – we’re talking about sub-surface ice here.

A nice scenario for a science fiction story might involve lunar "ice prospectors" trying to get rich by discovering large hidden ice deposits. (Such relatively near-future science fiction located close to earth seems to have gone well and truly out of fashion, but I feel there must a lot more stories waiting to be set on the moon.)

Problem is, with all the legal uncertainty about no one really being able to claim lunar resources for themselves, there may never be an incentive for private searches for it, unlike the gold rushes of earth.

Too much too quickly?

Rudd should dip his cap to undo damage | The Australian

Interesting article arguing why the government's bank guarantee was too much too soon.

Kevin Rudd was on Sunrise this morning at his self-interviewing worst, and actually seemed to irritate his pal Kochie by unduly politicising it.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Around Japan

Hey it's Sunday, the world is still a financial basketcase, and maybe I will never be able to afford overseas travel again short of mounting my own version of the Kon-Tiki expedition. So, why not show off a few holiday snaps from a few weeks ago.

Most tourists visiting Japan probably head south of Tokyo, towards Osaka and Kyoto, rather than exploring the northern part of Honshu island. However, there is a lot nice scenery towards the northern end.

This trip, visiting friends, we found ourselves in Hirosaki. It's a pretty town I had never heard of before, but apparently it is well known in Japan for its cherry blossom festive which is held in the very large and attractive grounds of the old Hirosaki castle. There's only one main bit of the old castle left standing, which has a bit of a museum inside:

Here's the Hirosaki version of samurai armour, which is featured in quite a lot of Japanese castle museums, but hey it's still cool looking stuff:

For an evening meal in Hirosaki, I can't recommend highly enough Restaurant Poo:

No one was quite able to explain the name, and I suppose it was just a little juvenile of me to take so much pleasure from reading a menu with "Poo" written on it repeatedly. But we really did eat there, it being close to our friend's house and one of their regular haunts. The food was meant to be Chinese, but it was quite different to your average Chinese restaurant experience (in either Australia or Japan), perhaps because of the Japanese chef. "Poo" was also very cheap, and outstanding value. It served "beer cocktails", one of which was beer and tomato juice. (Ugh). I don't hang around bars in Australia much, but this was the first time I had even heard of the concept of a beer cocktail.

For a day trip from Hirosaki, you can do a lot worse than drive to Lake Towada. This is a large, caldera lake which is quite deep, and (apparently on a fine day) has famously blue waters. From Hirosaki, the road is very windy (two of the passengers were overcome with carsickness). Still, the view from the lookout is great, even on an overcast day:

That little dot you can see to the right of the island is fairly big tourist boat. Pity you don't get a good idea of scale from the photo.

Being quite the fan of "You Only Live Twice", I naturally hope that I will find the Japanese lake which conceals a secret rocket base. However, once you get to the shore, you discover that Towada only conceals the silly swan paddle boats that every Japanese tourist lake provides:

The waters of the lake are exceptionally clear, and there's a pretty little "island" just off the main beach. Lovely:

Being near water, and Japanese, the shops naturally provide fish on a stick as a snack:

Nearby, there's a stream that flows out the lake that provides a very pleasant walk amongst waterfalls and greenery:

A very pretty part of Japan, perhaps even better right now when autumn colours have more fully taken hold.

I can't think of a clever way to end this post: just hope you don't mind the photos. I can bore you with many more.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Strangest idea ever for a pro Obama video?

Found over at Boing Boing, and (as far as I know) not yet noted much in the Australian blogosphere:

See more Ron Howard videos at Funny or Die

As many people have said at Boing Boing comments: Andy Griffith is still alive??? And not even in a nursing home, by the looks. For a major 1960's TV star, he sure knew how to keep a low profile for the rest of his life. Even the very liberal Boing Boing notes that the video is (amongst other things) "sentimental" and "horrifying" at the same time. Quite an achievement.

On a more serious note, Ron Howard makes some statement to the effect "I believe that voting for Obama is a chance to vote for someone who will make a truly exceptional president".

Err, I know that is typical political campaign rally talk, but this seems to be Howard's personal video, and how can he (or anyone) really judge how Obama will perform as president? Just because a politician says "We need change and I will be different" seems a slight excuse for believing said politician will be a great President. Especially when, with Obama, you've got so very little history of leadership or involvement in government to judge him by.


How to be a bona fide hipster

Lisa Prior has this throw away line today:
Hipsters are hard to describe because they are so full of contradictions. But like a toupee or AIDS-related wasting, you know it when you see it.
Even l can see gratuitous offence to people suffering life threatening disease in that.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Typical Labor

Doubt cast over intervention income management legality - ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

They try to placate the claims of racial discrimination by agreeing to allow the Racial Discrimination Act to apply to the Northern Territory intervention. Surprise! There is immediately the view expressed that it is impossible to make the current income management part of the intervention non-discriminatory.

It's an invitation by the government to be taken off to the Human Rights Commission and courts for protracted argument about discrimination. Like that'll help the remote communities. (And will the challenge be funded by government money paid to aboriginal advocacy groups?)

Here's a plan, Labor: why don't you make the changes you think make it non-discriminatory, but still avoid the need for argument by leaving in place the revocation of the Racial Discrimination Act? You can then claim the moral high ground without wasting time and effort trying to "prove" it.

Westfield of London - does it have giant faces?

Mega-mall: Is this the future of shopping? - This Britain, UK - The Independent

The report is about Frank Lowry opening a massive Westfield mall-ish thing in London. It's of some interest.

The main point of my post, however, is to ask the question: which advertising/design guru came up with the awful idea of using enormous large prints of beaming, happy people, or alternatively food stuffs and gift items, as a feature on both the outside and inside of shopping centres?

Maybe its day has gone already (I don't drive past the place often), but one prominent Brisbane suburban shopping mall a couple of years ago had a makeover in which gigantic prints of happy people, fruit and vegetables, and assorted other shopping stuff, appeared on the outside of the centre's main building. I have seen something similar appearing in other shopping centres more recently too; it would seem to have suddenly become a favourite idea of the design consultants who shopping centres no doubt engage to freshen up their look.

Another similar problem: cinema complexes in those same malls that feature giant posters of the current movie stars, as at the date they were built. Of course, 15 years later, those same stars may be no longer the box office crowd pleaser they once were, but we still have their mugs up there trying to pull us in.

Most recently, a jewellery shop inside my local suburban mall was refurbished with by large, permanent backlit posters featuring a man and woman in an obvious sexual endeavour. (At its worst, the guy is shirtless in an predatory position above the semi-reclining, jewellery clad, woman, who is of course pleased with the attention.)

(Obviously, this post would be much better if I was able to illustrate this with photos.)

The problem I have with this type of design: it has looked cheap, tacky and dated as soon as it appeared. I can't imagine a look that is likely to date faster. Furthermore, it's just inherently inane: you don't need to drape shopping malls in giant prints of fruit, vegetables and people to let passers-by know that inside they will indeed find fruit, vegetables and people. Trying to tell women that jewellery is somehow associated with a better sex life seems outright dishonest: the number of men in history who have slept with a woman because they were particularly impressed with her attractive pendant could probably be counted on one hand.

Someone needs to taken to task for this. Maybe Councils need their own design consultants to enforce better taste against the shopping centres. And then we will need a Design Court system to resolve disputes, with lawyers who specialise in recognizing good taste. Or just invest me with power to adjudicate. That'll help.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Quick Pixar review

Saw Wall E on the weekend.

Charming enough, but not especially memorable. Like Ratatouille, the reviewers liked it more the public, it seems. Its relatively modest box office (for Pixar) is quite understandable: kids can't be counted on to like dystopia movies (even ones with optimistic endings), and their parents don't like being reminded they are too fat.

Overall, it's a mid-level Pixar. Thinking about the body of work again, I increasing tend to rate the funniest, wittiest script of them all as being in Monsters Inc, although A Bug's Life is full of wit too. (You really ought to rent Monsters Inc if you have never seen it.) The most exciting visually was easily The Incredibles. Toy Story had much charm, and the great advantage of novelty. Ratatouille is still the most adult themed, even if it does feature talking rats.

Finding Nemo remains, to my mind, a bit of a dud, but Cars was the least successful of all.

In any case, the supporting Pixar shorts are always excellent. "Presto," showing with Wall E, is one of the best.

Add to my to do list

How Webby is William Shatner?

William Shatner is apparently posting Youtube digital diary entries. They sound funny, even if it is unclear whether that's intentional.

Must watch tonight.

By the way, re the famous Shatner rendering of "Rocketman": have I mentioned before that I saw that on TV when the science fiction awards show it was featured in was first shown in Australia in 1978? Yes, I realised its glorious inanity as soon as I saw it. It's something to tell the children about when I am older.


The absurd claims companies make to boost their environmental credentials | Environment | The Guardian

Not a bad article here, listing the ways companies exaggerate or lie in their process of trying to claim Green credentials.

There are many examples given, but I particularly like this one:
...what are we to make of Fiji Water's claims to be cutting the carbon footprint of its water by 25% and offsetting the rest? "Every drop is green," it says. But isn't the whole idea of bottling water on a remote South Pacific island and shipping it to your dinner table just a tiny bit barmy?
High on list of things to do when I become Benevolent World Dictator will be to ban the production of bottled water. (Well, I suppose we can let a little bit into India for the tourists to drink.)

For your McMansion on the Moon

‘Waterless’ Concrete Seen As Building Block On Moon

There are little details in this report, but it says sulphur could be used as the binding agent on lunar concrete. But where does that come from?

Doctors and the "E" word

Erectile Dysfunction Gives Early Warning Of A Heart Attack, Warns Expert

Interesting to note:
...the link between erectile dysfunction and the risk of heart disease is being ignored by doctors, writes Dr Geoffrey Hackett from the Good Hope Hospital in Birmingham.

Over many years Hackett reports regularly seeing patients referred with erectile dysfunction after a heart attack, only to hear that they had developed erectile dysfunction two to three years before—a warning sign ignored by their general practitioners.

This part is amusingly put:
"Continuing to ignore these issues on the basis that cardiologists feel uncomfortable mentioning the word 'erection' to their patients or that they may have to deal with the management of a positive response, is no longer acceptable and possibly, based on current evidence, clinically negligent"

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Shut up Sam

What the hell? Sam de Brito, possibly the most undeservingly paid blogger in the world (well, I assume he gets paid something by Fairfax, despite the fact that he uses his blog constantly to promote his own books), confesses recently to spending a $1000 on cocaine on a weekend.

But that's OK, because he then writes how much he regrets it, in the process telling us that he lied to friends and (apparently) partook in some particularly perverse sexual activity. (Oh, why hold back Sam, you're usually talking about men needing to be more sensitive and open, aren't you?)

So, what's the upshot of this? An invitation to talk at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research on some panel about stress, drugs and mental health! He then finds the audience was not compassionate enough to a woman with a rambling question.

de Brito recently said of himself:
I like to think of myself as a New Age Yobbo, someone who knows a bit about books and fashion and sociology, uses some ten dollar words but can also regress to the grubbiest of Australian stereotypes if the situation calls for it.
Like telling us about the time he caught crab lice from a one night stand with a backpacker.

Look, I suppose there may at least be some redeeming value to confessional memoirs written by people towards the end of their life once they feel they have obtained some wisdom from the experience. But it's simply unedifying, and serves no public benefit, to publicise exploits you regret as soon as they have happened, even if you purport to be doing it as a mea culpa.

In particular with any talk about drugs, anything short of painting the experience as horrific almost certainly just has the effect of confirming to the young and impressionable that its worth trying it for themselves, to see what the fuss is about. (And even then, showing a near death from an overdose in Pulp Fiction was said to have caused an increase in heroin use in Australia. The person who claimed this: Phillip Adams, who is not exactly know to be into promoting moral panics.)

I find it a remarkable indictment of modern corporate mores that Fairfax should give this guy the space to run his tedious self-analysis on their pages. I can imagine quite an outcry if his stuff had appeared in mainstream newspaper 30 years ago. By all means, he could do this schtick on Blogger; then, while he may be as annoying and objectionable as he is now, at least it wouldn't be compounded by the fact that he is getting corporate support to share his faults with us all.

And why can't Sam get enough insight to realise that less "sharing" and navel gazing, and more "doing" (of worthwhile, responsible and mature acts) may be the way to become the better person he says he wants to be.

Tipler's back

How to test the many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics

Frank Tipler, the physicist who every other scientist thought went over the top with "The Physics of Immortality", only to see him outdo his idiosyncratic application of science to religion in "The Physics of Christianity," has recently published a possible way to test whether the "many worlds" interpretation of quantum physics is correct.

How neat. We may soon know if there are multiple versions of ourselves spread out across the multiverse. Can you imagine the number of books that would be written on the philosophical implications of that? (Well, there probably are quite a lot already, but establishing that it's true would be a philosopher's playground for another century or two at least.)

My hunch, however, given the vigorous debate that already goes on about what quantum physics means, is that most scientists won't accept that Tipler has provided a proof at all. (The fact that he starts using capital letters in one part of the arXiv paper is not too encouraging.)

Still, many years ago on The Science Show (Radio National), I remember someone was talking about a potential way that MWI might be testable in future. I can't remember the details, but it was certainly different to what the relatively simple method Tipler is suggesting.

Tiny nuclear power plants actually coming?

Nuclear-In-A-Box Startup Hyperion Raising More Cash -

Interesting, the idea of nuclear power becoming very local. (Hyperion says their model will power about 20,000 homes.)

The Greens will love the idea. Ha.

Don't tell Andrew Bolt

Less Ice In Arctic Ocean 6000-7000 Years Ago

Andrew Bolt and others have been posting a lot about the Arctic ice melt (and apparent recent rapid re-freeze), so he's bound to take encouragement from this article that suggests that the Arctic ocean had much less ice 7,000 years ago too, before our modern CO2 increase, of course.

My general impressions are as follows:

* the issue of the coming and going of Arctic ice is clearly not fully understood.

* of course there are AGW advocates who leap too quickly onto anything that appears to prove greenhouse warming. Those who wildly overstate the case as to the short term effects of AGW (such as Tim Flannery, Al Gore, etc) are usually not the scientists themselves.

* most climate scientists were actually somewhat cautious in what they said about the big 2007 melt. At Real Climate, for example, they said:
The disappearance of the ice was set up by warming surface waters and loss of the thicker multi-year ice in favor of thinner single-year ice. But the collapse of ice coverage this year was also something of a random event. This change was much more abrupt than the averaged results of the multiple IPCC AR4 models, but if you look at individual model runs, you can find sudden decreases in ice cover such as this. In the particular model run which looks most like 2007, the ice subsequently recovered somewhat, although never regaining the coverage before the meltback event.
* even if the current round of substantially lower than average summer ice is caused by completely different cyclic factors from CO2 increase, it may be a worry if the cycle continues because of its potential to have an enhancing effect on any warming that is caused by CO2 in coming decades.

Methane coming out of the Arctic ocean may well end up being a major concern too. We will hear more about that soon, it seems.

* Above all, remember my official line is that ocean acidification is a big enough issue alone to limit CO2 anyway. Doesn't matter if temperatures go up or down: a huge gamble with what will happen to ocean ecology is in play if CO2 is allowed to soar to levels not seen for millions of years.


Doctor shares secrets to calm your child

A doctor who has written a book about soothing babies and toddlers says this in the above interview:
Q: Do you have any ideas on how to have the happiest teenager on the block?

A: I can't tell you the whole secret approach, but I can tell you part of it uses a lot of duct tape. In a lot of ways, they're like toddlers - they want a lot more authority than they're prepared to handle, and they've got a lot of immaturity. A lot of the communication techniques that work with toddlers works with them as well. What hasn't been acknowledged is how important the nonverbal part of communication is. The way you acknowledge someone's feelings is actually more important than what you say. Even with the right words, if it's done in a very flat, psychiatrist voice, it makes you want to be more distant and find someone who does understand you. These books deal with discipline as well, but it turns out that 90 percent of getting your kids to behave well is respectful communication.
I can't quite tell if the duct tape bit is a joke or not.

The noddy girls identified

Labor's script is showing, brown noses out of joint - Annabel Crabb - Opinion

Annabel Crabb's column today answers the question: just who are those two nodding women MPs who always manage to get their face in shot on TV behind Kevin Rudd in Parliament?

What it doesn't tell us is: how do Parliamentarians score those seats? They must be worth an absolute mint in terms of free publicity to your own electorate.

The rest of the column (about how the Dorothy Dixers got emailed to journalists yesterday) is pretty interesting too.

PS: Christian Kerr's take on the day goes into more detail about the issue of how Rudd got his Reserve Bank advice second hand. Seems Kevin was hyperventilating at certain points during Question Time, but I don't recall seeing that part on the TV news.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Onsen appreciation

The Gangster In My Tub - The Atlantic (November 2008)

The Atlantic has a short article explaining the pleasures of Japanese onsen which is right on the money:
Why is all this fun? Japanese people sometimes explain the attraction with mumbo-jumbo about how onsen provide a spiritual experience. Personally, I think there’s something in the lizard part of our brain that really likes sitting around in hot water with no clothes on in a beautiful mountain setting. Also to be taken into account is that after the onsen, you can put on your yukata (a bathrobe-like garment provided by every ryokan) and eat wonderful food—the culinary quality at Japanese inns is amazingly high.
As the article mentions (and has photos of) the Yakuza at an onsen, I should mention that I have never seen a tattooed Yakuza in an onsen or sento. (I understand that they are not welcome at the great majority of such establishments.) I did read in an old edition of the Lonely Planet guide to Japan that a member of the Yakuza may be quite happy if you show an interest in his tattoos. I thought this odd advice: generally speaking, isn't it more prudent to avoid engaging gangsters in conversation about mutual interests?

Speaking of tattoos: God I've seen some awful examples on women at the shopping centre lately. What are they thinking?

Godless England

There's a God-shaped hole in Westminster | Rachel Sylvester - Times Online

Seems about right, this column.

Fighting over Radio National

One thing I have learnt about Radio National since Stephen Crittenden spat the dummy about losing his show is that they don't update their presenters' photos often. (Have a look at Stephen's unflattering unhappy photo in the story on this compared to his RN bio.)

I am being needlessly bitchy, I suppose, as in fact I would prefer The Religion Report stay. He doesn't do a bad job, I reckon, and I occasionally get to listen to it.

However, there is a lot of dross on RN and, apart from Crittenden's show and (perhaps) the Media Report, the other ones mentioned for axing will not be missed by more than a handful of listeners.

The really great presenters of the Radio National are, I reckon, Alan Saunders and Norman Swan. Both just come across as good natured polymaths, and don't wear their political ideology on their sleeves as do so many other Radio National presenters.

If you have a spare half hour, you could do much worse than listen to Saunder's "By Design" show of last week which featured Paul Keating and Elizabeth Farrelly talking about Sydney's Circular Quay. Quite entertaining in parts.

Excrementally interesting

Excerpts from The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why It Matters.

It's all about China and excrement, but it is interesting.

The Japanese, incidentally, followed the Chinese system of really appreciating the value of their poo. Have a look at this Youtube entitled "The role of human excrement in Japanese agriculture" for a brief summary.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Strange missiles

UFOs, alien abductions and Tina Turner feature in Close Encounters secret files - Telegraph

The Telegraph reports that some more recent government UFO files have been released, including some on a few very odd "unexplained missile" cases from 1991.

These cases don't particularly suggest aliens involvement (not in the traditional flying saucer sense), but they remainpuzzling nonetheless.

Proposed end of the world update

Also while I was away, Rainer Plaga made his response to the criticisms of his original paper suggesting that the Large Hadron Collider could create a dangerous, earth threatening, mini black hole.

He added an appendix to his paper on arXiv, here, saying that Giddings and Mangano's criticism that he used an equation incorrectly is just wrong. For the earlier explanation of the background, see my posts here, here and here.

I'm in no position to judge the accuracy of Rainer's rejoinder, just as I had trouble understanding Giddings and Mangano's criticism. And no physicist on the Web seems to have commented on Rainer's response.

So: who knows? Some informed comment on this would be welcome, but I guess money worries are more important that the end of the world...

UPDATE: the accident that shut the LHC down appears to require more work to fix than first thought. Nature is reporting it won't be turned on again til June 2009, but even then some seem to think that is optimistic.

Australian supermarkets note

Supermarkets slash prices to keep fearful customers | The Japan Times Online

Some very strong supermarket competition in Japan:

Major supermarkets are engaging in price cuts to keep customers as a sagging stock market and worsening corporate earnings pressure consumers to tighten their purse strings.

Aeon Co. began its biggest discount campaign ever Saturday at about 2,000 stores run by group companies, slashing prices on about 1,000 items by an average 20 percent until the end of February.

Maher miss

I see that while I was on holiday, a Bill Maher documentary on religion was released in the States.

Although Rotten Tomatoes indicates it was generally well received by the critics, it seems when you read the reviewers' key comments at RT that many of those who liked it still had reservations about it being basically one big cheap shot. (It is a curious thing, sometimes, as to how RT decides whether a particular review is, overall, positive or negative.) Kenneth Turan of the LA Times explains well the reasons he and others didn't like it.

Anyhow, the main reason this is mentioned here is because I thought David Wolpe wrote a good rebuttal to this type of criticism of religion.

Surprisingly, I see that the movie has made $9,000,000 in the States, in 3 weeks. (The production budget is said to be $2.5 million.) I take it that counts as a success. Athiests with a liking for a grating liberal comedian are willing to pay for it, then. Unfortunately, more completely one sided liberal docos are probably on the way.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Madonna divorce post

Catherine Bennett: Now's the time for Guy to rise above Madge's material world The Observer

Catherine Bennett doesn't have much time for Madonna. Writing of her children's books: The English Roses Madonna commands young readers not to judge people by appearances. Just because a person might seem to be, say, meretricious, materialistic, foul-mouthed and youth-obsessed, with disturbing musculature and a habit of waggling her venerable crotch in front of hundreds of thousands of complete strangers, doesn't mean she might not, in reality, inhabit a rarified spiritual plane from which - to the great good fortune to those around her - she occasionally returns with important messages about the sacred side of life.

PS: I had somehow missed the fact that Madonna has directed a movie just released in the States. (Her soon-to-be-ex-hubbie Guy has one out too.) Anthony Lane therefore has a lot of fun reviewing both films, neither of which he likes. Here's his take on Ritchie's film (noting that he has just rubbished Madonna's movie - "Filth and Wisdom" (!) - for being incompetent on every level):
“RocknRolla,” by contrast, has competence on its side. Whole scenes go by in which one shot actually matches the next. In place of the bleak fuzz that veils half the setups in “Filth and Wisdom,” the images here are crisply defined, even if Ritchie has proved unable to shed the fondness for muted mud-tones that graced “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.” Why, there are even proper actors! Giving reasonable performances! This film’s got everything, although purists might quibble that it lacks any sliver of plausibility or dramatic interest.
As for the title of Madonna's movie, apparently the narrator says: "Without filth, there can be no wisdom." Deep, Madonna, very deep.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Psychoanalysing Obama

David Brooks: Thinking about Obama - International Herald Tribune

David Brooks' column on the unexpected (in terms of what a psychologist might predict given his childhood) and somewhat un-nerving coolness and unflappability of Obama makes some good points. (Although it is always dangerous to make too much out of just the public persona.)

Of course, Brooks fails to mention the obvious explanations: it could be he's either a robot (has he ever lived near the place where Disney builds their animatronics?) or the Terminal Man (with a mood controlling chip in his brain). Investigative journalists should be looking for unexplained hospital admissions. (Good thing I read Michael Crichton and can see what is going on.)

Bubble waiting to be burst

Dubai prices rising as fast as buildings - International Herald Tribune:

Richard Waryn has lived in Dubai for only two months but he already is certain that the glitz capital of the Mideast lives up to its go-go reputation. What he is not so sure about is whether to sink his money into the sleek apartment towers springing up everywhere.

With property prices up 40 percent this year - and critics warning that a slide is coming - other potential buyers are asking themselves the same question.

By the way, Richard is not your average investor. On page 2 of the article, we read this:
In the end, Waryn and his wife, Liz, a lawyer, opted to rent a 550-square-meter duplex penthouse with private pool and terraces overlooking the sea. The $100,000 annual rent seemed a better deal than buying an equivalent property for about $4 million, although he said they still may buy an investment property.
He's got a bit of loose change lying around, it seems.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Tuna must be in trouble...

BBC NEWS | Closure call for tuna 'disgrace'

If even Japan is calling for a moratorium on fishing Mediterranean tuna, then you know the stocks must be very low indeed:

In 2006, Iccat scientists recommended catches be limited to about 15,000 tonnes per year.

But the government appointees that make the decisions chose to allow quotas twice as big, and it is estimated that a further 20,000 tonnes are landed illegally each year.

As a result, the number of fish has fallen to about one-third of its level in the 1970s.

Indeed, the Messiah cometh

A Don's Life by Mary Beard - Times Online - WBLG: My Dad, John McCain

If you thought conservatives were exaggerating in their complaint that Obama was being treated as the Messiah, have a read of Mary Beard's blog, where she looks at the kid's books written about both McCain and Obama.

She starts off complaining about the giant airbrush waved over McCain in the "young readers" book about him, but then notes that the Obama books are significantly worse.

Of "Barack Obama, Son of Promise, Child of Hope", Mary notes:
Never mind maverick patriotism, here god him/herself appears to have a direct line to young Barack. One Sunday in church he (that’s god) says, “Look around you. Now look at me. There is hope enough here to last a lifetime.” And somewhere along the line, Obama seems to turn into Moses.

On two other books:

Religion is less in your face in Jonah Winter’s Barack, also aimed at under 10s. But you still have to put up with him being born on a “moonlit night” (really?) to a Mom “white as whipped cream”. And no less puke-making is Garen Thomas's, Yes, we can, aimed at slightly older kids. How about this, quoted by the New York Times reviewer: “There has emerged a new leader who seems to be granting Americans a renewed license to dream. . . . People believe he understands them, because by some measure he is them. . . . He manages, through what appears to be genuine concern, to uplift those who have fallen and bring hope anew to both the cynic and the idealist.”

Surprisingly, Mary says the books are selling well, and she assumes it can't all be to adults wanting a laugh.

When exactly did publishers realise there was a market for such guff?

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Pretty moving picture time

There's been too many words here lately, so here's a bit of video of the Tokyo Disney light parade taken by me a couple of weeks ago. More commentary on the Japanese and Disney is to come, but just pretty pictures for the moment:

And hey, I've just learnt how to rotate an AVI file with the freeware VirtualDub. (Makes for a small image here, though):

Prediction: Ellen will weep for days

In California, the presidential race is taking a back seat to gay marriage. - Slate Magazine

Fascinating article here about the unexpected twists and turns in the proposed constitutional ban on gay marriage that Californians will be voting on when they go to the Presidential polls.

The proposition initially looked doomed to fail, but a case of over-reach by some gay marriage supporters - a school taking its first graders on a field trip to their teacher's lesbian wedding (!) - has been a gift to their opposition.

Can you imagine how much Ellen DeGeneres will carry on about this if the ban gets up (as many think now will happen)?

Use it or lose it

BBC NEWS | Health | Internet use 'good for the brain'

So, using the internet might help older folk hold off dementia.

Good news for my 85 year old Mum, then. She took up the internet about 4 years ago (good), but spends about 90% of her time on line checking the latest on the Colin Firth fansites (embarrassing). She even wrote to his fan club and got a "signed" photo sent back to her. She likes to believe he signed it personally.

I suppose if she ever does get dementia, me and my brothers could keep her happy by just introducing ourselves as Colin when we visit her. (Don't worry, I think she would laugh at that suggestion if I told her.)

On target?

I said a few posts back that I expected there would be some criticism of the targeting of the Rudd's sudden spend. It took a couple of days, but it's finally here, via Mike Steketee in The Australian:

Less clear is the justification for making the same payments to all those on part-pensions, including couples who can earn private incomes of up to $66,000 a year and own assets of up to $857,000, not counting their home. Some of them will exercise the discretion to put the money into savings rather than spend it. Weaker still are the grounds for extending the payments to all those with a seniors health card, available to self-funded single retirees with incomes of up to $50,000 and couples up to $80,000. They already benefit from the superannuation tax concessions that become more generous as income rises.

If the Government thinks these people should receive payments, then why not those on much lower incomes who would relish the opportunity for some additional spending power? There still may be the odd bludger among those on Newstart, but they do not have the option of keeping their benefit while they earn $66,000 a year and hold substantial assets.

It's this sort of stuff that Labor always criticised Howard for.

As for the First Home Owners Grant, people tend to forget that the thing is not means tested at all, and is paid whether you are buying a $200,000 fibro house in Cunnamulla, or a $2,000,000 apartment with harbour views. As Steketee (jeez I wish he would change his name by Deed Poll) says:
If the aim was truly to maximise the spending bang for the government buck, at least some of the money could have been better used to expand the new and promising scheme to subsidise the building of low-rent housing. As well, the Government could have taken the opportunity of slack in the building industry to increase public housing, which, after taking account of population growth, has fallen 100,000 homes below the level of 10years ago.
I am still waiting to see more criticism of the short fuse of this spending too. If blown too quickly, I don't see how it will do much more than delay a big slow down by more than a quarter or two.

Putin's tactics still around

Toxic pellets found in car of Russian lawyer - International Herald Tribune
The French police are investigating how toxic mercury pellets ended up in the car of a human rights lawyer who fell ill in Strasbourg on Tuesday, a day before pretrial hearings in Moscow into the killing of one of her best-known clients, the journalist and Kremlin critic Anna Politkovskaya.

Always some good news somewhere

Flat-panel TV prices set to dive, analysts say

It's nice to know that while the world's finances dash themselves upon the rocks of ... hmm, I've started a metaphor I don't know how to finish... at least we will be all able to watch it on our new cheap flat screen TVs.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Maths, mind and God

Here's a couple of odd recent papers of interest to be found on arXiv:

* the first has the intriguing title: Modeling the creative process of the mind by prime numbers and a simple proof of the Riemann Hypothesis. Here's a bit from the abstract:
The creative process of the mind is lawfully determined but the outcome is unpredictable. The mathematical equivalent or model of this process is the creation of primes. Primes have the inherent property of unpredictability but can be generated by the creation algorithm of the mind, termed the Prime Law, via a fully deterministic lawful process. This new understanding of the essence of primes can deduce some of the best-known properties of primes, including the Riemann Hypothesis (RH).
I was not familiar with the Riemann Hypothesis, and the discussion of it in the paper is pretty interesting. The author perhaps gets a bit too much ying & yang-y, but overall it's worth a look.

* The significance of maths overall gets a run in a paper by a few mathematicians/philosophers (who one would at least have to suspect as being Catholic) entitled In whose mind is Mathematics an "a priori cognition"?

The argument, if I understand it correctly, is that if Kant's view of mathematics is correct ("an 'a priori' cognition"), then modern maths with its proof that there are some unsolvable questions for the human mind means that mathematics must exist in a mind greater than humans, which "can contain the whole of mathematics at once". Ergo, maths proves God.

I'm not entirely sure how original this argument is. Godel thought he had come up with a proof of God, but his argument was (I think) more esoteric.

The view that mathematics leads its own Platonic existence while waiting to be discovered by human minds can easily lead to theistic thoughts. I suppose you can avoid the issue of whether maths has to exist within any mind at all by arguing like cosmologist Max Tegmark, who goes as far as to say that the Universe is actually made of mathematics. However, I am not entirely sure that anyone can fully understand what that means.

Anyway, with my soft spot for Kant, I like the idea that he and modern mathematicians may have together proved an omniscient Mind exists throughout the universe.

If Fred Flintstone ran Ikea ....

Dezeen - Max Lamb at Johnson Trading Gallery

Oh come on. Even just as art it hardly takes much effort to do this. Surely.


Dezeen - 102 Dwellings by Dosmasuno Arquitectos

Architects (or their PR firms?) can really talk crap when they put their minds to it. From the above link, about a blocky bunch of apartments in Madrid:
Despite the guidelines drawn on the plots, places need to express their own personality, to arise naturally, to construct themselves. And concretely this one is aligned against a green area, against the concatenation of public spaces that link the old Carabanchel district with its forest through the new neighbourhood. In response to these conditions, the dwellings are compressed onto one edge, onto a single linear piece, in search for the genus loci of the place, views and an optimal orientation in which east and west share the south, generating the limit of the activity, soothing the interior and defining the exterior.

It's a pretty weird building that looks half interesting from some angles, but (as many commenters note) it also will likely be a graffiti magnet. And what is in those bits sticking out?

Fearing for krill (and penguins, whales, etc)

The krilling fields: study fears catastrophe in Antarctic food chain |

From the report:

Captive-bred krill at the Australian Antarctic Division developed deformities and lost energy when they were exposed to the greenhouse gas at levels predicted globally for the year 2100.

The damage meant that the krill were unlikely ever to breed, a University of Tasmania investigator, Lilli Hale, said yesterday.

Polar life, from tiny seabirds through penguins and seals to whales, depend for food on Antarctic krill, Euphasia superba.

I see that Tim Blair today has a short post up linking to a different ocean acidification story, pretty much as if it is the first time he has heard of the issue. I have said it before, but I don't understand why it is a topic that attracts very intermittent coverage, as it will happen whether or not the planet heats or cools. Tim's commenters all appear to be dismissive experts on the topic without actually having read much about it.

On the (perhaps slim) chance that Tim or his readers will follow my advice to look at it harder before pooh-poohing the idea, I link to this article again. Then they can get back to me when they find an actual ocean scientist who has looked at the issue and come up saying "nah, it's nothing to worry about." (Seafriends website does not count, as I have explained before.)

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Reading Lewis letters

Letter-writing professor reluctantly hounded by heaven - On Line Opinion - 14/10/2008

Greg Clarke dips his toe into a huge volume of published CS Lewis letters and finds it pretty fascinating.

Tim Train will be pleased: 3,900 pages to read! (Over 3 volumes, it seems.)

Simple idea

Technology Review: Better Solar for Big Buildings

What a neat, simple way of improving solar cells. (Thin film ones, at least.)

Australia stuffs up whaling gain

BBC NEWS | Science & Environment | Whale deal falls at last minute

It seems Kevin Rudd's push to be tough on a whaling issue is widely considered to have backfired. It's an interesting story, about how we nearly got Japan and Norway to agree to a resolution:
"there is inadequate scientific information to support an assertion that controlling great whale populations can increase fisheries yields".
This was seen as a way of getting Japan to stop running the argument that whales were eating their fish (a very populist argument with no solid science behind it). Instead:

The amendment tabled by Australia asked delegations instead to acknowledge "that the great whales play no significant role in the current crisis affecting global fisheries".

Twenty-nine nations, Japan among them, could not accept the wording or the manner of its introduction. Although it passed with a majority of about three governments in favour to every one against, the anti-whaling bloc will not be able to say that Japan accepted it.

Kevin (or at least his delegates), does not play whale politics well, judging by this reported reaction:

Japanese officials who had participated in an intensive series of consensus-building discussions during the week - at which Australia was also represented - were furious at the last-ditch attempt to introduce stronger wording than had been agreed.

"Australian bad behaviour has put the spirit of co-operation in jeopardy," said Hideki Moronuki, a senior official with Japan's fisheries agency.

"Australia had participated in the [consensus-building] process, they were in the room all the time - this is back-handed."

Officials from other anti-whaling nations agreed, one calling the last-minute intervention "despicable".

The Australian delegation here declined to comment.

Pokies expect a good Christmas

Rudd pumps in $10b - National -

There's some pretty surprising generosity from Kevin Rudd in his stimulus package. The part of it for pensioners and parents comes as a lump sum just before Christmas. The argument against that: they'll blow it all at once on holiday fun, and still can't afford groceries before or after. The argument for it (un-stated, but I would guess someone in Treasury has said it): we want them to spend it quickly, and not just on groceries.

It seems an odd choice to be using pensioners as the people you want to encourage to spend and stimulate the economy.

The new home buyers increases are good for builders and real estate agents, but is this the area of the economy that is in most need of stimulus?

I suspect there will be criticism from both left and right that this should have been better targeted.

Lesbian monkey killers

Loving bonobos have a carnivorous dark side

Fruit makes up much of their diet, but the primates aren't herbivores. Small ungulates called forest antelopes, or duikers, often fall prey to bonobos.

These hunts tend to be fairly simple, with a single bonobo cornering a duiker then quickly feasting on the still-living animal as more apes hurried to the scene. Hohmann says he has witnessed a duiker "still vocally blurting as the bonobos opened the stomach and intestines."

The lesson I take from this: evolutionary psychology tells me not to trust lesbians.

UPDATE: How odd. The New Scientist version quoted above (through some poor editing, I think) does not make it clear, as does the Phys.Org version, that in fact they hunt and eat other primates too:
The researchers have now seen three instances of successful hunts in which bonobos captured and ate their primate prey. In two other cases, the bonobo hunting attempts failed. The data from LuiKotale showed that both bonobo sexes play active roles in pursuing and hunting monkeys. The involvement of adult females in the hunts (which is not seen in chimps) may reflect social patterns such as alliance formation and cooperation among adult females, they said.

Overall, the discovery challenges the theory that male dominance and aggression must be causally linked to hunting behavior, an idea held by earlier models of the evolution of aggression in human and non-human primates.
Well, the former poster girls and boys of International Gay and Lesbian Review don't look so hot as role models anymore. Unless, of course, you happen to be a lesbian vampire killer.

Yay for whites!

Break out the bubbly: White wine may be good for you - health - 13 October 2008 - New Scientist

EU freebie makes Tim swoon

Best elements of left and right make Danes great |

Looks like the European Union hosted Tim Colebatch in Denmark, and he came back swooning over how well it's odd combination of right-ish and left-ish (but mainly left-ish) policies work.

I see the population of that country is 5.5 million, it has an area about 2/3 the size of Tasmania, and is within spitting distance of most its major trading partners.

Governing that country is perhaps just a little different from managing Australia. More like running Sydney as a country.

Weird economics

Step right up for the $20b red-spot special - Annabel Crabb - Opinion

Annabel Crabb sums up my feelings about the current economic circumstances pretty well:
COULD this crisis get any stranger? We're now in a state of confirmed international fiscal panic, but there's money everywhere.
And so much for my suggestion that every government guaranteeing their banks is not really a guarantee at all. Couldn't they have held off the rally for just one more day of losses so that I could feel clever?

UPDATE: a Salon writer suggests caution on yesterday's surge:
Monday’s irrational exuberance does not mean that the underlying problems are anywhere near fixed, however. Far from it — all that can be said for sure is that for a few hours today market participants believed that a truly serious effort to grapple with the financial crisis was underway — a promise by world leaders to engage in the largest globally coordinated government intervention in the economy in human history....

It’s quite possible that a worldwide bank rescue could succeed, and we’d still be facing a serious recession.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Oregon Way

Katharine Whitehorn on assisted suicides in Oregon | World news | The Guardian

See above for an interesting report on how Oregon's assisted suicide laws have panned out.

Basically, the laws there seem to be much more tightly written than in some other places, and they presumably would not go far enough for many people. Although the doctor has to say that the patient has limited time left to live (not even necessary in Holland), in Oregon it need only be 6 months. Surely there would be a lot of rubbery estimates being made for those who are not clearly going to go within a week or two.

Even though it does not change my mind about euthanasia, it at least sounds to be a system which has worked in a less objectionable way than in other jurisdictions.

Interestingly, it is claimed that there is one unforeseen consequence:
A survey of Oregon doctors also showed that, since PAS, they have actually taken more care with areas such as pain relief - presumably in the hope of making their patients content to stay alive.
UPDATE: Our very own unhealthily-obsessed-with-suicide Dr Nitschke meanwhile evidently believes that information on easy suicide should be available over the internet to any person, whether terminally ill, neurotic, or just a teenager fed up with not being able to get a date on Saturday nights. He continues to be a disgrace to his profession and his cause's own worst advocate.

On guaranteeing banks

I heard Lindsay Tanner on Radio National this morning talking about the government's sudden decision to guarantee all bank deposits, as well as the banks' borrowings from overseas.

If I am not mistaken, he indicated the bank's borrowings side of it adds another potential $700 billion or so to the $700 billion the deposits guarantee could incur, in theory.

That "in theory" part was, of course, continually stressed by Tanner. But surely the danger of making it clear that "we are only saying this because other governments have done it, not because we will ever have to pay out on it" is that it makes it pretty clear that it's not a real guarantee in the sense that the government could not actually live up to its promise anyway, if the worldwide financial system does collapse. (Well, maybe they could if they simply legislate to nationalise all banks?)

Maybe someone in the media or on a blog has already made the observation, but it seems to me that if too many governments make the same guarantee, it in fact makes the exercise pretty worthless in terms of restoring confidence.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Am tired

I'm back in the land of wide open spaces, big houses, and annoyingly long drives to get takeaway.

It's not just Japan; I guess any couple of weeks in an Asian city full of apartment dwellers and high population densities lead to a bit of culture shock on return. Things seem to be spaced so far apart here.

Anyway, more on my ever-so-slightly interesting personal experiences in Japan in some future posts.

Meanwhile, this article in the Japan Times gives some good background (in a short space) on the very peculiar role of the Yakuza in Japanese society:

1,500 fed-up Kyushu citizens sue to evict yakuza HQ

This section in particular is of surprise:

In March, Suruga Corp., a once listed company, was revealed to have paid over ¥15 billion to Koyo Jitsugyo, an Osaka firm linked to a Yamaguchi-gumi affiliate. In return, from 2003 to 2007, Koyo gangsters removed tenants from five properties Suruga wished to acquire, taking on average 12 to 18 months to empty a building.

"We cannot make profits unless we sell land quickly," Takeo Okawa, director of Suruga's general affairs department, told the Asahi newspaper. "Speed is our lifeline. Koyo proved that it had the speed." Suruga reportedly made ¥27 billion in profit by selling the property.

And you thought New South Wales property development was corrupt!

It's also funny to think that when organised crime is in a society which just generally doesn't "do" illegal drugs, they will nonetheless get into business, just the more legitimate ones. In fact, according to the Japan Times feature:
A new police white paper warns that the yakuza have moved into securities trading and infected hundreds of Japan's listed companies, a "disease that will shake the foundations of the economy." Experts say Yamaguchi-gumi in particular has become a behemoth with resources to rival Japan's larger corporations.
Maybe it's a coin toss as to what's worse for a society.

There was a somewhat interesting documentary on SBS earlier this year called "Young Yakuza". It was actually a bit slow moving, and I left it half way through, but from what I saw I agree with this blog's comments about it. One of the most notable things was how vain the local Yakuza boss appeared to be. You certainly would not want to be sitting anywhere near him at a dinner party.