Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

10 odd things about this blog

1. It's persistently unpopular. (Well, I think that's odd.*)

2. In any event, the fact that I still blog and Tim Dunlop doesn't gives me uncharitable pleasure. (He was a bore, yet got paid for it!**)

3. Low visitor numbers let me see where regular readers are from. Maybe this has been mentioned before, but there is a very regular repeat visitor who seems to come from or via Bowral in New South Wales. This person is perhaps the most faithful daily visitor, although Tim from Melbourne might drop in more often in any one day. More exotically, there is another visitor - less frequent lately, but still here sometimes - from South Africa. I have still no idea who either of these people are. There are very, very few visitors from the continent of South America. This is obviously the great untapped potential for readership there. Hola! (and Ola!) ¡Tendré una cera brasileña masculina en su honor!***

4. It is remarkable the number of people who come here via the search "Julia Gillard's ear lobes". There are many more ear lobe observers in the nation than I would have suspected.

5. "Old time sex" also seems to be a perennial favourite search term. Is it old time people who search for old time sex?

6. There's also a search or two per week for "A lonely cow weeps at dawn" since it was mentioned here. Listing the title of porn movies is obviously a way to increase hits.

7. I realised, when Club Troppo invited people to nominate their own posts for consideration as "Best Blog Posts" of 2008, I don't do essays. The entry I nearly self nominated was only about 600 words long. Funny, it feels to me like I am writing more than I do.

8. Why wasn't this horsey post from 2007 nominated for an award? It's a personal favourite.

9. I like my travelogue-ish posts, and am often pleased with the photos accompanying them, but (almost) no one ever comments. (Well, I did get one comment earlier this year, but it was deleted for containing the word "schlong".)

10. No one has ever donated a cent. I am thinking of announcing that I am in fact transgender and in need of the operation, as that worked for at least one other blogger. Don't tell the Pope, though.

* Too eclectic for its own good, is my theory. It also manages to have a broadband annoyance factor: those on the right who are climate skeptics (ie, about 95% of them, it seems) no doubt tire of posts on CO2 and ocean acidification; and those on the left probably don't enjoy semi-regular bagging of Islam, China, and gay rights.

** Add "unnecessary catty comments" to the list of reasons why people don't visit.

*** I will have a men's brazilian wax in your honour!

Colebatch criticism continues

One little word undoes the PM's claims on greenhouse gases |

Tim Colebatch argues that the major faults of the current European ETS are repeated in Kevin Rudd's proposed scheme.

Worth reading.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Ghosts of Everest

Voices in the air -- Windsor 337: a2667 -- BMJ

Here's a an interesting first hand account from the British Medical Journal of spectral assistance being provided to a an exhausted climber on Mt Everest. It's not an unusual story, apparently.

As with my recent post about bereavement "ghosts", the author of the article knows that the scientific explanation is the brain playing tricks because of the unusual stress it is under. (Indeed, the deprivation of oxygen aspect of the Everest stories can be seen as being the same explanation for death bed visions - where a person close to death starts chatting to an unseen, deceased, relative in the room. These are at their most suggestive of the supernatural when the "visitor" is of a relative who has recently died, yet the dying person had not been told.)

All very inconclusive, of course, but interesting nonetheless.

Greenhouse stuff

Paul Sheehan has a column in the SMH today about Kevin Rudd's emissions trading scheme which about right.

I would add this, being my thoughts since I wrote my initial rambling post:

* regardless of the issue of the variable target, which greatly offends many for being too soft, and about which I am still undecided, the more fundamental problem is the design of the scheme itself. If the scheme is badly flawed, the targets it aims for are not that relevant anyway;

* I remain sceptical of all ETS's, for the reasons which have been given a lot of publicity in the international press lately (see my various posts on this). However, it would seem the only hope of international sentiment moving away from using ETS as the concept would be if Obama's advisers were strongly against it, and the US started to push for carbon tax instead. Who knows if that will happen?;

* Kevin Rudd seems to have come up with the worst of all possible worlds: a target idea which keeps no one happy (well, except for some of the polluters); an ETS; and an ETS that seems to repeat the mistakes already identified in existing schemes.

* Few are saying it, but I think it confirms Malcolm Turnbull's earlier criticism about Rudd's early start up date for an ETS: it is better to get it right and have a scheme that starts a year later, than to rush into one which is fatally flawed.

In other greenhouse commentary: Andrew Bolt cited David Evans again on Saturday about the alleged absence of a "hot spot" in the atmosphere being strong evidence against greenhouse gases as the cause of global warming.

Club Troppo's Nicholas Gruen knows Evans personally, and managed to get him to agree to taking part in a debate in comments to a Troppo post.

It worked very well, and I have to say (not to my surprise) Dr Evans does not look like the winner, not by a long shot. (The comment by "Rex Ringshot" seemed particularly valuable, and showed that non-scientists can write helpful explanation.)

Did Andrew Bolt follow the argument, I wonder?

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Wind farms and truth in advertising

Promoters overstated the environmental benefit of wind farms - Telegraph
The British Wind Energy Association (BWEA) has agreed to scale down its calculation for the amount of harmful carbon dioxide emission that can be eliminated by using wind turbines to generate electricity instead of burning fossil fuels such as coal or gas.
The problem was the BWEA liked to use a figure based on older, dirtier coal fired plants; but as British coal power is much cleaner now, the BWEA is being forced to revise its claims.

The most interesting part, though, is the ridiculous number of turbines needed to make big inroads into renewable targets:

Hundreds of wind farms are being planned across the country, adding to the 198 onshore and offshore farms - a total of 2,389 turbines - already in operation. Another 40 farms are currently under construction.

Experts have previously calculated that to help achieve the Government's aim of saving around 200 million tons of CO2 emissions by 2020 - through generating 15 per cent of the country's electricity from wind power - would require 50,000 wind turbines.

But the new figure for carbon displacement means that twice as many turbines would now be needed to save the same amount of CO2 emissions.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The wonderful Rex (the Runt)

I'm not sure if he has ever made an appearance on Australian TV before, but I've only recently discovered the very eccentric but very amusing Rex the Runt on ABC2. It's an Aardman claymation production, but much "edgier" than Wallace & Grommit.

Many, if not all, episodes are on Youtube, or you can find them via the official website. Here's a sample for your consideration:

It makes me happy, but why didn't I know about this show before??

In case you hadn't noticed...

... the meeting of the American Geophysical Union is on at the moment, and this Nature blog: In The Field: American Geophysical Union Archives has heaps of interesting posts about the various talks and papers being presented.

There appears to be nothing substantial in the way of global warming scepticism there (sorry my band of conservative greenhouse skeptic readers). But here are some of the more interesting posts:

* the main protagonists in the "hockey stick" controversy were together still disagreeing. (I personally am of the view that it was not that important an issue anyway.)

* here's another confirmation that Arctic ice is not just melting more in recent summers, it's getting thinner too.

* what are the odds of really abrupt climate changes? There's some relatively good news in there (Atlantic ocean circulation that keep England warm isn't expected to stop this century, and massive amounts of methane from underground may also stay in place for that long.) But, they now think ocean level rises will be faster and higher than IPCC last reported.

Even so, I don't tend to get too worked up about this (rising sea levels) as an issue, although I suppose I should if a metre in a century is possible. Certainly, it hasn't started yet, and engineering at least has a chance of addressing it in many areas. It's not as if the large rises be detected as soon as they start happening, and they will take many years to be fully realised.

My hunch is also to not be so sure on the methane issue. It seems poorly understood.

* here's a novel suggestion for climate geo-engineering that sounds much more "do-able" than most other ideas. (It's about getting rid of high altitude clouds.)

British character cycles

Paul Johnson writes about what he observed of people's stoic behaviour during the great depression in England, and it ties in well with this recent essay by Theodore Dalrymple concerning the modern change in British character.

Dalrymple describes it this way:

Gradually, but overwhelmingly, the culture and character of British restraint have changed into the exact opposite. Extravagance of gesture, vehemence of expression, vainglorious boastfulness, self-exposure, and absence of inhibition are what we tend to admire now—and the old modesty is scorned. It is as if the population became convinced of Blake’s fatuous dictum that it is better to strangle a baby in the cradle than to let a desire remain unacted upon.

Certainly, many Britons under the age of 30 or even 40 now embrace a kind of sub-psychotherapeutic theory that desires, if not unleashed, will fester within and eventually manifest themselves in dangerous ways. To control oneself for the sake of the social order, let alone for dignity or decorum (a word that would either mean nothing to the British these days, or provoke peals of laughter), is thus both personally and socially harmful.

While he doesn't really examine in detail the reasons behind this change of national character, he does make the interesting claim that the British have acted that way before:
Before the English and British became known for self-restraint and an ironic detachment from life, they had a reputation for high emotionalism and an inability to control their passions. The German poet Heinrich Heine, among others, detested them as violent and vulgar. It was only during the reign of William IV—“Silly Billy,” the king before Victoria—that they transformed into something approaching the restrained people whom I encountered as a child and sometimes as a doctor.
As always, he is an interesting, if rather gloomy, writer.

Just a naughty "manager"

Russia rewriting Josef Stalin's legacy --

Good grief. I knew Stalin was still considered a folk hero by many older Russians who miss the days of communism, but I didn't realise his image was being rehabilitated with the help of the State. According to the story:
In Russian classrooms, history teachers are guided by a new, government-approved textbook, Alexander Filippov's "Modern History of Russia: 1945-2006," which hails Stalin as an efficient manager who had to resort to extreme measures to modernize the lumbering Soviet agrarian economy.

There were, writes Filippov, "rational reasons behind the use of violence in order to ensure maximum efficiency."

A museum commemorating Stalin as a national hero opened in 2006 in the southern city of Volgograd. The following year, a 40-episode television drama broadcast on a state-controlled network whitewashed Stalin's crimes and portrayed him as Russia's savior.
Putin apparently told history teachers "We can't allow anyone to impose a sense of guilt on us."

What a dangerous ideologue he is.

Something to look out for

Intimate Persuasion: Television: The New Yorker

William Shatner has a half hour chat show on US cable TV at the moment. The link is to a short review of it, and this is the key line: it happens, Shatner’s intense weirdness makes things compelling.

Sounds reasonable to me...

Let's Buy Pakistan's Nukes -

Made me laugh

Thought Experiments : The Blog: The Confession of Supremely Wisegood

This post at Bryan The Orchard Farmer's blog made me laugh.

While you're there, you can read his much more serious post on torture in America, and the good set of comments which follow. (Oddly, Bryan seems to quite like American political columnists who are into "bi scenes" and have fixations on political pregnancy conspiracies.)

The mongrel holiday

It’s a Narnia Christmas -

This blog has been decidedly un-cheery lately, so here's a nice essay about Narnia and what it shares with the modern feast of Christmas.

OK, back to gloom soon...

The Economist talks China

Asia's wounded giants | Suddenly vulnerable | The Economist

This is from last week, but worth noting:
Yet in China, too, the present downturn is jangling nerves. The country is a statistical haze, but the trade figures for last month—with exports 2% lower than in November 2007 and imports 18% down—were shocking. Power generation, generally a reliable number, fell by 7%. Even though the World Bank and other forecasters still expect China’s GDP to grow by 7.5% in 2009, that is below the 8% level regarded, almost superstitiously, as essential if huge social dislocation is to be avoided. Just this month a senior party researcher gave warning of what he called, in party-speak, “a reactive situation of mass-scale social turmoil”. Indeed, demonstrations and protests, always common in China, are proliferating, as laid-off factory-workers join dispossessed farmers, environmental campaigners and victims of police harassment in taking to the streets.
Well, I guess the "glass half full" way of looking at massive social disruption in China is that at least they should stop burning so much coal. (Of course, burning towns and villages might counter that somewhat.)

Things, I fear, are going to get very ugly in 2009.

A suggestion for St Mary's

Those with an interest in church affairs will have heard of St Mary's South Brisbane Catholic parish, which is (one suspects) the most liberal Catholic parish in Australia. As it happens, I've had a couple of relatives who have gone there for a number of years. (It was probably a decade or so ago that I was told "it's not your usual style of Catholic church", with the warning that there was a lot of hand holding, circle forming, and generally warm gushy stuff that said relative knew was probably not my "thing".)

The parish would occasionally get a bit of publicity for its far-from-traditional Catholic use of its church and hall: maintaining a home for the Gay and Lesbian Choir, for example. But there was occasional word leaking out about how they ran the parish in other very odd ways. (I was told, for example, that occasionally a Sunday "mass" would be led by a dancing, tambourine rattling nun, who used to strain the patience of even the most liberal parishioners.)

The parish likes to portray itself as very active and lively. In truth, however, it maintained church attendances of a moderate level (3 services each Sunday) by attracting liberal Catholics from all over Brisbane. Almost certainly, it was at the same time scaring away local potential parishioners who didn't want to be harangued about social justice and the Howard government at regular intervals.

Finally, earlier this year the Archbishop put the church on notice that the parish's novel forms of liturgy, and refusal to follow church teaching in various areas, meant that it was going to be told that it had ex-communicated itself from the Catholic Church unless it started genuinely following some Church teaching.

The parish responded with a letter which (as expected) quoted a lot of Vatican II words, and basically indicated that, in most respects, they were just going to keep on doing their stuff. (I've read it, but can't find a link to it on the web.)

Father Peter Kennedy, the nominal parish priest, has recently continued his wacky ways by holding a church ceremony with some aborigines in which a "sacred treaty" was entered into by the parish.

If you want to read an air-headed account of how important such a "treaty" is to the locals aborigines, have a read of this interview from the Religion Report, featuring Peter Kennedy himself and a couple of aboriginal activists including Sam Watson. Watson has been around Brisbane forever. I don't know if he achieves much apart from organising rallies and getting his face in the media at least once a year, but he has always struck me as a noisy belligerent advocate of the particularly irritating kind.

Of course, no function would be complete at St Mary's without the Gay and Lesbian Choir singing, so they were there for the signing of the "treaty".

It would appear that the treaty recognises the "sovereignty" of aboriginals over the Church land, or some such. This means, according to Sam, that they'll be rushing to defend St Marys if the Archbishop shuts it down. At least he seems to not be advocating violence:
Of course I'm not talking about picking up guns et cetera, that sort of thing, not talking about defending it that way, but we will be there, we're a part of St Mary's family, part of the St Mary's community.
Just more noise and agitation, although I have no idea how many followers Sam may be able to muster to defend the barricades at St Mary's. (Peter Kennedy says people may take to sleeping inside to stop the church re-possessing it. Why does a parish that talks up true authority as being within the non-material "community of faith" worry so much about having a particular building in which to meet in a few times a week?) I hope the Archbishop closes the church, if only for the entertainment value.

The Church keeps running the line that it is only catholic traditionalists of the somewhat eccentric kind who have dobbing in St Marys to the Archbishop and (when he was slow to act) Rome. They may be right, but the character and beliefs of Richard Stokes are hardly relevant if his reports of what St Marys does in liturgy are true. (And St Mary's never denies that they are.)

When discussing this over at Currency Lad's blog a few months ago, I suggested that there is already a Liberal Catholic Church in Brisbane; surely St Mary's should just merge with them and be done with. It was pointed out that that church is a bit of an oddball one, with historic ties to the Theosophical movement. (They allow for re-incarnation, for example. But then again, St Mary's had a Buddhist meditation group using the church too.)

Well, now I've found the movement for St Mary's. The Reformed Catholic Church, (Trade Mark) which is a recent innovation from Columbus, Ohio, which seems (like St Mary's) to be primarily motivated by "inclusiveness" (meaning, welcoming all gay and lesbian couples, female priests, the remarried, etc. Gay and lesbian couples are able to be "blessed", naturally.) It would not be surprising if many of its clergy were gay and lesbian too.

Oddly, it claims a significant number of clergy in Africa, a continent not particularly well known for its cultural tolerance of homosexuality. (Update: I see the reason here: it is OK with polygamy, and lets priests marry their "long time girlfriends". Still, I wonder what those African priests think of gay weddings in America?)

It seems that this reformed church shares all the values of St Mary's: a fondness for some (but only some) of the trappings of Catholics Church, while at the same time being able to make up their own doctrine based on what I would call modern perceptions of "niceness", rather than scripture and centuries of tradition.

So, parishioners and priests of St Mary's, I have found your future for you! Go, be Reformed, be happy. Leave the rest of us billion or so Catholics alone, and while we're at it, go find your own building to worship in. Sam Watson probably has a tent you can use. If you are the future of the Church, you should flourish no matter where you meet.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Methane blues

Land ice melting fast, NASA satellite data show

Well, I'm more interested in the last paragraphs, about a couple of papers which I assume will be getting more publicity soon:

Two other studies presented at the conference assess how Arctic thawing is releasing methane - a potent greenhouse gas. One study shows that the loss of sea ice warms the water, which warms the permafrost on nearby land in Alaska, thus producing methane, Stroeve said.

A second study suggests even larger amounts of frozen methane are trapped in lake beds and sea bottoms around Siberia and they are starting to bubble to the surface in some spots in alarming amounts, said Igor Semiletov, a professor at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks. Late last summer, Semiletov found methane bubbling up from parts of the East Siberian Sea and the Laptev Sea at levels 10 times higher than those of the mid-1990s, he said.

The amounts of methane in the region could dramatically increase global warming if they get released, he said. That, Semiletov said, "should alarm people."

Merry Christmas, Paris

Explosives found at Paris department store - International Herald Tribune
A previously unknown group calling itself the Afghan Revolutionary Front said in a warning mailed to Agence France-Presse that it had planted the explosives in the store. It demanded the withdrawal of French troops from Afghanistan and warned that it would strike again if President Nicolas Sarkozy did not bring the troops home by the end of February.

Fabricator to fabricate some more

James Frey to write 'third book of the Bible' | Books |

James Frey is moving on from his drugs and booze-soaked memoirs to write the third book of the Bible, in which his version of Jesus will perform gay marriages.

Talking to online magazine The, Frey said he had just finished an outline for the book, and was about to start writing it. "It's the third book of the Bible, called The Final Testament of the Holy Bible," he told interviewer and fellow author Stephen Elliott. "My idea of what the Messiah would be like if he were walking the streets of New York today. What would he believe? What would he preach? How would he live? With who?"

Do books of this kind ever sell well? They are just so obviously fantasy works of current pop morality, who can see any inherent value to them?

Take this, for example:
Frey said his version would see Jesus living with a prostitute. "It doesn't matter how or who you love. I don't believe the messiah would condemn gay men and women," he said. Judas, meanwhile, would be the "same as he was two thousand years ago", a "selfish man who thinks of himself before the good of humanity, who values money more than love".
This has "remainder bin" written all over it.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

ETS lessons not learnt

Crikey - Rudd's talking out of his mandate

More on Labor's emissions trading scheme from Bernard Keane:
This scheme is so badly designed there’s a real question as to whether it is worth establishing. This is one issue on which greenhouse sceptics and ardent greenies can be in furious agreement: the Government’s ETS is profoundly flawed. Two groups previously excluded from free permits -- the coal-fired power industry and industries between 1000-1500t per million dollars revenue, will now have access to them (the coal industry will get $3.9b worth of free permits over five years -- not $3.9b in cash, as a lot of us thought yesterday). Throw in that a change to the formula to enable firms to use value added instead of revenue in determining eligibility will mean more firms will qualify for 90% free permits, and the scheme will commence with minimal incentive for our biggest polluters to cut back.

It starts off thus flawed and gets worse. Under the Green Paper, the proportion of free permits was capped at 30%, which at least constrained our most polluting industries to find more efficient and less carbon-intensive ways of operating if they wanted to expand. Under the White Paper, the supply of free permits simply increases as our heaviest polluters expand. As Martin Parkinson, head of the Climate Change department said yesterday, this has potentially serious consequences for scheme revenue. It also means that there’s a real danger that at some point in a few years’ time, more permits will be given away to heavy polluters than auctioned for use by those with low emissions.

Well done, Mr Rudd -- you’ve invented a scheme that actually punishes low emitters and rewards heavy emitters.

Yes, it is remarkable that both Jennifer Marohasy and the Greens are going to be criticising the scheme's design.

Even more remarkable that the well publicised problems with the European scheme do not seem to be being properly addressed.

I must say, however, that is more typical of the Left to not care about results so much, as long as the intentions are "good" (ie ideologically sound, or politically correct if you will). Aboriginal welfare is a typical example of that, but also the way Labor supporters considered it a virtual crime that Australia hadn't signed the ineffective Kyoto Treaty, even though it was meeting its targets as if it had. The attitude is not entirely gone: there are commenting on blogs "oh well, better than nothing."

In fact, it is worse than nothing if it takes away the realisation that nothing effective is being achieved.

For Andrew Bolt to ponder

Arctic melt passes the point of no return - Climate Change, Environment - The Independent

Andrew Bolt likes to spend time looking at satellite images of the winter Arctic ice cover lately, all the more to pooh-pooh global warming with.

He doesn't seem to often consider the issue of the depth of renewed winter cover, which common sense would suggest is just as important for the future of the cover as how much area it extends to each winter.

And he ought to read this article which seems consistent with the recent post here about satellite evidence that warmer temperatures are unduly weighted to the North of the planet:

Scientists have found the first unequivocal evidence that the Arctic region is warming at a faster rate than the rest of the world at least a decade before it was predicted to happen.

Climate-change researchers have found that air temperatures in the region are higher than would be normally expected during the autumn because the increased melting of the summer Arctic sea ice is accumulating heat in the ocean. The phenomenon, known as Arctic amplification, was not expected to be seen for at least another 10 or 15 years and the findings will further raise concerns that the Arctic has already passed the climatic tipping-point towards ice-free summers, beyond which it may not recover.

Squid lovers take note

Rise in CO2 'affects jumbo squid'

Ocean acidification is likely to make jumbo squid unhappy.

Well, good to see that squid lovers of the world will at last be convinced to take ocean acidification seriously.

Indignity unrewarded

Colonoscopies Miss Many Cancers, Study Finds -

This is startling news:

Instead of preventing 90 percent of cancers, as some doctors have told patients, colonoscopies might actually prevent more like 60 percent to 70 percent.

“This is a really dramatic result,” said Dr. David F. Ransohoff, a gasteroenterologist at the University of North Carolina. “It makes you step back and worry, ‘What do we really know?’ ”

Dr. Ransohoff and other screening experts say patients should continue to have the test, because it is still highly effective. But they also recommend that patients seek the best colonoscopists by, for example, asking pointed questions about how many polyps they find and remove. They also say patients should be scrupulous in the unpleasant bowel cleansing that precedes the test, and promptly report symptoms like bleeding even if they occur soon after a colonoscopy.

I am feeling more mortal now.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Rudd's targets, and other problems

It's hard to know what to say about Kevin Rudd's greenhouse gas targets today.

In fact, the whole CO2 issue is an ugly mess at the moment.

On the one hand, I would like to see CO2 emissions tackled seriously, and it sure sounds like Rudd's plan is one that largely avoids taking the hard decisions. As Robert Merkel said over at LP, industry has sounded so happy with the target that it looks clear that it is too generous to them.

On the other hand, countries announcing high targets which don't appear to have any realistic hope of success under emissions trading schemes similar to those already in place are just selling false hope, and a more modest target at least has the benefit of realism.

On the third hand, CO2 sequestration seems obviously a crock that the coal industry has latched onto to try to save its skin. Yet it has seemingly captured the imagination of Rudd and (probably) the Liberals. Kevin Rudd touring a new, but tiny, solar power plant for a small outback community also gives out the wrong impression about how fast solar is advancing here.

As a whole series of posts here recently has indicated, the fundamental problem seems to be increasingly recognised: there is strong reason for believing that emissions trading schemes are a hopelessly flawed way of trying to address the issue, especially if offsets are allowed. Offsets will always be at the core of the potential for corruption, unintended consequences, and a huge and difficult verification process.

It also seems that some people on all sides of the greenhouse fence (Lomborg, Lovelock and Hansen, for example) are being more forthcoming in arguing that concentrating on ETS is a bit of a sideshow: it's more important for governments to push directly for the technological developments that will generate lots of power and actually reduce CO2 emissions. To worry too much about ETS elevates process over results, and this has been at the heart of my long standing scepticism about Kyoto. (Stories of Kyoto's failures often remind me of the "Yes Minister" episode in which a new hospital completely devoid of patients, but full of busy administrative staff, is said to be operating very successfully.)

The anti-CO2 advocates emphasising innovative nuclear technology as a key feature of reduced CO2 includes Hansen. I was surprised to see that the Australia greenhouse website BraveNewClimate has also taken to posting about new generation nuclear. Meanwhile, Obama's new Energy Secretary Steven Chu is a physicist with a lot of sympathy for nuclear over coal.

Yet the Green movement is going to resist all such talk; they all give the impression they were spooked by nuclear as children and can't grow out of it. All their talk of renewable energy as being able to save the day is just not very believable.

The best hope is probably that Steven Chu will come up with a detailed, direct and innovative plan for dealing with greenhouse in a way that has a significant role for new types of nuclear power. Obama will then have to sell it to the American public and Congress.

In Australia, the truly brave but proper thing for the Liberals to do would be to argue that they will commit to higher targets, but only on the basis that nuclear is to be an essential part of the mix. Personally, I would argue for some direct involvement in the nuclear pebble bed development going on in South Africa and China. (The timetable for getting a demonstration plant in South Africa up and running just keeps on getting extended; surely there is scope for more international involvement in funding this? The technology is not dramatically new, but has the good PR feature of not being able to melt down, and should be modular in design for easy international deployment.)

I actually think that nuclear power will soon be sell-able to the Australian public, but whether the political will is there or not is yet to be seen. (Certainly, if Obama comes out strongly pro-nuclear, it will be easier for the Liberals to adopt such a policy too.)

But for the moment, there are no strong grounds for optimism that anyone has worked out the best way forward.

UPDATE: In light of what I wrote last night, I would say that Tim Colebatch in The Age gets to the heart of the problem with Kevin Rudd's scheme here:
Ross Garnaut envisaged a rigorous emissions trading scheme with few exemptions, and raising $4 billion a year to speed research, development and commercialisation of clean technology. The Rudd model spends everything on compensation, and has nothing left over to help solve the problem.
In The Australian, George Megalogenis looks at the strange decision to pay families and pensioners more than anyone expects them to lose due to the scheme. But, as was to expected from Paul Kelly's recent article, the editorial supports Rudd and calls critics of his plan "deep Greens". Hmmph.

Rich country, poor country: more Kyoto silliness

Climate negotiatiors need to overhaul their list of who's rich and who's poor. - By Michael A. Levi - Slate Magazine

This appeared last Thursday, but is well worth the read for yet another example of the ways Kyoto was flawed from the start.

Not your typical Japanese story

Wild boar goes on rampage in Wakayama; four injured

Hey, shouldn't Australia have more rampaging boar stories than Japan? We have a dangerous wildlife reputation to uphold, after all.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Quantum of Editing

I can't quite recall the last time I went to the cinema to see a film that you wouldn't take an 8 year old to. "War of the Worlds" perhaps? Anyway, it doesn't exactly bother me, given the remarkable paucity of adult films of interest coming out of Hollywood for, what, the last 8 years or so?

So it is with a considerable sense of novelty that I can report on Quantum of Solace, seen last night, in Gold Class no less. Because the tickets themselves were a gift, my wife and I even tried Gold Class food for the first time, as well as a bottle of cheap Australian sparkling wine at a not so cheap price. A food review will follow.

The good things about the movie:

* Daniel Craig: it's hard to know why the owners of the Bond franchise didn't think of this earlier: cast an actor who is fit, buff and looks capable of ruthless killing to play an action hero who, when necessary, ruthlessly kills. Kind of obvious, in retrospect. I'm probably one of the few people in the cinema who hadn't seen Casino Royale (it's on DVD at home; I'll get around to it one day,) so the novelty factor of Craig as Bond may account for much of my enjoyment.

* You really know you've been to a big budget movie with interesting locations and hundreds of extras. It makes watching 99% of Australian movies feel akin to inviting a small theatre troupe of 4 to come and perform a few dramatic scenes in your living room.

* Judi Dench. Makes M feel very real. The producers are probably paying for her to sleep in an oxygen tent, or some such, as a way of extending the life of someone who has become a real asset to the series.

* While the plot exposition was somewhat rushed, I can remember essentially what it was about. This compares favourably to the Timothy Dalton Bonds of the 1980's, which had the curious feature of having plots that evaporated from memory within about 5 steps walking out of the cinema door. (I must admit, all of the Jack Ryan movies affected me the same way. Enjoyable enough while on screen, but just terribly forgettable as soon as they finished.)

The not so good features:

* The editing: this hyper-editing of action sequences was complained about in several reviews, and with good reason. It's a crap method of building excitement artificially which seems only to be really appreciated by the under 30's whose attention span does not extend to reading books. What's worse, when trying to eat nachos in a Gold Class cinema, the time your eyes are diverted to getting a good helping of cheese and avocado onto a corn chip means you've missed 3 key points in a chase.

* I thought that Casino Royale featured the Bond theme only at the end? This movie does the same, which seems a pity really.

Overall, it was still quite enjoyable, and as with many reviewers, I suspect that if the producers let the series lighten up a bit in the next one (and ditch the frenetic editing), it could be something very special. I see that Casino Royale and Quantum have taken over well over a billion dollars combined at the box office (and that's not counting DVD sales). Craig will be a wanted man for some time yet.

Of the reviews I have read, Anthony Lane's in the New Yorker is quite funny but also pretty accurate. I like this line (out of many good ones):
The new movie gives us Bond in mourning—a condition that issues, according to Freud, in melancholy and a general indifference to life, but which causes this particular sufferer to stab people in the neck and toss them from tall buildings.
As for Gold Class cinema food: the beef nachos are pretty good; the salt and pepper squid was meant to be "crispy" but wasn't. (It didn't taste too bad anyway.) Drinking sparkling wine probably improves any movie, and the last alcohol I drank while in a cinema (of sorts) was probably apple cider at a drive in circa 1980.

Here's hoping for more free Gold Pass tickets this Christmas.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Ninja Santa

It's hard finding cheery stuff to post about at the moment. But there is always the recently discovered (by this blog anyway) Ask a Ninja ninja. Here's his take on Christmas, which will probably particularly appeal to the boys in your household:

Friday, December 12, 2008

Larvatus P'd off?

Hey, did lefty blog Larvatus Prodeo just lose its domain name? That's kind of embarrassing, isn't it?

Update: they're back.

There are Christians in Gaza?

Analysis: Cruelty and silence in Gaza | Middle East | Jerusalem Post

I must admit I didn't know there were any there at all (or any who are open about it). Turns out there's around 2,000 to 3,000, and they are not feeling especially wanted, to put it mildly.

Fodder for both sides?

Earth has warmed 0.4 C in 30 years

Go to the article to see a map just released showing where warming has occurred in the last 30 years. The article says:
Half of the globe has warmed at least one half of one degree Fahrenheit (0.3 C) in the past 30 years, while half of that -- a full quarter of the globe -- warmed at least one full degree Fahrenheit (0.6 C), according to Dr. John Christy, a professor of atmospheric science and director of the Earth System Science Center (ESSC) at The University of Alabama in Huntsville.

Globally, Earth's atmosphere warmed an average of about 0.4 C (or about 0.72 degrees Fahrenheit) in 30 years, according to data collected by sensors aboard NOAA and NASA satellites. More than 80 percent of the globe warmed by some amount.
However, the warming is very uneven, being much stronger in the far north, while much of Antarctica cooled.

The part that warming skeptics will take and run with is this:
This is a pattern of warming not forecast by any of the major global climate models.
Still, it does sound like pretty clear evidence of substantial warming. Expect much comment about the map in the global warming blogosphere soon.

(Interestingly, Jennifer Marohasy in her skeptic blog recently posted that satellite temperature data was "inconvenient but accurate". What's she going to say about this, then? Somehow, I don't she and her band of followers are going to be convinced.)

Why new energy develops slowly?

Are Chemists, Engineers on Green Jobs List? - Dot Earth Blog -

The Dot Earth blog has a lengthy post talking about the relatively modest amount of money spent on R&D in the US on energy. I'm sure they won't mind if I reproduce the graph here:

Interesting, hey? The big band of yellow in the 1960's was for the Apollo program.

Gives some plausibility to those who say we need the equivalent of an Apollo program to get energy innovation really going. It's also amazing to note how much health consumes.

More ETS criticism

Money and Lobbyists Hurt European Efforts to Curb Gases - Series -

Anyone else noticed how much criticism of the European effort at an emissions trading scheme there is at the moment?

Now the New York Times joins in.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Chinese, food and cruelty

SBS is currently showing a 4 part documentary on Wednesday evenings called "The Biggest Chinese Restaurant in the World". Last night was episode 2.

I missed part of the first episode, so I'm not sure where in China it is, but the place is truly gigantic. (It can seat 5,000 customers.)

The show is by turns fascinating and (when it comes to treatment of animals) pretty horrifying to Western eyes.

First, the fascinating part. The show seems to give a pretty good insight into the psychology of many Chinese, and if last night's episode was anything to go by, it paints a pretty bleak picture of a materialistic society very obsessed with money. Sure, much of the population was grindingly poor until very recently, so a concern with money is understandable from that point of view. But still, it's not a good a look.

It also indicates that it will be a very unhappy society if lots of people stop making money in the economic downturn. My scepticism as to the successful future of China remains.

The animal cruelty issue was on display in both episodes. Last week, it was the dish where the live fish has its body cooked in boiling oil with its head held out, so it can be served on the plate with its mouth moving. OK, so it's cold blooded; it looks gross to me, but I won't get too worked up about seafood eaten while half alive.

But last night there was a brief scene of a chicken being scolded in boiling water while still alive. The dish was served with the head on, but still I can't see why the scalding and feather removal has to start while it is alive.

I do not understand why the Chinese seem immune to Western ideas of animal cruelty. In Congo Journey, a book I am currently reading, an America watching the way some pygmies kill an antelope makes the observation that it is only with the farming of animals, which involves caring for their welfare, that people start to worry about animal cruelty.

Nice theory, but it doesn't seem to have worked with the Chinese!

Harry Clarke had a post about this topic earlier this year, but none of the comments really enlightened as to why the Chinese don't seem to feel for animals in quite the same way much of the West does.

Still, a lot goes on in Western farming without being noticed. Chickens have a pretty miserable life here too, but at least a quick death.

Same with pigs. The cages they use to stop pregnant sows moving for months at a time while pregnant are (I reckon) just indefensible from a cruelty point of view, and it's only lack of knowledge in the community that hasn't led to the practice being rejected earlier. (The sow can stand, and sort of lie down, but not turn around. It is stuck in that position for up to 4 months. Can you imagine the uproar if dogs were allowed to be confined in that way?)

I see that a website (presumably industry funded) that defends the practice is careful to avoid any photos. A stop to the practice was one of the propositions successfully passed in California recently.

So it's not as if the West is completely cruelty free. Still, it seems hard to imagine the Chinese even getting interested in such issues, and I don't know why.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

New technology and evil

Mumbai Terrorists Relied on New Technology for Attacks -

Satellite phone, GPS, Google maps and VOIP appear to all be believed to have been used by the Mumbai terrorists.

The article also notes that the terrorists were in contact with Pakistan during the siege, and could get updates as to where the Indian military from their bosses who were watching TV coverage.

I must admit, I thought it was foolish of the Australia guy holed up in the hotel to keep ringing and talking to Australian media for this very reason. (Not that his calls would have made Pakistani TV, I guess, but you never know who's watching Australian TV too.)

Sabotage from the future

Cosmic Variance | Discover Magazine

See the link for an on-the-spot report on the repairs to the Large Hadron Collider, which blew up (well, a section of it at least) not long after it was turned on.

Current expectations are that it may start operating again in mid 2009, although I have read elsewhere it won't be turned up to 11 (so to speak) until 2010.

This is good news for those who worry about micro black holes or other things it may create. (And yeah, I am still curious to know if Plaga is wrong in his latest assertion, and whether absolutely all possible events have been considered. I have said before, the cosmic ray/neutron star argument may suggest there is no danger for stars; planets might be a different matter.)

Anyhow, the post at Cosmic Variance points out that it is still not clear what caused the initial fault which was "...a resistive zone developed in the electrical bus in the region between dipole C24 and quadrupole Q24." As the thing was vaporised, it's not that easy to find the cause of the "resistive zone" problem.

This is good, because it still allows for my pet science fiction-y theory as to what happened. The LHC has been suggested as possibly creating the right conditions for time travel, as well as mini black holes. If it is actually dangerous to the planet, then time travellers from the future (or another branch of the future?) may well have been taking a big interest in it from the start, and are actively sabotaging it. It may not require actual visitors from the future; maybe just sufficient ability to hack information into the computers. Maybe the time travel is allowed by the LHC itself at low power; maybe there is a different mechanism. (I know that it is an example of the grandfather paradox to argue that the LHC works as a time machine that then allows to future to prevent it from being turned on.)

I expect someone else has probably already thought of this, but if not I claim "dibs" on it!

If only X files was still being made...

Keeping it quiet

The gospel truth? | Jerusalem Post

Interesting article here that talks about the academic work on the origins of the Koran, which (as with similar work on the Bible starting more than a century ago) challenges the fundamentalist belief that the books are literally the word of God.

The writer points out that these academics like to keep a low profile, but if we really want Islamic fundamentalism to change, then it should be the subject of popular discussion.

Second post of the week with difficult to find tasteful title

Britain's Tongue, Kidney and Brains Boom - TIME

From the above article:
Lancashire, an industrial area in northwest England, is famous for its offal dishes, including liver, kidney, tripe (the lining of a cow's stomach), cow's heel, sheep's trotters and elder (cow's udder). There were more than 260 tripe shops in regional capital Manchester a century ago, many of which sold faggots, a traditional English dish made from a mixture of pork liver, fatty pork and herbs wrapped in an intestinal membrane.

I trust they have been re-branded by now.

Room for mischief here

First Muslim-friendly virtual world goes online
A trial version of the world's first Muslim-friendly virtual world was launched Tuesday, where users can create an online persona, design their own rooms, buy virtual items and interact with others.

Called Muxlim Pal and created by the Finnish-based company, the English-language site caters primarily to Muslims living in western countries who long to reconnect with other Muslims and Muslim culture. ...

On Muxlim Pal, which is free of charge to join, users can shop for clothes for their avatar at the mall, hang out at the beach cafe, pray at the mosque or go to concerts.

What makes Muxlim Pal different from other popular websites such as Second Life is that content portraying violence, drugs, sexual references or profanity is not allowed.
I wonder if it is OK for avatar women to show their face there?

Offset disarray

UN suspends leading carbon-offset firm : Nature News

As international climate talks began last week in Poland, the United Nations (UN) suspended the work of the main company that validates carbon-offset projects in developing countries, sending shockwaves through the emissions-trading business....

At its meeting on 28 November in Poznań, the CDM's executive board temporarily withdrew Det Norske Veritas's accreditation after a spot check carried out in early November at the firm's headquarters revealed serious flaws in project management.

The board did not specify which projects are affected, but cites problems with the company's internal auditing processes, and says that one of its staff members was verifying CDM projects without proper qualifications. As a result, "validation activities could not be demonstrated to be based on appropriate sectoral expertise", the board reports.

Det Norske Veritas is a risk-assessment and consulting company with about 8,000 employees in more than 100 countries. Its 2007 revenue was 8 billion Norwegian krone (US$1.1 billion)

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

More Kyoto criticism

Kyoto is worthless (and you don't have to be a sceptic to believe that now) - Dominic Lawson, - The Independent

Lawson makes some good sounding points about the EU faith in Kyoto, and none of them are encouraging. Here's a key section:

This fabricated market in carbon has at its heart the UN's Clean Development Mechanism. This is how the EU, which had an obligation under Kyoto to reduce its emissions by two per cent by 2012, has managed to claim success while actually increasing its emissions by 13 per cent. By purchasing so called "offsets" from countries such as China, Britain, for example, proclaims itself a "leader in the fight against climate change".

Most of this is entirely fraudulent, in the sense that the Chinese have been paid billions to destroy particular atmospheric pollutants, such as CFC-23, which have actually been manufactured in order to be destroyed – and for no other purpose. This is hardly surprising: if something is accorded a price (especially a fixed one) then companies will queue up to produce it.

The EU is inordinately proud of its Emissions Trading Scheme – which it calls "the world's first carbon market" – and it is this scheme which has created the creative accounting scam known as "offsets". Even mortgage-backed securities, the financial instrument at the heart of the credit crunch, at least had something useful – houses – at the bottom of the pile of junk. Some people have described offsets as the carbon market equivalent of the mediaeval sale of Indulgences by the Catholic Church; but as Prof Prins points out, the Church sold them only as a means of atoning for the sins of the past – "carbon offsets" are sold to absolve us from sins in the future, an even more preposterous transaction.

I wonder why it never went into production


Science, ghosts and ESP

Ghost Stories: Visits from the Deceased: Scientific American

This is an interesting article (and series of comments following) about the quite commonly reported phenomena of people having an experience of the presence of their deceased partner (or even beloved, dead animal.)

According to the post, over 80% of elderly people experience "hallucinations" associated with their dead partner one month after bereavement "as if their perception had yet to catch up with the knowledge of their beloved's passing." These can be visual, auditory or other experiences.

I did not know that they were so common, but it is a topic of personal interest because my mother reported her own (not very dramatic) experience of this. She told me and her other children, quite some weeks after my father's death, that she had unexpectedly heard his breathing beside her in bed at night. She said it was distinct and clear, and actually a comforting experience. As is typical for these experiences, they did not recur all that often, but felt very "real", and stopped in time.

Many of the people commenting on the above article question (some based on their own experiences) how science can know that these are really hallucinations.

Perhaps the best evidence on the paranormal side is that of crisis apparitions: the well known stories where a person sees someone (usually, but not always, someone close to them) who appears unexpectedly and disappears, with the later discovery that at the time of the experience the person viewed had just died.

These type of apparition greatly interested the early scientists who set up the Society for Physical Research in England in the 19th century, and from the start the question was whether they represented proof of an afterlife, or "only" suggested ESP.

To the mind of nearly all present day scientists, ESP is just as ridiculous idea as belief in the afterlife, so it is still a topic of considerable interest, even if it is one that by its nature is never likely to be open to much in the way of definitive study.

I sometimes wonder what would happen if strong evidence of a repeatable form of ESP was produced. It should, by rights, shake up the scientific establishment to its core; but at the same time, you can imagine the majority of the public shrugging their shoulders and just taking it as confirmation of long held hunches and beliefs based on anecdote and personal experience.

Still, it would be remarkable if it ever occurs.

Monday, December 08, 2008

More advocacy for carbon tax (as opposed to ETS)

Yes you can change the climate, Mr Obama - science-in-society - 06 December 2008 - New Scientist

A post incapable of witty yet tasteful title

NHS funds 'used to import horse sperm' - The Independent
Police are investigating allegations that horse sperm was imported into Britain disguised as human semen for IVF treatment. They are looking at claims that a senior manager in the UK's largest NHS trust diverted NHS funds to buy the horse sperm that was then used to breed mares.
And how was this detected? Pretty easily, since I bet it doesn't take hundreds of thousands of pounds to buy overseas human semen, regardless of the IQ of the donors:
NHS trust sources said police were alerted after internal audits revealed an unusual series of large purchases of human semen from overseas suppliers. Invoices said to be worth several hundred thousand pounds had allegedly been created to account for the transactions.
I can imagine women who have undergone recent IVF in England feeling just a little queasy at reading the news, but apparently they have nothing to worry about:
They stressed there has been no suggestion of any horse sperm being improperly or inadvertently used in the trust's IVF treatments. Imperial College Healthcare has some of the UK's leading IVF treatment facilities.
And, maybe, some of the best criminals too.

UPDATE: a quick cartoon of questionable quality by your blogger (you'll have to click to enlarge):

Today's odd Japanese story

Pink thrills: Japanese sex movies go global | The Japan Times Online

It's not X rated stuff that is being talked about here. Apparently, Japan is one of the few places in the world where soft core porn made on 35 mm film still has a market.

The article is worth reading to see the titles of some of the "pink" features. My favourite would have to be "A Lonely Cow Weeps at Dawn".

"Australia" death watch

So, Australia took $7 million in its second weekend in the US, for a total take of $30 million. (It looks like in Australia it might have taken around $8 million?) Still, hard to see it recouping its budget of $130 million, even though it essentially hasn't opened in other markets. (I suspect that there might be some bad but enjoyable reviews yet to come from England.)

Surprisingly, Frank Devine liked it, but is his article's title a pun based on something about Luhrmann that is common knowledge? Actually, Devine seems to like it because it at least looks like a movie, unlike most Australian films. (I think I have posted somewhere here before - although I can't quickly find where - that Australian films often look "empty", in that they just don't have many people on the screen, even in street scenes. Someone wrote at Unleashed recently that most Aussie films look more like television, which I think is pretty much another way of saying the same thing.)

Tim Train has yet to provide a review. Hurry up Tim.

Meanwhile, Martin Ferguson of the strangely untouchable Rudd government is looking increasingly like he blew $40 million on a movie related campaign that is going to get "less bang for our dollar". Talk about understatement. (Actually, was this campaign decided on only after the last Federal election? I would have guessed it would have been a deal worked out earlier than that.)

The optimistic Obama

President elect Obama has apparently given an interview in which he talks of encouraging an optimistic view of the future by having science talked about in lectures at the White House:
The president-elect said his administration is interested in “elevating science once again, and having lectures in the White House where people are talking about traveling to the stars or breaking down atoms, inspiring our youth to get a sense of what discovery is all about.”

“Thinking about the diversity of our culture and inviting jazz musicians and classical musicians and poetry readings in the White House so that once again we appreciate this incredible tapestry that’s America,” he said.

“Historically, what has always brought us through hard times is that national character, that sense of optimism, that willingness to look forward, that sense that better days are ahead,”
Sounds very much like emulating the JFK period, and in principle I'm all for encouraging optimism too. But there are a few key differences between the early 1960's and now.

The main one is that, apart from the fact that the world had just invented the means to destroy itself, and scientists had enabled that, I suspect that in early 60's it was still the scientists as a class who were genuinely optimistic about the future. The possibilities of technology still seemed endless, and environmental catastrophe (apart from the nuclear type) was not a popular concern.

Move ahead only a decade, and scientists became the source of much of the pessimism in the modern world. It's a position I think you can argue they still hold.

Even worse, even if many of the scientists of 60's privately thought that religion was something humanity would soon grow out of, it was not a position they frequently espoused. Of course now they are often active players in a culture war with religion. And it's not just a theoretical matter, as the fight over stem cell research has shown. (Yes, the Islamic inspired aggression is partly to blame for this, but I think issues like stem cell use would have made atheist scientists more aggressive anyway.)

Furthermore, I find it somewhat ironic that Obama should be mentioning talk of "travelling to the stars" when, despite the Apollo project being kicked by Kennedy, it's been Democrats ever since who have cut back on NASA spending. (And it's certainly those on the left who always go on about "what good has the space program ever done for us?")

Getting a sense of optimism from lecturing scientists, and a sense of respect for the religion Obama says he subscribes to, is going to take some very careful selection of visiting lecturers at the White House.

He may also well find that a scientist may be "optimistic" on an issue (such as greenhouse gas emission) in the sense that he or she thinks a problem can be overcome, but only at such a huge cost that Obama will find he just cannot follow the advice politically.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

The hypno-chooks of Los Angeles

Can keeping backyard chickens really be as entrancing as this Los Anglese Times article reports? (I'm vaguely interested in getting some myself, but being terrorised in the backyard by a rooster when I was a toddler means I'm probably biased when it comes to chicken admiration.)

Here are some extracts:
"I used to think it would be so great to bring the laptop outside and just watch the chickens and work," Knutzen said. "But I can't get anything done when I'm out here because I can't take my eyes off the chickens. They are hypnotic."....

"Bottom line, chickens are a lot of fun," said Dave Belanger, publisher of Backyard Poultry magazine, who has seen subscriptions more than triple since he launched in 2006....

Diehl has been keeping an elaborate blog on her chickens' development and socialization at

"I'm kind of obsessed with them," she said. "Chicken people always talk about how chickens are better than TV. You could watch them all day and never get tired of it."
UPDATE: this morning while in bed, at about 6 am, I thought I could hear the sound of a chook coming from some neighbour's yard. Mind you, as it is crows, lorikeets and assorted other birds that often wake us up at 4.45 am at this time of year, I can't complain too much about this suspected chicken's timing.

In the New York Times today...

...two op-ed pieces that are worth reading.

One is about the tricky position that white liberals who support gay marriage find themselves in with regard to black Americans, who generally don't accept homosexuality with open arms. This section sounds right to me, even if it is written by a gay marriage supporter:
“At some point in our lifetime,” said George Clooney, “gay marriage won’t be an issue, and everyone who stood against this civil right will look as outdated as George Wallace standing on the school steps keeping James Hood from entering the University of Alabama because he was black.”

To the opponents of Proposition 8, this kind of analogy is a rallying cry; but as white Hollywood has recently discovered, to the blacks who voted for the measure, it’s galling. Comparing the infringement on civil rights that gays are experiencing to that suffered by black Americans is to begin a game of “top my oppression” that you’re not going to win. The struggle for equality — beginning with freedom from human bondage (see: references to the book of Exodus at the Gospel Brunch) — has been so central to African-American identity that many blacks find homosexual claims of a commensurate level of injustice frivolous, and even offensive.
The other article is about Republicans and abortion, and goes against the line pushed by more libertarian conservative commentators that abortion as an issue hurt the GOP this last election. Many good points are made, and it is well worth reading.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Hope it's true

Body art now a big turn off despite celebrity ink, UMR Research shows

Lately, I have been noticing an increasing number of horrendous tattoos in the shopping centres, particularly on women.

God knows I would never defend tattooing on men either, but there are ways in which I can at least semi-rationalise male interest in them. (Men can be dumb, as well as immature and capable of only thinking as far ahead as next weekend; some feel a need to have a quasi-tribal identity, and to "prove" they can handle a degree of pain. But it's also probably a subconscious, artificial extension of the types of male sexual display found throughout nature.)

One would like to think that women are above those considerations, but the female tattoos increasingly on display show I am wrong. Congratulations young women: as with the abuse of alcohol, your feminist emancipation has dragged you down to the level of silly young men, not pulled them up to your level of smarts!

At first, decades ago now, the trend for women's tattoos seemed to be for ones that would be only seen by a lover. I guess that at least had some novelty factor about it, and gave a woman a secret with which to tease a drunk potential lover. (Although, of course, it's not as if said drunk needed that as an excuse to see her undressed anyway.)

But tattooing now appears anywhere on a woman, frequently on the forearms or neck, and is often as inane as anything a male may display. I recently spotted a woman in her late 50's with a blurry mess of ink on her shoulder with "Mum" in the middle. I'm sure her aged mother must have been chuffed.

Chinese characters that mean nothing to anyone viewing them is surely a fashion statement with a very limited life, and again one would have thought that women could think far enough ahead to realise that. Yet that is being spotted increasingly around town too.

Anyhow, the survey linked at the top apparently indicates that 56% of Australian men do not like tattoos on women. The figure rises to 63% for very sensible types (otherwise known as Coalition voters). Half of women feel the same about men's tattoos, which is consistent with my theory about allowances being made for men being men. On average, it seems only 7% actually find them attractive on the opposite sex, with (to some surprise) higher income earners liking them slightly more than those on lower income.

With figures like these you have to wonder why people bother. (Assuming of course that this survey was properly done and has valid results. I note that it did survey people up to the age of 70: it would be more interesting to know the figures just for those under, say, 35.) Here's one way of looking at it: maybe tattooed people are much more likely to only reproduce with a tattooed partner, and then in 15 years time teenage rebellion will mean they fall out of fashion again. Here's hoping.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Your weekly ocean acidification news

Comment on "Phytoplankton Calcification in a High-CO2 World" -- Riebesell et al. 322 (5907): 1466b -- Science

Readers interested in my ocean acidification posts* will recall that there was a big surprise earlier this year when one study suggested that one species of calcifying phytoplankton actually got substantially heavier with more CO2 in the water.

The suggestion was that this may work as an important new CO2 sink, and was quite contrary to previous studies which showed the coccolithophore shells getting smaller with increased ocean acidity.

There was some muttering at the time by other scientists that this study could have been flawed, and now, see the link for a detailed comment by a group of scientists who think they have the problems with the experiment.

The comment is worth reading as setting out the basic issues with acidification and calcification.

Basically, this group still sounds very pessimistic about the "winners" outweighing the "losers" in ocean acidification.

* and who knows if there are any? - no one ever comments on those posts, which just encourages me to continue grinding my teeth about how most of the world is ignoring this issue.

The big questions

Why it's not as simple as God vs the multiverse - New Scientist

How could you resist having a look at an article that covers God, the multiverse, and morality?

(You could? What are you doing here then?)

A novel idea

Seawater holds key to future food

Farm plants that grow in salt water (and not just seaweed.)

Plants such as sea kale and asparagus-like samphire, which grow along the coast in many countries have been eaten for thousands of years, but it is only recently that their potential has been seen as a substitute for more traditional commercial crops.

In The Netherlands sea kale is now farmed commercially and finds a ready market says Professor Rozema.

Miyazaki talks

An audience with Miyazaki, Japan's animation king | The Japan Times Online

For those who have seen any of Miyazaki's films, this interview is of interest.

(I'm not sure which of his films I would recommend to a new comer to his work. Spirited Away was good, but as with many of his later films, it does become a bit of a narrative jumble as it goes on. I think the simpler story lines of Totoro and Kiki's Delivery Service make for a better introduction.)

Thursday, December 04, 2008

The problems of cap and trade

Carbon Trading: Environmental Godsend or Giant Shell Game? DISCOVER Magazine

A very easy to follow article here on the problems with emissions trading schemes.

Something Islamic and cool

Dezeen - Museum of Islamic Art by I.M. Pei

Mark it on your calendar: this blog today has a post about something Islamic that is also impressive and cool. (Well, at least it's something in an Islamic country, whether or not anyone Islamic can claim that much credit for it is debatable, but let's stop quibbling and get on with it.)

Qatar has a new Museum of Islamic Art, and the architecture, on display in the photos at the above link, looks very impressive.

And yes, I see the architect is I.M. Pei, a Chinese born American. Ha.

Bad news for Indonesia

Megathrust earthquake could hit Asia 'at any time' - environment - New Scientist
A devastating "megathrust" earthquake could occur at any time off the Indonesian island of Sumatra, according to new research. Previous quakes have failed to release all of the energy that has built up over hundreds of years, leaving the fault zone vulnerable to another large earthquake.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

An unlikely prospect

12 years to halve UK CO2 - The Independent

Britain should adopt the world's toughest climate change target and slash nearly half of its greenhouse gas emissions in the next 12 years, the Government's new climate advisory committee said yesterday in its first report.

Emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases causing global warming should be cut by 42 per cent on 1990 levels by 2020, as long as there is a new global climate deal in a UN meeting in Copenhagen a year from now, said the Committee on Climate Change.

The recommendation for what is a massively ambitious and world-beating target – and a costly one for electricity consumers, who will face higher bills, perhaps of up to £500 a year

An active retirement

Two elderly men arrested for robbing supermarket in Sapporo

Akinori Kawamura, 55, a used goods recycler, and Masanori Hanakawa, 66, unemployed, are suspected of forcing their way into the supermarket after it closed, shooting the manager with a gun and fleeing in a car.

Police said the pair admit to the charge. They were quoted as saying they wanted money to get by and to enjoy a few other things. Police found a modified handgun, four iron bullets, and a large number of fireworks in Kawamura’s home. According to police, Kawamura said he put the gun together and made the bullets himself.

Nothing like taking personal responsibility

So, Andrew Sullivan says of George W Bush: "because he cannot address homophobia and cannot even say the word 'gay' in public or address this issue directly, his legacy in America is actually an increase in HIV transmission".

This is all a bit rich, isn't it, coming for a HIV positive man who, 7 years ago, was actively seeking "bareback" sex?

(Yes, I know, he claims he was only going to have unprotected sex with another HIV positive person, but even that is behaviour not entirely without sexual health consequences.)

What upsets Sullivan is that he (Bush) didn't use the word "gay" in a conversation about HIV. He then goes on about how homophobia amongst blacks being the biggest HIV problem in America.

Funny, I thought the issue was that black men do not identify readily as "gay," and wouldn't assume George was even talking about them if he used the word. How does Sullivan think using the word "gay" is going to work magic within the black community?

By the way, that story from The Nation about Sullivan's dating strategies notes that Sullivan's ad indicated he was also into "bi-scenes" (as well as orgies generally.) I will take this as adding credibility to my personal theory of why Sullivan hates Sarah Palin!

UPDATE: just stumbled across a recent, very detailed, and very explicit, article in Huffington Post which argues that "barebacking" between the HIV positive is almost certainly encouraging mutated, drug resistant strains of HIV. It is very critical of the way the gay community is, to a large extent, taking the view that HIV infection is not such a serious matter now.

Embed problem?

I'm told that this blog is sending off anti virus warnings for some, and it appears to be related to embedded Youtube. (I actually got a virus warning from a science blog that appears to have no videos on it.)

I use AVG (paid version) and am not having any problems, and it seems not entirely clear whether it is a "real" problem or not.

Still, in the interests of safety, and not annoying people, I'll delete the embeds in the last couple of posts. Maybe they can be re-instated later.

More anti-Dubai

Why I'd rather die than visit Dubai | Sathnam Sanghera - Times Online

Most remarkable from the above opinion piece:
According to the Lonely Planet guide to the city, one British tourist was arrested at Dubai airport and sentenced to four years in prison after 0.03g of cannabis - an amount “smaller than a grain of sugar and invisible to the human eye” - was found on the stub of a cigarette stuck to the sole of his shoe. Meanwhile, a Swiss man was reportedly imprisoned after customs officers found three poppy seeds on his clothes (they had fallen off a bread roll he had eaten at Heathrow), and a British woman was held in custody for two months before customs officers conceded that the codeine that she was using for her back problems had been prescribed by a doctor.

A novel way of looking for aliens

No Dyson Spheres Found Yet | Cosmic Variance | Discover Magazine

Only now he realises this?

Jon Stewart: MSNBC Is The New Fox News (VIDEO)

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Clever bike

Sanyo to launch new electric hybrid bicycle
Equipped with a rechargeable lithium-ion battery, the "eneloop bike" takes the crossover between a normal bicycle and a moped one step further, aiming to tap growing interest in tackling global warming.

The system harnesses energy from braking when the bike goes downhill, and can add extra power equivalent to double the rider's pedal force for going uphill, in line with relaxed government restrictions on such systems.

The eneloop bike can travel 1.8 times faster than conventional bicycles thanks to the motor powering its front wheel, the company said.
They need to get rid of the Japanese style shopping basket on the front, though, for it to look cool enough in the West.

Doctors behaving badly

Arrogant, abusive and disruptive — and a doctor - International Herald Tribune
"About 3 to 4 percent of doctors are disruptive, but that's a big number, and they really gum up the works." Experts say the leading offenders are specialists in high-pressure fields like neurosurgery, orthopedics and cardiology.
...every nurse has a story about obnoxious doctors. A few say they have ducked scalpels thrown across the operating room by angry surgeons. More frequently, though, they are belittled, insulted or yelled at — often in front of patients and other staff members — and made to feel like the bottom of the food chain.
Interestingly, one researcher blames the way surgeons teach themselves:
Norcross blamed "the brutal training surgeons get, the long hours, being belittled and 'pimped' " — a term for being bombarded with questions to the point of looking stupid. "That whole structure teaches a disruptive behavior," he said.
Vast international readership: you can post anonymously here your true life experience with a "disruptive doctor". Everyone likes those stories, don't they?

Tracking down CO2

Carbon Detectives Are Tracking Gases in Colorado -

Good article explaining the research underway to get a better understanding of where CO2 comes from and goes (otherwise known as the carbon budget):
...researchers think about half of the CO2 emitted into the atmosphere gets absorbed by oceans and land, but they do not know precisely where the gases come from and where they end up. This knowledge gap has serious policy implications; until it becomes clear where emissions are going, it will remain difficult to have verifiable credits for sequestering carbon.

“We need to make sure that carbon markets are affecting climate change, not just putting money in the hands of some companies and people,” said Lisa Dilling, an assistant professor of environmental science at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

A vexing challenge is that surface inventory assessments — based on measuring forests, agricultural fields and smokestack emissions, for instance — generally do not agree with atmospheric measurements.
This sounds like it may help a lot:

In January, the next frontier of atmospheric CO2 measuring instruments will begin when the National Aeronautics and Space Administration launches the first carbon-scanning satellite, called the Orbiting Carbon Observatory.

Each day, the satellite will orbit Earth 15 times, taking nearly 500,000 measurements of the “fingerprint” that CO2 leaves in the air between the satellite and Earth’s surface. The data will be used to create a map of CO2 concentrations that will help scientists determine precisely where the sources and sinks are — showing differences in trace gases down to a 1 part per million precision against a background of 380 parts per million CO2 equivalent.
Surprising they haven't had a satellite to do that before now.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Australia revisited

History in the Making: The Current Cinema: The New Yorker

Damn. The New Yorker had David Denby review "Australia" instead of Anthony Lane. Still, Denby took quite a strong and witty dislike to it, so the result is not too bad.

The previous post here said it was a "spoiler" for the movie, yet it didn't actually deal with how the movie ends. (Oddly enough, over the weekend many people were coming to the post via searches for the movie spoiler.)

For those still interested, the real movie ending appears to be explained here, but David Denby also appears to give it away to a significant degree (and with a killer final line):
At the end, King George summons Nullah to a rite of passage, a walkabout. Nullah’s disappearance into the desert, leaving the whites behind, is framed as a triumphant anti-colonial moment, but Luhrmann confuses the issue by accompanying the scene with, of all things, the stirring “Nimrod” passage from “Enigma Variations,” by Edward Elgar, the composer perhaps most closely associated with the glories of empire. With the same degree of appropriateness, Luhrmann might celebrate Barack Obama’s Inauguration with a thundering rendition of “Dixie.”
If it weren't 3 hours long, I would be tempted to see to confirm my suspicion as to how bad I would find it. But life is too short for that. And in any event, it can almost certainly be written off as a box office flop, and will be making an appearance in the DVD rental shop sooner than they expected.

Always their fault

Egypt's Jew Haters Deserve Ostracism in the West -

Good article here about how even the supposedly liberal part of Egyptian media runs stories blaming the Jews for everything.

The Independent should expect letters

The kindest cut: How circumcision is the secret weapon in the battle against HIV/Aids - The Independent

Here's a long article about the success of circumcision in Africa as a preventive step to dramatically reduce HIV transmission:
Flooding Africa with condoms and trying to change sexual behaviour has had little demonstrable impact. Research on an Aids vaccine has foundered and an effective microbicide is still not in sight.

The toll from the disease is staggering – an estimated 33 million people infected with HIV, and 25 million dead. Even more alarming, however, is that new infections are growing by 2.7 million a year, outnumbering the annual two million deaths. For every two people put on drug treatment, five more become infected.

Against this litany of despair there is now, for once, a message of hope – a chance of curbing, and even reversing, the epidemic. Circumcision, if rolled out across the continent, offers the first real prospect of saving lives by preventing infection on a significant scale. Estimates suggest that if universal circumcision were introduced across sub-Saharan Africa, it could prevent 300,000 deaths in the next 10 years and three million deaths over the next 20 years. It is sometimes described as a "surgical vaccine" – with good reason.

What's the bet that this will still not satisfy the very strange anti-circumcision movement, the believers in which will no doubt be writing letters to The Independent this very minute.