Monday, March 31, 2008

More curious Indian journalism

Mall mania grips city-Patna-Cities-The Times of India

Maybe I am just easily amused, but here's the introductory paragraph from the above story:
Built over the ruins of ancient Pataliputra, the age-old bazaars of modern Patna betray a flavour of yesteryear in its din and bustle, the bellowing of beasts, the salty language of traders and cattlemen and their shocking racy stories.
I am very curious as to the nature of the "shocking racy stories" that Indian cattleman tell at the market. Is it about what their cows got up to last night?

A comparison of interest to few readers

Inside the mind of the Archbishop of Canterbury David Bentley Hart TLS

This is a review of a collection of theological essays by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams.

The reviewer notes that the Archbishop is undoubtedly smart: he apparently can read 7 languages other than English, and lecture in five. He has an impressively large bibliography, including 3 books of poetry.

Still, it is a common criticism that his use of language is simply too opaque to understand his actual position.

The point of this post is simply to note that it occurred to me that he is the Barry Jones of the ecclesiastic world: both highly intelligent and well intentioned, but their verbosity and circuitous approach to topics makes people actually avoid trying to understand them.

Even the Arabs don't like Syria

BBC NEWS | Middle East | No Lebanon breakthrough for Arabs

It's hard to keep up with all the convoluted politics of the Middle East, but this short report is worth noting.

Funny money

Windfall that wasn't | The Australian

Glenn Milne explains how reports about an extra $1 billion to be paid to Victoria were never true, and the Rudd government did not seek to clarify the misreporting.

This also reminds me, when it was first announced by John Howard, there was some criticism from those on the Left that it was all a rushed and ill-considered program. Funny how that has all dropped away now that it is a Labor deal.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Things you didn't know about Julie Andrews

The actress Julie Andrews looks back on a rough childhood - International Herald Tribune

I like this section from the above review of Julie Andrew's autobiography:
The story starts in Walton-on-Thames, a village in the south of England, where she grew up. Her great-grandmother was a servant, her great-grandfather a gardener, and both grandparents on her mother's side died of syphilis, the only response to which is: blimey, they didn't put that in the press release for "Mary Poppins." (The book's tone addresses precisely this kind of joke and seems to implore, with weary finality, Enough already.)

In other movie news....

The pleasures of bad reviews are many, and sadly I had missed the outstanding collection of reviews that Paris Hilton's latest movie "The Hottie and the Nottie" garnered in February this year. (It only came to my attention now due to a brief recent mention in The Observer, where the reviewer noted "There is nothing to commend this disastrous film and not even a herd of wild horses, each laden with a Gucci saddlebag packed with doubloons, could induce me to see it again.")

Thinking I could find better bad reviews, I headed over to Rottentomatoes, where the film managed to get a 5% positive reading. However, it appears to be a real challenge to those trying to describe its awfulness. For example, (all of these taken from Rottentomatoes):

"It is excruciatingly, painfully, horribly, terribly awful." (Clear message, but lacks creativity.)

"Imagine the worst movie you've ever seen. Got it? Now try to think of something worse. That something is this movie -- wretched, embarrassing and a waste of the time and energy of everyone involved." (Slightly better.)

"I would like to tell you this gross-out-on-camera is every bit as bad as its title implies, but that would not be entirely true. It is much, much worse." (See what I mean; its awfulness seems to have transcended creative description.)

Just so you know what the plot is about, back to Mr French in The Observer:
The Hottie & the Nottie, produced by the vacuous, self-adoring socialite Paris Hilton and starring herself as the most beautiful, sought-after girl in Los Angeles. Paris is Cristabel Abbott, 'the hottie', who thinks that 'a life without orgasms would be like a world without flowers'. But would-be suitors can only approach her via her ugly, pustule-encrusted best friend, 'the nottie', who naturally ends up having a spectacular makeover.
Nearly every reviewer finds the film's message to be stunningly anti-feminist, and some note that it's a full length ad for the cosmetic surgery industry. As a way of summarising the anti-women aspects, I reckon the wittiest quote on Rottentomatoes goes to Suzanne Condie Lambert of the Arizona Republic:
'This movie hates women' is written over and over in my notebook, but that's not quite fair. This movie hates unattractive women.
Congratulations, Suzanne!

Kung Fu Kid

Continuing the current run here of videos and doodles, The Japan Times gives a new kids' movie a good review, and the trailer is up on Youtube. Looks fun to me; lucky I have the kids to see it with:


Kevin loves attention

G'day Kev, it's Russ - Opinion -

Just as you might expect, our PM is readily impressed when a celebrity wants to talk to him. Jason Koutsoukis is taking another job soon, which may be the reason he feels free to detail this rather embarrassing Rudd story. Go read it and cringe.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Black hole issue gets attention

Try this headline: Black Hole Eats Earth - International Herald Tribune

Well, what do you know. The New York Times (and IHT) give the issue of whether there is any potential danger from mini black holes that may be created at the LHC a respectful treatment.

This is, I expect, going to upset some of the science bloggers, when they get around to noticing.

The most interesting thing about the article is that it does confirm that there is a third "anonymous" safety review which is due to report soon. It was due to report earlier this year but seems to have been a bit delayed.

I would like to think that this shows that it is an issue that is being taken seriously, and hence it was reasonable for me to do likewise.

There has not been much around on Arxiv for quite a few months now that seems directly relevant to this issue. However, there was a somewhat useful answer to a question I asked given by Bee (physicist Sabine Hossenfelder) at her very worthwhile Backreaction blog. The comment is in the thread here, and is marked as being posted on March 11 at 10.32am. I don't think I can link to it directly.

While she clearly believes that Hawking Radiation is the answer (as indeed does virtually every other physicist), she does make the interesting point at the end as follows:
Besides this, I find it kind of funny that I occasionally come across this idea that these micro-black holes would 'sink' into the earth and collect at the earth's center. That most definitely wouldn't be the case - they would just go through and leave on the other side, even if 'slowly moving' or 'falling'. Why would they stop in the center of the earth?
Interesting point, as I had assumed they would end up there.

Dog fun

Here are two videos which raise the fun question: what are those dogs thinking?:

Friday, March 28, 2008

Peter Godwin on Zimbabwe

From prosperity to failed state: how one man destroyed a nation - Opinion

I mention this article, which is an good read in its own right, mainly because I want to recommend (what I think was) a "Conversation Hour" interview with Peter Godwin I heard earlier this week. However, there is no podcast of the interview on the ABC yet. Maybe it will up soon at that link.

However, there is a transcript of a Ramona Koval interview here.

He has a very interesting family story.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Uh oh

Rodents can learn to use tools: Japanese study
Six adult "degus" rodents, a kind of small rat, were trained at a laboratory at the Japanese government-funded RIKEN research institute and all of them were able to use a tiny T-shaped rake to retrieve food, it said.

In the final stage of the 60-day experiment, they were pulling the tool towards themselves to hold onto it and then moving it to obtain food, the study showed. ...

In one test they were given two tools -- a familiar functional rake and a non-functional tool that lacked a blade or had a raised blade. They chose the functional one without hesitation in most cases.

They chose the correct tool without being tricked by its colour or size, the study said.
First, I was wondering why Japan was doing this sort of research at all. But now I see. As soon as they can be taught to throw those little star knives, there will an army of hooded killer ninja rats sent out all over the world, hidden in the panels of exported Japanese cars, to do the evil bidding of the Emperor.

You have been warned.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Ross runs out of steam

Now for the shower without glory |

Don't you get the feeling that Ross Gittens ran out of inspiration for a column over Easter? His column today is about an "eye-opening" book that seems to have made him suddenly realise that some people may have more showers than they strictly need for hygiene purposes.

And maybe water shortages will make people critical of those who have too many, or too long, showers.

Well, d'uh, as they say in the classics. If Gittens lived in Brisbane, he would know that when a million plus people have their water supply heading towards 15%, it does tend to make one concentrate on shower times quite a lot.

Happily, our water levels are up to about 38% again, but still I think the city is not going to start to feel completely relaxed til we at least get over 50%.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

International toilet news

Do city's troubled public toilets gotta go? | Seattle Times Newspaper

I have a vague feeling that somewhere in Australia a Council has tried these pod-like Germanic automated toilets. Certaily, Seattle has tried them, but what works in Europe obviously doesn't work there:

Seattle's $5 million experiment with self-cleaning public toilets could soon be over.

Citing drug use and prostitution in the silver pods, Seattle Public Utilities on Monday recommended removing the five restrooms, which were supposed to provide clean, safe facilities for tourists and homeless people....

After the automated restrooms opened in 2004, their floor-cleaning mechanisms became clogged by trash. Prostitutes and drug users sought cover in them. The Downtown Seattle Association reported that human waste on the streets increased, instead of decreasing, after they opened.
Talk about your cases of unintended consequences. I guess in Europe you go to your local brothel or cannabis coffee shop to partake in those habits.

Meanwhile, Salon recently ran an article about the sudden American interest in poo. (The book "What your poo is telling you" has been a surprise hit.) There is, as you might expect, a far amount of attempted poo humour in the article, but for my money, this quote has the funniest phrase:
Dillard also points to the current fad for "detoxing" the body by regularly getting high colonics as an obsessively unhealthy one. "This is a manifestation that a part of you is dirty," he says. "The colon has been around million of years and the wisdom of the colon predates us.
Try working that phrase unobtrusively into your workplace conversation tomorrow, and see if you can get away with it.

Whatever happened to...

John Hughes' imprint remains - Los Angeles Times

So, it turns out that John Hughes, who is a significant part of the reason I think the 1980's was actually a good decade for popular cinema, is highly regarded by many people trying to do movie comedy today. Quite a pity they don't follow his example and instead have plenty of swearing and too much graphic sex talk.

I had wondered from time to time what he was now doing. Nothing much, it seems, and he doesn't give interviews. Pity.

India: home of the novel position

Dirty dance racket busted in Delhi-Delhi-Cities-The Times of India

A dance party scandal in New Delhi:
The crime branch on Sunday night raided a hotel in Moti Nagar industrial area and arrested 10 scantily-clad girls gyrating to loud vulgar music. Out of job since the ban on dance bars in Mumbai, the girls, all aged between 18 and 25, were allegedly brought to Delhi by the kingpin of the dance racket, Dalbir Singh (25), who was also arrested from the spot.

According to the police, nine customers reportedly in uncompromising position with the girls and the hotel owner, Suresh Kumar (42), were also arrested.

Human rights fun and games in Canada

BBC NEWS | Americas | Speech row rocks multi-ethnic Canada

Of course, we have had the same stuff going on in Victoria too.

More soon

Spent the Easter weekend down the Gold Coast, without computer. Reasonable weather, for a change, but beaches a bit rough and lots of rips and strong sweeps. Couple of people drowned, one a tourist from England. This happens all the time in Australia: tourists who have never been in surf before jump in and get into trouble. It's an odd thought to most Australians that adults can get into the sea and not know how to avoid getting knocked over by a wave.

I wonder if Kevin Rudd has ever been to the beach much. Nambour is only a stone's throw from Maroochydore, where my family used to go beachside camping every Christmas when I was a young kiddie. He's a few years older than me, so it's not likely we ever built sandcastles together as toddlers. Anyway, I imagine he was always building models of Parliament and telling all the stick people how they have to clear everything through him first.

Back in Brisbane now, but with much to attend to. Some posts later today, I expect.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

An Islamic story for Easter

I had missed the fact that Robert Spencer, the anti-Karen Armstrong when it comes to assessing the nature of Islam, has been "Blogging the Qur'an" for nearly a year now. (Karen Armstrong rubbished one of Spencer's books, but Spencer gave a spirited rebuttal.)

This is a very worthwhile exercise, since (as his introduction explains,) picking up and reading the Qur'an in translation is very heavy going due to its wildly disjointed nature.

I haven't read many of the entries yet, but the latest one is of particular interest. It tells the Qur'an-ic story of Moses and Khidr (the "Green Man"), about which I had not previously heard.

The exact nature of the Green Man is unclear, but he is meant to be good (a saint perhaps) and teaches Moses a lesson by doing some weird, apparently pointless, things, and only explaining the hidden "good" reasons for his actions at the end. The lesson to take from it is this:
“There are paradoxes in life: apparent loss may be real gain; apparent cruelty may be real mercy; returning good for evil may really be justice and not generosity (18:79-82). Allah’s wisdom transcends all human calculation.”
But, the part of the story that is disturbing is that one of Khidr's acts is this:
So they went on until, when they met a boy, he slew him. (Musa) said: Have you slain an innocent person otherwise than for manslaughter? Certainly you have done an evil thing.
The explanation Khidr later gives is:
As for the youth, his parents were people of Faith, and we feared that he would grieve them by obstinate rebellion and ingratitude (to Allah and man). So we desired that their Lord would give them in exchange (a son) better in purity (of conduct) and closer in affection.
As Robert Spencer notes, it's not hard to see how such a story can be used to support, at least psychologically, the awful practice of honour killings in Muslim society.

I've been trying to think of some biblical story which is as offensive to me in quite the same way. I don't think God telling the Jews to be ruthless in attacking their enemies is the same (and besides which, Islam has the same issue.) The lesson about the nature of God in the Book of Job is, I suppose, similar to the Green Man's lesson, but it is not God who directly inflicts the evil that befalls Job. And of course, although Jesus at times spoke not coming to soothe families, but to break them up, one of the best known parables is that of the Prodigal Son. Of course, it is mainly about humans who return to the path of God, but you could also read it as encouraging forgiveness of parents towards their children.

No, I just can't see how you can read as being an "acceptable" metaphor or lesson the precautionary killing of a young man because he will upset his parents in the future by being rebellious.

Oddly, Robert Spencer doesn't really dwell on this aspect very much; in fact, in the comments following the post he makes it clear that he actually meant to convey that he "loves" this "wild story". (The next comment questions this, as do I.)

For this Easter season, I will stick to Christianity as an "objectively" better religion, thank you very much.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Japanese binge kids

With all the recent talk of how to deal with youthful binge drinking, I thought it worth reminding people about cultural differences towards alcohol. Can you imagine the outcry, for example, if this ad ran in Australia?:

Yes, it's the Japanese fake beer for kids, and its been around for a while, as this 2005 post from Boing Boing shows. My son recently saw it on a DVD from Japan, and is very keen to try it when next there.

As the ad may suggest, Japanese society seems drenched in alcohol, yet per capita consumption is actually less than Australia. The legal drinking age is 20, and although it's not exactly a challenge for underage drinkers to get their hands on alcohol in a country where (at least in some places) vending machines sell beer and sake, there is not the concern about binge drinking and violence like there is in Australia, England and the States.

After-work drinking for adults is extremely common, but having the trains stop around midnight in large cities sets a de facto time limit for many to go home.

Lots of people make the same comment about European attitude to drinking - it's not just the quantities involved, it's the cultural attitude to alcohol that makes the difference.

In Australia, if binge drinking is causing problems on any inner city streets, I would have thought reducing opening hours for the bigger drinking establishments and clubs is an obvious response. (I have never quite understood the desire for large scale drinking after (say) 2 am at the latest.) However, widespread licencing of small establishments, especially if food is available, seems a very sensible idea if you want to encourage a culture of "paced" drinking amongst friends.

As to drinking as a undesireable aspect of sport club participation: well, having never belonged to a sporting club in my life, I am the last person to be able to judge how much of this is true. I have no idea how you would discourage excessive drinking in them, and doubt it is worth the effort of trying.

PS: one thing that clearly doesn't work in the "problem" countries is parents who allow their teenagers to drink at parties in the hope that they will exercise sensible self control and somehow get over the appeal of heavy drinking. It's a well intentioned but half-baked idea that doesn't bear scrutiny: if your culture already has too many binge drinking 18 year olds, how is allowing your 15 year old to also get drunk going to encourage responsible drinking 3 years later? In fact, is it possible that the increase in this practice over the last decade has led to the current binge drinking issue in young adults?

Crabb on Nelson

The Sydney Morning Herald Blogs: News Blog

Annabel Crabb's comments on Brendan Nelson's strange way of always having a tragic anecdote ready (whether or not it is relevant) bolster my belief that there is no conceivable way he will ever be elected Prime Minister.

As a seat warmer for the next, oh, 6 months or so, he has his uses. But he is not a serious contender for leadership of the country. Everyone knows it.


The consensus view among economists and commentators about what may happen next to the global economy appears to be a very definite “who knows.” This is not comforting. Nor is the fact that the full details of the way economies work now seems well and truly beyond any normal citizen’s grasp.

Anyway, assuming that we still have an economy in 2020, and have not been invaded by time travelling aliens from another universe (I like to worry about all possibilities,) here is the Opinion Dominion list of visionary things for the 2020 Summit. (Nearly all of these have been mentioned before here: use the search facility for more detail.)

1. The answer to Australia’s housing crisis: yurts! (I like the smell of canvas, but honestly, have a look at how nice and cheap these look.)

2. The partial answer to Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions: nuclear pebble bed reactors. Seriously.

3. Reinstate funding for small earth approaching asteroid search facilities in Australia, and make Peter McGauran live in a crater.

4. First step towards solving the health crisis: ban 90% of cosmetic surgery and send the newly out of work doctors to re-education camps to treat remote aboriginal communities.

5. An Australian led recovery in the use of airships. Don’t be a wuss and use rare and expensive helium; go back to cheap hydrogen and just design them better. (Non inflammable skin would be a start.)

6. Treat all schizophrenia sufferers for toxoplasma - you just might cure a non-negligible percent.

7. Legislate against Big Brother every re-appearing in any format whatever.

8. Parliamentarians to have a minimum age of 50. (They should have happy families first. Power can wait.) Oh - and ban anything with any name like "youth congress" or "youth parliament". It only encourages the immature to become parliamentarians.

9. Public executions of one horse every day until they confess.

10. Kevin Rudd to divorce and marry into a Chinese political family so as to have a son who will lead the new Sino-Australian empire. (OK, that one is mildly fanciful.)

Actually, it's kind of disturbing how quickly I ran out of ideas, isn't it?

How encouraging

Most Palestinians favor violence over talks, poll shows - International Herald Tribune
A new poll shows that an overwhelming majority of Palestinians support the attack this month on a Jewish seminary in Jerusalem that killed eight young men, most of them teenagers, an indication of the alarming level of Israeli-Palestinian tension in recent weeks.

The survey also shows unprecedented support for the firing of rockets on Israeli towns from the Gaza Strip and for the end of the peace negotiations between Palestinian and Israeli leaders.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Robot mule still getting around

Back in March 2006 I posted a link to a remarkable "robot mule" video. The device is still being developed, it would seem. Found via New Scientist, here's some new footage of the slightly creepy looking robot in action. (I always get the impression I am watching two humans who have got their pantomime horse costume on wrong.)

Actually, I would like to see someone riding on the back of it. It would be a spectacular way to make an entrance to, well, anything.

Go Novell! All praise to the Wordperfect!

WordPerfect antitrust case greenlighted by the Supreme Court

Good Lord. Wordperfect gets a mention in the news, as its old owner gets the right to continue an anti-trust case against Microsoft.

Actually, I didn't know that Wordperfect's downfall was partly blamed on Microsoft making it harder for it to work on Windows 95. Here I thought it was just crushing deals with government which forced it out. (I'm pretty sure Microsoft did deals with Australian Defence Department, at least, which required them to convert to Office and then run nothing but Office.)

Anyway, this a good excuse for me to sing the praises of Wordperfect again.

(And no, I don't mean DOS based 5.1. Wordperfect is now up to version 13, and a new version comes out from current owner Corel every 2 or so years.)

Unfortunately, increasingly government departments which publish forms are only supplying Word or .pdf documents, and I am forced to use Word more and more. (Wordperfect will open and convert them, but it's still not a perfect process, and trying to edit the documents makes the formatting issues worse.)

So, I have to use Word 2000 from time to time. Yeah, it's getting to be an old version now, but I find it hard to believe that newer versions have changed the basic problems I have with it.

You see, I consider it an absolute objective fact, that formatting a Wordperfect document is much, much easier than formatting anything in Word.

And you know what really annoys me: even when I ask for help from young employees who have only ever used Word, they usually still do not know how to fix a formatting problem. They just end up shrugging and suggesting some complicated work around, rather than a simple fix.

The attachment to Word is only because they know nothing better.

Here is my quick list of the ways in which Wordperfect is better:

1. it opens and saves in more formats than Word (in fact, I heard that this is the reason why some law firms keep it as an option, since you can open nearly everything from every year on it;)
2. it starts faster; it saves documents faster;
3. it saves to smaller sized files;
4. it has had built in conversion to .pdf for years (an extremely handy feature when you have to email documents);
5. it is not a heavy drain on the processor;
6. it's nicer to look at;
7. it has never been targeted for viruses in the same way Microsoft products have;
8. it does headers and footers, justification, indenting paragraphs, absolutely every formatting thing in a simpler, easier and more transparent way than Word. (As far as I know, with Word you still can't do "reveal codes" to work out a formatting error.)

Yes I know, the war is lost already. But I love Wordperfect nonetheless.

The Rudd Diversions

Mission complete: PM returns to his papers - Opinion -

Annabel Crabb explains Kevin Rudd's "make busy" tactics in Parliament. Now that they have been disclosed in detail, what's the bet that the PM will make some changes?

Monday, March 17, 2008

Camel love

To eye of Saudi beholders, camels make them swoon - International Herald Tribune

It's an amusingly written story on the fondness that Saudi Arabians have for their camels. An extract:
Indeed, says Fowzan al-Madr, a camel breeder from the Kharj region southeast of Riyadh, there are few pleasures in life greater than a long, late-winter afternoon in the desert in the company of beautiful camels.

"See this one?" he asked, pointing to a white female camel with long eyelashes and a calm gaze.

"She isn't married yet, this one," Shammari said. "She's still a virgin. Look at the black eyes, the soft fur. The fur is trimmed so it's short and clean, just like a girl going to a party."

Suddenly, Shammari grabbed the white camel's chin and kissed her square on the mouth.

Make your own jokes.

Look at me, look at me

Hmm. The widely read and highly regarded Tigerhawk has a post on "Dinner in the Sky", about which I had posted (complete with picture too) in November 2006.

When will the prescience and greatness of Opinion Dominion be appreciated?!

(And I still say there's no way I would enjoy dinner like that.)

Toxoplasma meets its match? (And why women should hug their cat)

Newly Developed Anti-malarial Medicine Treats Toxoplasmosis

This sounds quite significant, especially if you own a cat:
A new drug that will soon enter clinical trials for treatment of malaria also appears to be 10 times more effective than the key medicine in the current gold-standard treatment for toxoplasmosis, a disease caused by a related parasite that infects nearly one-third of all humans--more than two billion people worldwide.
Readers may recall that toxoplasma affects the behaviour of rats, making them more available for cat attack, and it is suspected that it may also affect the personality of humans:
Reaction time is affected, with possible implications for automobile accidents and other mishaps. Women seem to become more intelligent, outgoing, conscientious, sexually promiscuous, and kind; changes in men seem to cause opposite trends. All humans tend to be more prone to feelings of guilt (Flegr et al, Lindova et al).
Hey, wait a minute: from a man's perspective, we should encourage women to get this disease! There would be more sex, but more guilt too. Perfect for Catholics then!

But treat men only and it may be the dawning of the Age of Aquarius.

Respecting Hay-Soo

Scott Adams explains the reaction to a short series of Dilbert strips he did involving a modern version of Jesus at Dilbert's workplace. (The series isn't all that funny - you can check it out via the link - but it's certainly harmless.)

Adam's post about the reaction is very amusing, though:

As you might imagine, I got a lot of e-mail about this strip. Comments were about evenly divided between people who are deeply offended and people who think it was my best work yet. Interestingly, the people most amused often described themselves as religious, and those offended often noted that they were not especially religious.

My favorite rhetorical question, which I received an alarming number of times, was “Why don’t you mock Mohammed next? Huh? Why not?”

Well, aside from the blindingly obvious reason that I prefer life over death, I didn’t realize I was making fun of Christianity this week.
I would also assume that there has not been all that many newspaper office burnings or threats to behead Adams.

Buckle your swash

BBC - Robin Hood - Homepage

I've been meaning to mention for some weeks now that the Robin Hood TV series (second season currently showing here on Sunday evenings) is very enjoyable as family entertainment.

I'm not sure that American TV is really doing anything significant in the way of family entertainment now.

I see that a third season is on the way too. Good.

Potatoes in space

All hail the uber-tuber | By genre | Books

Yet another of those history of a commodity books, this time on potatoes.

From the sound of the review, it is pretty interesting. I for one didn't know that the route the tuber took to Europe is still not clearly known. Also, I'm not sure I've heard this claim before:
Each tuber contains all the vitamins, minerals, proteins, calories and cellulose necessary for life: a healthy adult could survive indefinitely, though perhaps unenthusiastically, on potatoes alone.
But the potato's crowning achievement may yet lie in the future:
A stand of potatoes large enough to provide an astronaut's nourishment for the day will also, Reader reports, supply all the oxygen that the space traveller needs, and mop up all the exhaled carbon dioxide as well. It won't be the only crop in tomorrow's zero-gravity garden, but it could be the most vital.

Just so you know

Al Jazeera English - News - Eu Deems Iran Poll Unfair

Good to see Al Jazeera reporting this.

Interesting medical news for Mark Latham & Paul Keating

Technology Review: Taking a Shot at Hypertension
....scientists from the Swiss biotechnology company Cytos have created a vaccine that lowers blood pressure. They say that it may one day eliminate the need for daily medication.

And you thought we had a bad doctor shortage...

Doctor shortage takes a toll in Japan

Japan's fear of immigration is hurting their hospitals:
Unlike in some Western countries that welcome medical professionals from abroad, the gap in Japan cannot be filled by foreigners.

Japan has virtually no foreign doctors due to strict immigration rules, although it took the landmark step in 2006 of allowing in a limited number of nurses from the Philippines.

2020 vision - more candles

Penny Wong's warnings today that "the Government's plan to cut greenhouse gases will produce the biggest shake-up to the economy in decades" illustrates one reason people should be deeply cynical about the 2020 Summit.

Isn't it bleeding obvious that massive changes to energy use and generation to be made within a very short time frame will, if taken seriously, completely over-ride all other long term issues in importance and effect?

What a mix

Gays fear an influx of hate - Los Angeles Times

The US as a cultural and ethnic melting pot was never more fully on display than in this case which happened in Sacramento.

Short version: Fijians (one of whom was gay) clash for hours with Slavic evangelical Christians, of which there are many in Sacremento, during a picnic. About the Russians generally:
With as many as 100,000 newcomers from republics such as Russia, Ukraine, Moldova and Belarus, the Sacramento region has one of the nation's largest concentrations of Soviet immigrants. Most began arriving in the late 1980s -- about a third of them conservative evangelical Christians seeking religious freedom.

The influx has created a thriving Russian community with Russian-language newspapers, cable TV and radio shows, as well as 70 Slavic churches -- nearly all adherents of a fundamentalist creed that condemns homosexuality.
Sounds like a place for Foreign Correspondent to do a story.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Tracee's latest upset

Tim Blair seems to be having the weekend off, so someone has to take over the Tracee gig.

First: what the hell is it about the women columnists at The Age and their habits with mirrors? First, it was Catherine Deveny making the oddest introduction to a column about International Women's Day I had ever read; now its Tracee Hutchison confessing to her fair share of sub-navel gazing. Who will be next? *

Anyway, the point of Tracee's column this week is to complain bitterly about the recent tampon ad which reminded viewers of the sexual slang (originally American, I assume) meaning of beaver.

Given that, as a conservative, I actually don't disagree with Hutchison's criticism of "raunch culture", and I would hardly accuse the ad of being in good taste; I still find her outrage a bit over the top.

First, it's hard to take the metaphor too seriously. The rodent in question is shown under the girl's arm walking down the street, then under a hairdresser's hairdryer, and then having its nails painted. As these are activities with no real life equivalent, the point would seem to be that the anatomy in question is a young woman's (best?) friend. Given Tracee's self-examination, I take it she approves of women having a thorough acquaintance with their body, but extending that into a jokey stereotypical girly friendship is obviously just too much of a stretch for her.

Tracee seems particularly upset by the fact that a considerable number of young women are apparently not offended by "... their vaginas being referred to as toothy, amphibious rodents.." She seems a bit unduly sensitive about beavers as animals; I thought most people found then interesting and somewhat endearing, and far from the ugliest creature around. Personally, I think some rodent sensitivity counselling for Tracee would not go astray. (Don't watch this, TH.)

But the part that really upset Tracee was the third scene, in which 2 men are shown looking at the bikini clad woman/rodent at the beach. Our columnist reads it this way:
And who in their right mind thought it was OK to thinly disguise a blatant male ogling at beaver-as-vagina sunning itself on the beach as a tampon ad?

Make no mistake. There was absolutely no ambiguity here. This ad said loudly — and apparently proudly — that women are nothing more than vaginas on legs. It not only offended and degraded women, it underestimated and degraded men.

Well, as a general rule, it's near impossible to underestimate men enough when it comes to their visual interest in what's on display at the beach. And couldn't part of the point be that there is (at least metaphorical) genitalia on open display? Ask Paris and Britney if that attracts attention.

As I say, I'm not a fan of the ad, and conservatives do share (for somewhat different motives) feminism's concern that men and women would be better occupied not thinking about sex all the time. But this ad's central (admittedly dubious taste) joke is only appreciated by those old enough to have heard the slang already; and to the extent that the "ogling" section can be taken to be mean that young women might enjoy the learing attention of men: well it would hardly be the first ad to suggest that.

Our Tracee is giving it more attention than it deserves.

* (I trust not Michelle Grattan; that would be a mental image way, way too far.)

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Bugs in space

Hardy Earth bacteria can grow in lunar soil - New Scientist Space

Planning on colonizing the moon? Cyanobacteria may be your best friend:

The cyanobacteria were taken from hot springs in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, US. When put in a container with water and simulated lunar soil, the cyanobacteria were found to produce acids that are amazingly good at breaking down tough minerals, including ilmenite.

They use the nutrients freed up this way to grow and reproduce. "This is unbelievable," Brown told New Scientist. Breaking down the same minerals artificially would require heating them to very high temperatures, which uses enormous amounts of energy, he says. Cyanobacteria, on the other hand, use only sunlight for energy, though they do their extraction work more slowly than heating the soil artificially.

Friday, March 14, 2008

History repeats

Hospital staff on a 'knife's edge' - National -

After reading this story of today's damning evidence of government incompetence in funding and managing Sydney's North Shore Hospital, it occurred to me that the electoral success of Labor in New South Wales in the last 7 years or so is very reminiscent of the National Party's success in Queensland in the early 1980's.

That is, against all logic, the voters keep re-electing a party which no sensible person could say is governing properly. Somehow, a mild wariness of the talent of the Opposition keeps trumping incredibly incompetent government.

Test yourself


It takes barely a minute and (if you are like me) you will be truly surprised.

Hand that advertising agency a cigar. Or something else that signifies success without necessarily killing you.

Found via the ever excellent Mind Hacks blog (see link at the side.)

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Quark nuggets ahoy

0803.1795v1.pdf (application/pdf Object)

Click the link for the intriguingly titled "The search for Primordial Quark Nuggets among Near Earth Asteroids".

Turns out some small asteroids in the solar system might be made of quarks, and careful observation could check this out:
The exotic nature of the nuggets allows one relatively easy form of distinguishing them from conventional asteroids: since the strange quark matter is expected to have a plasma frequency as high as 20MeV (well in the hard-ray frequencies), the bare quark surface would act as a perfect mirror to the incident solar light. Hence, contrary to the case of even metallic asteroids for which A ∼ 0.1, we expect albedos ≈ 1 and therefore a quotient FV /FI much larger than any reasonable normal surface.
Sounds cool; asteroids that are nice shiny mirror balls.

The paper says there may be 10 to 100 bound to the solar system, and many others that may just pass through. They might occasionally hit the earth:
The possibility of a direct impact onto the Earth is
extremely small (about one event per Hubble time) for halo PQNs, but grows considerably for a captured population. Specific signatures of such an hypothetic collision (likely giving rise to a huge epilinear earthquake) have never been worked out in full detail.
Just thought you should know.

No wonder they ate so many coconut cream pies

'Gilligan's' Mary Ann Caught With Dope

Texting money

Loans by text message send young Swedes spiralling into debt
Fire off a simple text message, wait 15 minutes and presto, 300 euros land in your account; the simplicity of obtaining SMS loans in Sweden is increasingly luring youths into debt.
What a silly idea.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The predictive powers of Lost in Space

Alpha Centauri Should Harbor Earth-like Planets

Of course it does: the Robinson family would not have sent off on a wild goose chase, would they?

As it happens, last weekend I found Lost in Space episodes on DVD at the local video hire. Hence, my ongoing project to brainwash my son into liking the TV and movies I liked at his age continues.

Just a few comments on re-watching some episodes:

a. the deliberate humour is often still pretty funny.
b. American TV series really have long seasons, don't they?
c. it's still good TV for kids, at least until they get to the cynical age when a beach ball cannot plausibly be a landmine (from the episode "The Golden Man", of which I had a clear memory.)

I have to hire the 3rd season, when the theme music changed to the upbeat "countdown" version. What are we going to do when John Williams dies?

By the way, I am one of the few people who saw the movie at the cinema. It was not bad at all, in my books.

Keeping it young

Injection Of Human Umbilical Cord Blood Helps The Aging Brain, Study Shows

A somewhat interesting study reported above. But does the idea of old folks trying to find a source of umbilical cord blood for their brain rejuvenation therapy sound just a little creepy?

(Actually, the study involved human cord blood cells going into rats, and it still seemed to help. Maybe animal cells would help in humans - hopefully without too many animalistic side effects!)

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

NASA re-designs, and shuttle sightings

Someone has to remind the Australian nation to go out and watch the space shuttle/International Space Station go overhead, and it looks like it's me.

It turns out there are a good run of evening sightings available starting Friday. Go to the NASA sightings pages and follow the links to your nearest city.

The whole NASA home page has been re-designed, and it's looking a lot better for it.

High temperature talkshow

In case you missed it, you really should have a look at the Memri video on this recent LGF post, showing a very heated recent "talk" show on Al Jazeera.

While Wafa Sultan can be certain to face criticism from some quarters that she does not understand Islam as a religion, what is more disturbing to Westerners is how the pro-Islam speaker (and the show's host) seemingly don't care about the historical accuracy of virtually anything they say.

Last night's Four Corners on Islam in Australia was of some interest, but hardly went into depth on any individual part of the picture. I didn't see all of it, but my impression was that most of its intention was to blame Australian for not being accommodating enough. (It was fair enough, though, to have embarrassing displays of ugly yobbo Australian patriotism as part of the show.)

Still, the attitude of worldwide Islamic victimhood on display in both of those links is very worrying, as is the fact that it is being taught to their children.

It's also puzzling how Islamists can continue to paint the invasion of Iraq as an anti-Muslim crusade. Can't those on the Left, who deplore the American action, still try and do something to correct Muslim beliefs about the motive? It's no use those on the Right telling Muslims they are mistaken, they won't believe us anyway.

The China problem

Alarming growth in expected CO2 emissions in China

Some impressive (but not necessarily in a good way!) figures discussed here:
The researchers' most conservative forecast predicts that by 2010, there will be an increase of 600 million metric tons of carbon emissions in China over the country's levels in 2000. This growth from China alone would dramatically overshadow the 116 million metric tons of carbon emissions reductions pledged by all the developed countries in the Kyoto Protocol. (The protocol was never ratified in the United States, which was the largest single emitter of carbon dioxide until 2006, when China took over that distinction, according to numerous reports.)

Put another way, the projected annual increase in China alone over the next several years is greater than the current emissions produced by either Great Britain or Germany.

Based upon these findings, the authors say current global warming forecasts are "overly optimistic," and that action is urgently needed to curb greenhouse gas production in China and other rapidly industrializing countries.
The whole article is worth reading, if you like being depressed.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Departing for another universe

A Brief History Of Time Machines -

What's doing with a general overview of time machines?

It's an easy read, with nothing much new to me, except the second paragraph from the section I quoted here, which has an idea I don't recall reading before:

British physicist David Deutsch, invoking the "many-universe" interpretation of quantum mechanics, believes that "pastward" time travel would require travel to another, parallel universe--one in which I could kill my grandfather and in which I (therefore) would never be born. Via a time machine, I would have removed myself from this universe to take up residence in that one.

The idea has some interesting implications. Deutsch has suggested that one reason we have detected no extraterrestrial civilizations may be that, using time machines, they have left this universe, preferring to live in another.

I suppose it also means that our universe could see a sudden influx of aliens arriving from another universe; not just from a corner of the one we know.

Neutrino beam from aliens

0803.0409v1.pdf (application/pdf Object)

Here's an interesting suggestion in a new paper on arXiv: maybe aliens use neutrino beams to communicate over interstellar distances, and these may be detectable at the IceCube neutrino detector in Antarctica.

For something even more out there, the paper has a footnote to a 2003 paper which speculates on the use of neutrino beams to disable nuclear weapons. The paper makes it clear this is not about to happen anytime soon, but it's pretty good fodder for a science fiction writer.

Why economists don't run defence forces

Do we need a (surface) navy ? John Quiggin

What nice irony. No sooner does John Quiggin suggest that Australia should give up having a naval "surface fleet", and the media reports that the Navy can barely staff the meagre submarine fleet we already have.

Submariners have always been overstating their usefulness. I remember hearing a navy officer in (I think) the late 70's saying that the new cruise missiles that were then being developed would remove the need for an attack capable air force for Australia.

The fact is, Australia with its mix of defence roles (local participant in regional disputes, contributor to worthy larger causes across the globe, and potential defender of our own continent) is always going to need a mixed force with a bit of everything. What to put in that mix is always going to be controversial, but very radical force restructures are never likely to be politically palatable or popular with the public. And that is how it should be.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

More cheer

BBC NEWS | Health | Alcohol 'quickly' cuts heart risk

Middle-aged non-drinkers can quickly reduce their risk of heart disease by introducing a daily tipple to their diet, South Carolina researchers say.

New moderate drinkers were 38% less likely to develop heart disease than those who stayed tee-total, a four-year study involving 7,500 people found.

Those who drank only wine showed the most benefit, the researchers reported in the American Medical Journal.

The American Heart Association is still the spoilsport, though:
Despite several studies showing an association with alcohol intake and reduced cardiovascular risk, guidance from the American Heart Association warns people not to start drinking if they do not already drink alcohol.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Conspiracy time

Rudd razor gang out for older blood |

Yesterday it was carer bonuses to be dumped to slow down the economy. Today (see above) it's time to speculate about the pensioner bonus.

Needless to say, such cuts make no sense at all in terms of intended anti-inflationary effect. The beneficiaries targeted are hardly likely to be those in the big-screen-plasma (well, now LCD) TV - and - surround - sound - home - entertainment - buying variety of citizens who the government wants to stop their spending, are they?

In fact, the cuts leaked make so little intuitive sense, I am almost tempted to adopt Left wing conspiracy think and suggest that Rudd is orchestrating the leaks so he can look "caring" when he agrees that these people in the community should not bear the brunt of government cuts. (Note I said "almost".)

This first significant mis-step by Labor has given the Liberals a much needed psychological boost. On Lateline last night (it's the top video link), Joe Hockey was looking very confident against Chris Bowen, who, a bit like Albanese, seems just a bit too uptight for TV. I wouldn't give him a regular spot if I were Labor.

Colbert, and International Improve Women Day

Colbert Report has been very funny lately. I still say he far outshines Jon Stewart and his Daily Show writers. Beneath the irony laden act, Colbert certainly seems not as ideological driven as Stewart, and capable of some genuine warmth towards conservative figures. (See his recent interview with White House insider Tony Snow.)

The difference is that watching The Daily Show leaves the strong impression that the host and audience just know that all conservatives are idiots. The Colbert Report, despite being a complete satire of conservative TV, still ends up feeling more good natured and generous in its assessment of conservatism.

But am I just being deceived by Colbert's successful acting?

Having now read his Wikipedia entry and a lengthy article about him in Vanity Fair, I am happy to see that my suspicions are somewhat confirmed. Colbert the actor comes from a very large southern Catholic family that was touched by tragedy, now has an apparently happy family of his own, and teaches Sunday School.

Of course, that alone doesn't necessarily stop him from now being as ideologically liberal as they come. But it does indicate that I was correct in detecting some underlying sympathetic understanding of conservative politics and religion on his show.

Anyhow, this was all by way of preamble to an irony filled segment from Colbert for International Women's Day:

Friday, March 07, 2008

Smell like an Egyptian

An unsanitised history of washing - Times Online

Nothing much new in this article, if you've already read stuff about the history of personal hygiene. Except for this little bit:
The ancient Egyptians went to great lengths to be clean, but both sexes anointed their genitals with perfumes designed to deepen and exaggerate their natural aroma.
I wonder what scents that involved. (Big potential for poor taste jokes here, I suppose.)

This paragraph from the article is of some interest too:
The outsiders usually err on the side of dirtiness. The ancient Egyptians thought that sitting a dusty body in still water, as the Greeks did, was a foul idea. Late 19th-century Americans were scandalised by the dirtiness of Europeans; the Nazis promoted the idea of Jewish uncleanliness. At least since the Middle Ages, European travellers have enjoyed nominating the continent's grubbiest country - the laurels usually went to France or Spain. Sometimes the other is, suspiciously, too clean, which is how the Muslims, who scoured their bodies and washed their genitals, struck Europeans for centuries. The Muslims returned the compliment, regarding Europeans as downright filthy.


Disney keeps killing movie mothers |

Well, I can't say that I ever spent much time thinking about how dead mothers is a recurring theme in Disney movies and TV. It's true enough, I guess.

But to then blame that for making kids not miss their real life mothers while they are at work: that's just a silly stretch.

One could also make the point that a recurring theme of american sitcoms has been the wife/mother who is secretly the one with power and common sense in the household. (Think about it, if you never have before.) Has this made generations of kids resent their father for being stupid?

Cuts for the sake of cuts

Razor gang slashes carers' bonus | The Australian
LABOR will scrap annual bonuses of $1600 paid to carers as its budget razor gang carves deep into welfare programs to cut spending and curb inflation.

It will replace the payments with a higher utilities allowance but will leave the sick and disabled and their carers hundreds of dollars a year worse off.
Yes, it's important to stop those profligate carers who you always see out at the best restaurants, buying French champagne and using their PDAs.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

On Hamas

Comment is free: Hamas' uncritical friends

Ah, there's nothing like a Guardian Comment is Free post that is anti-Hamas to get the readers raging.

The post makes an interesting point about increasing Arab criticism of Hamas and Hizbollah's tactics.

Will it have any effect, though?

Back in Australia, I note that Antony Loewenstein is currently raging about the Gaza situation, with (as you would expect) nary a criticism to be seen of Hamas' rocket tactics. But has he got comments turned off , or is he simply being pretty much ignored these days?

I did see his book "My Israel Question" on sale for $5 recently.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

The Lucy situation

I'm still enjoying a lot of That Mitchell & Webb Look (9.30 Wednesdays on ABC1). Some of their silly sketches are very Spike Milligan-ish (especially Numberwang,) but basically I think they are good comedy actors. Try this:

What blew in 536?


Check the link for a post about new evidence suggesting that the likely cause of a globally recorded dimming of the sun in 536AD was a large volcanic eruption. (A comet was the previous suspect.) But still no one seems certain as to which volcano it was (except it was likely in the tropics.)

The story quotes Michael the Syrian:
"The sun was dark and its darkness lasted for eighteen months; each day it shone for about four hours; and still this light was only a feeble shadow … the fruits did not ripen and the wine tasted like sour grapes."
That's one way to counter global warming.

What's Mandarin for "Pardon?"

Bjork's Shanghai surprise: a cry of 'Tibet!' | World news |

International Icelandic diplomat Bjork confuses an audience in China:
Bjork is under attack after shouting "Tibet! Tibet!" at the end of her song Declare Independence at a concert in Shanghai.
The crowd did not erupt into jeers, however:
...another audience member, Gabriel Monroe, told the Guardian most people did not register the remark at first.

"One of my friends thought she was saying 'to bed', because she had mentioned it was the last song," he said.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Slogans for You; Slogans for Us

Cliché, not plagiarism, is the problem with today's pallid political discourse. - By Christopher Hitchens - Slate Magazine

Hitchens writes amusingly about the vapidity of the modern American political slogan. His comments apply equally well to Australia:
Pretty soon, we should be able to get electoral politics down to a basic newspeak that contains perhaps 10 keywords: Dream, Fear, Hope, New, People, We, Change, America, Future, Together. Fishing exclusively from this tiny and stagnant pool of stock expressions, it ought to be possible to drive all thinking people away from the arena and leave matters in the gnarled but capable hands of the professional wordsmiths and manipulators.
Of course, in Australia presently, there are not just slogans, but whole pages of cliché-ridden "vision speak" issuing forth from those who see the very concept of the 2020 summit as some sort of balm for the abraded soul of the nation:
Having survived the Sinister Prime Minister, we need to put down some of our shields, unclench our fists and let down our guard enough to dream again together. The Rudd Government's gesture is grand. Let's rise to the occasion of the Australia 2020 Summit.
There's more:
I see it as the start of a restoration of confidence in Australian culture, identity and ingenuity, and a faith that we can think about future challenges, and find what we need to face them.
And this:
Regardless of anything else the summit achieves, it has people thinking about where we might go from here, and what we might do instead of what we won't do.
Well, it's certainly making me think hard about a non-clichéd way of saying "what twaddle."

Blubbery vote buying

BBC NEWS | Science/Nature | Japan seeks new allies on whaling

A one-day seminar on Monday brought delegates from 12 developing countries, most of them not IWC members, to Tokyo to discuss "sustainable use" of whales.

An official told the BBC that Japan hoped these nations would join the IWC.

The nations concerned include those famously whale interested places Angola and Eritrea. At least they have ocean frontage, I suppose.

This is no way to run a whaling commission, although I also wonder what the outcome would be if all nations had to participate via the UN or some such body. The problem then would probably just be getting enough of the uninterested nations to not abstain from votes.

The International Whaling Commission website is full of information, and the page relating to Japan's "scientific" whaling is here. The number of whales Japan wants to take for its new research program is set out as follows:

Annual sample sizes for the proposed full-scale research (lethal sampling) are 850 (with 10% allowance) Antarctic minke whales (Eastern Indian Ocean and Western South Pacific stocks), 50 humpback whales (D and E stocks) and 50 fin whales (Indian Ocean and the Western South Pacific stocks).

They are holding off on the humpbacks for now, as most people would know.

I'm not particularly romantic about my anti-whaling sentiments. If a seaside nation has a long tradition of catching and eating hapless passing whales, I don't have any problem with them taking a relatively small number for old time's sake.

But when a nation wants to go to the ends of the earth to collect close to a thousand every year just for what most residents now treat as a novelty source of protein and some sort of sop to their national pride: that's when I have a problem. It would be like Australia insisting that it is reasonable for it to go and take any manatee that drifted into international waters off Florida because aborigines on Cape York enjoy the odd dugong.

The Sderot Problem

Global View -

This is a pretty good article on the vexed issue of Israel and the appropriate way it should respond to the never ending attack on Sderot.

The constant criticism is that the response of Israel is not proportionate, but it is very unclear what critics think would be proportionate in these circumstances:
Does the "proportion" apply to the intention of those firing the Kassams -- to wit, indiscriminate terror against civilian populations? In that case, a "proportionate" Israeli response would involve, perhaps, firing 2,500 artillery shells at random against civilian targets in Gaza. Or should proportion apply to the effects of the Kassams -- an exquisitely calibrated, eye-for-eye operation involving the killing of a dozen Palestinians and the deliberate maiming or traumatizing of several hundred more?
This is a good point. I would like to know what critics could say if Israel did the literally proportionate thing - an eye for an eye response in the number of unguided rockets. (I don't know that artillery shells really are the same as the Hamas rockets which - I thought - often didn't have much in the way of explosives in them.

Still, as I take it that densely populated areas of Gaza are within easy reach of Sderot, random firings of dumb missiles with no accuracy into Gaza would surely cause more random death and destruction on their side. Would that have any effect on the population at large insisting on Hamas stopping its own rockets? You would have to optimistic to think that it would, but when current targetted tactics are not working, things really are getting desperate.

In everyday conduct, of course, an eye for an eye is hardly a principle that can be universally endorsed by any ethicist no matter what ethical theory they subscribe to. But when it comes to warfare, there is still clear allowance made for a side to lose "normal" protections if they abuse it as a deliberate warfare tactic. Have a look at this article for an interesting discussion as to whether terrorism requires a re-think of the protection issue:
But non-reciprocity is not and should not be all-encompassing. First, current IHL does not preclude reprisals during combat against combatants that might violate IHL. Second, even the bans on reprisals in Protocol I have their detractors, such as the United Kingdom, which issued a reservation to that treaty allowing for the possibility of measured reprisals against civilians if the opposing party itself engaged in serious, deliberate attacks on civilians.

Your home based fuel cell

About a year ago, I mentioned how Japan has some homes that use fuel cells to generate electricity.

Here's another article about it. This is surprising:
The Japanese government is so bullish the technology it has earmarked $309 million a year for fuel cell development and plans for 10 million homes - about one-fourth of Japanese households - to be powered by fuel cells by 2020.
They work by extracting hydrogen from natural gas, to which lots of houses in Japan are connected. I wonder if they would be better if hydrogen was stored on site, in one of those new storage systems that seem promising.


When the drugs don’t work, try talking - Times Online

This is one of the better articles written about depression since last week's debate about how well anti-depressants really work.

Go for 5%, Brendan

Nelson and Coalition at all-time low | The Australian

Anything that hastens Bredan's departure is welcome.

At last, though, Kerry O'Brien is starting to show to PM Rudd some of the surliness that he used to serve up to John Howard all the time:
KERRY OBRIEN: What I'm asking you, you've making these points as you've been making them ad nauseam since you came to power. When is it reasonable for members of the public to start holding you responsible for high interest rates and high inflation? Are you still going to be blaming John Howard two and a half years from now?

Monday, March 03, 2008

Not so gay

Maybe I just wasn't paying attention, but it seemed to me that the media coverage of last weekend's Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras was more restrained than usual.

Everyone seems to have decided to just go with a default figure of 300,000 spectators, regardless of what the true numbers may be. Well, actually the SMH still quotes an organiser as saying it attracts "anything up to 400,000", but even that's an improvement over previous year's heights of figure plucking (try 500,000 in 2006.)

I see that there continue to be some in the gay community who express doubts about its relevance now. But it seems it won't be going for some time yet.

It also seemed odd timing that this morning the media was full of reports about a new Australian study predicting a big increase in HIV infection coming to some States where condom use is decreasing. Why not report this before the Mardi Gras party, instead of the day after?

In fact, the sexual health news has been relentlessly bleak over the last few weeks. had the headline "HIV can never be cured", based on a new study about how the virus manages to hide out in the gut.

And then what about the finding that oral sex is leading to an increase in oral cancer in men? Certainly, this was not reported as a gay problem; the main suggestion seemed to be that men can catch it readily from women. But, there's no doubt that gay men can spread HPV virus between each other, and (how to put this delicately), as the issue is the virus getting into the back of the throat, one would imagine that gay men have that area at greater risk than your average heterosexual.

Finally, while Googling for links for this post, I found this recent article on MSNBC by a woman who married a gay man. (Well, maybe bisexual is more appropriate, but this is how the guy defines himself now, so whatever.) It strikes me as inadvertently funny. It opens with her shock at being diagnosed with chlamydia while pregnant with her 4th (!) child. Yet,as the story unfolds, we learn the following: on her first date with her husband-to-be, he warned her to not believe any rumours that he was he gay; he also told her he had teenage homosexual experiments; he refused her offers to sleep with him when they were engaged and she was on the pill; he never seemed especially enthusiastic about sex with her after marriage (yet he still had it with her "3 or 4 times a week"); her husband's work friends warned her he was gay; and before she got the STD he confessed he was visiting gay bars.

One suspects that the only thing she hasn't mentioned is his collection of Judy Garland records and enthusiasm for dancing around the house to "Its Raining Men".

She just seemed to me to be a very silly woman.

Japanese oddity, cont.

Japan's girl geek boom - World -

Japanese character themed cafes have normally catered for sex starved single men whose geekiness repels all normal Japanese women. Get out of the train station at Akihabara (geek central in Tokyo) on a weekend, and there will probably be a dozen girls in french maid or some other character outfit handing out directions to their cafes down the street. The male photographers make for quite a throng.

This new version of such a cafe, however, is even odder:

At Edelstein boarding school, the schoolboys wear lip-gloss, the headmistress has a weakness for homoerotic comic books, and there is only one subject: how to serve female visitors.

Welcome to Tokyo's first schoolboy cafe, the latest in a flurry of eateries in Japan where customers and waiters role play themes from manga comics.

In keeping with the schoolboy theme, waiters with manicured hands and soft voices pretend to be teenage students, chatting and flirting with well-dressed Japanese women playing the roles of benefactresses visiting the school.

So far so weird. But it is not like the student characters are even meant to be really interested in the women customers:

Its visitors are united by a passion for such "boy-love manga", or comics about boy-boy romance for female readers - a genre that is currently undergoing a huge revival in Japan.

Most boy-love manga feature dreamy, feminine-looking male characters. The same beauty ideal guides Sakamaki when she selects the waiters who talk about their pretend homework and studies at Edelstein.

This next line really made me laugh:
"I'm in the flower arrangement club," whispers one girlish, long-haired waiter at the cafe, looking up from the book of German poetry he is reading.
The Japanese really need something better to occupy their minds.

Hold the excitement

Labor to deliver lightning internet speeds

Stephen Conroy likes to talk up the future of the internet:

Most homes will have broadband communication speeds up to 100 times faster than what is currently available, under the Rudd Government's plan to wire Australia for the 21st century.

Federal Broadband Minister Stephen Conroy told The Sunday Age that early discussions on the Government's promised broadband network indicated that it would be much faster than previously thought.

"This is going to revolutionise the way Australians live their lives," Senator Conroy said.

Two reservations:

1. what's it going to cost? Faster speeds are notoriously expensive here already.

2. How exactly is going to "revolutionise" our lives? One of the main things people talk about regarding very high speed internet is how hi definition movies will be downloaded easily. Big deal. It'll save a trip to the DVD library once a week. Less greenhouse gases I suppose, enough to save a couple of ice cubes of artic blue, at least.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

The cheerful pessimist, and fake meat

'Enjoy life while you can' | From the Guardian | The Guardian

James Lovelock expects climatic disaster starting within 20 years, but still thinks we should enjoy themselves now.

He's not exactly a pal to most Greenies:
"....All these standard green things, like sustainable development, I think these are just words that mean nothing. I get an awful lot of people coming to me saying you can't say that, because it gives us nothing to do. I say on the contrary, it gives us an immense amount to do. Just not the kinds of things you want to do." ...

To Lovelock, the logic is clear. The sustainability brigade are insane to think we can save ourselves by going back to nature; our only chance of survival will come not from less technology, but more.

Nuclear power, he argues, can solve our energy problem - the bigger challenge will be food. "Maybe they'll synthesise food. I don't know. Synthesising food is not some mad visionary idea; you can buy it in Tesco's, in the form of Quorn. It's not that good, but people buy it. You can live on it." But he fears we won't invent the necessary technologies in time, and expects "about 80%" of the world's population to be wiped out by 2100.
Yes, I've heard him express these views before. But what is "Quorn"?

Turns out it's a fungus based meat substitute. Wikipedia explains its origins.

Is it even sold in Australia? The only imitation meat I have ever tried here is that dried Textured Vegetable Protein. I actually don't mind a chilli con carne recipe based on it, except for the horrendous amount of flatulence it produces. I can't stand to be near myself for 24 hours.