Thursday, April 30, 2009

Bad news day

The global warming sites will be busy over the next few days digesting a couple of new papers in Nature talking about the huge reduction in fossil fuel use believed to be needed just to keep warming within 2 degrees:
Both papers come to the same broad conclusion, summarized in our figure, that unless humankind puts on the brakes very quickly and aggressively (i.e. global reductions of 80% by 2050), we face a high probability of driving climate beyond a 2°C threshold taken by both studies as a “danger limit”....

We feel compelled to note that even a "moderate" warming of 2°C stands a strong chance of provoking drought and storm responses that could challenge civilized society, leading potentially to the conflict and suffering that go with failed states and mass migrations. Global warming of 2°C would leave the Earth warmer than it has been in millions of years, a disruption of climate conditions that have been stable for longer than the history of human agriculture.
Well, I was hoping to buy an apartment on the moon by 2050 to avoid all that trouble, but NASA may be spoiling my contingency plans:
NASA will probably not build an outpost on the moonMovie Camera as originally planned, the agency's acting administrator, Chris Scolese, told lawmakers on Wednesday. His comments also hinted that the agency is open to putting more emphasis on human missions to destinations like Mars or a near-Earth asteroid.
This is just goofy if you ask me. Look at all the trouble with just piecing together a modestly sized space station, coming up with a new rocket to get there, and the unresolved issue of protection from deep space radiation. If you can't even work out to have a base on a place only a couple of days away from the earth, you may as well give up on Mars planning for now too.

And what will astronauts do on an asteroid that a space probe couldn't do as well?

Oh well, at least I'll be able to live in a cyberworld from my underground bunker (while the backyard bakes over summer) when Kevin Rudd's high speed internet comes on line.

Oh, wait a minute. Not even that?

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Searching this blog

Ack! I did a post today at LP suggesting people could search my blog for my ocean acidification posts. Now that I've tried that myself, I see the Search Blog function is worse than it ever was, and clearly does not list all of my posts for "ocean acidification".

To add insult to injury, I just went and added a label to each post that I could find (39 all up), but still, in Blogger, clicking on the label does not bring up all of the past posts! This is very unhelpful.

In fact, the only way I can see to find all of the posts is to do a Google Blog advanced search, asking it to find "ocean acidification" just in my blog.

This is not good. Why is the Blogger "Search blog" function so unhelpful, even with labels?

Weekend hobbies for evil tech nerds

Think twice before you go wireless - Digital Life -

I never use free wireless networks, but those netbooks look terribly cute, and I suspect I'll eventually own one. (Their origin was recently discussed at LP.)

Anyhow, the Sydney Morning Herald points out the security risks in using them that way:
...anyone who knows how to use Google can find step-by- step instructions on how to set up a wireless trap.

All one needs to do is find a place where tourists congregate, like a McBurger joint, and set up a wireless networking relay station on a laptop. When the tourist goes to log on to the free wireless, they can be easily duped into logging on to a bogus network.

This could be as simple as calling the fake network "McBurger Free Network". It looks and sounds legit and because the repeater computer is close by, it will likely have the strongest signal of all available networks.

It doesn't help that many networks don't use descriptive names, making the fakes seem even more authentic. Once connected, everything the tourist's computer transmits can be captured and recorded. While you sit digging the free wireless, bad guys are cleaning out your bank account.

This con also works if the bogus "hotspot" is not free because all the crooks have to do then is set up a phony payment page that captures credit card numbers. Yikes!

Well, I guess I know now how to be careful when using these, but I bet this takes a while to become common knowledge.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The dangerous piano

Krystian Zimerman's shocking Disney Hall debut

A Polish pianist gets all political before his concert in the USA:

Before playing the final work on his recital... Zimerman sat silently at the piano for a moment, almost began to play, but then turned to the audience. In a quiet but angry voice that did not project well, he indicated that he could no longer play in a country whose military wants to control the whole world.

“Get your hands off of my country,” he said. He also made reference to the U.S. military detention camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
One reason he is a little tetchy with the USA is kind of funny, though:
Zimerman has had problems in the United States in recent years. He travels with his own Steinway piano, which he has altered himself. But shortly after 9/11, the instrument was confiscated at JFK Airport when he landed in New York to give a recital at Carnegie Hall. Thinking the glue smelled funny, the TSA decided to take no chances and destroyed the instrument.

Conspiracy nutters get the flu

Little Green Footballs - Bad Craziness Watch: Glenn Beck Fans and Swine Flu Conspiracies

Oh dear. I don't read LGF regularly enough to understand why he has become such a controversial figure in the right wing blogosphere (being against creationists can't be enough, can it?) but he does a useful service here by pointing to the conspiracy theories that Glenn Beck followers have devised about swine flu.

I also haven't watched enough Glenn Beck to decide whether or not he is a cynical actor, a nut, or (probably most likely) some undecipherable combination of both. Slate's take on him seems pretty accurate. (Looking on the bright side, even for those who can't stand Bill O'Reilly, Beck makes him look like a paradigm of cool reason.)

The main question may be: is he smart enough to worry about the nutters he attracts?

Douglas Adams was wrong

Cosmic numbers: Pauli and Jung's love of numerology - New Scientist

Hey, some interesting stuff here about a famous quantum scientist and his dealings with Jung:
Pauli was troubled by the number 137. As physicists pored over the equations that determine the spectra of the chemical elements, a particular combination of physical constants kept cropping up. Referred to as the "fine structure constant", it combined the speed of light (crucial in Einstein's relativity) and Planck's constant (the heart of quantum theory), along with the magnitude of the charge of an electron. By themselves, each of these has to be expressed in some particular units (say, metres per second for the speed of light), but combined, the result is a unitless "pure number". Arnold Somerfeld first worked out its value as 0.00729, equivalent to (roughly) 1/137.

Why 137? Pauli obsessed over it, and he wasn't the only great physicist to do so: Arthur Eddington, Enrico Fermi and Richard Feynman all took stabs at it over the years. Meanwhile Jung, with his knowledge of Kabbalah, also found enormous significance in 137. Every letter in the Hebrew alphabet has a number associated with it, and - lo and behold - the letters in the word "Kabbalah" add up to 137. Remarkable - or a meaningless coincidence.

Clearly, the answer to life, the universe and everything is not 42.

O'Rourke talks Smith

Philosophers Zone - Philosophy and The Wealth of Nations - P.J. O'Rourke

I heard most of this on the radio yesterday, and PJ was both interesting and witty. You can listen to it, or read the transcript, via the link above.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Bizarrely creative

Found via Japundit, here's a Japanese ad that is both remarkably silly and gives new meaning to "in questionable taste".

Yowie defamation

'Yowie not to blame for death' - Northern Territory News

"Cryptonaturalist": what a great job description.

On tidying the book shelves

This weekend I attacked the bookshelves which were dusty and untidy: they had never been properly re-sorted into subject areas since we moved into the current house 6 years ago. (I said to friends that now that it is done, there will probably be some reason we have to move again within 6 months and the whole 6 year cycle will start again.)

Here's the broad categories I use:

* science fiction (mostly old, since there is little written now that appeals to me. I had forgotten how complete my Robert Heinlein collection was; I have even kept his crappy later novels. But I did re-read one of his "juveniles" recently, and his style stands the test of time, I reckon.)

* other fiction (a lot of Evelyn Waugh, and a smattering of other authors, none of them very recent)

* religion (CS Lewis features prominently, but quite a few books on modern theology and religion generally, including by arch non-realist Don Cuppitt.)

* the paranormal and UFO's (are J Allen Hyneks' books still in print? They were the best of their type, but I also have Allen Hendry's great UFO Handbook.) To balance that out, I also have read Phillip Klass's skeptical books.

* philosophy and psychology (not much in the way of original works by philosophers, although I have had a stab at a little bit of Kant. Clarity of expression clearly did not count for much for philosophical fame in his day.)

* general science, including quite a few autobiographical accounts of the moon astronauts.

I guess if you've read the blog for some time, you would have worked out that these are key areas of interest.

Books I threw out in this round (if clean, they will be donated to Lifeline):

* a battered copy of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: this deserves an award for the most over-praised book of the 20th Century. It is a book that simply made no impression on me at all, even to the extent that some years later I had to skim read it again to even be able to remember what it was about. It strikes me to this day as a slight work masquerading as a deep one. But happily, due to the wonders of the internet, I can read detailed criticism of it in support of my intuitive reaction 20 years ago. Yay.

* Shirley Hazzard's "The Great Fire": I dealt with this in detail in an earlier post, and it is never worth keeping a novel that you stronly dislike. That Bryan Appleyard thinks highly of her style is another of life's unfathomables.

* "Blindsight" by Peter Watts: yet another current science fiction writer who is essentially pessimistic and can't hold my interest.

On the upside, and further to my complaint about no current fiction writers interesting me, I have nearly finished my second Graham Greene, and there is a lot to like about his pared back style. I suspect that I may find his tortured Catholic themes a little repetitive though, but it's good to another author to work my way through.

UPDATE: I forgot to mention the category of "history", which contains mostly Paul Johnson books (not all of his work is immediately engaging, but he's a fine writer when at his best), assorted ones on World War 2, and a history of the bathroom.

I also forgot to note that I am giving away the first Lord of the Rings book. If you find even the movies tedious, not much point in keeping the novels, is there.

Reasons to doubt Plimer

Plimer unbloodied and certainly unbowed | Herald Sun Andrew Bolt Blog

Andrew Bolt thought that last Friday's debate on Radio National didn't hurt Plimer at all. I must admit, I didn't think that Veron was very effective, but then again, as he only had the book for an hour before the exchange, you couldn't expect him to be well informed on its contents.

But the main problem was that (as I understand it) Veron is an expert on reefs, which gives him an interest in global warming, but doesn't really make him a direct expert on climate science.

One thing of note did come out, however, and that is that it appears (as I suspected) that Plimer leaves ocean acidification pretty much out of the debate. (Veron said he had trouble finding any references to it, but eventually did find a brief mention.)

Anyway, a much better refutation of Plimer's book, at least in one specific field, was on Radio National this morning. You can listen to it here.

Tim Lambert already has his list of obvious faults or omissions, and a more recent post indicating a sarcasm misfire that appears in the book.

While we are still waiting to see a more detailed review from some experienced climate scientists, I don't see any reason as to why skeptics should think that this book represents any form of breakthrough.

UPDATE: Andrew Bolt hasn't commented on this story from last week, as far as I know, but it's one that seems worthy of the attention of any AGW skeptic who wants to be taken seriously.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

How Britain is entertaining itself, etc

Go west! Gay storylines are drawing crowds to theatres in London's West End and fringe - The Independent

This lists 10 plays which are currently running in England to reasonable box office.

It seems to me that when it comes to gay themed musicals/comedy, they are usually much better reviewed (and more widely viewed) than the inherent quality deserves. It's like how Margaret and David (At the Movies) can't but help give an Australian movie an extra 1/2 to 1 star just for being Australian. I cite the movie versions of "Priscilla" and "La Cage" as examples.

The only gay drama that I can recall seeing much of was the TV version of Angels in America. The whole thing was terribly overwrought, I thought, but I seem to recall quite a few reviews pretty much agreeing with that.

Going back to gay comedy in Australia, I had the misfortune to see some of the Pam Ann Show on the Comedy Channel last week. This is very odd: a woman comedian who dresses up like a drag queen and seemingly aims for an audience mostly of gay male flight attendants. She is spectacularly unfunny, and if you look at the comments here, I am not alone in so thinking. (Best summary: "Feeble attempt to be a female (!) Bob Downe, the twist being no panache, poor scripting and no apparent talent.")

At least she goes to prove that no matter how much more sensitive people might feel gay men are, they don't as a class necessarily have any better refined taste in humour.


Drug-Sub Culture - The Latest Way to Get Cocaine Out of Colombia? Underwater. -

Interesting article on (large) semi-submersibles being used to smuggle drugs.


BBC NEWS | Health | Statins link to healthy prostate

Statins are currently used to lower cholesterol and help prevent heart attacks and strokes.

However, there is growing evidence that the drugs also prevent cancer cells from dividing, and may even cause some cancer cells to die.

Worldwide, prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death.

The US Mayo Clinic followed 2,447 men aged 40 to 79 for nearly two decades.

They found men who took statins were three times less likely to develop prostate cancer than men who did not take the drugs.

They also found statin users were 57% less likely to develop an enlarge prostate.

A statin is included in the mooted "polypill", which (I think) was designed only with heart disease and strokes in mind. If it also has a substantial protective effect on very common prostate problems, it would be a very attractive bonus.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

A late Anzac post

Here's my late father, probably in the North Atlantic, during (or shortly after) World War II. I'm not sure who the scowling figure in the background is. (A Chief Petty Officer, perhaps?)

He was never one to speak much about his war time experiences, and as far as I know, was lucky enough to avoid major action. But it's hard to imagine from the comfortable perspective of the last 40 years the social upheaval of a World War, and our thoughts and gratitude are, naturally, richly deserved.

Friday, April 24, 2009

A severe attack of the cutes

Gather the kiddies around, don't let them read the previous post, and just watch this:

Pope support

How can we change 'macho' attitudes to sex? | Society |

It's hard to read this article in The Guardian without thinking that it basically supports what the Pope and George Pell were attacked for saying a few weeks back.

On the issue of use of condoms within marriage: I would be concerned if the Pope's view was commonly taken by African women as meaning that they should still have unprotected sex with their husband even if they know he is HIV positive. But in fact, as one article I referred to in the previous post indicated, Catholic moralists would probably argue that it would be wrong for a HIV positive husband to insist on sex at all. (I don't know about most of my readers, but if I were in such a wife's situation, there's no way I would want to keep a sex life going with the husband - condom or not.)

For a situation where it is only suspected (through a belief that he is being unfaithful, say) that the husband is HIV positive, it seems to me doubtful in the extreme that unprotected sex within the marriage would be due to the Catholic teaching. After all, condoms don't exactly enhance the experience: a fact which condom promoters don't seem to ever want to acknowledge.

A wife's insistence on use of one when she only suspects the husband may be HIV positive is likely to be resented by him, and seen as taking away his perceived right to maximum enjoyment. And besides, she may want a child.

I strongly suspect that in the vast majority of cases, while a wife's decision to not insist (or her inability to insist) that her husband use a condom is consistent with Catholic teaching, but her position is far from primarily motivated by such teaching. On the husband's side, adherence to the Papal view on condoms would almost never be the reason that he does not use one with another partner or a prostitute.

(Update: is it possibly a partial reason a husband tells his wife that she should not make him use one? Maybe, in some cases, but again its doubtful from the Catholic point of view that he should be having sex at all if there are doubts about his sexual health. But again, isn't it far more likely that in most cases it is husband's selfishness that is the main reason he doesn't want to use one?)

Another way of looking at it is to say this: if the Catholic Church changed its teaching on condoms in Africa tomorrow, would it make a substantial difference to the HIV transmission rate? I think it's extremely doubtful that it would.

At heart, the problems are much more likely to cultural ones as the article suggests.

Update 2: having said all of that, I would be more than happy for the Catholic Church to revise its view on contraception and the idea that all sex has to be capable of procreation. What I am reacting against is the oft-repeated claim that Catholicism that is killing millions by virtue of its current teaching.

Spin your way out of this one, Kevin

Rudd's policies encourage would-be asylum seeker - ABC News

One man said he plans to attempt the boat journey even though his refugee status is already confirmed, because he has heard he is more likely to be accepted by Kevin Rudd's Government than its predecessor...

"Kevin Rudd - he's changed everything about refugee. If I go to Australia now, different, different," a second asylum seeker told the ABC.

"Maybe accepted but when John Howard, president, Australia, he said come back to Indonesia."
Heh heh heh.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Folk crisis averted

Online dating service for Austrias folk musicians | Austria News
Austrias folk musicians have problems to find the right partner. To guarantee enough of offspring from relationships between folk musicians, the governing body of that certain musical direction opened an online dating service for such kind of people.
I think I have found a new favourite nation to regularly ridicule.

Ex-smokers cautioned

'Cancer risk of nicotine gum and lozenges higher than thought' - Times Online

Dr Mickey?

How nosy mice sniff out sickness - health - 22 April 2009 - New Scientist

I didn't know that mice and rats had been shown to have some disease sniffing ability, like dogs have with cancer.

(There was a documentary on SBS recently about trials in England with cancer sniffing dogs. I was only able to half watch it, but the point of the story seemed to be that there was much professional scepticism about how useful this ability could be in real life, because dogs can have good days and bad days in smelling trials. My experience at the airport with a sniffer beagle that got very excited over a bottle of gin would appear to confirm that.)

Anyway, I hope one day to find a cage of rat assistants in my GP's surgery.

Nice Katz

Just me, you, the waiter, chef, and diners |

A sweet column by Danny Katz today.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Cities not to work in

Is Jakarta a bad place to work? Say it ain’t so | The Jakarta Post

Businessweek has ranked the world's worst cities for expats to work in:
The report ranked Jakarta second, just below Lagos in Nigeria and above Riyadh in Saudi Arabia, saying the threat of violence from extremists, in particular, was a serious drawback to living in Jakarta.
But the Jakarta Post notes this quasi-positive spin:
The report said despite problems common to many developing cities such as the risk of disease, poor sanitation and excessive pollution, “Indonesia can be an enticing location”.
Many people in comments are disputing that it should be at such a high ranking. I like this one though:
This is a bum rap. I have worked as a frequent visitor in Jakarta and I have found it to be a pleasant city in many respects. Of course, the traffic can be nightmarish and the air pollution can injure one's respiratory tract.

If you don't have to travel far each day, speak Bahasa and have a modicum of patience, one can thrive there.
Interestingly, more than one commenter cites Malayasia as being the most racist country in the region.

More on that baby

Gulfnews: Mother of 'illegal' infant arrested
A mother whose infant daughter was declared an illegal resident in Sharjah was arrested on Monday by the Sharjah Naturalisation and Residency Department (SNRD) on a charge of submitting forged documents. She was released hours later on condition she would return to the department on Tuesday with a guarantor's passport.

Her infant daughter Nayana, 18 months, had to spend the day at baby care awaiting the release of her mother who was still in SNRD custody.

The babysitter told Gulf News that she didn't know what to do with the baby who cried all the time.

I like the personal detail at the end.

It's not clear from the rest of the story as to whether there was anything improper at all in the documents she produced.

It's a great way for a nation to attract foreign workers.

The remarkable hair visits LA

Chantal Biya: the first lady of Cameroon - Telegraph

A long term reason for optimism?

Findings - Use Energy, Get Rich and Save the Planet -

John Tierney will cop a lot of flack for running these predictions:

1. There will be no green revolution in energy or anything else. No leader or law or treaty will radically change the energy sources for people and industries in the United States or other countries. No recession or depression will make a lasting change in consumers’ passions to use energy, make money and buy new technology — and that, believe it or not, is good news, because...

2. The richer everyone gets, the greener the planet will be in the long run.
I don't doubt the point about the rich being greener than the poor. (It's also the assured way of containing population growth.)

But the problem is, will the attainment of average global wealth of sufficient size to "green" the planet take place fast enough to prevent a disastrous accumulation of CO2?

It has occurred to me before that it might just be possible that, regardless of (probably unsuccessful) attempts at effective CO2 limiting treaties, foreseeable (or even unforeseen) changes to energy technology might just mean that CO2 production is rapidly contained over the next 50 years anyway.

Of course, if James Hanson is right, that's far too late. But, if God is really smiling upon the planet, a milder version of the Maunder minimum might buy the nations enough time to prepare for a return to higher than normal temperatures. Of course, that's assuming that people could be persuaded during a mini ice age that global warming was still a threat - which is probably a big ask!

Also, a really severe mini-ice age is not likely to help, I guess, as it would be reason to not cut back on coal fired power generation in those countries undergoing bad winters.

Anyway, there's always ocean acidification to worry about regardless of temperatures.

The appeal of fighting witches

Two books about witches. - By Johann Hari - Slate Magazine

Interesting article here about why belief in witchcraft is still common in significant parts of the world.

The problem with India

India: the next climate obstacle? - Short Sharp Science - New Scientist

A New Scientist blog opines:
I would look to India for the next wall of resistance from developing nations. At negotiations, it is a forceful opponent to limiting emissions in developing nations. (Understandably so: the average Indian emits 1.2 metric tons of carbon each year, compared to 20.4 for the average US citizen.)

Indian negotiators have been known to flatly refuse to even discuss the matter of limiting emissions in developing nations during some negotiations because it was not explicitly on the agenda.

What Mahmoud left out

Ahmadinejad receives 'warm welcome' home after UN summit speech | World news |

Ahmadinejad omitted some remarks from the prepared text issued by Iranian diplomats in Geneva which described the Holocaust as "ambiguous and dubious".
The eventual response from Israel might be far from that description.

On trial for writing an opinion?

Obama remarks on torture memos leave open possibility of prosecution - Los Angeles Times

Like this makes sense:
Although President Obama opposes the prosecution of CIA operatives who carried out the most controversial interrogations of suspected terrorists during the Bush administration, Obama suggested today that he had not ruled out action against Justice Department officials who authorized the tactics....

Obama said that "with respect to those who formulated those legal decisions, I would say that that is going to be more of a decision for the attorney general within the parameters of various laws, and I don't want to prejudge that. I think that there are a host of very complicated issues involved there."
Update: further interesting details on this in The Guardian version of the story:
The White House chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, said only three days ago that the administration did not favour prosecutions of those who had devised the policy, and Gibbs echoed that on Monday.

Obama's about-turn may reflect the sense of outrage, at least among US liberals, over further details of CIA interrogations that have emerged during the last few days, including the use of waterboarding against one detainee 183 times. Or it could be purely political, a retaliation for sniping against him by Cheney.

In an interview with Fox News on Monday night, Cheney said he was disturbed by the release of the previously classified memos. He called for the declassification of other memos that he said would illustrate the value of intelligence gained from the interrogations.

"I know specifically of reports that I read, that I saw, that lay out what we learned through the interrogation process and what the consequences were for the country," he said.
Cheney has a point. Surely most people are surprised by the number of times some detainees were waterboarded. Unless you believe that individual CIA operatives just started doing it for fun (a wildly improbably assumption, given the amount of paperwork that appears to surround these cases), they clearly must have been under the impression that something was to be gained (or was being gained) in the process.

Of course, one of the common arguments against torture is that it does not produce reliable information in any event. But is that necessarily true? The CIA and intelligence services of all countries have a lot of experience in the field: do they like people to know how successful it can be?

There is probably a lot of information out there on the issue, but I don't have time to go looking for it now.

One other point I find curious about this whole matter is that, if the one of the interrogation "benefits" of waterboarding is that the victim thinks they are about to die, surely that aspect of it decreases over time if you've been subjected to it a dozen times and you still haven't died? Or does the psychological impact of it still increase over time, just out of fear of undergoing yet another round of an extremely unpleasant procedure?

Going back to Obama's flying the kite on Justice Department prosecutions, Powerline has this to say (and of course I agree):
The idea of prosecuting a lawyer because a wrote a legal analysis with which the current Attorney General disagrees is so outrageous that I can't believe it would be seriously considered.
UPDATE: some commentary on the issue of whether torture works.

I also tend to agree with Tigerhawk's take on this: if you have caught a terrorist who is prepared to kill thousands of civilians, it is surely helpful for him to at least believe that he is about to be tortured. Obama has effectively removed that fear, and that is not a good thing for the future security of his nation.

UPDATE 2: The New York Times reports that Obama's own intelligence director, Admiral Blair, supports the Dick Cheney position that important information was disclosed from waterboarding (or other techniques authorised by the Bush administration). I think we can assume Cheney was telling the truth.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Cats kill cute sea creatures

New research reveals extraordinary habits of rare Australian Snubfin dolphin

According to this article, research on the funny looking snub nosed dolphin (that lives off Queensland) shows that they can be killed by toxoplasma containing cat poop:
The concern for the snubfin dolphin follows the death of three Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins recovered around Townsville in the period 2000-2001 that were infected by Toxoplasma gondii - a parasite usually found in cat faeces that appears to have come from contaminated run-off.
In California, they have long believed that cat poo is killing sea otters.

Cat owners have a lot to answer for.

Oceans and Plimer

Most Australian readers would probably know already of the global warming skeptics excitement about a new hefty book by geologist Ian Plimer that (apparently) sets out with lots of footnotes his opinion as to why the great majority of climate scientists are wrong.

While we are waiting for some climate scientist types to review it in detail, I am curious as to whether he makes any attempt at addressing ocean acidification. As remarked here many times, this is an issue skeptics just like to wave away with a few dismissive snorts, and that's about the extent of their analysis. (Yes, I am aware of Plimer's previous short contributions to the issue, such as this one noted last year at Marohasy's blog. Anyone who has bothered to read about the issue can readily spot that this was a disingenuous attempt at dismissing it, and does not address the reasons why it is believed to be a serious problem regardless of the oceans surviving past periods of high atmospheric CO2.)

In fact, I haven't posted anything new about ocean acidification for a few weeks, but there have been quite a few papers of note, such as:

* some new calculations indicate that ocean "dead zones" will increase:
increases in carbon dioxide can make marine animals more susceptible to low concentrations of oxygen, and thus exacerbate the effects of low-oxygen "dead zones" in the ocean.

Brewer and Peltzer's calculations also show that the partial pressure of dissolved carbon dioxide gas (pCO2) in low-oxygen zones will rise much higher than previously thought. This could have significant consequences for marine life in these zones.
* (if I am reading this right) some lab tests indicate that phytoplankton in nutrient poor ocean areas (such as the Southern Oceans, which will be affected first by lower .pH) don't do well with increased CO2.

* A paper notes the wildly conflicting results of different lab tests on whether a certain type of phytoplankton will get heavier or lighter with more ocean acidification. However, even if they do in nature get heavier, they will not make a significant reduction in CO2 levels in the atmosphere: should be recognized that the direct impact of calcification changes on atmospheric CO2 through the remainder of this century is relatively small compared to anticipated annual emissions as well as to other carbon cycle feedbacks.
(Hence, if AGW is true, you can't expect the carbon incorporating phytoplankton to save you.)

* more research indicating pteropods (which feed a lot of fish) don't do well with increased acidfication. The researchers note:
A decline of their populations would likely cause dramatic changes to the structure, function and services of polar ecosystems.
Not exactly cheery news.

Quantum fun

Avoid a future cataclysm: Forget the past - New Scientist

A quite bizarre but entertaining idea suggested by a physicist who has been thinking about "many worlds". The idea is hard to summarise here, and the article is short, but the ultimate point is this:
"If we could find a way to reset our knowledge of an impending disaster, we too could avoid it."
Would large amounts of alcohol do the trick? (Maybe it explains the remarkable ability of some drunks to take a tumble and get back up again.)

4WD heresy

Bligh backs drop in Fraser Island speed limit - ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

On the weekend, there was yet another four wheel drive accident on the beach at Fraser Island. This has prompted the government to finally say that letting people drive on a beach at 100 km might just be a little too dangerous. Well, duh, as they say.

But: why the hell do we let the great sandy islands of South East Queensland have their beach serenity spoilt by 4WD's at all? I don't particularly care if inland sand roads are used to access beach-side camp sites, but to my mind Moreton Island and Fraser Island beaches have a large amount of their wilderness value spoilt by the never-ending flow of 4WD up and down their beaches. If you are camping with young children, there is always the worry that it is not particularly safe for them to be going between campsite and the water's edge, because they are literally wandering on a "road".

To my mind, this has been an incremental problem. In the early 1970's, when I first went to Moreton Island, not that many people had 4WD's, and it really did feel a pretty isolated spot. Now that every man and his dog has been able to buy one (mainly for the wife's school run and supermarket shopping, mind you) they spoil quite a lot of the pleasure of being there.

No one says this, of course, and tourism operators on Fraser would be up in arms at the suggestion. But if I ruled the country, there would be a ban on beach driving for nearly everyone; and for non rural areas, 4WDs would be taxed within an inch of their saleability anyway.

System failure

Mentally ill man raped, murdered daughter after warnings ignored | The Courier-Mail

A spectacularly tragic failure of the system to do any effective in the light of clear danger is detailed today:
THE state's largest hospital was warned, so were police and a doctor, but no one stopped a mentally ill man from taking a family holiday which ended with him raping and killing his 10-year-old daughter.

The man headed off on the fateful Bribie Island holiday with his four children after he was allowed to postpone a check-up with health authorities....

The Courier-Mail revealed in the days after the killing that the man had been released from the Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital's mental health unit, where he had been under an involuntary treatment order, on December 21, 2007.

He had been admitted on December 8 after a manic episode in a shopping centre.

The man was allowed to postponea check-up with mental health workers scheduled for December 31. Late that night he ritualistically killed his daughter but spared her three younger siblings...

On December 30, the man's parents were so concerned about their son's behaviour, including a threat that "someone close to me is going to die tonight", that they contacted his GP...

On December 31, the RBWH was contacted by a former girlfriend of the man after he had gone to her home. The documents did not say whether the hospital took any action.

The man - who was found by the Mental Health Court to have been of unsound mind at the time of the murder - did not abide by the terms of his discharge. The judgment revealed he had stopped taking the antipsychotic drug, Risperidone, and resumed smoking large quantities of cannabis.
Um, just how many patients who are supposed to be taking anti-psychotics are allowed by anyone to supervise their children alone? I would have thought that this fact alone would have been reason for action.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Peter Kennedy has left the building

With a bit of TLC, priest's exile begins | The Australian

While I was down the coast, Peter Kennedy and his followers took the short walk down the road from Saint Mary's church to their new (temporary?) HQ at the Trades and Labor Council. Yes, it's like organised labor having it's very own church now. How cute.

Although Kennedy was looking all chipper on the TV news, I don't know that this reported comment should really give his congregation much encouragement:
"Our story, as it unfolds, will not change the church, nor will it change the world," Father Kennedy said. "But it is a political act which may give hope to those who feel excluded by the rules and regulations, the doctrines and dogmas, of the institutional church."
For a quite sarcastic take on events, have a read of this post at Coo-ee's Priory, (and this one) which note that Peter Kennedy may be over-estimating media interest in his private church now that the expected physical confrontation is (presumably) not going to happen:
"We are liberated now to speak out about the church. The media will come to us for our opinion from now on."
Yeah, we'll see how long that lasts.

Weekend away

We went down to the Gold Coast on the weekend, where I took this typical photo:

The weather was pretty good, and autumn (or spring) are the best times to be on the beach in South East Queensland: you don't have quite the same worry about frying your skin within 10 minutes, and once your feet get used to it, the water is warm.

It seems that the Gold Coast is suffering from the GFC to some degree: there were a few noticeable closed restaurants and such around. Price-wise, it's also probably a good time to be looking at buying a holiday unit there, as I suspect that is the type of real estate that investors are currently having to sell in a hurry. (Yes, have a look at this search at to see what you can buy at Broadbeach for under $300,000. Someone send me $250,000 in Paypal and I'll let you stay in my apartment for 4 weeks a year in perpetuity!)

Hold this space

Missing me? No, I thought not. In any case, there's stuff to post about, but no time 'til tonight.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Cheap real estate soon in Japan?

Japan birthrate fall world's No. 1 | The Japan Times Online
The productive population, or those aged 15 to 64, is expected to decline from 81.64 million in 2009 to 45.95 million in 2055.

Friday, April 17, 2009

A science fiction image

This video of a pair of lungs being kept "breathing" while awaiting transplant reminded me of one of Larry Niven's novels, "A Gift from Earth". More details of the point of the exercise are at Next Big Future.

Doesn't work for Madonna

Can We Reverse Aging By Changing How We Think?

Don't overlook refrigerators

Energy Secretary Steven Chu on Global Warming | Newsweek

Nothing terribly new in this interview with Steven Chu, except I hadn't heard of this before:
We now make refrigerators that are four times more energy-efficient than the refrigerators of 1975—for half the inflation-adjusted cost. The energy we save with these refrigerators is more than all of the wind and solar photovoltaic energy we produce in the United States today. Just refrigerators.
Chu claims a lot is achievable in energy efficient buildings:
..we haven't taken full advantage of the technologies that exist today. They haven't been integrated into making smarter buildings that can be 60, 80 percent more energy-efficient than existing buildings.
He says buildings use 40% of US energy. Sounds surprisingly high.

Hunger inspired post

My wife made very nice pizza last night, using the following:

bottle pizza sauce, pieces of fresh tomato, semi-dried capsicum, olives, anchovies, basil leaves, mozzarella, and (special ingredient) bits of old washed rind cheese well past its used by date.

Provided stinky cheese has not developed its own microbiological civilisation, small amounts of it on pizza are delicious.

[End of transmission to your subconscious.]

I wonder what my brain is up to now

Unconscious thought precedes conscious | Incognito | The Economist

Interesting article here on new research which suggests the brain solves problems by itself well before you are aware of it.

As the report notes, it's further extension of Libet's old research from the 1980's, that caused a philosophical stir at the time.

In some ways, I guess, the idea that the brain can work on a problem subconsciously is not uncomfortable. In fact, it's kind of handy to have a computer working in the background on an issue.

But on the other hand, the research does raise the issue of how much you really are "in control". Taken to an extreme, it encourages the idea that we are just automatons who simply live under the impression of having control. Hard to deal with the moral concept of responsibility for actions if that were true.

People had better still believe that there is still a bit of a mystery about consciousness, and that right action can be willed, otherwise the fate of humanity will be bleak indeed.

Everyone needs a hobby

Such as, sitting in a Japanese park dressed as a Nazi.

Forests not always so helpful

Dying trees may exacerbate climate change : Nature News

I have to reproduce a large part of this, because of Nature's silly way of putting stories under a paywall after a short time:

Forestry experts have again warned that climate change could transform forests from sinks to sources of carbon. The carbon storing capacity of global forests could be lost entirely if the earth heats up 2.5° Celsius above pre-industrial levels, according to a new report...

In a warmer world, subtropical and southern temperate forests such as those in the western United States, northern China, southern Europe, the Mediterranean and Australia will experience more intense and frequent droughts, increasing the incidence of fire and pests. This would lead to more carbon being released — a recent report in Science2 found that a 2005 drought in the Amazon basin released about 1.2 billion–1.6 billion tonnes of carbon (See 'Climate change crisis for rainforests').

The coniferous forests of Canada, Finland, Russia and Sweden that make up the boreal region are expected to experience more warming than forests in the equatorial zone. Although warmer temperatures could initially fuel a northward expansion of the forest, the short-term positive impacts would be cancelled out by damage from increased insect invasions, fires and storms.

The shift from sink to source is already happening. The mountain pine beetle has devastated the forests of western Canada. The outbreak currently covers 14 million hectares — roughly 3.5 times the size of Switzerland, says Allan Carroll, an insect ecologist with the Canadian Forest Service in Victoria, British Columbia. By 2020, the projected end of the outbreak, about 270 megatonnes of carbon will have been emitted to the atmosphere3. "That's the equivalent of five years of emissions from the entire transportation sector in Canada," says Carroll.

Noami and Hope

Naomi Klein on Obama and the rhetoric of hope | Comment is free | The Guardian

The somewhat nutty Naomi Klein writes a column that conservative Obama skeptics can take heart from.

A dubious honour

New Species Of Lichen Named After President Barack Obama

Lichen? How much pleasure does it give someone to be named after an inanimate bit of rock coating?

My competition of the day: what sort of newly discovered living creature should be named after Kevin Rudd?

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Good grief

Gulfnews: Lawmakers call for 'moral police' revamp

OK, I admit it, Gulf News has become my irresistible source of amusement. (I had to give the Times of India a break after the Mumbai terrorist attack.)

It is a very, very different world in the Gulf countries. Today, for example, it reports on how the Saudi religious police are getting some criticism:
Several members of the Shura Council have come down heavily on the high handedness meted out by the members of the Commission for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice or the religious police.

They noted that some Commission members are exercising excessive powers that are not in their jurisdiction and are interfering in the private affairs of individuals. They accused panel members of acts like getting into individuals' mobile phone data, reckless chasing, and inspecting women to check if they were using perfumes that "disturb others", cutting off their hairs or wearing improper dress.

Well, I wouldn't mind having a security force that can deal with overpowering aftershave that you tend to find some European men wear. But we can agree with this:

Dr Abdullah Bukhari, a member of the Shura, vehemently criticised the acts of some Commission members in storming public or private places and inspecting personal belongings.

"Their chasing of women or taking into custody of those found without a blood relative [Mahram] are not right," he reminded
But what does the good doctor, who sounds like a modernising sort of chap, then say the religious police should be doing?:
"They should concentrate mainly on busting the rackets of drugs, black magicians, sorcerers or the like rather than entangling in private affairs of individuals," he said.

And further on the issue of child marriage, the situation is not good in Yemen:

The early marriage is a phenomenon in Yemen with respect to males and females, and it's widespread in both rural and urban areas, the report added.

Some 48 per cent of females under 15 years old get married early, and about 45 per cent of males and females get married when they are about 10 years, the report said.

Toy shops must love weddings there.

They are trying to change the law, but meeting religious objections:
A controversy has been going on in Yemen since February 11, 2009, when some Islamist MPs supported by some clerics refused as not Islamic the 17 years as the minimum age of marriage although it was voted for by the majority of the House of Representatives.
I suppose when the founder of your religion had a child bride himself, it does make for an issue.

Free for all

Gizmo's - Gizmo's Freeware Reviews | Gizmo's Freeware

The news isn't inspiring me for any post at the moment, so instead I'll just mention that I recently found the above handy website for finding just the right freeware for nearly any purpose.

It's well organised, covers all sorts of freeware (eg, open source and older versions of products that companies are now giving away for free), and reviews their features. Readers get to make their own comments and recommendations as well. (I know other sites allow for reader reviews, but this site just seems much better organised and has a more personal touch in its reviews.)

Very satisfying.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Tempting fate

Titanic cruise to mark anniversary of ship's fateful voyage - Telegraph

The Balmoral, operated by Fred Olsen Cruise Lines, whose parent company Harland and Wolff built the Titanic, has been chosen for the voyage.

It will carry 1,309 passengers - the same number that sailed on the fateful voyage - on the same route as the Titanic, leaving Southmapton in early April 2012 before docking at the Irish port of Cobh (formerly Queenstown), where the Titanic made its final call on April 11, 1912.

The cruise will continue to follow the route of the Titanic and, on April 14, it will arrive at the exact location the vessel sank some 100 years before, where there will be a special memorial ceremony between 11.40pm (when the ship hit the iceberg) and 2.20am on April 15 (when the ship sank).

Go on, admit it. You secretly would love to see some disaster happen on that cruise.

There's an up side? (And will teddy get a deportation order too?)

Gulfnews: Saudi Arabia to regulate marriages of young girls
Saudi Arabia plans to regulate the marriages of young girls, its justice minister was quoted as saying on Tuesday, after a court refused to nullify the marriage of an 8-year-old to a man 50 years her senior....

A court in the Saudi town of Onaiza upheld for the second time last week the marriage of the Saudi girl to a man who is about 50 years her senior, on condition he does not have sex with her until she reaches puberty...

The minister's comments suggested the practice of marrying off young girls would not be abolished. The regulations will seek to "preserve the rights, fending off blights to end the negative aspects of underage girls' marriage", he said.
In another Gulf News story of interest, being a child in the region can be pretty tough:
An 18-month-old baby has been declared an illegal resident by the Sharjah Naturalisation and Residency Department (SNRD) and has been given one week to leave the country after which she will get a one-year ban.

Nayana Sanjay Kumar was born in October 2007 at Al Qasimi hospital in Sharjah, but her parents, both Indians from Kerala, could not sponsor their new-born baby as their salary was not enough at the time.
The mother works legally as a nurse in a government hospital. Her labour is evidently welcome, just not a baby with rather distinctive eyebrows.

A worthy Bolt

Truth is beyond the Age’s imagination | Herald Sun Andrew Bolt Blog

Top marks to Andrew Bolt for his illustrated rebuttal of a profoundly ignorant Age editorial.

Condom talk

Yes, I'm late to the party in commenting on the Pope and Pell and their comments on condoms in Africa.

I'm finally prompted to do so by an article yesterday in The Age by a couple of Australian AIDS researchers who cited various studies that they say do not support the Pope's view.

Yet, they spend a lot of time in explaining the success of condoms in non-African countries, particularly those where the widespread use of prostitutes has been at the core of the problem. This is not exactly the same situation as in much of Africa. (You can read the Green article I cite below in support of that.) And besides which, if you could actually pin down Pell on the moral effect of a man visiting a prostitute using a condom, would he say that it compounds the sin, or would he allow that using one reduces the potential bad consequences and, if not a good thing, is at least morally neutral? (I admit he would probably be reluctant to answer, given that he doesn't want in any way to encourage people towards sexual immorality in the first place.)

There's the same missing-the-point in much of David Marr's spray in last weekend's Sydney Morning Herald. He talks of the success of condoms in reducing HIV in Australia - where it was always largely a problem in the gay community. Funny, but I have never noticed the Catholic bishops spending a lot of time teaching that gay men should not use condoms. Even for the heterosexual, I'm always a bit puzzled as to why people think that Catholics who are willing to sin sexually are still going to consider themselves bound by one related issue of Catholic teaching while in the act.

Anyway, the main point of this post is to point people who have not already read him to a Harvard AIDS researcher Edward Green. He wrote an opinion piece in the Washington Post entitled "The Pope may be right", but his views appear to have attracted no attention in the Australian media. Here's a key paragraph:
In 2003, Norman Hearst and Sanny Chen of the University of California conducted a condom effectiveness study for the United Nations' AIDS program and found no evidence of condoms working as a primary HIV-prevention measure in Africa. UNAIDS quietly disowned the study. (The authors eventually managed to publish their findings in the quarterly Studies in Family Planning.) Since then, major articles in other peer-reviewed journals such as the Lancet, Science and BMJ have confirmed that condoms have not worked as a primary intervention in the population-wide epidemics of Africa. In a 2008 article in Science called "Reassessing HIV Prevention" 10 AIDS experts concluded that "consistent condom use has not reached a sufficiently high level, even after many years of widespread and often aggressive promotion, to produce a measurable slowing of new infections in the generalized epidemics of Sub-Saharan Africa."
And why does he think it hasn't worked well in Africa as it has in other countries:

One reason is "risk compensation." That is, when people think they're made safe by using condoms at least some of the time, they actually engage in riskier sex.

So, the Pope and Pell have at least one high profile HIV researcher pretty much on their side. People should at least know that.

When I pointed this out at Harry Clarke's blog, he responded by suggesting that Green was just pushing his Catholic faith. I don't know if he is a practising Catholic or not, but he describes himself as a liberal, and certainly he is not saying condoms should be banned:
Don't misunderstand me; I am not anti-condom. All people should have full access to condoms, and condoms should always be a backup strategy for those who will not or cannot remain in a mutually faithful relationship. This was a key point in a 2004 "consensus statement" published and endorsed by some 150 global AIDS experts, including representatives the United Nations, World Health Organization and World Bank. These experts also affirmed that for sexually active adults, the first priority should be to promote mutual fidelity. Moreover, liberals and conservatives agree that condoms cannot address challenges that remain critical in Africa such as cross-generational sex, gender inequality and an end to domestic violence, rape and sexual coercion.
Here's an interview Green gave to the BBC recently. There you can read this snippet which more directly supports the Pell line on risk compensation in Africa:
There was one where--Norman Hurst of the University of California was one of the authors, it was published in the journal Aids--where they followed two groups of young people in Uganda, and the group that had the intensive condom promotion--and they were provided condoms after three years--they actually were found to have a greater number of sex partners. So that cancels out the risk reduction that the technology of condoms ought to provide. That's the phenomenon known as risk compensation.
Interestingly, in The Age article I initially referred to, they cited the decrease in use of prostitutes in Thailand (where condom use in brothels is very high) as evidence against the risk compensation theory. That may be true in Thailand, but it raises another issue: how much can you say that it is the widespread use of condoms that is the reason for the reduction in HIV spread there, as compared to the pretty dramatic drop in the use of prostitutes in the first place? Seems to me they just want to concentrate on the condom effect, without giving credit to decreased promiscuity.

Here is a long article of Green's that appeared last year in the religious journal First Things. Well worth reading. He disputes the re-interpretation of the Ugandan experience that The Age article notes.

It seems pretty clear that the matter of appropriate responses to HIV in Africa is the subject of some controversy within academia. It's even clear that there is at least some evidence supporting the idea of risk compensation in Africa. The Pope and Pell are not completely out on a limb here when they talk about the African experience, not that you would know that from most of the media coverage.

UPDATE: I just found this commentary at Eureka Street, arguing again that the context of the African experience of AIDS is important:

In contrast to the Western world, religious congregations and parishes were extensively involved from the beginning in caring for infected and rejected women and children. The local Catholic sisters, priests and many bishops generally recognised the dilemma and some have spoken against an absolute interdiction of condoms.

But they also recognise that the instrumental and value free programs imported from the West were less effective in Africa. The spread of AIDS had cultural roots that also needed to be addressed. A view of marriage in which the woman was more than an object, the eradication of magical views of the causes and protections against AIDS, and a culture of mutual respect and of faithfulness within marriage, were required if AIDS was to be checked. These touched the consideration of human sexuality enshrined in church teaching.

The whole article is worth reading.

UPDATE 2: another interesting take on all of this is at The Alligator.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

"Just plain nuts"*

Mind Hacks: The chaos of R.D. Laing

Maybe I take a little too much pleasure from stories of the chaotic private lives of the famous; but this is a very good example of a physician who failed to heal himself.

He's been dead for some time now, but RD Laing was the 1960's era psychiatrist/author who promoted the idea that a mental illness was largely was a reaction to family dynamics. As Wikipedia says, Laing's views:
"...ran counter to the psychiatric orthodoxy of the day by taking the expressed feelings of the individual patient or client as valid descriptions of lived experience rather than simply as symptoms of some separate or underlying disorder....

Laing argued that the strange behavior and seemingly confused speech of people undergoing a psychotic episode were ultimately understandable as an attempt to communicate worries and concerns, often in situations where this was not possible or not permitted. Laing stressed the role of society, and particularly the family, in the development of "madness" (his term). He argued that individuals can often be put in impossible situations, where they are unable to conform to the conflicting expectations of their peers, leading to a "lose-lose situation" and immense mental distress for the individuals concerned."
Unfortunately, encouraging a belief in a full blown schizophrenic that their madness really has been caused by their family, or society at large, is rarely a helpful approach. So he has rather fallen out of favour now, at least for serious cases of madness, but you can see how appealing he would be to 1960's counterculture.

Anyhow, it turns out that his own family life was pretty much a shambles. The above link has a short outline of the story, but the full details are were in the lengthier Sunday Times article last weekend. Here's the summary:
He abandoned his first five children and left them in penury. He went on to father five more children with three different women, had innumerable affairs, was subject to violent drunken rages and became obsessed with his own fame. Yet he treated patients with extraordinary compassion and empathy, qualities he denied his own family.
Of course, he could blame his own family:
...his mother was over-protective, cold, and viewed overt displays of affection, particularly with her husband, as distasteful. Ronnie would later claim his mother made effigies of him into which she stuck pins, but none of his children believed it. It was, however, certainly true that he was not allowed to bathe on his own until he was 15.
Wikipedia puts it this way:
His parents led a life of extreme denial, exhibiting bizarre behaviour. His father David, an electrical engineer, seems often to have come to blows with his own brother, and himself had a breakdown when Laing was a teenager. His mother Amelia was described as "still more psychologically peculiar". According to one friend and neighbour, "everyone in the street knew she was mad".[5]
Following his divorce, he was involved in this very 60's experiment, amusing described in the Times article:
The idea was that patients and doctors would live together, thus breaking down the barriers between them.

A “community house” was established at Kingsley Hall, a former youth hostel in east London. Sally Vincent was unimpressed. “It seemed to me that the psychiatrists outnumbered the patients, who were all female and uniformly good-looking. Ronnie would be pompousing about dressed in white robes looking like Jesus and I’d be asking him, ‘Why has that bloke got his hands all over that girl?’ The whole thing stank.”

The Times article gives examples of a lot worse behaviour as he aged.

The interesting point is, of course, that even if he could see the source of his inner demons in his unusual upbringing, why could he not use such knowledge to become a nicer person?

* famous Gary Larson cartoon may be viewed here.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Dubai fights back

Gulfnews: Western expats full of praise for Dubai

I'm not sure how close Gulf News is to whatever passes for government in Dubai, but this article sure has the feel of a PR exercise:

Many who spoke to Gulf News said they regard Dubai as one of the most comfortable and tolerant cities in the world and maintained the western media that "unleash mindless criticism on Dubai" is failing to see the real story.

Corrado Chiarentin, 44, who runs a business consultancy in Dubai, said it is "the most tolerant city" he has ever been to.

All depends how you define tolerant, I suppose, as well as how many cities he has been to.

Deserves an award

For the most pretentious photographs you're likely to see for a new range of designer toilets and basins, go here.

(I think it is meant to convey how toilets will look in heaven.)

Capybara revisited

I had a post about this in 2006, but how many of you have been reading since then?

This time it is the BBC with an article about the poor capybara - the red meat you eat in Venezuela when you are not allowed to eat red meat. (We're talking Lent, and perhaps the most opportunistic categorisation of meat ever.)

Not helpful, China

The Tablet - Arrest of bishops loyal to Rome mars Vatican’s China meeting

Old timers of Area 51

The Road to Area 51 - Los Angeles Times

Some former Area 51 test pilots get to talk about their secret OXCART work. All pretty interesting.

More on the project at Wikipedia.

Hard to enforce

As reported in The Australian:
THE Family Court is allowing mothers to leave the country with their children, provided they agree to sign up for the internet-based video telephone service Skype.

A compulsory subscription to Skype, which allows parents to see their children on the computer screen while talking to them, has been a feature of 10 Family Court cases this year.
Um, how likely is it that this is enforceable from the other side of the world?

Still, I suppose that if the court is convinced a parent should be allowed to relocate to another country (especially if they only moved here because of marriage), I guess it is better for them to at least try to promote video chats than not.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Not a good sign

Escaping the Bhagwan |

Here's one aspect of the Orange People cult of which I was not previously aware:

About 87 per cent of residents had a sexually transmitted disease and women who became pregnant were told by the Bhagwan to abort and sterilise, Stork says. She and her teenage daughter were both sterilised.

"Women would write (to the Bhagwan) saying 'I'm pregnant. what should I do?' He would always say 'abort and sterilise'," she says.

"He used to speak so lovingly about children, yet behind the scenes everybody's getting sterilised. There were no children born in the ashram."

Worth reading at Slate

Slate Magazine

Slate is always worth checking, but just in the last few days, there seem to be a remarkable number of stories of particular interest:

* read about what Americans now think of Australian wines (and how aiming for the cheap and cheerful end of the wine spectrum is not always good marketing in the long run)

* Here's a list of professional groups which have the embarrassment of having a subset that have become 9/11 troofers. (As I have suggested before, global warming skeptics who like to cite petitions of generic scientists in their favour should keep this in mind. There is always a subset of any group who will belief fanciful ideas.)

* Meghan O'Rourke's series on the death of her mother continues to be compelling, moving reading.

* For Easter, there's a quick revision on the role of crucifiction, and how peculiar it was to the Romans that a religion should spring up around such an event.

* You can learn that you are not alone if you think Twitter is a ridiculous fad that will pass soon enough. (It reminds me of all the hype over Second Life.) I like this part:
Much of what we do online has obvious analogues in the past: E-mail and IM replace letters and face-to-face chatting. Blogging is personal pamphleteering. Skype is the new landline. ....

Twitter is different. It's not a faster or easier way of doing something you did in the past, unless you were one of those people who wrote short "quips" on bathroom stalls. It's a totally alien form of communication.
* And you can read a lengthy and (to my mind) pretty convincing argument as to why Israel will bomb Iran in the relatively near future. (There are many counter-intuitive propositions involved, but it's a well thought out essay.)

Slate really is the best quality web magazine of its kind, I reckon.

More and more anti-Dubai

The dark side of Dubai - Johann Hari, Commentators - The Independent

A very long article here that puts the boot into Dubai in a very satisfying manner.

32 million brides for 32 million brothers?

Selective sex abortion causes 32 million excess males in China

Some amazing figures in this summary of a BMJ on the massive gender imbalance in China: 2005 alone, China had more than 1.1 million excess male births.

Among Chinese aged below 20, the greatest gender imbalances were among one-to-four-year-olds, where there were 124 male to 100 female births, with 126 to 100 in rural areas, they found.

The gap was especially big in provinces where the one-child policy was strictly enforced and also in rural areas...

Only two provinces -- Tibet and Xinjiang, the most permissive in terms of the one-child policy -- had normal sex ratios.

"Sex selective abortion accounts for almost all the excess males," the paper said. "

Friday, April 10, 2009

For Good Friday

A symbol of the noblest of traditions |

Not a bad attempt here at a response to the modern distaste for the idea of sacrificial atonement.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Broadband skepticism, Part 2

As Michael Stutchbury notes about the proposed $43 billion fibre optic network, the government likes to say:
This is suddenly an "historic nation-building investment" that will "help transform the Australian economy".
And then they talk about how left behind Australia is compared to Japan and Korea, which already have the super high speed fibre to the home.

When is some journalist interviewing a politician going to be bright enough to respond to that line with: "Well, if it's so important to economic success, why is it that Japan has been in an economic slump for 16 years, and it hasn't stopped South Korea from suffering in the current economic meltdown? Apart from its entertainment value, how has high speed internet to every home been an economic boon for those countries?"

It seems the obvious question that never gets asked.

A very funny Colbert

I have no idea why politicians agree to do these bits with Colbert, but last night's "Better Know a District" was an extremely funny one:

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Better Know a District - New York's 25th - Dan Maffei
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorNASA Name Contest

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

False memories still popping up

Chris French: False memories of sexual abuse | Science |

These are still an issue, it seems. Interesting stuff.

Broadband skepticism

The blog with the most skeptical reaction to the Rudd government's plan to spend $20 to $40 billion on a new broadband fibre network is probably Catallaxy. I'm with many of its readers, like John Z:
The only use I can see on the retail end is pornography, piracy and maybe movie rentals.
Of course, nearly everyone at Larvatus P loves the idea, because it's the natural inclination of the Left to love big spending governments to build and own things which are not strictly necessary.

But there is another motive of many in supporting the idea: to get around the Telstra network bottleneck. I have to admit there appears to be some merit in that, but not at any price.

There is some commentary today on the doubtful extent to which private industry will be inclined to invest in it.

But really, from the Left end of politics (and my incredibly small corner of the Right), I haven't seen anyone yet raise the question of what better use could be made of $30 billion in clean energy development in Australia.

Nothing like dealing with the really serious issues first, hey Kevin?

UPDATE: I just heard on ABC radio that Green MPs will support it because they expect it will help reduce greenhouse gases.

Oh yeah, sure. Half the population will work from home, will they? That'll help productivity.

The Greens do not understand human nature as well as Mitchell and Webb. (The audio on the video at the link may not be entirely suitable for work.)

Not alone

Yet another horror film worthy of the flick - Film - Entertainment

Further to my post about Richard Curtis films, it's good to see someone else with strong opinions about him, and British cinema generally:
We have a knack in Britain of making movies which are not only very bad but bad in an odious way, self-indulgent and self-regarding, knowing and cute, all false sentiment and mirthless humour. Bridget Jones's Diary sets the tone...

Even by those standards, Curtis is grim. Anyone who sees a film which dares call itself Love Actually has been warned. Martin Amis described one of the bleakest evenings of his life as watching Four Weddings, desperate to leave but unable to. He had gone to the cinema with Salman Rushdie, who had to stick to the timetable he gave his police guards. And so they were forced to endure every last minute.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Parky speaks his mind

Sir Michael Parkinson: 'Jade Goody was a wretched role model' - Times Online

Of course, like everyone outside of England, I only knew of the Jade Goody story from news reports, and I never saw her on TV at all. However, the coverage given to her illness and death (see the photo in the article - the funeral procession looks like it was for minor royalty) made me suspect it was all ridiculous talentless celebrity worship.

Now Michael Parkinson has confirmed this:

“When we clear the media smoke screen from around her death, what we’re left with is a woman who came to represent all that’s paltry and wretched about Britain today.

“She was brought up on a sink estate, as a child came to know drugs and crime, was barely educated, ignorant and puerile. Then she was projected to celebrity by Big Brother and became a media chattel to be exploited till the day she died.”

An unusual recommendation

Larry Summers, Tim Geithner and Wall Street's ownership of government - Glenn Greenwald -

Rare is the day that this blog suggests reading a post by the always hyperventilating Glenn Greenwald, but this lengthy one about how Obama's bailout is guided by the same people who got the world into the mess is worth reading.

(It also makes it clear that the need for regulation of the debt swaps that seem to be at the heart of the crisis was first apparent, and dismissed, in the 1990's under the Clinton administration.)

Modern faith

Madeleine Bunting: Real debates about faith are drowned by the New Atheists' foghorn voices

Madeleine Bunting starts her article with this good point:
What other system of belief has collapsed at such spectacular speed as British Christianity?
and goes on to discuss the annoying New Atheists in a way with which I can more or less agree, even if she quotes Islamic apologist Karen Armstrong with approval.

Her article also helpfully mentions a special edition of New Statesman called "God 2009". (I guess that would be the God that communicates via the internet now, instead of burning bushes.) It looks as if most of it is on the 'net. Plenty of Easter reading for all of you pagans out there.

Noted from the PETA website

Green iguanas are some of the most frequently abandoned companion animals, likely because people find out too late what is required to care for them.
Reptiles count as "companion animals"?

The list they then give of potential iguana raising issues is dryly amusing:
A properly cared-for iguana can live for more than 20 years and grow to be more than 6 feet long. The enclosure for a full-grown iguana should be at least 18 feet long, humidified, and maintained at a particular temperature with specific timetables for darkness and ultraviolet light. Common problems for captive iguanas are metabolic bone disease from calcium deficiency, mouth rot, respiratory disease, abscesses, and ulcers. ...

It takes about a year of daily interaction to socialize an iguana, and even then, sexually mature males will be very aggressive six months out of the year if they see their own reflections or if confronted with other iguanas.
They convinced me, at least.

In other PETA pages, 82 year old Cloris Leachman is their pin-up girl:
She chooses to eat vegetarian. Now Cloris is sharing the secret behind her vitality with her fans by posing in a dress made of cabbage for PETA's newest "Let Vegetarianism Grow on You" ad.
And on a seasonal note, if you're Jewish, you can find out how to have a Vegan Passover:
Traditionally, most Jews include an egg on the ritual seder plate—to symbolize spring and life—but many now replace it with a flower. ... In place of the shank bone set on the seder plate to remind us of "the mighty arm of God," many Jews use a beet, as allowed in the Talmud.
A vegetable to remind them of "the mighty arm of God"?