Wednesday, March 31, 2010

More religion talk. (Hey it is almost Easter)

Christian faith: Calvinism is back / The Christian Science Monitor

Here's a really good article on an alleged revival of Calvinism in the United States. In short, it's said to be a reaction against the "Jesus is your friend," mega-church style of Protestantism that's been the dominant model of late. Well, even if it takes a dose of depressing predestination to get those churches to stop being purely entertainment based worship, maybe that's not so bad?

The question of how one should react to the theological/philosophical issue of predestination is pretty similar to the question of whether we are really just meat robots who don't really have free will at all. Those materialists who say free will is an illusion argue that for society to really work, we still have to act as if we do. (So we don't, for example, let criminals run free because they don't really control their will.) I suppose Calvinists can argue the same - even though you may be pre-destined for Hell, you need to act as if you might get to Heaven. Maybe they argue that lack of knowledge of your predestination means you don't need to feel fatalistic about it. If everyone acted on the fatalistic reality that your eternal home is already determined, the whole damn system just doesn't work.

There, I've found a connection between Calvin and the likes of William James, Hume etc. Well, sort of, and even if I have, no doubt someone else has said this before.

At the end of the CSM article, we read this:
Bestselling religion writer Phyllis Tickle sees the interest in
Calvinism as the first phase of a backlash against the dominant
religious trend of today: the rise of "Emergence Christianity."

Emergence Christianity, which she identifies as a once-every-500-years
religious shift, is less a doctrine or a movement than a postmodern attitude toward religion itself. Loosely organized, it values experimentation over traditional rules and Christian practice. "When things go through this upheaval," Ms. Tickle says, "there's always those who absolutely need the assurance of rules and a foundation."

Or, as Ms. Hagopian puts it with uncompromising Calvinistic clarity: "The
dominant philosophy of American Christianity is so far removed from
biblical truth. Life is not hunky-dory."

Are the liberal Christian denominations which are happy with marrying same sex partners and who think (like priest Peter Kennedy of "St Mary's in Exile") that it doesn't really matter whether or not Jesus Christ even existed an example of "Emergence Christianity"? Possibly, I suppose, but I remain deeply convinced that any essentially non-realist way of thinking about a religion like Christianity is only a way to ultimately decrease its significance, influence and longevity. For that reason, I can't help but feel some empathy with a revival of a thoroughly realist strain of Christianity as in Calvinism.

All about modern nuns

How the health care bill made nuns rad. - By Noreen Malone - Slate Magazine

This is a pretty interesting article on the current state of nun-ship (sorry) in America. They just helped get the Obama health plan passed, against the wishes of the American bishops. (There is another version of that story here.)

As I suspected, it seems to be the more conservative orders (such as the contemplative ones) attracting newcomers at the moment, and "progressive" leadership is actually coming from the older nuns who have been around a while.

Update: for another unusual take on Catholicism, this article in the Guardian about the writer's experiences as an aide at Lourdes ten years ago is quiet interesting, and a little amusing. For example:
There was fierce, sometimes violent, competition between aides from different tour groups, which could make even the simplest tours treacherous. The candlelit procession and mass was notoriously difficult to get into, and hundreds of pilgrims lined up in the evening to be part of it. Instead of queuing, the Italians endeavoured to skip in front of us by burning our arms with their candles. Lining up for blessings in the Basilica of the Rosary, aides from other pilgrimages would kick our shins to get in there first.
It was, she says, quite the party town for the young aides after their hard day's work, but she doesn't paint experience with complete cynicism.

Update 2: for those who like to check out nun blogs (and who doesn't from time to time*) here's a list. And here's an order that looks very conservative, yet just held their first "nun run".

* What? Really?

A multi faith approach

BBC News - India holy man quits after sex claim

Well, as I like to point out how Islam can be, shall we say, overly legalistic about sexual scandal (especially when it concerns Dubai), it's only fair that I note that the Indians (of the other than Muslim variety) also get a bit carried away:
A Hindu holy man in India has quit as head of a religious organisation after police launched a probe into allegations of obscenity against him.

Nithyananda Swami's announcement came weeks after a video emerged apparently showing him engaging in sexual acts with two women.

The guru has said he had done nothing illegal and the video scandal was "a false campaign".

Nithyananda Swami has a huge following in southern India.

The video shocked his devotees and angered locals - his ashram near the southern city of Bangalore was vandalised after TV channels broadcast the video.

Police have launched an investigation into the incident - a senior detective told the BBC that they were investigating whether the guru had "outraged religious feelings" of his devotees.

Ocean acidification and poison seas

CO2 and phosphate availability control the toxicity of the harmful bloom dinoflagellate Karlodinium veneficum

I have commented here before that additional CO2 in the ocean may make some algae grow better, but my guess was that algal blooms are not necessarily something you want to encourage. The article above indicates that this is true, especially for toxin producing algae:
Growth rates or toxicity of K. veneficum could increase substantially in the future with high CO2 levels in the ocean, depending on P availability, and so interactions between rising CO2 and eutrophication could cause major shifts in present day patterns of harmful algal toxin production. These results suggest that over the coming decades, rising CO2 could substantially increase karlotoxin damage to food webs in the often P-limited estuaries where Karlodinium blooms occur.
Eutrophication is additional nutrients in the water, typically from coastal run off. In other words, it would appear that coastal areas near cities that already have occasional toxic algal blooms can expect it to get worse with more CO2 in future.

Here's a good Australian article by a Tasmanian professor on the expected increase in harmful algal blooms. The conclusion:
We can expect: (1) Range expansion of warm-water species at the expense of coldwater species which are driven pole wards; (2) Changes in the abundance and seasonal window of growth of selected HAB species; (3) Earlier timing of peak production of some phytoplankton; (4) Knock-on effects for marine food webs, notably when individual zooplankton and fish grazers are differentially impacted by climate change (“match-mismatch” disturbances). Some harmful algal bloom phenomena (e.g. toxic dinoflagellates benefiting from land runoff and/or water column stratification, tropical benthic dinoflagellates responding to coral reef disturbance) may become worse, while others may diminish in areas currently impacted. The greatest problems for human society will be caused by being unprepared for significant range extensions or the increase of algal biotoxin problems in currently poorly monitored areas, thus calling for increased vigilance in seafood biotoxin monitoring programmes. Predicting the impact of climate change on algal blooms presents a formidable challenge!

Stem cells and snake oil

UK - Stem Cells & Miracles - Foreign Correspondent - ABC

There was an excellent BBC Panorama show on the ABC last night on the fetal stem cell therapy being promoted by shonky doctors and money making clinics in China and other countries.

The interview towards the end with the doctor who was secretly filmed during a high pressure consultation is especially worth watching. The only way he could have sold his therapy harder would be if he had said "you have to take the injection now, right now, as I have another patient outside who'll buy them if you don't."

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Suburban failure

From bucolic bliss to 'gated ghetto' -

In this story of a new estate near Los Angeles which has suffered badly from the recent financial woes comes this surprising claim:
There are dozens of places like Willowalk, and they are turning into America's newest slums, says Christopher Leinberger, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution. With home values at a fraction of their peak, he said, it no longer makes sense to live so far from the commercial centers where jobs are concentrated.

"We built too much of the wrong product in the wrong locations," Leinberger said.

Thanks to overbuilding, demographic changes and shifts in preferences, by 2030 there could be 25 million more suburban homes on large lots than are needed, said Arthur C. Nelson of the University of Utah. Nelson believes that as baby boomers age and as younger generations buy real estate, the population will abandon remote McMansions for smaller homes closer to shops, jobs and the other necessities of life.
A family that bought a house there in 2006 has seen its value drop dramatically:
The Lopez family plans to stick it out, knowing they can't sell their house for anywhere near the $440,000 they paid for it. Based on comparable prices in the neighborhood, the place is probably worth about $170,000 now, and maybe less. They're petitioning their bank for a loan modification.
There was someone on Radio National Breakfast this morning making the same point: a lot of America's housing crisis has been caused by building the wrong type of houses in the wrong locations.

I see his name was Jeb Brugmann, and he also noted that Australia seems to lack the wide range of urban housing that people find attractive in famous cities. I think he's right.

Monday, March 29, 2010

An unlikely solution

Bright water proposal to cut global warming
Harvard University scientist Russel Seitz’s proposal is to use ships to pump tiny “,” about 0.05 mm in diameter, into the sea as they travel, in a strategy he terms “Bright Water”. Seitz said the bubbles would, in effect, act as tiny mirrors containing air, and could be created by mixing water supercharged with compressed air with swirling jets of water. This would emulate and amplify a naturally occurring phenomenon.

Using computer modeling, Seitz discovered that a concentration of only one part per million of microbubbles can double the reflectivity of water, and could cool Earth by up to 3°C if the system could be deployed. Adding microbubbles to a square kilometer of ocean is feasible, but Seitz admitted that scaling it to cover an entire ocean would be technically difficult, not because of the energy requirement, which he said would be equivalent to about 1000 windmills, but because of the fact that the bubbles may not last long enough to effectively spread over large areas.

I'm not even sure I should have blogged this, the idea sounds so silly.

Gypsy stories

Four Corners - 29/03/2010: Gypsy Child Thieves

Four Corners had an interesting BBC documentary tonight about the urban gypsies of Europe. It's amazing that their situation seems to change so slowly over time.

The first section was about a Gypsy camp near Madrid, and the conditions were extremely third world, especially for the children. The ineffectiveness of the Spanish government social services in dealing with child thieves the police bring to them was almost laughable.

The fact that fathers get good money for marrying off their 13 year old daughters got a mention too.

I didn't really get to watch the rest of the show carefully, although I did catch some of the segment in Italy, where some charity was making a difference, but a right wing Italian noted that they deserved to killed, and seemingly felt it was a pity that that would be illegal now!

Firefox issue

For those of you using Firefox on an XP computer, have you noticed it slowing down? Over the weekend, I checked and the amount of CPU it is taking up was just continually fluctuating, often up to the 90% range.

It appears to be a problem with the latest version (3.6.2), although I also had the same problem in the 3.6 version before I updated it. I see that people have been complaining about it since 3.5 too.

The specific thread on Mozilla on the problem with 3.6.2 has been marked as "solved", but the answer it refers to is no such thing.

This page talks about the problem generally, but I am bit puzzled why it has only come to light on my computer now.

UPDATE: I seem to have solved the problem by updating both Flash and Java, as some website suggested.

I am tempted to try Chrome now though, as I understand it is starting to provide extensions.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Rare medical condition noted

Schizophrenia in Children: Families Grapple With Costs, Emotional and Financial - ABC News

Tonight I happened to see the ABC news magazine show 20/20 featuring 3 American families with children with schizophrenia.

I knew schizophrenia most commonly was a young adult onset disease; it had never really occurred to me before that there would be some cases of young children suffering with it.

What a horrible disease for parents to face in a child. Oddly, all three featured in this show were girls. I would have expected it to be more common in boys. (Certainly, the average onset age for men is considerably younger than for women.)

It certainly makes for a strong reminder, if one is needed, of the blessings of a routine domestic life.

Racking up the deaths

BBC News - China flooding 'traps 152 miners'

This is a very brief report of yet another coal mining accident in China.

The number of Chinese miners killed every year is simply amazing. In Australia or the US, an accident killing a dozen people is huge news and is viewed as a great tragedy for virtually all of the nation. In China, with (as this article notes) thousands of deaths in the mines every year, it's hard to imagine any but the largest incidents getting much coverage. Some years in the last decade have had close to 7,000 deaths.

Strange how a communist nation manages to do the least to protect its workers.

Yay for John

A Physics Maven’s Take on Skeptical Science - Dot Earth Blog -

I've been a fan of Skeptical Science for quiet a while, and have wondered about its creator John Cook.

Now that his fame has spread world wide, it takes Andrew Revkin of the New York Times to publicise him.

He is not quite what you would expect: studied physics and astrophysics at University, has serious concerns about the environment and AGW, yet is a serious enough Christian to mention it in this interview. This is not exactly a common combination, I'm sure.

He also appears to been born earless, if the crook photo (which I assume he supplied) is anything to go by. I take it as a sign he does not suffer from vanity.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

That's big of him

Cleric: Don’t cut too much female genital to avoid sexuality loss | The Jakarta Post
A Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) cleric said on Friday that circumcision on women was not supposed to cause the loss of their sexuality.

“Don’t cut too much. Just cut the small skin on the tip of the clitoris. Otherwise, a woman would lose her sexuality, and you males don’t like that to happen, do you?” prominent cleric Mohammad Masyhuri told a press conference.

Masyhuri, also a member of NU Suriah (lawmaking body), said that a proper female circumcision should not cause any damage to woman genitals. “No bleeding, if you do it properly.”

He suggested that circumcision was conducted on a female baby at the age
of 7 days.

Sort of good news

NASA Study Finds Atlantic 'Conveyor Belt' Not Slowing

Another study finds that the Atlantic conveyor (the current that keeps Europe warmer than it would otherwise be) is not slowing down.  I suppose it's good for North Atlantic bordering countries that there's no imminent ice age; but then again it's not so good that global warming in those regions won't be moderated by cooler ocean water.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

An old debate

The Moral Equivalent of the Parallel Postulate | Cosmic Variance

It's an old topic, the question of the exact nature of morals. Cosmic Variance, which always takes an atheist/scientific take on things, nonetheless has an interesting post (and comments following) debating the issue of the subjectivity of morals and related topics.

Looks good, but a bit small?

Samsung Announces eReader Launch For The US Market

You can write notes on this one, and this feature sounds interesting:
Samsung eReader users will also be able to take advantage of breakthrough Barnes & Noble features, such as the industry-first LendMe technology which enables consumers to lend a wide selection of eBooks to friends free of charge for up to 14 days. Just choose the book you want to share and send it to your friend’s Samsung eReader or a host of other computer and mobile devices with free Barnes & Noble eReader software.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The boy Ellen

Constance McMillen case: proms as gay-rights battleground

So, the ACLU sued a school district to try to force it to re-instate a prom cancelled so as to avoid a lesbian bringing her girlfriend. Where exactly does the ACLU gets its funding for such crucial legal cases?

But the main point of the post is indicated in the title: I sometimes see bits of Ellen DeGeneres' show when channel surfing at night, and I had been meaning to note the fact that she has had a "makeover" which has moved her image unambiguously into the androgynous zone. (Yes, that's a pleasingly contradictory sentence, no?) You can see a photo of her interviewing the miffed Prom-less teenage lesbian at the link above.

I always used to think DeGeneres had a likeable sort of face, even though I pretty much can't stand her chat show for more than 5 minutes. As a figurehead for the gay and lesbian political movement, her image was at least non-confrontational, and her self-deprecating comedy routines perhaps helped too. She was bearable in small doses, unlike the other famous TV lesbian Rosie O'Donnell, who is (good Lord no) going to be back on TV soon.

But with this boyish haircut and even more manly dress than before, well, she's moved well out of the "girl next door who just happens to like girls" vibe that she used to represent. To me, she now looks kind of mean and humourless; but that's how I interpret nearly all short haired butch lesbianism. (Sorry, all you nice and sweet examples of the genre out there, somewhere.)

I wonder if it will hurt her crossover appeal somewhat with the heterosexual viewers. (Mind you, her audiences always appear to be simply adulatory, for reasons I don't grasp.)

Triumph of social networking

Internet casual sex is blamed for rise in syphilis
People using social networking sites for casual sex are to blame for a four-fold increase in syphilis, a director of public health said today.

Sensitive Singaporeans

Apology - Correction -

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Important date noted

Happy birthday, William Shatner | Hero Complex | Los Angeles Times

He's just turned 79.  When he finally dies, I hope he's prepared some bizarre video to be played at his funeral.  

Science news of note

* "cold fusion" still getting some research, including in China, it seems. When it will produce enough heat at reasonable cost to be useful, though, still seems anyone's guess.

* another book on the universe as giant quantum computer gets a good review. Not entirely sure what the implications of that are.

* The Economist's long article on climate science last week was very good, arguing that the uncertainties still existing are no reason not to take action. Hear hear.

* Don't worry, you may as well keep eating meat even as you argue against the coal being burned.

* One day, I expect to be able to catch a scramjet to space. Australians are still working on it.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Interesting reasoning

Minister calls anti-smoking edict ‘unwise’ | The Jakarta Post

Religious Affairs Minister Suryadharma Ali has criticized Indonesia’s
second-largest Muslim organization for its anti-tobacco edict, calling
on it to “act more wisely” and not “cause public restlessness”.

The organization, Muhammadiyah, which has around 30 million followers
across the country, last week declared smoking to be haram, or forbidden
under Islamic law.

The edict has sparked protests, particularly from the country’s tobacco industry and groups protesting the perceived meddling by religious groups in private affairs....

Suryadharma added he did not agree with Muhammadiyah’s branding of smoking as haram, saying he believed Islam’s original stance on tobacco was makruh (frowned upon) but not haram.

“Unless it poses a direct threat to human health, such as by causing heart disease, then smoking should not be haram,” he said.

Wish I was there

My stressful fortnight begins at work. Not sure how often I will post.

Meanwhile, I've been fiddling with 2 ways to blog better. One is Scribefire, a Firefox add on that would be good if it always worked properly. At first, it was adding unwanted tracker code (until I realised how to turn that feature off.) Then it started stuffing up the formatting of indented quotes, requiring me to log into Blogger and fix up the edits there. It did, however, allow me to post larger sized pictures than what appears when adding a photo with Blogger. (Hence the larger the normal photo of the dog and the roses last week.)

Getting sick of its recent formatting issues, today I've loaded Windows Writer, which also allows posts like this one to be prepared and then published. It seems to specialise in giving more options with photos, such being able to add the photo and then crop and adjust it quite a bit within the unpublished post.  That’s quite clever, I think, and lets me easily tart up an old photo on my hard drive like this:


It seems pretty clever software, but as often happens, I actually would like some combination of features from both Scribefire and Writer to be in the one software.  Oh well.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Bad figures

Bubble prophet fears new disaster | The Japan Times Online

Quite a lengthy article here on the shaky looking future for Japanese public debt. The pessimists suggest government bankruptcy and hyperinflation in the not so distant future:
Japan's present debt-to-GDP ratio is only comparable with what it was at the end of World War II. At that time, the only way the government could reduce the debt was through hyperinflation, which wiped out much of the people's wealth with skyrocketing prices.

"I can't tell exactly what will happen (this time), but what actually happened after the war was that the price level surged 60 times in just over four years," Noguchi said.

"If the same thing happens again, a ¥10 million bank account will have the same net value of just ¥100,000 today. It's actually possible," he warned.
The answer, some suggest, is a serious increase in sales tax now, but it's a country not exactly known for having brave politicians.

Also in The Japan Times, land values dropped pretty substantially last year throughout the country.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Evil in pearls

The ABC News website today came up with this cracker of a photo of you-can-see-who, looking like Hitler's nastier grandmother, or something.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The problem with iced tea

Drug accused woman freed after substance found to be iced tea

Now for a problem in the Australian legal system. The poor woman:
A Filipina arrested last weekend at Melbourne Airport and charged with drug importation was freed today after the substance was found to be iced tea....

She had been charged with importing a commercial quantity of a border control drug and had been in custody since Saturday.

The court heard the three 800-gram packages of iced tea bought in the Philippines, tested positive on Saturday to a swab and again, in a presumptive test.

A drug dog also indicated a positive result for narcotics when it checked the packages.

But defence barrister Michael Penna-Rees told the court final analysis of the substance by the Australian Federal Police found it was lemon-flavoured iced tea.

He said there had previously been incidents of the tea being wrongly identified as a drug, which in this case was wrongly identified as methylamphetamine and then amphetamine.

I see she got $5000 costs awarded to her. I hope her lawyers, who surely didn't have a hell of a lot to do, aren't taking it all.

Jail for thought crimes

BBC News - Dubai jails Indian pair for 'sexy texts'

Steamy text messages have resulted in a three-month jail sentence for an Indian man and an Indian woman in Dubai.

Judges ruled that they had planned to "commit sin", a reference to an extramarital affair - which is illegal in the United Arab Emirates.

The unnamed pair, aged 47 and 42, were working as cabin crew for Dubai's Emirates airline....

The court said there was not enough evidence to determine whether the man and the woman had actually had an affair, which could have brought a harsher sentence.
What a joke of a legal system.

Small market

American space firm seeks professional astronauts - Telegraph

As opposed to those shonky, backyard operating, fly-by-night kind you see on A Current Affair all the time.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Let the Scientologists deal with it

Rogue star set on collision

I'm a bit slow posting on this one, but here it is anyway:
There is a high probability our solar system will feel the effect of a close encounter from a nearby star, according to a new study.

The star, known as Gliese 710, could disrupt planetary orbits and send a shower of comets and asteroids towards the inner planets when it passes in 1.5 million years time.

The only people alive today who'll need to worry about this are the Scientologists in Sea Org who have signed the billion year contract. Suckers.

Why impossible here?

Study: Daylight saving time a waste of energy

I didn't know this:
The US state of has 92 counties, but until 2006 only 15 of
them adjusted their clocks for daylight saving time, with the remainder
keeping standard time all year, at least partly to appease farmers who
did not want the change.
That's exactly what people have suggested for Queensland: the South East Corner do daylight saving, but not the rest of the State. The line could easily be drawn through the lightly populated rural stretch between Ipswich and Toowoomba, from the border up to just north of Noosa.

Anyway, Indiana shows that it doesn't save energy there. As you expect, the problem is airconditioning:
Kotchen and Grant's work reinforces the findings of an Australian
study in 2007 by economists Ryan Kellogg and Hendrik Wolff, who studied the extension of daylight saving time for two months in New South Wales and Victoria for the 2000 Summer Olympics. They also found an increase in energy use.

Daylight saving was initially introduced, and has been extended,
because it was believed to save energy, but the studies upon which this
idea was based were conducted in the 1970s. A big difference between
then and the present is the massive increase in the take-up of air
conditioning. In hot periods daylight saving time means air conditioners tend to be run more when people arrive home from work, while in cooler periods more heating is used.

Just give us solar panels to run our airconditioners, and we'll be OK.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Reason to be sceptical

Iron Fertilization In Ocean Nourishes Toxic Algae - Science News

It's a pity that an idea that initially sounded like a good candidate for geo-engineering to reduce CO2 in the atmosphere now seems to have many potential adverse consequences.

Just shows the importance of actually reducing the production of CO2 in the first place.

Blog added

I'll be adding a new blog to the blogroll (under "the meaning of life" category): Neuroskeptic. Found via Mind Hacks, it contains so many fascinating and well written posts that I wanted to bring it to people's attention. This latest one about quitting tobacco is a good example.

Where's the truth on soil carbon?

Abbott carbon plan 'unworkable'

From the report:

TONY ABBOTT'S ''direct action'' climate strategy would reduce emissions by only half as much as the Coalition claims because it made over-optimistic assumptions about the amount of carbon that could be stored in soil, a study suggests.

Soil carbon accounted for 60 per cent of the proposed emission reductions in Mr Abbott's climate policy, or about 85 million tonnes of carbon a year by 2020.

But according to the analysis, only 27 million tonnes a year is possible and only 18 million tonnes at the low price the Coalition has budgeted to pay for soil carbon from its multibillion-dollar ''direct action'' emissions reduction fund.

Last month the Coalition said its scheme would match the government's promise to cut emissions by at least 5 per cent by 2020, but would do this by buying abatement directly from farmers and industry - not by putting any price on carbon.

But the analysis, by ClimateWorks - a partnership between the Myer Foundation and Monash University - and McKinsey management consultants, suggests the scheme would either deliver far smaller emission cuts than the Coalition claims or would cost far more than the $3.2 billion budgeted over the first four years.

It seems to me that there are dubious claims being made by some scientists about the potential for soil carbon in Australia. I don't have time to search it out now, but a few weeks ago there was a woman talking on Phillip Adam's Late Night Live about soil carbon having a huge potential, even greater than what the Opposition seemed to allow for it. I thought her claims sounded far fetched, and this report indicates I might be right.

Gossip time

Memo to Tony and Kevin: no sex please, we're voters | The Australian

There's a bit of new gossip about our political leaders and their attitudes towards sex and women in this article.  I think its take on both the uptight PM and the too-loose lips of the Opposition Leader seems about right.

It notes that in Abbott's case, Glenn Milne indicated on Insiders that Abbott's use of "feeling threatened"by homosexuality arose out of a specific incident during his time at the seminary.  In last night's Four Corners, someone mentioned that the seminary not having a "virile" enough environment for him.   With these hints, I'm now curious as to what did happen: was it a one off incident that offended him, or was the problem more of a general quiet tolerance of homosexual activity by one of more priests or seminarians?   If it is the former, I guess most people would think it's a minor matter in the past; if the latter, it does actually involve big questions about sexuality, the priesthood and how the church deals with it.

I see that Abbott finally took the line in Four Corners that he had had "many" gay friends.  It sure took him a long time to realise that this is one way for a politician to try to defuse the issue about personal feelings about homosexuality. 

But, as virtually every commentator in the land agrees, he mainly just has to find a way to gracefully stop answering questions he doesn't want to.

Not a good look

Liberal MP Michael Johnson defends 'unorthodox' fundraising practices | The Australian
Sources have told The Australian that part of the investigation centres
on the activities of the Australia-China Development Association, a
not-for-profit company he set up five years ago that has helped sponsor
his extensive overseas travel.

Mr Johnson said yesterday he had sought and received payments -- made
to the association -- for introducing business leaders.

"I have made introductions to Australian business people, for them to negotiate
deals, and some have shown their appreciation by making donations to the
association," he said. "I have asked in the past and I would ask

Mr Johnson said he had previously made introductions between Asian and Australian mining executives and, although a deal did not eventuate, he would have "asked for a percentage" to go to the association.

"I don't think it is illegal," a defiant Mr Johnson told The Australian yesterday.

"Because no one has done this before the first impression is that it is wrong, but that is wrong."

Mr Johnson said the association was run at arms' length by three independent directors and he applied to them for money to fund his travel.

Surely he can see it's a very bad look, regardless of legalities? Michael was happy to feature prominently in the ousting of Malcolm Turnbull, despite still presenting terribly in media interviews. It would be quite pleasingly ironic for him to lose preselection.

Monday, March 15, 2010

So that's why I've been putting on weight

Obesity and climate top agenda (Science Alert)
A letter signed by more than 350 Australian health scientists has today
been sent to the Medical Journal of Australia, urging Australian
politicians and the public to recognise the link between obesity and
global climate change....

The two greatest health threats the human population now faces are
global climate change and the rise of obesity, and its life-threatening
disease consequences, Professor Egger said.

Citing the letter, he said: “Big health gains have been made since the
onset of industrialisation. However, we are now seeing the emergence of
health risks caused by excesses in market-driven consumerism (including
energy-dense processed foods), energy-subsidised exertion-free living,
an over-arching Gross Domestic Product (GDP) fetishism, and, for climate
change in particular, population growth.

Talk about a link too far...

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Viral within viral

Earlier today, I first saw the viral video that has now been inserted into this video, to great effect:

It was on Lileks; maybe everyone has already seen it. No matter, it brings tears to my eyes.

Neat -- Secret Military Space Plane Primed For Test Launch
A secretive military spacecraft resembling a small space shuttle orbiter is
undergoing final processing in Florida for launch on April 19.

The Air Force confirmed the critical preflight milestone in a response to written questions on Thursday.

The 29-foot-long, 15-foot-wide Orbital TestVehicle arrived in Cape Canaveral, Fla., last month according to the Air Force. The OTV spaceplane was built at a Boeing Phantom Works
facility in Southern California.

You can never have enough secret military space planes, I say. They make life more interesting.

Shinto considered

In the land of the kami | The Japan Times Online

There's quite a decent essay here on Shinto, making it sound even vaguer than I already thought it was. There are lots of interesting observations, such as this:

"God" or "deity" seems the best the English language can do with "kami," but this misleads by suggesting a level of exaltation foreign to Japanese worship. The Emperor's former status as a "living god" was not what many horrified Westerners took it to be. In fact, he was a "manifest kami" — hardly the same thing and much less shocking.

Anything, or anyone, can become a kami by being striking or, in some undefined way, "superior" — the literal meaning of the word. The classic definition comes from the 18th-century nativist thinker Motoori Norinaga, who dedicated his life to exalting suprarational Japanese purity over Buddhism's and Confucianism's corrupt enslavement to human reason.

"I do not yet understand the meaning of the term kami," wrote Norinaga (in "The Spirit of the Gods," 1771). "It is hardly necessary to say that it includes human beings. It also includes such objects as birds, beasts, trees, plants, seas, mountains and so forth. In ancient usage, anything whatsoever which was outside the ordinary, which possessed superior power or which was awe-inspiring, was called kami. . . . Evil and mysterious things, if they are extraordinary and dreadful, are called kami . . . "

Rooted in the spontaneous nature- worship of deep prehistory, Shinto is probably the most archaic living religion anywhere in the developed world.

Pretty in pink

Straight from the home garden, taken 15 minutes ago:

Minor, but somewhat intriguing, mystery of the week

BBC News - Mystery of 75 starlings falling from the sky

What an odd sounding event:
The deaths of 75 starlings which appeared to fall from the sky and crash land on to a driveway in Somerset has mystified the RSPCA animal charity.The birds were spotted falling onto the entrance of a house in Coxley in Somerset on Sunday 7 March.

Ms Sparkes said: "Onlookers said they heard a whooshing sound and then the birds just hit the ground. They had fallen on to the ground in quite a small area, about 12ft (3.6m) in diameter.

They appeared to be in good condition other than injuries that they appear to have suffered when they hit they ground. "Our best guess is that this happened because the starlings were trying to escape a predator such as a sparrow hawk and ended up crash landing."
That sounds a rather unlikely explanation, doesn't it? But then, I suppose being swatted by a passing invisible flying object (is there a military base near there?) may sound to some as implausible too.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Lane amuses again

I have to admit I have never seen a Paul Greengrass film, even though the Bourne movies have proved popular and United 23 got good reviews. I'll catch up with some of his work eventually.

But I do know from David Stratton's reviews in particular that Greengrass is one of the worst offenders of overuse of "shakey-cam" style of fast, jiggly hand-held cinematography. Stratton often complains it makes him feel physically queasy. (I pretty much hate the style too, which is part of the reason I haven't rushed to see Greengrass in the cinema.)

Anthony Lane's New Yorker review of his latest movie "The Green Zone" indicates that he is probably sick of the director's style too, and I like the way he puts it:

He made two of the “Bourne” films and “United 93,” and his attitude to the average viewer remains that of a salad spinner toward a lettuce leaf. You don’t so much watch a Greengrass film as cling on tight and pray....

...most of Greengrass’s audience will be neither scholars of Iraqi politics nor conspiracy theorists with damp palms and narrowed eyes; they will be natural Bourne lovers, who want the camera to start shaking and grooving in the first minute and never stop.

They have their wish. From the echoing factory that Miller scours in his first scene to the climactic wasteland through which he, his interpreter (Khalid Abdalla), and the bullish Briggs (Jason Isaacs), from Special Forces, prowl after dark—all, for different reasons, in pursuit of al Rawi—“Green Zone” approaches every human activity as if preparing to defibrillate.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Worse than I thought

I haven't spent a lot of time worrying about Scientology. Sure, it's a nutty, science fiction religion invented cynically by a fraudulent and unappealing character that seems to function mainly as a feel-good social club for a clique of celebrities (as well as others rich enough to pay their way through its oddball version of enlightenment.) But, I have to admit, it is probably because the likes of John Travolta and Tom Cruise (and in Australia, Kate Ceberano) don't come across in interviews as unpleasant people* that I had kind of assumed it was, well, a more or less harmless way to separate rich people from their cash.

But, in light of recent publicity in the New York Times, and this week's Four Corner's program, it is clear I was being too generous. The possibility that Travolta's son did not get appropriate medical treatment during his life also indicates one of the awful aspects of belonging to such an all encompassing cult.

* (OK, Cruise is a little strange acting, but he's worked with Spielberg a lot so he can't be all bad)

Keeps the floor cleaner too

NoMix toilets get thumbs-up in seven European countries

Nearly 4 years ago here, I had a post about how some countries were trying out new sewerage collection systems to keep urine out of the waterways.

Well, Europe is still at it, and at the link above you can see one of the special urine collecting toilets that you need for such a system. As my earlier post noted, and the photo appears to confirm, these toilets require men to sit down to urinate*. Yet, apparently, they are well accepted in the half dozen European countries where they have been trialled.

*This aspect would, of course, mean that the toilets would be rejected by the vast majority of commenters at Catallaxy, for just not being manly enough.**

** Sorry for the in joke, but I've been fighting in comments at that blog with men who debate with all the wit and tactics of 15 year school boys (from a boys only school) for the last couple of days. (Jason, not you.) I'll be giving that up soon.

Recommended viewing

Dubai - Quicksand - Foreign Correspondent - ABC

The Foreign Correspondent show this week on Dubai was great viewing. I remain puzzled as to why any Westerner would want to work there.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Bits and pieces

Yet again, I spent too much time today arguing on Catallaxy. Bad, bad.

Meanwhile, on the internet more generally, I note:

* I didn't catch all of the Oscars on Monday, but what I did see seem very strangely directed and not terribly funny. Steve Martin, I thought for the first time, actually is starting to look old. (That white hair has made him look the same age for close to four decades.) Still, at least it wasn't very overtly political this year, and James Cameron lost (yay!). The funniest commentary I have read about the show is here.

* Slate has a somewhat interesting review of a book about why gay rights have advanced quickly in America. It mainly talks about the idea that conservatives are motivated by a combination of disproportionate disgust at the messy details of gay sex and overactive imaginations. It's an argument that has some explanatory power for some of the reaction towards homosexuals by teenage boys (and Tony Abbott), but it hardly explains why, in various societies where homosexual/bisexual behaviour was unremarkable, no one until now has ever thought it made sense for gay relationships to be given the status of marriage.

* It's a jet pack, yes, but it's terribly loud and made in New Zealand, which given its reputation for flightless birds, does not inspire much confidence. The big question: how do you stop a disaster from one of the fans breaking? Video available at the link.

* SBS has been showing a documentary series about a couple of Australian guys who wrote an ambitious musical (Angels, mostly to be performed by a cast flying around on trapezes, it seemed) and went to Broadway to try to stage it. I've only seen one episode, and it was a little like watching a slow moving train wreck. I felt sorry for the one who wrote the music; he looked so stressed and lonely the whole time while his buddy was out wheeling and dealing to try to get finance. The story of what happened can be read here and here, if you don't want to watch.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Blood post

I'm not doing bad at not posting here during the day, except for the fact that I've been making comments all day at Catallaxy instead. (It's a strange blog at the moment, that one, about which I am tempted to post here one day. But not yet.) Tomorrow, I have to stop even that.

Anyhow, tonight's little post is about the fact that I finally finished Truman Capote's "In Cold Blood". What a fine book it turned out to be. I'm not one for crime fiction or true life crime accounts generally speaking, but Capote's book is so intelligent and well written I couldn't help but be impressed.

In many respects (apart from the complete lack of swearing) I felt that the book does not feel dated at all, even in its succinct but (I believe) accurate discussion about psychiatry and criminal responsibility. It was also interesting to note how capital punishment was a controversial topic in the heartland of America even 50 years ago. I don't particularly care if some scenes are not accurate; there appears to be enough "first hand" content in the book (such as letters and other material) to feel pretty confident that the psychological account of the life of the murderers is more or less correct.

For a somewhat flamboyant, eccentric, gay socialite, Capote certainly seems to show a surprising degree of empathy with conservative middle America, and perhaps in that respect it does feel a little dated. (It's easy to imagine that any modern writer from New York on a similar project today would be more condescending towards the religious townfolk.) But the main point about Capote is his fine writing style, and it's a pity that his literary output was so limited.

I see that the Wikipedia article on the book has a link to site containing photos which are of interest if you know the story.

Now it's time for me to read the last Michael Crichton novel, about pirates. A bit of a change of pace.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Four more than I had heard of

Knowing the mind of God: Seven theories of everything - physics-math

That's a bit embarrassing. I thought I read enough about physics on the 'net, but I can only recall reading about 3 out of this list of seven.

Oh well. The real TOE has probably not even been thought of yet.

Self control issue

Every Sunday, after (usually) fairly light browsing and posting because of domestic activities, I get the feeling that it would be easy for me to just stop posting for a few weeks to catch up on work.

Then on Monday I get to work, and if no one rings in the first hour, I look around my usual haunts on the internet, find something worth a post, and then the cycle of continuing to look for stuff that I want to post about recommences, to the detriment of getting more work done.

This post itself is evidence of my poor self control.

By posting about it here, maybe it will be like my mini Internet Anonymous first meeting "Hi, I'm Steve, and I spend far too much time on the internet."

So, that's that then. Now I'm on the path to recovery, I really do have a pretty intense period of work coming up. I'm going to try to only post on evenings, if at all. In a couple of weeks, I should give it up totally, as I expect to have a particularly stressful couple of weeks at work. But maybe if I can become a night blogger only, I can cope. Or is that like an alcoholic promising to only have 2 drinks a night with dinner?

We'll see.

Hard to believe

Catalyst could power homes on a bottle of water, produce hydrogen on-site (w/ Video)
With one bottle of drinking water and four hours of sunlight, MIT chemist Dan Nocera claims that he can produce 30 KWh of electricity, which is enough to power an entire household in the developing world. With about three gallons of river water, he could satisfy the daily energy needs of a large American home. The key to these claims is a new, affordable catalyst that uses solar electricity to split water and generate hydrogen.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

The Swiss tackle the serious issues

BBC News - Swiss ask whether animals need lawyers
Swiss voters will go to the polls on Sunday to decide on a proposal to appoint state-funded lawyers across the country to represent animals in court.

Supporters of the initiative say such lawyers would help deter cases of animal cruelty and neglect, by making sure that those who did abuse or neglect animals would be properly punished.

It's the obvious place for a sequel movie "Ace Ventura: Pet Attorney".

Friday, March 05, 2010

Next time, ask if their hearing aid is on

What do you mean you 'had sex'? | Booster Shots | Los Angeles Times

A telephone survey in Indiana on what people think constitutes "having sex". Some results are not surprising, as by all accounts Bill Clinton's definition has been widely adopted, especially by the young.

But this?:
Among older men (age 65 and older), 23% did not consider penile-vaginal intercourse to be sex.
One suspects either a failure to have the hearing aid on, or a lack of familiarity with terminology, or both. "Pea Nile vege Nile what?"

The Economist comes out swinging on "genderside"

The war on baby girls: Gendercide | The Economist

It's ironic, I suppose, that while feminism is traditionally a left wing concern, it is this far-from-left-wing periodical which is making one of the strongest call to action against abortion of girls.

Hamas deals with the serious problems

BBC News - Male hairdressers banned from women's salons in Gaza

Save the oyster

Ocean acidity and its effects examined

The Sydney Morning Herald has an interesting article here on local research into ocean acidification.

The Sydney rock oyster has shown adverse sensitivity to acidification, but research is being done to see if they can breed strains that are more resistant to it.

While not getting my favourite oyster would be a worry, the far bigger concern is the effect on phytoplankton and small shelled fishfood like the pteropods.

The Arctic methane worry

Methane bubbling out of Arctic Ocean – but is it new? - environment - 04 March 2010 - New Scientist

A wide expanse of Arctic Ocean seabed is bubbling methane into the atmosphere. This is the first time that the ocean has been found to be releasing this powerful greenhouse gas into the atmosphere on this scale.

The discovery will rekindle fears that global warming might be on the verge of unlocking billions of tonnes of methane from beneath the oceans, which could trigger runaway climate change. The trouble is, nobody knows if the Arctic emissions are new, or indeed anything to do with global warming.

The PhysOrg version of the story has more detail, including this somewhat worrying conclusion:
The East Siberian Arctic Shelf, in addition to holding large stores of frozen methane, is more of a concern because it is so shallow. In deep water, methane gas oxidizes into carbon dioxide before it reaches the surface. In the shallows of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf, methane simply doesn’t have enough time to oxidize, which means more of it escapes into the atmosphere. That, combined with the sheer amount of methane in the region, could add a previously uncalculated variable to climate models.

"The release to the atmosphere of only one percent of the methane assumed to be stored in shallow hydrate deposits might alter the current atmospheric burden of methane up to 3 to 4 times,” Shakhova said. “The climatic consequences of this are hard to predict.”

Update: On the other hand, the Christian Science Monitor's take on the story indicates that the current level of emissions is not so large on the global scale:
They are estimated at nearly 8 million metric tons a year, making them roughly equal to the amount that, until now, scientists had attributed to emissions from all the world's oceans combined, the researchers calculate. Still, the emissions represent no more than about 1 percent of total global emissions.
I guess the worry is whether it is currently coming from thawing shallow hydrate deposits or not, and if it is, whether that will increase dramatically.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Fake cigarettes for health

Be Healthy And Smoke Your Vitamin C

I like the cut-away diagram at the post: it looks like a missile interior. Watch out for the Nosemint too..

There's a country that knows how to name space stations

The Great Beyond: ‘Heavenly Palace’ in space to launch next year
China has announced it will launch the first module of its space station next year.

The unmanned ‘Heavenly Palace’ module will be transformed into a permanent taikonaut residence and space lab within two years of the launch, says Qi Faren, a member of the influential National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.

How very Chinese.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

This and that

I've been busy today, and will probably be posting less frequently for a little while. But tonight, here are a few fun things that have caught my eye:

* It's all an illusion: This is a pretty amazing video that demonstrates the remarkable degree to which television can now fake the background scenery via green screen. I had no idea that this technology was so ubiquitous on TV, and so seamlessly used in so many different ways:

The company which put this together has a website here.

* Jesus told me so (just yesterday, in fact): I think I have mentioned viXra before. Its purpose is to provide an outlet for papers (mainly on science) which arXiv will not run for being just a bit too "out there", even though some pretty odd things have ended up on arXiv.

Of course, everyone assumed that this would mean an unreadable mess of papers explaining every crank theory under the sun. Yet, my impression from reading some of the abstracts on the physics sections is that it may not be all rubbish; certainly some of titles just as impenetrable as some of those on arXiv, and are not obviously nutty.

But the best feature of viXra is the section "religion and spirituality", as it features several papers written by (wait for it) Jesus Christ Himself. Yay.

As the layout of viXra is identical to arXiv, the mere appearance of the list of articles by "Author: Jesus Christ" is amusing. Here's a screenshot (click to enlarge):

Sadly, I think Jesus needs a good editor to review his message writing style. He seems fond of ending this way:
This article is written by Me, Jesus Christ, and Me allow you to read this article in order you can read and repent and receive Me, Jesus Christ. Me allow My messenger, that is this writer, to type this article in order you can repent and do your repentance properly. That is My message: be hurry, be hurry to repent and receive Me, Jesus Christ, all corners of the world. Tweet this message quickly to all over the world including all your friends quickly today.
I guess it's a case of "my tweet Lord". (Rolling in the aisles, are we?)

* Working at the office from home: this last bit is not funny, just a recommendation for some software.

I had long been vaguely aware that software was available that would let you operate a computer remotely, but I didn't feel a big enough need for that to actually pay for such software. I didn't know until recently that there were also freeware solutions for this.

A couple of months ago, a computer magazine disc had the free version of LogMeIn, but it didn't work well. (Screen resolution of the window showing the remote computer was pretty poor, and it would not work with my beloved Wordperfect documents at all.)

But now I have tried Teamviewer in the free version (for private and non-commercial use, of course.) It works extremely well, although the slight time lag when you're at home editing a document on your work computer (did I say "work"? I meant, the computer in my other home) takes a little bit of getting used to.

It's worth a try if that sort of thing might be useful for you too.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Lots of ice found?

Radar Finds Ice Deposits at Moon's North Pole

This sounds impressive:
Numerous craters near the poles of the Moon have interiors that are in permanent sun shadow. These areas are very cold and water ice is stable there essentially indefinitely. Fresh craters show high degrees of surface roughness (high CPR) both inside and outside the crater rim, caused by sharp rocks and block fields that are distributed over the entire crater area. However, Mini-SAR has found craters near the north pole that have high CPR inside, but not outside their rims. This relation suggests that the high CPR is not caused by roughness, but by some material that is restricted within the interiors of these craters. We interpret this relation as consistent with water ice present in these craters. The ice must be relatively pure and at least a couple of meters thick to give this signature.
Of course, the poles should have been a priority for human exploration on the return to the Moon. When that's going to happen now, though, is anyone's guess.

Monbiot's back, making some sense this time

Are we really going to let ourselves be duped into this solar panel rip-off? | George Monbiot |

There you go. If like me you always had a hunch that Germany and England going mad with installing solar cells on buildings made no sense at all because, well, it's hard to imagine the sun giving you a sunburn in England, let alone contributing power to your house, it turns out George Monbiot agrees completely.

He does note, though, that PV on the roof makes more sense in areas where peak power demand does tend to occur in summer on sunny days (for airconditioning). In England (and I assume Germany) however:
"..peak demand takes place between 5pm and 7pm on winter evenings. Do I need to spell out the implications?"
George is going off about the UK just setting high feed in tariffs, just at the time Germany is realising they can't be sustained. He writes about the UK:

It expects this scheme to save 7m tonnes of carbon dioxide by 2020. Assuming – generously – that the rate of installation keeps accelerating, this suggests a saving of about 20m tonnes of CO2 by 2030. The estimated price by then is £8.6bn. This means it will cost about £430 to save one tonne of CO2.

Last year the consultancy company McKinsey published a table of cost comparisons. It found that you could save a tonne of CO2 for £3 by investing in geothermal energy, or for £8 by building a nuclear power plant.
On Germany:
By 2006 its generous feed-in tariffs had stimulated 230,000 solar roofs, at a cost of ¤1.2bn. Their total contribution to the country's electricity supply was 0.4%. Their total contribution to carbon savings, as a paper in the journal Energy Policy points out, is zero. This is because Germany, like the UK, belongs to the European emissions trading scheme. Any savings made by feed-in tariffs permit other industries to raise their emissions.
Good reading.

A bit of an oversight

Researchers from Mount Sinai School of Medicine have found that patients admitted to hospice care who have an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) are rarely having their ICDs deactivated and are receiving electrical shocks from these devices near the end of life....

ICD shocks may cause physical and psychological distress for patients and their caregivers. Patients report that receiving shocks from an ICD is comparable to being "kicked or punched" in the chest. Receiving ICD shocks has been associated with the development of adjustment disorders, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and panic disorder. Family caregivers who observe patients being shocked report feelings of fear, worry, and helplessness, and have been shown to have increased rates of depression and anxiety. For patients with advanced disease, an ICD may no longer prolong a life of acceptable quality, and cause needless discomfort.
Read about it here.

Why the LHC may blow again

'Subtle defect' worry at LHC (Blog) -

Here's a short article on the issues that are causing the LHC to run at lower power for a couple of years, until they close the whole thing down to check every part of it for a defect in the electronics.

Seeing I was talking about spinning superconductors and anti-gravity effects a couple of posts back, it would be a nice result if the LHC at full power causes the whole thing to levitate off the ground and drift off into space. (I know, it's not the superconductors themselves moving, but it's a nice image, isn't it?)

Fodder for skeptics

Climate Feedback: The climate machine

The Hadley Centre is working on a more complicated model of the Earth for the next round of future climate predictions.

The only problem is, climate skeptics/deniers are bound to leap onto this:
The scientists – such as Jones – who have developed HADGEM2-ES hope that by representing the earth system in greater complexity they will be to simulate the present-day climate with greater realism. This should, in theory, lead to more realistic projections for the future, but many of the climate modellers I spoke to were keen to point out that simulating the climate with more complex models may well lead to greater uncertainty about what the future holds. That’s because including sources of large feedbacks – such as forests that can expand or die or tundra that can release vast amounts of methane – adds a whole new suite of factors to which the climate can respond.

So, it’s quite likely that the next IPCC report will have much larger error bars on its estimates of future temperature or precipitation, compared with AR4. Climatologist Jim Hurrell of the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colorado, who is heading up development of the NCAR Earth-system model, had this to say:

“It's very likely that the generation of models that will be assessed for the next IPCC report will have a wider spread of possible climate outcomes as we move into the future".
No one ever said climate science was easy...

Dark news

Dark matter could meet its nemesis on Earth - New Scientist

That's interesting. They may be able to test Modified Newtonian dynamics (MOND) via an experiment on earth.

Actually, that puts in mind of the claims in the 1990's of some Russian scientist's experiments with a spinning superconducting disc that seemed to produce a slight anti-gravity effect. Here's a Slate article about it from 2002.

Haven't heard any more about that for a long time. I guess the secret, alien-run Earth Quarantine Force that kills off potential technology that could get us to the stars saw to that. (Hey, it's a working hypothesis, OK?)

And I am also reminded of an interesting recent article on dark energy on arXiv. As you may recall, Einstein added a deliberate fudge (the cosmological constant) to general relativity to make sure the universe wasn't expanding. (Expansion was not an idea in vogue at the time Einstein was doodling in the Patent Office.) Now that observation shows it's currently not only expanding, but accelerating, the talk is all of the mystery of dark energy.

Well, a couple of European physicists argue that there is no need to call it dark energy at all: it's just what happens with relativity. They argue that people are misunderstanding the cosmological constant totally, and (I think) people just have to get used to the idea that general relativity implies expansion.

I don't fully understand the argument: I'll have to re-read it again. But it does seem to me to be an argument that the answer to dark energy is fundamentally staring us in the face.

It's not that other scientists haven't thought of this; it's just that most seem to say "that's too easy, it can't be right." They write:
There is probably nothing very original in this note. The points we make here can be heard in discussions among physicists. However, for some reason they do not have much space in the dark-energy literature.
And towards the end of the article, they summarise it like this: claim that dark energy represents a profound mystery, is, in our opinion, nonsense. \Dark energy" is just a catch name for the observed acceleration of the universe, which is a phenomenon well described by currently accepted theories, and predicted by these theories, whose intensity is determined by a fundamental constant, now being measured. The measure of the acceleration only determines the value of a constant that was not previously measured. We have only discovered that a constant that so far (strangely) appeared to be vanishing, in fact is not vanishing.
Our universe is full of mystery, but there is no mystery here. To claim that the greatest mystery of humanity today is the prospect that 75% of the universe is made up of a substance known as `dark energy' about which we have almost no knowledge at all" is indefensible.
Why then all the hype about the mystery of the dark energy? Maybe because great mysteries help getting attention and funding. But o ering a sober and scienti cally sound account of what we understand and what we do not understand is preferable for science, on the long run.
Pretty interesting, hey?

Monday, March 01, 2010

More crazy killers than you thought

Scale of mental health homicides 'is being played down' - Crime, UK - The Independent

The film-maker Julian Hendy began studying mental health homicides in Britain following the murder of his 75-year-old father, Philip Hendy, in Bristol in 2007. He investigated more than 600 cases, in a documentary, of homicide by people with mental health problems, dating back to 1993, and concluded there were more than 100 incidents a year, compared with the 50 stated officially...
Marjorie Wallace, chief executive of SANE, said :"This brave film reveals the reality of under-treated mental illness while raising urgent questions about the way we treat such homicides.

"Unfortunately, to reduce stigma there is a trend to underplay the scale of these tragedies, but this prevents lessons from being learned," she added.

I wonder if there are slippery figures quoted in this area in Australia too.