Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Films from graphic novels/comics

The Australian: Return of people power [March 29, 2006]

You know a film has touched a sensitive nerve when a writer for the Guardian wonders whether sedition laws are appropriately used against it. The story in the Australian (above) gives some background to the film.

The Guardian's film reviewer didn't like it either:

Yet another graphic novel has been bulldozed on to the screen, strutting its stuff for an assumed army of uncritical geeks - a fanbase product from which the fanbase has been amputated. This film manages to be, at all times, weird and bizarre and baffling, but in a completely boring way. Watching it is like having the oxygen supply to your brain slowly starved over more than two hours.

Yet it has made some money in America and at Rotten Tomatoes scored a relatively high approval rating. Seems Americans are not so sensitive about movies involving bombs in the Underground. Just as long as it is not their subway.

Again, I will annoy people by criticising something I haven't seen. I predict, based on the simple fact that it is a movie that is based on a graphic novel, that it will be crap.

Hollywood really, really, has to use better material for its movies than this. Graphic novel material means a high probability that the movie will have good production design, and unrealistic or unconvincing characters.

Comic based movies were OK for a while, I suppose. But it was never a genre that had much depth. They can have a silly charm. But there have been so many dud movies based on Marvel comic heros who no adult has heard of, don't the creative types in Hollywood want to finally leave them alone? How do the writers "pitch" their material convincingly?

By the way, I like animation quite a lot, and this rant does not indicate a simple prejudice against material designed for a younger audience. I understand the appeal of a graphic novel, even though I don't read them. But please stop with the movies based on this kind of stuff.

Gerard Henderson on sedition

Knowing the enemy makes leaders friends - Opinion -

Yesterday's column by GH (above) notes that the Law Reform Commission is looking at the commonwealth sedition laws. Henderson notes:

On March 20 the commission published an issues paper titled Review of Sedition Laws. The issues paper seeks community consultation and the final chapter of the document contains a list of questions to which the authors of the report would like responses. Weisbrot and his colleagues make it clear they have not reached any "definitive conclusions" about their ultimate findings and recommendations.

Even so, the paper indicates that - at this stage, at least - the authors do not share the hyperbolic concern ignited by some of the critics of the federal and state governments when this legislation was canvassed late last year. For example, the paper refers to a "misunderstanding" of the construction of criminal responsibility evident in submissions to the Senate committee and comments that legal distinctions can be difficult "for non-experts and sometimes even for experts".

On a number of key issues the Law Reform Commission gives support to the case presented by the Attorney-General's Department to the Senate committee.

Seems consistent with what I had been saying earlier about the nature of the criticism about the laws.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

A funny thing happened on the way to the verdict

Moussaoui destroys his own defence - World -

From the above:

The prosecution is seeking the death penalty on the basis that Moussaoui contributed to the deaths of about 3,000 people on September 11 because he did not tell authorities about the planned hijackings.

"The reason you told lies was so you could allow the operation to go forward," prosecutor Robert Spencer demanded of Moussaoui.

"That is correct," Moussaoui replied. ....

Many analysts have said this week could prove decisive for Moussaoui.

They have also expressed fears that testimony from the unpredictable Moussaoui could undo sterling work by defence lawyers who have picked deep holes in the prosecution case for their client's execution.

The sterling work is about as undone as it could possibly be. No "if the glove doesn't fit you must acquit" style slogan is going to work this time.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Child free Europe

BBC NEWS | Europe | The EU's baby blues

The BBC site above fills in some of the gaps in understanding the various reasons behind Europe's dire birth rate, a topic mentioned here quite a few times recently.

The page about Italy's low rate has some surprises:

Laura Callura, 38, who lives in Rome says she is typical of many Italian women.

"I became a mother at 36 and that's not unusual here," she says. "A lot of my friends had their first child between the ages of 33 and 38.

"Here in Italy we start life much later than people in northern Europe. University courses take longer to finish and it's harder for young people to get into the job market.

"I started my first job when I was 25 - but that is quite unusual. Most Italians don't start their career until their late 20s."

Fishy porker

Britain, UK news from The Times and The Sunday Times - Times Online

From the above story:

The piglets have been enhanced with a gene from a nematode worm to give their meat up to five times the normal level of omega 3 fatty acids.

Note the use of the word "enhanced" there.

The pigs — three of which were named Salmon, Tuna and Trout after fish high in omega 3 fats — are the first cloned livestock that can make the beneficial compounds. The success, by a research team in the US, paves the way for a new era of animal breeding, in which animals are genetically engineered to make their meat healthier.

Note the reference to the cute-ish names. I think this journalist is maybe a little too comfortable with the idea of genetically modified animals.

While I suspect it is partly irrational, I am not comfortable about this type of genetic engineering, especially if it is only about making food "healthier" for the overfed West (or East, in the case of pork) rather than doing something really useful like helping make basic food more readily available for struggling countries.

Just eat less of the fat when you have pork, that's all you need to have healthier pork consumption.

If volunteering for drug trials isn't fun enough for you...

Guardian Unlimited Business | | Panicky scramble to evacuate A380 'a great success'

Interesting story above about the somewhat dangerous tests that aircraft manufacturers need to go through to show a new airliner can be evacuated quickly enough:

In a German airport hangar yesterday, 873 volunteers scrambled down rubber emergency slides from one of Airbus's new A380 superjumbos in only 80 seconds....


The target was achieved at some cost. One volunteer aged over 50 suffered a broken leg; another 32 sustained minor injuries including friction burns and bruises....

Still, compared to previous tests for other aircraft, just one broken leg looks good:

Yesterday's apparent success will be a relief to Airbus as evacuation exercises have a hazardous history. In a 1991 test of a McDonnell Douglas MD-11 in California, evacuation of 421 people took 132 seconds and resulted in 28 injuries.

In a re-run, a 60-year-old woman fell down a slide, broke her neck and was left paralysed for life.

More dust is what we need

Brighter sun adds to fears of climate change - Sunday Times - Times Online

This report seems very significant:

Wild said: “Sunshine levels had been decreasing by 2% a decade between 1960 and 1980 — a total decline of about 6%. Now they are going up again. Perhaps this is why our Swiss glaciers are melting.”

A 6% increase in the amount of solar radiation reaching earth would have a powerful impact on climate, especially when added to the warming effect of greenhouse gases which have already raised global temperatures by about 0.6C. Researchers predict an additional rise of at least 1.5C by 2050.

Such rises could be disastrous for agriculture, wildlife and human settlements in many regions, especially the tropics. But scientists warn they may have to revise these calculations sharply upwards if the impact of “global brightening” has to be factored

Another Australian win

Australians top global ecstasy users. 27/03/2006. ABC News Online

Its white, white, white for Australia.

Global warming and ocean levels

news @ rise over rising seas-Fresh predictions about climate change prompt to ask what we know about the future of our oceans.

As I have previously posted on the current relatively slow rate of sea level rises, it's only fair that I post about this new study indicating that (on worst estimates) the sea level rise could indeed be very dramatic within a hundred years.

These new estimates are so high above those previously indicated by the IPCC that I expect there may be some legitimate criticism of the studies to come soon. I also have doubts that it matches entirely with other possibilities recently mooted.

Meanwhile, I have been meaning to get some good maps to see where the beach may be in 100 years time, and consider buying land there.

UPDATE: Real Climate's take on the story is very important as a counterpoint to the way this story has been reported in the media. (For those who don't know, Real Climate is in no way a global warming sceptic site. Quite the opposite.)

What does all this news mean in practice? Reading the editorials in Science, and quotations from various researchers in newspaper articles, one might be under the impression that we should now expect "catastrophic sea-level rise" (as Science's Richard Kerr writes). Of course, what is catastrophic to the eye of a geologist may be an event taking thousands of years. In the Otto-Bliesner et al. simulations, it takes 2000-3000 years for Greenland to melt back to its LIG minimum size. And while we don't advocate sticking with the typical politician's time frame of 4 or 5 years, the new results do not require us to revise projections of sea level rise over the next century or so. This is because even with Arctic temperature continuing to rise rapidly, there will still be significant delay before the process of ice sheet melting and thinning is complete. There is uncertainty in this delay time, but this is already taken into account in IPCC uncertainty estimates. It is also important to remember that the data showing accelerating mass loss in Antarctica and rapid glacier flow in Greenland only reflect a very few years of measurements -- the GRACE satellite has only been in operation since 2002, so it provides only a snapshot of Antarctic mass changes. We don't really know whether these observations reflect the long term trend.

So, no need for me to retract my previous posts about there being no need (for the next few decades at least) to talk about Tuvalu sinking beneath the seas. You would never guess that from the general media, but I think Science magazine itself is rather to blame in this case.

Sunday, March 26, 2006


news @ - Stem cells found in adult mouse testes -Procedure could yield an ethically sound source of stem cells.

From the above story in Nature:

Researchers in Germany have identified a potential source of reprogrammable cells in adults that could be used for regenerative therapy. The cells would be taken directly from the testis and cultured.... should be possible to produce similar results [to those with mice] with samples taken from human testicles through a biopsy...

Howard's popularity

The Australian: Howard love means never saying farewell [March 25, 2006]

Matt Price's piece in this Weekend's Australian notes the PM's apparent (and somewhat puzzling) popularity at the Commonweath Games. Here's how he is being received:

Last weekend I attended the swimming where, on the announcement of the PM presenting the medals, the spontaneous roar almost matched the reception for Leisel Jones.

A friend of mine has been working at the gymnastics, where the PM made a midweek evening appearance.

"The crowd went off," he told me. "At the end of the session, Howard stuck around to sign autographs and pose for photos and he was still there half an hour later when I left. There were all kinds of people queuing up to meet him. Just incredible, I couldn't believe it."

While covering the men's and women's 20km walk events - quite possibly the stupidest assignment in the known universe - the Howards were scheduled to greet competitors at the end. But when Jane Saville crossed the line, only Janette Howard was able to attend; the PM was held up organising the Cyclone Larry relief operation. While milling around the finish line, Janette Howard was mobbed by punters and volunteers; truly, I'm not making this up.

The rest of the article is about how no one quite understands why. It must drive Tim Dunlop mad. (He's been posting tirelessly on the Wheat Board scandal.)

The friendly reception may account for this too:

MELBOURNE outdoes Sydney when it comes to hosting large events such as the Commonwealth Games, the Prime Minister said, praising the friendliness of its residents and the sense of community it has created for visitors.

"[Melbourne] does these things better than any other city because there's a sense of community cohesion," John Howard told Melbourne radio yesterday.

As for how a cheerful reception for Howard makes Peter Costello feel, have a look at the Clark & Dawe bit from Thursday's 7.30 Report (seems only a transcript is up at the moment). I like this part:

INTERVIEWER: What are you actually doing there these days?

PETER COSTELLO: I'm the Federal Treasurer, Bryan. I'm running the Treasury, yes.

INTERVIEWER: Oh, really, the same job?

PETER COSTELLO: The same job, exactly, yes.

INTERVIEWER: You're obviously still enjoying it?

PETER COSTELLO: I love it, Bryan. I'll be bringing down my 211th Budget this year, so getting the hang of it nicely, you'd have to say.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Paris in Spring

International News Article |

It's funny how Australia and France take industrial relations reform differently, isn't it. Of course, our unions might have learnt something from the PR debacle of the storming of Parliament House in Howard's first term.

Polygamy on HBO

The New Yorker: The Critics: On Television

So, the polygamous marriage show has started on HBO in America. As if you didn't suspect it already, the shows creators have fine liberal credentials:

The series was created by Will Scheffer and Mark V. Olsen, who are life partners as well as professional collaborators. They also serve as executive producers (as does Tom Hanks), and wrote five of the season’s twelve episodes (and co-wrote another two). Scheffer and Olsen have said in interviews that they aimed to create a nonjudgmental portrait of plural marriage, and it’s true that the series focusses more on the practical and emotional aspects of polygamy than on its moral or ethical aspects.

What interests me is this: many feminists or other liberals would, I suspect, object to polygamy on the basis that it arguably does not do much from the status of women. If a show portraying polygamy in a "non judgmental" light had been made by some clearly right leaning figures, would their sexual politics have been criticised? However, have it made by gay Hollywood liberals, I wonder how much this issue may be raised.

(Perhaps it is being raised, I have not spent much time looking for commentary on it. I just raise this as a point of interest.)

And while I am on this, it seems that openly gay writer's and producers have really never had a bigger influence in TV and movie production as they have had in the last 5 years or so. I am thinking Sex and the City, Desperate Housewives, (I presume) Will & Grace (which I don't find offensive, just not funny, even though I like the lead female); this polygamy show, some movie guys whose names I can't recall without googling, etc.

Funny how sexual matters seem to be somewhat of a priority in the stuff they are doing. Funny how ratings and movie earnings are down too. They may be cool and "out there" with their writing, but they aren't so good for business.

UPDATE: Saletan's take on why polygamy will never really catch on is a good read here at Slate. You can then read arguments for and against Saletan's position here.

Just silly

Hidden jobless figure may reach 17% - National -

From the article:

"There are about 2 million people who typically would have got jobs in the 1960s who can't get work now," said John Quiggin, professor of economics at the University of Queensland.

Professor Quiggin's calculations mean about 17.5 per cent of the labour force wants more work than it can get - more than triple the official 5.2 per cent jobless rate. Acceptable real unemployment estimates ranged between 10 and 20 per cent.

How much sense does it make to call the "underemployed" the "unemployed"? None at all, in my books.

Thursday, March 23, 2006


Time to change tack on Howard: Gillard - National -

Let's play "Labor Party self-analysis bingo" with Julia Gillard.

Arguing that her party had to "stand and fight for our values", Ms Gillard presented a forceful argument in the debate within Labor about whether it stood out clearly enough from the Coalition.

"We cannot shy away from the so-called 'culture wars' out of fear of being wedged by right-wing caricatures of Labor values," she said.

Speaking at a NSW Fabian Society Forum entitled "John Howard: 10 years on", Ms Gillard called for a new Labor vision...

She has called for him [Beazley]to be more inclusive..

It was not enough to assume Labor's view of Mr Howard would prevail.

"It was hoped if people woke up to his use of the politics of fear, Howard would fail. It was hoped if Howard was derided as divisive that he would be repudiated. But these strategies have failed."

I am sure I could come up with more if a complete text of the speech was available.

Kim, the clock is ticking to a Gillard showdown within the next 6 months.

Seems some contributors to Larvatus Prodeo are running a "Go Jules 2007" campaign. I should support this too, on the assumption I will still want a Liberal government after the next election.

UPDATE: Wow. Beazley mate Michael Costello has a red hot go at Gillard in the Australian this morning. I suspect this means Beazley wants to flush out any prospect of a challenge sooner rather than later. Just a sample from the article:

Gillard, on the other hand, [compared to Latham] has little memorable to say on substance. Her prescriptions whether on policy, or the future of the party, or on political tactics, are lightweight and banal.

But she is not about policy. She is about look at me, look at me, look at me. Her aim is the celebrity that brings public approval. And the way she has set out to get that celebrity is to savage her own party.

Her Fabian Society speech this week was empty of specifics.

etc, etc. Love it.

Airline warning

BBC NEWS | Europe | EU issues 'unsafe' airlines ban

The EU has a list of unsafe airlines, most of which are in Congo, Sierra Leone and other places in which I assume I have a very small readership.


Thailand's Phuket Airlines is on the list, as well as carriers from Kazakhstan, Afghanistan and North Korea.

Air Bangladesh makes the list too. You have been warned.

Litigation coming our way?

Guardian Unlimited Technology | Technology | Landmark libel award for chatroom insults

From the above:

A landmark legal ruling ordering a woman to pay £10,000 in damages for defamatory comments posted on an internet chatroom site could trigger a rush of similar lawsuits, a leading libel lawyer warned today.

Michael Smith, a Ukip activist who stood for the Portsmouth North seat last year, became the first person to win damages yesterday after being accused of being a "sex offender" and "racist blogger" on a Yahoo! discussion site....

Although ISPs have paid out for hosting defamatory comments, this case is thought to be the first time an individual has been found to have committed libel on a internet chat site.

In a way, it's surprising that such litigation has taken so long to start.

Add the imbalance of boys to girls, they won't need it for much longer

Beijing rules out changes to one-child policy - World -

From the story:

China's birth rate fell from 5.83 children per couple in the early 1970s to 2.1 children in 1990 and is now 1.8.

The original harsh policing, which involved widespread sterilisation, was replaced in the early 1990s by economic incentives to limit families to one child after widespread condemnation.

Mr Zhang acknowledged that abuses were still occurring but said authorities were cracking down on gender-selective abortions to correct the huge gender imbalance favouring males.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

On Japan and immigration

The Japan Times Online

The article above is about how difficult it is to get Japanese to accept that they will need much bigger immigration in future to offset the declining population. (It's already on the way down.)

Oddly, it appears the Japanese don't even like tourists that much:

"The common Japanese view of foreigners is very unsparing at the moment. Twenty years ago, 3 out of 10 people didn't like the Chinese; today it is 7 out of 10. Many Japanese fear foreigners because they think they cause crime.

"Seventy percent of Japanese are against allowing more tourists. That's ridiculous. Tourists don't cause crime and the overwhelming majority of foreigners are good people. But negative thinking about foreigners here is strong."

You wouldn't know it while you are there. The importance of extreme politeness in its service industries makes the service in most western countries seem pretty poor by comparison.

The author of the article also has a particularly blunt turn of phrase :

The seeds of xenophobia are frequently fertilized by excretions from Kasumigaseki, such as the February comment by Former Trade Minister Takeo Hiranuma raising the horrifying prospect of a blue-eyed foreigner muddying the Imperial line.

I must try to use that line myself somewhere!

Porn wars in Indonesia

Guardian Unlimited | World dispatch | Indonesia's pornagraphy troubles

Interesting article on the Indonesia moves against "pornography":

Some of the bill's opponents argue that it is not more legislation that is needed, but better enforcement of existing regulations. Some newspapers, for instance, openly advertise massages that leave nothing to the imagination, and the police make virtually no attempt to clamp down on the numerous pirated porn film street vendors....

But the biggest gripe is with the articles on what is known locally as pornoaksi, or pornographic actions. These, the opposition argue, massively curtail individuals' rights, and particularly those of women.

The bill states not only that anyone engaging in obscene public acts such as spouses kissing, women showing their navels and people sunbathing could be arrested, but it also says that anyone has the right to detain the offenders.

But, there are some fighting hard against the bill, which goes to show the difference between Indonesian government and that in, say, Saudi Arabia:

Thousands-strong demonstrations demanding the bill be revised or even dropped have outnumbered the pro-legislation rallies.

The complaints are hitting home. The vice president, Jusuf Kalla, yesterday tried to reassure the Balinese by saying that the government does not support everything in the bill. Members of the parliamentary committee hearing civil society views on the bill have told Guardian Unlimited that virtually all of the pornoaksi articles have been withdrawn, and the two largest parties in parliament, Golkar and the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, are in rare agreement that the bill needs major revisions.

Resolution of the crisis is, however, nowhere in sight

Don't put off your surgery too long

Dad's army: half of all surgeons want to retire within 15 years - National

This is not good news:

Almost half of Australia's surgical work force is aged over 55 and planning to retire within the next 15 years, just as demand for health services from ageing baby boomers reaches its peak.

Only 16 per cent of surgeons are under 40, meaning there is no army of younger specialists to take over, a survey of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons' 3800 members has found...

"The issues are overwhelming," he said. "Seventy per cent of people who are alive today will be alive in 2050, a third of the population will be over 65 in the next decade and there is a worldwide shortage of medical practitioners."

I wonder how much room there is for changes to the training of surgeons. Are they overly conservative in that regard?

UPDATE: it turns out that an article in The Age today gives a lot of detail about the changes to surgeon training that are being mooted now.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Rushing to judgment on Iraq

The Australian: Paul Gray: Apologise to Latham [March 21, 2006]

The Australia today runs the above article in which the (apparently) essentially conservative Paul Gray gets all hot under the collar about Iraq being a total failure:

The principal error of Bush's policy is that it was a betrayal of the authentic conservative cause. Conservatives, in my lifetime at least, have always opposed the international spread of totalitarianism, whether it is state totalitarianism (communism) or terrorism. Through his Iraq war misadventure, Bush has sponsored the spread of totalitarianism.

Does this really make sense? There is no doubt that a totalitarian regime has been removed. The current issue is what type of regime will replace it in the long term. No doubt in the short term, at least, there is likely to be a democratic government. In the long term, who knows, but large voter turnout in past elections give strong reason to doubt that any large number of Iraqis want to return to totalitarianism.

Which countries around Iraq have now become more totalitarian due to the US invasion? (Hamas was elected for Palestine, sure, but have they said they are now the permanent government?) Although Al Qaeda may be operating in Iraq now, some people feel that their role in attempting to ferment the downfall of democracy will backfire in the long run, if it isn't happening already. So what makes Gray so confident that all is lost already? (He might have said that the cost has already been too high, which is a matter for individual judgment, but that does not seem to be the core of his argument.)

Furthermore, he writes:

So, after just three years, the most serious Western conservative political enterprise of the century so far has been officially consigned to the pages of history as a joke. This is Bush's doing.

It doesn't matter how many conservative commentators have also joined Gray in getting cold feet (he lists them all;) those who are calling this an abject failure are just guessing at the moment. While some predict the breakup of the nation, even at the worst case, are any of those regions likely to be as totalitarian as Saddam's regime? I have my doubts, but of course may be proved wrong.

To say things have not gone according to the pre-war optimists plans is a big understatement; on the other hand, to call it a massive failure at this point of time is gross overstatement (unless of course you were a pacificist or isolationist who never wanted to go there in the first place. However, Gray appears not to fall into those categories.)

Gray then finishes on a very bizarre note:

As Latham faces court tomorrow over assault, theft and malicious damage, someone should apologise to him.

What? This is somehow going to be relevant to the court charge? Or does he just mean, "Latham's having a tough time, let's just make him feel better by agreeing he was right about Iraq." What rubbish.

UPDATE: by another happy co-incidence, Christopher Hitchens has an article about the Iraqi problems over at Opinion Journal. Here's how he starts (excuse the length):

In February 2004, our Kurdish comrades in northern Iraq intercepted a courier who was bearing a long message from Abu Musab al-Zarqawi to his religious guru Osama bin Laden. The letter contained a deranged analysis of the motives of the coalition intervention ("to create the State of Greater Israel from the Nile to the Euphrates" and "accelerate the emergence of the Messiah"), but also a lethally ingenious scheme to combat it. After a lengthy and hate-filled diatribe against what he considers the vile heresy of Shiism, Zarqawi wrote of Iraq's largest confessional group that: "These in our opinion are the key to change. I mean that targeting and hitting them in their religious, political and military depth will provoke them to show the Sunnis their rabies . . . and bare the teeth of the hidden rancor working in their breasts. If we succeed in dragging them into the arena of sectarian war, it will become possible to awaken the inattentive Sunnis as they feel imminent danger."

Some of us wrote about this at the time, to warn of the sheer evil that was about to be unleashed. Knowing that their own position was a tenuous one (a fact fully admitted by Zarqawi in his report) the cadres of "al Qaeda in Mesopotamia" understood that their main chance was the deliberate stoking of a civil war. And, now that this threat has become more imminent and menacing, it is somehow blamed on the Bush administration. "Civil war" has replaced "the insurgency" as the proof that the war is "unwinnable." But in plain truth, the "civil war" is and always was the chief tactic of the "insurgency."

The rest of the article is important too. Interestingly, at the very time that the US public is losing resolve over Iraq, there appears to be increasing evidence (via the Iraqi documents only now being slowly released) to support Hitchen's view that Saddam was dangerous through his discrete assistance to al Qaeda and that the war in Iraq was relevant to the war on al Qaeda. (The recent claim that Saddam was helping encourage his own generals to believe there were WMD also seems highly relevant to the issue of the how excuseable the apparent intelligence failures were, but I don't see many anti-war writers mentioning this.)

Hitchens still writes convincingly and with what seems to be a significantly greater depth of background knowledge of the region than any other journalist.

Educated mother's stress

Heart and home must be part of the debate - Opinion -

Catharine Lumby expresses scepticism about how much weight you can put on scientific studies that find very early childhood childcare is stressful. Take this:

One of the problems with using narrowly scientific models to study children in social settings - whether we're talking child care, reading books or watching television - is that these studies assume a mathematical level of predictability about complex human experiences. It's not that research is irrelevant, it's that we need to be very clear about the value of different approaches. And we need to put them in context.

I can see her point. But then she uses these examples:

The problem with relying on neurobiological data to measure the wellbeing of children in child care is that a whole lot of other factors are being left out of the equation. And the scientific questions tend to be framed by prejudices about what is a "normal" state of affairs.

Are any neurobiologists, for instance, keen on studying the stress levels of women who can't get back into the workforce after their children go back to school so they can use the degree they slaved to get? Are any of them looking inside the brains of (mainly male) chief executives and trying to find the lobe that programs them to spend $25,000 sponsoring a golf day and zero on promoting paternity leave?

Yes, poor stressed mothers with degrees must be able to get back into the work force as soon as they possibly can, otherwise their life feels like such a waste. That what childcare should be all about.

Monday, March 20, 2006

The "Oil in Euros" argument

Kenneth Davidson in The Age gives us an uncritical review of the "pre-emptive strike to prevent trading oil in Euro's" interpretation of US policy in the Middle East. This got a good run on many Left leaning sites in the run up to the Iraq invasion. Now it is being cited as a reason why the US will attack Iran.

This argument has always smelt wrong to me. However, when I search the Internet to see who thinks it is wrong, I haven't found all that many sites dealing with it in detail. (Perhaps it is so silly there is no need to.) A case of a good conspiracy theory getting all around the world while the truth is still stuggling with its pants?

Any reader who has some really good links about it is welcome to provide them. In the meantime, I take heart from a column which argues that the idea is not very credible. If the rabidly Bush hating Salon does not think much of the theory, I think I can safely assume it is largely rubbish.

How not to sound balanced

Contesting what is sacred - Opinion -

Karen Armstrong, whose work I have not read, but who I understand has been criticised for being too soft on Islam, doesn't do much to dispel that image today in The Age:

How do we move forward? Washington's threatening posture towards Iran can only lead to an increase in hostility between Islam and the West, and we must expect more conflicts like the cartoon crisis.

Oh come on. How about a teensie mention of a certain "threatening posture" repeated several times from Iran to Israel?

She writes:

Instead of allowing extremists on both sides to set the agenda, we should learn to see these disputes in historical perspective, recalling that in the past, aggressive cultural chauvinism proved to be dangerously counterproductive. The emotions engendered by these crises are a gift to those, in both the Western and the Islamic worlds, who, for their own nefarious reasons, want the tension to escalate; we should not allow ourselves to play into their hands.

All very high-minded, but rather useless when you get to the specifics of how to deal with a nation bent on developing a capacity for nuclear weapons while simultaneously hoping out loud for the destruction of a neighbour state. And it's not as if diplomacy and face saving ways around it have not been tried or offered.

I am not suggesting that the way forward is necessarily through military action. But "let's just be nice and respect one another" is patently not the answer in some situations.

Cannabis in England (and here)

Guardian Unlimited | Special reports | Where there's smoke ...

I didn't mean to start a drug theme today, but while looking for something else, I found the above lengthy story from December 2005 which seems pretty balanced and interesting.

Update: and by further co-incidence, The Age mentions cannabis and political response to it today too. The head of the Victorian Drug Prevention Council writes:

So what approaches should we take to reduce harm? Last year in the Victorian Premier's Drug Prevention Council, we undertook research among 13 to 29-year-olds, both users and non-users. It showed that we should use graphic imagery and realistic situations to illustrate the physical side effects of long-term and heavy marijuana use. These include depression and anxiety, as well as the social downsides such as loss of friends and the effects on family.

What "graphic imagery" can be used to show the physical side effects of marijuana use if you are talking of mental problems being the growing concern? He says research shows that moralist sounding warnings to young folk don't work. But how do you avoid sounding moralist when criticising a drug that may give temporary pleasure but can have long term dangers?

In fact, I seem to recall (sorry no time to google for it now) that there was some evidence to suggest that "drug education" programs at school, somewhat counterintuitively, actually encouraged experimentation. It's all a difficult area.

"Ice" havoc

Four Corners - 20/03/2006: The Ice Age

Tonight's Four Corners story on "ice" use in (I think) Sydney looks like a must watch program for those who like to be appalled by self destructive human behaviour. A few questions already:

* why would these awful looking users agree to be part of such a program? Maybe they explain in the show.

* the show site says this:

Remarkably, authorities appear to be ill-prepared to stop the ice wave that is sweeping the country. Australia has no dedicated treatment programs. Jails are the main rehab facilities. There are no legal substitute drugs. Research funds are scarce.

One suspects that lack of preparedness may have something to do with an assumption that a drug which causes a high rate of psychosis should not become overly popular. How silly to apply common sense.

However, if there is a need to tell people the bleeding obvious, I suppose it should be done via ads on whatever medium soon-to-be-psychotic addicts watch. (Of course, few would watch the ABC, I am betting.)

It certainly seems that the famous US ad, showing eggs being smashed as being "your brain on drugs" is an entirely appropriate one for this drug. Except it should be "Mick" or someone from tonight's show, so you can see the glamourous physical effect it has too.

Drumming up business

It Came From the Planet Garage - Los Angeles Times

From the above story, about home made "flying saucers" causing UFO reports around Los Angeles:

The saucers are made in the garages of Gaylon Murphy and Steve Zingali, who get their kicks shocking people and hope to earn a few bucks hawking their remote-controlled saucers. After all, a few UFO sightings can only be good for business.

"We fly them in formation. It's pretty funny," said Murphy, a cardiovascular surgeon and Aliso Viejo resident. "People stop, people scream; one cabdriver ran his car up off the road."

Sounds like he does it to help drum up business.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

What the universe seems made of

news @ - Physicists get their hands on the second round of WMAP data.

So, further analysis of satellite data indicates that the universe did start with a bang and the "inflation" kicked in immediately. It would be somewhat helpful if we knew what was behind inflation, but as far as I know that is still a big mystery. This data also helps confirm that the part of the universe we can see - atoms and such like - make up only 4 % of the total. As is said in the above story:

"This idea that the universe is 74% dark energy and 22% dark matter is really crazy; it relates to nothing we can measure on Earth," says Sean Carroll, a cosmologist at the University of Chicago, Illinois, who is not part of the WMAP team. "Every time we get observations that say 'Yes, the model is still working', we are surprised."

All very strange.


HIV's grim comeback - National -

The Age reports an increase in HIV rates in Victoria. The story opens with this:

IT CAME as a rude shock to those gathered in a Prahran theatre in February last year. The men, some with HIV and some without, were having a frank discussion about safe sex, led by popular drag queen Vanessa Wagner. They were talking about a well-known Melbourne gay venue. The HIV-positive men nominated a particular area where you went to have unprotected sex if you were infected with the virus. No, said the HIV-negative men, that was where you went if you were negative.

"We had the lights up in the theatre and we could just see all these jaws dropping," says one of the organisers, Greg Iverson, president of People Living With HIV-AIDS Victoria. "It was a real wake-up call. We realised that the two communities weren't talking to each other about HIV."

Hmmm. I suppose that there may be some point in having a choice between the "postive" and "negative" sex areas, in that any sane negative man would presumably prefer to stick to a partner who at least claims to not be positive. But it sounds from the story that the reason the negatives were so shocked was because they had unsafe sex with the positive men, based on a false assumption.

If that is the case, then the point of the story should not so much be that the two sides were not talking to each other; it should be that the safe sex message of not trusting your partner to be HIV negative (especially on a casual encounter) has been lost on these dills.

Drug trial disaster

The Australian: Survivor guilt for beating drug bullet [March 18, 2006]

For a few days now, the media has been reporting a drug trial that went wrong in England. Initially I assumed that the people who have nearly died (it seems at least one will die eventually) had some delayed reaction. However, in the Australian today (see above) the full details of how it went wrong are set out, and it was a case of immediate illness and disaster as soon as the drug was given. Has a drug trial ever gone as badly wrong as this?

Perhaps the amount given was a human error and that explains it. As the above story notes:

John Henry, a clinical toxicologist at St Mary's Hospital, London, told reporters: "The dose they were using is the whole key here. What was their target dose and what did they start with?

"They should have started with a minuscule dose and given it to the first two volunteers to see if there was any reaction. Then they should have moved on to the next two volunteers and multiplied the dose. You can't, in all conscience, give six people the same dose and hope they will all react perfectly.

"It is just common sense."

Friday, March 17, 2006

Death on the South Pacific

Police 'danced with witness' - The Nation - Breaking News 24/7 -

This inquest into the shipboard death of a mother on a South Pacific fun cruise is an intriguing story. The death occurred in 2002 on the Pacific Sky, which does the sort of cruises David Williamson had so much fun on recently.

Anyway, it appears that the mother died of an overdose of the "date drug" GBH, after some (allegedly) consensual sex with some bloke she just met (an activity apparently out of character for the mother). Some details are here, here and here. It seems that the police have not come up with a clear suspect to charge, but note there are 8 "persons of interest". Their photo was published recently, which is somewhat unfair if only one of them was the one who administered the drug. (Don't follow the link if you share my reservation.) Their names keep getting splashed around too, which again strikes me as perhaps a little unfair.

Today's story notes how the police investigating on the ship danced with witnesses before the interview. I am not sure that this technique is recommended in police operations manuals.

The case would all make for a good movie, but maybe it would need to be fictionalised a bit to make it not quite so sordid.

Update: would photoshopping David Williamson into the photo of the 8 persons of interest be funny? Maybe, but probably not worth the defamation action...

(I also had some bad spelling in the post originally, but could not edit it for hours due to a Blogger fault. I must learn to spell check before posting, not after...)

The Washington Post in Iraq

Found, of all places, on a very Catholic blog, is a post about how someone who was in Iraq has lost all faith in the Washington Post. It's not a long story, but one that is (I expect) quite typical. Go read it.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

All related

Why We're All Jesus' Children - Go back a few millenniums, and we've all got the same ancestors. By Steve Olson

Don't worry about the title, the above article is an interesting explanation about how you don't have to go back too far to get to a point where everyone on earth was your ancestor.

This is a little hard to follow, but as the authors have published in Nature, I assume they know their maths :

Say you go back 120 generations, to about the year 1000 B.C. According to the results presented in our Nature paper, your ancestors then included everyone in the world who has descendants living today. And if you compared a list of your ancestors with a list of anyone else's ancestors, the names on the two lists would be identical.

This is a very bizarre result (the math behind it is solid, though—here's a brief, semitechnical explanation of our findings). It means that you and I are descended from all of the Africans, Australians, Native Americans, and Europeans who were alive three millenniums ago and still have descendants living today. That's also why so many people living today could be descended from Jesus. If Jesus had children (a big if, of course) and if those children had children so that Jesus' lineage survived, then Jesus is today the ancestor of almost everyone living on Earth. True, Jesus lived two rather than three millenniums ago, but a person's descendants spread quickly from well-connected parts of the world like the Middle East.

This concluding paragraph is of interest:

People may like to think that they're descended from some ancient group while other people are not. But human ancestry doesn't work that way, since we all share the same ancestors just a few millenniums ago. As that idea becomes more widely accepted, arguments over who's descended from Jesus won't result in lawsuits. And maybe, just maybe, people will have one less reason to feel animosity toward other branches of the human family.

Well, yes, but can it also be used in a quasi-political way to argue against the special "racial" rights that the West now gives to the present descendants of the original indigenous populations?

(I originally had "ownership" instead of "racial".)

Guardian Unlimited | Special reports | We were right to invade Iraq

Guardian Unlimited | Special reports | We were right to invade Iraq

Burn that cancer out

Reuters AlertNet - Hot pepper kills prostate cancer cells in study

Interesting story on work indicating that eating hot chilli may help stop prostate cancer from progressing.

The obvious question to ask from this is: do men from countries where a lot of chilli is eaten show a lower rate of prostate cancer than countries with a blander diet? (Countries to pick, if they have reliable figures, might be Thailand - or even Singapore - and Ireland on the other side.)

On the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games

* Am I the only person to think that overall it seemed to have a much "gay-er" sensibility than the Sydney Olympics opening or closing? Which is odd given Sydney's reputation.

* Flying boy, duck and koalas. Did that bit intentionally run on so long without any clear ending, and no apparent point? (Also no humour; just kitch.)

* Fireworks looked nice. I wonder what it felt like for the roller bladers/skaters to have such an amount of stuff going off on their backpacks...

The ultimate in ghost writing

The Australian: Clooney in a Huff over blog [March 16, 2006]

When a celebrity uses a ghost writer to pass off a book as if it were their own, at least the celebrity knows that it is happening. In the case of George Clooney's recent short post at Huffington Post, he didn't know until after it was published:

OSCAR-winner George Clooney took a prominent US political commentator to task today for posting on her website a blog made to look like it was written by the superstar.

Clooney denied writing the blog on Arianna Huffington's, which includes commentaries from celebrities, politicians and experts.

The blog turned out to be a compilation of remarks Clooney made in media interviews. The actor, a liberal, said he had given Huffington permission to use the quotes, but complained that they were made to look like his own blog.

Arianna has an explanation of sorts (Clooney's publicist is supposed to have OK'ed the post) but it seems doubtful George's head shot will be appearing there again any time soon.

Put a krill on the barbie

Antarctic researchers get a surprise and a thrill after moving in for the krill

From the above article: it seems there are more krill out there than they thought:

Scientists aboard the research ship Aurora Australis have found aggregations of the shrimp-like krill up to hundreds of kilometres in extent in little-explored seas of eastern Antarctica...

The slowly expanding Antarctic krill fishery last year took 118,000 tonnes from the far South Atlantic, the only area where it is fished. This is a fraction of the 4 million-tonne catch limit for the area set by the 24-nation Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources.

And something I would not have thought of:

Antarctic krill is the most abundant and successful animal species on the planet.

Try to slip that snippet of information into a conversation today.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Artic warming and ozone

Science News Article |

It seems every day you can find some new idea as to what is going on with global warming. The link above notes this from a NASA researcher:

Globally, ozone accounts for perhaps one-seventh of the global warming and climate change that carbon dioxide does, Shindell said. However, a new study of climate change over the past 100 years indicates that ozone may be responsible for as much as 50 percent of the warming in the Arctic zone.

This is because many of the world's most highly industrialized nations are in the Northern Hemisphere, and at relatively high latitudes. For most of the year, that means the ozone produced in these countries is blown by prevailing winds north and east, toward the Arctic Circle.

"Instead of being this tiny player, (ozone) can be more like 30 or 40 or even 50 percent of the cause of warming that we're seeing in the Arctic now," Shindell said. "It's very dramatic."

One of the major points that some Kyoto skeptics make is that atmospheric science is not well enough understood for there to be meaningful commitments as to how to cure the apparent global warming. (If it is capable of cure at all.)

Stories like this help confirm this attitude.

Why I stick to Wordperfect

Reuters Business Channel |

"Microsoft warns of "critical" Office security flaw" is the headline.

Interesting stuff on WMD in Iraq


Pajamas Media links to the post by Tigerhawk (above) about confusion over WMD within the Iraqi military itself. (Details coming in soon to be published book by New York Times reporters.) All very interesting.

UPDATE: Slate's article on this is well worth a read. It deals specifically with the interception of conversations about "nerve gas" that Powell played during the famous UN briefing. The conversation is now thought to have had an innocent explanation, but it is easy to see why this would not have been thought of, when until 2002 Saddam himself encouraged his military leaders to believe he did have WMD. Slate then ends with this summary:

And so not only is the mystery of the intercepts solved, we're left with a ragged tale of crossed signals and multiple misunderstandings that may help explain why this war happened. Saddam Hussein had accumulated a vast record of deceptions; George W. Bush, by this time, was firmly intent on regime change through invasion. Almost everyone in the U.S. national-security establishment was predisposed to view all intelligence materials through both prisms—Saddam's deception and Bush's intentions—and the rays converged on toppling Baghdad.

Something vaguely good in the Baghdad deaths

BBC NEWS | Middle East | Scores of bodies found in Baghdad

From the above:

On Monday, radical Shia cleric Moqtada Sadr appealed for calm, saying he would order his Mehdi Army militia not to respond to attacks despite his belief Iraq was now in civil war.


The Australian: Janet Albrechtsen: Why Julia Gillard will never be PM [March 15, 2006]

Janet gives more detail than I did on why Julia Gillard would not be electable as PM. (I didn't know her right wing immigration policy had been forced on her.)

Also, Janet doesn't mention about how fast Julia has run to distance herself from the Tasmanian forest policy which she seems to blame for much of Latham's loss. She the additional interview material on the Australian Story site.

However, it would be a very interesting time if she were running for PM. Us conservatives should really just keep quiet.

Update: Currency Lad's post on the same topic is good, and (as usual) better written than my post. I like his bit about Beazley too:

And yet it is precisely his unsaleable political nature that somehow recommends him - at least to those who believe that the people who actually yearn to be prime minister are, at some level, dysfunctional egomaniacs.

Something to look forward to...

ALP image could get worse: MP - National -

...frontbencher Stephen Smith lashed out at internal critics of the Opposition Leader, suggesting the damage they had inflicted was not yet over.

"I won't be surprised in two weeks' time if it is just as bad or even worse," he said.

Further down in the article:

His comments came as party figures reacted warily to Mr Beazley's proposal for Labor's front bench to be chosen by a free vote of the caucus, not by the factions.

Sounds sensible, but for that matter I don't really understand the Labor fear of having the PM chose his own ministers. I guess that undermines factional power, and power is what its all about after all.

Tunguska and global warming?

ScienceDaily: Greenhouse Theory Smashed By Biggest Stone; Is Global-warming Down To Humanity? Or Are Other Factors At Work?

See the link above for a tentative idea from a Russian scientist about the possible connection between the rather large meteorite hit that was the Tunguska event in 1908 and global warming.

Many loopy ideas come out of Russian science, but if you read the arxiv link to the preprint of his paper, this guy does not sound too bad. Still, somehow I expect that they will be scientists rushing to argue against this.

UPDATE: over at Real Climate, they explain why they think there is nothing much to this idea.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Anti-virus choices narrow

Anti-virus bungle devours files - Breaking - Technology -

So, McAfee's reputation will take a beating over this.

From what I have read, many people also dislike Norton's antivirus in its latest incarnation.

I have gone over to using AVG at work. It's cheaper and seems to work quite well.

What's more, for home use you can get by on their free version.

Who would have guessed?

New Scientist Long-term marijuana use may fog the brain - Breaking News

From the above article:

“Long-term users found it very difficult to learn through new information given verbally,” says Messinis. “It’s not to do with lack of attention but more the encoding process of memory.”

It would be good for lawyers

Stanley Kurtz on Big Love & Polygamy on National Review Online

Interesting article above on the forthcoming debate about legal recognition of polygamy. As I think I have said before, if you thought child custody and matrimonial property cases were hard now - just wait for this.

I am curious if there are good figures out there (presumably, from America) about the stability of polygamous marriages. I presume they would be less stable in the long run, but then again I suppose those who enter into it may be over sexual jealously. I would guess that the conflicts are more likely to be between a wife over dislike of, or other forms of competition with, the other wives.

The topic of current views of sexual morality is dealt with by Andrew Norton at Catallaxy today too. Adultery is still seen as a big issue, even more so amongst the young. That doesn't sound good for the prospects of polygamy here.

Of course, there is the point that what much of the West practices now is serial monogamy on a scale never seen before, which is bad in its own way, so I don't want to sound too precious about polygamy. Just that I see that it would be a case of going from bad to worse.

So you thought Annie Proulx would be above this?

Very angry Annie - Film - Entertainment -

The Sydney Morning Herald reprints a Guardian article by Brokeback Mountain author Annie Proulx about her night at the Oscars.

One would expect a fairly high brow author to take such an award process all in her stride. Of course it is basically silly fun to be comparing one genre of film with another, and trying to pick the best actor out of dozens of films that put up at least competent acting each year.

But no, she is as bitter as hell about Brokeback only getting 3 Oscars. As Annie says:

Roughly 6000 film industry voters, most in the Los Angeles area, many living cloistered lives behind wrought-iron gates or in deluxe rest homes, out of touch not only with the shifting larger culture and the yeasty ferment that is America these days, but also out of touch with their own segregated city, decide which films are good. And rumour has it that Lions Gate inundated the academy voters with DVD copies of Trash - excuse me - Crash a few weeks before the ballot deadline. Next year we can look to the awards for controversial themes on the punishment of adulterers with a branding iron in the shape of the letter A, runaway slaves, and the debate over free silver.

How deliciously petty! I assume she plans on never "doing lunch" in Hollywood again.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Physics and sex

Seed: Getting Physical

Interesting article that (I assume) has its historical anecdotes correct. For example:

Remarkably, some physicists’ trysts seem to have actually led to physical insight: While once floundering on a problem, Erwin Schrödinger shacked up in an alpine villa for an extended holiday with “an old girlfriend” and, in the “late erotic outburst” that followed, produced the eponymous equation that would net him the Nobel.

Valerie Plame - undercover in any meaningful sense?

Ace of Spades HQ

See above for a detailed post (found via Pajamas Media) on Valerie Plame's "cover". So far undercover she drove to to the CIA to work, and had other cover that was so tissue thin you could see through it.

Mainly on Labor's leadership vacuum

Time to comment on the Labor leadership woes.

Over at they have an interesting internet poll result on preferred leaders for both the Coalition and the Labor Party. There are many things to note here:

1. Look at how big the readership of appears to be skewed to the Left generally. Looks like a margin of 3 to 1 would vote Labor or Green over the Coalition. This surely this can't represent the Crikey readership overall, can it?

2. On the conservative side, the big surprise is the strong showing of Malcolm Turnbull as alternative leader (well over the likes of Tony Abbott and Alexander Downer) and on a par with Peter Costello. Why is Turnbull so popular with intended Labor and Green voters? Does this indicate that the poll means nothing much at all?

3. On the Labor side, Julia Gillard wins as preferred leader. For Labor voters, she is miles ahead of the rest; for conservative voters, it seems equally split between her and Kevin Rudd.

4. Maybe Lindsay Tanner is not completely out of the race too. I must admit, he comes across as quite likeable and sincere, and I think more than one conservative commentator thinks well of him too.

As for my opinion of the other Labor contenders:

a. Kim Beazley: No doubt he is basically a nice guy. Several things about him as a person appeal to me: he's Christian; had a divorce but one in which he remained on good terms with his ex (contrast Latham); as right wing as they come on defence and (I think) foreign affairs; Phillip Adams hates him. It would be no disaster if he were PM. But his basic problem is that he all too often has to puff himself up into outrage in a manner which strikes as insincere. As everyone knows, he's still too verbose, which also gives the impression of possible indecisiveness. It's doubtful he can manage the factional issues. If he suffers a repeat of his recent serious illness, it would at least give him an excuse to exit with no loss of face.

b. Kevin Rudd: again, he is a relatively rare thing in that he is a serious Christian in the Parliamentary Labor Party. (I don't want to give the impression that religious belief is the most important thing I consider, but as a general rule I like some type of it in a political leader. ) Again, seems likeable as a person; the rapport he and Joe Hockey share on their segments on breakfast TV seems genuine. But - seems too smart for his own good. Maybe knows how to win arguments on an intellectual level, but not an emotional one. Cannot imagine him being an effective or overly popular leader within the party. Also gives the impression of having personal interests in too narrow a field.

c. Julia Gillard: current popularity seems mainly based on novelty factor (as was Latham's). Christopher Pearson's article in the Australian this weekend was a bit cruel in parts, but makes the basic valid point that she has been seen as too far to the right on immigration, and too far to the left on health. Does anyone know where she stands on foreign affairs and defence issues? Who knows where future policies under her leadership would end up. On a personal level, seems too opportunistic, giving the impression of being there more for personal advancement than for social concerns. (A problem shared by the majority of Labor parliamentarians today, given their backgrounds.)

Apparently decided at 18 that she was not going to have children. I have a personal bias on this that is difficult to justify when pressed, but as a rule I do not entirely trust people who have made that sort of decision at a young age, unless of course it is for health or genetic reasons. I think most people over 30 with children might share that suspicion. She (or more correctly, her mother) should never mention it again. You can read her Australian Story transcript and make your own mind up about this.

I predict she will never be Prime Minister. More likely some sort of meltdown.

About Jimmy Carter

Power Line: Pious the first

The Powerline post above is about a new book by Jimmy Carter. They quote from someone who really, really doesn't care for the ex-president:

IT IS DIFFICULT, WHEN confronting the miasma of tired bromides strung together in this book, to point to a single childlike sentimentality that fully expresses the smallness of Jimmy Carter's soul, but this one comes close: "[Rosalynn and I] have been amazed at the response of people to these new latrines, especially in Ethiopia, and to learn that the primary thrust for building them has come from women."...

....he trades on his humanitarian good works to burnish his image as an elder statesman, brimming with oracular profundity. The result, as in his current book, is as empty and embarrassing as the naked emperor's new clothes....

Our Endangered Values makes Al Gore's Earth in the Balance read like the Critique of Pure Reason by comparison.

Kite flying as an extreme sport

BBC NEWS | South Asia | Kite flyers arrested in Pakistan

From the above article:

Kite flying is a traditional part of a festival marking the advent of spring in Punjab, but on Thursday the Pakistani authorities introduced a ban.

The prohibition came in after a number of deaths, mostly in Lahore, caused by glass-coated or metal kite-strings...

Kite flyers compete to keep their kites in the air, whilst downing those of others.

But they often resort to using wire or glass-coated strings to cut the strings of rival kites.

When the strings fall across roads, however, they pose a danger to people passing on motor-bikes.

Metal kites can also cause short-circuits in overhead power cables, leading to heavy losses for electricity utilities.

On other blogs

* Andrew Norton over at Catallaxy has a good series of posts over the weekend about Clive Hamilton's views on affluence, labor etc. See here, here and here.

* JF Beck, by co-incidence, gives a fine example of what he calls "edu-babble" (same thing as "academic english" I referred to a few posts back.) Be sure to read the comments too.

* A considerable amount of heat has been gernerated over the issue of DDT bans (or non bans, or near bans, or whatever it was.) I haven't read too much about it, so I don't really know were the truth lies. However, the ever grumpy Tim Lambert is definitely of the view that it is all a stupid right wing beat up. JF Beck is on the other side. Readers will have to work this one out for themselves, and then let me know.

* Man of Lettuce is an interesting personal blog, and I meant to link to this post about "ice". I also heard on Radio National's breakfast last week a doctor talking about the increasing problem of admissions for drug related mental illness in Sydney, but no transcript is available.

Adrian's post on the "risks" involved when a cabbie has gay passengers is amusing.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Morality Wars in Indonesia

Islamic moral drive spreads fear in Indonesia - World -

Have a look at the above article for an interesting story on where new morality laws are taking parts of Indonesia.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Where is the water coming from?

Now this is rather odd. A new NASA survey of both Greenland and Antartic ice confirms that, despite increased snow in parts of (I think) both places, overall there is a net loss of ice. One article says:

When the scientists added up the overall gains and loses of ice from the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, there was a net loss of ice to the sea. The amount of water added to the oceans (20 billion tons) is equivalent to the total amount of freshwater used in homes, businesses and farming in New York, New Jersey and Virginia each year.

Sounds a lot. But then again, what is happening to sea levels because of this? From the BBC version:

If ice is on balance being lost to the oceans, it could be contributing to global sea-level rise; and according to Jay Zwally's research, it is, but by less than expected.

"The study indicates that the contribution of the ice sheets to sea-level rise during the decade studied was much smaller than expected, just two percent of the recent increase of nearly three millimeters a year," he said.

"Current estimates of the other major sources of sea-level rise - expansion of the ocean by warming temperatures and runoff from low-latitude glaciers - do not make up the difference, so we have a mystery on our hands as to where the water is coming from."

Only 2 % of the current increase is coming from Antartic and Greenland ice? Maybe we have a while before we all drown. Or someone's figures are a bit screwy somewhere.

Also - if you want to see an example of why the media reporting of global warming irritates me, have a look at this recent Newsbusters story, and the "grab" at the bottom of the TV screen shot. It is not outright false, but still it is designed to give the impression of crisis.

Psycho history

Guardian Unlimited Film | Features | A stab in the dark

Here's something I didn't know about Hitchcock and the making of "Psycho":

With Psycho, Herrmann not only broke with Hollywood tradition by scoring it for strings alone (saying he wanted to find a sonic equivalent of black-and-white film), but also rescued the film. Having completed filming without a score, Hitchcock was in despair at what he felt had ended up as a mediocre pot-boiler, and was seriously considering cutting the film to an hour and selling it to TV. Herrmann persuaded him to let him score it before doing so, and despite the director's insistence that the first murder scene remain silent, defied him. The end result left Hitchcock no room for argument.

What a great example of how accidental a successful movie can be. Even great directors can't see the woods for the trees sometimes.

Saletan debates "bad" and "responsibility"

My Secret Burden - The abortion-rights movement grapples with repression. By William Saletan

I have previously referred to "pro-choice" William Saletan's daring suggestion that the pro-choice movement admit that abortion is bad.

His latest article above is about how he was received at a pro-choice debate. ("Not well" is the short answer: "It was like preaching to the choir, except that my preaching was Sunni, and the choir was Shiite.") The whole piece is well worth reading, because it covers many bothersome aspects that the movement shares with the Left generally. For example:

Then I have this hangup about relativism. Like most people, I'm open to relativism. If you accept that the rightness or wrongness of abortion depends to some extent on circumstance, or that as a general rule, the woman in question is more entitled to weigh the moral factors than Rick Santorum is, that makes you a bit of a relativist. But it was clear at Friday's meeting that many pro-choice activists go further. They're absolutists about relativism. They argue that abortion is good because it's what a woman wants, and that the goodness or badness of abortion depends entirely on her choice. They insist all choices must be "respected" and "free from stigma." I don't get it. If everything has to be respected, what's the value of respect? If every exercise of liberty has to be free from stigma, how secure is liberty?

And this:

Right away, I got in trouble for calling abortion "bad." I like such words because they're blunt: They express a nearly universal gut reaction and make it clear which direction you'd like to go. The absolute relativists in the room found these words unacceptable, since they "stigmatize" and "pass judgment" on women and doctors.... To my relief, cooler heads pointed out how judgmental the absolute relativists are about gender equality and human rights. Liberals treat judgment the way conservatives treat sex: forbid it, except when you're doing it.

Nicely put...

Test tubes to the rescue

TCS Daily - Old Europe Fades Away

The above article suggests that an increased push to use measures such as IVF and surrogacy to help older mothers have babies would help Europe reverse its declining population. Talk about calling in technology inappropriately. Why not just develop social policies that encourage younger motherhood?

Anyway, the article makes some other points of interest, such as an apparently fairly high rate of intermarriage between Muslims and non Muslims in France (one third.)

Interesting ideas on energy

The Energizer - Discover Magazine - science news articles online technology magazine articles The Energizer

The above article is in the Discover magazine that is currently being sold in newsagents in Australia.

It sets out some of the ideas of Amory Lovins, who I can't recall having heard of before. Some of his ideas on saving energy make quite a bit of sense, and this section on cars is interesting:

A modern car, after 120 years of devoted engineering effort since Gottlieb Daimler built the first gasoline-powered vehicle, uses less than 1 percent of its fuel to move the driver. How does that happen?

Well, only an eighth of the fuel energy reaches the wheels. The rest of it is lost in the engine, drivetrain, and accessories, or wasted while the car is idling. Of the one-eighth that reaches the wheels, over half heats the tires on the road or the air that the car pushes aside. So only 6 percent of the original fuel energy accelerates the car. But remember, about 95 percent of the mass being accelerated is the car—not the driver. Hence, less than 1 percent of the fuel energy moves the driver. This is not very gratifying.

Well, the solution is equally inherent in the basic physics I just described. Three-quarters of the fuel usage is caused by the car's weight. Every unit of energy you save at the wheels by making the car a lot lighter will save an additional seven units of fuel that you don't need to waste getting it to the wheels.

So you can get this roughly eightfold leverage (three- to fourfold in the case of a hybrid) from the wheels back to the fuel tank by starting with the physics of the car, making it lighter and with lower drag. And indeed you can make the car radically lighter. We've figured out a cost-effective way to do that so you can end up with a 66-mile-per-gallon uncompromised SUV that has half the normal weight, has a third the normal fuel use, is safer, and repays the extra cost that comes with being a hybrid in less than two years.

His idea is to makes cars mostly from carbon fibre. He points out that super light cars also make use of hydrogen as a fuel more attractive too.

His ideas on electricity generation are less radical, emphasising conservation a lot. He also likes wind power, about which I remain somewhat of a skeptic. Still, he ideas sound well worth taking seriously.

No hope for hot fusion?

New Scientist No future for fusion power, says top scientist - Breaking News

The article is talking about "hot" fusion research. Any energy research project that is estimating 50 years more work before it will be practical does seem a highly dubious use of the money.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Do black holes exist at all?

Three cosmic enigmas, one answer

Follow the link above to a New Scientist story about a new proposal to replace black holes.

I have been reading and Wikipedia articles about black holes, and this is not the first time it has been suggested that there may be something else that is causing similar effects in the centre of the galaxy. I had always wondered about this prediction for black holes:

Another problem is that light from an object falling into a black hole is stretched so dramatically by the immense gravity there that observers outside will see time freeze: the object will appear to sit at the event horizon for ever. This freezing of time also violates quantum mechanics. "People have been vaguely uncomfortable about these problems for a while, but they figured they'd get solved someday," says Chapline. "But that hasn't happened and I'm sure when historians look back, they'll wonder why people didn't question these contradictions."

I also wonder if this proposed replacement for black holes (called a dark energy star) has any implications for the possible creation of micro black holes in particle accelerators or the atmosphere. It sounds from the article that they would not have the same type of Hawking Radiation as black holes are predicted to; but then again, it seems they would spit out some of the matter they absorb.

Humongous Screen

LG.Philips LCD develops 100-inch LCD panel

Have a look at this absolutely gigantic LCD screen from LG Phillips. I thought they use to say there was an upper limit on the size of LCD screens. Seems technology marches on.

University language

Humbug! Online

See the story above for an example of "academic English" at Griffiths University. Maybe its not the worst example ever, but its bad enough.

Do academics like this who have spent their lives creating or working in "academic English" (which is seemingly designed only to help promulgate work for academics) ever wake up at night with the sudden realisation "oh my God, all my work has been pointless. Worse than pointless - it has detracted from the advance of knowledge"? I hope it happens at least once in a while...

Bubble fusion - yes or no?

news @ fusion: silencing the hype -Nature reveals serious doubts over claims for fusion in collapsing bubbles.

It seems that an almighty cat fight has broken out between scientists, and Nature and Science magazines, over the apparent confirmation of "bubble fusion" earlier this year, is correct after all.

Seems a little like the "cold fusion" fight, which is still contains some mystery, as far as I can make out. What is it about fusion research that seems to heighten the emotions?

People get paid for coming up with ideas like this?

New Scientist Long-distance lovers can still drink together - Technology

An extract:

Jackie Lee and Hyemin Chung, experts in human-computer interaction, say that communal drinking is an important social interaction that helps bind friendships and relationships, but this is of course denied to people separated by geography. To give such lovebirds a chance to recreate some of the intimacy of sharing a drink, Lee and Chung have incorporated a variety of coloured LEDs, liquid sensors and wireless (GPRS or Wi-Fi) links into a pair of glass tumblers.

When either person picks up a glass, red LEDs on their partner's glass glow gently. And when either puts the glass to their lips, sensors make white LEDs on the rim of the other glass glow brightly, so you can tell when your other half takes a sip.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

A study to irritate women on International women's' Day

Desperate Feminist Wives - Why wanting equality makes women unhappy. By Meghan O'Rourke

From the above Slate article on a recent sociological study:

Stay-at-home wives, according to the authors, are more content than their working counterparts. And happiness, they found, has less to do with division of labor than with the level of commitment and "emotional work" men contribute (or are perceived to contribute). But the most interesting data may be that the women who strongly identify as progressive - —the 15 percent who agree most with feminist ideals - —have a harder time being happy than their peers, according to an analysis that has been provided exclusively to Slate. Feminist ideals, not domestic duties, seem to be what make wives morose.

Before any feminist reader (in the unlikely event I have any) throws their latte at the screen, the article goes on to give the figures and qualify this conclusion in such a way that it makes it hardly worth either side trying to get much ideological mileage out of the study. Still, if I have briefly annoyed some Labor voting feminist out there, it was worth it.

No trade

Jerusalem Post | Breaking News from Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish World

From the above story:

Despite a promise made to Washington last November to drop its economic boycott of Israel, Saudi Arabia plans to host a major international conference next week aimed at promoting a continued trade embargo on the Jewish state, The Jerusalem Post has learned.

The Post also found that the kingdom continues to prohibit entry to products made in Israel or to foreign-made goods containing Israeli components, in violation of pledges made by senior Saudi officials to the Bush administration last year.

"Next week, we will hold the ninth annual meeting for the boycott of Israel here in Jidda," Ambassador Salem el-Honi, high commissioner of the Organization for the Islamic Conference's (OIC) Islamic Office for the Boycott of Israel, said in a telephone interview.

"All 57 OIC member states will attend, and we will discuss coordination among the various offices to strengthen the boycott," he said, noting that the meeting is held every March.

One would think that those urging the West to keep funding Palestine should show more good will than this. What a terrible accident of history it is that the Middle East has so much oil.

Israel's bad timing?

Jerusalem Post | Breaking News from Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish World

How does Israel track the terrorists that they target from jets? I have never heard an explanation of this.

The media images of kids hurt in this latest attack were not good, and it does seem to me to be particularly ill timed given the uncertainties and uproar over Hamas forming government and whether it should be funded etc. Such an attack, unless justfied by a relatively recent fatal rocket attack on Israel, would seem to be counterproductive at this time to Israel's bigger interests.

Mad Democrat

WorldNetDaily: Democrat for Senate: Kill practicing 'gays'

From the above funny story:

A Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate in Ohio wants to make homosexual behavior a capital crime punishable by the death penalty.

Merrill Keiser Jr. is a trucker with no political experience, but he hopes to beat fellow Democrat Rep. Sherrod Brown in the May primary....

Liberal blogger Deborah White was less than thrilled with Keiser's candidacy and the media's response to it...

White speculated Keiser was planted by the GOP.

"He must be a Republican plant," she wrote. "Please ... someone tell me I'm correct."

Is parenthood held in contempt?

Guardian Unlimited | Columnists | Madeline Bunting: Our culture of contempt for parenthood

Madeline Bunting's column above is interesting, and the reasons she gives for low birthrates in Britain (essentially, that having children now goes against the cultural "values" of independence and consumerism) sounds somewhat plausible in the context of, say, the US and Australia as well as Britain.

However, as I noted in an earlier post, birth rates across all of Europe vary wildly, with Italy, Spain, Greece and Germany having substantially lower rates than Britain (which has about Australia's rate of 1.75 children per women.) The arguments that Bunting makes would, to my mind, make less sense in the more "macho" European countries, where one imagines that the independence of women is not emphasised quite so much. (I am just guessing here, remember.) Yet their rates are even lower than Britains.

Also, what accounts for the relatively high rates in France and Ireland? Both of these countries would seem to be as consumer orientated as Britain, but their birth rates are at 1.9 and 1.99 respectively. Maybe Muslims account for Frances high rate, but surely that can't apply to Ireland?

I guess each country can have their own particular reasons for their rates, but it is curious phenomena that there is such a variation across Europe. Discussions of cultural factors affecting the rate seem to me to usually be speculation without subtantial evidence behind them.