Sunday, May 31, 2009

Just stop it

I need to stop posting for a while. Work is busy, some stuff will be happening at home, and I need to know that that I can exercise self control for a change. (I'm finding it really hard not to post lately, even though I know I should be spending more time catching up on work.)

I have also just passed the 4 year mark with this blog. Time does indeed fly.

Not sure how long this will take, but I absolutely, positively will not be posting for 14 days; that is, unless Kevin Rudd is caught in flagrante delicto with a member of cabinet, in which case I will come back here to laugh.

The modern Gnostics of St Mary's (in exile, not due back any time soon)

I should really stop watching the services from "St Mary's in exile", but they hold a sort of morbid fascination for seeing how far the self delusion of Peter Kennedy and his followers can go.

This is, remember, a congregation which thinks it's terribly unjust and unfair that they should be told by their Archbishop that they are outside of the Catholic Church.

Yet, in today's homily, (not in written form on their website yet, you have to watch the video from the 10 minute mark) we learned from Peter Kennedy that:

* "the jury is still out" as to whether Jesus really existed or not. If he did exist, he was nothing like the Catholic Church has traditionally told us he was like. But anyway, it doesn't really matter if he existed or not. Because:

* the early Christians were all Gnostics who didn't see Jesus as a real historical figure, but only as a metaphor for "awakening" (the awakening being that God is all, All is One; you know - that sort of mystical mystery stuff.)

* that Constantine and the Council of Nicea is what stuffed up the church by going all anti-Gnostic

* modern scientists say there are billions of galaxies (true) and billions of universes (highly speculative)

* that the term "relational matrix" is a cool one for "God"

* that the power of goodness keeps coming out of creation. (I suppose the "relational matrix" sees to that, but it certainly makes it rather unclear as to what Kennedy thinks of animal suffering and evolution.)

As I've said before, I'm no university educated expert on theology and the history of Christianity, but I know enough to be mightily irritated by Kennedy and Fitzpatrick's modus operandi, which is to take a grab bag of whatever bits and pieces of revisionist history, scriptural exegesis, modern physics and speculative science they have found of interest over the last 20 years, and preach it to their congregation as if it were not academically controversial, and not a clear repudiation of Catholic doctrine and teaching.

Every homily contains statements which are exaggerations, over-simplifications, or simply misleading; but if it appeared in one of Peter or Terry's favourite recent authors, they'll repeat it anyway.

I still can't work out Peter Kennedy. I don't understand why his congregation think so highly of him. While this may be unfair, he comes across to me as probably an overly emotional man (with this aspect accounting for what some people describe as his "spiritual" nature,) but a not particularly bright one who is easily swayed by whatever radical re-assessment of Christianity he has read last. It remains my conviction that he should have just left the priesthood early in his career and led a normal life, instead of just having the ersatz family he found by living with a priest who had a son.

But instead, he seems to have decided to make a career of deliberately encouraging people to follow into his mystical, Gnostic, quasi-Eastern mystery-based replacement religion for Catholicism, under the pretence that this was clearly the way of all early Christians before it was corrupted. Perhaps I am being unduly charitable in suggesting that it's all because he is not so bright; maybe there is an element of dishonesty in there too.

Surely some in his congregation are going to start saying to themselves soon "gee, I don't really know that we are Catholic anymore," or even "perhaps I should read some counterclaims to a lot of this stuff Peter goes on about." We can only hope.

UPDATE: I see that the St Mary's blog has linked to this post. Welcome, gnostic heretics!

I note that, since this post was written, there was a later sermon in which Peter Kennedy claimed that a lot of his recent ideas were from books that his congregation had suggested he read, so that it was more a case of the congregation had led him to these radical ideas, rather than the other way around.

Well then, my characterisation of Kennedy as leading his group into Gnosticism may be wrong, but it makes no difference to my key point that it is rather ridiculous for them to claim they are upset that the Archbishop should say they are not Catholic if their position is that the physical reality of Christ himself (not just his resurrection!) is neither here nor there.

Visitors may also be interested in my recent post regarding Karen Armstrong's new book on God. After all, someone has probably already handed a copy of it to Kennedy to read.

What's that big yellow thing in the sky, then?

Forecasts of 'barbecue summer' for UK come with health warning | UK news | The Observer

According to the Observer:

Temperatures could today reach their highest so far this year and Britain can expect to bask in the heat until Wednesday, say forecasters.

But doctors have warned that the spell of hot weather - which is likely to return throughout much of the summer, according to meteorologists - could ultimately trigger a rise in numbers of skin cancer cases unless care is taken by sunbathers.

And what exactly constitutes a spell of hot weather there?:

Yesterday, the Met Office said it expected temperatures would reach at least 23C (73F) throughout most of Britain.

"There is just a chance that it could top 26 degrees, which we experienced on Friday, and so make Sunday the hottest day of the year so far," added forecaster Andy Hobson.....

"The high temperatures and sunshine should last until Wednesday, when clouds will begin to build up over Britain," Hobson added.

Oh, from an Australian perspective, that's pathetic!

Friday, May 29, 2009

Please, donate to find a cure for Tim

This is pretty funny. As I noted earlier this week, Tim of Will Type for Food fame did not like Samson and Delilah, a new Australian film. Found it quite boring and tedious, and could not understand the critical acclaim.

Shortly after expressing this view, it won a prize at Cannes. It was Tim against the world.

Well, we all thought, Cannes is full of left leaning critics who, just like David Stratton and our local crowd, would warm to a film about the social problems plaguing Central Australian aborigines.

But today, conservative Andrew Bolt writes a kind of review praising the film too. In fact, he says it is "impeccably paced," yet the pacing seemed to be exactly the thing that Tim criticised.

Clearly, Tim is suffering from some unusual form of cognitive deficit. He needs treatment.

Given sufficient funds, I can imagine a sort of reverse Clockwork Orange treatment: strapped in a dentist's chair, eyes pried open, but this time injected with some pleasure inducing substance while re-watching the film, until he gets it, just like the rest of the world.

Either that or I should just go see it to reassure Tim that he is not wrong. I love pre-hating Australian films, after all.

Update: Alternatively, I suppose there could be a sort of failed critic's gulag set up, presumably in some location that is extremely boring so as to ensure that, when they are allowed to watch a tedious film again, it seems thrilling by comparison. Readers are free to suggest the most appropriate Australian location for such a camp. I'm thinking parts of South Australia, myself, although even the quietest town there still has the thrill of avoiding acid barrels.

How to get arrested in Dubai

Dubai dream jobs turn to nightmares | Business |

Just work there.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

JD's dating strategy

The bit about shared allergies really made me laugh:

Everyone needs a hobby...

While looking around for any blogs commenting about Peter Kennedy and this week's Australian Story, I found a Melbourne blogger who has this as the first line in his blog sub-title:

"My most present concern to-day is the denounciation of the extremes of pornography,i.e., BESTIALITY."

His occupation is "lay-theologian". Keeps him occupied, I guess.

"A slow motion time bomb"

Arctic thaw could prompt huge release of carbon dioxide : Nature News

It's all about what happens when permafrost stops being being permafrost:
Scientists have long debated how the global climate might be affected by thawing of the Arctic's permanently frozen soils, known as permafrost. When permafrost melts, microbes decompose organic matter in the soil, producing greenhouse gases. But when plants have access to warmer, deeper soils, they grow faster and take in carbon dioxide....

The study by Schuur and his colleagues, published today in Nature1, shows that after 15 years of thaw, plants initially grow faster and take in more carbon than is released by the melting tundra, so the ecosystem is an overall carbon sink. But after a few decades, the balance shifts and the ecosystem becomes a source of carbon.

"The plants are growing faster, but after a few decades the rate of carbon loss from the soils is so high the plants can't keep up," says Schuur.

It's estimated that permafrost soils store about twice as much carbon than is currently present in the atmosphere2, and the stores of carbon are unlikely to run out any time soon. "It's a slow-motion time bomb," says Schuur.

The end result:
Extrapolations of the experimental findings to the whole Arctic region suggest that CO2 emissions from future permafrost thawing could be roughly a billion tonnes per year — of the same order of magnitude as emissions from current deforestation of the tropics. Burning of fossil fuels releases about 8.5 billion tonnes of CO2 a year.
Note that the experiment also does not look at the release of methane, a much more powerful greenhouse gas, from ex-permafrost.

Polar ocean acidification on track?

Rate of Iceland Sea acidification from time series measurements

I haven't read any commentary on this bit of research into the measured drop in ocean pH around Iceland, but it sure sounds like it is in line with predications made about how the polar oceans will suffer first under ocean acidification from CO2. Here's the conclusion to the paper (bold is mine):
The anthropogenic increase of atmospheric carbon dioxide affects the Nordic Seas both at the surface and at depth. In the surface, the pH has decreased from 8.13 to 8.08 between 1985 and 2008, and the aragonite saturation (Ò), which is naturally low 10 anyway, decreased from 1.6 to 1.5 between 1985 and 2008. In the deep water, the pressure effect adds to the low temperature, and above the depths of about 1500 m, the aragonite saturation horizon is shoaling at a rate of about 4myr−1. This shoaling results from extensive vertical mixing which transmits atmospheric signatures to waters as deep as 1500m (Messias et al., 2008). Large areas of the benthos are thus 15 undergoing a rapid transition from being exposed to waters that are supersaturated to being exposed to waters that are undersaturated with respect to aragonite. There is an urgent need to clarify the effects of these changes on associated benthic ecosystems, especially at shallower depths, where the population of carbonate forming benthic biota are much greater.

Labor State loves coal

Clive Palmer announces Galilee Basin coal mine funding | The Courier-Mail

I'm sure I heard the Queensland Treasurer praising this new massive coal mine (on line in 2013) on the radio yesterday, but I can't find a link right now.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

All about that dream (no, not that one)

Oxford don Mary Beard writes of her "great lecturing disasters", although they really don't seem so spectacular to me.

Of more interest is the fact that she opens with this:
Students (and ex-students) dream about exam disasters. I still occasionally wake up with the horror that I've just arrived in an exam room to find that it's the wrong paper (I've revised for Latin Literature, but it's Greek philosophy on the table).
I not sure to what extent I had previously realised that such dreams really are ubiquitous. Certainly, it seems that I'll have one of them a couple of times per year, but I don't recall ever talking to anyone else about them.

One of the comments refers people to this XKCD comic on the topic, which really captures the dreams perfectly. (Especially the line "I thought I had finished my requirements already." I know that used to be a common thought in my exam failure dreams.)

It seems rather curious that the sleeping mind keeps going back to this theme. Then again, leaving the house without pants doesn't seem a dream worthy of repetition either. Funny things, brains.

Update: incidentally, mine are always about tertiary education, never high school. For people who don't go to university, do they have these dreams about their last year of high school for the rest of their lives? Or are they free of them?

About Guantnamo

Guantanamo is not the hell-hole we imagine | Tim Reid - Times Online

A pretty interesting article here on Guantanamo by a guy who's seen it recently.

Chu catches up

It was noted at this very same vastly under-read blog you are now reading about 2 years ago, but Obama's "climate guru" Steven Chu has caught up with me and suggested that a lot can be achieved simply by painting roofs white. (OK, I was just reporting someone else's promotion of white, but all the same....)

Fuel cell for your home - available soon


Some time ago I had some posts about domestic fuel cells in Japan, which use natural gas. (I might even have mentioned this Australian company before too, but I don't have time to check right now.)

But while stumbling around the web today, I found the above link to just published marketing stuff about a new, Australian, modular fuel cell.

It certainly seems to make sense to me. Why do they never get much attention?

Great headline...

Jesus has doubts about his relationship with Madonna

Some interesting commentary on North Korea

And by "best possible response," I still mean a less-than-stellar response | Daniel W. Drezner

Try this article from Foreign Policy too.

Extreme vice-regal-ness

Canadian governor asks for tasty treat – raw seal heart

The Queen's representative in north America was visiting an Inuit community in Nunavut, in the Arctic, when a couple of dead seals were laid out before her in ­symbolic defiance of a looming EU ban on seal products. With an ulu blade, a traditional knife, she bent over one of the freshly killed seals and cut along its body. After firmly slicing through the flesh and pulling back the skin, she turned to the woman beside her and asked for a taste. "Could I try the heart?" she said.

A chunk of the organ was duly cut out and handed to Jean, who took a few bites, chewed on it and pronounced it good.

"It's like sushi," she said, according to the Canadian Press news agency. "And it's very rich in protein."

When Quentin Bryce does something like that, my respect for her will increase.

The Sistine Chapel - brought to you by Weber

Humans, the Cooking Apes - Review -
“Catching Fire” is a plain-spoken and thoroughly gripping scientific essay that presents nothing less than a new theory of human evolution, one he calls “the cooking hypothesis,” one that Darwin (among others) simply missed. Apes began to morph into humans, and the species Homo erectus emerged some two million years ago, Mr. Wrangham argues, for one fundamental reason: We learned to tame fire and heat our food.
However, I'm not sure that we should be so keen on a theory if it means Gordon Ramsay is at the pinnacle of human evolution.

By the way, the book apparently does an excellent take down on the "raw food" movement:
He cites studies showing that a strict raw-foods diet cannot guarantee an adequate energy supply, and notes that, in one survey, 50 percent of the women on such a diet stopped menstruating. There is no way our human ancestors survived, much less reproduced, on it. He seems pleased to be able to report that raw diets make you urinate too often, and cause back and hip problems.

Dubai is Number 1

Report: Dubai Leads World in Price Declines -
Dubai prices have dropped 32 percent in the last year and 40 percent in the last quarter, according to the latest edition of the Knight Frank Global House Price Index, released today.
Heh, heh, heh. Couldn't happen to a nicer country built on the back of poorly treated impoverished migrant labour.

Mind you, it appears they are (finally) doing something to help ensure workers get paid. Have a look at this link for a wage protection system that looks like it was designed by Barry Jones.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The wisdom of Hollywood (sarcasm mode)

Brooke Shields Regrets Not Losing Virginity Sooner - Brooke Shields :

Oh yes, this is just the message young women need to hear: you don't like your body much? Have sex earlier, that'll help.

Thanks Brooke, but haven't you got something else to do?

A good news medical research story

Scientists cure paralysis in mice (ScienceAlert)

The research is from Western Australia, and indicates a possible cure for "floppy baby syndrome", which is one of those tragic diseases where the child is paralysed and usually dies while still a baby.

Spinning games

How Rudd spins the gallery | Herald Sun Andrew Bolt Blog

Bolt is right: where's the lefty complaint (from the likes of David Marr) about the Rudd government intense manipulation of the media?

(More than one journalist on Mediawatch last night complained it was worse than the Howard government.)

In other Bolt related commentary: I find Gerard Henderson's defence of GG Quentin Bryce a little puzzling. The overtly political role of her African trip seems to me very different from other GG's visiting nations to support Australian activities. (I know there was some of that in Africa, but damn little as far as I could see.)

Henderson even calls Bryce a successful Queensland State govenor. Funny, but from up here, she attracted plenty of negative attention. It's worth remembering this quote, which was repeated in The Times:
"She's a control freak. She's all sweet and understanding in public, but in private it was a whole different ball game," one disgruntled former staff member told The Australian newspaper.
No wonder Kevin Rudd likes her!

Monday, May 25, 2009

The Economist on North Korea

North Korea v South Korea: A merry dance | The Economist

This short story from a few days ago about strange political behaviour from North Korea, even before today's nuclear and missile tests:
On May 15th, it announced that it was unilaterally tearing up wage and other agreements governing the Kaesong industrial zone, a joint North-South business project just inside North Korea. South Koreans, it says, can either lump it or leave. The 100 or so South Korean firms that employ 38,000 North Koreans and generate millions of dollars a year for the cash-strapped regime of Kim Jong Il are making contingency plans to bring their people home.

This row joins a veritable conga of others, and not just with South Korea.
It's all a worry, to say the least.

UPDATE: Time magazine's article on this is also worrying. It appears most analysts believe Kim has another half dozen nuclear weapons.

As the article notes, the US has virtually nothing new to try because "the North hasn't given Obama even the slimmest reed on which to hang an alteration in policy."

Can't the West (or South) make contact with any sane potential replacement for the ruling family from within North Korea? Does anyone know whether the 26 year old son rumoured to be the replacement for Kim Jong Il is more sane than his father?

An innovative salary package

If Plastic Surgery Won’t Convince You, What Will? -

The opening paragraphs in this story in the New York Times show how, um, advanced, the Czechs are when it comes to salary packaging:

PRAGUE — When Petra Kalivodova, a 31-year-old nurse, was considering whether to renew her contract at a private health clinic here, special perks helped clinch the deal: free German lessons, five weeks of vacation, and a range of plastic-surgery options, including complimentary silicone-enhanced breasts.

“I would rather have plastic surgery than a free car,” said Ms. Kalivodova.

Her reasoning is a model of altruism:

“I feel better when I look in the mirror,” she added. “We were always taught that if a nurse is nice, intelligent, loves her work and looks attractive, then patients will recover faster.”
(To be fair, the story notes that this scheme has had significant criticism within the country.)

Peter Kennedy alert

Australian Story tonight is about soon to be ex-priest (well, I bet that's the outcome anyway) Peter Kennedy of St Mary's South Brisbane "parish in exile" notoriety.

His previous media appearances have left me puzzled as to why he appears to be viewed as somewhat charismatic by his followers. We'll see how he comes across tonight.

Meanwhile, in this week's homily from his fellow renegade priest Terry Fitzpatrick, we have these comments about how priestly doubt is, seemingly, virtuous:

Jesus' bodily rising into heaven is an item of faith that the institutional church wants us to believe was an event that actually took place. If you do as the Christian tourist of Jerusalem they will take you to the place just outside of the Old Jerusalem where they claim Jesus bodily disappeared into the clouds and then hurtling, one presumes, through space in a journey to "heaven". Scientists tell us that traveling at the speed of light the body would still be somewhere on the outer reaches of the Milky Way Galaxy.

It is almost unbelievable that we are required, in an age of scientific understanding to submit our intellects to a literal belief in a bodily resurrection and ascension of Jesus into heaven....

The impertinence of certainty was brought out clearly for me just recently with two interviews which were on the radio. The first was on the Richard Vidler program when Peter Kennedy was asked by Richard about his views on heaven and hell and Peter's response was summed up by him saying he was not really sure about what he believed, or how he could articulate what he now believed, it was all very incredibly mysterious this life we are emerged in. The following day Archbishop Bathersby was interviewed on the Madonna King show and when asked about what he believed about heaven and hell, he said he had never been more certain and about heaven or hell.
I've always quite liked the ascension: it has a certain dramatic flair that seems very apt. As I recall, Jesus disappeared into the clouds. What happened there, by way of how the destination of heaven was reached, is left open: it seems more than a bit disingenuous of Fitzpatrick to talk of Jesus bodily soaring through the galaxy. (I know people say that Jesus' followers thought heaven was just beyond the crystal sphere that is the sky. However, I am not sure how we know that with absolute certainty.)

Seems to me that Kennedy, Fitzpatrick and some undefined proportion of their followers are cultural Catholics only: in all other respects, they have at least two ready made churches to which they could belong: liberal Anglicanism or the Reformed Catholic Church (which could really do with more professional website design.)

Update: while we're talking bodily levitation, I assume that Terry Fitzpatrick takes the Mitchell side of this exchange on the topic.

Update 2: What's happened to the link to Fitzpatrick's homily? It's not working now.

Anyway, I note that in this post (which linked to his homily) they have a link to a review of a new book by Richard Holloway, who I see (via Andrew Bolt's blog) is heading to Australia for the Sydney Writers Festival. He is an ex bishop who, as the Sydney Morning Herald reports " still preaches from the pulpit, performs baptisms and weddings and even presides at communion", yet describes himself as a "Christian agnostic".

As I say, Kennedy and Fitzpatrick (and their congregation) are perfect matches for liberal Anglicanism.

Update 3: I had many interruptions while trying to watch the show last night, and it's not yet available on the Australian Story website. I did notice lots of attention given to Terry Fitzpatrick being a nice father to his son. It was all a very soft treatment of Kennedy, from what I could tell, but that's pretty typical of Australian Story generally.

Update 4: gosh, I find myself agreeing with Mark Bahnisch who writes of last night's show:
It must also be said that the show approached the genre of hagiography, and was full of half-truths at best. Unfortunately, Australian Story generally appears to be an outlet for PR spin, under the guise of human interest, and almost every episode, really, is quite an indictment of what the ABC should be about…

No need to post now

Rudd on the turn? | Herald Sun Andrew Bolt Blog

I was going to do a short post saying the same thing: yesterday's edition of Insiders was remarkable for the uniformity of the criticism of Rudd's political "spin" style. Even David Marr got in the act, and Andrew Bolt wasn't there to be in furious agreement with him.

But on another minor point: has anyone else noticed how our PM, when talking "off the cuff" to a camera crew, seems to often studiously look down, and does not make much eye contact with the camera? You can see it at the 48 second mark of this clip from last week. I am sure some body language expert could make something out of that, but personally, I think it looks better to look at who you are talking to. It's a wonder his spin team haven't got him to stop doing it.

Sure to impress Tim

Australian film wins Cannes first film prize -

Tim really, really did not like this film, and cannot understand the critical reaction. So, naturally, it won something at Cannes.

Quality TV

Around The World In 20 Years - TV Reviews -

Michael Palin's re-visit of Dubai and India, shown here on the ABC last night, seemed particularly enjoyable. ( I see that it was on in the UK at the end of last year.)

I particularly liked:

* the Indian pants washing that was (allegedly) superb at removing stains, but seemed to mean you would have to replace the buttons every time;

* the surprise that they still build substantial dhow-like boats in a part of India with wood from Malaysia. (I assume wood from Malaysia is still relatively cheap.)

* the swing chair in the Taj Mahal hotel. (I wonder if the room survived the terrorist attack.)

Sunday, May 24, 2009

For those who care..

I did spot the space shuttle on Friday evening, after all. (I had forgotten how significantly less bright it is compared to the International Space Station.)

Git along, (really) little doggies

Farms downsize with miniature cows - Los Angeles Times

Miniature cows really do seem to make sense, and not just for those looking for innovative ways to grow their own food in the backyard:
Their miniature Herefords consume about half that of a full-sized cow yet produce 50% to 75% of the rib-eyes and fillets, according to researchers and budget-conscious farmers.

"We get more sirloin and less soup bone," Ali said. "People used to look at them and laugh. Now, they want to own them."

In the last few years, ranchers across the country have been snapping up mini Hereford and Angus calves that fit in a person's lap. Farmers who raise mini Jerseys brag how each animal provides 2 to 3 gallons of milk a day, though they complain about having to crouch down on their knees to reach the udders.

Talking mussels

The Minimalist - ‘Un-Frenching’ Mussels -

The New York Times runs a recipe for "Southeast Asian Mussel Salad". I'm not convinced: I'm a big fan of mussels, but even so I don't think they look attractive outside of their shell, and so resist recipes that involve them naked, so to speak.

As it happens, here at Opinion Dominion HQ, we ate them on Friday night. One thing that puzzles me a bit is how cheap they now are. In Brisbane, they are sold in 1 kg plastic packets from either South Australia or Victoria. Even at an expensive fish shop, this costs around $11 to $12. The ones we ate on Friday were from the dirt cheap Vietnamese fish shop not far from where we live, and cost $7.00!

I don't know what the mark up would be, but that just seems to me to be extraordinarily cheap for a farmed product that has to be grown in the ocean, fished out of the sea, sorted, packed, and transported in a refrigerated truck for 1,000 or so kilometres to meet their fate in some white wine, garlic and breadcrumbs.

Now that I am on the topic, Sydney rock oysters have been very cheap for a very long time too, even from the expensive fish shops. (Mind you, they often are very small.)

I can only assume that being a shellfish farmer is not an instant way to riches.

More muddled private lives of the rich and famous

Oh God, I wanted her to die - Times Online

This is interesting summary of David Niven's unhappy second marriage. Mind you, he has to take some responsibility for her alcoholism as it seems to have been pretty much a response to his being a philanderer of (apparently) the highest order.

Interesting twist: his wife claimed to have had a "quickie" with President Kennedy in the White House.

And in associated news: a young aide (aged 19!) who had an 18 month relationship with JFK is finally writing a book about it.

Friday, May 22, 2009

That cat

The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
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Don't believe it

In The Australian today, they extract some Tarantino love from The Times:
QUENTIN Tarantino swaggered back to the scene of his greatest triumph yesterday with a World War II revenge film that critics at the Cannes film festival greeted with relief and cheers. Innglourious Basterds, set in Nazi-occupied France, is a violent, occasionally funny love letter to cinema filmed in four languages and starring Brad Pitt.
Yet, as I can't stand Quentin Tarantino and his movies, I have been taking an interest in critical reaction. A Los Angeles Times blog (and that paper, if any, should have a reliable take on movie critics) notes that the film is being "spun" heavily, and the biggest critics are not so impressed:
...a highlight from the [The Guardian's] Peter Bradshaw review: "Quentin Tarantino's cod-WW2 schlocker about a Jewish-American revenge squad intent on killing Nazis in German-occupied France is awful. It is achtung-achtung-ach-mein-Gott atrocious."

The reviews keep coming in from all media outposts, with Variety mixed, the Hollywood Reporter largely negative and Time magazine's Richard and Mary Corliss declaring the movie "a misfire." My colleague Ken Turan, who was also at the screening, calls the film a "self-indulgent piece of violent alternate history."
Even the positive reviews in a few English papers have parts that indicate reservations that have perhaps been overcome as a result of the reviewer being a bit too excited at being in Cannes. For example, in The Independent it gets 4 stars but these comments:
The way the Germans are drawn is so broad that it makes the characterisations in Allo, Allo! seem restrained....

The violence is often extreme – the Jewish Nazi hunters have a habit of scalping their victims; one hunter likes to batter in his antagonist's head with a baseball bat; and a shoot-out in an underground bar is sheer bloody carnage – but it comes in bursts and has a comic book element about it.

Some will be offended, although it's hard to get too upset about a film made with such geekish enthusiasm.

And in The Times review (also giving it 4 stars) is this:
What’s difficult to square is the occasional Springtime for Hitler scenes, featuring an apoplectic Führer, with the darker corners of the film. The almost casual savagery perpetrated by Pitt and his German rival can occasionally look unnervingly out of place next to the lighter Mel Brooks-style moments.
Interestingly, in the comments that follow The Times review, there are many people wondering why reviewers seem to be in love with Tarantino. For example:
Despite what most critics will say about this, people are sick of Tarantino's formula of 1970's cultural references, inane dialogue about superheroes or old TV shows, gratuitous over-the-top violence, and ideas ripped off from Sergio Leone. He tries way too hard to be "cool", and it's annoying.
I am feeling reasonable satisfied there is enough negative talk out there (even within the positive reviews) that this film will not be seen as a critical or even commercial success.

(Although, sad to say, Tarantino fan boys will probably buy enough DVDs to let him make another movie.)

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Playing along with "tag"

As if this blog didn't already have enough random thoughts spread liberally throughout, Saint has tagged me for a "8 random things about me" thing-ee.

I guess I should feel honoured that, after 4 years of blogging, someone finally tagged me for something. Who knows, that long awaited $100,000 payment for posting some information that has changed some rich eccentric's life may soon be on its way too. (See that Paypal button? I don't even know if it works.)

Anyhoo, as they say in the classics:

1. I had my appendix out at about age 8. As a result, I knew that nurses shouldn't let a drip empty so that air gets into your vein, as (so I was told) you could die from an air bubble in your blood stream. Which leads to:

2. A couple of years later, while on holiday one Christmas in a country town in Victoria, I got a bout of gastro and was taken to a very doddery old doctor. He decided to give me an injection to quell the vomiting. When filling the syringe, I could see that he had sucked up some air along with the medicine from the ampoule. I expected him to invert the needle and squeeze the air out, as I had seen doctors and nurses always do, and which I understood to be rather important due to the potentially fatal result of injecting someone with air.

He didn't. He just took my arm and gave me the injection, air and all. OK, it wasn't a huge amount of air, but he emptied the syringe, including the bubbly bits at the end.

It seemed to me that there was a distinct possibility that I was about to die, and in a pretty pathetic sort of way if it was due to the simple carelessness of a doctor who should have retired 10 years earlier. I didn't say anything, and left the surgery, whereupon my my mother asked me if I was alright. She said that as soon as I had the injection, I had gone a ghastly shade of pale, and injections had never been a bother to me before.

I explained the story to her. She understood my shock, but after sitting down and still being alive 10 minutes later, it seemed my brush with death would pass.

However, I still occasionally wonder if there is a bubble lurking in me somewhere.

3. I highly recommend Victorinox steak knives. A sharper steak knife surely does not exist.

4. As a young adult I once got sick on home made Harvey Wallbangers. Last time I checked, I still feel queasy at the smell of Galliano.

5. I have eaten fish sperm (well, fish seminal vessels, to be precise.) Hey it was in Japan, OK?

6. The most famous person I have ever been physically close to in real life: probably Michael Collins, Apollo 11 astronaut, in the bookshop at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. (I think he worked at the Museum at the time.)

7. I once landed in a glider while accidentally leaving the landing gear up. (I lost interest in learning how to fly them soon after that.)

8. After getting over the shock of having Sister Lawrence (the scariest Irish nun in the school) as my Grade 1 and Grade 2 teacher, I was routinely pretty well behaved in school. But in (I think) Grade 4, we had a new lay teacher, who on the first day mis-interpretted something I did and instantly decided I was in fact a trouble maker. No, no, no, I tried to say: I am one of the good boys. The injustice and novelty of the situation did not last long: within a week she was hit by a bus on the way to school and died.

Maybe this is why, ever since, I have felt all of my opinions are directly vindicated by God.*

I suspect anyone I want to tag has probably already done this. Caz?

* a not entirely serious suggestion.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


It started raining in the western suburbs of Brisbane last night at around 7.30. It was light to moderate intensity, and didn't stop all night.

But this morning, it has become heavier and heavier. It's 2.30pm now, and after a slight easing and lightening of the sky, it seems to have just re-started with renewed intensity. (Mind you, weather radar indicates it has stopped for a few hours north of the city.)

Rainfall totals around here for the last 24 hours are going to be phenomenal.

UPDATE: Well, glad that's over. It's Thursday morning, the sun is (nearly) out and rain has stopped after another solid drenching last night.

The good thing about it: if your house didn't get water inside during that event, it never will. (Save for wind blowing the roof off, of course.) Many parts of Brisbane had 200 - 300 mm of rain over 24 - 48 hours:

(Remember, this only shows one 24 hour period to this morning.)

Dam levels are up to 72% (yay) after being down to about 16% a couple of years ago.

My house is OK, except the phone is cut. Water in a Telstra pit somewhere, no doubt.

Someone who works at my office is an hour late to work, stuck in traffic somewhere. (A lot of roads are still cut this morning.) I think she's also had no power at home since yesterday afternoon.

Anyhow, work will be busy, I can't get onto the internet at home. Blogging will be light for a little while.

Lie down to lose weight

Sleep May Be Factor In Weight Control

Here's another study suggesting that there is a connection between inadequate sleep and weight gain. It has some surprises:

"When we analyzed our data by splitting our subjects into 'short sleepers' and 'long sleepers,' we found that short sleepers tended to have a higher BMI, 28.3 kg/m2, compared to long sleepers, who had an average BMI of 24.5. Short sleepers also had lower sleep efficiency, experienced as greater difficulty getting to sleep and staying asleep," said lead investigator Arn Eliasson, M.D.

Surprisingly, overweight individuals tended to be more active than their normal weight counterparts, taking significantly more steps than normal weight individuals: 14,000 compared to 11,300, a nearly 25 percent difference, and expending nearly 1,000 more calories a day—3,064 versus 2,080.

However, those additional energy expenditures did not manifest in reduced weight.

Go to sleep and lose some weight. I guess you could call it the Garfield Plan for weight loss.

Religion and violence

'Religious violence' a small part of the story

Dr John Dickson argues against the claim that religion causes violence, from the Christian perspective. It's not a bad essay.

But the main reason it is worth a post is because of some of the, shall we say, more than slightly antagonistic comments in response. For example, "No guy" writes:
Sorry "Doctor", bet you are a theist, therefor your reasoning is based on faith, which makes no sense, as reason and faith a polar opposites. Therefor everything you've said in this article is null and void because you believe in an invisible magical man in the sky. So all the effort you've put into writing this article is wasted. You are a religious person, therefor anything you say can not be trusted, because you blatantly and ignorantly refuse to think logically, with reason, and instead rely on faith, or an absence of reason.
Well, argument over then.

And Elizabeth S:
You believe you can only justify love and compassion because some celestial dictator has told you to do so or because only he/she/it can imbue value in the world??? What a creepy worldview.
(Elisabeth does raise an old philosophical question, it must be admitted, but it deserves more thought than dismissal as "creepy".)

There is certainly an aggressiveness in the new style atheism, isn't there?

An unusual suggestion

Is Everything Made of Mini Black Holes?

These guys suggest that the LHC may indeed make mini black holes, but they might behave exactly as "normal" sub atomic particles.

The suggestion has been made before that evaporating black holes may leave a "remnant", the exact nature of which seemed to be left rather vague, but I'm pretty sure it has been said that they may just look like an electron.

The difference in this paper is that they propose a different theoretical basis by which the LHC may create mini black holes in the first place. (Not via tiny extra dimension, which has been the idea behind existing speculation on the LHC creating mini black holes.)

If the new theory is true, I would assume it must have major cosmological implications. That's not really covered in the paper, I don't think, but maybe such further speculation will come soon.

Meanwhile, we may all have black holes in our brains.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


Technology Review: TR10: Traveling-Wave Reactor

Technology Review has a short article about a proposed new reactor design that sounds almost too good to be true:

As it runs, the core in a traveling-­wave reactor gradually converts nonfissile material into the fuel it needs. Nuclear reactors based on such designs "theoretically could run for a couple of hundred years" without refueling, says John G­illeland, manager of nuclear programs at Intellectual Ventures.

Gilleland's aim is to run a nuclear reactor on what is now waste.

...the traveling-wave reactor needs only a thin layer of enriched U-235. Most of the core is U-238, millions of pounds of which are stockpiled around the world as leftovers from natural uranium after the U-235 has been scavenged. The design provides "the simplest possible fuel cycle," says Charles W. Forsberg, executive director of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Project at MIT, "and it requires only one uranium enrichment plant per planet."
I wonder how you stop the reaction, though...

That'd be right

There's a new branch of science yet to be investigated: how does a good space shuttle viewing schedule cause rain and cloud in Brisbane?

Remember this post of only a few days ago? Now read the forecast for Brisbane for much of the same period:

Forecast for Tuesday Evening
Rain periods with possible local thunder.

Forecast for Wednesday

Rain periods with possible local thunder.

Thursday Rain periods, windy Min 16 Max 19
Friday Showers, windy Min 15 Max 21
Saturday Showers, windy Min 17 Max 23
Sunday Shower or two Min 18 Max 25
Monday Shower or two Min 17 Max 25
Tuesday Shower or two Min 17 Max 25

Another reason coal is not cool

30% Ocean Mercury Rise Linked to Asian Coal Plants

The topic of mercury in fish (as well as dolphins and whales) has been discussed here before, so it's of some interest to read the article above about research indicating that coal burning has increased mercury levels in the oceans:
Data analysis of the water samples indicated that total mercury levels in the North Pacific Ocean water have risen about 30 percent over the last 20 years.

The authors attribute the rise to increases in global mercury atmospheric emission rates, particularly from Asia. “We believe the majority of Asian mercury emission comes from coal burning (for electricity generation),” stated William Landing, a marine scientist with Florida State University, one of the lead investigators for this study.

Sounds about right

First Things - For Obama, Talk is Cheap About Mutual Respect on the Life Issues


HASHIMA, Japan, 2002 documentary version on Vimeo

I haven't watched it all, but it's about a tiny abandoned Japanese mining island, and is full of post-apocalyptic images of suddenly deserted buildings. (It looks at its history as an incredibly densely populated place too.)

Found via Japansoc, which will be added to my bookmarks when I can finally bother editing them.

About Ikea

BBC NEWS | Europe | In search of Europe: Sweden

Here's an article talking about why Ikea is internationally popular, and asks the question "how does Ikea manage to unify Europeans around its brand and its products, where the parliament so often fails to do so?"

A professor from Stockholm suggests:
"..Customers are picking Ikea because it provides certain values."

Ikea's senior staff travel to Almhult, in southern Sweden, to have those values inculcated into them. It is as close to a company town as you get these days - there's an Ikea hotel, a private Ikea museum, and a host of Ikea laboratories, communications and personnel units. You are never far from a self-assembled bookcase or nice-looking but really very cheap mug.

I hope the town square in Almhult is full of plastic balls for everyone to play in.

Rudd's new health measure

BBC NEWS | Health | Keep working 'to avoid dementia'

What do you know: not being able to get the pension til 67 can be sold as a health measure.

Monday, May 18, 2009

While we're talking Catholicism...

Father Alberto Cutie's scandal doesn't change the debate about clerical celibacy. - Slate Magazine

How unusual. Slate runs a column that doesn't do a bad job at defending celibacy for the Catholic priesthood.

Personally, however, I believe the rules should be changed to something close to that within the Eastern Orthodox church.

I watch so that you don't have to

For people who are curious as to how the "St Mary's [South Brisbane] parish in exile" conducts its masses, they have been posting videos of their services at their website for the last few weeks.

Unfortunately, they only seem to stay up for a week at a time, but I have watched a few of them now.

The latest one, from yesterday, also has the homily in written form.

A few observations:

* I could be wrong, but the latest video indicates a significantly smaller congregation than in the first couple of weeks;

* They never seem to incorporate an Act of Penitence. Given that few Catholics regularly attend confession these days, I would have thought that this part of the Mass served an increasingly useful function (even if it does not, according to the Church, actually give absolution.) But dropping this is typical of the strand of Christianity that preaches social justice as its main theme: they love to tell others about the importance of being fair and nice to everyone, but don't spend a lot of time examining themselves for any sign of "sin". (For them, it's such an outdated, patriarchal sort of concept.)

Of course, you can argue that a lot of damage has been caused to the Church by those who hypocritically preached the rules, but failed to live up to the standards themselves. (The Church's reaction to child abuse in the clergy gets a lot of airtime from those who attend St Mary's.) But (I would argue) from an intellectual point of view, such hypocrisy is not as corrosive to the core of the faith as the modernising Gaia-incorporating semi-realism of the type of faith St Mary's seems to propagate.

* Nor do they seem to bother with the Creed. (I suspect that it is because it would require too many amendments to bear anything close to the original.)

* The Lord's Prayer is incorporated but begins "Our Mother, our Father ..." Does any reader know of any other parish that does this? I know the suggestion has been around for a while, as I recall the late Bede Griffiths came up with it during a talk he gave in Brisbane years ago. But I am not sure if the idea has been adopted anywhere other than St Mary's. (Bede Griffiths was an interesting character, an English Benedictine monk who "went native" in India, but whether he was really operating within Catholic doctrine by the end of his life is very doubtful. I think he just avoided official censure by spending most of his time in India and concentrating on meditation.)

* As you can see from Peter Kennedy's homily (linked above) , he's very big on the whole Gaia-ish, birthing, Creation, life-giving, it's all about relationships, God-(whatever that might be)-just-wants-us-to-be-nice-environmentalists-and-kind-to-gays, view of Christianity.

There seems little doubt that Peter Kennedy would be a fan of Matthew Fox, the former Catholic priest (now Californian Episcopalian) whose pagan incorporating "creation spirituality" brought him a lot of attention a couple of decades ago until he got banned from teaching theology and chucked out of his order by our present Pope. Like Fox, Kennedy like to quote Meister Eckhart, who also was in a spot of doctrinal bother during his life.

Kennedy quotes in his homily another Catholic writer who I hadn't heard of before (Diarmund O'Murchu - his status within the Sacred Heart Missionary Order remains unclear to me) but this from his website indicates he is doctrinally probably already outside of his Church:
Jesus did not come to rescue or redeem us – there is nothing from which we need to be rescued, other than our own patriarchal dysfunctionality which is our problem and not God’s...
In another essay, O'Murchu explains how the term "Kingdom of God" should rendered differently:
And what would we replace it with? John Dominic Crossan (in Borg 1998, 22-55) offers one of the best suggestions I know: a companionship of empowerment.
I can see it now: "Our Mother our Father...thy companionship of empowerment come".

For a priest who complains that his Archbishop is mistaken when he says he is operating outside of the Catholic faith, Peter Kennedy sure spends a lot of time quoting those who are doctrinally radical.

* Kennedy said when he set up his "parish in exile" that it would be reformed with a bigger role for women. Unless it decides that it can ordain its own woman priest (which I reckon it is likely to do sooner or later) it is hard to imagine a bigger women's role than it already seems to have.

It is clearly already a church dominated by feminist critique. At this week's mass, one of the congregation asked them to pray that the Family Law Act go back to taking protection seriously. (Clearly, she is involved in the current advocacy that is trying to get the government to reverse the presumption of shared care for children between parents.) Another women took the opportunity to give a mini lecture on how women giving birth lying down was a terrible patriarchal idea, and indigenous women knew how to do it better.

It's really eye-rolling stuff. I don't see that they are ever going to attract a broader band of followers from within the Church than that they already have, and it will likely dwindle over time as well.

I suspect that it was at the peak of its popularity during the long period of the Howard government, when nearly everyone in the congregation perceived that they had a fundamentally unjust government to rally against. Now that it's Labor all around, and the appeal of hearing an anti-Howard rant every week has gone, one wonders whether it can maintain its appeal.

Weekend view

The view from a lookout near O'Reilly's in the Lamington National Park.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Some encouragement to pro-lifers

US abortion views shift, majority are 'pro-life': poll

The "pro-life," anti-abortion opinion has risen from 44 percent a year ago, while the number of Americans who described themselves as "pro-choice" fell from 50 percent a year ago to 42 percent now.

The results "represent a significant shift," said Gallup, which interviewed 1,015 adults from May 7-10.

Perhaps a reaction to Obama's partial birth abortion position? (And his quip about not wanting his "punished" by a pregnancy.)

Science roundup from Science Daily

There's no common theme here, they just struck me as interesting:

* a common viral infection may have something to do with high blood pressure. (I think the idea has been around for a while, or at least with respect to atherosclerosis.) This research was done with mice. (The hardest part was probably putting the little blood pressure cuffs on their skinny arms.)

* Having a heart attack right now? Chewable aspirin gets in fast, just like blue liquid gets into chalk. (Sorry, vast international readership, the reference will only be understood to Australians of a certain age, and it's not even that funny.)

* Ginger really does seem to help with nausea caused by anything, even chemotherapy. (I presume it helps with hangovers too?)

* A bunch of students are trying to come up with a good form of radiation shield for a return to the Moon. Just burying the habitat must seem too much like hard work.

* Alcohol labelling helps older people drive safely, but younger people just use it to the strongest alcohol at the cheapest price. Kind of obvious, really. (And would support the idea that the alcopop tax will not be effective in the long run.)

Friday, May 15, 2009

Kind of catchy

You have to watch past the forty second mark to get the full benefit of this, um, unusual language lesson.

Progessive thinking

Peter Daou

Click the link above to read the excitable Peter Daou at Huffington Post:
But as always, the progressive community, a far more efficient thinking machine than a handful of strategists and advisers, is looking ahead and raising a unified alarm. The message is this: anything less than absolute moral clarity from Democrats, who now control the levers of power, will enshrine Bush's abuses and undermine the rule of law for generations to come.
Take some deep breaths, Peter, and calm your "thinking machine" down.

Eek, I agree with Andrew Sullivan

The carbon tax/cap-and-trade royal rumble By Phil Levy | Shadow Government

As I don't obsess about Sarah Palin's last pregnancy and need to read about gay marriage every day, I don't feel the need to visit Andrew Sullivan very often.

But it would appear from the above column in Foreign Policy that he's one of the main proponents of carbon tax over cap and trade.

Well, as I've started saying recently, it turns out that no one is wrong about everything. (If only teenagers could learn that lesson early.)

Actually, the column itself wonders why carbon tax is not taken seriously. It's a pretty good summary of the pros and cons:
Cap-and-trade can do a very good impersonation of a carbon tax when we know the demand for emissions with certainty, when we do a great job of regulating, and when we auction off all the emissions permits. If we're uncertain about the demand for producing emissions, if it is hard to keep tabs on what various emitters are doing, or if politics intrudes into the process of handing out emissions permits, then the two approaches veer apart.

For ease of use and immunity from political meddling, the carbon tax is the clear winner. Taxes can be applied early in the fuel distribution process, which makes the logistical task much easier. That sort of upstream application would make attempts at political interference much more transparent, as well. So what about uncertainty? The big critique of a carbon tax is that it cannot guarantee a country will come in under a pre-set emissions cap. If the desire to pollute is really, really high one year, we could find that a given tax won't serve as a sufficient deterrent, and we'll blow past our limits.

Europe, though, has had the opposite problem with their cap-and-trade system. In the first phase of the program, they printed more permits to pollute than anyone wanted. That drove the price of permits near zero, deeply annoying anyone who had paid up for the right to pollute. It also meant that the system was ineffective in restraining pollution. That would be hard to do with a carbon tax.

Maybe the key paragraph is this:
The Cap-and-Trade Kids argue that, whatever the economic merits, their approach is the only one with a political chance. But why? Carbon taxes have certainly been seen as a political third rail, at least since President Bill Clinton dropped a proposed BTU tax in 1993. People don't want to have to pay more for energy. But how does cap-and-trade overcome this critique? If it's going to rein in eagerness to pollute, it will have to raise the cost of pollution. It may be possible to win support by pretending this won't happen, but it's worth thinking hard about whether such deception is a sound basis for creating a major long-term policy.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Keeping it in perspective

Value for money in the budget? - Solar vs Coal - Rooted

The simple headline is that the budget gave $1.5 billion to solar power development in Australia. But, it is in fact over a 6 year period.

How much money has Kevin Rudd given to the public in the last 6 months? About $21 billion.

And another $28 billion to be spent over the next few years on insulation, school upgrades etc.

Not so encouraging.

Obama gets some common sense: drives Left crazy

Obama does an about-turn on 'torture' photographs |

Have a look at how Glenn Greenwald reacts:
Obama's claim that he has to hide this evidence to protect our soldiers is the sort of crass, self-serving exploitation of "The Troops" which was the rancid hallmark of Bush/Cheney rhetoric.
And he quotes Andrew Sullivan:
So Cheney begins to successfully coopt his successor.
They really do treat Cheney as if he has the infernal power of mind control, even out of office. Cenk Uygur in Huffington Post writes:
This is an unbelievable moment. Dick Cheney's PR offensive over the last month actually worked. Barack Obama just crumbled and will follow Cheney's command to not release the new set of detainee abuse pictures.
I have to admit, though, that I was a bit surprised when I went to the Daily Kos thread on this and found there are readers of his defending Obama's decision.

A bit of division on the Left then. Good to see.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Don't invest in vitamin industry, and get some sun

Vitamin supplements may cut benefits of exercise

I wonder if Olympic athletes regularly take vitamins?

In other vitamin related news, it seems there are there a lot of researchers in the last year or two saying that people may have gone too far in sun avoidance, as it is leading to a Vitamin D deficiency which can cause all sorts of problems. Have a look at this article, for example, and all of the related stories at the side.

I know I barely get any sun myself now, but after having a couple of (minor) skin cancers cut off a few years ago, that seems the right thing to do. But in reality, maybe getting some early morning or late afternoon sun might be better for me in the long run.

Love and dogs

Katz and dogs - Los Angeles Times

Jonah Goldberg writes well here about the overly reductionist approach by which some people dismiss the affection dogs display to their owners.

As Goldberg indicates, if you take this approach to dogs, it can just as strongly be argued to human love. It is an attitude that devalues what should be most strongly held as true.

I'm with George

Meganomics Blog | The Australian

George Megalongenis' take on the budget seems right to me: lots of spending to come; very, very little in the way of budget savings for a few years. It's a budget to set large debt in concrete. (The last bit are my words, not his.)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The trouble with mercury

Dangerous Mercury Spills Still Trouble Schoolchildren: Scientific American

Interesting article here about the big problems caused by people playing with mercury. This bit was news to me:

Some Caribbean religions and folk healers use mercury because they believe its supernatural powers bring good luck and drive away evil spirits. Practitioners apply mercury to the skin, add it to candles or sprinkle it around the home.

About 38 percent of 900 people mostly with Latino or Caribbean backgrounds reported that they used or knew someone who used mercury for religious, spiritual, or health purposes, according to a survey by John Snow, Inc., a Boston health consulting company. The ATSDR report warns that "such use may lead to chronic mercury exposure among those who use it in this manner and for subsequent occupants of the contaminated homes."

"Imagine if you suspected that your apartment might have had a prior occupant that sprinkled mercury on the carpet a decade ago," said Arnold Wendroff, founder of the Mercury Poisoning Project, a website dedicated to the issue. "That's not something you want to live with."

Wendroff has tracked religious mercury use since 1989 after a young boy in a class he was teaching told him his mother sprinkled mercury on the floor of their home to keep away witches. These liquid good luck charms, which can be purchased at medicine shops called botanicas, are often found in 10-gram bottles. Mercury fever thermometers, in comparison, contain only a few grams (.5 to 3.0 g) of mercury.

Shuttle sightings at last

It seems to have been a long time since there was a shuttle mission with a good run of possible early evening sightings over Brisbane (and fine weather to go with them.) But this one seems to be it. See the NASA link here to find your Australian location sighting times over the next week.

This is especially noteworthy for South East Queensland, with its (usually) clear winter evening skies. (The moon won't be around either.) Here's the schedule for Brisbane:

[Apart from the date and time, the columns are: Duration in minutes, maximum elevation above horizon (in degrees), where it will approach from (in degrees and direction) and where it depart.]

Sun May 17/06:42 PM
10 above NNW 24 above NNE
Mon May 18/06:40 PM
10 above NW 33 above NNE
Tue May 19/06:38 PM
15 above NW 44 above NE
Wed May 20/06:06 PM
20 above NW 24 above ENE
Wed May 20/07:43 PM
11 above W 15 above W
Thu May 21/05:25 PM
27 above ENE 10 above E
Thu May 21/06:59 PM
21 above W 59 above WNW
Fri May 22/06:15 PM
30 above WNW 37 above E
Fri May 22/07:52 PM
11 above W 11 above W
Sat May 23/05:30 PM
38 above WNW 11 above E
Sat May 23/07:08 PM
16 above W 41 above WSW
Sun May 24/06:24 PM
26 above W 50 above ESE
Mon May 25/05:39 PM
32 above W 13 above E
Mon May 25/07:16 PM
13 above W 30 above W

UPDATE: For a nice video of the launch, and comments of a first time launch viewer, go to this Cosmic Variance post.

Hugo makes a trunk call

Chavez launches $15 mobile phone with a name to make his mother blush

It is perhaps the world's cheapest mobile phone. It is the latest offering from Hugo Chavez's socialist revolution. And its name is derived from a slang word for penis. Behold the Vergatorio.

Venezuela's president launched the handset on his TV show with a Mother's Day call to his mum and predicted it would conquer all rivals.....

Verga is slang for penis and vergatario is a newly minted word which signifies excellent but retains connotations from its root.

Monday, May 11, 2009

That smarts

An unusual cause for headache following massive alcohol intake

From the Abstract:
Massive alcohol intake usually resolves in a banal headache. We report a case of a patient presenting with acute alcohol intoxication in which the ensuing “hangover” was due to a knife blade deeply retained in the brain parenchyma.
(Found via Mindhacks, pun unintended.)

Question repeated

Group sex 'ingrained' in rugby league culture | The Australian

As noted here recently, what exactly is it about sport that gave it a reputation for being "character building"?

Update: A story about Australian cricketing hero Keith Miller, as noted by his biographer in Australian Story a couple of weeks ago:
Bill [Miller's son] I think suffered more than the other three. He arrived in England at age 18 to stay with his father, it was a big moment for him. And here was Keith playing around with girls younger than him. This caused a bit of confusion in him because he was the oldest boy and very close to his mother and that would have on reflection probably have been a bit damaging for Bill.

BILL MILLER, SON: He told me that Peg said, 'whenever you're overseas you can fool around but just don’t do it at home'. And of course, he’s my father, I believed him. And it wasn’t until years later I asked Peg that and she said 'do you really think that I would have said that'. And I said 'no you wouldn’t of'. She said 'exactly right'. So that sort of gutted me a bit, that he’d lied to me about that. But I still loved the guy. I used to have some great times with my father.

Update: I saw some of the Four Corners program about the NRL and sex last night. Was it really necessary to show the picture on the mobile phone instead of just saying "yeah, the guys will email me photos of their erection all the time"? The blond woman talking about this seemed to quite happy to run a free service via which women wanting sex with a footballer could have an arranged meeting.

While I guess it's useful to have football clubs running classes on how it's not right to trick your mate's drunk girlfriend into having sex with you, it's kind of disturbing to think that any young bloke needs telling. (I also wonder whether, if the camera is not there, the sessions are received with such gravity.)

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Looks cool

Boeing aims sky-high with 'Phantom Ray'

A culinary note

I first mentioned this here a year ago, but it is worth repeating: try adding a splash of Cointreau to slightly sweetened whipped cream.

(The try that with raspberry jam on warm pancakes for breakfast.)

European rat owning readers take note

From Rats To Humans: Around Thirty Europeans Infected With Cowpox Virus By Their Pet Rats

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Praising Scrubs

The only sitcom still worth watching in the last few years, the screening of the (likely) last episode of Scrubs has attracted a lot of comment in the States this week.

Slate had an article praising it, not for its comedic value, but for being "the most accurate portrayal of the medical profession on TV." (Bet you didn't see that coming.) Allegedly:
...if you talk to doctors, they'll often sing the praises of one medical show in particular, which they say captures the training process, the profession, and the dynamics of a hospital with remarkable accuracy. No, it's not House, the tale of a misanthrope who happens to be a doctor. It's not Grey's Anatomy, a torrid romance novel disguised as a medical show. It's not even the recently departed ER, which broke television ground with its realistic gore. It's Scrubs.
The article makes out its case reasonably credibly.

But of course, no one watches it for that reason. The show apparently is made by people with sufficient generosity that they allow a huge number of segments to remain posted on Youtube. It seems that with a little effort, you can find nearly any clip from the 8 seasons which you found particularly funny.

In Australia, the show has never has a decent chance to build a following on commercial TV due to the hopeless way (common to nearly every sitcom shown in the last 5 years) that the programmers have chopped and changed the schedule. Currently, I have been watching Season 6 which has had a rare continuous run on Comedy Channel (but even that has a hopeless way of jumbling seasons and episodes, so that still the only way to get a complete story cycle here is to rent the DVDs.)

Anyhoo, I recently saw the popular all-singing episode ("My Musical") from 2007. (It was probably shown here starting at 10.42pm one night of the summer holidays on Channel 7 in 2008.) The highlight was surely "Guy Love", which is good enough to embed:

(A clarification: the women in bed is featured because she has an aneurysm causing her to have musical hallucinations, a storyline evidently based on this true life report.)

I can't help it, I want to embed two other short clips that are particular favourites:

Janitor, the greatest comedic deadpan evil character ever created:

And Dr Kelso has his greatest moment here (although, bizarrely, the person who posted this clip gives away the joke in the heading - don't read it!):

Brilliant. When will there be another sitcom that makes me laugh out loud?

Friday, May 08, 2009

British Muslims are a worry

The Associated Press: Study: Poverty fueling Muslim tension with West

Lots of interesting stuff from this detailed survey:

Despite their desire to belong, only a small number of Muslims questioned in Britain, for example — 10 percent — consider themselves integrated into British society. That compares to 46 percent of Muslims in France and 35 percent in Germany....

Researchers found 38 percent of British Muslims said they had a job, much lower than the figure for the British general public — 62 percent — and lower than Muslims in Germany or France, where 53 percent and 45 percent respectively said they were employed. No figures were compiled for the United States....

...71 percent of Britain's Muslims considered themselves to be struggling to get by, as did 56 percent of Muslims questioned in the United States. Research for the study was conducted in mid-2008, before the full impact of the current financial crisis hit.

Yet, oddly, in another part of the report it says:
The study found that 77 percent of British Muslims feel a strong sense of British identity, compared to 50 percent of the country's non-Muslims. In France, around half of Muslims and non-Muslims say they feel a strong sense of patriotism.
Isn't that inconsistent with the preceding figures?

Jews and birds

On Colbert Report last night, there was an interview with Laurie Garrett, a woman who seems to know a fair bit about swine flu. (It was fairly amusing, and you can watch it here.)

One of the things she said, though, I didn't recall hearing before. It was that Indonesia, which has strains of the very worrisome bird flu, does not share information with the WHO because its Health minister believes that there is a US/Western/Jewish conspiracy to find new flus, make vaccines and force poor countries to buy them. (Colbert's response to this was pretty funny.)

This situation is perhaps even worse than that summary, as noted here:
Falling short of elaboration, Indonesian Health Minister Siti Fadilah Supari said on Tuesday that the deadly swine flu virus could have been genetically engineered. She had earlier accused Western governments of making and spreading viruses in developing countries to boost pharmaceutical companies' profits.

Since 2006, Indonesia has refused to share all of its bird flu virus samples with WHO researchers, citing fears that the system is being abused by rich countries to produce profitable vaccines, which impoverished nations have to buy.

A more detailed account of the Health Minister's views can be found here. It does not mention Jewish conspiracy as a possible part of her reasoning, as did Colbert's guest, but it does say that "she is a member of the moderate Islamic mass movement Muhammadiyah, but has also reportedly cosied up to radicals such as the Islamist Hizbut Tahrir group, which believes in replacing Indonesia's secular government with a Muslim caliphate."

I see that in the Middle East, back in 2006, the Jewish - bird flu conspiracy appeared there:
... the Syrian state-controlled paper al-Tawhra asserted that Israel was responsible for the expanding bird flu phenomenon. It said Israel had spread the virus in the Far East to mislead the world while aiming to attack the Arabs.[2]
Damn those Jews are clever.

But seriously, it would be a disaster if belief in Jewish conspiracy contributes to the death of millions of people (including Muslims) due to delays in getting out a vaccine to combat a future mutated bird flu.

Maybe this needs covert operations: blacked up CIA agents who roam Indonesian farms at night, taking blood from chickens and ducks.