Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Get out your tape measures

This medical report on "treating" Egyptian men complaining of short penis length is, umm, noteworthy. But would you consider a stretched length of 7 cm "normal"? (I think stretched length is supposed to equate to erect length, isn't it?)

"Penile length and girth were measured twice using a tape measure in both flaccid and fully stretched states. Every patient was informed that if his flaccid and stretched penis size was 4 cm and 7 cm or more, respectively, it was considered normal....

None of the patients had short penis according to our measurements. Almost all patients overestimated the normal penile size."

Maybe I'll finally get someone to post a comment to my blog on this one!

Watch out bloggers

While looking at the IWPR site (see last post,) I followed a link to Reporters Sans Frontieres, which I had never heard of before. Interesting site, especially for its list of reporters imprisoned, including 75 "cyberdissidents".

63 of them are in China, which I suppose is no great surprise. Most of the other countries on the list are more or less to be expected too (Iran, Libya, Syria, Vietnam and Tunisia), but also the Maldives. What sort of potential uprising is the Maldives worried about?

Meanwhile in Cuba, they are no cyberdissidents in jail (maybe they barely have the internet there), but there are 21 independent journalists rotting slowly in prison.

Come on, liberal friends of Castro in Hollywood and elsewhere, can't you exert some influence on the old guy to lighten up a bit?

Tariq squeals on boss

I can't link directly to this, I don't think, but you find it by it going to the daily Iraqi Press Monitor summary for 28 June, on the web site for the Institute for War & Peace reporting. It seems Tariq Aziz is not helping Saddam's defence, if this Iraqi paper is correct:

"Aziz: Saddam Ordered Destruction of Shia Uprising
The special court to try Saddam Hussein and his regime's leaders has questioned ex-deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz, who confessed that Saddam ordered the destruction of the Shia uprising in the south in 1991. Saddam's orders had the power of the law and no one dared to negotiate with him, he said. He added that he had nothing to do with that issue because he was a foreign minister then. He said some of the regional leadership members of the Ba'ath party went to the south on a mission to places of tension, but he had no idea what they did there.
(Al-Mashriq is published daily by Al-Mashriq Institution for Media and Cultural Investments.)"

By the way, the IWPR site seems pretty good, and it apparently funded both by leftish and rightish organisations, including the US government.

Force fields for astronauts

New Scientist SPACE - Breaking News - Force fields may shield astronauts from radiation

This interesting story on a proposal for radiation shielding for astronauts on the moon.

It was a matter of considerable disappointment for my childhood dreams of being a wandering solar system astronaut to learn (as an adult) that space is, generally speaking, very dangerous from a radiation point of view. This got no consideration at all in the kid's (or adult's) science fiction I used to read, mainly because the science just wasn't really known. Now it does get a run in serious hard science fiction. (I just read a Charles Sheffield book in which colonists on Jupiter's moons have to wear super-conducting electronically shielded suits when they are on the surface, but they basically all live underground.) It does make the whole space undertaking much more difficult.

This article from New Scientist does not talk about living underground on the moon, but I always thought that covering a smallish crater with some sort of membrane, baking it solid then burying it with a meter or two of dirt was the way to go. No way would you need to ever bring "concrete" to the moon, as the article suggests at the end. A small electric bulldozer is what you need, and some innovative low gravity construction techniques. Fortunately, a lot of holes are "pre-dug" on the moon.

Presumably there may also be natural caves on the moon, and with its lower gravity, maybe they are bigger than average earth ones. I would have thought that extensive radar or accoustic sounding of possible sites would be one of the early colonization priorities for the moon.

Now I should really get back to work.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Plastic skinless humans reach America

While looking at the Economist, I was surprised to learn that the controversial "Body Worlds" exhibit is now in the USA. I would thought that it would have attracted much more media controversy there. (It did when it came to England.)

for those who don't know, Body Worlds is an "anatomical" exhibition of real human bodies treated with polymers and plastics to preserve them. Have a look at the official home page here, and the Guardian's comments on it from 3 years ago now.

I read about some of the controversy when it was in England, but I don't know that it got much coverage in the Australian press.

The whole thing creeps me out. It is one thing to plasticise a human body for medical students to use. But to make a touring exhibition of such bodies in all sorts of weird semi-artist poses? It is horrifically ghoulish if you ask me. You know it is disturbing if the Guardian's art critic has his doubts too.

But if you want some wry amusement, look at this link on the official site to celebrity comments. Those who liked it (enough to be quoted) include this weird cross section of stars: Dustin Hoffman, Tina Turner, Demi Moore, Andre Agassi, Nick Nolte (whose liver is probably already pickled) and (of course) Bjork.

Come on conservative american's, has this one slipped past you a bit?

Forgiving Debt

Just a quick mention of 3 of the several articles around skeptical of the benefits of debt forgiveness strategies currently being pursued by old musicians. The Economist here, which links to an IMF paper, and in today's Australian.

It is obvious that the endemic level of corruption and maladministration in government in Africa is at the heart of many countries' poverty problems. But how do you fix those problems? That is the hard question it seems no one knows how to answer.

Update: one other good and easy to follow article from Slate is here.

Just a bit more on Queensland justice

As mentioned in my last post, former Chief Magistrate and recent prison inmate Di Fingleton made an appearance on Enough Rope last night. As always, the show was very watchable, and it is good to see an interviewer ask the difficult questions, but also be a bit silly at times. He is a real talent.

Can't say the same for Ms Fingleton. The person who wants her job back (but she comes close to admitting she is just arguing this for the sake of maintaining a claim for compensation based on her old salary) says:

"ANDREW DENTON: What do you think you did to create such animosity towards you?

DI FINGLETON: I'm not perfect. I am impatient with people. I talk apparently over them a lot. I wouldn't do it with you 'cause you are the God around here. I am not perfect. "

Perhaps aggressive and rude are other ways of putting it to. Just what we want in our magistrates!

And as to why she was appointed a Magistrate and Chief magistrate in the first place:

"I started off being Chief Magistrate with a desire to do something which I explained. I have had a fairly quick rise to it, and I was part of an affirmative action by the then Attorney General, Matt Foley, to appoint women. Some of the magistrates were very conservative. Affirmative action puts a bad taste in people's mouths."

To be honest, I didn't think she would be so up front about this. Back to her personality though, where she talked about arguing with her husband that morning about "everything" ("it's all forgotten now" said jovial husband.) But I like this bit from our Di:

"Unfortunately for [husband] John, it compounded for him and he's actually been off work for a while. I suffered this thing that I hear that women suffer when their husband retires, they're home all the time. Anyone here? For the first two weeks, I said, "You want to use the computer? It's mine." We've got over that, he found the other computer. But, yeah, I suppose, to answer your question, I'm strong woman and I'm proud of it."

Oh yes, she sounds like a real likeable person at home too...

Then back to her comments about how she got the job:

"I want my job back. If that for some reason is impossible or in end I say - we'll be talking. But I know these people, you see. I have a history of involvement with the Labor Party. I don't like Beattie being so harsh with me. He says I'll get justice. They know what I went through. They know me as a person. "

And then this rousing non-sequitur:

"Because it was Queensland, perhaps it always had that colour of I only got it 'cause I was a woman or because I knew the Attorney-General."

Umm, no, it was not "because it was Queensland", it was because, as you said 5 minutes ago, you did get it cos you knew (Attorney General) Matt Foley, and you are a woman.

Perhaps I am a little unfair, because she goes on the say that Foley:

"...knew me very well and knew my achievements. He was not going to put up anyone who would fail, and I was not going to take it to fail. I was ambitious but I'm not silly. So I took the job in the best possible faith and did my job in the best possible faith."

So she got it cos she knew Foley, was a woman and (co-incidentally?) was also the best possible person for the job. Some co-incidence.

This is what has made the case such a pleasure for conservatives like me - how could you get a more perfect example of the dangers of cozy political appointments combined with affirmative action? It blew up in everyone's' face. Even those brave lawyers who took on her case:

"ANDREW DENTON: The High Court made this very clear. They had a go at the judge, the prosecution and your defence team because this immunity lay within the Magistrates Act, the very act that you administer. How did you all miss it?

DI FINGLETON: You don't go around thinking, "I'll need criminal immunity", because more than anyone else you have to set a good example. You should not even be seen speeding or jaywalking.

ANDREW DENTON: Isn't this what you pay a defence team for, though, to find this stuff?

DI FINGLETON: I will be taking legal advice, obviously."

So those lawyers now face possible negligence action, I presume she means. Bet they felt good watching the interview! Let's hope they defend the civil action and we get another High Court chance to kick around some Queensland lawyers. (Remember I already mentioned contributory negligence in my last post.)

In my view, the overall effect of the interview was far from helpful for her public image and her campaign for compensation. For the reasons mentioned in my last post, she should not get any judicial position back, and I am annoyed that Beattie has even offered that to her.
(Maybe that is just part compensation tactics too.) I would like to see how she would go at the Magistrate's conferences they have from time to time. Christmas Drinks could be a hoot too.

Peter, give her a job in some harmless post like the Law Reform Commission, where she can be bitchy and aggressive without stuffing up too many people's professional lives.

And for god's sake, don't appoint judges and magistrates just because they are Labor women.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Legal system re-think please

Well, I have only been blogging a relatively short time, but feel I can claim some sort of vindication about my earlier expressed views about our justice system.

Yesterday, the High Court quashed Di Fingleton's (former Queensland Chief Magistrate) conviction, which meant the court system finally discovered that she had legistlative immunity from prosecution.... after serving her sentence.

Her lawyers appear to have never realised this argument, as it was evidently not raised before the Queensland Court of Appeal, or (it would appear from the report) before the High Court. (It says the High Court raised the matter itself). In today's paper, the Chief Justice in Queensland admits he knew that this was a possible grounds of appeal, but it's not his (nor any judges') job to go suggesting to the lawyers before them what arguments to run.

I think this is technically correct, and is particularly true for trial judges. But doesn't it just confirm what I said in my earlier post that if you don't have an inquisitorial system, the courts are not philosophically inclined towards finding the truth, and justice becomes a bit of a game. In this case (as no doubt in countless others,) it results in people serving sentences before they are ultimately acquitted, and usually without compensation.

I don't think we have to uproot our system completely, but surely there ought to be scope for trial judges to take a more active role in seeing that justice is done. But like I said before, my feeling is that there is an institutional blindness to these sort of arguments in the Australian system in particular. (I am no expert, but in the last 30 years I think Britain has taken much bolder steps in having fundamental re-thinks about old rules of evidence, for example.)

And by the way, don't think I am really a personal supporter of Di Fingleton. The Queensland Labor Government went through a particularly bad period of appointing women to the courts deliberately to even up the gender balance. Having Labor connections has never hurt in seeking appointment to be a Magistrate either. She was obviously deeply unpopular with her fellow magistrates, and the fact that she would even think that she could "have her old job back" shows a lack of practical common sense, if you ask me. She will probably get some compensation, and I grudgingly think she probably deserves some. Not too much though - her own lawyers never raised the argument. I think they should use a "contributory negligence" principle and halve whatever compensation they would otherwise have given her. And don't go giving her another government job after compensation either.

I still don't feel all that sorry for her.


I should have seen this coming, but the Chief Justice says he was misquoted by the Courier Mail in relation to his knowledge of the possible use of the legislative immunity section. However, his correction of the record hardly changes my basic argument. Here's the new quote:

In a related development, Queensland's Chief Justice, Paul de Jersey, was forced to deny that he had told The Courier-Mail he knew of Ms Fingleton's immunity from prosecution, but said nothing.

"I said no such thing," Justice de Jersey said.

"As the journalist acknowledged to me on Friday, I said only in response to his question that I had been aware of Section 21(a) of the Magistrates Act, the provision which exonerated Ms Fingleton.

"I had never conceived that provision could apply to her case.

"I was neither the trial judge nor a member of the Court of Appeal which heard the appeal. Even if I considered the provision arguably applicable, it would have been improper for me to intervene." (Italics mine)

I have also now read the High Court case quickly, and it appears that there is an earlier High Court case suggesting that trial judges should bring possible defences up with the jury even if the defence counsel has not raised the argument. I haven't had time to check this out yet, but certainly Kirby's reasons for judgment still spends a lot of time on deciding whether a court of appeal really has the right to reinstate, as it were, a defence which the accused's Counsel has already ignored at the first appeal (at the State level.)

It is all very complex, and another retired judge from Queensland apparently thinks the High Court was way off the mark anyway in being so sure that the immunity provision did apply. (You do get the feeling that the High Court does just love to put the boot into Queensland court's decisions.)

Not having formed my own opinion about the merits of the High Court decision yet, it may turn out that no one raised it before then because no Queensland lawyer thought it was applicable, and I might agree it doesn't apply. But surely Fingleton's own lawyers should have at least tried the argument before the trial judge.

So maybe my concerns about the adversorial system being illustrated by this case are not so valid. But I would like to think that a Chief Justice, if he had the view that a possible immunity provision had been entirely overlooked, could have at least suggested informally to some of the other judges involved that they don't forget to look at that. (My basic point being that the issue of seeing justice done should not be overwhelmed by undue weight being put on a non-interventionist approach by the judiciary. )

And as for my view on compensation for Di Fingleton, I am not so sure she deserves any now. She is apparently still saying she should have her chief magistrates job back.

I don't think she should have any judicial position back at all, and she should have enough common sense to know that it is because the public could not have any trust that she could now have an objective view on sentencing. She has been to jail and has strong subjective views on the experience. (She was quoted in the weekend press talking about it, and is due to talk to Andrew Denton about it on TV tonight.) Some people might say this is a good thing, as it gives her a unique understanding of the consequences of her job. While this sounds plausible, it is not practical. It is the same reasoning I use to argue against people who suffered child abuse becoming social workers as adults. An over-heightened subjectivity of the experience is just what you don't need if you want objective and consistent outcomes in future.

Anyway, her case for compensation can really only be based on showing that Crown law made a bad error in continuing the case in that they did not consider the immunity provision. But if her own lawyers overlook the argument too (or look at it but decide tactically that it is not worth running), and if the accused herself is a lawyer, it is a little hard to point the finger of blame too much.

If they had raised the defence at trial and been acquitted on those grounds, and the trial judge agreed that it was an obvious oversight by the Crown in not considering that argument before prosecuting, then I suppose compensation would be on. But in this case, I think I was probably being overly generous when I first suggested she should probably get even half of what she otherwise would.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

More "Age" Hyperbole on IR Reform

Well, it's to be expected from The Age, isn't it, but today's comments on IR reform by Ken Davidson are nonetheless noteworthy for their hyperbole.

"The Howard Government's aim is total victory in the class war that has been largely quiescent since industrial warfare was replaced by arbitration as part of the Australian settlement established by Australia's early prime minister and founding father, Alfred Deakin."

Yeah, well funny how the party that doesn't go on about class warfare is the one that delivers better wage growth to the workers.

"For Howard, victory is predicated on the belief that trade unions are no longer relevant to post-industrial society. But trade unions still play a role in ensuring that higher productivity is translated into higher wages so that firms compete on the basis of technical innovation, not on cutting wages."

This sounds stupid to me. What evidence is there that increased productivity does not translate into higher wages if a union is not involved.

"In the new era of flexibility, we are closer to Howard's free-market utopia of flexible wages, prices and organisational structures. This is leading to widening income differentials and insecurity, and will create social, and eventually economic, dystopia."

A definition:

dystopia n : state in which the condition of life is extremely bad as from deprivation or oppression or terror

Yeah sure Ken.

"Paradoxically, Howard's reforms, if implemented, will simply compound insecurity as all employers face the prospect of having to compete by cutting wages and conditions or risk being undercut by less scrupulous competitors.

Knowingly or unknowingly, Howard is trying to unleash a "race to the bottom" that will worsen Australia's balance of payments by making us even more uncompetitive in international high-value-added industries."

This is almost as good reading as this post from a Webdiary reader - one Nancy Peters, who is quoting from another "economist" (sorry it is long, but it is worth it for its breath taking implausibility):

"The US citizen will, over time, be reduced to earn the same wages as his Chinese and Filipino counterparts. He hasn't realized it yet, but he is being progressively reduced to sweatshop labour by being reduced to accepting a job at MacDonald's or Wal-Mart on US$ 7 per hour. Now manufacturing has been largely outsourced or relocated to China or other Asian nations. However, the time will come, maybe by 2015 or 2020, when his wages will be reduced sufficiently to make relocating manufacturing in Ohio an attractive proposition. Welcome to globalization and the New World Order. This is all wonderful of course if you are one of the owners of the means of production and the capital base. You can play one nation off against another, arbitrage wage rates and maximize profits, and reduce your labour force to compliant and malleable serfs. All this comes with the added benefit of "the Sword of Damocles" hanging over each employee's head in the form of a debt mountain. What a brilliant scheme this all is!"

Didn't One Nation used to go on with crap like this. Now it gets a run on Margo's Webdiary...

And Margo's profound comment at the end ..."Hi Nancy!"

A cool house

Dome House, Hawthorn - Reviews - Arts - Entertainment -

Have a look at the link for a picture of a very cool looking dome house in Melbourne. The review following gets pretty high falutin' though.

Prostitution pays well in Sydney

The Australian: Hooker keeps house sold by client [June 22, 2005]

Aw, don't you feel at least a little sorry for this guy? Usually its the woman who accidentally falls in love. And note that Ms Lin, age 31, now owns "several" investment properties in Sydney with its astronomical real estate prices. Just how much money does she earn?

But while we are on the topic of strange and sad legal cases involving chinese men in Sydney, this one from a few weeks ago takes a beating. (Summary: 59 yr old married chinese guy has gay love affair with much younger african guy who goes crazy and kills chinese guy's wife and 2 adult kids.) I don't mean to sound flippant, but this would have to be some sort of world benchmark for a guilt- inducing illicit affair.

Life is stranger than fiction, sometimes.

In Defence of the Yuck Factor

Human Cloning: In Defence of the Yuck Factor

I link to the above article because the news story about the potential to use stem cells to grow ovaries and eggs (or sperm cells) for an infertile couple crosses over the boundary of my personal "yuck factor". And I think it is worthwhile defending having such a "factor" in the first place.

Peter Singer, and his ilk, for example, can appear to be perfectly rational and reasonable in their logic as to how they come to their radical positions, which to my mind shows there is a fundamental flaw in the whole process by which they got to the conclusion. (And one other thing that bothers me is the way that Peter Singer can appear in interviews to really be not so radical or crazy, a pretty nice guy in fact. It seems typical of interviews with him that the interviewer rarely directly quotes his most controversial statements back at him and challenges him to re-justify them. Especially, in his case, his view that a new born baby - healthy or not- does not really have any additional "right to life" over a fetus. Of course, he logically can have no problem with late term abortion, when even the feminists now seem to be giving ground on that.)

On infertility generally, at the risk of sounding heartless, I really wonder sometimes why there is so much research money spent on it. (Disclosure: I am blessed with 2 kids, and having married late in life, count myself very lucky in that there was no problem with their conception.) It just seems to me that priorities on medical spending have to be made, and going to such extremes as even thinking about "growing ovaries" as a way to overcome infertility is really hard to justify when they are so many life threatening illnesses and medical conditions calling out for a cure or alleviation.

The modern concentration on trying to cure infertility seems directly related to adoption falling out of fashion in the West. (And I do appreciate that adoption can be very hard on the mother.) What I would prefer to see, however, would be some relaxation of the rules relating to international adoption, as it seems cruel that there are countries with an excess of unwanted little ones, but their overseas adoption is frequently difficult and very expensive.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Japan and Whales

I'm with Currency Lad on this one. Good luck to you big blubbery blue things.

But out of interest, the Japan Times, trying to be even handed, has 2 columns recently, one pro and one anti
whaling (both written by westerners it would seem.) The anti whaling one seems pretty common sensical to me. The pro whaling one is full of very spurious arguments, including this interesting bit:

'At Koganji temple in Yamaguchi Prefecture, the souls of over 1,000 whales are interred, along with 75 whale fetuses on the top of a hill, where he says, they can "command a view of their ocean home." He goes on to point out, "An approach where the Japanese accord the whale (the) status of a person because of its integral role in sustaining human life can clearly be contrasted with the view of cattle in the West, where no such status or respect is conferred."'

Sounds like an argument for being allowed to harpoon people too. (Or for cows being accorded the status of people - which reminds me of a lot of Gary Larson cartoons.) Vote 1 Daisy.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

A funny line

Anthony Lane, reviewing "Bewitched" in the New Yorker, doesn't like Will Ferrell in the role of Darrin. Then he adds:

"So who would make a decent Darrin? We know the fixings: a little slowness, a lot of chin ’n’ grin, and a tendency to arrive at his own jokes thirty seconds after they leave his mouth. I hear Senator Kerry is none too busy these days."

Good line...:)

Dirty Doctors

So, the media today is all over the evidence from the Dr Death inquiry that Dr Patel had very poor hand washing habits while he was at Bundaberg.

All well and good, but does the general public realise what a scandal the hand washing habits of doctors has been for decades? It is pretty clear to even the casual reader of medical journals that, despite attempts to introduce easier ways of getting doctors to clean their hands, compliance is still pathetic. Don't take my word for it, read this recent article from the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Look at the table on page 4: compliance amongst surgeons was worse than most other doctors! 36%!! What is it about surgeons that makes them so careless about this? A superiority complex? Just too busy to prevent cross infection?

An easier to read commentary on this study is the editorial from the same journal linked here: editorial A couple of quotes:

"How are we doing? It is too early to tell in the United States, where hand hygiene rates average 40% to 60% on a good day. However, European hospitals have been using alcohol-based rubs for many years, so it seems reasonable to look to Europe for evidence of success of the alcohol hand-rub strategy.....[in Europe] the good news is an increase in hand hygiene rates when physicians were aware of being observed; therefore, we can say that we respond to peer pressure, at least when evaluated as a group. The bad news is that the rates were only 61% when physicians thought someone was watching; when physicians did not think anyone was watching, rates averaged 44%.

In conclusion, after more than 150 years of prodding, cajoling, educating, observing, and surveying physicians, hand hygiene adherence rates remain disgracefully low."

Australian doctors are no different (see 1996 study here.) Which would indicate that at any given time there is about a 50/50 chance that your hospital doctor has not washed his or her hands before seeing you from his last patient. If a surgeon, the risk seems likely to be higher.

This is very, very bad.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Shock - Back to the Future not so scientific!

New Scientist Breaking News - No paradox for time travellers

What an interesting snippet from New Scientist on time travel this is. Actually, I recommend you at least read the conclusion section of the paper too, here. Nah, it's too good, let's just quote it now:

"According to our model, if you travel into the past quantum mechanically, you would only see
those alternatives consistent with the world you left behind you. In other words, while you are
aware of the past, you cannot change it. No matter how unlikely the events are that could have led
to your present circumstances, once they have actually occurred, they cannot be changed. Your
trip would set up resonances that are consistent with the future that has already unfolded.

This also has enormous consequences on the paradoxes of free will. It shows that it is perfectly
logical to assume that one has many choices and that one is free to take any one of them. Until
a choice is taken, the future is not determined. However, once a choice is taken, and it leads to
a particular future, it was inevitable. It could not have been otherwise. The boundary conditions
that the future events happen as they already have, guarantees that they must have been prepared
for in the past. So, looking backwards, the world is deterministic. However, looking forwards, the
future is probabilistic.

This completely explains the classical paradox. In fact, it serves as a kind
of indirect evidence that such feedback must actually take place in nature, in the sense that without
it, a paradox exists, while with it, the paradox is resolved. (Of course, there is an equally likely
explanation, namely that going backward in time is impossible. This also solves the paradox by
avoiding it.)"

So I think that means Marty McFly never should have started fading from view when his Dad looked like missing out on meeting his mother.

Believe it, or not

Tim Blair points out what a dill Terry Lane (ABC National Radio presenter, and Age columnist) is, linking us to his Age column which seems to positively lament the fact that the West is rather unlikely to go through a violent communist uprising any day soon.

Well yesterday I happened to catch some of Terry's radio show "The National Interest" and heard some of an interview with one John Perkins. From what I heard, this was a typically "soft" left leaning Radio National host interview, in which not even the slightist probe or scepticism is raised because, well, he agrees with the interviewer's world view and we wouldn't want to question that pretty anti-Amercian/anti-capitalism story would we?

John Perkins is author of a book "Confessions of an Economic Hitman" which is all about his previous career as an economist in which he helped the USA economically enslave and ruin 3rd world countries. ( His claim, not mine.) As he said himself to Mr Lane, although selling well now, the book has not attracted much media attention, and I must admit some quick Google searching does have trouble turning up "serious" reviews from journals or newspapers.

The Amazon link here gives you an idea of what the book is about.

But the bit I love is the links to his other books. Mr Perkins gave up economics for Shamanism, it would seem, and written a lot about it. Have a look at his own website, and this positive reader review of one of his books:

"SHAPESHIFTING is a real gem! Author John Perkins takes us with him on an amazing journey to comprehend the methods used by shamen around the world to vanish and reappear, transform into plants and animals, heal seemingly inoperable medical conditions, and travel through space and time. He tells fascinating stories of how he overcame his initial skepticism and doubt to became one with a chair, transform herbs into a newspaper, and travel through time and space as a blue ball of light."

Gee, I wonder if he turned up in the ABC radio studio as a ball of light, or changed The Age back into some herbs for Terry's edification.

Now to be fair, going nutty in a New Age way does not necessarily mean that what he wrote about his past life is unreliable. However, if some of his Confessions appear a bit, well, fictional, some questions about this later career path might be worthwhile don't you think Terry? Did you fail to Google his name?

Terry is notoriously atheist, and I can't imagine he has much time for New Age shapeshifting either.

(And I have not listened to the whole program, available at the RN link above, only the last 15 min or so. Hope I am not wrong, cos I don't have time to listen to it today.)

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Money for nothing for Jim Soorley

Australian readers may well be aware of the irksome Jim Soorley, big mouth former Labor Lord Mayor of Brisbane (which of itself is no small job, given Brisbane City Council's extremely large size by Australian standards.) A former priest, he's now a decidedly anti-Catholic atheist (or agnostic perhaps?) friend of Phillip Adams.

I recall reading some years ago that as a priest he upset some of his suburban flock (I think it was in Brisbane) by insisting on displaying an "aboriginal" flag in his church. The regular flying of same flag took place in front of city hall all during his reign as Lord Mayor.

Always willing to shoot his mouth off, and irritating State and Federal Labor politicians no end, he somehow swung a job on his retirement from the council as a regular columnist on Brisbane's magazine style Sunday Mail newspaper.

What he does is something like blogging, just commenting on whatever he wants , but with nothing like the links to let anyone read the source or check facts. In other words, it's easier than most commentary orientated blogging. By far.

Just look at today's column here.

I would summaries its stories as follows:

* a piece of fluff commentary about Russell Crowe;

* a recommendation of a novel he is reading;

* pure speculation that ye olde weather forecasters were better than the Weather Bureau today;

* an unequivocal repeat of the line that "at least" 100,000 Iraqi deaths were caused by the war;

* a stunningly broad brush comment about Global Warming, but against even considering nuclear power as an option. This I have to show in full:

"WE NOW know that continued use of fossil fuels is causing global warming with all the associated problems of drought, salination, floods and tsunamis.

Arguments are building for nuclear power to be the new green energy source for the world. I struggle to take this argument seriously and to believe that intelligent people can overlook the downsides.

I never thought we'd forget the horrors of the Cold War and the threat of extinction from nuclear bombs in the wrong hands, to say nothing of Chernobyl and the human misery caused by that industrial accident. Yet all that seems forgotten as the marketing of nuclear energy begins big time.

Be afraid, this is a world-wide PR campaign to con us that nuclear energy is clean, green and safe. The waste will kill for hundreds of millions of years. We must resist those who say that "we'll find a way to dispose of it ? don't worry"."

Tsunami's!! Caused by global warming!

* a comment on the Dr Death inquiry which seems to pick up a bit of news talk that some College of Surgeons audit of the doctor is going to suggest that the overall death rate was "within the norm". Here's Jim's commentary:

"WELL, the first substantive analysis on Dr Jayant Patel's surgery has taken place. It shows that both his death rate and transferrals to other hospitals were about the norm.

In other words, an independent audit shows a medical error rate within acceptable limits. While this won't provide any comfort to patients who feel badly treated, it should send a message to the Premier to stop his grandstanding and concentrate on fixing the problems in Queensland Health."

Here, as far as I can see, is what this commentary is based on (from ABC Online, for 16 June):

"Meanwhile the Australasian College of Surgeons says it is premature to comment about a report into Dr Patel's performance.

A team of medical experts has been auditing surgical outcomes at the Bundaberg hospital.

Newspaper reports suggest the draft study shows the medical error rate of Dr Patel may be within acceptable limits.

College president Russell Stitz says the full analysis is yet to be done.

"We understand that it's imminent but it's not yet out and to make statements before the full analysis is obviously inappropriate," Dr Stitz said.

"So we're all looking forward to the full report, which is by committee chairman Peter Woodruff, who's a vascular surgeon and a previous vice-president of the College of Surgeons."

The State Health Minister has asked for the final report to be completed by the end of the month."

(I don't think it takes a genius to work out that the averages won't particularly matter anyway if there is clear and compelling evidence, as there already seems to be, that he was grossly negligent or incompetent in some of the particular cases. )

Jim never liked Peter Beattie; his wildly unjustified commentary is done just to be able to have another jibe at him.

I trust you can see why this annoys me. He's just jots down whatever comes into his head, sticking to old figures, old leftie/ greenie beliefs, old political rivalries, (but not his old religious beliefs,) without any care for subtle things likes facts.

I hate to dignify his activity with publicity, and part of the problem is that the more people complain in letters to the editor about a columnist like this, the more the paper thinks he is worth keeping. I stopped buying the paper years ago, but my mum likes it for the weekly TV guide and gives it to me.

By the way, if you want a fact-free speech from his, seems it will set you back $3,500 to $5,000.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Advice on wife beating

If you haven't seen this, have a look at this funny/not funny post on Mufti advice on wife beating/hitting/whatever.

The Islamic advice websites are often inadvertently funny/disturbing.

I like the Gore Vidal quote (upper right) on Its a Matter of Opinion too.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Safer nuclear power for all

With the recent revival of talk of nuclear power for Australia, it seems to me that there is surprisingly little coverage given to a "new" design for safer reactors that basically can't meltdown. I am talking of modular pebble bed reactors. Links of interest are:
Wired magazine
PBMR Pty Ltd ( I guess don't expect this to be entirely objective)
An astronomy website article (why discuss it there, I dunno. Actually, this looks like it is just cut from Wikipedia)

Anyway, sounds rather promising, don't you think?

Update: I'm having problems making the PBMR link work for some reason. Just go to the Wikipedia article and find its link to it at the end.

Now for some science

This articleScience & Technology at Scientific Inconstant Constants -- [ COSMOLOGY ] -- Do the inner workings of nature change with time? is a full length free one on the Scientific American website, and is not too bad.

I dip into Scientific American every now and then, but find its articles often have a bit of a readability issue. I think it is because they are often written by the researchers themselves, not journalists or specialist science writers. The articles therefore come across as, well, stodgy, for want of a better word.

New Scientist has a lively, often humorous, style, but seems to perhaps run too many "wacky" ideas by loner scientists. And (from what I can gather) they also seem to have a bit of an accuracy issue in that mag too.

I used to like "Discover" a lot, and bought it regularly for well over a decade. It was never very newsy as such, but had some good writers. I think it changed ownership, the style changed a bit, and besides, with any magazine, I think you eventually tire of them and need a break. Maybe I should try it again.

Back to the Scientific American article, it contains this curious bit of trivia:

"One ratio of particular interest combines the velocity of light, c, the electric charge on a single electron, e, Planck's constant, h, and the so-called vacuum permittivity, 0. This famous quantity, = e2/20hc, called the fine-structure constant, was first introduced in 1916 by Arnold Sommerfeld, a pioneer in applying the theory of quantum mechanics to electromagnetism. It quantifies the relativistic (c) and quantum (h) qualities of electromagnetic (e) interactions involving charged particles in empty space (0). Measured to be equal to 1/137.03599976, or approximately 1/137, has endowed the number 137 with a legendary status among physicists (it usually opens the combination locks on their briefcases)."

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Care for a vinegar aperitif?

The Japan Times Online
The link is to a Japan Times story on the increasing popularity of drinking vinegar. I'm not sure that it'll catch on here somehow.

As the article indicates, a lot of this is about the Japanese being into trendy health products. I believe that was a large reason for the increase in the sales of Western red wine there last decade. I just drink it for fun.

Oh, and for all you sake fans out there...try the Australian one Go-Shu. It's good.

Dr Patel inquiry site

Bundaberg Hospital Commission of Inquiry homepage

For those of you with too much time on your hands, here's the home page for the "Dr Death" inquiry in Queensland. Has any other inquiry of this nature had such an open and Web friendly approach?

As for the scandal itself - it is almost delightfully appalling, assuming of course you or a near and dear one was not its victim. I just love that a Courier Mail journalist found out the Dr's overseas problems though a Google search. Pity no one at the hospital thought of doing that too when they first starting getting worried.

Transcripts are available - several days old - on the website. And like all inquiries, much of it is taken up by lawyering amongst themselves. Still, seems like a lot of interesting stuff in there.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Media Watch does story about nothing..nothing new

For those of you who missed Media Watch last night, the main story went something like this:

a. the ABC buys doco on suicide for Compass
b. Compass host watches it and is very worried that one segment gives viewers too much idea on how to do it. Wants it cut.
c. ABC asks outside expert (a Professor in mental health) what he thinks. He agrees. May encourage viewers with the inclination to try the method.
d. Program airs with one minute cut.
e. Doco producer (or director) is not so happy. Says it didn't show how to use the plastic bag.
f. Media Watch points out that the decision to cut is consistent with ABC editorial guidelines
g. Media Watch seems slightly miffed that it also was not allowed to show the missing minute as part of its story
h. Media Watch says ABC didn't really do anything wrong, but Liz finishes with:

"We're in favour of responsible reporting of suicide so understand the ABC's decision to err on the side of caution, but there has to be some space left for the full and frank views of people like Lisette Nigot."

Well she got a bloody doco shown on national TV about it didn't she!!

In my books, this is called A NON STORY.

The last comment by Liz (quoted above) meant next to nothing. Why did they bother with this story at all? Where exactly was the
"debate and controversy about the decision to cut or censor, depending on how you see it, a documentary shown on ABC TV's Compass last week." Just in the corridors of the ABC, I suspect. I don't think it raised a blip anywhere else.

I look forward to more non stories to come.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

An old article about Robert A. Heinlein's house!

site: Robert A. Heinlein - Archives - PM 6/52 Article

For those of you who used to like Heinlein before his books became full of windbaggery. Here, via Jerry Pournelle's website, an old Popular mechanics article on the long gone sci-fi authors home.

It's a lot smaller than I imagined. And you can't open any window.

Should I mention sperm again?

The Genius Factory - My short, scary career as a sperm donor. By David Plotz

An interesting read, this story. I had missed the fact that the sperm bank of Nobel Prize winners was shut already.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Well said DD

The New Yorker: The Critics: The Current Cinema

Can't say I have read many reviews by David Denby, but I must say that this review of Batman Begins and Mr & Mrs Smith is a well written piece not just just on these movies, but the general problem with so much of Hollywood product these days. And don't get me wrong - I have even less time for most foreign film. And Australia film - what a joke.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Warning toilet humour... (alternative title: Don't try this at home)

An amusing toileting story of high adventure in New Scientist.

But surely this can't be right (see sentence in appropriate hue):

"A team stationed in Anchorage, Alaska, and led by Joseph McLauglin from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, surveyed 132 climbers in June 2002. They found that 29% had diarrhoea at least once on their average 18-day trek on the mountain. And 39% reported seeing snow contaminated with faeces in or near their camps. But that did not stop nearly a quarter of climbers from collecting snow for drinking water directly from camps. Only 16% of climbers said they always boiled their drinking water.

Furthermore, fewer than half said they always washed their hands after defecating, with 16% admitting using rocks and snow instead of toilet paper. A shameful 11% confessed to pooping directly into the snow."

Guess the snow would be good for those with piles.

How to have better sperm...

So watching group sex improves sperm quality. Funny things, testicles.

Actually, the headline is probably more attention grabbing than accurate. The article points out that sperm motility increases by a marginal fraction, but volume significantly decreases. Overall, I would have thought the guys watching just a woman were going to end up more fertile.

But now - I see the version of this story on news@nature seems to contradict the decrease in volume aspect in New Scientist. Seems even science journalists have trouble getting the story straight.

Incidentally I wonder what would happen if you tested this on gay men. Would be funny if their sperm also subconsciously adjusted to naked women.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Hmm Posted by Hello

Pining for Paul

What sort of pathetic excuse for a column in The Age is this?

A 20-something law lecturer (so it seems from the chronology suggested in the article) pines for a return to the startling vision of one Paul Keating PM.

"This is not to say that Howard is a bad person, just not the great leader that we need. I might be relaxed and comfortable, as Howard wants - but this is not the stuff that gets hearts racing, minds thinking and dreams satisfied."

I agree that Keating got many people's heart racing, especially at the thought of being able to hit his head with a large blunt object.

"Over the past nine and a bit years in which Howard has been Prime Minister, the equilibrium of opportunity that made Australia the lucky country in the 1980s and into the 1990s has slowly unravelled, leading to a lack of balance and lost hope for many."

How does this reconcile with the lowest unemployment rate for 28 YEARS?

"Keating was so much more than Italian suits, French clocks and "the recession we had to have". He was (and remains) a true inspiration. He made me believe I could do anything and be anybody. Unconnected, truly talented, passionate, kind, genuine, he left school at 15 to fight for what he believed in - the Labor way. A man who, without a prominent surname, networks on which to rely or a degree from a sandstone institution, became the most significant treasurer in Australian history, a compassionate prime minister and a respected leader on the international stage. He lit the candle of opportunity and hope for me and others in the tail end of generation X, even if many of us failed to appreciate his role."

Talk about hagiography.

Let's face it chum, however much he inspired you, his personality guarantees that nothing could delight the Liberals more than having Paul re-join the party.

" While Australia might not be under imminent military attack, there certainly is a festering battle to save the richness of the Australian spirit and the vision of the Australian community from eternal myopia. Keating's finest hour could still lie ahead."

Pass the bucket someone. What a joke. The column reads like it was written by a young teenager with a crush.

Test pic - guess where Posted by Hello

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

The spirit of generosity from The Age, and some comments on IR reform

Pamela Bone in The Age, grudgingly accepts something good happens under the Howard government. But could this government have intended such an outcome? Nah, course not:

"If Natsem's analysis is correct - and I must suppose it is - then I will be uncharitable enough to say that declining inequality has been an accidental consequence of the Government's policies rather than the reason for them. For in most things it does, as in the recent budget and the proposed changes to industrial relations - giving top income earners a much higher tax cut than those on the bottom, giving more money to private schools than to public, reducing workers' protection from unfair dismissal - the Government shows it is not about creating a more equal society."

"More equal" obviously equals "good" in this analysis, which is being rather simplistic. The whole basis of capitalism involves some degree of "unequal"; but then again there has to be room for genuine argument on how much "unequal" remains acceptable to keep a modicum of social coherence, at least.

Amongst analysis of the Howard government's industrial relations reforms, I haven't seen much comment about the relevance of wage mobility (not sure if this is the correct term, but maybe you get the drift.) This was the subject of one of the regular economics commentators' columns some years ago. I recall it pointed out that although the wage disparity between workers as a whole in the USA was much greater than in Australia, there was also a strong tendency for the individual low income earners to be on that lowest rung for a relatively short time. Australian's wage mobility was not so favourable.

To the average Australian visitor, the US economy and the way its society as a whole runs feels too laisse faire. Europe is definitely too much into nanny state overregulation. The nice thing about Australia is that we seem, for the most part, to always be aiming for the happy medium, and by and large hitting it.

I am no economist or IR expert, and find I do not have the time to study it sufficiently to have a firm view. But it does seem that the Howard IR reforms are not likely to have as draconian an effect as Labor and the unions are naturally want to say. It does seem to me that the IR system is in need of simplification, as it has become an industry in and of itself.

For example, the whole IRC minimum wage fixing system seems rather pointlessly adversarial - creating many full time jobs in the constant to and fro of attempting to justify ambit claims and counterclaims. Why not free up this bunch of lawyers and "experts" on this and let them do other things while the new body pulls its own figures out of the air without so much wasted breathe?

And as for unfair dismissal: well, isn't one of the main problems with current state laws on this (not sure about federal) is that the onus of proof is turned against the employer? No wonder most employers can't be bothered defending them.

I suspect that the ease of instituting an unfair dismissal claim has the same unintended consequence of the (former) generosity of the courts in personal injury claims against Councils and such like. Namely, it only encourages the complainant/plaintiff to dwell on the matter and not get on with their life. This is really quantifiable in the medical side of personal injury case, where it has been long established that those who litigate always take longer to "get over" their back injury (to take a very common example.)

Some otherwise genuine cases of people unfairly dismissed will no doubt go unrecompensed because the risk and cost of having to prove a case in the other jurisdictions will be too expensive. But I suspect that this will be a very small proportion of the overall body of IR claimants under the current system. Time to look at both the greater good I think.

Let's suck the Howard reforms and see.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Margo's happy again - sort of

Oh joy. Margo'’s coming out of her depression.

"“I sat in Judi Moylan'’s office on Tuesday reading a few of the 3,000 emails she'’s got from Australians since she became the public face of the Liberal rebel'’s plan to civilise our mandatory detention regime"

I wouldn'’t let it be too widely known that prime contender for the nation'’s most emotionally over-wrought journalist/commentators is starting to hang around the office, Judi.

"“As democracy cracks from side to side, interesting things are starting to happen."”

Hmm, not sure what that even means. Is it a good thing or bad?

"“OK, our government won'’t hold respectable open inquires any more, even into scandals like the kidnapping and deportation of an Australian citizen, and the 11 month incarceration and scandalous neglect -– perhaps even physical and sexual abuse - of a mentally ill Australian permanent resident."”

Kidnapping? Perhaps sexual abuse. Let Margo add some drama to the already cracking democracy, shall we?

"“Well, who needs the government, if that'’s their attitude."

Margo and cohorts are setting up the Nation of Margopia?

"“Don'’t get depressed at how powerless you are. Have a look around and work out how you too can defend your democracy. It'’s fun, and it'’s scary for those political “representatives” and business leaders who think they'’ve won their fight to crush our right to know what they'’re really doing for themselves at the expense of us and our future."”

Uhuh. Yes, I know Howard and Big Business gloat all the time over their brandies at the club about how they have crushed all knowledge of the stuff they are currently being pursued over by Margo'’s pack.

"“You can bet Howard and his heavies will try to destroy the careers of Moylan and her fellow rebels. So how about those of you who live where they do joining the local Liberal Party branches to keep them in politics?"

Margo approves branch stacking when it for members she approves of.

"“Anything is possible."

Except Margo writing a cool-headed rational commentary on the Howard government.

" We'’re only powerless if we think we are. And that'’s exactly what the destroyers of our democracy want us to think."”

Do the phrases "“straw man argument"” and "“conspiracy paranoia"” mean anything to Margo?

Democracy is working exactly as it can and should over this whole migration policy stuff, and in fact, I have also long thought that certain aspects of immigration policy were too tough and should be modified.

Margo, go and do and your stuff; it doesn'’t bother me at all to have such a healthy robust democracy demonstrated in part by the fact that you are not in jail, a gulag or even a readjustment camp for the perpetually outraged. But please, for the sake of any borderline credibility as a political commentator, stop trying to paint this (and the re-election of the Howard government generally,) as a dire threat to democracy.

Death to Megafauna

This story is interesting, not least because the issue is such a sensitive one for those with an overly romantic vision of how aborigines lived in harmony for thousands of years with the Australian environment, looking after it until Europeans came and started the degradation that continues....etc etc.

I have always been of the view that it is rather pointless to give credit to a - um, how should I put this? - technologically challenged culture for not doing something that it just didn't have the technology to do anyway. So if the countryside when they ran the place was pretty pristine...well, it would be if you didn't have metal tools, guns, tractors or dynamite, wouldn't it.

Even so, they still made a significant change to the environment due to their burning practices, so the country they "lived in harmony with" was pretty different from the country they first walked into.

As to the megafauna's demise, this article seems to make it clear that the jury is very out on the precise role, if any, the early inhabitants had. Anyway, can't it just be a combination of humans eating them, changing the environment with fire, and natural climate change as well? And it may have been different factors in different degrees in different parts of the countryside. That would seem more likely to me than being dogmatically on one side or the other of the opposing camps.

By the way, I am sorta glad we don't have 200kg , 2.5 m tall flat faced kangaroos around anymore..imagine the dint they could put in your radiator!

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Things to remember about Joh

This seems a pretty good summary of the more unsavoury aspects of Joh Bjelke Peterson's years, adding a few things I didn't know, and some stuff I had forgotten. Don't know about Russ Hinze being a talented minister though.

And remember - I am a conservative!

Errrk! A different sort of reconstruction in Iraq

Institute for War and Peace Reporting

My only comment is how much money they charge for this. Must be a fortune in that country.

Dangerous profession number 49 in Iraq

Institute for War and Peace Reporting

I bet it's not American Express!

Institute for War and Peace Reporting