Sunday, August 31, 2008

Eyes keep closing

I'm feeling unusually tired tonight, and as a result all of the Sunday international newspapers just aren't holding my attention. In fact, this almost feels like "coming down with something" tired. I must go to bed. I hope I don't have a continuation of this morning's dream in which Obama was talking to me through a window while I was on the toilet. (He was telling me about what I could pick up on certain bands that I never use on the little radio with which I listen to the news.)

UPDATE: I feel OK this morning. But, forthcoming work crisis probably means no posting for a couple of days, or at least until I start having better dreams.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

No wonder pandas are endangered

Video: Giant panda birth | Environment | guardian.co.uk

I saw the link to this video earlier this week, but didn't around to watching it 'til tonight.

It's truly startling, watching this (seemingly very rapid) birth, and the squealing, flopping Alien-esque character of the newborn cub. We all now know why they reproduce slowly: baby pandas freak out their mothers, and with some justification.

Of course, for funnier panda video, you can always re-visit the famous startled Panda sneeze clip. (It's like panda's just never get used to being parents.)

Friday, August 29, 2008

Weird

David Duchovny in sex addiction treatment |

It's either an elaborate publicity stunt for Californication, or the show has helped mess with his head.

Maybe if he had only done wholesome shows instead. Just like Bob Crane in the Donna Reed Show. (I like to point out the flaws in my own arguments sometimes.)

Nice man

That Mike Huckabee seems very likeable. Have a look at his appearance last night on Colbert Report:

Thursday, August 28, 2008

In which we discuss fathers, sons, tobacco and God

Someone gave me (what I think is) a high quality cigar recently. It smells great, but I know that if I smoke it, I will be able to taste tobacco in my mouth for the next 48 hours, regardless of teeth-brushing and Listerine. Yes, non smokers have sensitive taste buds. (Or maybe that is more a function of cheaper cigars? The 10 or so that I probably had over my entire life were almost certainly lower quality.) I don't think I have ever tried a cigarette, as far as I can recall. Cigars are mainly smoked for mouth taste anyway, not for lung burning ingestion of nicotine. And they do go well with port. All I need to complete the picture is a smoking jacket, hey.

I don't like the long lingering after taste, but it's got to be smoked sometime. Or I could just let it sit near my desk for the next 12 months and smell it a few times a day. Nah, I don't think so.

I dare not let my 7 year old son see me smoking it: he seems strongly attracted to the idea of trying smoking, in a way I don't ever recall sharing, even though my father smoked well into his 50's. (Cause of death in his early 60's: lung cancer.) Yes, dammit, he is showing signs of an independent personality after all, despite my attempts at brainwashing by showing him Lewis & Martin movies and other popular entertainment from my childhood.

In other signs of independent thought, despite attending a Christian school, and church, he seems much more inherently skeptical of the concept of God than I ever was. I don't quite understand what part of a personality seems to predispose some people towards easy acceptance of religious belief, and others to be doubters from childhood. This was an interesting feature of Clive James' Unreliable Memoirs. Despite being an active member of a church as a teenager, and obviously being able to have an easy intellectual grasp of the Bible, it just seems that he was never capable of having it mean much to him.

I suspect that having one parent as a non-believer (and hence a stay-at-home while the kids go to church with the other parent) may simply be enough to cause children to never "get" religion; I suppose someone has done some research on that. Also in my son's case, it seems he has seen the obvious parallel between pretend Santa and (potentially) pretend God. We actually never spent a lot of time playing up Santa as a figure with our kids, yet obviously it was still enough for him to see the implications.

Unfortunately, there is probably not a scary nun left in Brisbane who could take over my son's indoctrination, like I had for the first couple of years in primary school. (Actually, despite being good at terror, she was pretty lousy at teaching anything; but I can remember how impressive some other nuns were in their free wheeling talks on religion for 30 minutes every day. Then again, maybe that was just me and everyone else in the class was bored.)

Anyway, the mind-molding project must be continued, even while I sneak outside one night to smoke that cigar. Maybe the smoke rising past my son's window will be interpreted as a ghost, and at least he'll believe in the supernatural.

Appleyard's take on the Convention

Thought Experiments : The Blog: Suicide of the Democrats

It's pretty funny, Bryan's take on how the Democrat Convention is going.

I'm very curious to hear Obama's opening line as he appears at his faux Greek temple, as I felt certain as soon as I heard Kerry's corny "reporting for duty" opener that he had lost the election then and there.

UPDATE: Tim Blair's take on a New York Time's strangely ambiguous assessment of Obama canonisation is terribly funny. (The New York Times quotes more than one supporter who says that Obama is in strong control of his emotions. I don't necessarily take that as a good thing in a leader with the fate of other's people's lives in his hands.)

Scientists worried

Scientists Unveil "Honolulu Declaration" To Address Ocean Acidification

Hey, ocean acidification skeptics, when we will get to see something like an Oregon Petition on this topic?

Innovative school policies

Mum shocked as school puts daughter, 14, on Pill

The mother, who knew nothing of the school's role in this, is quoted as follows:
"It is really hard to get your head around the fact that when your child goes on an excursion they need to have a permission slip signed by the parent, but the school is within its rights to take a child to the doctor to be put on the pill."
It's easy to see her point.

High quality Crabb

Headmaster to teach teachers a lesson - Opinion - smh.com.au

It's another Annabel Crabb column that is both insightful and funny:

The PM's closet is positively bristling with instruments of domination and punishment for organised labour - the retention of the Australian Building and Construction Commission, the introduction of a migrant fruitpicking army, and now the threat that substandard teachers will get the chop.

The fact that these are all John Howard's ideas must make the exercise even freakier, from the unions' point of view....

Kevin Rudd's diplomatic skills almost always compel him to opt for jargon instead of plain speech; he'll rarely settle for sacking someone when he can reassign their skills constructively in a fully benchmarked pilot separation scheme.
It's especially strange seeing Julia Gillard entirely supporting Rudd on the school rankings stuff, and criticising an Australian Education Union funded report. Who within the government is going to give the AEU comfort?

I see Andrew Bolt is full of praise for Rudd's intentions. But really, how is all of this planned discussion to implement an "education revolution" more than spin?

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Small things amusing my small mind

VF Daily: vanityfair.com

See, I can't be the only middle aged man who, in idle moments in the shower, thinks about what could be a good "Macguffin" for one final outing for Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones.

Vanity Fair had a competition for suggestions back in June, and their winner was quite triumphantly silly. You can also see all of the most popular suggestions in handy tabular form.

I'll have to find my old "Arthur C Clarke's Mysterious World" books to see if I can come up with something else.

More reason to worry about birds

Crows never seem to forget a face - International Herald Tribune

Great. Those noisy, raucous crows that chase other birds out of the neighbourhood are surprisingly smart too. Let's hope they never decide to gang up on us.

Mum, stop vacuuming, you have to die now

Diary of terminally ill woman who chose euthanasia | Life and style | The Guardian

The Dutch really are different. This account of the last days of a terminally ill woman in the Netherlands who chooses voluntary euthanasia is amazing to read. This is how the day she dies begins:

Mum leaves and comes back again three times. After the last visit, I can hear she is hoisting the vacuum cleaner up to the attic. It is just after 6am.

It is the start of an increasingly mad day, during which Mum hoovers the whole house and does six loads of washing (one of which consists of a single white shirt). She scrapes all the woodwork on the outside of the house clear of moss and cleans the windows.

After breakfast, I find Dad fuming after Mum has given him grief for not ironing fast enough.
Martin, the kindly suicide doctor, comes around that evening and this is how it goes:

6.15pm: The doctor arrives shortly after the scene with the toilets. Mum greets him, then disappears upstairs, saying, "Best let me potter for a bit." Nobody sees her for another 20 minutes.

"Does it happen at all that people pull out at the last minute?" I ask.

"Yes," Martin says. "Quite often I go home again and a new appointment is made. But in many cases the patient passes away between visits."

When Mum comes back, listing things she has put in bags and boxes, Martin gently interrupts her: "Can I just ask you something? Is there still a lot you feel you need to do?"

"Yes," she says, "I mean no. I'm just nervous."

"I can always come back later if you are not ready," says the doctor.

Mum sits down and listens to the doctor. Then she takes a deep breath and says, "OK. I am ready."

At 7pm, with my father, brother and me around her bed as well as Martin, who has given her the injection, Mum goes to sleep.

If this doesn't make you feel at least a little uneasy about how euthanasia can work in practice, then you're probably Philip Nitschke.

In Futurama, the ubiquitous Suicide Booth features in more than one episode. I am sure there is a Dutch engineer working on developing one right now.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Arctic ice melt update

Arctic Sea Ice News & Analysis

The NSIDC updates the current state of the summer ice melt up near the North Pole. As the graph shows, this year is not so far off 2007's record melt.

Bad news

Ahmadinejad appears to get a key nod - Los Angeles Times

Dangerous meats

Tainted deli meats in Canada kill 12

The pathogen: listeria monocytogenes. Pregnant women are warned against getting it, but I didn't realise it could kill so many of the general public.

It's effective enough to be a bio-terrorist agent, by the sounds.

Watch out for the falling flying foxes

Wind turbines make bat lungs explode - earth - 25 August 2008 - New Scientist Environment

I hate to think how many flying foxes might be taken out by a big wind farm anywhere near their habitat in Australia. (And they seem to be all down the east coast from North Queensland to at least Sydney.)

Cats will destroy the world

Pets eating into fish stocks�(ScienceAlert)

From the article:
Dr Giovanni Turchini, with colleague Professor Sena De Silva, has found that an estimated 2.48 million tonnes of forage fish—an increasingly limited biological resource—is used by the global cat food industry each year.

"That such a large amount of fish is used for the pet food industry is real eye opener," Dr Turchini said.

"What is also interesting is that, in Australia, pet cats are eating an estimated 13.7 kilograms of fish a year which far exceeds the Australian average per capita fish and seafood consumption of around 11 kilograms. Our pets seem to be eating better than their owners."

And they will look like this as the ocean's food chain collapses:


via videosift.com

Bob Carter - sensitive soul

Over at Real Climate, arch Australian AGW skeptic Bob Carter made this comment:
One of the reasons that RealClimate is discounted by some as a source of serious scientific comment is because of your continual allowance of unproductive ad hominem abuse.
We learn further down (comment 119) that what he was objecting to in the earlier comment (which RC later edited so we now can't see it) was the word "denialist". The bulk of comments to the thread are extremely moderate in tone, while making it clear that many challenge Dr Carter's views.

At Online Opinion earlier this year, in an article with the surly title "The IPCC: on the run at last", Bob wrote:
Given the occurrence also of record low winter temperatures and massive snowfalls across both hemispheres this year, IPCC members have now entered panic mode, the whites of their eyes being clearly visible as they seek to defend their now unsustainable hypothesis of dangerous, human-caused global warming.
He also uses the word "alarmists" many times, and says of the use of climate models:
Well, obviously, turn to virtual reality rather than real reality: PlayStation 4 here we come.
Yes, way to conduct a debate without ad hominem, Dr Carter.

Why pilots fly into the sea

Air and Space Magazine has an article about how pilots can get disoriented. All interesting, and relevant to the old Mackleman crash of 1986, I expect.

Hmm

Analyst warns of looming global climate wars - ABC News

My idea (the Carbon Wars, [TM]) is a little different, in that it's about warfare on other nation's greenhouse producing infrastructure. How come I never get interviewed?

Monday, August 25, 2008

Why would it help?

After glow of Games, what next for China? - International Herald Tribune

To continue my anti-Olympic theme, I just don't understand why anyone would think these Olympics ever had any hope of encouraging political change in China. Everyone already knew China could build modern looking stuff; you just have to see pictures of Shanghai's skyline to know that.

Instead, the staging of these Olympics has just confirmed to most Western eyes the repressive and heavy-handed nature of the Chinese form of government, but to many Chinese eyes it probably has encouraged a degree of pride that would hardly be an inducement to be more politically open.

Some disaster may have lead to hope of political reform, but games deemed to be even a moderate success were never going to have that result.

The smell of fear

Mammals Have a Nose for Danger (Literally) Discover Magazine

Kinda interesting, but has human research on this been done?

Is feeding your food poo really a good idea?

Green Central - Times Online - WBLG: Turning pigeon poo into food

Any bacteriologist is welcome to comment.

How to scare your 8 year old...

...have him (or her) watch Dr Who episodes written by Steven Moffat. (Last night's episode, the first part of "Silence in the Library" was by him, and was bound to creep out any child, as well as a fair few adults.)

Complicated climate

New Climate Record Shows Century-long Droughts In Eastern North America

A study of stalagmites in West Virginia apparently boosts the idea that solar variation has caused long droughts (century-long, even) in North America

The researchers, however, don't appear to be CO2 skeptics:

The climate record suggests that North America could face a major drought event again in 500 to 1,000 years, though Springer said that manmade global warming could offset the cycle.

“Global warming will leave things like this in the dust. The natural oscillations here are nothing like what we would expect to see with global warming,” he said.

Actually, I am not sure whether he necessarily means that the global warming offset will be a bad thing. Anyhow, it's all more evidence that nature was cruel even before civilisation came along, but that's still far from reason for humans to go about risking inducing their own climate problems.

Anti - Olympics wrap up

There's a certain "anything goes" attitude about Olympics closing ceremonies. From what I saw of last nights approach, there were a lot of glowing suits and people running around, a bit like Tron being re-enacted by a North Korean choreographed ant colony.

I didn't realise our Olympic diving gold medallist was gay until I heard him speak afterwards, which reminded me of the puzzle as to why gay men (often) sound gay. This issue was also brought up last week on the 7.30 Report by that gay American humorist who apparently is very famous, but who has managed to slip beneath my radar forever. I still can't remember his name. I have a vague recollection of reading of some research into this topic some years ago, but I forget what it said. I seem to be suffering gay amnesia today.

On the heterosexual side, The Times continued its tabloid descent by running an article that gave a first hand account about how lots of athletes have lots of sex after their events. Yes, sports and sex have always had a close affinity, which makes me rather cynical of the high minded "Olympic spirit" guff about it all being about peace and goodwill between nations.

I definitely have a "glass half empty" approach to watching sport: especially when some highly rated competitor fails spectacularly, I can't help but think "just how many years of your life did you spend wasting on practice for this event? Don't you feel a complete goose?" (Of course, they may be cheered up by knowing they have an orgy lined up later that night; but then again, according to The Times, it's mainly the winners who get to do that.)

To go further, if selflessness is considered something of an ideal by the major religions, isn't all this striving for personal bests and intensive observation of their bodies' performance pretty much the antithesis of that idea? There's a good argument to be made for the Pope to condemn the Olympics, and not just because of the free condoms.

I feel particularly sorry for child gymnasts, who seem to go through torture via adults seeking to achieve vicarious fame and fortune.

Kevin Rudd on Radio National this morning hinted that there could be more government funding for sport. This seems odd, given that there seems to have been quite a lot of commentary around this time about the ridiculous cost per medal of our efforts. One can only hope for some sort of scaling down of Olympic grandiosity, but it seems destined never to happen.

Keating's ramble

Template for peace is inclusion - Opinion - smh.com.au

Paul Keating has a ramble about international power politics. It appears very Fisk-able, but someone else will have to do it.

I note, though, that in all this talk of the future, there is no mention of environmental or energy problems as a major source of future conflict. Obviously, he hasn't heard about the forthcoming Carbon Wars (TM) yet. Hopelessly out of touch, he is.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Corrections not noted

A couple of weeks ago, Andrew Bolt and Jennifer Marohasy were quite happy to point readers towards an article by one Steven Goddard in which he questioned the accuracy of a graph put out by the National Snow and Ice Data Centre on the current extent of this year's Arctic ice melt. (The NSIDC says that this year's ice cover is only 10% more than 2007's melt, and as such is the second lowest on record; Goddard used some dubious methods to guess it was more like 30% greater than last year.)

I see now, via Real Climate, that Mr Goddard has had a chat with the NSIDC and has revised his opinion. To its credit, the original article now ends with this quote from Goddard:
"it is clear that the NSIDC graph is correct, and that 2008 Arctic ice is barely 10% above last year - just as NSIDC had stated."
I could go and add a comment at Jennifer and Andrew's blogs about this, but few people would realise it was there. Somehow, I doubt they will be noting the correction themselves any time soon. But of course, I would be more than happy to be surprised.

Impressive

Electric bikes charge the market�| The Japan Times Online

According to the Japan Times:
...Panasonic has also achieved what electric bike boffins thought was impossible — its Lithium ViVi RX-10S, due out in late September, will feature regenerative braking. If it sounds technical, that's because it is. But put simply, regenerative braking means every time you brake, you recharge the battery. Tests by Panasonic have shown the range can be extended to an astounding 182 km. And like Yamaha's PAS, it features a solar-powered rear light.
Actually, I am not sure that there are many people who really need a range of 182 km between overnight re-charges. (Which, according to the article, takes only about 2 hours for some lithium models now.) Still, if they could work out how I could stop being soaked (or struck by lightning) in summer storms, I could be tempted to use one of these to get to work.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Delicious irony

Harvest the fruit of Labor's conversion - Annabel Crabb - Opinion - smh.com.au

Annabel Crabb actually gives us an informative look at the history of the "guest worker scheme" which the Rudd government has decided to try. She reminds us that the Senate looked at the possibility during the Howard government. The irony of who within the Labor movement opposed and supported it is worth repeating in full:

The Australian Workers Union submission, by its then national secretary Bill Shorten, called it "the return of the Kanak culture".

"Any agreement with the Pacific Islands would create a precedent for a future influx of still cheaper labour beyond the Pacific Islands. This is a race to the bottom."

Michelle Bissett, an industrial officer who gave evidence for the Australian Council of Trade Unions, told the inquiry on August28, 2006, the ACTU did not support a Pacific guest worker scheme. "Systems such as those are, in our view, akin to slavery and are not supportable under any circumstances," she said.

Under any circumstances?

In Bissett's defence, I guess that in August 2006 the possibility of a Rudd-led Labor government introducing the self-same scheme would have seemed remote. Back then, the only audible Labor voice supporting a Pacific guest worker scheme was Bob Sercombe, who was the party's spokesman for the Pacific.

Sercombe's not around anymore; in a neat twist, he was supplanted in his Victorian seat of Maribyrnong by none other than Bill Shorten, who will be forced to vote in favour of "the return of the Kanak culture" because to do otherwise would be to banish himself from the kingdom of Kevin.

Love it.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Unattractive photos of the day

BBC NEWS | Health | Bodybuilder scarred from steroids

The article has a series of photos of a body builder left with massive scarring as a result of steroid-induced acne. What a mess.

Billy Bunter and a has-been

The Australian - Photo galleries and slideshows - Pacific Islands Leaders forum

Is there something about the Pacific Islands Leaders Forum shirt that is making Kevin Rudd look quite the porker? Or would he do well to emulate a certain PM who used to power walk daily?

In other Prime Ministerial news, I saw on the TV that Paul Keating attended the final performance of "Keating" this week. (I can't find a link though.) It was the 6th time he had been. Yes, 6th.

There goes that method of his avoiding relevance deprivation syndrome.

Not encouraging

Extreme Heat A Threat To World's Poor : NPR

The study, published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, found that extreme temperatures will rise two or three times faster than average temperatures. So in Europe, peak highs could go from a sweltering 100 degrees up to 110 or 115 degrees. There's even a chance the mercury could hit Sahara-style highs of 120 degrees.

Temperatures in the 120s could also strike Australia and the American Midwest, according to the study, which used climate-change models developed for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

They're talking end of the century, by the way, so the fact that 2008 might have been relatively cool doesn't have much to do with it.

It's not going to be easy, you know

10pc target 'a huge ask' for power generators | The Australian

It's stories like this that make me think that emissions trading and global treaties alone have no hope at all of making the CO2 cuts that are needed to keep levels within 500 or so ppm.

It would seem that something like a "war" footing, that Monbiot and his ilk talk about, is the only thing that would work.

Quite right

The only moral man is one who backs Leslie | Herald Sun Andrew Bolt Blog

Andrew Bolt is quite correct to point out Leslie Cannold's amusing assertion about men and abortion. I would add that her analogy (how would men feel if women argued against a right to vasectomy) is superficial at best. When she can point out to us the men's groups who actively campaign against women having tubal ligation, then she might have a point.

As I have noted here before, being a medical ethicist seems to involve making decisions on issues in your university years, and then never changing your mind for the rest of your life. Easy job really.

It won't keep troofers happy

9/11 building brought down by fire, not explosives, report says - International Herald Tribune

You can thank dogs for this

Technology Review: The Smell of Cancer

Fascinating story on developments in detecting cancer by smell. And you can thank dogs for the idea. (Your cat could probably smell it too, but probably just decided to let you die and have a nibble.)

It's all very complicated...

Science News / Carbon Caveat:
Adding carbon compounds to ocean water can sometimes affect microbe communities in ways that result in less stored carbon dioxide than has been assumed, a new study published online August 20 in Nature suggests. The oceans’ carbon storage is an important factor in predicting the severity of climate change.
It's all to do with nutrients, and the difference between water borne bacteria and phytoplankton. Clearly, there is a quite a lot that is not well understood about the oceans and CO2 interaction. Warming skeptics take this as a good thing, as it might be that the uncertainties work in favour of humans. Warming worriers take it as a bad thing, because it may be that things will work out worse than first thought.

But is it being an "alarmist" to say that, given the uncertainties, it is much safer to limit CO2 as a high priority so that we don't have to worry about the uncertainties? I think that position is just being a realist.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Too much information, possibly...

As I sit here typing, Fleet (phospho-soda buffered saline mixture) is starting to work its, um, magic inside me, in preparation for a colonoscopy tomorrow.

I've been through this before, so no problems are expected. Well, not beyond maybe a rogue polyp or two being burnt off. It's fun watching the video afterwards, and seeing the little puff of smoke. I wonder if they still use tape, or if it is burnt onto DVD yet. Posting a video of it here would be impressive, but I'm not going to go to any trouble.

Anyhow, see you tomorrow. Fleet is starting to insist I move to a small room for the next hour or so.

UPDATE: all finished. No problems. Photo coming, unless someone pays me money to not show it.

UPDATE 2: I see no money's been paid yet. I'm warning you, it's $500 or you get my colon. In colour.

UPDATE 3: you have been saved by the unexpected difficulty of doing a screen grab from a paused DVD video. But I haven't quite given up yet.

Animal mourning

New Scientist : Do animals understand death? Do humans?

This post about how animals appear to react to death is a good read, with this link in particular worth following for some interesting anecdotes. (Oddly, magpies feature again. I'm starting to worry about how smart birds are.)

Contrary geologists, and Jennifer is melting

RealClimate has a post up about why it is that geologists seem to be over-represented in the ranks of climate change skeptics.

Of particular interest is the fact that Bob Carter, Australia's own geologist skeptic, and frequent guest at Jennifer Marohasy's blog, has made an appearance in comments and been challenged to explain his position. So far, there is no response, but it will be interesting to watch.

Incidentally, Jennifer Marohasy's blog meltdown is progressing nicely. Graeme Bird is abusing people all over the place, and complaining about receiving harassing calls at home. A couple of commenters have come out in support of the "HIV does not cause AIDS" theory. I guess that's what you get when you chant "correlation does not necessarily mean causation" too much.

Jennifer herself seems to have decided that she can assert that no one has proved exactly how CO2 increases can really cause greenhouse warming at all, and invoked "Socratic Irony" as a motive behind some of her posts. This makes telling what she believes or doesn't believe a matter of complete mystery to the casual reader. But for that matter, Dr Steven Short (a geochemist) can be accused of the same gamesmanship, with wild swings in the tone of his posts over the last 6 months.

I have not, until recently, been a close follower of the blog, but it appears that in the space of a couple of weeks, it has lost any credibility that it once may have had.

Holy phallic peril!

Search Magazine - Praying for Ice

An "ice lingam" in Kashmir has not handled the hot summers well.

I see that the Wikipedia entry on lingams gives little emphasis on the usual Western interpretation that they represent Shiva's penis, but I don't know that it can really be denied that this was the origin of the symbol. It seems a little odd that (according to one authority cited in Wikipedia):
The lingam is the simplest and most ancient symbol of Shiva, especially of Parasiva, God beyond all forms and qualities.
Well, if you're going to pick a symbol of "God beyond all forms", why pick one that looks like a penis? Things get even more mystical with this explanation:
It is a symbol which points to an inference. When you see a big flood in a river, you infer that there had been heavy rains the previous day. When you see smoke, you infer that there is fire. This vast world of countless forms is a Linga of the omnipotent Lord. The Shiva-Linga is a symbol of Lord Shiva. When you look at the Linga, your mind is at once elevated and you begin to think of the Lord.
To be more precise, I start thinking of his penis. Maybe your average Hindu doesn't, but then again with temple decoration having large amounts of erotic content, I wouldn't be so sure.

According to the Search magazine article, a lingam is "obviously" phallic, but has other meanings:
Legend has it that the first lingam was formed one day when the goddess Parvati, former consort of Shiva, so missed her lover that she fell to her knees and clawed the ground with her hands. She cried until she had no more tears, and then came up with a handful of earth shaped by her closed palm. Her tears had turned the soil to clay and, when she placed the clump of dirt before her, she saw that she had made a figure three times as tall as it was wide, rounded by the curve of her thumb. It was only dirt, she realized, but it was also a symbol of all she wanted in life. It was a perfect depiction of her absent lover—never present but always on her mind—because it meant everything and nothing at once.
Geez, they sure know how to read a lot of meaning into a penis shape, these Hindus.

(Disclaimer: I suppose I could be accused of hypocrisy when I belong to a church that indeed has one aspect of its God with a specifically earthly form that includes a penis. Organ specific worship within the Catholic church has been pretty much limited to a heart, though, as far as I can recall.

Oh alright, maybe I am skirting over the Holy Prepuce here, but venerating what is believed to have actually been a part of your God is a little different from, say, worshipping donuts because they have the same shape as a detached foreskin.)

Some rat information

Science Show - 16August2008 - Black rats - brilliant adaptors

Interesting interview on last week's science show about rats. The expert, Ken Alpin, quite admires them, especially barbequed with a nice Vietnamese beer:
In the southern part of Vietnam there's a rat meat industry where rats are harvested out of rice fields on a huge scale; 10,000 tonnes a year of rat meat is collected, taken through to the big cities where it's processed in various ways and then sold in various products, some of which tourists are probably familiar with...I shouldn't be saying this, should I, I'll probably end up...

Robyn Williams: What do you mean? Street food that I might pick up somewhere could contain Rattus rattus?

Ken Aplin: There is one well known street in Ho Chi Minh City that specialises in rats on their menu, so you can go there and buy things that are clearly labelled as rat products. I've eaten rats in many different places. I prefer rat meat to most other meats. It's a fine meat, and they're very clean animals, despite their reputation for being filthy. Having now observed them much more closely than I could ever do before, I appreciate how hygienic and clean they actually are.

Gardasil and marketing

Cervical cancer vaccine is popular, but fails to cure doubts - International Herald Tribune

Some experts are rather cynical about the way Gardasil became the "must have" vaccine overnight. More a triumph of marketing than obvious good sense, they suggest.

Interesting read.

A quiet "yay"...

It is, after all, Brendan Nelson, but it is the right idea.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Modern pot

Back to the stoned age - Features, Health & Wellbeing - The Independent

So, a 38 year old who had quite a lot of cannabis in his youth tries it again and now finds it causes paranoia. His explanation:
....cannabis itself has evolved into something unrecognisable – skunk, which is now the market leader, accounting for 81 per cent of the marijuana sold on British streets, compared with just 20 per cent in 2002. It's around three times stronger than normal cannabis thanks to higher levels of the compound THC, which causes the psychotic symptoms, and lower levels of another compound called cannabidiol, which experts think protects users from the effects of THC.

The cannabis that fuelled the hippie generation's quest for world peace has been contorted by market forces and cross-pollination into a nervous, twitching grotesque. The latest government stance on marijuana is to suggest that it be reclassified from a class C drug to a class B drug, based largely on the fact that skunk is now so prevalent.

Bizarrely, given my past, I am now inclined to agree with them. What I took bore no similarity to the dope I used to enjoy
This will annoy the drug de-criminalisation crowd.

Smart bird

Magpies are no bird-brains, mirror test shows | Science | Reuters

It seems that magpies understand mirrors:
Magpies can recognize themselves in a mirror, highlighting the mental skills of some birds and confounding the notion that self-awareness is the exclusive preserve of humans and a few higher mammals.

It had been thought only chimpanzees, dolphins and elephants shared the human ability to recognize their own bodies in a mirror.

But German scientists reported on Tuesday that magpies -- a species with a brain structure very different from mammals -- could also identify themselves.

Not smart enough to leave harmless humans walking under their nest alone, though.

Come back next month

BBC NEWS | Asia-Pacific | China 'yet to approve protests'

China has received a total of 77 applications to stage protests during the Olympic Games period - but none has been approved.

Beijing's public security bureau said 74 applications were "withdrawn", two were "suspended" and one was "vetoed".

What a farce.

France's dirty secret

Supersize ... moi? How the French learnt to love McDonald's - Times Online

According to the article:
In 2007, as you may have read on our business pages, the chain's French revenues increased by 11 per cent to €3 billion (£2.3 billion). That's more than it generates in Britain. In terms of profit, France is second only to the US itself - and this in the land that first realised that food wasn't just about eating.
Apparently, it is due to some successful style makeover in the stores, which sound much the same as the process that has been undertaken in Australia in the last few years.

The Australian menu has recently become rather too chicken-heavy, if you ask me, and if I want a piece of deep fried chicken in a burger or a roll, KFC does it better.

The deli choice menu also has lost the "roast beef" item, which I quite liked.

But, I can still be convinced by some of their special burgers.

The Appleyard endorsed diet

The diet that really works - Times Online

It's all about low carbs, but not as much fat as Atkins. Maybe it's close to that CSIRO diet book that was a recent hit?

Not sure how I would feel eating a lot more protein, especially at breakfast. But who knows...

Monday, August 18, 2008

Lunchtime education

SpecialtyFood.com

I had been wondering why "washed rind" cheeses have an orange rind. (There are a couple of brands commonly sold in Australian supermarkets now, and they are well worth trying if you like "stinkier" cheese. I like the King Island Dairy one; its flavour reminds me of the sea, for some reason.)

The answer is in the link above:
What distinguishes them from other types is that the cheesemaker actively encourages the surface growth of B. linens (Brevibacterium linens). This aggressive bacterium produces a thin, golden-orange rind—think Pont L’Ev√™que—and most of the beefy, garlicky, frankly “stinky” aromas that washed-rind cheese enthusiasts love.
I just finished eating a piece that was a couple of weeks past the "best by" date. I trust that B. linens cannot overpower my immune system and make me bright orange and dead.

Coming soon to SBS

The Weekend's TV: The Perfect Vagina, Sun, Channel - The Independent

Here's a review of a documentary about the increasingly common interest of women in having their genitalia surgically altered. It would seem some (most?) do it for the worst possible reasons:
A pretty 21-year-old called Rosie wanted to have some of her labia removed after being teased by her sister, who regularly makes derogatory comments about her vagina to Rosie's boyfriends. Rogers seemed to be having the same thoughts as any sane person: it's a new sister Rosie needs, not a new vagina. But Rosie was determined, so we watched in graphic close-up as a cosmetic surgeon performed the grisly operation, with the poor girl, under local anaesthetic, crying on the gurney. Rosie is by no means the youngest patient to have undergone such a procedure. One doctor that Rogers spoke to regularly operates on 16-year-old girls.
I have suggested before that a significant proportion of cosmetic surgeons need to be rounded up and sent to some modern form of Gulag until they promise to use their medical training for something useful. The idea still has appeal.

Seriously poor judgment

The life of John Edwards flame Rielle Hunter | Salon News

In case you hadn't heard, John Edwards' ex-lover Rielle Hunter is an extreme oddball with a very chequered past. If he actually had an affair with someone half sensible, maybe his political career could recover. But especially by getting involved with this woman, he's well and truly done for. Heading back to the law practice might be a good idea.

Odd medical news of the day

Red Bull drink lifts stroke risk: Australian study | Health | Reuters
Just one can of the popular stimulant energy drink Red Bull can increase the risk of heart attack or stroke, even in young people, Australian medical researchers said on Friday.

The caffeine-loaded beverage, popular with university students and adrenaline sport fans to give them "wings", caused the blood to become sticky, a pre-cursor to cardiovascular problems such as stroke.

"One hour after they drank Red Bull, (their blood systems) were no longer normal. They were abnormal like we would expect in a patient with cardiovascular disease," Scott Willoughby, lead researcher from the Cardiovascular Research Centre at the Royal Adelaide Hospital, told the Australian newspaper.

I wonder whose idea it was to undertake this study? Red Bull has responded by saying:
"The study does not show effects which would go beyond that of drinking a cup of coffee. Therefore, the reported results were to be expected and lie within the normal physiological range," Rychter told Reuters.
Further information needed, I think.

Indeed

The Bigfoot press conference and the art of selling a website - CNET News.com

This is a pretty funny take on the Bigfoot circus, and this part is indeed true:
Emblazoned with the URL bigfoottracker.com, a site devoted to their own Bigfoot tracking enterprise, (a site, incidentally, that declares that Bigfoot's DNA has been taken away for 'analization'), the baseball caps worn by Matthew Whitton (aka Gary Parker) and Rick Dyer said so very much.
If you follow the link, you will see that remains uncorrected.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

An uninspired post

I'm having trouble finding anything particularly inspiring to post about, so I'll mention the following:

* for all of my reader in Osaka, there's a particularly good deal going on in the Hotel Nikko Osaka at their Beer Hall in the sky (well, the 32nd floor):
A dinner set (¥5,500) includes snacks, plates of assorted hot and cold dishes, a main dish, salad bar and bread, and unlimited drinks for 100 minutes. Customers may choose from draft beer, wine, whiskey, sake, shochu, cocktails and soft drinks.
Mind you, caution should be advised for any function which provides unlimited cocktails available for 100 minutes. Could be some spectacular results on the carpet.

* I'm nearly finished Clive James' first volume of his Unreliable Memoirs. I see it was published in 1980, and have been half inclined to read it ever since then. (I often imagine heaven as being a place where you can spend the first thousand years catching up on all the reading you meant to get around to while on earth. The second thousand might be taken up with lessons on musical instruments. Then there may be a few hundred thousand years each of learning about and spectrally observing alien planets. But I digress.)

I had heard that James was very open about his childhood sexual development in this book, but it still made me feel "way too much information" too often. At least such disclosures do something to give a clearer picture of sexual activity of youth in history. I mean, it is easy to get the impression that childhood/early teenage sex only got really going in a big way since the 1960's, but memoirs like James are a strong corrective to that idea.

Anyhow, I found the book does truly become 'laugh out loud" funny when he gets to his university years, and the chapter about his brief stint of National Service was the best in the book.

* Bigfoot is 96% possum? This is probably the most stupidly run hoax in history

Friday, August 15, 2008

Hold on to your kidneys, Ji

Al Jazeera English - BEIJING 08 - Olympic protest zones lie empty

This is all pretty much a PR disaster for the Chinese, these Olympics. From the above report:
So far there have been no reports of any legal protest in the zones, with those applying uniformly rejected or detained.

Ji Sizun, 55, a self-described grassroots legal activist from Fujian province, appears to be the latest casualty of this system.

He told Al Jazeera on Saturday that he had submitted his protest that day to the Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau (PSB).

He said he wanted to demonstrate on behalf of the petitioners who come to Beijing as a last resort to resolve cases of alleged injustice in their home provinces....

He was told to come back Monday, but by Monday afternoon Ji was unreachable.

His family in Fujian believes he has been detained and will be held until after the Olympics, a source said. They spoke with him briefly on Monday but he only managed to say "I have some problems," before the call was cut off.
Let's just hope he keeps his organs intact.

Which brings me to this story from ABC radio last week:
JENNIFER MACEY: Last year David Mr Matas and Canadian former secretary of state David Kilgour released a report investigating allegations of organ harvesting of Falun Gong members in China. Mr Matas concedes it's difficult to find proof of this practise as China won't release official statistics on executions or organ transplants

But he says he has new audio tapes of Chinese doctors admitting they have Falun Gong organs for sale.

DAVID MATAS: We had callers calling in to China pretending to be relatives of patients who needed organs and asking the hospital that they were calling for organs of Falun Gong practitioners on the basis that Falun Gong's an exercise regime that practitioners are healthy and their organs are healthy. And we got admissions on tape throughout China and we've got the transcripts in our report and we've got phone records and we got the tapes from pick up to hang down.
I think I have heard about these taped calls before, but the story is well worth repeating.

The problem is that Falun Gong is a weird cult-like phenomena, although it's not entirely clear why the China government sees it as such a threat. Still, being a cult, people tend to be sceptical about their claims. So any evidence such as that in the phone calls is important.

As I said before, it is a topic that seems to attract limited attention.

Here comes a bad movie

Hitler to get Pulp Fiction treatment in Tarantino's Inglorious Bastards - Times Online

Can't someone tell Tarantino to just grow up?

Surely cheap pulp films were partly about compensating for lack of budget by being sensationalist in their content. But when you have access to large budgets, as does Tarantino, it's just juvenile to keep going on making this style of film.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Own your own dome

International Dome House

Go have a look at this Japanese company's website for (try saying this 3 times quickly) - foam domes for homes.

They make some odd claims - especially under the page "Housing for health". And the introductory video is, well, rather cheesy in a Japanese way.

Yet, when you look at the interiors of some of their examples, they don't look half bad, at least if you admire Japanese ingenuity in fitting a lot of stuff in tiny living spaces.

They look a lot like the sort of igloo dome moon homes I used to draw as a kid. Maybe that's why I want to live in one.

Justice system of India only too willing to help

Six students of Flytech Aviation held for ragging-The Times of India

It's been a while since I've noted an odd story from India, but here's a strange one:
Six senior students of Flytech Aviation Academy, Nadargul, were arrested by the Vanasthalipuram police on Wednesday in an alleged case of ragging...

According to police, the senior students called the juniors over to their place for an "interaction' on August 12. The students were asked to do frog jumps on the steps, measure the room with match sticks and also measure water in a tumbler using caps of a soft drink bottle. This continued from 2.30 pm to 6.30 pm. The juniors filed a complaint with the police. "Cases were booked under the AP Provision of Prevention of Ragging Act, 1997," Vanasthalipuram inspector Chandra Shekhar said.
They need the court system to deal with this? It must be fun being a parliamentary counsel (the lawyers who draft legislation) in India.

Pointless killings

3 aid workers, driver killed in ambush

Three female foreign aid workers, including two Canadians, were slain in a "senseless, heinous attack" by Taliban insurgents south of Kabul, a senior official of the aid agency said Wednesday....

The women and their Afghan driver died in a hail of bullets around 10:30 a.m. local time in a brazen attack in Logar province, southeast of Kabul. A second Afghan driver was critically wounded and remains in hospital. The province's deputy police chief, Abdul Majid Latifi, told Agence France-Presse that Taliban insurgents ambushed the two clearly marked vehicles that were carrying the workers on a 100-kilometre stretch of road between Gardez and Kabul.

He said the attackers broke the windows of the vehicles and then shot the workers at close range.

"There were signs of about 10 bullets on the vehicle but more bullets on the body of the victims. They were hit by dozens of bullets," he said. "We don't know yet how many men carried out the attack."

A person claiming to be a Taliban spokesman took credit for the attack, saying it was done in retaliation for the ongoing NATO-led mission in Afghanistan.

"We don't value their aid projects and we don't think they are working for the progress of our country," said Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid in telephone interview.

Quantum stuff

Physicists spooked by faster-than-light information transfer : Nature News

I'm not entirely sure that this experiment shows much that wasn't already believed by most scientists, but it seems to have done mainly to rule out some possible explanations. This paragraph at the end is of note:
The experiment shows that in quantum mechanics at least, some things transcend space-time, says Terence Rudolph, a theorist at Imperial College London. It also shows that humans have attached undue importance to the three dimensions of space and one of time we live in, he argues. “We think space and time are important because that’s the kind of monkeys we are.”
God is clearly a quantum mechanic, then.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Cool

US boasts of laser weapon's 'plausible deniability' - New Scientist Tech

From the article:
Cynthia Kaiser, chief engineer of the US Air Force Research Laboratory's Directed Energy Directorate, used the phrase "plausible deniability" to describe the weapon's benefits in a briefing (powerpoint format) on laser weapons to the New Mexico Optics Industry Association in June...

Corley and Kaiser did not respond to requests from New Scientist to expand on their comments. But John Pike, analyst with defence think-tank Global Security, based in Virginia, says the implications are clear.

"The target would never know what hit them," says Pike. "Further, there would be no munition fragments that could be used to identify the source of the strike."

A laser beam is silent and invisible. An ATL can deliver the heat of a blowtorch with a range of 20 kilometres, depending on conditions. That range is great enough that the aircraft carrying it might not be seen, especially at night.

By popular demand...sort of


Yes indeed, I warned you not to have high expectations, but here's a House of Pork I spotted in the Meat Pavilion from this year's Ekka. Presumably, Homer Simpson would be very impressed.

This year's expedition was somewhat marred by mild illness, and the kids insisting on buying their stuff too early in the day. Still, my son got to arm himself with enough cheap plastic guns to last a year. (He bought the "Western Ranger" bag, essentially a cowboy set, and was very happy to walk around in the cowboy hat that was far too large for his head. I actually wore it for part of the day. This interest in the Wild West seems to have been caused solely by watching the Martin/Lewis comedy "Pardners" on DVD, which will cost you $8.99 at your nearest Big W or K Mart.)

The evening's arena entertainment continues to be of wildly erratic quality. An exhibition polo match that goes for 30 minutes just isn't interesting. Nor were the German Shepherds that did nothing special at all for 20 minutes. I think whoever thought that these "acts" were going to hold the crowd's interest is regretting it now.

At least the Holden Precision Car Driving Team, which remained unchanged for at least 30 years, has gone. Instead, I fear we are now stuck with a motoX freestyle act that will not change for 20 years.

We need to go back to things being blown up. If I recall correctly from my childhood, there were a few years in which acts based on explosions were all the rage - a clown running into a cardboard outhouse that blew up, for example; or a guy that got in a coffin like box that blew up. But then, outhouses were still known in Brisbane when I was a child - I guess modern kids may not recognise them.

It was only a couple of years ago that we had the human cannonball (video taken by yours truly on a not very good digital camera):



That's more like it. Now if only there was a portable pool of crocodiles between the cannon and the net.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Readers prompted

Some reader had better make a comment here soon, otherwise you may never get to see the House of Pork photo I took at the Royal National Association Show last Saturday.

On China, etc

LILEKS (James) :: the Bleat

James Lilek's comments on the war in Georgia, and China, are all very apt. He's reading a Mao biography at the moment, which leads to this pithy summation:
It’s not that he was worse than Stalin in character; he just had more people to kill. A larger canvas. As the book pointed out: he worked the nation to exhaustion, took everything they produced, and wasted it. Thirty million dead alone in the Great Leap Forward. Now? He’s a fat old weirdo on postcards who looks funny because the picture’s done in a kitschy style. Ha ha, you were succeeded by crafty pragmatists! But. As the book notes, he wanted to start a nuclear war with the West, and was perfectly content to lose half the population of China. He was even considering where he’d build a new city to head the new World Socialist Government. The Sovs thought he was nuts, but of course that didn't stop them from handing him treats and toys.

I know things have changed, and the Bad Old Days are gone, and they don’t do that anymore – except for Tibet, the fate that launched a thousand bumperstickers, and Falun Gong, which is weird and hence, I don’t know, one of those things – but in a sense the same government is in power, no? Mao's picture still hangs in Tiananmen Square. It’s like going to Berlin for the games in 1976 and seeing giant portraits of Hitler.

Japan and China

War and reconciliation: a tale of two countries | The Japan Times Online

This is an interesting article on how China and Japan deal with the Rape of Nanjing. There's a museum in that city now that deals with it.

I like this description of how, in Japan, the controversial Yusuhukan museum near the Yasukuni Shrine deals with it:
There one can view a video of Japanese troops bellowing a collective "Banzai!" from atop the city wall that abruptly cuts to a scene of a soldier ladling out soup for the elderly and young, while the narrator helpfully explains that the Japanese troops entered the city and restored peace and harmony.
Throughout the exhibit, Japan's invasion of China is portrayed as a campaign to quell Chinese "terrorism" — a post-9/11 narrative that demonstrates just how much the present impinges on the past. At the museum, there is no mention of invasion, aggression, massacres or atrocities committed by Japanese troops in China. Improbably, the suffering of Japanese is the only suffering on display.
On the other hand, the writer says:
As a teacher, I have noticed how much better informed Japanese students are now than they were 20 years ago about this shared past. Only one of the more than 100 research papers submitted in my classes on Nanjing expressed anything but condemnation and contrition.
All interesting.

Why are they still here?

Here's three people who, for some mysterious reasons, still have their jobs:

1. Brendan Nelson
2. Sam Newman
3. Sam de Brito

The first two are self-explanatory. I add Sam de Brito's name because, you know, Fairfax press doesn't really need a blogger who shares with us his stories of casual sex and crab lice. (He's been annoying me for years, with his "pulse of modern manhood" schtick.)

"Traditional custodians of the land" needed eco-management training

Extinctions 'due to humans not climate' | NEWS.com.au

Monday, August 11, 2008

Anti-China round up

With the Olympics underway, it's interesting to note some of the recent anti-China commentary by people who refuse to be taken in by a good opening ceremony. (Well, I assume it was good.)

First, Nick Cohen rips into China as being an environmental disaster zone (my words, not his), and yet his ability to annoy Guardian readers still means that many in the comments section have rushed to criticise him.

Next, a Tory (Edward McMillan-Scott) also writes in The Guardian reminding us of China's human rights abuses, and in particular the unresolved matter of whether Falun Gong members are (or were) the subject of organ harvesting. (I mentioned this allegation, which is believed by some quite credible sounding Canadian investigators, 2 years ago on this blog, noting then that it was a topic which seems to attract little attention in the West. Nothing much has changed, it would seem). Of course, the fact that a Tory should write about human rights is just too much for some Guardian readers, and there is one amusing comment to the effect that because Conservatives supported Pinochet, they have no right complaining about China!

Thirdly, Mark Mardue in The Age complains that business interests are only too willing to support the China government and its abuses. He also believes that it is by no means clear that the current crop of young adults will have reforming zeal:
Brought up in a post-Mao era and a system that blanketed out events like Tiananmen Square, talk of such historical moments is as tiresome and vague to them as Woodstock and Altamont are to Western youth. Indeed, young Chinese regard Tiananmen as the ultimate in sentimental Western fantasies, a cliche we hook ourselves on to slight their country's ascendancy.

It's unclear how much the Government will be able to ride the nationalist fervour of this new generation, and how much it has the potential of creating instability even for it.

I don't know. I think instability is still pretty likely.

As for the kids?

Aborigines 'healthier living in country' - Yahoo!7 News

According to the report:

Keeping Aboriginal people actively involved in homeland settlements also offers significant benefits to the environment, said senior economist David Campbell.

"We're finding clear evidence that working `on country' has benefits for the health of Aboriginal people and for the nation," said Dr Campbell from the Desert Knowledge Cooperative Research Centre.

He has presented the initial findings of the Livelihoods inLandTM project deep in the heart of Arnhem Land.

Speaking to a gathering of politicians, journalists, tourists and Aborigines at the Garma Festival, Dr Campbell said: "It's a win-win-win proposition."

"The health benefits in terms of reducing levels of high blood pressure, diabetes and kidney disease are quite striking when people are actively engaged in looking after their country," he said.

Hundreds of tiny settlements, with populations of less than 50 people, dot the territory outback.

What about kids who are in these settlements? Surely they can't expect a good education that way, without heading off to a boarding school? If their parents live an extra 10 or 20 years, that's a good thing, but it would have to be balanced against any reduction in opportunity that it involves for the children.

More work for Qantas PR

Drunken Qantas hostie 'causes mass evacuation' - News - Travel - theage.com.au

Would have been funnier if it was a plane that had to be evacuated, but still...

Flakey celebrity news

McConaughey to plant his baby's placenta - Yahoo!7 News

It's good when some actor you never liked anyway turns out to have some flakey New Age-y ideas:
Matthew McConaughey says he has kept the placenta from the July birth of his son and plans to plant it in an orchard, in keeping with what he says is an Australian Aboriginal tradition.

Ice watch

Arctic meltdown could set new record

According to this story, 2008 may yet end up as a bad year for Arctic ice melting:
....the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center, the world's leading satellite monitor of ice conditions in the Arctic Ocean, is now hedging its earlier bets that this year's Arctic ice minimum - typically reached in mid-September - would not be as extreme as last year, when 14 million square kilometres of sea ice shrank to just over four million between March and September.

It's now a "neck-and-neck race between 2007 and this year over the issue of ice loss," Mark Serreze, a senior climate researcher at the Colorado-based NSIDC, told the U.K.'s Guardian newspaper on Sunday. "We thought Arctic ice cover might recover after last year's unprecedented melting - and indeed the picture didn't look too bad last month."

But recent storms in the Beaufort region "triggered steep ice losses," he said, "and it now looks as if it will be a very close call indeed whether 2007 or 2008 is the worst year on record for ice cover over the Arctic."

The Canadian government's chief observers of Arctic ice conditions are expressing amazement at the state of the Beaufort Sea.

"We've never seen any kind of opening like this in history," CIS senior ice forecaster Luc Desjardins said of the Beaufort's exceptional loss of ice this summer. "It is not only record-setting, it's unprecedented. It doesn't resemble anything that we've observed before."

I'm sure Andrew Bolt is following with interest.

A Dowd column worth reading

Op-Ed Columnist - Keeping It Rielle - Op-Ed - NYTimes.com

You should read Maureen Dowd's column on John Edward's confession. It's very biting, and funny:

Even in confessing to preening, Edwards was preening. His diagnosis of narcissism was weirdly narcissistic, or was it self-narcissistic? Given his diagnosis, I’m sure his H.M.O. would pay.

The creepiest part of his creepy confession was when he stressed to Woodruff that he cheated on Elizabeth in 2006 when her cancer was in remission. His infidelity was oncologically correct.

Art and water don't mix

Creating solutions to a water crisis - International Herald Tribune

This is what happens when artists are invited to look at the issue of water management:
Taking pride of place in the garden is Pig Toilet, an experimental dry sanitation project devised by the Dutch artists Atelier Van Lieshout. It combines a pigpen with a human toilet, the contents of which are eaten by the pigs, rather than being flushed away and wasting water. "It sounds disgusting, but it works," said Crawford. "In the 19th century there was a vigorous debate between the advantages of dry and wet sanitation systems. The urgh! factor is the reason why wet systems won, but dry sanitation was a perfectly workable solution."
Well, we're just lucky we don't have Peter Greenaway doing an installation on avoiding a world food crisis.

No comment needed

No-nose Bicycle Saddles Improve Penile Sensation And Erectile Function In Bicycling Police Officers

Weekend thoughts

Olympics Opening Ceremony: I fell asleep sometime around the puppets making an appearance. The commentator said that this section had originally been intended to be much bigger, but it had been cut back. Pity really. With Gerry Anderson as an adviser they could have mounted a puppet re-enactment of some important ancient Chinese war, and probably kept me awake.

I woke up briefly to see athletes making an entrance. As this was predicted to take 2 hours, I went to bed, thinking I could catch the highlights in the morning.

Of course, being held only once every 4 years, I had forgotten that television rights to the Olympics are so closely guarded that if you miss the live broadcast, and perhaps one repeat on the network that secured the rights, you get to see absolutely nothing on the world's media the next day. (Well, I think I saw 10 seconds of the opening drums, and 3 seconds of someone on a harness lighting the torch.) Maybe I will never know what I missed out on.

Back to those massed drums. Whenever I see lots of young Chinese men, it reminds me of the forthcoming Testosterone Crisis (TM). China will either have significant unrest in 10 to 20 years because of its ridiculous gender imbalance, or supplant Great Britain and become the gayest nation on earth. Or possibly both.

Of course, this will also be around the time of the Carbon Wars (TM), but the internal unrest will make the taking out its coal plants much easier.

I think I have a future as a stupid futurist.

The Weather: Geez, after a mild July, August in Brisbane has been unusually cold. Sitting in evening air at Machinery Hill at the Ekka on Saturday was the coldest I have felt there for many a year. Further report on that outing due later today.

The Prime Minister: I don't think it's just my personal reaction here. After watching him swan around the Olympics, hanging out with sport stars and celebrities, and reporting on overheard conversations between important people he got to sit near, I feel confident that no one on either side of politics much likes Kevin Rudd at a personal level. For the Left he is, at best, the Prime Minister-we-had-to-have-to-get-the-Liberals-out-of-office. They forgave Keating's personality defects because he was their "big ideas" guy, and his invective amused them. That doesn't wash with Kevin.

He certainly comes across as kind of immature for a national leader, I reckon. I am very sceptical that poll approval numbers reflect genuine affection for him in the populace.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Sensitive Arabs

Nissan orders Israeli ally to pull commercial | The Japan Times Online
JERUSALEM (Kyodo) Nissan Motor Co. has ordered its Israeli business ally to immediately stop airing a television commercial depicting Arab oil barons angered at the high fuel efficiency of a Nissan car, officials of the automaker said Thursday...

The major Israeli paper Haaretz, in its online edition, showed video footage of a news program on Saudi Arabia's MBC TV that quoted a Saudi representative as saying that Persian Gulf states may boycott Nissan unless it apologizes.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Odd thing hits Needles

Here's an interesting bit of TV News from Las Vegas. Sounds like something odd happened out in the desert earlier this year.

But perhaps the best thing about watching this is just looking at how, um, attractive the town of Needles looks:



UPDATE: The comment about Needles was meant to be sarcasm, in case anyone didn't realise. But then, maybe I was too harsh about the town: from the photo with this article, it looks like you can buy a nice enough house facing the river. But then again, it does say this:
"Have you been downtown?" asked City Councilman Richard Pletcher. "It's like little Hiroshima. It's HiroNeedles."

Resentment has been mounting for years, but the county's decision to reduce the Colorado River Medical Center, the town's once proud hospital, to a small urgent-care facility has sparked open rebellion. Needles is now considering leaving California to join Nevada or Arizona or to create its own independent county.

"This is not a publicity stunt. We are serious about secession,"
Just what we need: the new micro-nation of Needles!

UPDATE 2: from the dark recesses of my brain, I just recalled that Snoopy's brother Spike came from Needles. (I Googled that link to confirm my hunch.) The fact that this snippet of information was still there to be retrieved gives me confidence that my aging brain is not too decrepit, yet.

Talk about bad timing

Greyhound scraps ads about worry-free bus travel - Yahoo! News
Greyhound has scrapped a billboard ad campaign that extols the relaxing upside of bus travel in the wake of a bus attack in Canada where a man beheaded and cannibalized another passenger.

The ad's punchline was "There's a reason you've never heard of 'bus rage.'"

...he's just a naughty boy

Ex-spy claims to be ‘new Messiah’ - Gazette Live

A FORMER spy claimed he was the new messiah in a “Sermon on the Mount” on top of Roseberry Topping.

Middlesbrough-born David Shayler, who was jailed in 2002 for leaking secrets including allegations the secret services plotted to assassinate Libyan Leader Colonel Gaddafi, preached to a handful of climbers during the sermon last night.

I like this part the best:

Reiterating his claims to be the new Messiah, Mr Shayler admitted people “might find it strange” for this to happen in Middlesbrough.

He said: “When people think of Middlesbrough, they tend to think of unemployment, child abuse and a failing football team. But I want to set the record straight.

“Why not promote Shayler as the Messiah and get people here on pilgrimages?”

The story has photos of the new Messiah in action too.

An uneven Word

This segment from Colbert a couple of nights ago is of wildly uneven quality. One of the jokes well and truly outlives its welcome, and early on it probably has a greater liberal smart arse quality to it than is usual for the show. But then, at about 3 minutes in, it becomes very funny.



(Not sure if that video link is working right. Will check it again later.)

Catholics don't like Obama

'Catholic problem' dogs Obama and Democrats - International Herald Tribune

I didn't know this:
The problem is all the more compelling for the Democrats because Senator Barack Obama, their likely nominee, lost the Catholic vote badly to Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton - like Obama a supporter of abortion rights - during the primaries in states like New Hampshire, Missouri and Ohio. In Pennsylvania, Catholic voters preferred Clinton to Obama by a 40-point margin.
The report puts it down to Obama being seen as being very liberal on abortion rights, but I wonder if there is more to it than that.

Poor Indians

Everything in India is changing but treatment of the poor - International Herald Tribune

The opening sets the scene:

MUMBAI: Here in the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower, the doyen of this city's hotels, what you think of the new India may depend on whether you are the person having soap squeezed onto your hands or the person squeezing the soap.

In every men's washroom at the Taj is a helper. As you approach the sink, he salutes you. Before you can turn on the tap, he does it for you. Before you can apply soap, he presses the dispenser. Before you can get a towel, he dangles one. As you leave, he salutes you again and mutters: "Right, sir. O.K., sir. Thank you, sir."

It's the salutes that really appeal to me.

Domestic workers apparently sleep in the hallway:
At 1 a.m. back in the boss's apartment building, the hallways are often covered with bodies. They belong to servants and sweepers who work inside by day but sleep outside by night, who clean the toilets but would not dare use them. They learn to sleep on cold tile, with tenants stepping over them when returning from Champagne-soaked evenings out.
As you can see, the article is about how those who are getting richer in India still treat the poor very badly, and there is a new film on the the subject. I like this comment by a viewer from the middle class:
The film was good but "one-sided," he said: "Maybe there are 70 percent of the people who treat them bad, but there are 30 percent who treat them good."

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Not encouraging

Airline cockpit blackouts are not being tackled - New Scientist Tech
In the Airbus A320, failures of the primary wiring system carrying power to the cockpit have not always led to the backup system kicking in automatically, leaving pilots dangerously distracted as they struggle to restore normality. This happened on 37 flights up to May 2007, prompting Airbus to publish a modification to the A320's electrical system.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

The bigger picture

Remember the reaction by Ellen DeGeneres to the shooting earlier this year in California of a 15 year old self-proclaimed gay boy Larry King? It's here if you missed it. According to the ever- emotional Ellen, it was all about gay hate and discrimination.

Before I continue, the usual disclaimer (of course he didn't deserve to die.) But, as I suspected at the time, the unseemly rush to embrace this case by gay groups as an example of the poor treatment of homosexuals was a ridiculous over-simplification.

Newsweek bravely runs a long account on the background of the late Larry King. According to the article, he had various diagnoses of psychological problems as a child (ADHD, "reactive attachment disorder", autism). He started telling students he was gay when he was 10. He hung out with girls. By 12, he was on probation for a vandalising a tractor and in counselling. At 14, he told his (adoptive?) father that he was bisexual. His father says he did not reject his son because of this, but Larry started telling teachers his father was hitting him. Authorities put him in a group home, and he was taken to gay youth group meetings.

He started dressing like a girl, wearing make up to school and stilettos (!). (Do they allow girls to wear stilettos?) He told his mother he wanted a sex change operation. The article strongly indicates that he was not exactly shy and retiring about these changes:
....teachers were baffled that Larry was allowed to draw so much attention to himself. "All the teachers were complaining, because it was disruptive," says one of them. "Dress code is a huge issue at our school. We fight [over] it every day." Some teachers thought Larry was clearly in violation of the code, which prevents students from wearing articles of clothing considered distracting. When Larry wore lipstick and eyeliner to school for the first time, a teacher told him to wash it off, and he did. But the next day, he was back wearing even more. Larry told the teacher he could wear makeup if he wanted to. He said that Ms. Epstein told him that was his right.
Ms Epstein, an assistant principal, is gay herself, and is seen by some of the other teachers as having been far too encouraging of Larry. One teacher complained:
She [the teacher] was approached by several boys in her class who said that Larry had started taunting them in the halls—"I know you want me," he'd say—and their friends were calling them gay.
Ms Epstein appears to have generally downplayed the prospect of any action.

The most amazing story of teacher support for Larry is this:
One teacher was very protective of Larry, his English teacher, Mrs. Boldrin. To help Larry feel better about moving to Casa Pacifica, she brought Larry a present: a green evening dress that once belonged to her own daughter. Before school started, Larry ran to the bathroom to try it on. Then he showed it to some of his friends, telling them that he was going to wear it at graduation.
There's plenty more in the article; it's a fascinating read.

The thing is, Ellen got this story completely wrong. Assuming the reporting is basically accurate, (yes I know, perhaps a risky assumption) it shows how amazingly willing the Californian education and child protection system was to accommodate and even encourage a troubled, possibly gay, possibly transgender boy, who insisted that he live out his perceived sexual or gender identity in a highly attention seeking fashion since before he was even a teenager.

His killer had a troubled background too, from a broken home with drugs and domestic violence featuring. His was left alone a lot, and seems to have an unusually detailed knowledge of Nazi Germany. He was, in short, far from your typical example of how a modern, half-way well adjusted American teenage boy would react to silly taunts by a cross dressing boy such as Larry gave out.

Anti-harassment strategies in schools in America seem so to have gone so far that they are emphasising sexual identity issues rather than de-emphasising them, which I would have thought is the more appropriate attitude for the education system.

Here's my simple version of a school policy for sexuality issues, based on privacy:

1. You are all too young to be having sex anyway, you know.
2. You've likely got 60 years ahead of you, as an adult, to work out who you are and who you want to sleep with.
3. We therefore don't care who you're currently attracted to, or even what gender you think you are or should be, and no one else needs to know either. For all you know, your feelings about all this may change in future anyway.
4. You have the right to privacy as to your feelings, and that right should and will be respected. No harassment over presumptions about your sexual feelings will be tolerated.
5. Just get on with some learning, hey?

Sort of a "don't ask, don't tell" policy I guess.

Update: Doesn't it seem that there is an enormous amount of wasted time the American school system could save itself in policing dress codes by introducing student uniforms? What exactly is the reason uniforms seem to have never existed there in the public system?

Solar "superstorms"

Bracing the Satellite Infrastructure for a Solar Superstorm: Scientific American

I don't think that I had heard about the 1859 "once in 500 years" solar superstorm before:
As night was falling across the Americas on Sunday, August 28, 1859, the phantom shapes of the auroras could already be seen overhead. From Maine to the tip of Florida, vivid curtains of light took the skies. Startled Cubans saw the auroras directly overhead; ships’ logs near the equator described crimson lights reaching halfway to the zenith. Many people thought their cities had caught fire. Scientific instruments around the world, patiently recording minute changes in Earth’s magnetism, suddenly shot off scale, and spurious electric currents surged into the world’s telegraph systems.
Well, at least it would save me the cost of a long trip from Brisbane to see an aurora. The downside: it's quite possible that it could knock out the electricity grid for weeks:
According to studies by John G. Kappenman of Metatech Corporation, the magnetic storm of May 15, 1921, would have caused a blackout affecting half of North America had it happened today. A much larger storm, like that of 1859, could bring down the entire grid. Other industrial countries are also vulnerable, but North America faces greater danger because of its proximity to the north magnetic pole. Because of the physical damage to transformers, full recovery and replacement of damaged components might take weeks or even months. Kappenman testified to Congress in 2003 that “the ability to provide meaningful emergency aid and response to an impacted population that may be in excess of 100 million people will be a difficult challenge.”
This seems a good excuse to see what videos of aurora can be found on Youtube. I want to see real-time video too; usually you see time lapse stuff and it doesn't give you much idea of how quickly the aurora move and change.

Here's a clip which seems to give a good idea of their real time appearance: